Blessed is the Quiet

I turned the monitor off Sunday morning not knowing it would be the last time.

For three and a half years I have slept with one ear open, listening to the monitor, learning the sounds of the different creaks of the hospital bed in the room below me.

One creak meant he was getting up. It was followed by the shuffle-thud of him walking with his walker into the bathrooom.

A different creak meant he was getting back into bed. I could hear the soft rustle of the bedding as he rolled onto his side and pulled the blankets up above his shoulders.

If I didn’t hear the back-to-bed creaks but heard the click of the light switch, I knew I needed to go down and redirect. He would be heading to his closet to choose clothes for church — no matter what day of the week it was. Sometimes that happened at 11:30 PM and sometimes in the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes it was every hour throughout night.

The monitor sat on my bedside table where its yellow light showed me it was on and its faint buzz served as a secondary reminder.

Now I hear the deep breathing of my husband sleeping beside me.

Just the other day I had been telling someone that I hadn’t heard the coyotes all summer. With the monitor off and the insomnia on, I could hear them, their long lonesome howls coming from somewhere farther away than previous years, but still there.

I hear a bird I can’t identify.

I hear gentle rain hitting the wide leaves of the hydrangea.

I hear the obnoxious sounds of vehicles driving on wet road. I can identify the milk truck, the speeding pick-ups, the cars. I can tell it’s foggy because everyone drives so much slower.

It’s so quiet, though, without the monitor.

Too quiet.

I want to hear the bed creak and the shuffle-thud.

My father passed away Sunday night.

He had dressed himself Saturday morning and eaten a bowl of cereal. Mid-afternoon he vomited brown-black — a sign of a GI bleed. He went to bed before dinner, and never got out of it again. The next day he was gone.

Thomas Merton said, “Prayer and Love are learned in the hour when prayer has become impossible and your heart has turned to stone.” (Seeds of Contemplation)

Prayer and love are learned in the quiet of a monitor that been turned off.

Merton also said, “The monk faces the worst, and discovers in it the hope of the best.” (Contemplative Prayer)

I’m facing the quiet.

I’m looking for the blessing.

Blessed are the P’s

Blessed are the Painters of pictures for their work brings joy to others.

Philip water-colored a picture.

Owen water-colored himself.

Two artists


Blessed are the Painters of chicken coops for they beautify the world, or at least a tiny piece of it.

1989?

2019 — a work in progress


Blessed are the Preservers of the Past; blessed are those who Push for Progress;

In a sidewalk in Boston — “Friend –  Look up and see the North Church Tower … This view preserved for all future generations…”

View of the North Church Tower

And blessed is the balance between the two.

I recently went to Boston with my daughter, Mary. We walked the Freedom Trail from Faneuil Hall to the Massachusetts State House. Along the way, we saw the large medallion pictured above, telling us to “Look up and see the North Church Tower.”

“One if by land and two if by sea…” My mother could recite Paul Revere’s Ride well into her dementia. Earlier that day, I had attended worship at the old North Church, where the usher let me into my own private box. I read the sign on wall there that told of Charles Wesley preaching there. I was in awe.

But I could barely see the North Church from the site of medallion. Oh, it’s there. It’s spire rises above whatever that blue-green thing is.

Boston is a city that works hard to preserve the past.

It’s a balancing act, though.

For instance, the Old Corner Bookstore, built in 1716, is now a Chipotle restaurant. Mary bemoaned its fate. On the other hand, I pointed out to her that the building was going to be demolished in 1960 and turned into a parking lot, but investors purchased it and revitalized it. It’s still standing.

Preservation versus progress.

Both are necessary.


Blessed are the Perseverators.

I can’t remember exactly what my father was doing at the time, but I remember Helen telling me that he was perseverating. It was a new word for me,

but certainly not a new concept.

The repetition that goes with dementia, or autism, or brain injury may be all too familiar to some of us.

Lately my father has been perseverating over church. Our conversations go like this:

Dad: So are you going to take me to church?

Me: No, Dad. Today is (fill in the weekday). You go to church on Sunday.

Dad: Why?

Me: Because that’s when they have worship services. If we went there right now, nobody would be there. You go on Sunday.

Dad: Ok. (short pause) Are you going to take me to church now?

Me: No, Dad. Today is (fill in the weekday). You go to church on Sunday.

And so on.

He wants to go to church, and I remind myself what a blessing that is. He perseverates over a positive.

Blessed are those who Persevere.

I admit that I get frustrated with the perseverating.

It happens all day.

It happens all night.

I’m getting tired.

Yesterday I had to re-certify my lifeguarding. For the first time, the pre-test — a 300 yard swim followed by a timed brick retrieval — was daunting.

I knew I could do it, but my body wasn’t so sure.

Had I thought of it, I could have sung the Dorie song — “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…”

Instead, I did the Little Engine That Could — “I think I can, I think I can,” and slowly, slowly I completed the swim. (Okay, well, not too slowly. I swam it well within the allotted time.)

Perseverance sometimes requires a series of inner pep talks.

Each time I had to climb out of the pool at the wall, I had to remind myself that I could do it.

Each time I start feeling frustrated with the perseverating, I also have to remind myself that I can do this.

I can.

I can.

I love this man and I can answer the same question 257 times.

In one day.

Blessed are those who persevere, who run the race with endurance, who finish the swim test, who live with perseverators, for they shall hear, “Well done.”

