(and Dad)

You never know when it’s going to hit. It stems from the smallest, seemingly random things. Often it’s a song, or a saying of his that I use without even thinking. At those times the moment is brief, and might even entice a smile. Other times the moment comes with a pang of sadness that I can push down and move on. But sometimes the moment brings heartwrenching sobs and unimaginable pain.

My mom sent me a birthday card and she signed it “Love, Mom (and Dad)”

It was the parentheses that got me. The parentheses that mean nothing and everything. Parentheses “contain material that could be omitted without destroying or altering the meaning of a sentence.” They illustrate what it means to have a family member with Alzheimer’s disease.

My mom wrote my dad’s name in the card as a lovely gesture. She has every right to speak for him and she knows he would wish me a happy birthday if he could.

But, he did not know it was my birthday and was unable to sign the card. More than that, he will never wish me another happy birthday and I will never have a real conversation with my dad again.

He is gone (he is here)

Fuck (Fuck)

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Walking it out

The accident happened on a warm, sunny day on Lake Crescent in the Olympic Peninsula. The early morning sun cast a blinding, shimmering light on the water as the canoe silently floated across the lake. The only sound was the intermittent dip followed by the drip, drip, drip of water off the side of the paddle resting across my lap.

Lake Crescent enchanted me from the first moment I saw it and became more treasured when I got married there. The water is so clear you can see a dizzying 10 feet to the bottom. A far cry from canoeing the Mississippi river where we put off swimming until it was so damn hot that the brown, murky abyss actually looked inviting. Once in the water, we’d slowly lower our hands under the surface to see how long until we couldn’t see them anymore. It happened immediately.

“You have a completely torn ACL and MCL.
It’s a twofer!”

The doctor held up his hand for a high-five. I fived him, thinking – is this guy for real?

If you look up a torn ACL in Wikipedia, it says “Torn ACLs are most often related to high impact sports or when the knee is forced to stop on a dime at high-speed and when the tibia moves forward in relation to the femur. These types of injuries are prevalent in alpine skiing, Soccer, American football, Australian rules football, basketball, rugby, professional wrestling, martial arts, and artistic gymnastics.”

Surprisingly, canoeing does not make the list.

Scene of the crime. Lake Crescent, Washington.

Scene of the crime. Lake Crescent, Washington.

On the day of the accident, I had already fallen in the water once. To get us over some rocks near the shore, I was sitting with one leg out of the canoe pushing forward as my husband pulled from the front when the canoe tipped ever so slightly, popped me out and instantly righted itself. As if it was telling me in the Amityville Horror way –

“Get.Out.”

An avid canoer all my life (and in this very canoe, transported across country from Minnesota to Washington), I can count on one hand the number of times I have fallen out of a canoe in 40 years – three. On this day the number jumped to five.

Wet but otherwise unscathed, I climbed back in and we paddled around, the sun warming my legs and drying my shorts. We canoed to the far side of the lake, circled around so we could drift slowly past the wedding site, then headed to shore.

My husband got out first and was holding the front of the canoe. I grabbed the bar in front of me tightly, keenly aware that the canoe (literally and figuratively) had already turned on me once.

I stood and carefully stepped one foot out into the water when the canoe (now with no weight in it) caught a current and started drifting away. I tried in vain to pull it back using the leg and arms that were still in it. As I started to do the splits I simultaneously realized,

“Oh my god, I’m going to fall.  AGAIN.”

And I did. Almost the same fall, only this time I sat there not only stunned, but hurt. I had injured my knee.

The full implications of what happened that day continue to unfold, more than three months later. I am still quite immobile. I am slow. I can’t work out, I can’t take stairs, I grab handrails and I limp. I watch in envy as someone runs for the bus. I have no desire to take public transit, but I sure wish I could move like that. I feel and act OLD.

But one result I could not foresee isn’t physical. I have realized that when I go for walks, I re-energize. I get inspired. My feet move forward automatically but my thoughts zigzag all over the place – creating, contemplating, deciding – I do not notice what is around me or listen to music. I zone out.

After, I’m moved to write something new, or have come up with a different direction to take a story. Maybe I have worked through an issue, or found a solution to a problem I didn’t even know I had. Sometimes I’ve devised a life-changing plan. The process is what I call “walking it out.”

Not being able to walk means more to me than just not walking. And that is the worst part about the accident. So when I got my “twofer” diagnosis and was told my options are surgery or live with an “ACL-deficient knee;” I already knew my answer.

Hockock and Hernan: A story about real love and imaginary friends

This is a story about my father who has Alzheimer’s Disease, and our journey together. It was written to honor his life, rather than focus on the disease that is taking it.

This story has been published in Stratus: Journal of Arts and Writing

Found on this blog under: Stories/Hockock and Hernan

Save some for the adults

Still smiling after giggling in a corner with a friend and overcome with nervous anticipation for all that life might have to offer, Patti grabs a paper plate and “happy graduation!” napkin and heads for the avocado colored crock pot, brimming with barbecued lil smokies. She hasn’t even removed the lid when she hears a small but surprisingly stern, reprimanding voice behind her.

“Save some for the adults!”

And this is how Patti first meets my grandmother Florence. The showdown takes place in the dining room of my parents house during my (and Patti’s) high school graduation party. We are newly 18 and high school graduates, so we think we ARE, in fact, adults; besides, she hasn’t started serving up her plate yet.

My grandmother had a preconceived notion that Patti would take more than her fair share. People of her generation typically felt that people of our generation were selfish and greedy, and were often correct in that assumption. This holds true as generations change hands because we remember how we were at each age. We have the benefit of hindsight.

At 18, “Save some for the adults” was an appalling expression. And I thought I knew everything at 18. At 45 I know enough to realize how little I know and I still feel the same about that expression and its delivery. But I now understand the concept. As I witness the aging process first hand – the aches and pains, the ups and downs (and how much harder it is to get up once you’re down), the fears – I have more and more respect for my elders and appreciate why we should save some for them – not only lil smokies but seats, honor, awe.

Like “pay it forward” we should “pay it up” by practicing random acts of kindness to those whose ages are a higher number than ours. Because someday (with any luck) those will be our numbers.

And if we’ve done it right, there will be lil smokies waiting when we get there.