Alzheimer’s Descent: No Serenity Prayer Here

Today with my fresh-from-the-beauty-parlour Mom

Today with my fresh-from-the-beauty-parlour Mom

New Jersey, Thursday

My mom’s descent on the Alzheimer’s path continues.

I know how lucky I am that she’s content in her surroundings and receiving excellent care. Most of all, I’m blessed she’s still her wonderful self at heart, warm and loving to her family and the people around her.

As mentioned in Mom and the Memory Thief, I try to focus on the present moments with Mom and resist the (at times powerful) temptation to rant and rage in a futile waste of energy against the disease.

Mom is not yet living in a ‘memory unit’ but will soon need that 24/7 level of care and protection. She and her almost-94 year-old ‘boyfriend’ (as she calls him) can no longer help each other as much as they used to, because both are dealing with their own physical and mental limitations. They still have meals together and hold hands at the music programs.

As for me, I seem to have reached the point where I feel no amusement whatsoever at various Alzheimer’s ‘strange behaviour’ or ‘losing one’s mind’ stories and jokes. They’re funny, until it happens to your mom.

So many things we cannot change. I’ve lost people I love (not counting ‘normal’ old age) by automobile accident, cancer and now, at an increasing pace, to Alzheimer’s. The ‘Serenity Prayer’ counsels us to be accepting, but I’ve never ‘accepted’ these losses with anything remotely approaching serenity.

I do accept that everyone experiences loss, and pray that my mother will continue to feel happiness and contentment in her life.

Thank you for reading this post. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Love and the Pentagon and (maybe, probably) a Blizzard

Mr and Mrs almost four months now

Mr and Mrs almost four months now

These two people, my son and belle-fille (daughter-in-law), are the reason Clive and I are in Washington, DC.

In the first 24 hours of our arrival, our wonderful belle-fille has taken magnificent care of the in-laws when her husband was out of town on a business trip (he returned this evening). Last night, after a full work day and a pre-blizzard supermarket stop with a million other people, she picked us up at our hotel, drove us to their home and made dinner for us there, so we could catch up in a relaxing setting instead of a restaurant.

As we chatted away, with the news in the background, a reporter standing in the snow said, ‘It’s already started here in DC.’

We all jumped up to look out the window and see it for ourselves. Not long after that, Clive and I took a taxi back to the hotel.

Talk of the town: the weather forecast

After one inch of snow – thankfully no injuries

After one inch of snow – thankfully no injuries

We had a rather unsettling preview of what may lay ahead in the next few days. Our taxi slipped and slid its way up a not-very-steep hill, the driver begging us to stay in the car to help the weight in the back seat. An amazing number of drivers seemed to abandon their vehicles, leaving them ‘parked’ every which-way and then walking, or more accurately, sliding on foot to the nearby metro.

Back in the room, I succumbed to jet lag and was dozing off when Clive looked out the window and said a bus had just skidded horizontally across the road. No injuries, thank goodness.

By all accounts, Washington could see snowfall of two feet or more in the next couple days.

A Building with meaning: national and personal

Clive at the Pentagon metro station

Clive at the Pentagon metro station

Weather forecast notwithstanding, today was bright and sunny in the nation’s capital.

After a slow-paced morning (working on that travel pacing) going for a short walk and doing a few errands, we took the metro to meet our belle-fille at her (and my son’s former) place of work. This is a well-known building with five main sections around a central courtyard.

What a pleasure it was, after a long line and several security checkpoints, to walk into the large waiting area full of people and see the smiling young woman who is now part of our family waiting for us.

[Perhaps the smile was extra-beautiful because shortly before, her colleagues had surprised her with a cupcake celebration in honour of her birthday last weekend.]

We loved our personalised tour (no photos allowed), which included the ANZUS corridor, a series of murals and exhibits commemorating the USA, Australia and New Zealand alliance; a poignant POW/MIA corridor of remembrance for those who served and never returned home; a video exhibit of scenes from the Korean War; a multi-denominational chapel and Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial; the area where our belle-fille works and the sense of the building as a small city within itself, with over 26,000 (!) workers every day and as many or more shops and services as a good-sized town.

