Monday, June 27, 2022

One Week Together, One Apart

Together at last and at least once.

Two foreign items sat drying in the sink of my brother’s kitchen: a dissembled stovetop espresso maker and a colander. What makes them foreign? For one, my brother doesn't drink coffee and, while I think of a colander as primarily a way to wash and strain fruits and vegetables, my brother neither cooks much nor eats many vegetables. Why were these items in his sink? Because we visitors had essentially taken over the main floor of the house while my brother self-isolated in his basement after feeling unwell and having a positive COVID-19 test. As we regularly brought him meals or a fresh bag of ice, meeting him, masked, on the stairs, it felt oddly like throwing scraps down into a hole. While most of my brothers and I are fine with (maybe even enjoy) solitude, this was more like deprivation or imprisonment than any kind of personal retreat.

The strangeness of the COVID-19 pandemic continued when J. and my niece also tested positive for COVID-19. We travelled here to be together yet now find ourselves self-isolating, afraid to come too close together in case we pass on a virus that would mean more isolation, and more changed travel plans (and all the cost that comes with that). We were here to see my mother off of this earthly domain. Undoubtedly, my mother was a remarkable woman who, most likely, would not have abided too much of a fuss. Yet, a fuss was made. Some of us had travelled a fair distance at an incredibly difficult time to do so. There were the visitations and the funeral. My mother, father, nephew and my mother’s step-mother were all buried at a cemetery still so new that it has more in common with a headstone parking lot than older more treed and established places.

My mom was prepared in death as she often was in life. She had already instructed my brother to have her name added to my father’s headstone. Hat’s off to her, I say. I have no such preparations in place for myself, perhaps that is the vanity of youth (come on, to a 90-something-year-old, a 50-something still seems young). Judging the typography of the many headstones at the cemetery, I think I might like to commission a design I would approve of rather than letting a funeral director pick something out of a sample booklet.

Still, here we are, one brother pacing back and forth in his basement fortress, my partner committed to staying within a comfortable yet confining bedroom, me spending as much time as possible outside to avoid being inside wearing a mask, my niece and family avoiding my sister-in-law and other brother, who is recovering from surgery, while my remaining brother and his wife have already travelled home across the continent. We were together long enough to share memories of my mother, to enjoy my oldest brother’s new home (and even to clog one of his toilets) and have at least two large meals together (not to mention the accompanying photographs to prove it all really happened). We even momentarily played tourists until we no longer could do even that. It was one week together and one week apart. No doubt my mother would say, “That’s too bad, but a week was enough anyway.” She was not sentimental or overly emotional. Nor was she romantic or impractical. Wistful and nostalgic? Yes, she could be that. My only regret is I never got to convince her that a dishwasher was in fact, more efficient in water and electricity than hand-washing and drying dishes. I have no doubt she would have never been convinced, so she’ll always have that and the memories she made staring out the kitchen window as she washed and my father dried.



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