Sunsetting

A few weeks ago, work took me to the Windy City for a conference. The opening keynote speaker was a young woman whom I had heard speak a few years back and while amazing, the part of me drawn to novel experiences, admittedly was somewhat less than enthusiastic about a repeat performance.

I was wrong. So wrong.

In the years since hearing her speak last, it became apparent to me within moments, that she had grown and more importantly, that I have grown. Her message was poignant, insightful and addressed the human condition in ways that only someone who has lived deeply can do.  This keynote speaker is Liz Murray, author of the New York Times Bestseller Breaking Night “and a believer of Possibilities, Creativity, Audacity, Passion, Fun, and a Global Community.” Her story is that of Homeless to Harvard – the story of but one young girl raised by drug addicted parents who both died so early in life, leaving her and her sister homeless as teenagers.

Her ability to convey her story with humor, with transparency and yet with a level of insight far beyond her 33 years, on par with that of thought leaders we have all read or heard about was simply and purely stunning. Her candidness captivated me and I could have listened to her speak all  all night.  She wove her story with her observations, lessons learned and universal truths. She shared one of the most honest – and helpful – examples of forgiveness that paralleled, to me, that of the story of Louie Zamperini in the book Unbroken.  Tears gently rolled down my face in one second and in the next, I was laughing out loud. A master story teller, without a doubt and truly, a master human being.

At one point, while she was speaking of her mother and while unable to parent in the ways we consider conventional, Liz spoke of her mother’s fierce love and affection for her children.  Then she shared that when her mother became ill and that the end was imminent, that she wished she had taken more time to be with her.  She shared that afterwards, after the moment to say goodbye had come and gone, that she realized that even at such a young age, that she had developed a theme in her life.

She always thought there would a later.

I will see her later. I will visit her later. I will spend time with her later.

Later came. Later went.

Her mother was gone. Buried in a pine box.

Later came. Later went.

***


***

The kiddo and I are spending a few days with my father, who in the recent weeks met up with the milestone called 94.  On the day of his birthday, my brother shared that upon birthday greetings and the acknowledgemet of his 94 years, that his response was, “Let’s see if we can make it to 95”.

His spirit is in tact. His body is mostly in tact. His mind, however, is in nearly a million mixed up little pieces.

While sitting together in the living room, or at the dining table, our conversations are both humorous and heartbreaking.

He asks when he is going home. We are home. The home where he has lived since 1968.  

He asks if he ever came to visit me when I lived in San Francisco. I have never lived in San Francisco.

He asked me if my brother has arranged transportation back to the other house. I tell him we are where we need to be.

He asks me if Bill lived with me in Fresno, or somewhere? He thinks I am his cousin.  I just shake my head no.

He asks me if I would like to stay the night. I say yes, of course, thank you.  He does not realize that I am his daughter. 

He says he needs to find a ten dollar bill he dropped out in the yard, and when I tell him he didn’t he says he will look for it anyway. When I find a ten in his wallet, he hands it to me and thanks me for my help.  I just take the ten. And put it back in his wallet when he’s not looking.

We take a drive around the town where he’s lived and worked since the sixties and he remarks that he thinks he’s been before.  That’s true, he has.  

As I get him to bed, he asks me where his wife is.  I say she is not here right now and he nods. He says she must be with her mother,  and I nod. He says she old enough to manage on her own.  His wife died 16 years ago. I kiss him good night.

I began asking him questions a few years ago. Questions about his life, his loves, his dreams, his travels, his regrets.  I got only the tip of the ice berg.

I realize now, I always thought there was a later.

He is still here, but his mind is not.

Later has come. Later has gone.

Photo credit: The Kiddo

Photo credit: The Kiddo

There is still so much I want to know.

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28 thoughts on “Sunsetting

  1. Oh, Bonnie, this made me cry, on so many levels. Beautifully written, heartfelt, piercingly true. I think what gets me most is the inevitability of it all–at some point, somewhere, with someone, each of us goes through this. Doesn’t make it any easier, admittedly, but perhaps it’s a bit of a consolation to know that others are here, holding you and your dad close in our hearts and thanking you silently for the gentle ‘kick in the pants’ reminder that we must never, never, never take things for granted. I just turned 50 a couple of weeks ago and to be honest, I’m a bit gobsmacked. Don’t know how I got to this point so quickly, but I *do* know that I want to suck the marrow out of whatever time I’m granted from here on out, and make sure that those who are dear to me know how very much they enrich my life. Every. Single. Day. xoxoxox, l

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    • Lori – it’s like you were there with me. I agree – the inevitability of it all – such a perfect way to put it. We all know it’s coming. I am so comforted to know that this was in it’s own way some kind of a kick in the pants…when I heard Liz Murray, years our junior, share her realization at an even much younger age, it was a kick in the pants for me. I adore how you put it…’want to suck the marrow out of whatever time granted…” So exquisitely put my friend. xoxox

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  2. I am 56yo. That is how my memoirs begin; “When the doctor gave me a diagnosis of dementia I knew this day was inevitable. … But … I thought I would have more time.” Now I keep wishing my loved ones would get interested in reading books or watching the videos I bought on dementia but they don’t “need” them yet. … not interested. So I blog (at http://www.truthfulkindness.com) Sometimes life is frustrating for everyone concerned.