Best of all and most meaningful to me was seeing our belle-fille in the place where she spends her working days and where she and my son (who now works at other locations) had their first coffee date and fell in love. She pointed down to the interior food court and outside to benches dotting the courtyard and told us how they often met for lunch in warm weather. Clive suggested a plaque at the meeting point of their first coffee which I thought was a great idea. Thank you, dearest belle-fille for last night and today.

I’m so proud of these two for their dedication and commitment to their work, the juggling they’re doing with all their other activities and the excitement and anticipation they have for their shared future.

And I’m thankful for the time we have together this weekend – and kind of excited (if a bit nervous) about the probability of a blizzard and sharing it with them. They may not have a guest room but they’ve encouraged a sleepover(s) and it’s shaping up to be a memorable experience.

Wishing everyone a safe and enjoyable time in however much snow you may receive.

with my son and belle-fille in Washington DC

with my son and belle-fille in Washington DC

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from New Jersey.

November in the USA, Australia and the UK


November sunset, Felixstowe

November sunset, Felixstowe


Barring emergency, Clive and I will for the first time spend all of November in the UK.

This time of year here feels – and is — very different from the USA and Australia, the two countries where I lived for many years. Halloween in the UK and Australia is much lower-key than in the US, though it’s catching up fast – a trend not appreciated by all. It’s really as we move past Halloween this coming weekend and begin November that life in the UK takes on a different feel.

November in the USA

November in Connecticut

November in Connecticut


November in Connecticut: days getting shorter, chilly temperatures, leaves falling, endless lawn-raking and great anticipation of Thanksgiving get-togethers.

Thanksgiving remains one of my all-time favourite holidays anywhere, focusing as it does on families and friends gathering to share a ‘thanksgiving feast’ – largely and mercifully missing the insidious and always-increasing commercial aspects of Halloween and Christmas.

When my son was in nursery school (pre-school), an American parents’ magazine article said mothers begin an internal chant at the end of each summer: ‘School, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I better start planning now.’

This rang true in my experience. The last three or four months of the year were indeed a one-thing-after-another series of events, albeit mostly joyful ones, full of child-oriented activities, family reunions and parental responsibilities to pull everything and everyone together.

[And if those nationwide events and holidays aren’t enough, my Connecticut daughter-in-law, whose three sons’ birthdays all fall between mid-November and mid-December, manages the annual sequence of: School, Halloween, child’s birthday, Thanksgiving, child’s birthday, child’s birthday (these two share the same date, four years apart, but their wonderful parents make the effort such that each child has individual attention and celebration) and then Christmas. It really doesn’t bear thinking about, except to say every year the parents do a brilliant job with everything.]

Upside-down Down Under – November in Australia

November in Sydney

November in Sydney


November in Sydney: days getting longer, warm temperatures, jacarandas blooming (one of my all-time favourite trees and for me a symbol of November Down Under), sailboats on the Harbour, spring sports underway, plus – with the school year approaching its end in mid-December – end-of-year school concerts, assemblies and performances; planning for summer vacation; and oh, by the way, Christmas.

From our first year in Australia, I marvelled – and still marvel – at the way mothers and fathers manage somehow to handle all the end-of-school-year activities and Christmas activities at the same time.

Instead of planning for Thanksgiving, our Down-Under daughter-in-law multitasks with an Aussie flavour: one email will be about her daughter’s pre-school end of year event, the next about Christmas, the next about her son’s final awards assembly. Not to forget planning for middle child’s birthday on New Year’s Eve …

Having raised children in both the US and Australia, at least in my experience and despite the seasons and school year being more or less reversed, November feels much the same in both countries: intense, child and family-focused and full of pressure and responsibilities for parents to keep everyone and everything together and on track.

November in the UK

Felixstowe’s ‘the Dip’ in November

Felixstowe’s ‘the Dip’ in November


It’s not that November is quiet on this side of the Pond – far from it. Towns and cities gear up for Christmas with fairs, fêtes, concerts, markets and of course amusing/perplexing pantomimes. (We have late-November tickets to an avowed classic, ‘Dick Whittington and His Cat’ — more about this cherished form of theatre in a future post.)

But the absence of US Thanksgiving and Aussie end of the school year means most if not all of everyone’s attention is focused on Christmas, with much more time to plan and truly savour the season.

We’re no longer parents of school-age children, but every year until now have journeyed to the US in November, to spend Thanksgiving with my mother and family. Since we’ve just returned from my son’s wedding and many family get-togethers, and because my mother no longer has real awareness of particular days or dates, we decided to spend November at home this year.

