Category Archives: aging

Venus on the Half Shell

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Venus on the Half Shell

I had a wonderful outing with Rob and Laura today. When I arrived Rob presented me with some spoon bread that he made special just for me. When a 95 year old man puts himself through the effort to cook for you, it’s very humbling. Honestly anytime anyone cooks for me I’m thrilled, this was just extra sweet. Spoon bread tastes like cornbread and I marvel at how someone who eats this stuff on the regular hasn’t succumbed to heart disease. It’s filled with the artery clogging goodness of butter, milk with more butter for good measure, eggs and cornmeal. It’s tasty and lethal to mere mortals like myself. I took a few bites, proclaimed it delicious and took it home to savor later. Seriously this dish should come with a defibrillator.

As we were driving to the grocery store we had our usual carefree chatter. I was discussing travel because I’m leaving for a cruise this weekend. We got on the topic of paintings and I mentioned my all time favorite was Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. Rob mentioned that his mother used to refer to that painting as Venus on the Half Shell and in that moment I felt such regret for having never met the woman. Now whenever the question of which person, living or deceased, would you like most to converse with, my answer will be Rob’s mother. Raise your hand if you agree….that’s a lot of hands in my imagination.

When we got to the grocery store, Laura asked Rob if he wanted his walker. He hesitated a moment and then agreed. I got the shopping cart and gave it to Laura as Rob went on his merry way. Here’s the interesting bit…Rob agreed to that for Laura’s sake. Laura has been struggling more with mobility and refuses to upgrade to a walker from her cane. The grocery cart is basically a socially acceptable walker in Laura’s mind. Rob figured this out in seconds and I pretended not to notice.

As I was getting them tucked back into their home after our outing, Rob took a moment to look me in the eye and tell me how much he appreciates me and that I am like a third daughter to him. I assured him the affection was mutual. Then two minutes later I threatened to brawl with Laura if she didn’t surrender the grocery bag that was half her body weight. She gave me a steely gaze as I took the bag from her.

Me: Let me get that Laura, it’s really heavy.

Laura: Grabs bag with determined look.

Me: Seriously, I will fight you on this.

Laura: Steely gaze.

Me: (Struggles to take bag, maintains eye contact and smile the entire time) Thank you.

 

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HaPpY BiRtHdAy Blanche!

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HaPpY BiRtHdAy Blanche!

For those that are new around here…I write under a pen name. A couple of years ago I came up with a character (Super Cringe) for my pen name because sometimes your alter ego needs an alter ego. You still with me? Super Cringe has a real dog who also has a fake name, Blanche. I know it’s all very complicated…it has to be to keep the KGB off my back. There’s no way they could untangle this mess….anyway, here’s a fake conversation with my real dog who may or may not have a birthday today.

Super Cringe: Happy Birthday Blanche!

Blanche: It’s my birthday? That’s wonderful, do I get treats?

Super Cringe: Way to get right to it Blanche. Is it because your older now…you can’t remember the gift we gave you on Monday?

Blanche: What gift?

Super Cringe: The chicken with the squeaker…you seemed pretty excited about it when we gave it to you. Remember we gave it to you a couple of days early because the boy was going on vacation with his friend’s family….

Blanche: Ahhh yes, the chicken, where is that thing?

Super Cringe: Seriously, you lost it already?

Blanche: Oh, wait a minute, I hid it in the laundry room…that’s a relief. When does the boy get home?

Super Cringe: Sunday

Blanche: I don’t like it when a member of the pack leaves, it makes me anxious.

Super Cringe: Is that why you smell funky?

Blanche: Bish please, it’s been 100 degrees and I’m wearing fur, you’d smell funky too.

Super Cringe: Fair point. Happy Birthday Blanche!

 

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Give me that chicken!

 

Laundry Fairies and Other Absurdities

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Laundry Fairies and Other Absurdities

Hi blog friends, sorry for being so scarce these days, summer sucks up free time better than Bounty Paper Towels (Bounty feel free to send me a case or two of paper towels for that spontaneous ad placement). I usually have a teenager buzzing by me in the kitchen and a geriatric(ish) dog that insists on sleeping directly under the desk in my kitchen. In short, there’s no privacy which cramps my style.

