Category Archives: Lost Loon Lodge

Life is short

or long, depending on your perspective. I spoke with my sister Laurel yesterday and Bud is giving her a run for her money up in Oshkosh. My friend, Mary, has been going through the process of helping her parents transition into what will inevitably be one of the last chapters of their life and I follow along closely. Because she writes so very eloquently, walking the line between showing us her most intimate fears, controlled hysteria and outrageous good humor, I can’t read her blog posts without these literal little twinges in my chest, pings to my heart. It’s a hard road and I’m pretty sure that it’s a different road than the one many of our parents walked down- and different from much the rest of the world today. One of our most agonizing questions is, at bottom, “Where to put them when they can’t manage on their own any more?” as opposed to “Who sleeps on the floor to make room, who spoon feeds, who washes the dying or dead bodies in the end?”

I’ve been largely spared by distance and still it’s been tough. Back when the Bud and Jan Show was alive and sometimes well at Lost Loon Lodge I found, through writing here, the love and humor, connection and support that came with sharing stories about their old age. My mother never went anywhere gently, let alone into that good night; getting out the door for a Christmas Eve visit to my father’s parents involved yelling and screaming back in my earliest memories. In retirement, she found her angry voice in saving the environment and used it effectively, saving thousands of acres of Lake Superior shoreline from any possible development. Not before she got herself and my stepfather, Bud, sued by a mining company and not before they polarized the entire Keweenaw Peninsula and not before she somehow managed to trickle down her passion and love for Mother Earth to my daughter, who just now, this week, begins her PhD at the Nicholas School for the Environment at Duke University. I say somehow because she was never a very good mother to anyone but the earth, having essentially no interest in the ways of babies or children. She was a wonderful teacher, a compassionate and open-minded woman, an inspired writer, a wise and clever spirit and we, her children, benefited most directly. But mother? No. And she was difficult and stubborn, much like Mary’s mother- more pings and twinges. Bud, not unlike Mary’s father, was the one who made life manageable and the one who loved her so dearly and fed her, bathed her and carried her until her last week when she went to the regional hospital and died, in relatively short order. I say that in retrospect; it was the longest week ever. Some of you might recall that period in my life. I did some of my very best writing then.

Bud carried on, alone, on that distant Lake Superior shore in their humble cottage. In the first couple years we had him to visit each winter and we made offers to let him come live with us, although if I’m honest, each offer was fraught with anxiety that he would accept. But nothing was going to pry him loose from Lost Loon Lodge and it took a stroke and 17 hours through the night on the frozen ground before a neighbor found him and literally saved his life by carrying him into a warm bath, waiting for the ambulance, to finally get him to a place where he could be helped. It’s possible that at Bud’s funeral we will all laugh about that extreme event, finding the macabre humor in it. Who knows?

For now, Bud is living at the not so aptly named Evergreen assisted living home in Oshkosh near my sister (half, if you want to get technical and Bud’s only child by birth) and she is living out Mary’s life; not me. Bud went in under protest but within a couple months he began to find his way around and make new friends. He started young and worked his way up and his time there has been full of comic relief, in that exquisitely painful way that this stage of life can be. He proposed to his 20s-something physical therapist, he exposed himself in the swimming pool. He plotted his escape with a paraplegic. Then he got a job taking fellow patients to physical therapy and arranged a marriage between my son Daniel and a 23 year old PT student. When I say arranged, he went so far as to have a hotel room reserved for them and he had invited all the other residents in the dining hall to the ceremony, much to Daniel’s (and the young woman’s) chagrin when he innocently showed up for a visit. When Daniel humbly declined, Bud managed his disappointment by insisting that Dan play his saxophone at dinner for everyone. Most recently, a couple weeks ago, he insisted that my sister, Betsy, who 35 years ago aspired to go to music school, sing Amazing Grace in the dining hall. All verses.

Here’s the thing about old people worth their salt: when they insist on something it’s different than when you or I are insistent. It is with all the cleverness of decades of living and all of the energy of a wild and unreasoning tantrum-throwing three year old. Toss in lots of onlookers, sprinkle liberally with guilt and all those other emotions you have about losing your grasp on your parents as you knew them and wham! They prevail.

