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Friday, January 17, 2014

Sacrifice and Forgiveness


This isn’t the blog that I had intended to write this month. But life happens when it wants to happen. 

I usually try to keep the blog focused on Jonah and JJB progress. The blog that I’m writing today is still relevant in that Sanfilippo, like family is part of mine and Jonah’s genes.

Being a mom to Jonah is a huge part of my life and it’s my experience with my parents and grandparents that influenced who I am as a parent.

 I’m reflecting today about days long gone by.  My paternal grandmother passed away yesterday. grandma Wood was a layered and seasoned women. She had 8 children and adopted a 9th. They lived on a beautiful plot of land in OR- wrapped around their 16 acres of farm land was the towns river.  A haven for a growing child. We had some chickens and cows, but the river and the barn were the main attractions.

Some of my fondest and scariest memories are from that farm.  My grandma was old school, she was a grandma. She made her bread from scratch. We loved to help her pound out the dough and then watch it rise. She made us egg salad sandwiches from the bread, cutting off the crusts.  She carefully wrapped the sandwiches in parchment paper, with the corners tucked in, like they do at authentic deli’s.  She’d stick them in a picnic basket along with home made blackberry cobbler or rhubarb pie. Then take ‘us’ (my siblings and a cousin or two) down to the river for the afternoon.  She taught us about periwinkles, skippers, beavers, schools of fish and the crawdads. It was absolutely majestic for a kid- nothing could be more perfect. Catching frogs and crawdads, swinging from the tire swing and learning how to swim. Filling up on delicious gourmet sandwiches, fresh vegetables and pie.

My grandma was a good teacher, she taught us how to milk the cows and make butter. She let us collect the eggs from the hens.  Have you ever put your hand under a snoozing hen to fetch her eggs? How soft, warm and delicate her body feels, her bones and feathers touching the top of your hand, compared to the scratchy straw on the palm of your hand, reaching and searching; then finding the egg, not always smooth, sometimes splattered with chicken poop. gross.

These are cherished childhood memories that you don’t often think about, but you remember when you’re reminded of something and it comes back. These experiences shape you. My grandma gave them to me.  I wish I had some old pictures to show you. I could talk forever about my young years on the farm.

When my grandparents retired my Dad purchased the farm and took over the family business (my parents divorced by then.)  My grandparents bought the neighboring plot and put in a little house close to the river.  They spent their summers traveling in their Winnebago.

My brother stayed on the farm with my dad. Almost teenagers now, we got ourselves in to some pretty harry-scary situations on the farm, the kind of fearless trouble only an adventurous teen can get themselves into.... My dad fell on hard times, manic depressive, self medicating on liquor, women, cards and drugs. Those were the really scary times. Dad burned down the house that he grew up in, that was his first suicide attempt.  A few years later he shot himself sitting at the picnic table in my grandparents backyard.  While my grandparents were away on a camping trip.

I had just graduated from college and had my first job, living in Seattle near my newly married brother.  My sister Jennifer still back at home was the closest to my Dad, he helped her build her daycare and refinish her house.  They did a lot together; she was left with the burden of watching him self destruct. Around that time my Grandma came to Jennifer and asked her a favor.  It was not well received by Jennifer and she ignored the ask.  Not much later my dad committed suicide.  Flash forward.

Yesterday I checked my email and saw that my Aunt Melissa had sent a mass update to all her siblings and the grandchildren about my grandmas failing condition, it would not be much longer. Grandma had Parkinson's and recently had broken her hip. My Aunt sent a second email to me asking me to forward the message to Jennifer.  Instead I sent her a text, being it only 6am in OR and I knew she wouldn’t read her email. My Dad’s birthday passed the day before and my gut told me that today was the day.

I told Jennifer in the text that she should go see grandma quick before she died. Jennifer got to the living facility at 3:00. She sat down on the other side of Grandma, Aunt Melissa holding one hand and my sister holding the other.  Grandma acknowledged that Jennifer was by her side and my poor sister unloaded the guilt that she had held onto for 14 years and apologized.  She finally said her peace and my grandma let go.

Not too many people get the chance to say they’re sorry and I’m so thankful that Jennifer got too and grandma listened.