Our heads are finally (well, almost) above water with regard to all our coming-home tasks; our desks are more or less clear; and the bathroom renovation guy is coming next week to start his work. While Clive supervises him, what do I hope for this November?

Without putting pressure on myself our both of us – that’s the last thing I want to do – it’s still in my nature to look ahead and consider what I’d like to accomplish during this first-time gift of November in Felixstowe.

November hopes and plans – my top 5 and looking ahead

Conclusion of our wedding day, November 2010, Sydney

Conclusion of our wedding day, November 2010, Sydney

1. Clive’s birthday

2. Our wedding anniversary

3. Attend local Christmas fairs, markets and the pantomime

4. Put up our Christmas tree the last weekend of November. This became a family tradition in the US, one year when a group from our church went to a tree farm the Saturday after Thanksgiving to cut our own trees. We thought it was too early but discovered we *loved* having it up and decorated to enjoy throughout the month of December (and a major Christmas ‘to do’ was done). Since then, we’ve tried, not always successfully, to do this every year.

5. Writing: finishing the current chapter in my Paris-based memoir to a level where I can send it to a trusted instructor for professional critique. This chapter has been on again, off again for over a year – in the midst of travel and a family wedding – and I well and truly want to complete it sooner rather than later. After this chapter, I have six more to go. I’m determined to publish this book one day, though Lord only knows when as it will continue to be a balancing act since we’re also determined to travel, especially to see our families, for as long as we are able.

Looking ahead
* Planning for Paris

6 Paris Christmas market Champs

Christmas markets on the Champs Elysées, Paris


Not only is Paris intertwined with the book I’m writing, the City of Light is intertwined with my life and is a constant source of joy for me, a sanctuary and a place of both excitement and comfort.

We’ll spend part of December in Paris (another reason we want to get our tree up by the end of November). I want to make time in November to anticipate and review my ongoing list of possibilities – current exhibits, Christmas markets and lights, winter walks – so we go with at least some ideas about what we’d like to do and see in the time we have there. More about Paris in December in a future post.

* and after Paris, a much-anticipated pre-Christmas visit from my son, before he returns to the US to spend Christmas with his beautiful bride and her family.

Also looming over our heads are my mother’s annual Christmas letter, which we usually do over Thanksgiving in the US, and our own Christmas letter. I suppose both of these are, ideally, projects for November, even though they don’t make my ‘Top 5’ list. We both feel we’ll regret it if we don’t complete both before we go to Paris.

For now, one thing at a time. We’re thankful to be home and looking forward to spending November, and Christmas, by the sea in England.

our tree by the sea glinting gold in late October sunshine

our tree by the sea glinting gold in late October sunshine

Wishing everyone a happy and not-too-crazy November, wherever you may be:

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Wedding Memories: My Son and Belle-Fille

My son and his bride exchanging wedding vows

My son and his bride exchanging wedding vows


This was going to be a short post, mostly sharing photos thanks to friends who have posted on various forums. But, as often happens when one sits down to write, more and more memories come flooding back.

Thanks for sharing these highlights with me — and many friends’ photos as well — from one of my life’s most memorable events, my son’s wedding. Thanks to friends for sharing their photos on Facebook and/or emailing them to me: Jennifer, Mary, Chris, Rick, Emily, Aaron, Leila, Marybeth, Diane and Larry.

I’ll no doubt be adding to this list in the days and weeks to come. At this moment in time, these are memories and moments I hold dear. This post is, in a way, my letter of love and appreciation to Caitlin and Gary.

Pre-Wedding

* the Australia engagement, on one of my son’s favourite Sydney beaches, a place of the heart that for many years had nourished not only his body (body-surfing!) but also, especially after his father’s death, his soul — the place he chose to take the girl of his dreams for one of the most important events of his life, his marriage proposal.

