We are grateful for this place in which we dwell, for the love that unites us, for the peace accorded us this day, for the hope with which we expect tomorrow; for the health, the work, the food and the bright skies that make our lives delightful; for our friends in all parts of the earth.
Give us courage and joy and the quiet mind. Keep us to our friends, soften us to our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors; if it may not, give us the strength to endure that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in anger and in all changes of life, and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving to one another.
It takes a bit of adjustment to get used to life without caring for my mom. And just when I feel like I’m over losing both parents in just three months, something comes up, like a call from my step-sister telling me that the attorney is ready to settle my Dad’s estate.
His estate was of no consequence but we shared some thoughts about having been caregivers for a parent and then having them no longer depending on us. We agreed that their deaths were somehow easier for us to accept than they had been for our siblings who were more distant. We were intimately acquainted with their discomfort and failing senses and so, we could celebrate their demise without shame or regret. Our challenge was to fill the gaping hole in our lives where their care had been. To that end I embarked on a couple of mini-vacations…. I suppose that’s your surprised look.
My favorite cousin (MFC) Mila rode the Amtrak Southwest Chief from Chicago to San Bernardino, two days and two nights of clackity-clack, not- quite-romantic, rolling not-quite-prone through the American countryside, to spend a month in sunny California visiting family – brother, son, grand kids, and lucky for me, cousins.
To meet MFC Mila is to suddenly feel like you’ve just met your kindred spirit; and when you get to know her, you realize that she’s actually more related to the person you would LIKE to be. Her sharp mind is camouflaged by a ready smile and a mellifluous chuckle. No stranger to loss and grief, she was the perfect confidant. So, when she proposed a road trip to Nevada to visit the property her brother Dan had purchased in Goldfield, Nevada, I was all for it.
As you may recall, the Wanderlust was all packed and ready to hit the road for the ill-fated trip to Lone Pine, so it took little effort to get ready.
Goldfield was once the largest city in Nevada. As the mineral wealth ran out, the population declined and most of the town burned down…twice. But thanks to an eclectic assortment of eccentrics, the town is being not so much preserved as hoarded. Oh, there are a few buildings in various stages of restoration, but most of the remaining structures are being used to shelter “collectibles” that remained after the mining industry collapsed. I use the term “shelter” loosely as there was at least one small, barn-like building that was packed so full that the crumbling building had settled onto its contents, unable to fall to its rightful rest.
The Goldfield City Hall houses everything a city needs, hall of records, assessor’s office, motor vehicle department, courthouse, jail, you name it. One of the clerks boasted that the infamous Virgil Earp (older brother of the notorious Wyatt Earp) had once been deputized here. One requirement of the job was not to have ever shot someone in the United States. Good old Virgil Earp was suspected of killing many bad hombres in Arizona, but Arizona was a territory, not a state at that time and so, he was hired.
We parked the Wanderlust at the back of a replica saloon, owned by Randy, a friend of cousin Dan. Randy was a most gracious host and enthusiastically showed us around his antique shops and the saloon which has two bedroom suites upstairs, each of which has two doors to suggest a bordello. A sign on the wall admonishes, “Ladies, please solicit discretely”.
We spent two happy days and nights poking around Goldfield and meeting some of its inhabitants, all of whom know Randy. We had breakfast at the Dinky Diner where the owner welcomed us like old friends. Then I took the girls for a hike up a canyon just outside of town where the local distiller (yes, of course Goldfield has a distillery) told me I would find a spring. Before finding the spring, we found evidence of the local wild burro population. Lots of it. The spring was a trampled mud puddle.
After two days of the most amiable company of Dan and Randy, it was with some regret that Mila, Sadie, Molly, and I bid a fond adieu and headed west towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Lying between the Nevada desert and our destination was another mountain range, the White Mountains. Composed of dolomite, and towering 11,000 feet above the Owens Valley, they are the home of an ancient bristlecone pine forest, some 4,000 years old. The environment is so dry and inhospitable that I couldn’t help but wonder what would entice a tree to take root there, much less set up such a permanent residence.
Our detour into the Bristlecone Pine Forest Protected Area made our arrival in Lone Pine a bit too late to find a good camp site so we settled in Portagee Joe Campground, just outside of Lone Pine, next to the California aqueduct.
I took the girls for an early morning walk, hoping that Mila would be able to sleep for a bit as she had been up most of the night reading. Like most of us post-menopausal women, she has trouble sleeping; but unlike most of us, she takes it in stride and doesn’t complain about it. She truly is a most affable travel companion. Whenever I would ask, “Do you mind if…” she always replied, “Not a bit”.
Testing the limits of her affability, I suggested a hike up the Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail. This trail ascends about 2,500′ in just four miles. We had climbed about 3/4 of a mile when Mila felt an inconvenient call of nature. The trail offered plenty of places to discretely take care of business but they did not offer any place to sit. The 500 feet of climbing we had just done had taken a toll on her legs and when she squatted behind a bush, her knee objected strenuously. We pushed on but it became apparent that the offended knee was not going to do its fair share of propelling her up the trail. Fortunately, there was a side trail that was an easy walk to the Whitney Portal Road where I was able to pick her up in the car.
We continued up the Portal Road in the comfort of the car, ascending a couple of thousand feet on a road carved into the side of the mountain. My flat-lander cousin remarked on the lack of guard rails on this precarious road. The waterfall at the top was flowing impressively even for a connoisseur like Mila who described it as “the icing on the cake”.
This little adventure whetted my appetite for another trip and I vowed to return to Lone Pine before winter.
The hiking trip in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains was abruptly cancelled when my mom fell and broke her hip on the day before we had planned to leave. The short version of the long story is this:
Mum fell on Saturday and after a grueling day of waiting in the emergency room, she was admitted for surgery to repair a broken hip. She survived the surgery but her dementia took on a new and unsettling turn. She was released from the hospital on Monday evening and delivered back home under hospice care. My sister, her daughters, and I cared for Mum in shifts with the support of my neighbor who has over twenty years of experience in caring for patients with dementia at the end of life. By Wednesday, Mum was gone.
The journey of grieving, healing, bonding, and celebrating her life and her release from pain, is now a month long. Every day is a surprise as my mind adjusts to the new normal that doesn’t include caring for her. At first there was the whirlwind of visitors and condolences where emotions spiked and plummeted seemingly without reason. Then came the sleeplessness, ruminating through the night about how I could have been more patient, more attentive, more loving. Wandering listlessly in a sleep-deprived fog, I wondered how something so long anticipated could have come as such a shock.