Seven years

I met my partner seven years ago today. We met through an online dating service, began chatting for hours every evening, and finally took the plunge and decided to go out for dinner and a movie. We have been pretty much inseparable ever since.

I can’t imagine a better person to spend my life with. He is a genuinely good, caring individual who seems to worship the ground I walk on. I’m not sure why he is so crazy about me, because I certainly have my flaws. I am truly blessed.

Happy Anniversary, Honey. I hope we have many, many more years together.

Our trip to New York City

We left home on a beautiful Saturday morning, swung by to pick up our friend Betty, and headed for New York with Liza Minnelli’s ode to the city playing on the radio. We stopped for the night after 12 hours of driving, but we were up bright and early the next morning, and we arrived in the Big Apple shortly after noon. The traffic wasn’t too bad, even though our GPS routed us right through the heart of midtown to meet up with Betty’s daughter, Lisa, at our hotel.

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We stayed at Affinia Gardens on W. 64th St., which is a fantastic little building full of micro-apartments in a great location. We quickly unpacked and headed out on foot to see Central Park and Rockefeller Center. We also visited the gorgeous St. Patrick’s Cathedral before heading back to the hotel for the evening.

Monday turned out to be quite warm, with the high near 90 degrees. We purchased bus passes from GrayLine which enabled us to hop on any of their tour buses for the next 48 hours. Our first trip took us downtown as far as Battery Park, and we saw Macy’s, Ground Zero, Wall Street, the Pier, the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, the United Nations, and hundreds of other fascinating buildings.

After arriving back in Times Square, we headed to Rockefeller Center and rode the speedy elevator to the top of the building. Sixty-seven floors might not be the tallest rooftop in Manhattan, but it certainly provides one of the best vantage points. Central Park stretched out on one side of the building, while the Empire State Building loomed on the other side. We could even make out the Statue of Liberty in the distance!

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We wound up walking everywhere the first couple of days until Lisa’s daughter, Lauren (who is attending school in NYC), showed us the ins-and-outs of the subway system. Armed with the HopStop app on my cell phone, we were able to take advantage of New York’s amazing public transportation over the remainder of our stay.

Tuesday morning started with a trip to Battery Park for a ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The statue was closed for repairs, so we didn’t stick around very long. Once we arrived back in Manhattan and grabbed a bite to eat, we headed for the 9/11 Memorial.

I knew visiting the memorial would be an emotional experience, but I don’t think I realized how much it would hit me. I was actually shedding tears before I ever even got through security. Walking into the open space surrounding the two pools was akin to entering a sanctuary, and everyone was quiet and respectful. The thousands of names engraved around the outside lip of each pool were overwhelming, and encountering the name of a woman and her unborn child brought even more tears.

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The new building going up at Ground Zero, One World Trade Center, has already reached 100 floors. Its beauty and size was a reminder of the continuation of life. The sound of ongoing construction was the only distraction in an otherwise peaceful setting.

Honey and I took another bus ride that evening that started in Times Square and drove across the Manhattan Bridge before circling through Brooklyn and back. Seeing the city light up was such a treat, but nothing compared to the view from across the river. We could see from the Statue of Liberty all the way past the Empire State Building (which was lit up in red, white, and blue).

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We rose early the next morning to take yet another bus tour – this time around Central Park and through Harlem. Our bus stopped in front of Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment building, and our tour guide recognized him standing outside the front door with his wife. He was courteous enough to wave and smile as we all snapped photos like the paparazzi.

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Wednesday night was the first time either of us had seen a Broadway show, and Wicked was certainly a great way to start. Our seats were very good, the acting and singing was phenomenal, and I loved the way the story-line tied everything in with The Wizard of Oz.

Thursday morning, Honey and I went to see an exhibit titled Bodies. The displays were real human bodies that had been donated to science and were in various stages of dissection. Some bodies were intact, but stripped of flesh so that the muscles were revealed. Others contained only bones, or sections of muscle pulled back to reveal implanted medical devices. Body parts were labeled to explain various cancers and diseases, and we could easily see the difference between healthy lungs and those of someone who smoked.

One of the most fascinating parts of the exhibit was fetal development. They actually had a sign warning that some people might be uncomfortable with this particular part of the exhibit, and reminding us that all the fetuses had died in utero. It was amazing to see a blob of white matter no larger than one-half inch and learn that it already had a heartbeat.

After leaving the exhibit, Honey and I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a beautiful day, and the city looked absolutely gorgeous. I didn’t have my camera with me, but did manage to capture a few shots with my cell phone.

