Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Now for the sad part...

I clicked open the email with “Hello from the past!” in the subject line to find a note from from a former student, Josh. How I love hearing from former students. I remember Josh well: a little imp of a guy with a perpetual grin and a frizz of curls and an insatiable curiosity. He played the saxophone…or was that his brother Matt? I think both. I’ll let the email exchange speak for itself … 

Hello Mrs. Douillette -

Would you be, by chance, the same Mrs. Douillette who once taught at Cedar School (at least, I think it was Cedar School?) in Hanover 30 years-or-so ago? If so, I believe I was one of your fortunate students. I seem to remember spending countless hours--and reams of magical tracing paper--gleefully working on projects about dinosaurs and whales while under your tutelage. Happy days indeed.

Anyway, if this is really you, hello! I'm sure I can conjure some more memories of those heady days that will make us both feel much older!


Hi Josh!
You've reached the right person and I'm so glad to hear from you. I'm not
the greatest at keeping track of time, but I'm guessing you must be late 20s, early 30s (?). Am I close? I think I had you in the REACH program. ...  I remember you clearly, and you DID have a thing for dinosaurs! :>) Where are you living now and what are you up to?

Mrs. D. (aka Ruth)

Well, sorry to say (for both of us) that I'm 41. That said, despite the fact that my memory is such that I can't remember changing my kids' diapers, I vividly remember that REACH class. My best friend at the time (and ever since) was John Goff. Somewhere in his mom's house there is a cassette tape of John and I recording some sort of presentation about dinosaurs or whales for the REACH class. I remember that I had terribly laryngitis and that the school bell kept interrupting us! John's a teacher in Maine now.

I have to tell you that your class had a tremendous impact on me. I think about it all the time. Just about everyone in that class went onto excel in life in one way or another. You were the launching pad for a lot of successful kids, and I can't thank you enough for making me feel like I could do things that were creative and engaging, rather than just the ABCs. ...

Now for the sad part - I share this not for any sort of sympathy or to be a downer but, rather, because I was admiring your blog and wanted to show you mine. Over the summer, I was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. I'm currently in the middle of that fight (I just finished my first round of chemo treatments). I've always been a writer on the side, so I decided to start a blog about the cancer experience. I thought it would be an interesting, real-time dissection of a life-changing event, and it has also proven to be quite therapeutic. Anyway, if you want to check it out, I'd love to know what you think about it.

Ahhh, Josh. Big sigh. I was just getting a warm glow from your memories of my class (Thank you.) and then the punch to the gut. Not at all the news I expected to hear. ...

No need for the rest of my email. This isn't about me. I hope you visit Josh's blog, Stage Four Sarcasm, to wish him well--literally-- and for a dose of his fantastic humor in the midst of crisis.

We all travel along on whatever road we find ourselves, but some endure rides bumpier than others. ~RD


Friday, October 5, 2012

Mothers and butterflies...

When I visited my 92-year-old mother at her assisted living home, I thought of butterflies—the painted ladies I’d seen sipping the last sweet nectar from the buddleia in my back yard.

Painted ladies don’t live long, and my 92-year-old mother certainly has. So that’s not the comparison. And she certainly wasn’t sipping anything when I walked into her room; she was sleeping in front of a blaring TV. And neither was she painted. She’s never been much for make-up.

But nonetheless, painted lady butterflies that popped into my mind as I watched her sleeping.

“Mom?” I said softly.

She startled and I could see in an instant that she didn’t have a clue who I was.

So I told her.  “It’s Ruthie,” I said.

That’s always been enough for her face to blossom into a smile of recognition.

“Ruthie!” she always exclaims with pleasure.

But this time her smile wasn’t convincing--she didn’t exclaim--and I could tell she didn’t know who I was. 

But she went with me anyway on a drive to the clinic to get her blood drawn. She chatted pleasantly along the way. She only asked twice where we were going and why.

On the way home I asked if she knew who I was.

“Not really,” she said.

I needed to know once and for all if she remembered me, if not by sight at least by name.

“I’m Ruthie. Does that ring a bell?”

“I know it should mean something,” she said with a little chuckle.

“But it doesn’t?”

“Not really.”

So, it’s final.

Now I know for sure I’ve been erased from her memory banks. It’s been a long time coming and I’ve been preparing myself, even fooling myself into thinking she DID still remember when it was pretty obvious that it was “not really.”

So it feels … okay. Expected. Sad.

When I got home I look at the photos of painted lady butterflies I’d taken recently trying to determine why they came to mind when I saw my mother.

They butterflies were still beautiful, but tattered and torn, with chunks missing from wing tips. They’d done a lot of living, these butterflies, and it showed. Like someone else I know.

If a tree falls...

"If you're always battling against getting older, you're always going to be unhappy, because it's going to happen anyhow." ~ Mitch Albom