Sunday, June 1, 2008

Life returns (to normal?)

I started this letter a long time ago, but didn't finish it.  I feel a need to continue to tell the story about my Mom's death--or I should say, the end of her life--because that's something people care about, but it is hard to do.  I've spent so many months focused on her--on dealing with all the emotional aspects of her impending death, for her and for me and for people who love her.  It has been hard, but beautiful and important.  Now I really want to point my life in a different direction--looking forward.  Lots of really good and fun things are happening in my life!  So I think I'll tell you about the new stuff, then I'll tell you about Mom's memorial service.  

I feel better, finally, after surviving a bout of shingles in 90-plus degree weather.  Shingles is a painful after-effect of the chickenpox that often comes back to bite people over fifty, in times of stress.  An itchy spot over my breastbone turned into a line of tiny blisters running along my ribs, that spread out into inflamed patches of HELL.   It hurt to wear clothes.  I spent days lying in the dark in our bedroom, nude, plastered with cold, wet towels.  It hurt to have the fan blow on me.  I thought it was ironic that I would get shingles now, when, for the first time in almost a year I feel completely relaxed about my life, but our friend, Dr. Ruth, says it is normal to get them after a period of intense stress.  Ruth loaded me up with all kinds of naturopathic cures and I feel I got off lightly.  The blisters never broke and have subsided, but I still have moments when I feel like my skin is crawling with bees!  Oh well.  Focus on the positive!  

(I am writing this now on June 22)  We just got back from a weekend in Southern Maryland. We were there to scatter the ashes of my brother-in-law, Bill MacArthur.  Cindy (Robert's sister and Bill's widow) works at the Calvert County Marine Museum, that owns an antique oyster-fishing sailboat called a "bug-eye."  It is a gorgeous craft and we get to take free rides on it from time to time.  Cindy rented it for the ceremony, and the Lochow/MacArthur family gathered.  It is so much fun for me because we have lots of teeny great-nephews who are so quirky and dear.  (For instance, almost-two-year-old Landon, has a fixation on leaf blowers. He runs around pretending that vacuum cleaner parts and empty paper-towel rolls are leaf-blowers, much the way my brother turned anything they could hold in their hands into guns when we were little and cowboys and Indians were all the rage.)  Landon, Nicky and Lukas were playing with little toy cars on the benches of the boat, and it was entertaining how everyone became hearing-impaired each time one of them asked (about the wooden casket of ashes), "What's in there?"     
It was a great day, bright and sunny, to be out on the water of the Chesapeake Bay, bouncing over the waves with spray in our faces and pretty Celtic music playing.  Cindy asked Robert to read a poem that I thought was not well-written, but the sentiment and the idea behind it were very appropriate, and I think people might appreciate it who are thinking about my Mom now. Here's my version:

"A ship leaves the dock.  She is beautiful, with sails full-blown.
She takes off toward the horizon, becoming smaller and 
smaller, until she is nothing but a white dot at the place where 
the sea touches the sky.  Someone beside me says, 'She is gone!'  
And  I think, 'Gone where?'  She appears smaller, but only to 
us.  In reality, she is as broad and strong and capable of carrying 
life as she ever was.  And at that very moment that someone 
cries, 'She is gone!'--persons on another shore are crying, 
'There she is!  Here she comes!'"
OK.  I had to stop and have a little cry there.  If anyone want to know the poet or the actual poem, ask me, and I'll send it to you.

Mom's memorial service was held on May 10.  I don't think she could have asked for a better and more meaningful send off.  My brothers and I talked with Jannel, the priest, about what we thought was important to Mom.  I put together a collection of photographs for a display (when I get my computer working again I'll be able to show you) of all the special things in her life--family, music, art, writing, small animals, Vick, and her beloved Hoggwilde. Mom had wanted people who didn't have it to have a copy of her book, "A Dog Called Dirt," and also, some of her art work, so I had those ready for those who wanted them.  Aunties and Cousins and friends more dear than they will ever know helped set up before the service.  Then the others showed up--so many more than were anticipated when the church printed the official programs.  
Jannel asked me for a photo to put on the little table where Mom's ashes were placed at the front of the church.  I didn't have anything except a portrait that Mom absolutely HATED. In fact, when I was sending out her Christmas letter for her last year I decided to send out some of her millions of extra photographs to her friends.  I found lots of copies of pictures of her with her "Dirk" book (by the way, I discovered today that twelve-dollar copies of her book are selling for $22.00 on e-Bay now!)   I also found a whole bunch of copies of a portrait taken for the St. Kate's church directory.  When I told Mom I was sending those out to people, she freaked! She told me she thought she looked so awful in that picture she wanted all copies destroyed.  I lied, and didn't tell her I'd already sent out dozens and dozens of them.   I actually like the picture.  I have it on my fridge door and I blow kisses at it every morning when I get milk for my coffee.

