Sunday, June 26

How we remember: Thinking of Jim

James Pinkston, my stepfather died on Tuesday. In the wee hours of the morning. He had been declining after a fall and a weird blood pressure thing, failing slowly.

My mother has dementia and has been moved to memory care. She acts out in unpredictable ways. I got a call yesterday that she took a swing at one of the staff workers and tried to punch the staff member in the face. I've repeatedly warned the staff that she can be a hitter and hitting in the face was the default when I was a kid. Needless to say they'll have a psychiatrist evaluate her on Monday.

I don't know if they've told Mom yet about my stepfather's passing. When they were separated over a week ago (Mom kept trying to take care of Jim but was at risk of hurting herself and him, and Mom had taken to wandering so memory care was the best option), Mom didn't ask about him for a while but then she told a visitor that he'd been kidnapped and she needed money for a ransom. I'll get more information about her situation on Monday.

In the mean time, I find I'm processing in odd ways. I'd been able to see Jim a few times before he died but I was surprised by how it hit me. Then there are the post-death details which are constant reminders of the finality as well as the changes. And now I have new worries, considerations, concerns about managing finances depending on what happens with pensions. Mom's behavior can lead to her being asked to leave unless they can medicate her sufficiently to mellow her out, and that worries me, too. Those are wearing and stress-inducing. After a long, difficult year, I was reluctant to give up my vacation.

So it may seem weird that in the aftermath of all that's going on, including the passing of my stepfather, that I'm on vacation. Well, I was getting up to get ready to leave for vacation when I saw that I had a message from hospice. They don't usually call in the early hours of the morning so I knew immediately that Jim was gone. Because he and my mother had already taken care of cremation arrangements and I believed the decision of what to do with Jim's remains was one his kids needed to make, and because there was really nothing I could do, and because Mom's move was too recent and I thought we shouldn't tell her yet, I decided to go on vacation anyway knowing I could head to an airport and be in Florida within a day if really necessary.

I talked with two of Jim's biological kids a day or so after his passing. They too were continuing on with their lives for many of the same reasons as I. Kyle and I discussed having a memorial celebration around Jim's birthday when folks can get together and share stories. It's the kind of thing Jim would enjoy.

Hiking in Yellowstone and being mostly disconnected has been one of the best therapies ever and a surprising way to remember Jim. In Cody there was a BNSF truck in the parking lot of the hotel where I was staying. Jim used to work for the railroad and specifically BNSF. "Hey there, buddy. I hope you're okay now" I thought. There's a small Union Pacific monument near the West Gate of Yellowstone, so every day we drive into the park through that gate I think of Jim.

I realize I'm not really mourning his passing. It's not grief I feel. It's not like we were close, but I was fond of him. So it's weird yet nice that I see these things that remind me of him in gentle ways. He was, after all, a gentle man.

Saturday, June 4

"My name is known. I think."

Muhammad Ali died Friday, June 3 at the age of 74. The internet is churning with people remembering him, a man who wondered if people will remember him. It's hard not to remember Ali if you read stories of him, or watched his boxing matches in person or on TV, or even if you saw him light the torch at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Ali will be long remembered because of his style, his athleticism, his greatness as a boxer. He will be remembered through his children and his grandchildren as well as his photos, newsreels, and films of his boxing career.

My mother has dementia. My stepfather is in hospice, failing for reasons that are unclear following a fall and then a spike in his blood pressure they were able to stabilize. My mother has become very attentive towards my stepdad, which is good to see. She puzzles in frustration over what happened to him and why. When I was with her recently she said, "My name is known. I think." And then she murmured, "I think people will remember me."

It was an odd, heart-breaking moment as she contemplated, I think--and I can't be sure--her own mortality. But then she looked up and said, "People do know who I am, right?" and I thought perhaps she'd been in the present and had been thinking about her own challenges for recollection. I assured her that people know who she is and that seemed to satisfy her and we moved on to something else.

"My name is known. I think." has haunted me a bit. There was a distinct pause between the two thoughts as though she believed the first statement to be true, but then wondered a bit. Maybe wondered because she didn't know if others were as forgetful as she, or maybe wondered because she didn't know if her name is really known.

It made me think about what we do and why we do it. I've often thought about how we go about our days, being concerned about our time and whatever it is we're doing. As I travel in bumper-to-bumper traffic in various cities, people in a rush to get wherever, I wonder about their stories. What is so important to get to? A dance recital? A business meeting? A soccer game? An illicit tryst? I wonder about the person who weaves in and out of traffic trying to get wherever faster than anyone else, or because the driver is a daredevil. I wonder which is true.

I think about the people at airports and wonder where they're going and why. I see people get off planes and hustle or mosey down the concourse. Some are clearly on vacation and others are obviously trying to catch another flight, while others might be in a hurry to get to a business meeting or are just in a hurry. Not too long ago I saw a woman greeted by another woman; the arriving woman collapsed into the waiting woman's arms and they both started to cry. The waiting woman was trying to console the other. Their grief was raw and palpable.

I was walking to a gate at an airport recently, talking with a social worker from hospice. She wondered about the background noise so I told her I was at an airport. She said something to the effect that we wonder about who others are talking to as they walk through an airport. "I bet not too many are talking to social workers." Well, you never know. . .except for the loud talkers who let you know they're having Important Business Calls.

I think about how we are small moments in the world. We are here for a time doing whatever we do, perhaps to make the world a better place, and then our moment is over. Perhaps we are remembered; perhaps we are not. Perhaps we are remembered for a time and then, those who remembered us are no more and we are forgotten.

I think about the people who waste their valuable time on rage and hate, who waste their time on power struggles because of ego or whatever it is that moves them. I think about people who offer little to make the world a better place because they are busy trying to see what they can get or take from the world. I think about how some of them will be remembered because some of their names are known and will be known, but not for good reasons.

Will Gloria H. Pinkston be remembered when she is no longer with us? Will James C Pinkston be remembered? Yes, for a while. By their kids and stepkids. By their friends. By some of the people at their church.

My mother may be remembered by some of her former Girl Scouts or the people she taught to swim or the people to whom she taught first aid. What she and he will never know is in what ways they made a difference in peoples' lives.

So perhaps the best most of us can hope for is to know that we've done the best we can and worked as hard as we can to do well.