After a suicide family and friends are left with so much anger and guilt they feel abandoned they think of their friend or family as selfish for leaving them.  When he started to get really bad I was bitter and angry, I resented him for being an alcoholic and for not getting his shit together.  I didn’t realize  that he had a mental illness, nobody told us. By the time he shot himself, his mental instability was finally acknowledged to ‘us’ his kids.

Saying goodbye... the river. For those that don’t get to say their peace. I hope they get “the visit” so they can. Soon after my dad died, he came to me in a dream, it was tangible like I was awake and alive, dad was dead and this dream was really happening.

We met at the river, it was late afternoon. We waded through the water, stepping over the slippery rocks hand in hand, not talking. I could feel the water lapping at my shins the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair. We came upon a man laying down under the water, he was in loggers clothing (among other things my dad was a logger) he had jet black hair pooled around his face and a dark beard, his face was white the life washed out of him, his eyes were closed, but he was smiling.

I was so sad for the mans family, even though I didn’t know them. My Dad said to me, look at him- he was drowning in pain but not he’s happy he’s finally at peace, his family will understand.

The sun was setting, my dad kissed me goodbye, he left me standing at the rivers edge as he walked off into the sunset. I woke up  relieved and I forgave him for what he’d done and I knew with my whole being that he was finally at peace.

Last week I picked Jonah up from his after school program is was raining out, we had our rain coats and boots on.  It was dusk and Jonah was jumping in every mud puddle.  Complaining was futile. We came to the big intersection an on and off ramp to the highway. It was dark now and it smelled good, the Christmas trees lined the streets you could smell them, some Christmas lights were still up and were reflecting in the water.  The cars zoomed by, people rushed home. Jonah and I just stood there, we stood there and watched.  Jonah watched the rain, the cars the light, taking in the sounds, the reflections and the water. I watched him and I peacefully waited for him to get his feel and to soak it all in.

On the way home I thought about how the rain made me feel when I was little, I loved it. I couldn’t help but cry for all the little but delicious tactile experiences that Jonah might not have the chance to relish in. Today reminiscing about my grandma, it really hit home all the experiences that I hope Jonah will have. 

A good parent makes sacrifices. So far I have learned two life lessons: sacrifice and forgiveness. I’m working on patients.

At the end of December my sister in laws Mom died. When Barb arrived, she sat down and took her mom’s hand and said hello and started talking. Moments later Barb realized that she wasn’t breathing anymore.

Death comes in three’s.

Jennifer now takes care of my Mom’s dad.  I’m hard pressed to think of one thing he taught me. Unlike my Grandma Wood, my Grandpa Barrett is fighting death with his waking death, he’s entirely dependent on my sister for everything. He’s depressed and his grasp on reality is touch and go.  He says horrible nasty things, worse then you could ever imagine. There is no quality of life left in him, he’s miserable, but his stubborn nature will not allow him to succumb. He’s afraid. Jennifer is a saint for putting up with and cleaning up his shit.  She’d say well no body else was going to do it. Grandpa Barrett was also the family member that passed down our mutated gene, not that it’s his  fault (that I know of anyway) it’s just fitting that it would have been him.

I never liked my grandpa, we never bonded.  He yelled at us all the time, I don’t think he likes me, he never said one nice thing to me.

A snap shot of my grandpa Barrett... There was a beautiful huge black cherry tree in his backyard, with a perfect branch to be boosted up to.  This particular glorious Spring day, the cherries were perfect, fat and juicy, dripping from the branches. Jennifer and I hoisted ourselves up into the tree, just as we grabbed a handful of cherries and started gorging on them, my grandpa came charging around the corner waving his cane, bellowing at us: “Get down from that tree! Those cherries aren’t ready yet!”

The next afternoon, we were sitting in the living room looking out the window longing to be sitting in that tree.  Wishing that my grandpa wasn’t home.  Then A black cloud fiercely flew in and overtook the tree- crows. They cherry picked that tree in one afternoon.

I’ll save the rest of his story for when he dies.

Right now, I have some living to do. Tomorrow is Jeremy’s 40th Birthday and I need to order his cake.  I actually made reservations for dinner and got a sitter. Last year Lucy Liu gave him a gift certificate to Manducatis, an Italian restaurant, never been but the ratings are great and the website looks amazing. Seriously we haven’t been on a date in years. I bet Lucy is going to ask him again today if we used the gift card she gave him. So embarrassing.