Friday, 13 June 2008

What remains

sunny, warm, temps 26

We're in Toronto. Had a fun day today. Checked in to the InterContinental, Front Street. McArthur, my Canadian publisher, has very generously put us on the Club floor, which means a private lounge with breakfasts, afternoon tea, cocktails, DVD's, newspapers etc. It's like a British Airways lounge (by which I now measure every aspect of my life).

Then, as Michael cringed and tried to teleport himself somewhere else, I asked if there were any suites available. Can you believe it, there was! So they upgraded us to a suite.

Then we hopped out and caught an early showing of the new Indiana Jones film nearby. I love matinees! Always feel like such luxury. We got buckets of popcorn and diet cokes and sat in the near empty cinema. Heaven.

Loved the movie - but the bar isn't very high for Harrison Ford. Anything he's in is fine with me. My favorite Indiana Jones was the previous one, with Sean Connery. We own the DVD and I watch it every 6 months or so. I can practically mouth the lines. What fun. As you see, we run a vigorously intellectual household.

Just got out of a shower. Had dirt wedged under my fingernails. It's been a while since I had the earth smeared on my hands - and it felt good. We were in the village of Elora for the past two days. Visiting Cousin Marjorie.

Elora was one of the principle inspirations for Three Pines. In fact, Gabri is loosely based on a man named Steven in Elora, and Cousin Marjorie inspired both Ruth and one of the Three Graces from the second book. She has two very close friends and they did almost everything together. If you saw one there was a pretty good chance another was close. Like a pack. Marjorie, Margo and Kay. All over 80. The Three Graces.

This trip, though, was quite different. Margo has sold her lovely old stone home in the centre of the village and moved into a brand new seniors residence. Kay has left Elora for Toronto to be closer to family. And Wednesday when we arrived at Marjorie's from Montreal, for the first time ever she wasn't at the door waiting.

The inside door was open and we opened the screen door and called. No answer. Called again. This time we heard a shuffling.

It was Marjorie. With a smile, but looking weary. Then it came out. She'd only the day before returned from a week in the hospital. We were horrified. That we didn't know and that now this suddenly frail older woman had two guests. We immediately asked the obvious.

What was wrong? What happened? Afraid of the answer.

Atrial fibrillation. I could see Michael relax. He knew what it meant, and while it wasn't brilliant news it wasn't the disaster it might have been.

A lot of people have it. It's when the heart speeds up, and won't slow down. It can be extremely serious, if not treated. But Marjorie came home from the hospital with lots of drugs.

Still, this once energetic woman who zoomed all over the world, helped organize the local book sale, played bridge, gardened and has countless friends was suddenly weak and exhausted.

We sat with her and asked questions. Michael looked at her drugs, and took her pulse-rate. But I couldn't shake the feeling we shouldn't be there. We would be a burden when all she wanted to do was rest.

I made dinner. (No, not peanut butter sandwiches - I surprised even myself by producing chicken breasts with fresh tarragon and elderflower and newly cut asparagus.) Michael made a salad - we washed up and all went to bed early.

The next morning we made breakfast then Marjorie asked me to put in her vegetable garden. She could have given me the winning lottery ticket. I was relieved and thrilled. We could actually do something useful. So under Marjorie's stern, percise and exacting eye in went the lettuce, basil, parsley, red onions, zucchini, squash, scarlet runner beans and another sort of bean. Then I weeded for 2 hours while Marjorie napped on the sofa and Michael, bless him, called her doctor and talked to him, doctor to doctor.

As I weeded I realized how sad I was. That the vacations to see Marjorie had clearly changed. She who always met us and had a gourmet meal prepared and had planned dinner parties and trips to the theatre and restaurants, was human after all. And needed our help.

Of course, there's every reason to believe once the medication is adjusted and she gets some rest, she'll be fine. Perhaps better than ever.

But it was a wake-up. And it was a feeling I suddenly recognized. From visits to my grandmother many, many years ago, as she aged. And to my mother, who went from striding ahead of us even in our adulthood, to falling behind until we needed to walk very slowly and pretend we weren't so as not to upset her.

Roles naturally change. But we don't have to like it. We do need to accept it, though.

And it felt good to get dirt on my knees and see the earth under my nails, and have a few hours to reflect on what really matters.

Michael came out and watered the new vegetable garden and as I watched him I remembered a prayer he told me about. One someone told him when he thought he'd die from sorrow when his first wife died.

Thank you God for everything you've given me,
Everything you've taken away,
And everything that remains.

This too I've learned in the garden.

Be well, please. I'll talk to you tomorrow.

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