The Inevitable Breakup: When Parents Die

"God will, I shall"

~ The Family Crest At Castle Menzies, Weem Scotland

I remember the summer of 1968. My blue, orange, red, yellow and green stripped mini dresshot pant set was my favorite "free dress" outfit. "Free Dress" days, were the days I did not have to wear the rough wooly blue and grey plaid skirt with suspenders, a white Peter Pan collar shirt, a "beanie"(small round skull cap in the same woolen fabric) and the huge white "clod hoppers" to St. Monica's.

As cool as Santa Monica, California was in 1968. The school uniform was not. The nuns had it even worse being Franciscan and Carmelite, they were doomed to the full coif. (the oatmeal box on the head with the massive rouching like neck piece)..and God knows what else underneath. The small amount of flesh that was exposed, was the squeezed tight protrusion of their facial features. To which many had the added beauty of whiskers. Women with whiskers, how delightful. What no tweezers? Is there a Roman Catholic rule against a good tweeze?

Friday evening the dining room of our upstairs apartment on Chelsea St. was filled with the mysteriously pungent aroma of my Mother's famous "bulla-bitch". Her Bouillabaisse was epic and famous in two parishes..St Louis Of France and St Monica's. Betty made the fish soup with beer instead of wine, as country folk do sometimes in oceanside villages in France. Bay leaf and oregano permeated our home.The smell of fresh baked Pioneer sour dough bread that guests would cheerfully use to lap up the broth in great sloshing gobs. Slurping and laughing:it was a delight to watch as a child.

My folks were lively then and in their early forties. We took walks on the beach as a family.We fought and cried. Laughed and prayed. We went to church on Sunday and were a big part of our parish. We lived as any family lives. A normal dysfunctional post World War II "baby boomer" family, living in the raucous and brilliantly shaded culture of Santa Monica and Venice Beach in the late sixties. And to this family I was and still am: the "baby".

Our traditions were as miss-matched as our furniture. My Mom called the interior design of our home, "early
Halloween". Nothing matched. Nothing. And yet it did somehow. We had a gold crushed velvet armchair and an avocado green wicker back chair that my dad had "whickered" with his own two hands. Then he painted and stained it a fabulous avocado green. They called it "antiquing" and everyone in the late 60's did it.

In the far right side of the living room sat a large Walnut China cabinet that displayed the blue and gold crested Crown Darby china lunch plates my mom inherited from her Mother. Dad went through a real thing in the late sixties where he stained or painted most of the furniture Avocado green,blue,burnt orange or gold. But the walnut chest and the captain's table and chairs would always be raw. Stained by life and hands holding on for dear life.

In the living room hung an oil seascape painting my father had done in Laguna. Quite good I am told. It had a frame of solid carved wood. Very dark and heavy. The deep blues and greens swirled with the sea foam whites and the dim light of a foggy sunset made the painting look rather like that of a New England shore. Dark,heavy and rugged.

I could be angry with my parents for all there miss-matched furniture and decisions. For ignoring all of our emotions and intentions. For never setting up a college fund or helping to plan our futures. I could be angry about my Dad's temper and drinking. My Mom's Victorian temperament of careless compromise. The way she used to say,"it'll work out:you shine and it will work out." Whatever the hell that meant. I could be mad: but why?

My father has been in the hospital four times in six months. He went in for knee surgery earlier this year. After that, two bouts of congestive heart failure in the same month. He went in again in June and had a pace maker put in. He is in good spirits. His heart is good, energetically. His actions through his life have been based on some summary judgment of how to look at a thing or be a thing or treat a thing.

He has many outward prejudices. Words he says without thought,evasion or editing:nothing PC. Words like "Gal":as in "Oriental Gal", Or "Mexican Gal" or "Jewish Gal Lawyer",oh the list goes on "Gay fella". It boggles my mind if I let it. And I stopped correcting him. Mostly because he can't hear and it doesn't matter. I mean what could happen? He'd get fired from being an old fart? I cannot judge him now beyond the fact that he is old and will die one day: soon.He has been my father always. Always despite my frailties,failings and insecurities. My "crack" judgment, which has taken me down some long and painful roads.

