Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Forest of saguaros. Random ocotillo in bloom. The desert bursts with surprises. For three days I stayed with friends on a mountaintop above Phoenix. At night, the city below laid out like a circuit board. The mornings full of birds that buzz or laugh—birds I’ve never before laid eyes on. From the patio I scan the landscape below and study the mountains behind the mountains behind the mountains behind the mountains. Surely, if I look west, the ocean is there somewhere. If I look east, the stubble of golden corn rolling across the Iowa hillside.  In a way, I see all of that. I see past and future. I see where I’ve been and where I’m going. 

I’m still traveling and my mom continues to do well at the nursing home in Iowa. She’s had a raft of visitors. I’ve had a raft of feelings, but mostly relief. Relief for me. Relief for her. While she lived with me, I often led my mom outside to look at the moon. The moonrise in the desert was spectacular last night. I saw it with friends as we drove down into town for dinner. Maybe the moonrise in Iowa was spectacular too. I don’t really know. There’s a lot I don’t know right now as I begin this new chapter of my life. But the future feels full and bright and beautiful.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Leaving Albuquerque

power lines in the Albuquerque dawn 

I dreamed I died last night.

Terminally ill, I invoked the right to die and took a large capsule of morphine. People knew I was going to do it. But I did it without much fanfare. Oh, by the way, I told one of my daughters. I took the capsule and tonight when I go to bed, I won't wake up.

This morning when I awoke, I felt weighed down. The responsibility of love is not a weightless thing.  It has heft and substance and every morning we pick it up again--if we are so blessed to awake and have love in our lives.

The road trip  continues. I'm off to see friends, friends of friends, and family. Places familiar and new.  Sights seen and unseen. Connections winding tighter. The power of love anchoring me to this earth and rising upward and beyond the known world.

Do you see the outstretched hand? 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Report from the Universe

I'm thinking a lot bout the big picture these days. Love. Luck. Beginnings. Endings. The never-ending. Everything.

I went to see my mom in the nursing home Thursday evening. She hadn't been served her nightly glass of wine. Her toenails needed cutting. Stuff. Took care of it. She looked good. The food looked good. She ate well. The nursing home is the most attractive nursing home I've had any experience with. (There have been four.)

When I went back the next morning, she looked even better. She seemed more engaged and awake than she's been in ages. She said the words my friend while referring to another resident. Over the past few years the only times I've heard my mom use the word friend in reference to friends of hers is this: All of my friends are dead. A person can be 91 and make a new friend. How about that?

New things are constantly occurring.

I'm on a road trip. New things outside the car windows every second. Car windows are my window on the world right now. The first night on the road was at my brother's house. The next night, a town called Liberty. Yesterday a quick stop in a town called Kismet. Last night, a town called Liberal. I'm not making this up.

I wish you liberty, kismet, and liberal doses of love.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Thank you. Safe at home.

I'm in an airport bar. A sports bar. Mostly no one really watches the 3 TVs that border this postage stamp of a place, but today the CUBS are playing and the place is electric (yes, even in Los Angeles.). Cheers, boos, groans, gestures. People are leaping to their feet. Me, I'm thinking how lovely the phrase safe at home is. 
My mother was no longer safe in my home, but I'm on my way back to see how her first week in a nursing home has gone. I'm also on my way to see my friend Pete and my Iowa family. Soon I will be safe at home even though I will be away from home. Don't you love how that sounds?
That feeling of safety is really just another manifestation of love. Love makes us feel safe. I felt so much safety in your comments last week, dear friends. I was safe at home in your love and support. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Welcome to Margaritaville

Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.--"Tiny Beautiful Things" by Cheryl Strayed

I left Iowa this morning. My brother and my aunt and uncle drove me to the Twin Cities where I boarded a plane, flew away, rode a shuttle bus, then got delivered to my door by a friend. With every breath I took today, I left my mother farther and farther behind. Now I'm home in my quiet house--the place I once called Margaritaville before it was re-christened Pillville.

My heart is its own pressurized cabin. I can breathe here, yet it feels like the oxygen masks might drop at any moment. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Pillville: the Iowa Version, part 2

Silos and barn, shot from a moving car

Something feels all wrong, taking care of my mom in Iowa. This is the place where she took care of me. The place where she laid down the law and cooked dinner every night. The place where she lit the candles on our birthday cakes, The place where she once held court at my brother's kitchen table when we gathered there to bring our far-flung family back together. Yesterday, after three nights with her here, we wheeled her away from that kitchen table and drove her to the nursing home where she will live out her days.