* London shopping days and ultimately finding my dress in Felixstowe, less than two blocks from our apartment

* Special UK friends, who gave us a beautiful gift for the couple and a hugely helpful ride to the train station on our day of departure; friends who couldn’t join us in the U.S. but sent wonderfully supportive messages and emails letting us know they were thinking of us

* the beautiful New Jersey bridal shower with its Paris theme

A shower of love: Paris in New Jersey

A shower of love: Paris in New Jersey

The groom with his bride and her bridesmaids

The groom with his bride and her bridesmaids

* my dear friend Sandy in Connecticut, who was the mother of the groom (MOG) three years ago and gave me generous, priceless support and encouragement each step of the way

* Lynn, the fabulous, helpful woman at my mother’s assisted living facility, who was also an MOG three years ago; Lynn not only provided great input and support but also took delivery in the U.S. of my ‘backup wedding shoes’ and, along with Sandy, told me she too had purchased a backup pair of shoes for her son’s wedding, which made me feel a little less crazy.

Days in the USA before the wedding

Impressively relaxed a few days before their big day

Impressively relaxed a few days before their big day

* time with my son and the bride and her family – lunches and dinners together, time to just talk with each other and have relatively calm (while at the same time quite excited) time before the big event

* time with my son on his own – lunch and two dinners, including the night before the rehearsal dinner, when my late husband Gary’s brother and wife arrived and joined us for champagne in our room

Rehearsal dinner

Rehearsal dinner

Rehearsal dinner

* that afternoon, our friends Chris and Sandy’s arrival and being grateful beyond words for Chris being our ‘dedicated Uber driver’ for several days. He and Sandy drove us from the hotel to the church rehearsal and from there to the rehearsal dinner and back to the hotel; drove me to and from the bride’s home on the wedding morning; and, after the wedding ceremony, drove Clive and me back to the hotel so we could all take the bus to and from the reception.

* seeing my friend Mary from Washington DC in the hotel lobby as we all departed for the rehearsal at the church; knowing she and her husband and other close friends would soon be joining us at the rehearsal dinner.

* reconnecting with the best man — my son’s best friend from Australia whom I’ve always adored and hadn’t seen in several years — along with his most wonderful parents and husband. Thank you so much, Siena and Ian, for travelling across so many miles and oceans to be with us.

* how everything came together at the dinner – the jazz trio, the flowers on the tables, the meal and most of all, having our family and friends together – seeing friends from all over the world meeting and connecting with each other – truly a joy to witness and be part of.

Rehearsal dinner flowers (a few days later, with my mother-of-the-groom rose)

Rehearsal dinner flowers (a few days later, with my mother-of-the-groom rose)

* that my remarks went well, and I was very moved by the words of my son and his bride.

* meeting the bride’s ‘New Jersey’ table and the family’s Texas friends; also feeling how life comes full circle since I was born and raised in NJ.

* loving the generous gift the couple presented to me and Clive – an striking cobalt blue bowl. I keep taking it out of the box and marvelling at it; the more I hold and look at it, the more I adore it.

Wedding Morning

Wedding morning bride and bridesmaids

Wedding morning bride and bridesmaids

* being invited and included with ‘the girls’ and the bride and her mother at the house, watching these delightful young women having their hair and make-up done and being part of their friendship and fellowship and support for the bride.

In no particular order, Amelia, Hahna, Julia, Courtney, Emily and Chelsea, it was a great pleasure to spend this time with you and I know your own mothers are very proud of all of you.

* as mentioned above, heartfelt thanks to friend Chris who drove me to and from, saving me the worry of ‘what if I get a flat tire on our rental car on the wedding day?’ and other probably-silly but nevertheless looming-in-my-mind unwelcome possibilities I did not wish to encounter on this momentous day.

Wedding morning - the beautiful bride

Wedding morning – the beautiful bride

At the Church before the Ceremony

* Clive and I riding in the limo with my son and his groomsmen; feeling grateful to be part of the fellowship and friendship of these young men so important to my son

* seeing family and friends come into the church – my cousin Ted and his daughter Kayleigh, who played the harp more beautifully than ever before the ceremony; my friends Larry and Judi from South Carolina; our own family members dressed up for this special day.

Nephews of the groom, aka the Barnaboys

Nephews of the groom, aka the Barnaboys

Clive and the Aussie men

Clive and the Aussie men

Me and the Aussie women

Me and the Aussie women

My beautiful U.S. daughter-in-law and her handsome ring-bearing son

My beautiful U.S. daughter-in-law and her handsome ring-bearing son

The Ceremony

*** My son seating me, before he stood at the front of the church (an idea from my friend Sandy which, as far as I recall, was the only specific request I made for the wedding) which meant the world to me.

