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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Friendship

"A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words."
I went to dinner last night with an old friend, someone I truly enjoy the company of whenever we get together, no matter how long it has been since we have last seen each other. She is always up on the latest restaurants or hangouts and tidbits of information, she is intelligent and full of interesting thoughts and we are never at a loss for something to chat about. As we have gotten older, I have learned to appreciate who she is and how compassionate and giving, and FORgiving, she really is. There is nothing more precious than a friendship. Nothing. I have a number of very good friends whom I have collected over the years, some who I see often, some not so often, but I consider myself very fortunate to know them all. I can count on my friends to accept me, to understand and consider my feelings, to make me laugh uncontrollably, and to remember me when times are wonderful and happy, as well as at when times are dark and bleak. Let's face it...we all have a lot of both!
"It takes a long time to grow an old friend." - by John Leonard
When I was a kid, a friend was someone I played with and argued or fought with. Most of the time you made friends because of proximity. They were in your neighbourhood, sat beside you in the classroom, or hung around the same places you did in the playground. In high school, there were friends who you identified with because you had the same interests or you were in similar "cliques" according to your status. In my era, there were punks and greasers, there were geeks and jocks. I mostly hung out with the geeks :-). I kept a few friends from that time in my life and still see them from time to time. When you enter the working world, you don't have a sense of where people come from as much as how you relate to them. Work provides the common experience and time away from work is where you develop your friendships and common interests. Most of my friends today evolved from where I worked. I have had many wonderful aquaintances, students I've taught and enjoyed the company of, people I've met through this experience or that. But my core friendships are from a place I started working at 20 years ago whom I've kept in touch with, although most of us have moved on since then. I have, in the last couple of years, really come to understand the significance and the importance of my good friends. There is a group of us who get together once a year and go to a spa for the weekend. We have done this now for several years in a row, and each year it has become more and more significant for me, something to really look forward to. I don't need to "escape" so much as I need to be with my friends for that one weekend where we can all laugh our heads off and be as silly or stupid as we want, as well as talking through our personal struggles, support each other and have some quiet time in a place far away from our everyday lives. I hope that I can return to my friends what they have given to me: love, compassion, humour, acceptance, and above all, the feeling that we are in it together. When I was a young mother and my first daughter began to go to school, I would drop her off, and on some occasions I'd take my younger daughter to McDonald's for a treat...she would have pancakes and play on the indoor rides they had, and I would sit with my Egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee. Almost every time I was there, I'd watch the same group of ladies, all in their 70's and 80's sitting together and enjoying themselves and each other. At the time I remember thinking that it was a pretty boring thing to do...join each other at McDonald's every morning. What kind of life is that? They had a good time, but I could not, for the life of me, relate. Fifteen or twenty years later, I get it. I can now visualize my friends and I many years from now still trying to keep in touch, getting together for a coffee or visiting each other wherever we may be...making each other laugh, and truly valuing what we have. It isn't about McDonald's. It's about making time to be together. May you always have a friend, and more importantly, may you always BE a friend.
The only way to have a friend is to be one. Ralph Waldo Emerson
IJ

