Friday, January 18, 2013

“Taking Advice”

            When my mother slipped into her final weeks, hospice sent a social worker to our home to help us transition to the next stage of our lives—the one where I won’t take on the role of caregiver for a terminal patient. She spent almost four hours with me one morning as I related the course Huntington’s Disease took through Mom’s life, and through the lives of our family members.
            “So, what I’m hearing,” she summarized when I finished, “is that you and your family have taken care of your mother, to varying degrees, for almost ten years. And although your husband, son and siblings have chipped in on an incredible level, you have still been the primary caregiver.”
            “Yes,” I agreed.
            “You’ll go from caring for someone 24/7 to having nothing to fill your days,” she continued. “Do you have any plans on what you’ll do with this sudden gap?”
            I nodded my head. “I’ve actually looked online at a couple of fulltime positions with some local companies that I wouldn’t mind checking out.”
            “Can I offer some advice?” She continued, “Don’t take on anything that’s permanent. You’re the type of person who takes on responsibility easily. I’m afraid that if you step into a fulltime job somewhere, you’ll talk yourself into keeping it even if you don’t like it. What you need is to take on a part-time slot at a store or office. During this first year of transition, you don’t need to make any decisions that tie you down. Don’t box yourself into another commitment. You need the type of job that will get you out of the house, help you fill your days as you passage through grief, but that you can easily step away from once you don’t need it any more.”
            I rolled my eyes, “Well, if that’s what I need the solution’s easy. I’ll substitute.” I began ticking off the plusses for this type of work, “First, I can work as many or as few days as I want. Second, I’ll still have nights and weekends off. Also, I’ll have the summer break just like I did when I taught fulltime. And I’ll be back in familiar places—with friends I’ve known for many, many years.”

            Less than two weeks after Mom died, I filed my online application to begin substitute teaching. The arrival of winter vacation meant the school district didn’t get to it for a couple of weeks, but by January 7th my application shifted from “received” to “reviewed.” Two days later, I found myself sitting at an orientation meeting with the promise that I’d be called within a week to have my picture taken for my ID card. It took human resources less than a week to put me on the roster. I dropped by the office yesterday for my picture, marveled that the photograph actually looked like me, and then ran a couple of errands. All total, I’d left the house for about an hour. Within that length of time, the district office had inputted my number, and I received my first call for filling in a slot. Since I still had more errands on my list, I declined the job. I did, however, go into the computer and log into the site to check out available jobs for the next day and the next couple of weeks.
            Today, I take on the roll of substitute teacher. I’ll step into another teacher’s shoes for eight hours. I know that students will show their worst behavior because I’m the “outsider,” but that’s okay. I have a reason to get out of bed, a mission to accomplish, a way to fill my days with something challenging and productive.

Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Daddy's Girl"

Man in a Box   

Tears welled in his eyes   
a confident smirk masked his disappointment   
A girl—a girl   
His finger slid down the curve of her soft cheek   
then he stepped back   
building physical distance   
No clone    
No son to show off at company parties and family reunions   
“Do you want to hold her?”   
His eyes darted to his wife, his mother   
relief settled his shoulders as he realized his screamed denial was in his head   
“I think she has my hair,” his young wife crooned   
“I think she has my eyes.”  
His hand rubbed the stubble on his chin   
fatigue punched his gut   
Pretending sapped his energy   
made him dry and brittle   
A fox outwitted by the trap, he stood motionless   
fought the instinct to chew off his leg   
Instead, he boxed his panic   
nailed down the lid   
let days blend into months and years   
He encouraged his daughter’s adoration   
while he ignored her needs   
avoided her love   
silenced her angry tears by walking away   
He minimized her   
made her peripheral   
on the edges of his consciousness   
an orbiting object not worthy of his attention   
A girl—a girl   

Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

“In The Morning”

In the morning
   before I open my eyes
      I listen for her breath
         for sounds of her movement
            for her voice calling
In the morning
   before the alarm’s irritating bleat
      I open my eyes to darkness
         seeing no soft light filtering from the kitchen
            hearing no sounds for preparing First Breakfast
In the morning
   before I leave the warmth of quilts
      I pull clich├ęs onto my psyche
         covering up my doubts
            with comforting words and phrases
In the morning
   before I build my protective walls
      I grieve
         the endless day free of responsibilities saddens me
            and sorrowful hours loom ahead

Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Northern Winds"

