Note: I submitted this article for publication in Spinsheet's May 2012 issue. Re-reading it, it's no surprise that they couldn't use it. I've been too disconnected from the Chesapeake lately, and simply ran out of ideas. Frankly, what's going on at home with my mom has overtaken everything else at the moment, and that's where this article came from. Read my sister Kate's blog for her updates on Kevin, and some of her own insights on our family. I'll be back in Spinsheet in June with a big story on Matt utherford, and again in the fall, so look for that.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN LIFE HAPPENS
by Andy Schell
I must admit that of late, it has been difficult coming up with ideas for a column that is supposed to be centered on Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay.
I spent some time living again in Sweden this past winter. Mostly writing and taking Swedish lessons in town. And helping our neighbor train his team of huskies out in the woods, when there was enough snow to hook them up to the sled. We’d race around the farmland and the forest, at first with only four dogs, then six and eventually eight when we felt comfortable enough that we weren’t going to get thrown off the thing. The joy that we experienced with those huskies was indescribable, childlike in its innocence. The dogs, if it was possible, were more excited than I was to be out there in the snow. For them it was instinct.
The plan was to live in Sweden while Mia and I endured the bureaucratic process of applying for her Green Card. We had the time. I had enough writing and editing work and could be flexible enough to go out and train the dogs on a moments notice when Richard came knocking. It was kind of a writer’s dream – living out a cold, dark winter next to the fireplace and having all the time in the world to put down my thoughts, with intermittent jaunts into the wilderness to clear my head now and then.
And then it became kind of urgent. I wrote about my Mom’s failing health several issues ago (thanks for the supportive response I got from several of my readers), but at that time she was still going strong.
Sometime around Christmas we began noticing a change. Subtle, and difficult to pinpoint, but over time it became obvious that she was slipping a little bit, mentally and physically (she was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme – the worst kind of brain tumor – in November 2009). I’d call everyday from Sweden, as I had everyday since her diagnosis, and I could hear in my dad’s voice a new hint of stress, a slight variation in the tone of his voice when he told me how she was doing. I talked to Mom of course, but she was – still is – so optimistic that it’s hard to get a real sense over the phone.
One morning my dad sounded particularly stressed. My little sister Kaitie had been home frequently to help out in my absence, and I talked to her a lot on the phone too. But I thought to myself that it was the first time since this whole ordeal began that Dad really sounded like he didn't know what to do. Mom had slipped in the bathroom and fallen hard on the floor, and he seemed really worried about her. That night I booked my flight home, and three days later I was back in Pennsylvania (without Mia). It was the beginning of February, a week after my Mom’s 62nd birthday.
Mom was getting worse, but she was still going strong (still is going strong. As I write this, she’s in the living room of the house I grew up in, watching the morning news with our two dogs, Oatmeal and Lewis, by her side). Physically, she is better then ever – they stopped treatment in January, so none of the poisonous drugs are coursing through her veins anymore. She’s in God’s hands now.
It was a relief coming home, for me more than anyone, but half of my heart was still back in Sweden with Mia. Finally, one month later, sometime in early March, my local Congressman, Tim Holden, wrote a letter directly to the US Embassy in Stockholm on our behalf. Less than two weeks later Mia was on a flight to New York, officially welcome as a resident of the United States.
Kaitie was home over this past weekend, did my Moms nails so she looks nice for the 60th birthday party her and I are planning for my Dad this week. The family as a whole, who have been spread out for a while, geographically, is now back under the same roof. It feels good to have that support.
When I started this column this morning it was going to be about how I finally am almost back to normal. How Mia and I were back in Annapolis last week, having breakfast at the Leeward Market with our good friend Micah. About how nice it was to be back in the boatyard over at Port Annapolis, watching the spring unfold as covers came off, the cherry blossoms came out, boat bottoms were being painted and people were busy, everywhere. About how next week we’re finally getting back on the water, delivering a 47’ Vagabond ketch, Second Wind, from Annapolis up to Albany. It will be our first time sailing since putting Arcturus away in Ireland last September, and a good warm-up for the next trans-Atlantic we’re doing in May (which I wrote about last month).
This might sound corny, but I guess this short column is kind of like life. I had good intentions at the outset, and the plans changed. For Mom and Dad, who are almost at retirement age, that notion is truer than I ever want to imagine. Life happens, and not always as you plan.