Friday, June 13, 2008

What does a freelancer do in her free time? She takes a Photoshop class.

Who knows - maybe I'll illustrate my own writing some day. Or maybe I'll toss the pen aside for a camera.

My best writing has always been highly visual. "Show don't tell" is one of the proverbial tenants of successful writing. So, in the absence of any new writing projects, I've turned to my camera and all the neat things Photoshop can do.

Here is a sampling of what I've been up to. Alas,
the more involved collages cannot be uploaded. I'll
try to solve that problem another time.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Brothers and Sisters

Yes, I wrote a book about brothers and sisters. But that was years ago; since then, I've written another book that explored love and sex during World War II and the significant changes that war created in relationships between men and women.

Out of the blue, a reporter from the Toronto Star contacted me. She was writing a piece about siblings and exploring her premise that, as they age, Baby Boomers will take a closer look at their sibling connections. She'd found my book while researching the subject and wanted to talk.

I wasn't sure what I could add to her story; I'd been off the sibling stump for a long time. I was rusty. The note cards I'd used for book talks disappeared long ago. The talking points for the media - whether print or television - were a mere memory of another time when I was primed and ready to go.

But a funny thing happened. The minute I started to respond to the reporter's first question, I shifted into overdrive. The reasons for writing the book, the surprises along the way, the results of sibling research all came back to me like a pet who'd run far, far away and miraculously found its way back home.

I was in my mid-40s when I wrote Brothers&Sisters. In the intervening years, I've learned a thing or two but have not changed my mind a whit when it comes to the importance of our siblings and the many ways in which they impact our lives. I wrote a chapter about the illness and death of parents and how those seminal events impact siblings. When I wrote that material, I depended upon research and upon the stories of others. Now, I could revise that chapter from personal experience.

My brother, sister, and I have worked together as a well-oiled team in the care for my seriously ill mother. Normally, that charge falls to the oldest daughter in the family - often, on her shoulders alone. But it is my "baby" sister who is leading the charge here and who suggested to my parents that they relocate from Florida where they'd lived for years to a small college town in Ohio just ten minutes from her home. My sister works in hospice care, feels compelled to work with the dying, and is surrounded by a large support system for both her and my parents.

In truth, I was relieved when my sister made the offer and my parents accepted. I'm not blessed with a half dozen friends who would make it their business to help tend to my parents almost daily. I have a husband, a son living close by, and a job, albeit not full-time.

Before my parents moved to Ohio, my siblings and I took turns visiting them. After several back and forth trips by my sister and me, my brother arrived from France where he lives full time and stayed for a month. Whatever misgivings I'd had from the past melted away when I realized his strength, caring, sense of responsibility, and willingness to keep me in the loop daily. I told him as often as I could what a terrific job he was doing and how much I appreciated him.

I'm blessed to have two siblings who, despite childhood misunderstandings, have put all the baggage aside to care for my parents. I can't imagine what it would be like to be an only child or to have siblings who are unwilling or unable to participate in the end of a parent's life. No one has more shared memories than siblings; no one understands the family dynamics better than those who lived together under the same roof and who spent so much time together.

I don't know how well I communicated all of this to the lovely reporter from the Toronto Star. But talking to her reminded me of why I wrote the book in the first place: I knew that, despite all the emphasis on relationships between parents and children, the sibling connection was supremely influential. And the interview reminded me that once an author, always an author.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Clearing Out

The Herculean task of getting my parents' Florida condo ready for sale fell to my husband and me. Fair enough. My brother had just spent a month tending to my 91-year-old parents and had returned to France. My sister was running the show in Ohio, where my folks had decided to live out whatever time they have left.

I had a To Do List and a game plan in mind. But when I started opening up drawers and cabinets and closets, I almost turned right around. It was as if my parents had packed a few suitcases, grabbed some photos and family heirlooms to be mailed, locked the door, and walked away. I was overcome by the enormity of the task that was mine and the single-mindedness of purpose that was clearly theirs.

For the next five days, my husband and I amassed three piles - roomfuls is more like it. The pile to be discarded, the pile to be given away, and the pile to be sent to my parents. Office supplies, clothes, linens, grubby pots and pans, records from years ago, old cameras, obsolete tape recorders, gift wrapping, cards and postcards saved but never sent, toiletries, purses, shoes, dresses, canned food, frozen meat - the vestiges of a life filled with too much stuff. And a life filled with hopes, dreams, accomplishments and disappointments; a life coming down the homestretch.

I stared at the rows of shoes in my mother's closet. She has very small feet and, over the years, took advantage of sample sales to amass some pretty hot numbers. Now, the high heels were gone, replaced by special shoes for diabetics and her favorite Mephisto sandals from France. I tried not to get tangled in the emotional strings of all those shoes, but it didn't work. Hot, salty tears streamed down my cheeks. I let out deep moans that came from a place buried inside my soul, a place reserved for immense sorrow and hurt.

I was hurting both physically and emotionally. My back, already sore from a past injury, tightened like a vice grip. My "bad" knee buckled while lugging heavy loads of garbage back and forth down the long hallway from my parents' condo to the garbage shoot. When my husband suggested that I slow down or take a break, I just looked at him in disbelief. "Don't you see how much more needs to be done?" I said. "I can't possibly stop now."

Friends of my parents stopped by. They looked stunned, unwilling to believe that my mother and father were really not coming back. Several stayed and helped us pack dishes, decide how to rearrange the furniture, and to choose a few mementos that would remind them always of the good times they shared with my mom and dad.

On the last day - after hauling the last of the garbage bags down the hallway and into the garbage shoot - I walked from room to room, surveying what looked like a staged condo ready for sale. Cabinet shelves, closets, and drawers were empty. Much of the art work had been stored and mailed up north. Furniture in the living room and studio had been rearranged. Despite the clearing out, reminders of my parents were everywhere from the Japanese silk hanging on the master bedroom wall to the stained glass windows my mother had so lovingly crafted. I shut my eyes and could hear my mother calling us to dinner or asking for a word while doing the daily crossword puzzle; the whoosh of my father taking a golf swing in the living room or cheering for one of his hometown sports teams.

As far as senior facilities go, this was top of the line; my parents had enjoyed their independence, even when yet another neighbor suffered a stroke or passed away. In the end, though, it was the constant reminder of their own mortality and the chance to live closer to their children that drove my parents away. The anticipated "last stop" in their journey was not the last stop after all but a bridge to a cozy home in a tiny Midwestern town surrounded by loving caregivers, friends, and devoted children.