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Speaking of cameras, I took around 800 photos while we were in New York City. Honey’s mother gave me a zoom lens for my Nikon that enabled some amazing shots from the top of Rockefeller Center and from the ferry that carried us to the Statue of Liberty.

After making our way to Times Square one last time, we ventured through Central Park and made our way back to the room to get ready for Lauren’s dance recital. She was fabulous, and her performance was the only breath of fresh air in an otherwise dark and depressing program.

We left Friday morning to drive home, and decided to whiz through Washington, D.C. on our way since neither Betty or Honey had ever been there. It seems one is unable to do anything quickly in D.C. (we should have known, right?), so we wound up getting stuck in traffic for around two hours. We did get to see portions of the Capitol building, the White House, and the Washington Monument as we drove through, but we were very surprised at how “locked down” the city was in terms of it being almost impossible to get anywhere near the White House due to barricaded streets and police cars. Most of the public parking lots were even blocked off by police cruisers.

Needless to say, New York City is one of my favorite places on earth. Actually being there on 9/11/01 made it hold an extra-special place in my heart, but this trip enabled me to really fall in love with the city. It might sound a little cheesy, but I actually felt like I was home while we were there. It felt like being at the center of the universe.

And I miss it already.

New York City!

Very, very soon, we will begin the long drive to New York City. This will be my third trip to the Big Apple, but it will be Honey’s first time to experience the sights, sounds, and smells (covers nose) of what just might be the greatest city on earth.

The last time I was in New York was when 9/11 happened, so I will admit to having just a bit of anxiety. We plan to visit the 9/11 Memorial while we are there, which I expect to be a very moving experience.

Other plans include seeing Wicked on Broadway, visiting the observatory at the top of Rockefeller Center, and taking the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty. I have never seen Central Park in real life, so that will be a must. I also have a list of skyscrapers (finished and under construction) that I have to see, but One World Trade Center is at the top of the list! Can’t wait!!

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Mrs. J

Several evenings ago, we cooked dinner and took it over to share with Mrs. J and her son. I am very thankful we did, because we had no idea how different things would be within a few days. We went back to visit her on Good Friday and were shocked to see the change that had taken place.

Mrs. J can no longer remembers basic things, like the number of grandchildren she has or that her siblings have passed away. She sits and rubs or smacks her head while trying to get her thoughts together. She keeps asking what she is supposed to be doing, getting up to go to another room and then sitting down again, and trying to pay us for coming to see her. It is heartbreaking to watch.

Mrs. J has always told us that she wants to die before going in a nursing home, so you can imagine what we felt when her son told us he had already been communicating with a local facility about taking her. Apparently Medicare will only kick in some money if she is placed in a home within a month of leaving the hospital, so she must be admitted by April 18th.

Honey was so devastated after our visit on Friday that he began asking if he could bring her to live with us. I didn’t know what to say, but knew he didn’t have a clue of what he would be getting himself into. After he talked it over with some of our other friends and we went for another visit with her yesterday, he began to realize a nursing home might be the best option at this point.

Mrs. J seemed normal enough when we arrived yesterday, probably because she had just gotten up from a nap. She quickly returned to a confused state, and wound up going back to bed before we left. It is obvious that her son is weary from worrying about what she is doing every minute of the day. He had to take over her medication several days ago, because he noticed she had incorrectly placed it in her pill organizer. She has even been asking about the handgun that she normally kept hidden under her mattress, but he has been unable to find it.

Although it is very painful to watch her decline, I know she has had a long, happy life. She is only a few months away from her 94th birthday, and she has outlived her husband, all of her brothers and sisters, and many of her friends. We have done our best to make her elderly years as comfortable and enjoyable as possible, even though much of what happens to her is out of our control. Honey recently sat with her all night, every night while she was in the hospital for almost two weeks. I know he will cherish that time spent together for the rest of his life.

We have tried to make every birthday in recent years as special as possible, often taking her out for a meal at a restaurant and surrounding her with gifts, balloons, and friends. Her last birthday celebration was slightly more subdued, but we still had pizza, cake, and presents galore. We have spent many evenings with her over dinner, watching movies, or sitting in the emergency room while she gets checked out after a fall. During her nursing home stay after hip surgery a few years ago, we sat with her almost every evening for three months.

None of this is being recounted to make us appear like saints. We weren’t always happy to visit the nursing home with its various unpleasant smells and scenes. We didn’t enjoy checking her water meter every few weeks for a leak that never materialized. We might have even grumbled when we had to take her to the emergency room after a fall. But we did those things because it’s what you do when you love someone.