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    • Indeed, it can truly be frustrating for all. It’s one of those things, that until someone feels ready, it’s just not time. Keep sharing with your loved ones.

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  3. Very beautifully said. I have a similar situation with my grandmother and each time I sit with her and get one word responses to questions I ask I feel such regret at not having asked them before. I now feel her slipping away one unanswered question at a time and now I realize she is taking so much knowledge and wisdom with her, things I wish I could hold on to.

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    • It is difficult to watch them slip away and we can’t really possibly see it until it is already happening. For me the wisdom gained in seeing this is such a powerful reminder to appreciate the moments we do have.

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  4. oh gosh. You’re so brave, Bonnie. A stronger woman I can’t imagine. Fun to read a bit more about your Chicago experience, too.

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    • Hi Liz!! It would be fun to accept that, but not brave, its just one of those life things we all have. I was more anxious about spending the days than I needed to be. It’s hard to see him know how mixed up things are. I appreciated the tie in with a Chicago moment too.

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  5. Bonnie, I am deeply touched and have me thinking about all the things I can do later, including visit with my parent. Thank you so much for your vulnerability, honesty and love. YOU shine through.

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    • Vicki – thank you so much, really. It means a lot to be able to pass on the wisdom gained from another and know that it helps yet one more person. The them of thinking there is always a later is a powerful lesson. Thank you for such a lovely comment too, you made my week! xo

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  6. Liz Murray sounds like someone who’d get along with the bunch around here. You and I are on opposite ends of the same ‘right now’ BonBon. Instead of the mind, it is the body. The body can’t but the mind remembers…and that longing to do that I see in his eyes is almost worth wishing he could forget. Almost. I can think of no where else I’d rather be, pain and all, frustration and all, and I know you feel the same. I could ask the questions, but I’m reluctant to take him there, to remind him of all he had, all he did, all he was…I’m finding it’s easier to let him see instead…all that he still has and still is. You are in my heart and my thoughts my friend…much love xoxo

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    • Ooops…perhaps it is contagious..how did I forget to come back here. Ah, life has a way of getting in the way of life. Liz Murray is an incredible human being and would be a beautiful addition to this bunch. Interesting how we are on opposite ends of all of this. I can appreciate so well what you say – with my mom, it was the body that failed not her mind, so I feel some kind of resonance with what you share about yours. You are in my thoughts – I know this time is not easy in the least. xo

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  7. As you know, I have been here and now watch as my husband experiences this fractured moment in time with his mom. I don’t know that we can look back with regret – perhaps we know what we need to know. We were loved – in many complex and complicated ways and perhaps not in the way that was best for us – but there was love nonetheless. The holes are not ones that would necessarily have been filled even if we had had later. This post was arguably one of the most beautiful I have read. I felt your heart hurting and all I can do is send you love – to use however you need it most. xox

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    • Ah, fractured is such a great word in this context: memories are fractured and so therefore time is fractured. It is not regret with which I look back, it is with a sense of purpose and mindfulness going forward – to remember, what Liz Murray illustrated so so eloquently in what she shared so amazingly, that we don’t always necessarily have later. Such a beautiful thing to keep in mind. Thank you – for the love, for the understanding and the knowing. xo

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  8. Pretty darn fabulous for someone who said they were struggling for words, thoughts, etc. (I also hate it when that happens). Quite lovely, in fact. So glad to see you rocking it with great observations and insights, and sharing them with the rest of us.

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    • Hi Maureen! Thank you so much! Let’s see how the words flow from this point; the last few months were quite mercurial 🙂 (and it is so frustrating as you know!) but as we know, we have to stay out of our own way sometimes. It felt nice to have some thoughts come to the surface in response to time spent and the interactions with my dad and to honor him at the same time. Always puts a smile on my face when you stop by!

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    • Oh Dianne, you are so sweet! Thank you. The mind is such a curious thing and to see one go into so many pieces is just hard. But the time spent was good, even if we had mixed up conversations! xo

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