Daffodils and forsythia are in bloom here. Egrets and ducks have returned to the pond. We all made it through another winter, a difficult season with plenty of cold, snow, and ice. 

When I was in my forties, I wrote a short story about a woman whose first serious high school boyfriend was drafted to serve in Vietnam. He would die in battle and be remembered as perpetually nineteen. She went on to college, married, had children. As her son prepares for junior prom, she is reminded of Bernie. On the anniversary of his death, she writes him a letter about what it has been like to age decades beyond her teens.

Late in 2022, I prepared for serious surgery. The surgeon called me a ‘low risk’ patient and young for my physical age. Tests showed no other options. All was successful, except emotionally I landed in part of the world described in Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.  He writes that we tend to consider aging a failure, or weakness, rather than a normal process. As we live longer and longer, medical processes becomes part of our experience. Doctors know how to preserve life, but not how to help patients cope with how life continually changes.

Like most surgery nothing looks different to others, but I know where the scars are and what each means. I know the medications that support carrying me through a normal life expectancy. I am also learning their downsides. I haven’t returned to tap dancing because the studio floor is slippery, and I am still fighting to return to my prior rock-solid balance. Down dog is back on my aspirational list, but for different reasons than undeveloped muscles.

In the weeks between the first time a doctor said, “maybe six months, certainly not more than a couple of years,” and the night before surgery, I thought about not seeing my granddaughters grow up, about the writing projects that might not be published, about my unwillingness to let life go. When I stopped pushing to be the person folks expect, my fatigue was immense. With surgery on the schedule, I slept a lot, read a lot, thought even more. Because I am used to being productive, I labeled that week practicing recuperation. 

I have had friends die of cancer without the medical miracle surgery offered me. I am humbled and so respectful of how they faced the eventuality of their passing. 

This spring I wonder how to make these next many years meaningful. A wise friend told me the body needs at least six months to recover from major surgery then encouraged me to give my emotions the same time. A good plan. I’ll enjoy the daffodils and forsythia, then the tulips and lilacs. The demands of regular life are close enough.

With love to my brother, Darrell J. Frisque, who passed too young on April 14, 2007.

Days of Belgian Pie

John, my last living uncle, passed away January 25, on his 90th birthday. One aunt remains and I hope she will be able to be there to say good-by to the last of her siblings. 

It is cold in Wisconsin and my uncle’s beloved parish church may be chilly as his family gathers for his funeral this week. The cold would not have bothered him during his working years on the railroad or hunting with friends and family. When he was a kid hunting was not so much a sport, but a way to keep meat, canned or frozen, on hand to feed seven or eight people. Railroad workers, both my grandfather and uncle, never made a lot of money. My aunt cooked and sewed and gardened while working part-time to help support their family. Raised on a farm, she knew how to work as well as have fun. They both had big hearts.

When my ninety-four-year-old grandfather passed away, he was buried out of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Luxemburg, Wisconsin. It was the first time I spoke at a funeral and shared with my eleven-year-old daughter the traditions of grieving in a small town where families are often intertwined, and most people have a public reputation. 

Women from the parish made the food for my grandfather’s funeral luncheon. One of his cousins, who was also in her nineties, started baking when she heard he had passed. She made dozens of Belgian pies, enough so an entire six-foot table could be filled multiple times with slices of the sweet dough pie with soft cheese topping covering prune, apple, cherry, apricot, raisin, rice or poppyseed filling. It is an acquired taste.

Noise filled St. Mary’s School cafeteria from lunch until we were asked to leave. There were a few photos, but the tradition of picture boards or videos at funerals had not come to Luxemburg. Instead conversations about my grandfather’s life were shared which often triggered laughter. Lots of laughter. For a relatively small man, Uncle John had a large and distinctive voice. His laughter may have been one of loudest in the crowded space. With our parents still alive and doing the job of representing the family, the cousins gathered our children to do introductions and talk about growing up with our grandfather. 

My Uncle John looked a lot like his father. He was fiercely protective of his family, and they reciprocated. Hopefully my cousins, their children, and grandchildren will fill another room with stories of his life and laughter. Traditions like baking Belgian pies for a funeral may have faded away, but the love of family at a time of loss holds.

Stuff’s Happening: FoodTrain

Why is it so difficult to write about what happened in November? The month began with foreshadowing that a health issue would require treatment in a three-to-five-year window. Nine days into the month, tests shortened the timeline to available slots for more extensive surgery the next week. By the middle of November, I had had major surgery, my first time being hospitalized except for delivering babies.

