On the eastern shores of Lake Michigan, property owners are desperately trying to stop the waves from destroying their homes. People who have lived along the lakeshore for decades and whose homes were built far from the edge of the dunes are now scrambling to build seawalls before the winter waves take what’s left of the dunes and their homes with it. One man who has lived on the lake for thirty years marveled that he’s never seen the lake this high before. Heavy equipment is all along the shoreline, brought in by anxious homeowners.
In some ways, it feels as if grief is eroding my life. Loss is redefining my landscape and carving new shores. It is painful. What sort of heavy equipment can stop these losses? None that I know of. But there is the question - even if I could stop them, should I?
In life, loss is inevitable and it changes you. Whether you like it or not. How I let the new changes re-form me…that’s what I need to focus on. But that will come later. For now, the waves keep battering.
It’s 5:30 a.m. and the phone is ringing again. Mike is so exhausted he doesn’t hear this time and I don’t hear his sister stirring, either. This is an answer to prayer because I want them to be able to rest. I get up to take the early morning shift.
I’m not quick enough and the answering machine is getting it, but I’m not concerned. It will ring again and as I reach the bottom of the stairs, it starts. I’m thankful he’s forgotten about the cell phones. Mike’s is in the bedroom and it’s jolted him awake several times already.
“Hello?” I answer.
“Uh, well…uh, is this Mike?”
“No, Dad. It’s Donna.”
“Can I talk to Mike?”
“No, Dad. It’s 5:30 and he’s in bed. He needs to sleep and I’m not waking him up.”
“Oh. Uh. Well, do you have a minute?”
“Yes, Dad,” and I sit on the stairs. It will be a while.
“I’m completely bewildered. I can’t find Anne.”
“No, Dad. She died.”
“No, Mike’s mother. Anne. Your Anne has died.”
“My mother, Anne?”
“No, Dad. Your wife.” His mother’s name was not Anne.
“How did that happen.”
“Her lungs wore out, Dad.”
“Where was I?”
“You were holding her hand.”
“Here in the house?”
“Yes, Dad, the apartment. You were holding her hand, I was reading the psalms to her, and Mike was stroking her hair.”
“Did she suffer?”
“No, Dad. It was peaceful.”
“Why can’t I remember?”
“Your memory has been bad for a few years, now.” He will accept this from me. He called Mike a liar last night.
“I can’t remember any of this.”
“Is Mother with you?”
“No, Dad. She died.”
“Was there a funeral?”
“No, Dad. It will be Friday.”
“What day is today?”
“What should I do?”
“Go back to bed, Dad.”
“I found a note here. Did something happen?”
“Mom’s gone, Dad.”
“I have to go get her.”
“You can’t, Dad. She’s died. We’ll have a private viewing today. Your daughter came to town yesterday and spent the day with you and we’re going to go see Mom one last time.”
“At 11 o’clock.”
“Will I go?”
“Yes, Dad. We’ll come get you.”
“Has there been a funeral?”
“Has something happened?”
And on it goes for another five minutes or so. Suddenly he’s done and hangs up.
I go to make a cup of coffee and clean up the kitchen a bit.
The phone rings.
Last week, I stopped in at my in-law’s apartment. The temperature outside was in the 90s but when I went into the apartment, the air conditioning was turned off. Mom had a sweater on and was bundled up in a blanket. I don’t know how Dad can stand it. As we sat visiting, I was sweltering in my shorts and tank top but she couldn’t get warm. She told me she’s reached the point in life where she will never be warm again.
As we see each other day by day, I don’t really notice these changes. But when I come into a stifling apartment to find Mom freezing, the reality that she is not doing well is unavoidable. It gives me a momentary pause - we won’t have them for ever. It hits me suddenly and I am saddened.
But there are things to do and needs to be met, so I marshal on. Later, I sit in my studio in a fog, staring out the window. The fulness of our situation hits me once again and I weep.
Is it really any wonder why I can’t create?
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.