What does your life look like after you lose your spouse: your friend, companion, lover, thorn, raison d’etre? And then within the year, at 79 years of age, you have major surgery and winter sets in with 241 inches of snow and your best buddy on the lake decides it’s time to sell his house and move to town so he can be closer to medical care and groceries? Summer comes and there’s a dock to be dropped in the lake, along with supporting cinder blocks and a pontoon boat to get from land to water. Her many perennial beds choke with weeds and the well point is a constant worry. New windows need to be put in to the house and old ones disposed of. Your car and a deer have a minor altercation so groceries, prescriptions, and runs to the dump with garbage all get put on hold while repairs are made. The composting toilet motor is growling ominously and the refrigerator is failing with water leaking into every crack and crevice. Mice and tiny voles find the giant bag of cat food.
I think that sometimes Bud is feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and lonely and then, other times, he is satisfied and busy as he lives in the moment, ever explaining things to the two cats as he goes about his day. When he does go to town, people stop him to talk about who is running for county commissioner, the eagles moving their nest across the lake this year, an upcoming planning board meeting. He reads the paper, books, magazines, watches the news and sports and The Shawshank Redemption (repeatedly) on video. He looks at pictures, rereads letters and misses my mother. He has started going back to township zoning sessions, where he channels my mother’s spunk and spitfire politics.
I’ve just returned from a spell up at Lost Loon Lodge and I’m reluctant to write about all of the feelings I have about the situation. But here it is.
Eight hours from Chicago or thirteen hours from Ann Arbor, it makes little difference: it’s just too far. Either way, our lives are too full to visit weekly and that would be the ideal. A weekly visit would allow us to empty out the past date milk, run the vacuum, help with the garden and dock. More than that, it would be the company Bud deserves and needs at this time in his life. It would afford us the time to remember, relax, laugh and gasp at the Milky Way as we visit around a bonfire. It might allow an opportunity to have an ongoing conversation about options, winter plans, changing situations to meet changing circumstances.
That is not going to happen. As it is, we barely find time to make the trip. I feel guilt and responsibility. For now, Bud will carry on, reasonably happy in his sequestered bit of heaven on earth, eating marginally and tossing out the voles the cat places at his bedside each night. He is determined to stay. In the end, after emptying the freezer and pantry of foods that died long before my mother, after changing the vacuum bag that had come to life inside the machine and sweeping up the spiders and cobwebs and houseplant debris, after forcing myself to consider my mother’s clothing that Bud had carefully dry cleaned and sorted in hopes that I could wear some- even after that and much more- I can easily understand his determination.
We took out the old pontoon boat from Wit’s End on that deep still lake, we fished for black bass, we had roaring bonfires, ate fresh corn and bratwurst roasted over the fire, played poker and cribbage, reminisced and laughed about times past. We grew tired and quiet; we sat silently and watched the stars and satellites and that most amazing night sky and then, we went to bed and slept soundly while Robert the cat hunted.
The tip of the Keweenaw in the upper peninsula of Michigan is a place of such natural beauty that to describe it escapes my limited abilities. Even the weeds that are crowding out the lupines and roses are more lovely than what I could hope to grow here in the city. The quiet assaults my senses when I stand at the end of the dock and watch the early morning mist burn off the lake. Up there, you don’t see other houses, hear cars, phones, radios and the jumble of voices and words that clutter up the peace and quiet of the spirit. If you’re lucky, you hear just the tiniest ripple and slip of feathers as the mallard jumps to snatch a dragonfly off a reed.
Bud is determined and resigned. He is remarkably and unusually strong and clear headed. Though he has more than can be managed reasonably, caring for himself and Lost Loon Lodge, he gets by admirably even as disorder and dust encroach. Sometimes I envision the worst, with him so far from town, medical care, other folk and I try to gently talk to him about my worry. He says, "Nonsense. Don’t worry about me" as an order and a reprimand. I am the disobedient daughter.
In writing this I can’t presume to know how Bud feels about everything. I try to watch and listen and intuit from his expressions and posture and words. He was happy while I was there but I wonder how he is alone. I know I share this experience not only with Bud but also my sisters and brother. It’s a universal theme in the progression of life and aging: so familiar and so unique.