*** My son waiting on his own at the front of the church; this is one of my most precious memories of all; as if he was saying – this moment is so important to me that I don’t want or need anyone else up here with me before the ceremony begins; I will handle this myself because it’s such a serious, special event and I’ll be there on my own, confident in myself with no distractions, waiting for my bride.

Huge thanks to friends Mary and Larry for their photos, Mary’s with the email subject line, ‘Waiting for Caitlin’.

Waiting for Caitlin

Waiting for Caitlin

The groom waiting for his bride

The groom waiting for his bride

* the duet who sang heart-stirring hymns during the ceremony

* the couple’s focus on their families; the emotional impact of hearing not only my late husband’s name mentioned multiple times but also my father’s name, spoken in the faith prayer and written on the program ‘In Loving Remembrance’ along with the bride’s grandparents.

* the emotion of watching these two exchange vows

The marriage ceremony

The marriage ceremony

The marriage ceremony

The marriage ceremony

Wedding vows

Wedding vows

You may kiss the bride xxxxxxxxxxxxx

You may kiss the bride xxxxxxxxxxxxx

After the Ceremony

Continuing thanks to friends who sent photos of the new Mr and Mrs Barnabo walking down the aisle.

The new Mr and Mrs

The new Mr and Mrs

Just married

Just married

The Reception

Amazing appetizers

Amazing appetizers

Eat Drink and Be Married

Eat Drink and Be Married

* The five minutes I spent alone in the ballroom, after the maitre d’ took me and Clive inside when we arrived. I tried to be present in the moment and soak it all in – the flowers, the candlelight and the beautiful atmosphere created by the  vision of Tracy, mother of the bride.

Flowers and candlelight

Flowers and candlelight

The ballroom

The ballroom

My son and belle-fille entering the ballroom

A kiss before walking in

A kiss before walking in

Mr and Mrs

Mr and Mrs

Despite the blur, we love this photo

Despite the blur, we love this photo

First dance & many others

First dance as husband and wife

First dance as husband and wife

A kiss on the dance floor

A kiss on the dance floor

* Seeing the grandchildren dancing with their parents (and at times with me and Clive); everyone moving around having a fabulous time together

* watching the creation of amazing artwork of Event Painting by Katherine, who began with a blank canvas and over the course of the night, painted a marvellous remembrance for the couple

Early view of painting

Early view of painting

* The speeches — by the groom, the father of the bride, the maid of honour, and the best man. All were brilliant, touching and amusing and tugging the heartstrings. I can’t wait to watch the video so I can soak up every word again.

* the ballroom in full swing – friends at tables, the dance floor, the candlelight and music; meeting many of the bride and groom’s friends including their college friends and friends from Washington DC and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy; seeing so many family and friends including my three cousins and three close friends from CT when the four of us hadn’t been together in many years (Cathleen, Deb, Nancy – reunion soon!)

Tables at the reception

Tables at the reception

* each table named after a place holding special meaning for the bride and/or groom

'Sydney' table

‘Sydney’ table

'Austin' table

‘Austin’ table

* the cake – which I was too busy talking and dancing to have a single bite, but thanks to the bride’s parents, we had a lovely piece of it the next day

Cutting the cake

Cutting the cake

Delicious!

Delicious!

* the dessert buffet – one of the younger guests told me ‘I’m in heaven’ over the sweet treats

Dessert treats galore

Dessert treats galore

Sitting down for a moment

Sitting down for a moment

A Few Additional Favourites

*** The bride’s crystal headband. I remember when her mom told me they’d found this; I thought it sounded wonderful but seeing it for real it was absolutely perfect, a stunning ornament for a stunning person. I couldn’t stop admiring it the whole day and evening.

38 AA Mr and Mrs and headband

*** Having all Aussie wines at the rehearsal dinner and the wedding – two whites and two reds at each, bringing a special touch of Down Under and a country that means so much to our family into these momentous events.

*** My son wearing his father’s watch, a gift I gave his father for his birthday the month after our son was born. It holds deep significance, as after my first husband was diagnosed with cancer, he said about the watch and our son, ‘I’d like him to wear it on his wedding day.’

The After-Party

* Clive and I joining the young people downstairs for a short while, then going back up to the now-quiet dessert area and having a lovely conversation with my U.S. stepson – just him, me and Clive – sitting at a table, chatting, and knowing how proud his father would be of him and his family, and how blessed we are that he is doing so well coming up to the one-year mark of his kidney transplant.