Bud has gotten something of a new leash on life (if I were accurate here, I would say “a new hard-on for life”): he’s fallen in love with Helen. Helen has somewhat advanced Alzheimers so although they spend every waking minute together and only get pried apart to their own rooms at bedtime, she loves him madly yet calls him “what’s his face” .

Laurel recently described a visit to the optometrist that had us laughing to tears on the phone; I know it was extremely taxing and frustrating for her as it unfolded. She had let him know repeatedly that she was squeezing the appointment between her work commitments and he had to be ready and waiting at 530 pm. She was clear that he should not go to dinner; she would get him a Subway sandwich (one of his favorites) right after his appointment. She arrived and he and Helen were in the middle of dinner and she only managed to drag him away with Helen in tow (he insisted) and that involved signing out and paperwork and so forth. When they arrived at the eye care office Helen began to take every single frame- dozens and dozens- off  the racks and set them down in various places around the office so Laurel was literally holding on to her and steadily replacing frames while Bud tried on potential new glasses for himself. By the time she caught up with him he had chosen some rapper designer frames from PhatFarm and he insisted those were the ones he was having. Arguments about cost, appearance and the large PhatFarm logo on the temple of the frame only made them more desirable. He refused to put his eyes against the optician’s machine; “I don’t know whose head has been on there!” Helen was back to wandering around displacing frames. When then finally left Bud announced that now they could go out for Chinese and when Laurel reminded him that was a Friday evening scheduled event but not now when she had a business meeting to get back to, he insisted. Bud now sports PhatFarm eyeglasses at Evergreen.

The most outrageous transgression was also the funniest. Laurel got a call to inform her that Bud was instigating trouble in the dining hall. He had convinced Helen that her breasts were so beautiful they should be shared with the world and Helen obligingly flashed all the octogenarians at dinner, with Bud exclaiming “Aren’t they beautiful! Aren’t those the most amazing casabas you’ve ever seen?!?” When Laurel asked the assisted living staff what they wanted her to do about it the administrator laughed and agreed there wasn’t much to be done after the fact but Laurel might want to do something about the wine country tour Bud had booked for himself and Helen. A travel agency had called the home trying to find out who they should charge for the slated Napa Valley extravaganza.

Bud’s good friend, Ray, recently made the long trip down from the Keweenaw to visit Bud and informed him that since his wife Donna died, he’s scheduled a trip to go to Japan to find a bride. I guess the pickings are still slim up in Calumet. In any case, this visit got Bud all riled up about his own lack of independence and Laurel says it’s been very difficult with him ever since then. Ray went over and started Bud’s car after almost two years (“Yup! Fired right up!”) so now Bud wants to retrieve it. That leads up to this weekend, which I fear will be sorrowful and exceedingly difficult for everyone.

Bud hasn’t been home to his beloved cottage on the lake since he was taken away by ambulance. My sisters went up at some point, got plastered on all the greasy dusty 15 year old partial bottles of cheap liquor and cleaned the place top to bottom. This basically involved stripping out all of the carpet and disposing of all the upholstered furniture, clearing out all the cupboards, closets and appliances. Decades of living: raising Keeshonds, adopting cats, canning and preserving, heating with woodstoves, huddled against winters with 300+ inches of snow, life on a lake. Most all remnants of that are gone. Lost Loon Lodge is now clean and closed up and on hold. Until this coming weekend, when Laurel and Ian will take Bud home for a visit to that most beautiful Lake Superior peninsula. Bud has been insisting, Laurel has been resistant and they have been arguing. Bud will want to stay. Bud has plans to put the dock and the boat in the water. Bud wants to get in his car and drive once again to the IGA for his own groceries. Laurel admonishes him like a child that he must agree to cooperate, that it is a short weekend visit only. They fight. Bud gets angry and loud and then sulky. Somewhere in there, Betsy was visiting and trying to bolster support for Laurel and then the only thing that would settle Bud down was for her to sing Amazing Grace at dinner. (In assisted living, it’s all happening in the dining room, which is quite the zoo.) And so she did and many sang along and Bud was briefly mollified. Laurel felt some relief because one of us had actually witnessed Bud at his most unmanageable. This weekend will be extremely tough, that I know. Laurie says it’s fine with her if Bud cries; she can help him with his emotions. She’s good and strong that way.

