What is Easter like in Newtown, Connecticut this year?

It’s hard not to think today about the parents of the children who died in Newtown shortly before Christmas.  Now it’s Easter and I wonder how the residents of Newtown are managing to focus on the celebration of the holiday without those children.

I know the Easter bunny still made an appearance and brought joy to those children who survived the shooting.  Still I can’t imagine the pain being endured by those who lost their small sons and daughters to senseless violence.

Every day it seems like there is a new story about the use of assault weapons in this country.  This morning it was about yesterday’s shooting in Texas.  I support the right of anyone to own a handgun for protection, but I still cannot fathom the need for assault weapons.  It’s hard to hear so many adults talk about their rights in the light of the loss of those children’s rights to a safe and protected environment.

This Easter tends to be a sad one for me.  I won’t be together with my children and grandchildren going on an Easter egg hunt, searching for Easter baskets, or enjoying a leisurely Easter brunch.  It’s also the day before the death of my sister eight years ago.  On March 31 of that year, I was seated at the bedside of my sister watching her take her final breaths after a courageous battle with cancer.

What I really need to remember, however, is what is left to be joyful about.  I will visit my mother in the nursing home, email my daughter vacationing in Hawaii, and talk countless times to my oldest daughter on the telephone, a daughter who never fails to bring me a special kind of joy.   I still have my daughters and granddaughters, unlike many of those residents of Newtown, Connecticut.  I hope we don’t ever forget what happened there.  I hope we don’t ever stop extending random acts of kindness to others.  I hope we don’t ever forget to cherish every minute we have with family and friends.  It can all end far too soon.

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Where is the Easter Bunny this year?

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As a child I loved Easter.  What was there not to like? I got new clothes, a cute little hat, patent leather shoes and white socks with lace trim.  I also got an Easter basket filled with chocolate bunnies and jelly beans, paddle balls and jacks, jump ropes and balls.  We would go to church and my sister and I would have our picture taken in our fancy clothes.  Then we would go home, have a huge Easter dinner with extended family, change our clothes, eat candy and play outside.

I guess Easter hasn’t really changed much for children.  Parents enjoy giving to their children the same Easter traditions they had.  Grandparents might be invited to share in Easter egg hunts and Easter brunch if they could travel or did not live too far away.

Now this year I am trying to reconfigure Easter.  It falls on March 31, a day before my sister’s death eight years ago.  My youngest daughter and her family are vacationing in Hawaii.  When they lived on the East Coast, we would visit them for Easter, go to church, do an Easter egg hunt, and eat a scrumptious brunch at the country club.

For the past few years, we have spent Easter with my oldest daughter in New Jersey.  We went to a vineyard near Atlantic City and enjoyed an elaborate brunch.  We took my mother with us and she loved to go there.  Last Easter the day after the brunch, my mother had a stroke and fell, hitting her head on the closet door at my daughter’s apartment.  We spent the rest of the day at Urgent Care and the hospital emergency room.  She seemed to recover and return to her normal life.

In May after another stroke on Mother’s Day and a new diagnosis of cancer,  my mother was admitted to the hospital and then to a nursing home, suffering also from vascular dementia caused by the strokes.  This year she will have Easter dinner in the nursing home with the other residents without her family.

My oldest daughter will spend Easter alone in New Jersey.  Fears of furloughs and even the possibility of layoffs have changed the lives of many federal employees.  She doesn’t have time off to spare this year, and the five-hour drive up and back to our house is too much to do in just two days.  My husband and I will also be alone except for the few hours I will spend with my mother at the nursing home.

Holidays bring changes.  When I had family around me, holidays were special.  Now they seem to be just another day. While I was young and loving Easter, I am sure I was not aware that somewhere there were older people alone during holidays.  When I had children of my own, we were able to include our parents and grandparents in celebrations because we lived close by.  Now that I am a grandparent myself, I can sense how lonely old age can be.  I will at least talk to my daughter in New Jersey and visit my mother in the nursing home.  I feel lucky to still be able to do that.  I will miss the Easter bunny’s visit this year, but maybe I could still enjoy part of the day sitting in the silence of my living room surrounded by my yellow Peeps and wonderful memories of the way Easter used to be.

