we will feast

July 19, 2021

We celebrated tonight. We ate, we drank, we laughed … we were family. And at the center of it all was my grandma. A bit late to start, with the logistics of getting her from the facility here, I began to worry that it was going to be a failed party. She accepted a bite of chicken. A forkful of watermelon. A spoonful of rice. And then she asked if she could lie down. “Sure, GramBea..of course!” My stepdad helped her onto the guest bed there by the dining room table. She closed her eyes.

We continued our conversation, laughter and story-telling carrying us away; but I questioned it. I worried. Should we have brought her out like this? Was it too much? But then I happened to glance over at her in the midst of our laughter, and wondered at the smile clearly growing on her face.

A few minutes later, she interrupted Uncle G as he told a story. “Was that the place you…?”

And then I realized that, eyes still closed in pretend slumber, she was right with us. She was exactly where she wanted to be. And we were exactly who we needed to be. Family. Her family.


July 14, 2021

As I rubbed soapy gauze over a patient’s amputated stump today, he talked about his service dog. I, in turn, told him about our Great Pyrenees. “My husband dubbed her ‘Nanny’ the other day,” I began. “in honour of Peter Pan.” He nodded appreciatively, smiling at the thought of that cartoon character. I explained that our Della has been proving herself, more and more each day, to be exquisitely suited to her role on our little farm. The past few days she seems to have recognized that her job is to care for the kid that we suspect we may soon lose. The little one is waning, losing her motivation for much of anything, and only rarely attempting to nurse. My husband is doing all he can to care for her, encouraging her to milk, sitting with her in his lap, and even coaxing morsels of grain down her throat. But we are farmers enough to recognize that, sometimes, nature simply takes its course. It is heartbreaking, but a part of life. So now, when we watch our Della curl her large body around the kid we know that she is living up to the “angelic” name we gave her—more than we imagined when we did so. I like to imagine that she knows this little one may soon be heaven-bound. And I believe her guardian presence is just as important either way, whether Ti lives or dies.

When I had finished bandaging the patient’s leg, and sent him on his way, he asked me if I missed my international life, knowing that my husband and I had worked abroad for many years before beginning this home-centered life.

“No,” I told him, truthfully. “Every once in a while I miss people or things from our former lives. But this life is full. It is enough. It is good.”


July 12, 2021

It must have been the meatloaf. I had the odd (considering my ho-hum attitude towards the dish) desire to make meatloaf yesterday. Granted, I was within my usual tendency of using what I have (ground venison from a hunter-friend) to make a dish that works with it. So meatloaf was my weekend plan. In part, this was a purely practical decision; as I would not, I assumed, be tempted to consume as much as I usually do when it comes to meat; there would be plenty leftover to carry us into the next workweek. And I do make every effort to plan ahead these days, knowing how stressful meal prep can be once I’m in the throes of a workweek. That said, meatloaf was the plan. By the time I got home, however, later than I had intended, thanks to some family responsibilities, I was already a bit flustered, and not in the mood to put together a new dish. I shot out a series of minor household requests to Peter and then, in the middle of one of them, he called me out on it. I stopped. I pressed him until he finally verbalized his frustration. And then it was out. And there we were. In the middle of one of those marital moments . . . those moments of impasse when you feel like the world is falling in on you, and you are stuck. Stunned. 

“I don’t know what to do.” I said. “I don’t know . . .” Then came the tears. I wanted out. I wanted him out. I wanted him. I wanted . . . 

I wish I could tell you a lovely “happily ever after” right now. I wish I could resolve this post with a bright and shiny resolution. But the fact of the matter is that we did not solve the problem. We did not have a happy reunification.

What we did, instead, is sit down to a now-cold dinner together. We let each other’s presence be the balm that a resolution had not been able to be. And though meals are usually remembered because of the happy memories surrounding them, this slightly glum meal setting ended up being over a loaf of meatloaf that was, I dare say, the best damn meatloaf I’ve ever tasted. So there. There’s that.

*photo: the garden-fresh onions and garlic I used in lieu of packaged soup mixes most recipes call for


July 5, 2021

“This is my body, broken for you…” I accepted the wafer and closed my eyes. “This is my blood . . . “ I opened them again to drink from the cup held in front of me. I smiled. I fought back tears. How good it is, I thought, this gift of communion that is, once more, truly communal

And then I danced. Freely, unabashedly, and wildly. If you imagine a hippy convention and a graceful swirling young woman, you shall have to reimagine. I am a 40-something woman starting to wrinkle, and nothing to look at. And it was a church fair. In an auditorium filled with round reception tables and metal folding chairs. But as Peter and I walked in, not knowing what to expect, we heard music piping out from an iPad, and saw a group of people walking around a circle of numbered chairs. I grabbed Peter’s arm and gasped “A cake walk! I LOVE cake walks!” [Truthfully, my expressed “love” of cake walks extended to a vague memory of elementary school events, and the childhood thrill of winning; but at the moment, that was beside the point—everything was beautiful, and wonderful, and thrilling in my present state of mind. Life was abundant. 

