What struck me most upon returning home from Nova Scotia were the contrasts. The day I had left behind in Halifax was brilliantly sunny and warm, whereas the early evening in the Toronto, when I walked out of the airport terminal, was overcast and miserably cold.
As I rolled out of bed at 5am the next morning, and my feet hit the cold, wooden floor, I thought about the differences again, this time between households. I looked across the bedroom at the mess of my half unpacked suitcase, and thought of the spotless, white interior of my sister-in-laws house, where I had been billeted during my stay. Where were those plush carpets when my cold toes really needed them?
I thought too about the dark gloom of my in-laws living room, where the curtains are always drawn. (My mother-in-law, who is battling Alzheimer's, finds bright light hard on her eyes.)
And then, I remembered the busy chaos of my mother's house, where my sister and her two teenage children had stayed. Sadly, it had turned out that the restless energy of a 14 year old boy, the distress caused by her two visiting daughters messing about in her kitchen and the simple change in routine had been really hard for my almost 90 year old mother to bear. We did our level best to make it easy on her, but one tumultuous evening in particular, she burst into tears and could not find comfort, even in my father's arms.
When we went for coffee and cake at my in-laws, I am not sure my mother-in-law, looking reed thin and ashen grey, really knew who I was, but she greeted me warmly anyway. She simply avoided any situation where she had to refer to me by name.
Though her memory may be failing her, my mother-in-laws pride is still in good working order. When it was time for coffee, she refused all offers of assistance and got up to make the preparations herself, because that is just what any good hostess of her generation would do.
As the polite living room chatter continued, we watched as she made countless trips back and forth from the kitchen, setting out all the plates, coffee cups, spoons and forks on the dining room table.
I am sure my father-in-law had cheated a little and laid out everything in the kitchen in advance of our arrival, yet I could see the worry on her face as she stood looking at the items she had arranged on the dining table, trying to make sure that she had not forgotten anything. When she finally announced that coffee was served in the dining room, all I wanted to do was to give her a big old hug.
It troubled me greatly to see too the toll my mother-in-laws illness was taking on her partner of over 60 years. My father-in-law seemed so deeply depressed that it was both shocking and heartbreaking to see. Throughout their long marriage, he has always assumed a very traditional role as a husband, and now in his late eighties/early nineties, he was starting over, and learning to cook and clean the house for the first time.
When, in life, does a house cease to be a familiar place of comfort, and becomes instead an untenable burden?
Honestly, there seems to be an overwhelming degree of denial in addressing this question on the part of both my parents and my in-laws.
So far, my father-in-law has flatly refused to bring in outside help.
My Dad is unsteady on his feet and walks with a crutch now. All to soon, climbing the stairs will become an impossibility for him, yet my mother continues to speak of any future transition in their living arrangements as something in the far distance.
I hate to be too grim about my trip home to Nova Scotia and give you a false impression. Though I did spend many a night tossing and turning, fretting about what the future will bring, there were many good times as well. At my sister-in-law's place one evening, there was plenty of lively conversation and laughter over plates piled high with chicken, massed potatoes and gravy. There was also a fun pizza night at my brother's house.
My sister N., who had come all the way from Ireland with two of her three children, managed to give her Irish kids a proper introduction to winters in Canada, with happy afternoons spent skiing and skating. We also went bowling, to the movies, to the farmer's market and shopped til' we dropped.
Gosh, how I miss both of my sisters and wish we could get together more often!
This is my brother's dog 'Scout'. The arrival of a new baby at my brother's house has meant that Scout has been spending more time than usual at my parent's place. My mother simply adores him and we often joke that Scout is her favourite grandchild.
Scout is a Nova Scotia Duck Toller (a breed of dogs unique to Nova Scotia). It doesn't matter how cold the water is, give him even the slightest excuse, and Scout is off for a swim!
He is also quite the ham!
I will always have such fond memories of him riding around with my parents in their little grey Honda, Scout standing in the backseat, forepaws resting on the centre armrest, presiding over the two old people in the front passenger seats.
I will also treasure the lazy afternoons I spent sitting with my Mom, listening to family stories, hearing all about her wooden carving projects on-the-go and reviewing with the magazine clippings earmarked as ideas for future projects.
It seems that those as-yet-to-be-completed projects are what keep you going when your almost 90! That and gardening!
Of course, we spent the good part of a morning making an all-important tour of the garden, despite the cool winter weather! These days my Mom keeps herself young, while serving as head gardener at my sister M.'s house.
Have yourself a great weekend everyone!