Chiang Mai – the latest grand adventure! I have been sorting out in my mind how we ended up in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It seems like when I find myself stuck in a situation that is not working for me, eventually I start to consider options that were not even on the table before. We had been back in Atlantic Beach, Florida for almost five years, and despite old and new connections made, I had the feeling that the phrase “you can’t go home again” applied to me. On the plus side, Jack was going to his memory class five hours a day two days a week, and that was working well for us. Finances were a concern, though, as well. I was around a number of people who were needing to use assisted living facilities, as well as hospitals and rehab facilities. Some of the stories were quite dismal, and I had already accumulated a few of my own with Jack’s health issues in recent years. I do Google searches spontaneously, and I did one on dementia care around the world. Up popped the Care Resort Chiang Mai! I liked the initial pictures of a beautiful tropical setting in the mountains, and the Care Resort owner’s values and vision for care resonated with me. I figured I would investigate it more down the line, but I kept moving on it. By the end of October, I had additional information, including pricing and types of villas to choose from. Then, we had our presidential election, and I figured there was no time like the present to start doing my research on the ground in Thailand!

The Trip Derailment

Granted, this prolonged stay in the Hudson Valley was not part of the original itinerary. However, it is giving me the opportunity to experience the entire fall season in one place. I think we peaked here a few days ago and lots of leaves are coming off now.

Here are some noticings of differences in this area:

– the people I have met in the hospital and around and about are very friendly, far from the NYC stereotype.
– the drivers drive at a civilized speed and are generally polite, at least on Route 9 near the Hudson River, where I have spent most of my driving time.
– the two Airbnb hosts have gone far beyond the call of duty to accommodate me, given my emergency situation with Jack in the hospital.
– there is way less judgment of different kinds of people, by race, by professional ranking, and more than a passing acknowledgement of one’s common humanity.
– a serious willingness to be helpful

Often, when I travel, I think about what it would be like to live in that place. Like, when Rob and I visited Seattle for the first time in 1986, we were meeting a guy at a restaurant who got there a bit late because he was taking the ferry from Bainbridge Island. I thought “How cool is that?!” I would love to live on an island and commute on a ferry! Fast forward about 15 years and, there we were, living on Bainbridge Island and commuting on that same ferry for many years. So, let me mention now that I really like this part of New York on many different fronts. Who knows??? Yesterday, Jack said he wanted to continue having the Vassar Hospital doctors continue being his doctors. Hmmm…..we both have moved numerous times, so stranger things have happened….

Changes

Between my training as a counselor and courses I have taken on dementia, I think I am able to help Jack get back moving in a positive direction. So much comes down to a person’s disturbed feelings. Encouraging him to talk about what he is thinking and feeling, offering my perspective, plus reminding him that he can put his worries in the God box, seems to be helping. There are new twists of dementia that are showing up, but at least I know they can be part of the disease. Jack has been Mr. Positive Attitude ever since we met, but he misunderstood something a doctor said and got bummed out about it.
I do have some apprehension about our upcoming trip because we will be moving around much of the time, but I figure if I keep the focus on enjoying ourselves and the beautiful fall foliage, all will be well. I may need to drop some of my other ancestry info-gathering and sightseeing goals, or fit just a few in, when it seems like a good time to do so. I am grateful for having traveled on my own, like when I went to Europe with my pack on my back after college, because it is largely my resources that will be drawn on during this trip. I am adjusting my mindset to this, albeit slowly. It is so interesting, though, how Jack’s wisdom still comes through about important issues.
The really weird thing is that I am a better responder than initiator, and if something is going to happen, I now must do the initiating. It is a bit of a stretch, especially on a daily basis. I feel like I am getting glimmers of what parents do when their children are little. I heard a woman on Dr. Susan Forward’s show talk about this – being more of a responder than initiator – years ago and I immediately knew what she was talking about.
I think we will include Baltimore on the way home. A good friend who is a writer gave me an interesting paper she wrote about Baltimore’s business history, and then we got a hello message on AncestryDNA from a woman that is Jack’s closest relative via the DNA matches, and she lives in – where else – Baltimore. Not even waiting for the third hint to manifest…

Grieving

I do believe that I have expended more energy in trying to avoid the feelings of grief and loss than anything else. Who wants to go there if it can be avoided, and there are plenty of ways to try to avoid these feelings, many of which can create big problems in the long run, like alcoholism, other addictions, and mental illnesses.
Over time, I have become willing to let myself go there – to the place of grieving, at least eventually. I was brought to my knees with grief when my ex-husband died six years after our divorce, even though I had remarried and was having a good life. Fortunately, Jack was understanding, at least partially because he had had a wife who had died of cancer not so long before, and he had grieved. I have realized that a piece of my grief was for shared memories from 17 years of my life, and there no longer was someone alive that I had shared them with.
I am having some of this experience with Jack, who is remembering less of what we have done over the 11 years we have been together. I am beginning to think that I have been designated the memory-keeper for my relationships. The memories are still real and are mine, but it is sad that I can’t share them with the people I made them with.
I think this memory business is a big fuel for my desire to help save Sweet Briar. I have many memories from my two years and two months there, and it felt like those memories would be at least dimmed if not destroyed if the place went away. I suppose the sharing with a person or a place does add a sense of reality, connection, and depth to the memory. My recent visit to Sweet Briar was quite rich, being on the campus, and with a good friend who was there when I was there. There was much satisfaction and grounding in experiencing my time there with someone else who was there with me, and the place had to be there for that to happen as it did.
I am noticing how deeply I am being affected by the fires in the Pacific Northwest, including the fire at a beautiful and natural place where I once lived, as well as the fire on the Olympic Peninsula, where I had many wonderful adventures and saw some of the most beautiful untouched scenery ever in my life.
I am certainly a person who believes living in the present is the way to go for having a full and satisfying life, yet there is room for much missing in me. I do believe that is a piece of loving – the potential for losing, and the grieving – for a person, a place, a memory-sharing, and for anything that is meaningful in one’s life. I have learned quite belatedly in life that I can survive the grief, and even be made better for it.

