Burying a Cousin

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Bunny 2015.

Recently I traveled to New England where we interred the ashes of my dear cousin Bunny.  It was a sentimental journey, for sure.  She was buried in the family plot in Norton, Massachusetts.  I spent the first twelve years of my life in Norton and this trip fueled so many memories probably because little seems to have changed in Norton–except the traffic.  Lots of cars.  It is now a bedroom community to Boston. I’m certain there are the dreaded “developments” somewhere but the town center is remarkably in tact.

In attendance were cousins of every age, ranging from nine weeks to 85 years.  It was a gorgeous day.  Bunny’s brother-in-law Ted gave the blessing. A religious man, he is well known in the family for his deep beliefs in Catholicism.  Nevertheless, he paid a fitting homage to Bunny.  After mentioning God at one point, he looked down at her gravesite and said, “if you believe in God.”  His courtesy brought tears to my eyes and, I have no doubt, a chuckle from Bunny.

Norton, Mass on Bunny's Memorial Weekend.

Norton, Mass on Bunny’s Memorial Weekend.

We each placed a flower on the grave and paused to remember our dear cousin.

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After the graveside service we retired to the Norton Country Club and had a wonderfully relaxed lunch.  People spoke a few words.  A guitarist played softly in the background.  We ate, drank, toasted, and hugged.  The only downside of the day was a washed out Powerpoint show of Bunny pictures, dozens of them, from every stage in her life.  The room was too bright, the projector too dim.  But never mind, it was easy enough to go forward and sit for a spell, watching the images go by on the laptop.  It was there that I caught Bunny’s “baby” sister Carol, with her daughter Molly, sitting at the table, watching the cavalcade of Bunny’s life.  But it wasn’t until I got home and looked at the picture that I realized what I caught.  On the screen you can see Bunny and her sister Sally (who almost seems to be blowing a kiss at Carol) and faintly on the right side of the screen is Mary Helen.  Three Gavin sisters, all smiling, all gone to the other side.  Ghostly images looking back on their baby sister.  How lucky we have been to know them all.  ❧

Norton, Mass on Bunny's Memorial Weekend.

Norton, Mass on Bunny’s Memorial Weekend.

 

 

An Easter Bunny

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Frequent readers are familiar with my cousin Bunny. She recently turned 95 years old and things are not what we would hope for her. Physically strong she has a form of dementia that blocks her memory of the present time. She will repeatedly ask the same question or make the same observation, like an old phonograph player that gets stuck on the same part of a record. But the Bunny we love is still there, it just takes some creativity to jostle the brain into “forward.”

One modern invention that helps with that process is the iPad. Frequently I will take it with me when I visit and we look at old family photos.  This series of pictures shows Bunny and her daughter-in-law, Joanne, “visiting” with Bunny’s great-grandchildren, Winston and Ellery. Bunny seemed to grasp the concept of video-visits with no problem, only the appropriate wonder such technology deserves.

So, on this Easter Sunday, I give you Bunny. Still alive, still loved, and still loving. ❧

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Bunny, in Sarasota, Florida, “connects” with Winston, her year-old great-grandson in Kentucky.

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Here Bunny points at her own image in the upper-left corner of the iPad.

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A wave from Grammy.

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Bunny, her son Milo, and Ellery, her great-granddaughter, have a visit.

 

 

 

 

Images #224, 225, & 226 – Bunny’s 94th Birthday

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I’ve written many times about my cousin Bunny. Yesterday was her 94th birthday and her son John put together a small party. He served one of Bunny’s favorites–Maine lobster!  I can tell you that despite her age she still knows how to appreciate a Maine lobster. It brought back some wonderful memories of a long ago summer when my mother and I traveled to Vermont, where Bunny was living at the time, and we went out to a small restaurant with brown kraft paper for a table cloth and the best lobster I have ever eaten.  But what was more delicious was watching these two women, my mother and cousin Bunny, expertly dissect those lobsters to get every possible morsel. It was masterful.

Bunny has a kind of dementia that makes it hard for her to retain short-term memory but she still enjoys a good party. Her dementia made for a couple of interesting moments during the party. John presented the lobsters and Bunny asked what was the occasion?  When told it was her birthday she was completely surprised.