There is a lot I could write about attempting to fill the freezer with food, set up auto-pay for bills, finish a grandchild’s Advent calendar and locate an adult child’s birthday gift within seven days. In retrospect some parts of preparation were successful, and some missed the mark. A hospital rookie, I packed a bag that included a hair dryer, curling iron, underwear, t-shirts, leggings and more than one book. Weak during that first shower I was very happy with clean, natural hair. Nurses didn’t want a t-shirt sleeve in the way of monitors, cuffs or iv’s. My attention span didn’t last through a comparison of humidifiers much less beginning a new novel. 

Returning home was great. Our daughter had stocked individual meals for a few days. She and our daughter-in-law made Thanksgiving dinner. My plan to fill the freezer had dropped off the earlier lists. Something much better happened: MealTrain, coordinated by friends, some from our neighborhood and some from other parts of our lives, created a predictable safe zone as we figured out how to get through each day. 

For two weeks the kindness of friends fed us one hot meal each day. Pasta, soup, quiche, chicken marsala, tacos, pork tenderloin, hot sandwiches, each supplemented with salads, vegetables, and breads. Sometimes homemade bread. Plus our friends believe in dessert. One Sunday brunch was delivered and served to our entire family, an incredible gift on many levels.

My husband received daily notices from MealTrain telling who was bringing dinner and what was planned. These wonderful friends gave generously of themselves showing up every afternoon with food and a few minutes of visiting. They saved Tom, who does not cook much, a lot of stress while making both of us feel supported and inching toward ‘normal’ as we sat at our table eating dinner. 

Stuff happens, some scary and necessary, some amazingly helpful and kind. To all involved, thank you. Take care.

Stuff Happening

Climate change is moving ahead without human intervention. Even the Mighty Mississippi is drying up leaving commercial traffic stranded in low water. Record temps, record rains, record wild fires aren’t as easily resolved as heavy winter snow.

But in the Midwest this fall, that same weather has meant beautiful lazy sunrises and warm days that give us opportunities for another walk, a bike ride, one last cookout. Sitting outside feeding grandbaby a bottle, the late morning sunshine feels even warmer without a leaf canopy. My arms store memories of bottles and burbs and giggles and books read in this chair during the second six months of her life.

All is not easy on this idyllic day. There are difficult physical weeks ahead including the possibility of serious surgery. Except for C-sections and babies, I’ve never had surgery or stayed overnight in a hospital. A date is on the calendar for the initial stage of this process. Part of me is calm, almost relieved to know what must be done and how. Calm until about three in the morning when a busy mind chases down unknown alleys.

Family and friends have had their times under anesthesia in 2022. One was the result of past athletic injuries, another fell, the others faced cancer with chemicals and radiation as well as surgery. For me to have sports-related surgery would be kind of funny. And I’m relieved to not be beginning the cancer battle. Most of us will face a few days in our lives wearing drafty cotton gowns and trying to sleep surrounded by noisy machines. I’d rather be crammed into a tight airline seat trying to sleep surrounded by noisy kids. That was not a choice.

For now the seasonal discussions about who will be at Thanksgiving and what day is best for Christmas festivities have been displaced. Stuff is happening.

August Travel

During the drive from home to being away, my mind travels extra time merging memories of past trips with plans for the next weeks. The years that pacifier inventory and gentle shampoo were critical has slowly morphed into double checking the packing of face creams, medications and comfortable shoes. Very slowly, but with determined forward motion, until time starts happening instead of moving. 

Corn grows as far as the eye can see along the highway. Rivers and ponds look high for a second or third year. Construction has moved about twenty miles further south than the prior trip, but large trucks are still annoying in the cone-formed single lane. Too early for lunch, breakfast’s beverage wanting out, the discussion changes from the morning news and towards where to stop for a comfort break or whether to push on for an early burger. 

August has always been vacation month for our family. What started out of necessity because of participation in post-season youth ball tournaments grew into tradition. Kids would get new sneakers and fresh summer clothes to avoid back-to-school shopping after returning home. Vacation in September is sweeter once untangled from kid schedules, but some places close Labor Day weekend making it hard to rent a kayak or find a soft-serve cone after time on the beach.

Weighted down by sun screen and sun prevention clothing, watching birds swoop into the water for food and parents with preschoolers playing in the shallow spots, I remember a skinny teenager in a two piece subconsciously flirting with a boy, an older teen stranded with a car breakdown near a forbidden quarry, a honeymooning young woman and all the years leading to this person in this moment. Feet resting in shoreline water, a comfy chair, an umbrella and a book. Storing up another year.