In that photograph Mom is wearing pretty pale blue and green colors, and they perfectly matched the colors of the service bulletin that Jannell had put together. Jannel also asked me about flowers for the table display.  We didn't have any.  I was so busy trying to get the photo display set up and the food set out and coffee made, all the while trying to greet people and answer questions (in addition to the general stress of dealing with the fact that I was about ready to attend my mother's memorial service) I was about ready to go out of my mind.  Then a very sweet and "Hoggish" thing happened.  

Patty Graham Enfield (one of the "school chums" I got re-acquainted with last year when I was working on my high school reunion) walked into the church carrying a handful of the most beautiful and poignant flowers--pale-blue columbine, with drooping, sad heads and translucent pale green stems.  She held them out to me and I almost cried.  I said, "Oh, no! Mom said she didn't want flowers--" and Patty started apologizing.  I swept them up.  They were so unusual a flower for that time of year, and such gorgeous colors--  I spent a lot of time during the service looking at them and thinking how Mom always said that is something special about our family--that we are blessed--that how often in our times of need we receive exactly what we need from unexpected and unbidden sources.

The church was crammed full, and the service was perfect. My brother Tim wrote things that were incorporated into the homily that were so perfectly "Patty,"--I can't tell you.  It was especially good that her two sisters and some cousins were able to come from Kansas to be with us.  Afterwards, we went back to Hoggwilde and had the kind of party Mom always loved--lots of people milling around, telling funny stories.  She would have been so happy to have been there, with so many friends enjoying her beautiful house and the flowers and her new deck. There could not have been a more appreciative, happier, more thankful way to say goodbye.
The next morning Robert and I had to take off.  We stopped at the house and loaded the car up with living memories of my childhood--Hoggwilde-grown ferns and black raspberry plants and jonquils, in plastic buckets.  I am happy to report that they are growing like gangbusters here in my yard in New York.  

I have been busy since the service with my special project--sending things that Mom saved off to people.  I am sending them a booklet of her writings that I put together and brother Chris produced.  I am almost done, but not quite.
The challenge now is to learn how to live my life without a mama.  I got through Mothers' Day OK.  I don't think Mom was particularly sentimental about that day, but I did discover that she saved every Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day card I ever sent to them.  July 4th was harder.  I always think, when I see flag-decorated paper plates and napkins in the stores, "I should get these for Mom, she'll like them!"  Then I remember.         

So life without her is emptier, but it keeps going forward, and it's good.  Her silly kitty, Twirp, lives with us now, destroying wallpaper and tearing up sofas and carpet.  He is so proud of himself!  I think her kitty Foggie (at the shelter) will be adopted soon, because she's so affectionate, but Pussyfoots and Mousie are so spooky, they hide from people.  I hope for Christmas maybe my husband will let me bring Pussyfoots home with us.  

Mom's favorite cat was Popcorn.  She saved him from death just about the time Andy died, and she focused so much love and attention on him.  He had seizures and died in her arms, and Mom never got over that.  She had always considered him to be her miracle kitten.  I am glad that I was able to give her a special gift before her death--Popcorn was chosen as the Calendar Cat for February for the Mid-Hudson Animal Aid Record of Special Events.  The Record (a perpetual calendar) has been a personal fundraising project of mine, and I am very proud of it. I think we will have an ad for it on our website soon, so I'll  publish that for you in a month or so (in time for Christmas shopping!).  This is a great gift idea for anybody who likes cats or who has a large family with lots of birthdays and anniversaries to keep track of, or who wants to honor Patty Hogg.  The calendar is GORGEOUS.  They cost $12.00 each.  If you want one, let me know.    

I will wait until next time to tell you about my fabulous new job!  My great boss!  My shocking paycheck!  My cool co-workers!   Write to me!  I love to hear from you.

FAH (and Robert)

(Hoping soon to get my computer up and running again so I can send you pictures!)