Ties that Bind

We were both only children, John and I, united as siblings in our pre-teens when his mother married my father. For while, I chose this family, mirroring my father’s departure as I left my childhood island home and my mother on her own.

But, like so much of the future I envisioned for myself, this idyllic second family was as transient as I. At sixteen, I moved in with a boyfriend and soon after, my father and stepmother divorced.

John and I have stayed close all these years. We’ve shared our own divorce woes, visited each other across countries and continents. We spend summers together at the family lake house; I’ve watched my nieces go from cartoons to college.

John has also kept in touch with my father, the man who raised him. He’s nearing his nineties, insistent on living alone in his island cottage. He still drives, although his macular degeneration worsens each year.

Over the past five years, I’ve spent more time with my parents in the than I have in my entire life, and what I’ve found is this: it’s easier to be patient toward a mother with Alzheimer’s than a father who, in his ruthless determination to be terminally unique, is stubborn and quirky to a fault. He recalls very vehicle he’s ever owned in vivid detail. He prefers befriending the mice in his house to a visit from the exterminator. Often, his dinners consist of dark chocolate and a handful of peanuts.

Recently, John and I took our father on a riverboat cruise along the Seine. At first, I was a basket case. Dad complained. A lot. He slept through the whole excursion to Normandy. His breathing was as labored as a freight train going uphill. It took a week aboard that ship and John’s patient reassurances that I was a good daughter to finally accept my father for who he is.

Like the recent death of my husband’s daughter, I’m doing my best with a situation I’ve never been through: being a parent to my parents. Although his legs may be slower than his thoughts, my father’s mind is still razor-sharp.

And for that, we’re all grateful. 

The Meaning of Life

#2 in a Series on Purpose

Purpose: the essential ingredient for a meaningful life. For years, it’s seemed out of reach.

In a sales career spanning a quarter-century, my purpose was straightforward yet unfulfilling: make your numbers, get your bonus. My wallet was full but I struggled with an empty soul.

Life changed radically when I left that job to become my mother’s full-time caregiver five years ago. I spent much of that time wallowing in martyrdom and resentment, my purpose unfathomable.

But purpose, like life, evolves with clarity. And as I’ve learned in sobriety, helping others is a reward in itself. So I launch a support group for daughters caring for aging parents. Channel a long-time passion for writing into a flash blog and caregiving articles. Transform my love of animals into enrichment programs at a local shelter and a petsitting business. And continue to support my husband as he deals with the sudden loss of his only child.

Age grants us wrinkles and wisdom and this I now know: purpose is found when you least seek it.

Food for Thought

This week, the planets aligned in my creative galaxy: acceptance letters from two publications; a literary agent seeking quirky cookbooks; a food memoir writing course; a blogger who wants to feature my mother’s cooking newsletter on her site.

As I ran in pre-dawn dusk this morning, drenched in sweat and the deluge of inspiration, I decided to reopen a writing project I’d shelved two years ago in a fit of rage at a disease that knows no shame.

I’d envisioned the book as a tribute to my mother’s many talents. We’d write it together, I thought, the perfect project to regain the sense of purpose Alzheimer’s was slowly stripping away. I’d interlace essays from the monthly newsletter she’d written and designed for thirty years with posts from my blog; use artwork and recipes from her cookbook Cook & Tell, published nearly two decades ago.

But reminders of the skills she’d lost and attempts to reclaim the identity of the woman she no longer remembered proved too painful for either of us to endure. I surrendered the project and Alzheimer’s won that round. Almost.

When the Universe nudges, I’ve learned to listen. And when inspiration sparks creativity, I’m propelled into action.