For those that read my last post the wedding went fine. A few highlights which are better left as bullet points (your imagination will be more exciting than the actual events):

* The temperature on the day of the wedding was triple digits (100 Fahrenheit, 38 Celsius). The air was so thick you could chew it which, didn’t do my hair any favors.

* My mom popped over as my husband and I were in a the last precious minutes of getting ready to avoid being more than 20 minutes late. She wanted to see my dress. I never went to a prom so I guess this is my fault. You just don’t expect your mom to want to see your wedding guest dress at the tender age of 51.

* The hubs got dressed in a parking lot and was spotted in a drive by.

* There were at least six women wearing a slightly different version of my dress. One dress in particular was the shorter version of my gown.

* There was minimal drama which I am not at liberty to discuss. No cops were called and no punches were thrown. Some may be disappointed by this so here’s something to satisfy that – Brawl

*The hubs and I rolled in around 2:30am and our bedroom door was mysteriously locked. Both kids deny locking it, the dog looked guilty. We were able to break in with a paperclip and a credit card.

In other news, my daughter and I are going on a Baltic Sea Cruise next month and I am super excited. My niece is a vocalist on the ship and her BF is a dancer so we will get to see both of them perform multiple times. Oh yeah and the ship goes to six ports – including Russia. So I’ve already drafted a novel in my head about a middle aged women who takes a tour in St Petersburg and is arrested by the KGB for Facebook posts that include this –

Putin

If you don’t see me in September send in the Seals. This is just a girls trip the hubs and son will be home. We’ll be gone just shy of two weeks. A friend of mine recently went away for the weekend and she is currently buried under a mountain of laundry.

Friend: (Can’t go out today) …..need to get caught up on laundry…

Me: You mean the Laundry Fairies didn’t keep up while you were gone?

Friend: They don’t even show up in a GIF!

Me: Haha because they don’t exist, even in fantasy!

So if the Kremlin doesn’t get me, the laundry will. Do any of my blog friends have summer vacation plans?

 

 

 

 

Oh Fiddle!

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Oh Fiddle!

It’s been a while since I posted about Rob & Laura, they’re doing fine. They’ve had lots of visits with their children. One daughter asked me to check on a cut that Rob mysteriously acquired last week. She really wants Rob to put a bandage on it. When I mentioned this to Rob he informed me that it had a bandage on it already, it’s called a scab. Alright then.

Last week Laura was a bit miffed about the laundromat. She muttered about getting there late and how bad it is if you don’t get there early. I took the bait and showed up 20 minutes earlier today to see if that would alleviate the problem. She was pleased that I was early then in her exuberance she forgot to bring the laundry detergent. That set us back a bit and I got concerned when I heard her say “oh fiddle” from the back seat. “Oh fiddle” is the 92 year old version of Code Red, I acted with extreme caution. If I heard “Fudge!” I would have considered turning around and calling it a day.

While Laura was doing laundry, Rob and I went to the grocery store. We only needed two things and I asked Rob if he wanted to use a cart or his cane, he went with the cane. As we were crossing the parking lot I stated “And they’re off!” in my most announcer like voice. Rob didn’t miss a beat and added “Like a herd of turtles!”

Upon entering the store we heard, “cleanup in produce”. We both chuckled at that because it happens 100% of the time and we go twice a week. Then we looked for Marty, the useless grocery store robot. As we were making our way toward the check out, Marty approached, it got a little weird. At one point Marty got stuck between an older man in a wheel chair and me. George was on my right, Marty on my left and the wheelchair guy was left of Marty.

I could tell Marty was confused as he went back and forth in incremental choppy movements because he didn’t have a clear path out. I was hoping the circumstances would cause Marty extreme frustration resulting in fried wires, a mechanical meltdown of some sort.  For a moment I imagined the encounter would render him incapable of fulfilling his duties (which seem to be limited to aggravating customers with a precision focus on geriatric clients), no such luck.

On the way out Rob commented that the cart with four wheels was easier to navigate than his cane. I remarked that he has a walker which also has 4 wheels and that got me some side eye. I replied with “oh fiddle”.

Because I Can

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Because I Can

I am quietly sitting in the main level bedroom of a nicely appointed house that dates back to the 1890’s. It’s insulated well enough that air conditioning isn’t required despite the high summer temperatures outside. The windows are open and I can hear the chatter of cows from the farm that borders the back yard. I can hear those same cows from my own home which is within walking distance. Here though, I get to eavesdrop on the more nuanced conversations, beyond the distressed mooing that occasionally travels to my patio. The cows are conversing in more hushed tones.

Each room in this house has been lovingly filled with precious items.  Long ago gifts, remembrances and highly sought after antique flea market finds that probably took months, perhaps years, to procure. The individual pieces are meaningful, eclectic and likely filled with sentimental value. A lot of love went into decorating this home and perhaps a twinge of obsession, the result is a timeless casual elegance.

The items themselves are a bit worn around the edges. Faded like the lingering scent of fabulous meal after the dinner dishes have been cleared. It seems more poignant with some of the newness ebbed away by time, longevity has it’s own allure which, something shiny and new can’t quite grasp.

After several minutes Thelma, jumps down from the bed and visits me at my corner chair. A petite orange tabby, she sniffs my feet for a few minutes. I attempt to pet her which yields a do not touch look so I stop myself and decide to ignore her. After a few minutes she bites my knee because that’s what cats do. My involuntary jolt sent her scampering away for the remainder of my visit. Her sister, Louise, is out in the yard somewhere planning her next kill or rolling in the grass, sunny side up. I won’t hear from her unless she wants to come in which, she will announce by jumping 4 feet up, onto the screened porch door. Thelma & Louise keep things interesting around here.

During the olfactory interrogation, I can hear the Serena Williams match on the TV in the kitchen. A man’s voice is giving an unofficial commentary of the match…”Oh no, Geezus!” and “Come on Serena!” are on a repetitive loop. I’m happy that he has a distraction even if the end result isn’t what he wanted. He is passionate about something separate from the care-giving which likely consumes him. In this small way he is reclaiming something important for himself and I wish more caregivers would do that.

Before he leaves for the gym he stops by the bedroom. He tells me that they just got back from vacationing at the beach where they got married decades ago. I wonder if his wife has any recollection of that now as she lay snoring, midday, in the bed they still share. He gives her a long, gentle, emotional hug as he prepares to leave and I try to become invisible in that moment.

I see the hospital bed close by and I wonder which one of the two beds she will pass in. Probably the hospital bed, it will likely happen before the unofficial end of summer. I push against the inclination to imagine a similar scenario in my own life as I silently ask God for another 20 (pretty please make that 30) years of health and happiness with my husband. I am momentarily engulfed in the absolute knowledge that this is all temporary. I’ve seen this situation play out about 100 different ways in the ten plus years that I have been a hospice volunteer. It’s usually some diabolical form of cancer with the wife caring for the husband or the daughter caring for a parent. It always leaves a print of sadness on my soul which gets absorbed and gently tucked away.

When I prepare to leave, I notice the fireplace in the bedroom has writing on the header. “Fairy Tales Really Do Come True…” is painted in pretty cursive. A swirl of emotions courses through me. I don’t believe in fairy tales, I had to rescue myself and yet, my life is blessed beyond anything I could have imagined as a child. For the thousandth time I question why I do this…why do I place myself in the center of someone else’s heartbreak. The answer is always the same, because I can and those that can, should.

 

So Far…

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So Far…

Relationships are slippery suckers aren’t they? Sometimes it’s hard to find the perfect grip to keep them from slipping away. Too much pressure, not enough, longevity comes from the ability to apply just the right amount of pressure, that and dumb luck.

A Facebook friend posted about her insecurity within her decades long marriage. She wondered why so many years and 3 kids in, why do these feelings still show up, when does the insecurity stop? My guess is (23 years in) that it doesn’t? Insecurity isn’t a constant companion in my marriage but that bitch does visit from time to time, completely uninvited.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the negative thoughts come from an accurate observed change in your spouse or the internal bad wiring most of us have to diagnosis and re-configure. We’ve been told that half of marriages end in divorce forever, that’s not entirely true. To get an actual percentage, you’d have to study a specific set of marriages over a lifetime to see how many dissolve.

If you’re curious, I found an interesting read on the topic. No proper notes of the specific studies or statistics touted, more of a compilation of weird divorce nuggets put together by a law firm (my guess is they specialize in divorce)Weird Divorce Stats

One statistic stated that the average length of a first marriage that ends in divorce is 8 years. Seems to me that a lot of marriages end once the kids finish high school or after the wife turns 50 which often happen around the same time. Women file for divorce more frequently than men somewhere between 66 – 75%.

According to the weird list I linked above my marriage is doomed. We met in a bar (24% more likely to divorce), my parents divorced (50% increased risk of divorce), we have a daughter (and 5% to the doomed calculation)…Geezus we are already at 79% chance of implosion and I haven’t even gotten to our premarital sexual history and lack of strong religious background yet. Our calculated risk for divorce is somewhere around 200%…But wait, we live in Pennsylvania, are college educated and have children, phew, we might make it. Some of these stats are ridiculous in their specificity.

So what makes a marriage work? Obviously this varies by couple, there isn’t one universal magic formula. Personally, I’m just grateful that I still like my husband and it seems mutual at this point. We still “enjoy” each other’s company (wink) and we know when to give the other space. I try to find new ways to keep him happy…no not that, I’ve already done everything I’m willing to do there. Now I mulch or weed and make the bed, the real sexy stuff no one told you about in early ’80s Home Ec class. I try to take some of his burdens away and when I need help with something, I’m specific and neutral in my requests. That seems to be working so far.

DMV

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DMV

Hello my blogging friends, I have missed you. Nothing exotic happening here I just haven’t been able to steal time from other parts of my life to get a post up. I have some catching up to do…

My teens are off from school, that happened approximately 312 hours 37 seconds ago. I’m teaching one of them to drive, that’s fun. He’s a good driver for the most part, sometimes he takes turns like he’s in an electric go-kart. When we sent him for camp and winter league a few years ago, I didn’t think through the driving habits that were being downloaded into his brain at the time. I try not to gasp out loud or visibly wince, that’s been tricky. Now I make the sign of the cross and genuflect before I get in the passenger seat so that’s new.

The first official day of summer break I took my son and my mother to DMV. My mother and I needed to get photos for license renewal and my son needed his permit. Once again, I didn’t think this one through friends. We went on a Tuesday which apparently is the worst day to go (because of course it is). The DMV is closed on Sunday & Monday so Tuesday is the busiest day of the week and I can vouch for that.

My son was going to a different counter he was number 442. My mother and I were 195 and 196. As soon as we arrived, mom plopped her stuff on a chair that I found for her (the last chair, I had to race to beat a 90 year old to it and she almost got there first but I did a home base slide to secure it…I’m sure the walker slowed Ethel down). Anyhow, mom doesn’t even sit down she goes out to get some air (smoke). So I sit in her seat to hold it and ignore the dirty looks from Ethel and her friends from Sunnyside Eldercare. Mom comes back forty minutes later sipping from a large aromatic coffee cup and says “I guess I should have asked if you wanted one” as she reclaims the hard plastic throne.

90 minutes later we are starting to get to our place in line, 192 pops up on the display. Mom decides to get more air. I pointed to the display and reminded her that our numbers were almost up, she shrugged it off. “I’ll be back in a jiff” she smirks and she’s out the door before I can lift my jaw from the floor. Three minutes later, the numbers get to 194. The average wait time between clients has sped up from a 10 minute average to 90 seconds. My son’s line is also making progress with just a few people ahead of him. I send him out to do a quick Nannie search, he comes back sweaty and panicked, “I can’t find her”. OH FFS I think to myself and then my number gets called.

I am clearly distracted as I go through the process of license renewal. I steal side glances to see if mom has returned and wonder how much stalling I can do to buy her time. My brain goes blank, I give a pensive smile for the camera and do not take the time to check my hair or put on lipstick. I regret the lack of primping as soon as I see the image that will humiliate me for the next 4 years, sigh.

While I’m taking a shitty picture and contemplating the location of my mother, my son’s number is called. I slide from counter A to B and join him for the inquisition. The gentleman, Reggie, working the counter is a textbook definition of a disgruntled government employee. My son takes his paperwork out of his jean pocket which has been folded into a square. Reggie conjures his inner thespian and makes a dramatic display of unfolding the papers and mentions that he’ll need to “ern them”, which took me a second to mentally translate to iron.

I continue to smile and act pleasant while Reggie sighs heavily and gives off the I-want-to-end-it-all vibe that radiates off him like heat on asphalt in July. My son remains respectful, a little anxious, waiting for instructions. Reggie grunts and points to a row of computers which my son and I interpret as a cue to take the written test online.

I wait nearby and watch as Reggie makes the “I’m going to lunch” announcement. Announcement isn’t entirely accurate, it was more like a muttered statement that I happened to over hear. For a moment I get hopeful that perhaps a more charming individual will replace him and we will end this nightmare on a positive note.

I finally see my mother who has somehow managed to slip in just in time to hear her number. The boy finishes his test and stands next to me, I tell him about Reggie’s lunch break. Then I am hit with the sad realization that there will be no Reggie replacement and we need to wait for him to get back. I cry a little but only on the inside because I’m a winner, damn it.

We meet other Reggie castaways as the minutes tick by and we all come to the same conclusion, Reggie sucks. After about thirty five minutes our counterman is back and he begins his reign of disregard toward his line constituents. When it’s our turn he doesn’t say anything beyond, “here” as he shoves paperwork into my son’s hand and thank GAWD it included his permit. I make a mental note of how time moves differently at the DMV. For instance, 10 minutes at DMV is equivalent to 3 hours outside. I suspect it may be comparable to prison time, we managed to survive 27 hours in the joint.

How’s your summer going?

Miracle…..Whaaaat?

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Miracle…..Whaaaat?

Some days I take my work home with me, not unusual most people do this on some level. I had an outing with Rob and Laura yesterday. We did our usual running around with a few add on stops to Miracle Ear and the Butcher. Only old people and Italians go to the butcher on a regular basis. As is the case wherever we go, my clients are greeted by name and with genuine smiles.

Miracle Ear was different because the appointment was for Laura. This is only the second time I’ve taken her to any type of medical appointment. Rob has an entire team of specialists that have him on their rotation – MD, Cardiologist, Podiatrist, Urologist and blood draws on the regular. I’ve taken him to the hospital for a chest x-ray and last minute doctor visits at least half a dozen times in as many months. Rob is 95, Laura is 92 so there isn’t a huge age difference. From my observation Laura is just a bit more stubborn and perhaps more resilient. I suspect if her arm fell off she’d scoop it up and be prepared to slug me with it if I suggested getting it checked out. She’s definitely the tougher of the two.

I almost felt bad for the technician at Miracle Ear, he was trying so hard to be endearing, telling us about his family weekend. After about 10 minutes and far too many details about his cousin’s two year old’s birthday party at Knoebels (details included the parking lot layout and traffic patterns) he got around to asking Laura how her hearing was doing.

Tech: Well Laura, how is your hearing?

Laura: Whaaaaat?

Tech: Your hearing can you hear me?

Laura (aggravated): Yes, and now it’s my turn. I’m returning this (tosses a hearing aid on the desk), I don’t want it!

Tech: This is a hearing aid for your left ear. Model IDK2017

Laura: Yes, I don’t want it. It gave me an infection. You keep it!

Tech (sensing the hostility, made a wise choice): Alright then.

The rest of the errands went on without much drama until we got back to their house. Halfway up the walkway to the front door, Rob’s legs quit working. He was reduced to incremental strides which could be measured in centimeters instead of inches. Rob is over six feet tall and weighs 190 pounds. I’m 5′ 4″ and weigh significantly less (that’s as close to my weight as you’ll get from me), it took a Herculean effort to get him over the threshold. Once we got into the house, Laura appeared with a walker to replace his cane. That helped and we were able to get him into his favorite chair.

Once Rob was seated, I got him some water and fetched him lunch. I stayed an additional forty minutes to observe him, it was quite a scare. As soon as I left I texted his children to let them know what happened and suggested that someone check on him later that night. I also called a few hours later to check in and he bragged to me about making it to the bathroom without his cane (I may have gasped).

And this is the hardest part of my job….I become attached to these people and I know our time is limited. I realize we all have limited time, it just seems more pronounced when you are dealing with people in their 90’s. I worry about them. I worry what will happen if one dies before the other which is, statistically likely to happen. I ponder which one would be better able to live without the other. They will be married 69 years in August. I wonder how much time we will have together before it all changes, their vulnerability is palpable.

 

HaPpY BiRtHdAy!!!

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HaPpY BiRtHdAy!!!

It’s been a while since I’ve written about Rob and Laura, my spunky nonagenarian clients. Last week Rob turned 95 and I gave him these socks –

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The birthday card I selected had two Shih Tzus on the cover (featured photo). The inside read – If it were anyone else’s birthday I wouldn’t give two Shih Tzu. I had a twinge of concern that this card might be too racy but I gambled and won. I stopped by the afternoon of Rob’s birthday to drop off his gift and say hello in person. One of his daughters was there with her husband, they all approved. The socks were such a hit that Rob decided to wear them to his birthday dinner, truly an honor.

Last week I asked Rob if he only wore the white diabetic socks that I see him in. He confided that on Sundays he wears brown socks to attend meeting. Meeting is the Quaker version of a worship service. It is a quiet gathering unless a member has a desire to share something. I’ll be honest I don’t know much about it, they seem like a very chill group.

If you watch the show Catastrophe, the main character, Rob (coincidence?), becomes a Quaker for about 3 minutes and the portrayal seems fairly accurate to me. Rob & Laura have mentioned the firm wooden pews at meeting and how they are likely designed to discourage people from getting too long winded. They noted that all of the meetings they have attended feature firm uncomfortable seating except for England where they had fancy upholstered chairs. By the way Catastrophe is an excellent show if you’re in the market for viewing something with razor edge humor which embraces the messier aspects of modern parenting and couple-hood.

Happy Birthday Rob – 95 looks great on you!

 

Fixer of Broken Things

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Fixer of Broken Things

A great tree fell in the forest of life on this day a year ago and I am sad. I miss the colors of fall, the snow on winter branches, the shelter for spring birds and the clean air he so effortlessly provided. He made our world a better place and asked for nothing in return, except perhaps, some pasta.

I talk to the ghost of my father in-law daily, I miss him every day. He was a quiet man, a man of action, a family man, a zen master. He could pop over any time and I was always happy to see him. Not even a hint of internal – oh shit I need to….his visits only brought joy – a smile, an enthusiastic hello, would you like some coffee/breakfast/lunch/anything and it truly would have been my pleasure to serve….just the pasta, that’s all he wanted.

He would spend hours at our house, pulling weeds, fixing things, dawdling in that classic old school Italian way, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, the dog at his feet hoping for a crust of bread which, he always shared as he exited his car in our driveway. He was the fixer of broken things, the finder of stuff (he knew where everything was), the quiet gardener, the happy chef, a humble man who loved his family.

When the kids were little they would become attached to tiny toys that were given in party bags, random gifts and tchotchke items. One of a kind special things that were beloved and irreplaceable or at least hard to find. If something broke it would be set aside for Nonno to fix. His success rate was pretty high somewhere above 90%. He had that Italian mind designed to solve problems and find solutions, curious and steadfast in his thoughts, the man had an abundance of patience.

He painted when something needed to be painted. He organized, he cleaned, he made himself useful, he had to be productive, it was in his DNA. Like a border collie, he needed a job. He was happy here toiling around our house during the day and when he was done he would drive the 8 minutes back to his house. Freedom and independence without isolation.

He could sew too. My daughter had a brief stint in the Daisies and the Brownies and I never sewed a single patch, Nonno did that. He even sewed the dog’s toys back together. He could do stuff with gorilla glue and duct tape that defied the laws of physics, truly a fixer of broken things.

If I’m honest he fixed me as well. I didn’t grow up with a father in my life. He showed me what a good father was, I felt loved and appreciated. Perhaps that’s why I never lost patience with him popping in unannounced or declining invites to the kids events. Behavior which annoys me when someone else does it. I simply enjoyed his company and knew he loved us whether or not he attended the Holiday Concert.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year. It feels like yesterday and another lifetime all at once. I don’t know how that’s possible, it just is. My husband seemed distracted and down today. He’s horrible at remembering dates so I didn’t want to remind him if the date slipped his mind. Why scratch the scab?

I popped in his office and asked if he was OK. Told him I thought he seemed distracted. His response let me know he didn’t realize the significance of the date – he asked if it was “that time”. That usually gets a steely gaze from me, on this day I practiced restraint…then he asked if I was OK, suspecting I was hormonal. I responded with a cheerful “just checking on you, I’m good”.

I’m not good.