But it's better than it sounds. People know people in small towns. People know almost everyone. We hadn't been in the nursing home but a few minutes when one of the nurses ran up to hug my sister-in-law. They used to work together. Another staff member came up to introduce herself because her parents live next door to my aunt. One of the residents waylaid us more than once. Some relative of his married one of my mom's great aunts. He was quite familiar with our family tree and wanted to talk about it. 

My brother and I spent all day at the nursing home yesterday. Unpacking, labeling my mom's clothes, measuring the space for a new recliner, making arrangements to have pictures hung and wine served with her dinner, filling out a mountain of paperwork.

Afterwards we drove back into our little town next to the bigger town where the nursing home is. We went to a furniture store on main street and within a few minutes found the perfect chair for my mom's room.

This morning we delivered the chair and took care of a few more loose ends. The place and the staff continued to impress. The view across the street from the nursing home is a bit much. But my mom's room faces an enormous deck out back instead of a cemetery.

And this afternoon as I was getting ready to leave, this was delivered to her room. She thought it was too early to drink, so she saved it for dinner. I carried her glass of wine to the dining room, and that's where my brother and I left her.

Last night I went out to dinner with a friend. Is it a special occasion? the waitress asked. Yes, I said after I stumbled for a moment. I've just retired.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Pillville: the Iowa version

We went to the anniversary party. 
It was fabulous. 
My mom visited with many many relatives and we reminisced about my sister's wedding. 

Today there's a perfunctory doctor's appointment. 

Waiting is no party. But my mom is doing just fine. Me? I'm good. But I feel like I'm sleep walking. But hey, I'm here in my hometown and you can get sauerkraut on your pizza here. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Hotel de Pillville: a retrospective

First read this.  The flow chart still makes me laugh hysterically.

Traveling with my mom is easier now that she doesn't smoke. Last night we stayed at an Embassy Suites. I chose the couch in the living room and let my mom have the bedroom to herself. There was some pretty terrifying shouting at the dead around midnight. She was yelling at her twin sister Millie. If I'd already been asleep, I'm sure the noise would have awakened me, heart pounding. As it was, I just got a case of the goosebumps and resolved to fling open the door to the hallway and run if a ghost came through the bedroom door.

Last evening as she was wheeled off the plane with the aid of an aisle-sized wheel chair and three attendants, the logistics of it all blocked the incoming crew from boarding. The end of the jetway was lined with people in navy blue as she was transferred to her own wheelchair. This is my last flight, she told them. I'm coming home. I'm not sure if she actually spoke the words to die. But it was in the air. Not a single person tapped a toe or sighed impatiently. They waited, almost at attention, thanking us for flying Delta, telling her to have a good time, a good night, to rest.

My mom is exhausted. She's still asleep. I have her toast and coffee ready. I'll have to wake her soon. Then Pillville will be hitting the road.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Pillville is Mobile

My mom and I are in the air, flying into the biggest cloud I've ever seen. Flight attendants are taking their seats and I don't even care. All I care about is the half drunk cup of coffee on my mom's tray table. Will it spill? Can I keep it from spilling? I kinda gave up on the pool of muck under the dining room table the past few days. The caregiver and I made a cursory wipe here and there, but I waited until my mom was outside the front door in her wheelchair this morning before I got the mop.

Pillville is mobile. 37,000 feet. In the cloud, literally. Then a hotel for the night. Then a car ride. Then my brother''s house. Then my sister and her husband's anniversary party. Then a doctor's appointment, then the nursing home. Then what?

I take back all that about the big cloud. We're in it and I hate it and I have to go now.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Our Last Night in Pillville

It's been unusually hot here for months in case you haven't heard. Like the weather gods have finally complied and made it possible for my mother to remove her long underwear and enjoy the patio. She has a suntan--which might be a feat that only a few hospice patients manage. We aim to please here in Pillville.

The wind kicked up this afternoon. It's blowing off the ocean and it's blowing harder than it has in months. There's an eerie pinkish yellow gray light out there as dusk settles in. Now the weather gods are saying go. Get out of town while the getting's good.

I wouldn't say the getting is good, exactly. I think the getting is iffy. "I think she'll make the trip," the hospice nurse said. This is what the nurse has been saying for weeks--without the emphasis on the word think. I'm not going to weigh in with what I think. What I think doesn't matter. I'm going to put one foot in front of the other. I'm going to put my lips together and blow.