Thursday, January 27, 2011

We've all met people over the years who refer to themselves as "military brats". I was an American Legion "brat". Both my parents were seriously involved in the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary. Being an only child, they just brought me along with them to their meetings, conferences and conventions. My first play group was in the back of a Legion hall filled with WWII vets and their wives. I knew the Pledge of Allegiance and the Preamble to the constitution before I even got to first grade! Parliamentary Procedure was mastered by 6th grade and the correct folding of a flag....well, lets just say, I had that covered too.
Both my mom and dad were very patriotic people. My dad was in the Navy during WWII, a radioman on a submarine in the Atlantic. He always saluted when the flag was displayed, even when accompanying me to high school basketball games. Would I get embarrassed......absolutely. Did it stop him from standing and saluting.......NEVER!
I have been to 24 National American Legion conventions, in cities all across this country. I have seen 3 Vice Presidents and 2 sitting Presidents as well as Bob Hope and Don Ho . I have been a regular at the state of Alaska's hospitality room (think salmon and crab legs) and have closed the place at New Hampshire's hospitality room and all before the age of 15.
Did my parents miss important milestones in my life because their presence was elsewhere......yup. Did I find myself attending really boring meetings instead of a movie or play date.....yup. Have I sat with elderly WWI and WWII vets at the NH Veterans Home and held their hand while singing a Christmas carol.......yup, did that too.
My mother became the National Vice President of the American Legion Auxiliary when I was in college. She had risen through the organization since joining after WWII. My father rose through the state offices and later served on many national committees. For the two of them, it was always about service to community and service to the nations veterans.
The Legion was always a place that the best in my parents came out. While my mother no longer knows me, she recited the entire preamble to the constitution the other night. She was clearly in meeting mode and was trying to make sure the agenda was moving forward and that people knew what their assigned duties would be. I nodded, I made eye contact and in my way I let her know I would do what she asked. She seemed pleased by my cooperation.
Yeah, my mom and dad wore silly hats and were often pictured in the local paper leading the Memorial Day parade or the Veterans Day service. I know I didn't tell them at the time but....they did good.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Spaces Between

It's been coming on for awhile now. Like all bad news, there is a certain amount of avoidance we practice to keep the reality at bay. The fact is, my mother can no longer hear anything. I've yelled into her ear, much to everyone else's dismay, but it causes not even a ripple to her. She looks at me in confusion and begins to guess what it is I might have said. She says thank you a lot and has become much quieter since her hearing has left.

I make my living by offering up words...sometimes they are words of comfort, solidarity, understanding and other times I use them to confront or bring to awareness something which has been hidden. I know that there are powerfully silent moments in the spaces in between my words. I've sat in that space, holding someone figuratively in that moment of grace and awareness. Those moments have always been anchored on either side by words. Without the anchors, what do I bring to the silence with my mother. I yearn for recognition, but fear that the silence will rob me of that occasional awareness on her part. I tried flash cards over the holidays but her reading and comprehension are fleeting at best.
It seems I have entered another stage of her progression with AD. My task, as always, is acceptance and letting go. Hope of recognition has spurred me on for months now. I fear I have become just one more face in her never ending day.....someone that shows up and holds her hand, combs her hair and strokes her cheek, always with a smile.
Ironically, words escape me now. I bring presence and love and hope that she can experience that in those spaces between.