When I talk with Laurel, when I read Mary’s bits about life with aging parents who need to be parented, I feel their feelings to a certain extent. Partly I am spared because that is not my life right now. Partly I am sad, because that is not my life right now. When I was in the thick of it with my mother’s end of life I felt more connected to my family than at any other time. I felt more connected to my own emotions, as wild and painful and hysterical as they were.

Right now I think I will ring up Betsy and leave her a message insisting that she call back, singing Amazing Grace.

The view from here

The week in photos, taken between last Friday morning and this. emptyThe final two days were a major challenge, to clear out and leave it for the next couple in the way I would want my new home. And I guess it was a home, after all. Not the sort to spend a lifetime, but Chicago is, indeed, a magnificent city. And even more than Lincoln Park Zoo or Lyric Opera or concerts at Millennium and the best sushi ever, we made lifetime friends there. The challenge is to maintain those friendships over time and distance but I fully intend to do that.packedAs the moving van pulled away I saw this in front of the condo. Sometimes it’s hard to know who travels easier in this life.budrobertLast week, I wrote that life can be so bittersweet. This photo captures what I meant precisely and I can barely look at it without crying.budbobAfter miles and weeks apart, we brought Robert up to visit Bud at the extended care facility. Laurel rescued the two cats from the isolation of Lost Loon Lodge and Bud is in a place where he is getting wonderful rehab from people who are compassionate and skilled. And yet. Bobby spent a brief several minutes pacing the parameters/perimeter of the room and then, two friends that they are, they had a good long chat. I didn’t get a picture of Bear, Laurel’s dog. We decided it was more important for this reunion first and Bear has all that happy lab energy that might be a bit much as Bud is just settling in. We’re not sure what the next step will be. LLL, much like Bud, needs some serious rehabbing but for now, it’s a step at a time for all of us.cloudyAfter too many nights away from Rich, I drove back down that miserable I94 corridor to O’Hare and caught the last night flight out to Florida. McCloud expresses my sentiments exactly about being back in the bed where I belong.treefern1I woke up to that full flush of heat and humidity that is Florida in the summer. It’s ghastly and we’re just barely into June. Nevertheless, I am now witnessing the way things grow in this tropical clime. My tree fern, on it’s third year, has gone from 1 ft to 5 ft…fenceflowersThe orchids and cactus hanging on the fence are all abloom…cactus1Without being retouched, in a color only Mother Nature could dream up.whiteShe does a good job in plain white, too.anoleLast night I dreamt that we forgot to pack our beautiful cherry Shaker bed and I was trying to figure out how to get it back from the new owners. I couldn’t get back to sleep for a bit but I did find this fellow hanging on the screen. I could almost make an anole cross stitch pattern out of this…but right now, I still have a few boxes to unpack.

Life in a box

Just a very brief note before Rich returns all the cable equipment. I have this fantasy that tomorrow, with nothing to do and no place to go, I’ll be able to come around and visit you and actually comment. I’m really going to try.

At this moment, our great moving crew is halfway through loading, Rich is charging up the Kindle for his drive south and I am making sure I have what I need to last for a few days as I head north to help Bud right after the closing on Friday morning. Tomorrow the house is empty, Rich is gone and I will be taking a day of R&R, buying a couple good books, knitting and putzing on the the laptap. My good friends and neighbors will be hosting me.

I wanted to come by now just to say a couple words about Bud because so many of you have been kind and concerned beyond belief and we are so grateful. He is leaving Marquette Hospital, not for Lost Loon Lodge, but to extended rehabilitation in a very fine (we hope) facility right near sister Laurel. The path from hospital to this new place is your classic elder care nightmare, wrestling with red tape endlessly and Laurie is the champion there, but now we have a plan.

Bud has had a rough go of it with many confused and weak, sleepy days. We were sort of gloomy about his prospects for a while there but yesterday he did a 180 and perked up dramatically. We think this is tied to the fact that they re-cultured and discovered a secondary, underlying kidney infection and threw him on Cipro. Whatever it was, he was actually up, walking with assistance and clearly with the program of going to extended care, if only “to get better and get the hell out of these rehab places.” We don’t know if that will happen but that feisty declaration was music to our ears.

