What’s in a Name?

A few weeks ago, at the suggestion of Mom’s caregivers, I phoned a local funeral home. The funeral director himself answered.

“This is Charles Graves,” he said.

I wondered if I had heard him correctly.

“Seriously?” I asked.

“If I had a nickel…” he said.

Before I had time to fully ponder the irony, he added, “And my cousin’s last name is Burns. He’s a fire chief up in New England.”

These unexpected little bubbles of humor and serendipity – like air pockets in an ocean of grief – have helped me laugh and breathe through some tough days.

I started to pay more attention to the cast of characters around us.

Of the many wonderful RNs taking care of Mom in her last weeks, my favorite was a third shift, well-built ex-Marine. I first met Nick the night he popped his head into her room during what had been a particularly rough evening for me.

“Do you need anything?” he asked me cheerfully.

“No, I think she’s fine for now, thank you,” I replied quietly.

“No,” he said with a smile, “Do you need anything?”

“Well, maybe a glass of water,” I said, surprised at his thoughtfulness. “If it’s no trouble.”

“How about a hug?” he responded.

I nearly cried. But then I caught sight of his name tag and smiled instead – at Nicholas Favorite.

I got the water and a big hug.

IMG_1270.jpg

After Mom died, in lieu of a memorial service, I put fresh, colorful flowers on all the tables in the residents’ dining room she so loved, with its vaulted ceiling and large expanse of windows overlooking the gardens.

I phoned her retirement village beforehand to coordinate the arrangements and asked to speak to the head of dining room services.

“Hello,” a cheerful voice answered. “This is Angel!”

Of course it was.

 

It Takes An (Appalachian) Village

Most days, late in the afternoon, my dogs and I take a several mile ramble through the neighborhoods of Asheville.

Sometimes we walk with friends and sometimes we’re on our own,

IMG_1815.JPGIMG_5379

 but we almost always run into dogs and people we know.

We walk past bungalows and castles,

IMG_2682

and up and down the mountainsides.

IMG_6375.JPG

And if something is ever bothering my brain, or if I just have the blues, a mountain walk with the pups seems to take care of it –

DSC05183

thanks to the fresh air and the conversations along the way.

Last summer, my aging (but spritely) mother moved in with me,

DSC01158

and I found myself taking these walks a little more often.

She moved in at my invitation, and I had the best of intentions when I suggested it, eager as I was for her to experience the wonders and delights of life in the southern highlands of Appalachia.

And so…

DSC03667

I took her to my favorite coffee shops, wine bars,

DSC00751

restaurants and book stores – all of which quickly became

IMG_4004.JPG

her favorite coffee shops, wine bars, and restaurants.

We went out to hear live music whenever we could.

IMG_5446.JPG

She liked one band so much, she grabbed their tip jar and worked the room –

DSC01238returning it to them completely filled,

DSC01248.JPG

much to their delight.

On weekends, we drove out through the mountains to nearby small towns.

IMG_9435.JPG

She marveled at,

and enjoyed,

DSC02911

everything.

In order to accommodate this new world order, however,

DSC00875.JPG

Casa Mia had to go through some necessary repairs and renovations.

Likewise, my lifestyle had to take a major shift.

Every day was now “take your mother to work day” and I sometimes found myself with a less than perfect attitude about it all.

Ideas for positive solutions were all around me, however, and although it took awhile for me to notice it –

IMG_1420the little Ashevillage was gathering itself in support.

Zach, a chef down the street, listened patiently in his garden one day as I stressed about the goings-on at Casa Mia.

When I paused to take a breath, he looked at me and smiled gently.

“This too,” he said.

“Shall pass?” I asked hopefully, finishing the sentence for him.

“Nope.  Just ‘this too,'” he said.  “Everything that is already going on in your life, and now – this, too.”

IMG_1422

“It’s a Buddhist mantra,” he explained with a benevolent smile.

I thanked him politely and moved on, feeling less than consoled.

But his words stayed with me (dammit) – taunting me to accept them.

A few days later, I ran into another neighbor and once again,

IMG_7937

 my concerns came tumbling out.

She listened, then said kindly, “You don’t have to do this,” giving me the idea that change might even be possible.

IMG_4889.JPG

More walks and more ideas.  Help was springing up everywhere.

  A former geriatric nurse volunteered to come sit with my mother whenever I needed a break.  Others shared their loving (and often humorous) experiences taking care of their elderly parents.

Retired missionaries living across the street and the women from the shelter next door (the ones remaking their own lives!) all kept an eye out for her.

DSC00724.JPG

One reason I had taken the elderly (but spritely) mother in was to show my kids this is how we take care of one another.

IMG_4670.JPG

But it quickly became apparent – as I watched my kids fence and parry her quirky ways and limitations with their gentle teasing and humor – that they were the teachers, not me.

Over time, walk by walk, piece by piece, words, advice and suggestions began to come together, forming a framework of support and ideas.  The answers were all around me, the village was responding.

The final piece in the puzzle turned out to have actually been the very first piece – I just hadn’t realized it at the time.

Several months before my aging (but spritely) mother had arrived at Casa Mia, the almost always patient Tom had taken a detour one day (a not unusual occurrence) so that he could show me the retirement home his grandfather had lived in for many years.  It was already dark out and I humored him, but didn’t pay much attention at the time.

By magical coincidence, it turned out this same village within a village was also the home of another mother –

DSC01581

belonging to one of the craftsmen currently working on the transformation of Casa Mia.

And so, my aging (but spritely) mother and I went to see this home for similarly aging and spritely elders and discovered

IMG_2760.JPG

 it was the perfect solution!

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, the aging (but spritely) mother moved back out, and into her very own garden apartment on a neighboring mountain.

Last weekend, I took her out for the afternoon and after a tasty tavern lunch, we strolled around her new little town, looking at the shops.

Eventually, we wandered into a local art gallery and there, in the back room, leaning up against the wall, was a small framed painting by Ashevillage plein air artist Colleen Webster

DSC05190

the exact scene from the wine bar where my aging (but spritely) mother had, just months earlier, passed the tips bowl for the musicians.

It was the perfect souvenir of our months living together 🙂