Thanks to my brother-in-law Rick for this photo taken after the ceremony.

Chris, Caitlin, Gary, Carolyn and Clive

Chris, Caitlin, Gary, Carolyn and Clive

Time Passing

Wouldn’t it be great, at joyous events like this, if we could just stop time for a while and hold onto the moment for as long as we wished?

The painting at the end of the night

The painting at the end of the night

But time moves on. My son and belle-fille are now honeymooning in Paris, Clive and I are spending a few more days with my mom, and we’re looking forward to getting home to our tree by the sea in England. Then it will be time to count the days until we see our U.S. and Aussie families again.

Until then, to Gary and Caitlin: love you both so much and wishing you a very happy one-week anniversary tomorrow!

My son and belle-fille, a wedding to remember

My son and belle-fille, a wedding to remember

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Mom and the Memory Thief

AA Mom

Mom at 91, 24 September 2015

Oh how I loathe the memory thief, Alzheimer’s or dementia or whatever medical terms apply to the disease(s) that rob once-vibrant individuals of that most precious of possessions.

My mother’s descent on this painful path has been steady but fairly gradual, at least until the past year or so. Friends and books told me years ago to cherish every moment I have with Mom, knowing that how she is right now is the best she’ll be from this moment on. I’ve tried to do just that, to remain aware and thankful for every ability she retains, every memory she’s held onto in her heart and mind and every example of her personality and character that has continued to shine through and tell me she was still Mom, still herself in the way she reacted to things and looked at the world and communicated with other people.

The staff at my mother’s assisted living facility have told me over and over again that my mother is one of the sweetest residents they’ve known, that she’s nice to everyone, so polite and so kind. That’s my mom – that’s what my friends told me as far back as elementary school, ‘Your mother’s so pretty’ and ‘Your mother’s so nice.’

How lucky my family has been, to have my mom at its centre for so many years. And how tragic it is now, as it is for all families who have gone through this, to see her changing not only in how little she now remembers but also in how she behaves and responds to the world around her – with increasing anxiety, confusion and sometimes yelling out her frustrations – still herself at the core, but that self disappearing more rapidly than in previous months and years.

Today Clive and I took Mom and her friend (she calls him her boyfriend, age 93) out for pizza lunch, one of her all-time favourites (Nellie’s Place, thin-crust pizza of course). Mom said she couldn’t remember what pizza was. ‘Do I like it?’ she asked. ‘You love it,’ we said and she was happy. It’s incredibly difficult on so many levels to take them out now, and when we got them safely back to assisted living I felt more relieved than ever before.

Mom still knows me and my son (we’re not sure she remembers who Clive is) and I’m trying to keep focus on the present and, as always, to cherish each moment with her. She’s not well enough to attend my son’s wedding (she would forget about it instantly, in any case) but we know she’ll be with us in spirit.

Thank you, Mom, for being who you are and for giving our family your love and support all our lives. May we somehow repay that love back to you as you live each day with your signature courage and beauty and grace.

Thank you for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Morristown, New Jersey.

Pre-Wedding Movements & Musings

G and C graphic Gary & Caitlin

Little more than two weeks remain until my son and his fiancée’s wedding in the U.S. While many important stories dominate the global news, my heart and mind have been focused very much on this upcoming event.

Yesterday the parents of the best man, my son’s closest friend from their school days in Sydney, arrived in New York City, current home of the best man. Last evening Clive’s son and family also arrived in the U.S. from Australia, though they landed in Orlando for some Disney adventures before traveling to New Jersey. We’re eager to get to the U.S. side of the Atlantic ourselves and will arrive there mid-next week.

Once in New Jersey, we’ll spend a few days with my mother in the area where I grew up. Then we’ll head south to a different hotel for the following week, to be closer to wedding events and greet family and friends who arrive before the big day.

For some weeks now, Clive and I have been busy supporting the Felixstowe/UK economy (including London shopping days). We think we finally have everything — my dresses and jackets, Clive’s dinner suit (tux) and dress shirt, various shoes and other wedding-wardrobe essentials.