I’ll rent a car and meet them all upon arrival in Oshkosh and we’ll make sure the staff knows we are on the job as we get Bud settled in. He has his “mom’s sweater blanket” I made at Christmas time, his digital picture frame and we’re going to set him up on his computer to receive e-mail. The best thing is that Laurel (have I said “bless her little heart” enough yet?) took in those decrepit cats, Robert and Jane, so they will also be close at hand. It’s time for pet payback. Although they are surely in a state after being alone, being driven hundreds of miles and being chucked into a new home with a large enthusiastic lab mix (named, no kidding FC, Bear and I’ll take a pix for you over the weekend…) they are also going to do nursing home duty. I’m taking a spare cat taxi with me and we’ll schlep those hapless beasts up for a visit to Bud on Sunday.

So, that’s it for today and I promise, sincerely, to spend some time catching up with you tomorrow. Thank you again for all the e-mail, cards,photos and good wishes you’ve sent. They’ve made a world of difference and remind me again that there is much love out there, even among strangers.


“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

DSC04594We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations. (Anais Nin)

It has been quite an amazing week since last I posted. I did all that I wrote about and more: said goodbyes, had long talks with those closest to me, had a meeting of the Club (BCMA), watched a dear friend marry…She looked all shiny and new in her love, a radiant bride after a whole lifetime already lived as wife, mother, widow.

imagesOur friends in Chicago staged a farewell party extraordinaire, with foods gathered from the finest restaurants and bakeries the Windy City has to offer. Charlie Trotter’s rare beef tenderloin on Sarah’s brioche, cupcakes from Sweet Mandy B’s, world famous potato chips with rosemary, balsamic syrup, white truffle oil and parmesan cheese from the West Town Tavern,  caviar pie, champagne and Larry’s stand-up/knock down margaritas. Best of all was the company of our neighbors and the promise that they will let me cook for them all again, this time next year, in Asheville.

Throughout the week, always on my mind and in my heart, is Bud. Bud has fallen on hard times up at Lost Loon Lodge, quite literally. He spent 14 hours outside, through the night, in freezing temperatures after suffering a stroke. He found himself in this ignoble position because of choices he has made and we have respected. After my mother died he was clear about his intention to stay at Lost Loon Lodge in the tip of the Keweenaw up on the edge of Lake Superior. 300 inches of snow, soaring eagles, bears eating the bird feeders, failed plumbing, the same family of loons returning year after year and all of his incredible memories made with his life partner- there was never a question that he would stay. Over the past few years we have had discussions around the edges of other possibilities but really, we’ve all known that Bud would stay as long as humanly possible. This was the summer he planned to build his crypt at the back of their land.

Right now Bud has moved out of intensive care and into the rehabilitation unit at Marquette General Hospital. If you’ve followed here for a while you know that Marquette is a wonderful place 150 miles from that little cottage, a place where this family has gathered before. Right now, Laurel is at the helm and in the cafeteria (she reports that the menu of 23 flavors of jello has been reduced during these tough times). Bud is getting hours of hands on rehabilitation each day, growing in one dimension and not in another, unevenly. He is moving into less complicated clothing (hey! I moved into drawstring pants several years ago!) and determined to earn his release sooner rather than later. He seems to have a clearer idea of what that looks like than the rest of us; we are all still looking to doctors and therapists and social workers for answers.  

Major life events never seem to occur in organized fashion. As soon as we finish the transaction on the Chicago house I will head up there and see what I might do. Right now I feel relatively helpless, sad that he is struggling away from his beloved home in the wild and grateful that he is in very good hands for the moment. Our next two weeks involve back and forths, packing, movers, bankers and closings. The best I can do right now is hold him in my heart.

Oh! and send e-mail. One of the things that Marquette offers, as a regional care facility for the entire upper peninsula of Michigan, is a great e-mail service for patients. Bud has always enjoyed the blog here and he’s one of those people who loves mail. If you want, you can send him a note HERE. All you need to know is that his name is Eugene Avery, he is 81 and in room 388 in the rehabilitation unit. And you can attach a picture if you would like. Thanks.

So that’s it. Things are bittersweet and busy here. I’m taking this morning, just back in the middle of the night from Chicago, to catch up on mail, comfort the cats, enjoy the rain and a beautiful potted Persian lime tree that has mysteriously shown up on the doorstep. I need to track down the source. Meanwhile, my husband is sending me poetry:

It’s Monday

You’re not at the Zoo

The animals miss you

And I do too