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Heather Lende: During a rainy July, a preview of ghosts of future summers as caregivers

Heather Lende

HAINES -- It was too wet to go out and too cold to play ball. So we sat in the house and did nothing at all. Actually, I had a long walk in the rain with a friend who had been at a family funeral down south while Chip and I were doing the trauma-hospital thing in Seattle after his injury, so it was nice to catch up.

We both agreed that 10 days away in high northern summer feels like 10 weeks, and that a month in winter feels like 10 days, but that's another story. This morning, as Chip and I woke in the living room -- he's on the window seat, I'm on the couch -- the rain pelted the metal porch roof and dripped off the bushes, and we remembered there was a wedding today.

A Juneau couple chose Haines. How nice is that? I said it was too bad about the weather. Chip said, "It rained at our wedding, and that worked out OK." We have been together 32 years.

"No it didn't," I said. Meaning the rain, not the OK being married long part.

"Yes it did." 

"No. It was hot, and muggy. Long Island in June, about 95 in the shade."

"That must have been it. I remember my shirt being soaking wet."

I remember, he said, "I pledge thee my truck" instead of "troth," which I still don't know the meaning of, but it was in the old version of the “Book of Common Prayer” that my mother preferred. She died the year after I was hit by a truck while riding my bike and smashed my pelvis. Chip's dad died a few years after that. Now Chip and I have five children and four grandchildren and dead parents and bike crashes and broken pelvises in common, and we have shared care needing and caregiving roles.

He took care of me, and now I'm taking care of him. It is, as the kids say, odd to have such similar accidents, and it’s making me a little wiggy.

When I'm no longer in the thick of it I'm sure I will make some sense of this. But what I wanted to tell you, before I got sidetracked, is that when my friend and I were walking this morning with our dogs on the beach in the wet wet wet July rain, the kind of rain that smells like wood smoke and seaweed, she said that her cousin couldn't speak at his father's memorial service and some of the family thought that as the oldest son, he should have said something. He was crying, she said.

Well, of course he couldn't speak. Not many children, even grown-up ones, can stand up and say something funny or wise or even halfway articulate at their parents' funeral for all sorts of reasons. Often, it seems to me, that when someone close to us dies -- especially a father or mother -- we not only mourn for what we have lost, we grieve for what we never found and wished we had.  The best news, is that noticing this -- in ourselves or others -- at a funeral makes us better fathers, mothers, grandparents and, I think, spouses.

Tonight I took Chip's shoes and socks off for him before I tucked him in, the way I imagine tender old couples do. Except this isn't the beginning of the end of something for us. Chip will be back on the bike in a few months. He’s not 80-something. He's 50-something. And while I wouldn't wish this downtime on anyone, it is good to practice, and to have that sneak preview of the ghosts of future summers, and to know we can do it, and are happy to. Grateful even. It's a little like rain in July. It helps everything grow a little stronger.

Haines author Heather Lende’s third book, “Find the Good,” will be published in the spring of 2015. Until then, check her blog or Facebook page