Wind chimes spin in a wild dervish whirl   
Fallen leaves sweep up in rowdy swirl   
Boy holds hands of a rosy cheeked girl   
Their scarves, like sails, begin to unfurl   
Their laughter swoops up into the air   
And bubbles of joy float everywhere   
The children play, giggling without care   
As northern winds blow ‘em here and there   

Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Monday, January 14, 2013

"Light and Shadow"

Pastel smudges draw my eyes to morning’s rise   
aligning the innocence and the essence   
of day’s promise with ease. Light dusts the trees   
with the purity of youth. Beams illume Truth   
in a precise reality that cannot be   
denied. Into the sunshine I dance sublime   
and naked in the summer’s heat. When I retreat   
to the coolness of shadows, a soft breeze blows   
across my glistening skin. I let Hope in   
wrapped in shadow and light—and all is right   

 Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Sunday, January 13, 2013

“Celebration of Life”

            My brother arrived Friday night with a hoarse voice and deep rattling cough. I dragged him out of bed with reluctance on Saturday morning, but we needed to head to the credit union. With death certificates in hand, we took Mom off of the account and added my brother to it so he could have a better financial institution for some deposits. I thought the business would wrap up quickly, but we had a trainee handling our transactions, so things slowed down with his frequent forays to his supervisor to check on procedures. Our plan to completely close out Mom’s accounts at a second bank shifted to an afternoon task because my sister’s and her husband’s arrival time approached.
            My sister arrived shortly after ten o’clock, alone. Her husband stayed home because his cold had morphed into bronchitis. On his second round of medications, he decided a quiet weekend at home with tons of rest would help him get back on his feet.
            Within an hour, five of us squished into the Escape hybrid to make the trip to Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery. We laughed as the adults in the back seat wiggled butts left and right to snap seatbelts into place. Only after we reached the first stop sign did my sister think that we could have taken her much larger SUV. Strapped into place, we opted to continue on to our first destination of the morning.
            It didn’t take us long before we stood before Mom and Dad’s marker at the columbarium. Within seconds, my heart sank. A mistake! When we filled out the paperwork, the cemetery official told us that there wouldn’t be room for the inscription we’d put for Dad plus one for Mom. We liked our newest choice for the marker, “Always on my mind” and so we had asked that that be the inscription instead of the previous “Loved by All.” When the cemetery redid the marker, they placed “LOVING by All” on one line, and then squeezed in “Always on my mind” below that.
            “It’s wrong!” I moaned in dismay.
            “It’s okay,” my sister said.
         “Loving by all?” I pointed at the words to emphasize my point.
            “Oh, wow . . . That’s not right.”
            All five of us shuffled our feet. “Mom would find this funny,” my sister pointed out. “She was a proofreader, you know. She’d love this irony.”
            “Do I have it changed?” Mentally, I’m adding another item onto my list of things to do.
            “Well, you know Grammy and Poppy would see the humor in this,” my son began, “But after having a good laugh, Poppy would want it RIGHT.” We all nodded in agreement. Silence encapsulated our little group as we each processed our loss once again.
            Then we headed out for the next destination for our day. Mom requested that all of us go to one of her favorite places, The Lion and the Rose, to eat a meal in her honor. We ordered Shepherd’s Pie and Manhattans, smoothing out our sadness with a toast to Mom. Our meal continued with laughter and chatter.
            Our afternoon filled with setting up for the main event of the evening—Mom’s Celebration of Life. The previous weekend, I’d prepared a slideshow of pictures of Mom from her baby pictures to the last photographs I’d taken of her a few weeks before her death. Willie Nelson’s “Always on my Mind” played throughout the show, which I looped. Charles had watched the piece the day before to prepare himself in private, but my sister didn’t want to watch it until our company arrived.
            We debated on how to arrange the food and drinks, deciding to load the table with “Sweets and Salty” while the main portions of our feast rested on the kitchen counters to allow easy flow for our guests as they picked up plates and selected their food.
            From the first doorbell ring until the last arrival, the house filled quickly with hugs and laughter. We played the slideshow and left it looping for a little while until I noticed my brother staring at the pictures, crying.
            “I’ll turn this off now, okay?” I asked before reaching for the remote. He nodded and gave me a huge silent hug.
            The party ebbed and flowed as people came and left. Groups formed and reformed, shifted from room to room. The last guests left after midnight.
            “Mom would have loved this party,” I told my brother and husband as we started putting away the food.
            Although we all cried a few tears, we also shared memories of our lives together. Although we all miss my mother desperately, we spent the evening in celebration of her life.

Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman