Thursday, June 26, 2014

These Precious Things

I'm dismantling the estate of my father and mother. It feels like a painful surgery without anesthesia. An amputation with a ghost pain. An entire life changed. Just like that. In a flash.

They're now in an assisted living facility under part hospice care.

And while doing this, I was listening to my music playlist on my iPhone. Tori Amos' song, These Precious Things came up -- which has nothing to do with elderly parents and caregiving -- but the title struck my heart.

What are the precious things in our lives? Vintage photos? Little knick-knacks? A dress my mother wore at my brother's wedding? My father's architecture degree from the University of Havana? The piano my mother and I used to play duets with together, out of tune and with a broken key in the treble clef? Photos of the my nephew's beautiful kids on the wall -- painful reminders of never being able to walk down the aisle with my father to give my hand in marriage? Or giving my father and mother a legacy?

Yes, those and more are precious things.

Maybe this is why I am a minimalist and I don't like to get to attached to physical objects. I don't even own a car right now.

It's hard to toss away anyone's things in the dumpster. But then I remember, it's just things.

It's the archeology of a life. I'm digging deep into strata and detritus.

So what is truly precious?  What really matters?

Bodies, hugs, hearts, feelings, devotion, soul, laughter, tears, memories.

I don't remember the scent of whatever soap my mom used on my body when I was a baby. But today, I remember wiping my mother's butt when she became incontinent and helping my dad pee after he had a broken hip surgery.

Not quite cute, yes? But these memories of caregiving mean more to me than all these things. What else is there?

We should treat the elderly with the same joy and dignity as babies. Being an elderly patient advocate has been the most difficult yet most rewarding job of my life.

Think of the word dismantling. Let's look at the etymology. A mantle or mantel: associated with protective covering, a soothing cover, a hearth, a fireplace, a cozy place of warmth, safety and life. As I face the end of the life issues of my parents, I am also letting go of so much that is the opposite of what these words connote.

I'll tell you what's a precious thing. It's nothing you can hold in your hand. It's what you hold in your ever present heart.

I don't have much tears left in me. I've cried enough. But my heart swells with an immense love. And I choose to remember my parents as beautiful as they were when they were young and fell in love, years before I was even born. They carry those memories within their hearts, too.

Appreciate what you have. NOW.

Those are the precious things, whether you can touch them or not. The most precious thing is the love you give and receive.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

About Fathers and Fishing

A redfish: one of my catches with Captain Chuck.

When I was a baby, my father sang me a lullaby in Spanish about little fishes in the sea.

When I was a toddler, we went bridge fishing. He handed me a yo-yo with a treble hook and smelly squid for bait. I tossed the line into the water and held on strong against the tugging current.

I couldn’t tell if a fish had bit or not. I reeled up the line: no fish, bait gone and I hooked my clumsy little self! Ouch! Dad gently removed the metal from the bleeding wound on my leg.

I didn’t cry.

I wouldn’t fish much in my childhood. My parents signed me up for ballet lessons instead. Being a tomboy wasn’t my fate.

In my twenties, I fell in love with an angler.

One sunrise at Christian Point in the Everglades, where the water typically looks like pea soup, it was flushed clear. A school of juvenile tarpon rushed by our craft. With strong predatory instinct and graceful arm movements I learned from dance, I caught and released my first Megalops Atlanticus on a gold spoon. I was hooked again but this time, I knew fishing would be in my blood.

I casted very well, but I wasn’t talented at tying knots, not even with him. We broke up, like a shriveled leader line. He kept the boat and the truck. I kept the girly things: kitchen pots and linens.

Men I dated later wouldn’t take me out fishing. “It’s a guy thing,” they’d say. I missed the sport that’s not easy to do alone as a woman.

Eventually, I met my mentor Betty Bauman from Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing and I learned techniques from seminars. More fishing adventures ensued.

During a workshop weekend, Betty and her husband Captain Chuck took me out to the Ten Thousand Islands on the journalist boat. The line squealed and after half an hour, I caught and released a 200-pound bull shark.

“Atta girl!” Captain Chuck said. “I’m so proud of you!”

At sunset, the boat sped over the flats to Chokoloskee marina. With my biceps in pain and the wind battering my face, I meditated about my father. He’s got Alzheimer’s. When I sing him the same lullaby about little fishes, he cries -- even though he sang it to keep me from crying when I was a baby.

Thank you father, for being the first person who taught me how to fish and tackle all kinds of other things in life that are bigger than a shark, because I didn’t think I could and I did.