Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Goodbye, Pete Seeger, Goodbye

I used to be a great sleeper, could fall asleep on a dime and luxuriated in eight, even ten hours of zzzs, when I could catch them. Then children and menopause came around. So now, not so much so.

In fact, getting enough sleep is the bane of my life right now. I make a cranky insomniac, and though I tend to think of this as a new problem, every now and then I remember: I had a terrible sleep problem as a child. That was so long ago (I am OLD) and had been resolved for so many years, I'd nearly completely forgotten.

But yes, as a child of four, six, eight, ten, I would lie abed for hours, waiting for sleep to come, terrified of the night. And the one thing that would help? My record player. And my absolutely favorite album of all time? Pete Seeger's Sleep-Time Songs & Stories.

Without even trying I can instantly conjure his voice, telling me a wonderful bedtime story. There's Pete now, talking and singing of the giant Abeyoyo, conquered by a mischievous fiddling magician and his son; or of Sam, the young whaler, up high in the ship's eagles nest, ever searching, until... "Thar she blows!"

I was saddened to hear of his passing yesterday, of that chapter closing. But I also know, 94 is a good long run. And, as all the news sources said, he was chopping wood a scant ten days ago.  I also know he passed surrounded by love and loved ones. He passed making his mark on the century that was, and on the future rolling ever onward.

Pete Seeger was woven throughout my childhood in too many ways to begin to tell. My parents were lovers of folk music. In fact they met at the Music Inn in Lenox Massachussets, a wonderful place for lovers of folk music and jazz in the 1950s. A place Pete often played.

I saw Pete play numerous times in my childhood, most memorably at some of the first Clearwater Festivals. I remember the sun sparkling on the Hudson River, the majestic old sloop, and Pete serenading me with "Little Boxes" and "Roll on Columbia."

And then, many years later, I was working video production at the Philadelphia folk festival in 1991, where there was a Seeger Family reunion concert that year. It was clear his voice was starting to fade a bit, but still lovely to hear him sing again, especially surrounded and supported by his talented, musical family.

Finally, when my father died three years ago, an old Pete Seeger song kept playing in my head, over and over. At the end of their lives, my father and Pete looked a lot alike. (And I wrote all about that in a post, here: Why, Oh Why?)

I am still spooked whenever I see a picture of him pop up on the internet, my first thought being "Dad?" and then, no, just Pete.

So sorry to see you go, Pete.

“Why, oh why, oh why, oh; why, oh why, oh why?

Because, because, because, because.

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.”

Friday, January 17, 2014

This day

Mom, September 2012

I don't want the dawn to come, this day to begin.

I've been dreading it for a long time now: January 17th; the day, last year, that my mother died.

After today, it won't be "this year" that my mother died, but "last year" and I will be expected to be moving on, further from her.

And yet I find the more time has passed I seem to be tumbling further into her instead.  That final year of her life, I was so consumed with taking care of her, the frail, tentative, greatly diminished shadow my mother had become blotted out the vibrant, full-fleshed woman I had known and loved for years.

And now she has come back to me, memory after memory cascading though my dreams and waking thoughts. Though mixed and tumbled in, especially now, is the pain of those final days.

I would never, in a million years, have not been present for my mother's final moments, have let her die alone. And yet I can also say that I will never be the same, and not in a good way, for what I witnessed.

When her eyes flew open, unseeing except for her death come upon her; when she huffed and puffed and fought against the tide of her bursting, broken heart; this was seared into my brain. Her terror was terrifying, and will be with me always.  She did not go peaceful into that black night.

And then she was gone. And yet her body kept breathing. For a good five minutes still. As it wound down, I sat beside the waxy husk that had been my mother.  She had so clearly vacated the premises, but still I held her hand.  A body with the spirit fled is such a strange ghoulish thing, and yet there was also an odd comfort in sitting there.

I said goodbye to the body that had been my mother, watched it draw its last breath.

A year ago, today.

My mother is at peace.

Me, not so much so.

It's going to be a busy day today, Jake with no school, Ethan a mere half-day. There will be no time to mourn, to remember. I am a mother, my children need me. My eyes must search forward, not back.

And yes, tonight I will light a candle for my mother, let it burn through the night, encased safe in its shroud of glass; watch the flickering flame and its reflection in my heart, where her ember glows, always.

Goodnight, mom.

I love you.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

One year ago, today

Mom, January 3, 2013

One year ago, today, I got a phone call.

A late night phone call.

One more in a long series of late night calls that began nine years ago, when my elderly parents moved back to New York City and into my care.

But this one was to be the last.

You never know it's the last.

Until it is.

4 am, I remember this one was.

Mom had fallen. Again.

I rushed to her side in the Long Island hospital her nursing home had sent her to; a cold, bleary ride in the pre-dawn quiet.

Another broken hip. A matched set. (I wrote a post about it.)

But this time my mother was older, frailer than the last time. This time my mother had already been through the ringer, and unbeknownst to anyone yet - but soon to be quite evident - she was also becoming septic from an undiagnosed infection.

A year ago today, my mother went into the hospital, and began the final, short sojourn of her life. She began dying.

I was by her side nearly the whole time.

I was with her when she passed, five days later, at 3:15 in the afternoon of January 17th.

I have been dreading the return of these dates, these days. January 12th through 17th.

They were excruciating to go through last year, every moment both drawing out and swiftly fleeting, galloping towards that end.

And when they are done, the wheel will turn; from first year to second year without my mother. It will be a different thing. And yet also more of the same.

I know everyone's parents die, eventually; that this is the natural order of things.

I know that ninety was a good run.

I know I was lucky to have had such a loving mother.

I know I was lucky to have had her for so long.

I miss her every day.