(This post started out as a list of 10 things for which I'm grateful, mostly because sometimes I think it isn't obvious how appreciative I am about life in general when I'm going on about the tiny hiccups interrupting all the good stuff. I never really made it past the first item on my list, though. Usually going off-topic doesn't faze me, but usually when I stray to the topic explored below I end up deleting the post. So, if this post disappears later, it will because the benefits of sharing couldn't match the catharsis of writing.)

I still have some a "misc roundup" of thoughts for the last cruise, what we did on the last two sea days and whatever else my phone notes (hopefully) reveal. My father-in-law has generously offered to take us on an Alaskan cruise, although with Mike's uni schedule and his having to fly back and forth to Australia over the next 12 months for some limited "face-to-face only" coursework, it's hard to say exactly when that will happen.

What I do know is that if we go next summer, it won't be on Carnival. Not because I'm down on Carnival now (although I may be over school break cruises and am definitely done with the west coast itineraries unless they start sailing Splendor - or anything with more balconies than Paradise/Inspiration - to Catalina), but because I just can't go on Carnival Spirit again. Beautiful dining room, but no thalasso/co-ed steam plus my desire to not be on a very familiar ship again has us looking elsewhere. (Now, if we wait a year and Carnival Splendor starts doing Alaska, we'll see.)

I was all decided on NCL Pearl - freestyle dining! lots of restaurants! co-ed steam! not too fancy! - but then I heard (hi Kathy!) that if you do Alaska, HAL gets the prime position at the ports, and NCL leaves you walking a mile before you even get to town. Okay, back to my spreadsheet...

Some will read this and say, um, Shari? Your father-in-law is taking you guys on a cruise to Alaska? And you get to pick the ship? And you have the nerve to lightly fuss over the "issues" involved, in public, in this very scary economy? When even you, with a steady job and good credit score, have more gut-pinching things to worry about? And how do those jeans fit, Mrs. Vanderbilt?

I know. I'm very grateful. Below are a few other (chosen from the mind's ether as I type) things for which I'm grateful.

I'm grateful Mike got to know my mother before the Alzheimer's. (Or before it was obvious.) Someone favourite'd an old pic of my Mom on Flickr the other day:

Mom - Morning at the Victoria Airport

Photoshop overindulgence aside, It feels weird posting this because my mother was very pretty, and downright glamorous when she had her "face" on, and this is an unflattering photo compared to how breathtaking she could be. But I like her happy expression so much, and it's so genuine. The photo was taken just about 10 years ago, when she drove me early-early to the tiny Victoria (Texas) airport, where no one thinks twice if you're in curlers and pajama pants.

And here she is only four years ago, with my cat Euphrosyne. (Phros died a few weeks later of old age.)

Phros and Mom

Mom was clearly afflicted at this point, but she could start to tell stories (and finish them, if people were willing to sit through the long pauses) and could call Mike by name.

(The reason she's sitting on the toilet, for those of you with alert eyes, is because at the time my father was rebuilding a bathroom in my grandmother's house that was added much later. It's in the middle of what's become the preferred route to backyard/garage, so chatting around the toilet, even sitting for a moment, isn't unusual, and definitely was the norm when Dad was working on the room.)

Three years ago she was talking even less, and her motor skill decline was more noticeable (not able to feed herself), but she was in fine spirits and able to be goofy and ham it up for the camera:

Mom, Cavorting

That was a great visit. I think that's something that changed as she got older, her willingness to be silly on camera and not self-conscious about taking a bad photo. Or maybe it just came with the 21st century. I was into (film) photography for awhile and I remember getting her to play around for some long exposures while I clicked away on cheap film I'd process myself. As soon as our photography culture changed - thanks to digital cameras - to one where it wasn't "one shot, let's hope it comes out," I guess everyone started getting more casual shots. I'm glad she'd developed that relationship with the camera before things changed.

Then again, maybe it wasn't just a global shift. The mother of my 30s was a lot more laid-back than the mother of my youth. I know some of that is the warped perspective of a child, but she'd tell you so herself. There was a wonderful eight-year stretch from my late 20s to my early 30s where we spent a lot of time together getting up to zany adventures and making each other laugh for hours. As terrible as it was, with Mike stuck in Australia and me stuck in the States, I realize now that had Mike been around, or had I been single, I wouldn't have had all of that wonderful time with my mother. Our unique friendship, with the near-telepathic communication and the unconditional love, gave her an outlet to joy as well, something I fear she tended to put off otherwise, always saving her dreams for a day when XYZ goal was accomplished.

The mother of my 40s, last summer:

Mom and Me - June 2010

This was before she lost 70+ pounds, so I doubt I could hide as much of my bulk behind her now. She didn't lose the weight through illness, but through a healthy eating program instigated by my father because when a person, in an instant, doesn't know who you are, and she decides to fight for her life to get out of what is a frightening situation, any extra bulk is an alarming burden on the caregiver. (Especially one who must live carefully in his post-heart attack / post-health insurance days.)

Dad's camera was fogging that morning. Maybe it was set on "metaphor mode." He has since had battery issues, so there haven't been many photos since our last visit. I want to send him my tiny pocketcam that I don't use since getting a smartphone, but he doesn't like little cameras. Maybe I will send it anyway. Or bring it. It's hard to think of time.

Mom no longer hesitates when speaking, but her speech is nonsense. It sounds real, with inflection and pauses, but it also sounds like the jibberish that is relaxing to make when you're exhausted. (Or am I the only person who's played with that?) Sometimes I can hardly get a word in when Dad puts her on the phone, which isn't how she was "in real life." Her drawl is 78rpm now. She sounds happy, though. I try to treat her normally and when she pauses, seeming to expect a response, sometimes I even say, "Wait, what was that last bit?" as if it was all intelligible until those last few words. I don't want to disappoint her.

Eighteen months or so ago she could still answer questions. (Although the hardest question I ever asked her - "Mom. Do you still know my name?" - was answered with a pause and a carefully light and long "Yessss!" I recognized the tone. She used to use it when she wanted to make someone feel better. Kind of a "Duh! Silly!" without the splash of sarcasm, but also the voice of someone who is speaking the fundamental truth but maybe not the immediate truth.) Now I'm not sure if she's replying to my insipid little remarks about the cats and the weather or if she's in her own world, talking into a plastic toy telephone to imaginary friends.

But sometimes, as if she is deaf or Scooby Doo, she will make strained, recognizable sounds. Only a few months ago she said, "How are you?" on one of her very good days.

And sometimes she says, "I love you." Sometimes she says it over and over. And she sounds so happy.

And I am very grateful.

Slides to the Light - Mom and I, Reading (1975 or 1976)

09 August 2011 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)