Z is for Zaengle

Recently I found this photograph from 1982 of three of my sisters-in-law standing in front of my parents’ house.

Judging by their attire, the girls must have stopped by the house after a soccer game. Bud and I were in Syracuse, so they stopped by to see my family. My family and the Zaengle family are intertwined in so many ways.

A few years later, Mary, the one in the middle, lived with my parents for a while. I can remember my father telling me how much he liked to see the wild outfits that Mary wore. She was (and is) much more fashion-forward than I will ever be.

I asked Mary if she had any stories to tell about my father from when she lived there. She said,

The picture of a gentleman. Steady and calm.

I always appreciated being able to live with your family. I loved that DP was always still awake when I got home from work, even if I worked later than normal. He said that he liked to see what crazy outfit I was wearing but it felt to me like he wanted to be sure I was safe and sound. I never felt like an inconvenience but more an instant part of the family.

Whenever we were just talking, about nothing in particular, he was always attentive. He had time to talk and never made you feel like he had to get going. Little things like that stuck out to me.

Classy, cool dude.

My parents were role-models for hospitality. They welcomed so many people into their home.

Monti, my brother Peter’s friend, also stayed with my parents for a few years. He sent this to us before my father’s birthday party.

When I  was attending graduate school at SUNY Oneonta, Don and Elinor invited me to live at their home. They provided me with a welcoming home, and a second family while I went to school. I  feel like I became their fourth son. I attended family events, church, art show openings, Hall of Fame dinners, ran in two triathlons, and paddled the General Clinton  canoe regatta with Jimmy. I took Natalie (the sheep dog) for walks, and watched her chase chickens and steal corn off our roadside stand. …

Monti’s wife Jennie added this:

I remember how much I loved coming to visit, and how welcome Dr. and Mrs. P always made me feel. There were so many fun things to do, like taking Natalie for walks, helping in the kitchen, listening to the Kingston Trio on the reel-to-reel, and double dating with Dr. & Mrs. P to get ice cream at the brand-new Stewart’s…

When we had our first baby, we stopped to visit on the way home from the hospital, so they were the first to see Alyson. Monti and Alyson stayed with Dr. and Mrs. P when Justin was born, as well.

As I’ve worked this month to write stories about my father, I’ve been struck again and again by how very blessed I’ve been by my parents. My father was a mentor to many, generous with his time, kind, and compassionate. He served his country and his community well.

He is very loved by so many people.

Plus, he’s a cool dude.

from 2012

Y is for Young

In March 2011, I wrote the following post.  It’s a sweet story — and a reminder. I took it out of storage and dusted it off for today.

A number of years ago, I was able to accompany my father on his trip to his hometown.  He was meeting with his siblings and their spouses to inter my grandparents’ remains.  My mother was planning to go with him, but got sick just before they were supposed to leave.  I filled in for her.

I had no idea what a special trip that would turn out to be.  We went to the cemetery and sat on a little knoll while my father and his brother and sister reminisced about their parents.  They each shared memories of how their parents had made their house a home.  They talked about my grandmother making elaborate Halloween costumes for them, her competitive side coming out, so that they could win the town’s contest.  They talked about their cousins and their pets and their school and their growing up years.  Then my uncle said something which I will never forget.

He said, “They were young once.  They fell in love.  They had dreams and passions just like we do.”

I don’t know why that was so profound, but it hit me squarely in the heart.

My grandparents were old the whole time I knew them.  My grandmother had Alzheimer’s.  She smoked and drank martinis.  I have seen her wedding picture and she was once beautiful.

My grandfather had Guillain-Barre syndrome in the late 70’s or early 80’s, I think. (Perhaps one of my siblings has a better memory for these details.)  It transformed him from the robust, fun Grampa that I loved to go see, to a weak man confined to a wheelchair.  I have wonderful earlier memories of him throwing the Hollywood brick (it was made of foam) at us, and tricking us every time with it.  In fact, I think we all (the grandchildren) wanted that brick when they were emptying out the apartment, but no one seems to know where it went.

Unfortunately, my mind doesn’t always go back to happy memories.  I remember my grandfather weeping in a wheelchair when I came to visit when I was pregnant with Philip.  I remember my grandmother smoking and sniping.

“They were young once.  They fell in love…”  I chose, then and there, to replace my memories with happier ones.

Yesterday, I caught a little glimpse of that with my mother.  We were sitting at the table, with a full plate of marmalade sandwiches.  She had made ten or so before I got there — for the others.  She looked up at a window ledge, and asked my father, “What’s in that vase?”

Now, you need to know that my mother has always a way with plants.  Her home was filled with them.  She had the most beautiful Christmas cactus I have ever seen.  She would take little pieces of the Christmas cactus, stick them in a cup of water, wait for them to send out little roots and then move them to pots.  She started so many plants that way.  And the house is still littered with pieces of Christmas cactus stuck in water.  That’s what was in the vase.

My father looked up at the milk-glass vase with the sad little piece of Christmas cactus drooping over the edge. “Well, that’s a genie in a bottle,” he said.  “If you rub it, he’ll come out and grant your wish.”

My mother giggled like a schoolgirl.  She looked at him and smiled.

When he left the room, she said, “I’m so lucky I found him.”

Oh, Mom, you have no idea.

“They were young once.  They fell in love…”  She was back to that point in her life.  I want to remember her that way.