It seemed for some days that Clive might have been shirtless; one dress shirt needed alterations but the tailor ‘had an emergency’ and another men’s shop made a mistake about the ‘backup’ shirt they ordered. After several stressful days of back-and-forth conversations, the tailor’s boss doing the work on one shirt himself and the other men’s shop delivering the backup shirt to Felixstowe overnight, all is well and Clive will have a proper shirt under his dinner jacket.

Over the years, we’ve made every effort to pack light and minimise our luggage to one backpack/shoulder bag and one carry-on each. However special occasions warrant special measures and we realised we also each need a checked suitcase to accommodate everything. So another local purchase was made.

As the mother of the bride has eloquently stated and I fully agree, the wedding is one day and the most important thing is the marriage that follows. Yet we all naturally hope and pray for a wonderful, blessed time for these two young people we love so much, who will soon be united in marriage, surrounded by family and friends who have loved and supported them throughout their lives. We’re looking forward to a beautiful celebration in honour of Caitlin and Gary.

October sunrise, Felixstowe 2014

October sunrise, Felixstowe 2014

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from New Jersey.

Letter from New Jersey: The Best-Laid Plans

with my mother, before she boarded the assisted living bus

with my mother, before she boarded the assisted living bus

This evening, I’m thankful my mother is back in her own room, after Clive and I spent an unexpected afternoon with her at the hospital.

Earlier this morning, I sent my son an email sharing plans for our next few days in New Jersey: take my mother and her boyfriend out to lunch tomorrow and Saturday, buy party decorations for her 91st birthday and spend time with her at various music and exercise programs at assisted living.

After this morning’s visit with Mom, we waved her and her boyfriend off on the facility’s shuttle bus as they happily went on a group lunch outing. We ran a few errands, ending up at the laundromat. With nine minutes to go on the washer, my cell phone rang. The assisted living nurse told me that after lunch, when getting back on the bus, my mother had hurt her leg, scraping the front of her right shin on one of the bus steps.

Thankfully Mom had one staff person in front of her and another one behind, so they were able to support her. But her skin is tissue-paper thin because of certain medications she’s on, so there was profuse bleeding. The staff immediately called an ambulance.

The nurse on the phone told me Mom seemed to be doing okay and the ambulance team had said it was a surface wound, though a significant one. I debated racing to the hospital, leaving Clive in the laundromat for what I knew would be at least a few hours – then made the decision to wait an excruciating nine minutes until we could unload the washer, shove the wet clothes into a plastic bag and go to the hospital together. If Mom had had a heart attack or similar, I’m afraid Clive and/or our clothes would have been left in the laundromat.

Without going into horrible detail, suffice it to say:

– the Emergency Room was a typical ER madhouse

– Mom’s leg wound was indeed very bloody, quite large and difficult to look at

– the ER doctors and nurses were wonderful

– the paperwork was endless

– my mother is incredibly brave, two days short of her 91st birthday

– and Clive deserves a son-in-law medal for holding Mom’s hand the entire time, keeping her amused and calm (mostly) while the medical team worked on her leg and at one point, getting a big smile when he said, ‘Close your eyes and think of England.’ Mom loves England.

My mother’s memory is virtually gone, so she asked us over and over and over again what had happened, where we were, what was happening next and where her boyfriend was.

As for me, my mind was swirling with thoughts of how glad I was that we were here in New Jersey when this happened, how much worse it could have been, how fragile and vulnerable my mother is both physically and mentally, how I don’t live nearby most of the time and will always feel guilty about that, how thankful I am that despite everything, she is happy with her life as it is now, and – when we eventually arrived back at assisted living – how lucky we are that she receives good care.

I grumble constantly about the increasing costs of this care, but on a day like today, when many different staffers helped her – aides assisting with wheelchair, activities staff welcoming her back, nurses going over the medical situation with her and me, another staffer getting her boyfriend so they could reconnect with each other – I feel less much grumbly about paying what seem to me the whopping costs of U.S. health care.

As for the best-laid plans, important phone calls still need to be made, birthday party shopping needs to be done and there will be no lunch outings as Mom needs to take it easy and not stress her leg too much for a while. I pray it heals well and quickly. We can still spend time together, thankfully, and we’re looking forward to celebrating her 91st birthday this weekend.

It’s been quite a day. Clive says, ‘That’s life with the wife … and the mother-in-law.’

Cheers and thanks for reading. Unless plans change again, next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.