Moments and Memories

From the moment an author dips a toe into the waters of professional aspiration, he or she will hear about the need to plan a writing career. We’re supposed to Set Publication booksGoals/Write Them Down/Display Them in a Prominent Location, Develop a Business Plan, Develop a Marketing Strategy, BUDGET Our Publications Expenditures, Set Word Count Goals, Improve Our Craft, Be Accountable to a Critique Group…

Huh? And here I thought we were supposed Write Good Books.

I’m not much of one for planning on paper, but being around my parents has made me realize that I am a strategizer. Maybe this comes from being a single mom, maybe it’s part of every introvert’s tool kit for protecting her privacy, maybe it’s genetic, but part of old peopleme is usually engaged in figuring out what needs to be done now, what needs to be done by dinner time, and what the most efficient path is through those wickets.

In my elderly parents’ situation, I cannot plan much beyond the next twelve hours, and this is… bewildering. Dad might have a sleepless night, which means I won’t get as much rest either. Mom might wake up with another urinary tract infection, which means civilization will stop all progress until I make another trip to the pharmacy.

And yes, this is how many people (parents of small children in particular) live for years, but with the elders, the stakes go way up. On any given day, they can end up back in the hospital—or die. They can fall and break a hip, forget the name of their best friend, or stop hearing well enough to answer the phone.

My friend’s advice from a few weeks ago—look for the Zen moments, the small explosions of joy and beauty—makes more sense to me now. More than at any other time of life, all my parents can count on is the moment.

It’s all any of us can count on, but my parents’ awareness of that reality is like that of soldiers in a war zone. Every flower may be the last one they smell, every cat the last one they pet. Every opportunity to apologize, the last one they’re granted.

flowers from the stormMy dad is losing ground on several fronts, but one thing he says frequently to my mother is, “I love you, Mama-dear.” And she replies, “I love you, too, Stuey.”

THOSE are sentiments to get a couple through any wicket. They will do as last words, most important words, most frequent words, and only words.

What are the words you want to have when everything else is gone? The words you can keep and the words you can give when it’s down to moments and memories?

To one commenter, I’ll send an audio copy “Laura Kinsale’s “Flowers from the Storm,” a story about a couple that found love when words were few and hard won.


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31 comments on “Moments and Memories

  1. I find it difficult to believe that you are not a planner. Marketing is one thing but your books are a beautiful tapestry where each book completes another panel in your Regency world.

    As to last words, “I love you” is the most important thing anyone can say to another. However, words are not enough. They must be backed up with actions. Sometimes actions alone will convey the sentiment, but the words are nice to hear.

    • Martha, I think my planning happens below the conscious water line, compared to many other writers. Some folks cannot start to write until they have a completed, detailed outline, have interviewed all of their characters, and made collages and Pinterest boards…. I can’t see how the story will take off until I’ve written some early scenes (which often get cut, because they’re prolog).

      And yes, action speak louder than words. Honey-I-Love-You’s while I’m never home, I never do anything with my honey, and I don’t listen when Honey speaks… those I-Love-You’s are so many red flags waved before this heifer.

  2. Oh yes, a sincere, heartfelt “I love you.” would have to be tops for me as well. I would also have to say, in the case of my boys, a heartfelt “I’m proud of you.” would be added to that along with other sentiments. I also agree with Martha about the actions as well. I try to hug my boys as much as they will let me and when they come downstairs before getting into bed (sometimes after they have gone to bed) to give me a kiss on the cheek or lips, depending on the boy, it makes my heart full to bursting.

    • I’m a sucker for I love you, but I also recall once when I euthanized a beloved pet, and a friend said to me, “You did the right thing.” WOW. I needed to hear that, and try to offer that consolation to others whenever the moment presents itself.

  3. “You have done an excellent job, with all of it.” Because of being a single parent, all the other earthquakes in my life, and those quick choices we are forced by life to make, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing it ok. I have people in my life that tell me they love me, and I tell them. Daily. But that elusive “You handled that perfectly” is hardly ever heard. I tell my son that I am so proud of the way he turned out. And I tell him why.

    • Self-doubt and the Single Mom… kinda catchy, as in contagious. I try to tell my daughter I’m proud of her too, and I know when my parents caught onto telling their children they were proud of us (though we were all long since grown), we still appreciated hearing it.

  4. Every selfhelp book I read, says to stay in the moment. It sounds like your parents are doing this! Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not here. When my days are done, I hope they say I did my best. Please don’t enter me.

  5. I am always in favor of “I love you” in fact I often use it to redirect contentious conversations with a loved one. I also say “you are so worth it” both to my daughters and my kids at work when trying to support them in the face of life’s struggles. When trying to encourage a child (any person actually) I often say “remember, you are worthy.”

    As for what I like to hear, a sincere thank you is lovely from adults in general. From my daughters I particularly like I love you in response to my engaging them in some way. In the case of the kids that I work with it is that joyful countenance I see when they discover or master something that is so uplifting that I can’t really describe it without getting all mushy 🙂

    • I have a whole riff I go off on with the foster kids about how HARD it is to get the high school diploma. It takes forever, you can’t save the hard stuff for last, you have no say in when the day starts, etc, etc, and I believe this. When I tell them I worked harder in tenth grade than I ever did in law school (and this is the truth), they all kinda square their shoulders, sit up a bit straighter, and leave with a little more pride in their stride.
      And they also get the footnote about how education increases earning power, and hard work will give them better options than their parents faced… and THEY ARE WORTH IT.

  6. I had a stroke at a fairly young age (49), and had severe aphasia for awhile. I knew exactly what was happening, but could not control it. It drove me crazy! I fretted…what if I can never communicate again to my husband how much I love him, and how much he means to me? How much I appreciate him?
    I worked like a dog to regain my powers of communication, and now now not a day goes by that my daughter, husband or my aging parents know how much they are loved, admired, appreciated and respected.
    You never really appreciate the value of words, until you no longer have the use of them. Words have POWER!

    • Pam, WOW. People talk about a heart attack as a wake up call, but it’s more a tap on the shoulder compared to the sledgehammer than can descend when stroke rehab has to be faced. And the patience and determination called for are the stuff of legends.

      Hats off to you for making the effort, and for putting the insights you gained to use.

  7. I think words of love are always something that stays with us. Not just words of romantic love. But all love. They remind us that we were important somebody and others are important to us. If you’re not giving and receiving love, then what are you really doing?

  8. Kathy, I sure cried. When I left my parents’ house, my dad was in bed (at 10 am). I woke him up to say good-bye, knowing, KNOWING I could have slipped out the back door. I said all the mushy things, he said a few, and away I went. Crying over the mushy things, but also crying because at no point did he by gesture or word indicate he’d make the effort to get out of that bed on the occasion of our parting.

    He was back to sleep before I made it to the door. Sweet dreams, Daa.

  9. Hugs and sweet dreams to you dear cousin and cheers for all you’ve done to help your dear folks!

  10. My first visit to your website, after being a fan for the past year or so.
    I cared for both my parents in their last illnesses. Never heard Ï love you”from either of them. But I didn’t need to. I already knew from the years of our lives together. They showed their love by actions. Would have loved a “Thank you” though. And I try to tell people “You are worth it. I believe in you.” Surprising how that can make a difference especially when coming from a stranger who is not carrying our old baggage but sees us in all our clarity.

  11. My father was killed in a flying accident when I was a small child. Apparently he and my mother had words just before he left for work that day. Ever since then I have tried never to leave somebody with a harsh word. I’ve not always succeeded. But it’s still worth the effort. I tell my children I’m proud of them. I try to be a good friend. I try never to judge. You never know which word might be the last one you give to somebody.

    • Doreen, what a harrowing story! But the lesson is true: I might well have seen my father for the last time. At some point driving 3000 miles home, over mountains, and across the tornado-prone plains, I could easily have come to harm. I would not want my last thoughts to be: Wish I’d told Dad I love him…

  12. “No matter what happens, it can always be worse.”

    These words I repeat to myself almost like a mantra during tough times. It reminds me to search out the silver lining on the darkest clouds and tells me that all is not lost.

    When I lost the first job I truly enjoyed I told myself, this is the time to go back to school and get an education.

    A friend living in the Colorado fire zone was forced to evacuate and watch her house burn. While upset that she lost her home, she was comforted by the fact that she and her family were safe. The house can be replaced, her children can not.

    Another close friend was in a horrific traffic accident and suffered from two broken legs, two broken arms and a broken back. As she lay in traction in the hospital bed, bemoaning the fact that she was in pain, I used those words to show her she was lucky to be alive. Pain means healing and healing is always a good thing.

    When another friend’s brother passed away from terminal cancer, she said those words to me. As much as she missed him, now he was no longer suffering or in pain.

    For every situation that seems bleak and hopeless, there is always something positive to take from it. I try to remember that as much as possible and repeating these words makes me look for the positive view. When things look to be at their worst, they really aren’t.

    • Christina, your words put me in mind of Fred Rogers’ admonition to “look for the helpers,” in the midst of disasters. To think of those less fortunate, to find some scintilla of gratitude, and hold onto it, no matter what.

      For most of us, most of the time, it can be worse–much worse.

  13. It has to be “I love you.” Even if I am ticked at something my hubby or teen boys have done, I make sure they always know they’re loved. I just don’t appreciate their behavior at times. 😉

    • Susan, I think Ethan is an example of how trauma can “cascade.” Bad things happen, our judgment gets faulty, we make poor choices, more bad things happen… I see this particularly with foster children, who suffer early trauma and then have no access to good mental health services. They blame themselves, mostly, but they also lose some of the perspective other children will grow up taking for granted.
      Gabriel’s book is much lighter, and Beck’s isn’t as heavy as Ethan’s. Ethan did get some awfully low cards–which made his happily ever after all the sweeter to write.

  14. Thank you and I Love You.
    That the last words my fiance and I exchanged were good-bye & I Love You is a blanket of comfort I rolled up in when grief would get the upper hand.
    When my dad was in hospice what helped was showing him my love by making every meal whatever he wanted: liver from the upscale place by the hospital, done. fried chicken from the amazing dive, done. baked bacon and over easy eggs, done. Margaritas to share with his visitors, done.

    • Larisa, I’m so sorry you lost someone that close to you, but I’m glad you have those words and memories to ease the grief. As for Dad… he was lucky to have you.

      My dad can barely shuffle around with his walker, can no longer recall how to access his email reliably, can’t manage his own meds, and yet, he loves fresh avocado slices with white vinegar and gets all excited about a new box of See’s chocolate. That I could cook him a few meals he enjoyed was a comfort to me, too.