St. Patrick’s Day: Morning Joy, Afternoon Panic

St. Patrick’s Day:  Morning Joy, Afternoon Panic

Even though I am partly Irish, St. Patrick’s Day is usually low-key for me.  I don’t frequent bars or drink, although I do love Irish music.  My plan was to watch some Sunday morning television and then visit my mother at the nursing home.

My favorite show to watch is CBS Sunday Morning, mainly just the last five minutes, however, when a nature video is shown.  It is always a secret shot of nature, like someone spying on the wonders of the lives of birds or buffalo or deer.  There is quiet except for the natural sounds of the animals or rushing water or the cries of gulls.  Yesterday the video was of porcupines.  I never thought of porcupines as particularly cute, but in their natural environment as they munched on hickory berries, they were adorable.  Close ups showed the mouths, with their protruding front teeth, munching on berries while emitting soft moaning sounds of pleasure.  One porcupine snuffled around in the snow, pulling up berries from underneath and placidly munching while seemingly talking to the berries.  Another porcupine was up in a tree, pulling the berries off the branches.  These few moments that connect me to scenes in nature I would never experience by myself always bring me a sense of peace.

After lunch, I went up to the nursing home as usual.  My husband, who sometimes goes with me, stayed home to cook corned beef and cabbage.  When I walked onto the floor where my mother’s room is, the nurse stopped me.  She told me they had just called in the rapid response team for my mother who appeared to have had a seizure, her second one in a few weeks.  She told me she had a pulse but was unresponsive.  I couldn’t process the words.  Another nurse escorted me to a small room off the dining room to wait for the response team to continue to work on my mother.  At that point I was convinced my mother would not live.  Then she was whisked off to the emergency room in the hospital.  (The nursing home is attached to the hospital.)  Once again she went through a series of tests.  As the minutes went by, my mother returned to the living.  Oxygen restored her breathing and her blood pressure began to go down.  She could move and speak and seemed to have strength in her arms and legs.  Over the course of the next four hours, she gradually returned to her normal self.  The tests did not show what had happened and she was returned to her room in the nursing home.

Today I went up to see her and spent more time than usual.  I brought her a cup of coffee and we went in to the dining room to enjoy the DJ Sal sing and play music for the residents of the nursing home.  Fifteen residents sat around tables in their wheelchairs, some sleeping, some staring, some singing along and laughing at Sal’s jokes.  He played and sang Irish songs and then moved on to country and pop songs of the past.

One resident, a prominent local surgeon dealing with Alzheimer’s, loved the music.  He couldn’t speak well but he sure could sing.  He sang along with “Danny Boy” and swung his arms to the music.  At one point he wheeled himself over to me, took my hand, and kissed it.  I told him I liked his sweater, a bright orange, and he told me in slow speech that he liked it too.  I said it was my favorite color and he said then he would wear it tomorrow.

All the time I sat at my mother’s side, thinking how different today was from yesterday when I feared the worst and expected to lose her at any minute.  Today she sat quietly, laughing at times, smiling, clearly enjoying the music.  Sal is her favorite.

Sitting in the dining room with the residents, these men and women who are now my mother’s acquaintances, who I now know by name, people who once had active, busy lives, jobs, hobbies and activities and now sat in their wheel chairs listening to the joys of music, an overwhelming sadness came over me.  I kept glancing at my mother, loving her, and wondering how I could ever exist without her.  It comforted me to sit so close to her, to touch her shoulder, to laugh with her, to feel like she was still there if I needed her.  And I did.

There was joy in the dining room of the nursing home today.  The only tears were mine.