“Do you think I should do it?” I asked. “I don’t see why not,” Peter shrugged. So I did. Song after song came on. At each pause I would gamely choose my chair and grin conspiratorially at the child sitting next to me. Then, music pumping out again, off we’d go.  For a blessed moment in time, carried away in the kind of flow you forget after a few decades of grownup responsibilities, we let loose.

A few hours later I stood over GramBea’s wheelchair, sweating from both the heat and the rush to accommodate the request for food before the moment had passed. I held the plate in front of her, trying to entice her with old favorites. “Want a bit of hamburger?” She nodded. Smiled. “Where’s the lettuce?” she asked. “No lettuce—but they had pickles. Want a bite?” I feared it would be an untouched plate. But, to my happy surprise, she nodded, and accepted a bite. Then another. “They had moon pies,” I said. “Here-want me to unwrap it for you?” Again she nodded. A bite. Two. Three. “Can I put a straw in a coca-cola for you?,” this time doing it before my luck ran out. “It’s nice and cold!” One. two. three sips. She smiled. I fought back tears.

She was full.

I was fed.

hold on

July 1, 2021

While at work today, I got a text informing me that my grandmother has dropped to 80 pounds. That makes 30 pounds lost since January. And that is not ok. A part of me panics, and I want to do something. Anything. But the fact is that my family, as a team, has been doing exactly that—anything. 

A couple weeks ago she wanted a hamburger. I drove an hour after church to get to her place, then another 10 minutes driving circles around the mall; once I had arrived there, it occurred to me that I did not know what hamburger joints there were, so I could not exactly punch into Google Maps the name of a place I was looking for. But a couple loops later I settled on a place that I hoped would offer my specific order and, thankfully, they did. By this point, frazzled from the drive itself and the heat of doing it in my non-AC gem of a car, I rushed into her room. I found it vacated and for a moment envisioned her being beamed up like Scotty (clothing left on her bed as if her body had lifted up out of it). I called her.

“Anna!” I heard, “how lovely to hear from you!”

Skipping formalities, I blustered, rudely, “I’m in your room—and I have your hamburger. Where are you?!?”

As it turned out, my brother had surprised her, picking her up and bringing her to his place to be with them for the afternoon. It was a lovely gesture, and wonderful for her . . . and yet, I could not hold back the childlike disappointment that I had not been the one to save the day. I stood there, immobilized for a moment while she chattered on about the children. The “plain burger, no cheese, add lettuce, tomato, and onion” bag hung limply in my free hand. And I could not, for the life of me, think of what to do next.

“ . . . look forward to seeing you. It will still be warm!” I refocused on her voice and realized that she did in fact still want that burger. My countenance brightened. I lifted the bag again. And 20 minutes later I stood beside her, kissing her cheek and smiling back at her when she opened her eyes to smile at me. A tray of breakfast pancakes, homemade by my young niece, sat next to her. She said she couldn’t wait to taste her burger. Then she closed her eyes again, resuming her nap. I choked back the tears. I tried to resume a normal rate of breath. I tried to maintain a facade of calm normalcy. And then I went out to a crew of laughing little ones, splashing in and out of the kiddie pool and calling for me to get my suit on and jump on in. I wish I could say that I did. I wish I had let the carefree joy of my nieces and nephews soothe the hurt. But, truthfully, all I wanted was solitude. I swam, in silence, crying out with each breath, and letting the rhythm of my strokes work out, and soothe, the angst.

Today, solitude was not available for solace. My solace instead, after seeing the text, was of an unexpected sort: it was a patient. For all my introverted sensibilities, it turns out that sometimes a human soul can be its own form of healing. This patient came in on a stretcher, and as we turned his body to get a look at the wound, we found a bed soaked with urine. The dressings we had put on his bedsore had been rendered useless by the moisture. He was embarrassed, explaining that he had tried to change his bags correctly but hadn’t quite figured out how. The nurse and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised, masks concealing our open mouths; for we realized that his care facility had not been caring for him, had not been changing the bags as they were supposed to be doing. She resumed work on the wounds while I braced my body against a chair in order to hold him on his side while she did so. And it occurred to me that my gloved hands were not only supporting this patient’s body; the physical action was a sort of a soothing of its own. I cannot fix it. But I can hold on.