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Through The Hoop

Well, it has been almost a month now since my Dad went into the care facility. I thought I'd provide a little update to those of you who have made mention of reading this blog. I am actually in Richmond where my folks live at the moment, on my regular monthly visit to help out. Today I went to visit my Dad by myself, and had some enlightening moments of conversation with him. First of all, he is doing well. When he first moved there, he was rooming with a fellow named Hugh. Well, Hugh is a very sweet old guy, but he likes to wear a full suit to bed at night! So my Dad would have to watch Hugh go through his ritual of getting his shirt and tie on, followed by the suit pants and jacket, socks and yes, even shoes...every night! One of the first times I went to visit Dad when he was with Hugh, I found all kinds of Dad's things mixed in with Hugh's things. It was hard to say if it was one or the other of them getting mixed up as to where things should go. I would call Dad and ask "So how is Hugh?" and he would tell me "Well, every night he wears his suit to bed...he's a little off his whacker, you know," and tell me all about it as if for the first time :-) Eventually, the staff thought that Dad would do better with another fellow named John, so they moved him to that room. My Dad's name is also John, so the staff decided to call my Dad Jack (being as Jackson is his last name). I'm sure my Dad found it confusing at first to be called Jack...life is confusing enough with dementia! What the heck did we have for breakfast again??? Who is Jack and why do you keep calling me that??? But Dad and John took to each other immediately. I met John once, and he was a real sweetheart. He was 92, and had a bad heart so he wasn't feeling all too well most of the time. And unfortunately, only about a week after they started rooming together, John was taken to hospital and died of heart failure. Poor Dad. He was pretty devastated. When John's family came to take away his belongings, they gave Dad his nice watch. This was a very sweet and generous thing to do, and I think they knew how much John and my Dad had enjoyed each other in those last days. All the reports I've had are that Dad takes part in just about every activity. He's never played Bingo, never participated in Yoga or water colour painting in his life. But he does now! He joins up with just about every activity they provide. The nurses all like him...he's one of the few who can actually talk and bestow his charms upon whoever he comes into contact with. I'm sure he tells them the same stories over and over, but they are a caring and friendly staff and he enjoys them. I try to call every couple of days. He doesn't have a phone in his room yet, so I have to bother the nursing staff to fetch him so we can talk for a few minutes. He always sounds cheerful and happy to hear from me, and even though he can't remember what he did that day, I know from the reports from everyone else that he is very much involved in whatever he can do. So I'm happy now that he has settled in. Today when I went to visit him I found him in the TV room. Most of the people there were in wheelchairs, pretty much out of it, either asleep or in a dementia daze. There was a lovely old Chinese woman sitting beside Dad and I think they were chatting a little. I came up and he looked at me as if he was surprised to see me. Well, he's always surprised to see me even when I tell him I'm coming :-) We walked arm in arm to a lovely garden that is part of the complex. He hasn't had much of a chance to enjoy the garden yet because the weather has been cool and damp since he's been there. But today it was lovely and sunny and warm. We walked to the gazebo and sat in the big wicker chairs and chatted. And I asked him "So Dad, how are you doing here?" And he said "Well, I think I have adjusted to it." "Good, I'm happy to hear that." I said. "You know..." he went on, "when I first got here I wanted to get the heck out." I was surprised at his candor. "But now I feel comfortable and I'm doing okay." He would never have admitted his discomfort at the time, I know that about him. And I'm almost sorry to know he felt that way. But on the other hand, if he had said something I would have felt even more horrible about leaving him there. And now that has passed, and he has become accustomed to his new living arrangements...and it doesn't matter anymore. I worry when I leave him that he might be a little sad. But today, we passed the activity room as I was about to leave, and he decided to join in with them. They were playing basketball. Well, basketball for a bunch of elderly and incapacitated people means a hoop sitting on the floor, and everyone in a wheelchair or a chair being given the ball to throw in. Immediately one of the staff helped Dad to a chair...."we need you on this team!" she said. She gave him the ball. He had three chances to throw it in. My Dad always considered himself "uncoordinated". He couldn't dance. Well, he could, but it sure wasn't pretty. A leg would go up in some kind of strange kick, arch position...it was mostly hopping. He wouldn't participate in sports or anything like that...he was one of those kids who would have been the last to be picked for the team. But today, he confidently took the ball and held it to his eye, staring down the hoop in the centre of the room. I held my breath. The room got quiet. He took aim, and then threw it. And he got it in. Everyone applauded, "good for you!". He was handed the ball again...and he got it in a second time. More applause. Third time, he again took his slow aim, and got it in. As the last applause rang out, I decided it was a good time to go. He had long forgotten that I was there anyway, and I had a big smile on my face watching my Dad get the ball in the hoop three times, just as if he was my child accomplishing something for the first time. Funny how life works out, isn't it?