Mrs. J isn’t just a friend, she’s family. She always tells hospital staff that we are her grandsons. She often explains how she loves us so much that her real grandsons get a little jealous. She is more accepting and loving than many of my own relatives.

It would be easy to let this situation become overwhelming and depressing, but I am going to try to focus on the many wonderful memories we have accumulated over the past 15 years. How happy she was while working outside in her flowers. The awesome fried chicken she used to make. The smiles, the hugs, even the tears. The way she loves so fully and unconditionally.

Yes, life is cruel, but it can also be excruciatingly beautiful. Even as Mrs. J is robbed of her own memories, I will still look at her, remember that beautiful smile, and thank God for allowing our paths to meet.

Catching up

We have been very busy over the past month. It all started when our former neighbor, Mrs. J, went in the hospital a few weeks ago. We went to see her as soon as we found out, and Honey wound up spending the next 10 or 11 nights with her. No one else in her family was able or willing to do it, but he knew her well enough to know she couldn’t be left alone. She had to have constant help getting up to use the restroom, she was disoriented and didn’t know where she was, and she even yanked out her IV and tried to leave the room.

A few days before Mrs. J was dismissed from the hospital, my grandmother was admitted to a hospital about 20 minutes away. Her older brother was already in the same hospital recovering from a heart attack, so family members were able to visit both siblings quite easily. He passed away on the evening of the day she was allowed to go home.

My grandmother and her older sister are now the only living siblings. She lives near Indianapolis, IN, but was unable to get down here in time to see her brother before he died. My sister helped get her here for the funeral, then Honey and I drove her home this past weekend.

Great-Aunt Frances is such a hoot. A gentle, loving soul who never stops talking. I swear she talked for the entire trip home (several hours). She seemed most excited about her new accommodations – a assisted-living facility she moved into late last year. She had lived alone until falling, and her children decided she needed to be somewhere safer. She raved about the food, the building, the gardens, and the company. I think she probably likes having companionship and someone to talk to more than anything.

When we arrived to drop her off, she wanted us to come in so we could see her new living quarters. The place was quite beautiful, but had a depressing feeling about it. A nursing home was right next door, and she explained that residents of her facility are usually moved over there at some point. The beautiful main entrance was decorated with flowers from the funeral of a resident who had just passed away. Aunt Frances noticed them, but quickly ushered us into the elevator and onto the third floor to see her apartment.

Her apartment turned out to be more like a small hotel room. It had a kitchenette and a bathroom attached to a main sleeping area. Although she moved in this past November, she still doesn’t have a bed and has been sleeping on a sofa. It was quite depressing to see how all the contents of her home had been reduced down to what she could manage to fit into the small space. She has an overhead photo of her previous home hanging on the wall, which I am sure is a constant reminder of the happy years she spent there with her deceased husband. She also has a photo of herself looking like a Hollywood star when she was around 20 years old.

She wanted to take us out to dinner as thanks for bringing her home, but decided to introduce us to one of the other residents first. The lady we met was using a walker due to a recent fall, but quickly invited herself after finding out where we were going to eat. We got her in the car before figuring out her walker wouldn’t fit in the trunk, but she insisted she wouldn’t need it at the restaurant. She was wrong.

We had to walk on either side of her to and from the restaurant in order to keep her from falling, but there were a couple of times when she almost went over. We were tired and ready to start the return trip home, but realized how much simply getting out of the facility meant to these women. After taking them back to their home and saying our goodbyes, I tearfully realized it could be the last time I saw my aunt alive.

Aunt Frances is Catholic, even though most of her family is protestant. My grandmother’s mother died when the children were very young and their father died a few years later. The kids were passed around from family to family – often separated – until Aunt Frances wound up with a Catholic family that she adored. She decided to convert and has lived the rest of her life devoted to her faith.

Even though she is a devout member of a very conservative denomination and 82 years old, Aunt Frances never judges people. She is ordained and able to give communion during services, and she recounted how people who technically weren’t supposed to receive communion would choose to receive communion from her instead of the priest who was imparting the sacrament next to her. “Who am I to refuse those people?” she asked, “I don’t have the right to judge anyone.”

On the way to Indianapolis, as Honey slept in the back seat, she turned to me and asked how long we have been together.

“Seven years next month,” I said.

She smiled. “I told Tiny (Grandmama) you must really love that boy. And I know he loves you too.”