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It gave new meaning to “surprise party.”  🙂

This was the first time I ever attended a party for a 94 year-old and how lovely that it was such a special lady. She’s got 94 years of memories in that head and she shared some of them last night. The present may not be that important anyway. There is a Simon & Garfunkel song called “Old Friends” with a lovely line:  Preserve your memories/they’re all that’s left you.  That’s something to think about.  Let’s hope we can all smile this warmly when we are 94. ❧

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Image #222 – Ancient Oak/Ancient People

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Tango and I came across this incredible, ancient oak tree while exploring at Myakka River State Park last week. The base of the trunk was enormous and I would estimate that it would take three people holding hands to encircle it.  Its gnarly, pock-marked bark put me in mind of my cousin Bunny and a song that John Prine wrote and was covered by numerous people, including Kris Kristoferson and Bette Midler. Called “Hello in There” the lyrics go:

You know, Old trees just get stronger/Old rivers grow wider every day

But old people just get lonesome/Waiting for someone to say

Hello in there/Hello.

That describes my cousin Bunny perfectly.  She will be 94 years-old tomorrow (March 26) and she has a form of dementia that is so hard, for her and us. She cannot retain any recent memory. She awakens and her mind is blank.  She wonders where she is but when you tell her she cannot retain it. Things loop around continuously.  I am very patient with her and have discovered that if you are patient enough (and she must be patient too) you can get some things to “stick.”  Once that process happens you can dig deeper and things begin to emerge. She seems to have memories of 2005-2007 but not much beyond that. The fall that injured her pelvis and led her to the ALF occurred in 2010.  So for 4 to 7 years she has been floating in the dream-like world wherein she frequently is driving and she awakens thinking she has just driven in from New England or “the boonies.”  I asked her what the “boonies” are and she said “the Florida forest.”  I wonder what images she is tapping into because she has been coming to Florida since the 1940s.

It is wondrous on many levels but on a basic human level it is very sad.  Two days ago she got into a loop of asking if she had asked these questions before.

“Yes,” I reply.

“Today?” she asks.

“Yes,” I reply.

“Several times?” she asks.

“Yes,” I reply.

“Well,” she drolly replies,  “that must be tiresome.”

I could only laugh … and hope the tears in my eyes don’t fall down my cheeks. ❧

 

 

 

Image #180 – Generations

Bunny  and her great grandson Winston

Bunny and her great grandson Winston

The holidays are officially over.  Tomorrow — Monday, January 6th — we return to “real time” but the past two weeks have been that special time of the year when things seem to slow down and focus draws inward to home and hearth.  For me this passing holiday time has been especially memorable, a time to share the joy of my cousins and, in particular,  a special woman — cousin Bunny — who can be seen greeting her great grandson Winston.

Consider, for a moment, the generational spread that is captured in this picture. Winston is just ten weeks old. Bunny is 93 years old.  If Winston lives to be as old as Bunny the year will be 2106.  Any 93 year old person who gazed upon Bunny when she was Winston’s age would have been born in 1827!

Let’s come at it from another perspective. When Winston was born in 2013 the president of the U.S. was Barack Obama. When Bunny was born in 1920 the president was Woodrow Wilson.  And for our imagined 93 year old who gazed upon the newborn Bunny in 1920 the president in 1827 was John Quincy Adams! ❧

#178 – Bunny’s Last Christmas?

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This picture is my 93 year-old cousin Bunny with her son, John.  You might have guessed it was taken on Christmas Day.  I’ve written about Bunny before. She is a dear person who has reached a point in her life that none of us ever want to see—a vast netherland with no beginning and no end.  It is the Land of Dementia and its population is growing with each passing day.

Bunny seems incapable of retaining recent memory yet she remembers the past very well. I always try to lead her to that land she remembers. It is populated with her parents and my grandparents along with numerous souls from the town of Norton, Massachusetts.  My connection to the town is garbled in her mind.  I did live there in my youth but Bunny was in her early thirties and long gone by that time.  But she talks to me as a contemporary and I do the best I can to sustain the memory.  It always seemed to bring her some joy to talk about “good old Norton.”

Today, however, was markedly different. I couldn’t lead her anywhere.  For the first time she failed to recognize me.  “You look very familiar,” she said.  “It’s your cousin, Alice.” I replied. She nodded but I wasn’t sure the information conveyed very well.  Her usual enthusiasm at seeing my dog Tango was also absent. We attempted a conversation about the recent Christmas celebration but she couldn’t recall it.   Then I told her that her youngest son would arrive tomorrow and that his children—now adults—would be bringing their newborns. That piqued her interest.  “A new generation?” she asked.  “Yes,” I said, “a whole new generation.”

For just a moment the Bunny of old emerged from the gripping fog of her dementia.  Her eyes got bright and ever so sweetly she simply said, “Wow.” ❧