Monday, April 14, 2014

Comfort: Part Two

For 2014, as a  talisman, as a focus, I had chosen the word “comfort,” in the belief that I needed to become comfortable with this intense new life of teaching and grad school.  I mean, really, I had retired! And though it is often said that one is busier in retirement than ever before and that it is a happier-busy and all that was true — I loved what I was doing — still I was seeking a balance, a way of comfortably inhabiting this new life, of not running on the edge of exhaustion, dodging and  spinning between planning classes, grading coursework, conducting classes, attending classes, writing my own essays, grading student essays. I would remind myself, often, that I had chosen to do all this.

Comfort as in ease, as in gentle on myself, as in feeling good, as in equilibrium.

It’s a good word and I will stick with it, even though comfort itself has been elusive and scant, even absent, from Day One of the New Year.

New Year’s Eve itself had been comfortable. We try to avoid driving on that particular night, so we had walked the  few blocks into downtown to have dinner at Fourth and "C" Food (yep, fish and chips) , then another block or so over to the old Carnegie Library, now the Petaluma Historical Museum, for a chamber music concert of classical music, all strings.  A different sort of New Year's. Low-key. It was nippy enough to make it feel like December, offering us an excuse to wear winter coats and mufflers, albeit no snow, of course, here in Sonoma County. The musicians were excellent, on a reprieve from the San Francisco Symphony and the Big Gala in the City. It was so -- well, grown-up.  Comfortable.

Cory and her Grandmom Marilyn. 
The next day, New Year’s Day, we took a walk to visit Marilyn, my mother-in-law, at the Rehab Center barely three blocks up the hill from our house where she was recovering from heart surgery. Sunny, barely a breeze. Pleasant. I brought some knitting  (a very late Christmas present) and we hung out for almost two hours, relaxed and chatting, only leaving when she was called to her physical therapy appointment.  We walked down the hill to the local market to get fixin's for a small New Year’s Day dinner; I had thought we could make soup and bring her some later that evening or the next day, but she had brushed that offer aside. Didn't really have an appetite, she'd said.

We weren’t home from our travels but thirty minutes before we got a call from the Rehab Center; Marilyn had cut the PT session short saying she felt tired and out of sorts. They took her back to her room where she lay down to rest. When they went back in fifteen minutes later to check her vitals, she was gone. She had died in her nap.

Our shock was both stunned and loud. We knew in the abstract (as everyone knows) that death is the future for all of us. We knew that given her age and the recent episodes of heart trouble, that death was technically closer for her rather than farther.

She had been so alive. Perhaps not vibrant, but not in rapid decline. New Year's Day we had been cracking jokes; she had admonished us for working too hard, for not taking the time to enjoy living. Yes, she used a walker; yes, we were in the process of installing a stair-lift on her stairs so she could get up to her bedroom; yes, she had said several times that she didn’t think she would “end up like this.”  But the focus, at least for me, had been her continued presence in our life. She would get back to her house; there'd be more holidays and birthdays; more cake, more of her famous Cranberry Jello salad.

And so the idea of comfort – well, we needed the comfort all right; we appreciated every drop of it we received; we offered it freely to family and friends, but it wasn’t the cure we craved. 

Today, 4/14/2014,  would have been her 79th birthday.  Her good cheer, her welcoming smile will always be missed in the tangible plane; will always guide the direction of our hearts.