I believe our character is the result of our choices. Of how we are, who we are.Is it realistic to expect me to think like you? To this end our character is like a fine piece of marble. Marble is created by heat and pressure. A particle of dust can create a vain of dramatic depth and color. Air can create shapes within the stone. And so it is with us. That the particles of life, the results that mold our character and create our views determine how we experience life. Pain will shape us, in the way that rough elements shape marble.

Life has lead me to this place. Where the parents become the children. Where the "baby" becomes the mother.Where the carefree experience of my own journey is interrupted by the concerns of my parents. Where every time one or both are in trouble, I get the call.
The expectation being that I will fix the problem.

In my life I had many roles as an actor and as a human. This role as daughter and caregiver is the hardest. By nature I am blessed with an ability to find solutions to problems quickly. A kind of mental short-hand created out of survival as a single mom in recovery. I have the absolute belief that there is a solution for any problem.If only we are willing to dig and more importantly beg! I beg for something for someone in my life almost everyday.
I mainly beg for things for my parents. Resources like Visiting Nurses and Medicare. Resources like affordable housing. My parents have lived in Santa Barbara for five years at Pilgrim Terrace. It is low income housing for seniors. They pay about $500.00 a month for what would cost them about $1500.00 in the open market. I find programs for free or low cost services to enhance the life they have. It is a good life.They feel safe and as secure as possible. As secure as anyone feels at eighty five. We have a DNR in place (good idea at any age). We even have an "after life" plan. Whole body donation to UCLA and then a simple cremation. No costly funeral or burial. It is their wish and I simply had to go find the resources.

I am glad I am there for them.
But it does not come without a price. The price being, my already diminished freedom. My freedom that is taxed by children,school,partner and a home to run.
Life on life's terms,right? If you looked into my God box,it is all right there. I asked for it and I got it! All of it.

The hardest thing for me to accomplish in this pile of accomplishments for others,has been to find time for be to replenish. Not take a nap or eat. But creatively replenish myself. The juice that my parents life demands is the juice of life. The creative juice. I am often heard saying,"I need my juice" or "where's the juice". These are personal reminders for me to get my head out of my ass and do something that is specifically for me. An art class, a writing class, and acting class, a play, a hike, beach walk, a rummage through an old book store and writing I do here, all wake up my creative juice.
I took part in Obama's campaign...juice.
A "juicy" me is a happy me.
A happy me is more productive.
It's all in the juice!

One day Clyde and Betty will be gone. And I better have a life in place for and about me. Right now I have small children and old parents to keep me busy. But nothing lasts forever and I better start the business of living my life now. There is room, there is time. I can be a good mother a daughter and have my juice too!

I once heard a saying about how creativity is God coming through you. Puccini wrote opera with the belief that he was just the channel for God's voice.
I am a channel too. I just need my juice.

My parents were not brilliantly supportive of my creative and personal efforts all my life. But they did put up with me.They are deeply damaged souls. My brother's suicide left brutally permanent scars. Scars that left an inability to connect completely with another human or an environment. There is always a little bit of a masquarade. Protection, I am certain, from the possibility of getting hurt, again. At any rate, I know they have done the best they could with what they had and I am grateful.

It is strange to me when my parents try to connect with me now.
Expressions of love and appreciation are difficult for both of them. My Mother can say "I love you" my father cannot. It is not because my father does not feel the love. It is because he feels it too much. If he were to express it, it would consume him and he would shatter into a million blistered pieces. So I am content in knowing he loves with no words.
Just pure energy that is tenderly transmitted in gentle gestures and small deeds. My Mom can barely see or hear,yet she says I love you every time I see her.
She tells me I am precious. This will do for life and love.
For soon this too shall pass.
And my memory and the sense that I did my best, will have to serve.
I will,in the end, bless and release...and be grateful I could be of service with love.

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