The Mixed Bag

Jack’s dementia, which is following the Alzheimer’s path of disorder, is not all an awful thing. Yes, it is very sad for me to see parts of him disappear, but there are some pretty funny things that show up. So, once I adjusted my attitude to going with the Alzheimer’s flow, I began to appreciate the humor and sweetness of this journey. For example, this morning, Jack got up and asked me what the school’s (that would be Sweet Briar, lest anyone not know that by now) colors were. I said pink and green, so he selected a green shirt to wear, thinking that we were heading up to Sweet Briar today. We are heading up there, but not right now. I have gotten used to this tendency for him to think whatever I bring up for a future activity is going to happen right this minute.

The other gift of this disease is seeing Jack with our animals, and listening to him talk about them or to them. He is so sweet and loving with them. If I leave the house, I get a play by play of what Josh did while he was waiting for me to return, how many times he went to look out the window and what side of Jack Josh sat on while I was gone. This part of the disease reminds me so much of what I heard a woman say at a funeral for a little boy with Down’s Syndrome. The speaker, who also had a child with Down’s, talked about how the experience was like being on a plane and expecting to land in Italy, but the plane set down in Holland. It wasn’t so bad being in Holland, that things moved more slowly, people rode bikes, and there was a special beauty to it. It just wasn’t Italy, which was what she expected. As I learn to speak Alzheimer’s and let Jack set the pace and direction, our own Holland is not a bad place to be, simply very different than I imagined. In fact, I am getting another gift – a needed nudge to live in the present moment because that is where Jack lives.

The Spitting News

It has been a while since I have posted anything here. Between Jack’s hernia surgery, my mid-60s reunion, and the ongoing saga of Sweet Briar College, my attention has been elsewhere. The nutshell version on these three preoccupations is that Jack’s surgery went well and the anesthesiologist took our concerns about less is best for his brain into consideration, law suits about the closing of Sweet Briar abound, and the reunion was mostly an interesting trip down memory lane.

The Ancestry spitting news just keeps on coming. I now share DNA with over 5,000 people who have had their DNA samples taken! I have found I share DNA with over twenty mostly African distant cousins, which I have been chalking up to indiscretions of my slave owning ancestors with their slaves, because that seems the most likely case to me. Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered that I have a third cousin with mostly African ethnicity! Keep in mind that I have no African ethnicity myself, so this DNA that I share with this third cousin is coming from a white ancestor of mine. Here is the story – A male cousin of my grandfather married a mulatto woman, and raised a family of 13 children with her in Pennsylvania. My new-found cousin told me that because it was illegal for different races to marry in that day and time, my ancestor filed his census reports as a black man. Sure, enough, that is exactly what I found in the records myself! I am glad to be learning about these connections because it helps me to take another step in the “we are all one” direction.

More spitting news from Jack’s side, too. Once again, his mother’s side has produced an interesting surprise. Jack has a great great aunt who was married to her husband in the northeast by Brigham Young, and she and her husband made the trek west with the early Mormons. They got as far as Pleasant Grove, Iowa, where she became ill and died. Her husband and the motherless children continued the journey on to Utah, where they became some of the early settlers there.

I also went farther back on Jack’s father’s line, and I discovered a Dr. Samuel Adams. Because of some of these other amazing discoveries about his early family in America, I wondered if it was Samuel Adams, the patriot. But, no! It was the Dr. Samuel Adams who got into it with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys in Vermont. Dr. Adams was on the wrong side of that dispute (about land ownership in the Hampshire Grants) and this resulted with his being tied in a chair, the chair being hoisted up and tied to a tavern sign, and he was left up there for public humiliation for several hours. He became a Loyalist and moved to Canada, with his land in the colonies being confiscated. The great irony here is that my ancestor in South Carolina acquired his vast acreage after a Loyalist there had his land confiscated during this same period.

How about all that?! History takes on a whole new meaning when it is yours!

Stranger than Fiction – Journey into the Past

There has been so much new genealogy information uncovered that I hardly know where to start. We spent a few days on Hilton Head, SC this past week. We took a van tour of Beaufort, and learned all about the Civil War goings on there, which was fascinating. I remembered that I had an ancestor, Washington Broward, who died in a federal prison at Hilton Head, so, already, there was personal meaning to me in where we were. We had a rainy day, and we spent some time in the Heritage library on Hilton Head, where I discovered more about my second great grandmother, Marion Huguenin.

Marion had married her first husband, Seymour Bonner, had four children, including my great grandmother, Leila Bonner Slade. They divorced, apparently because of their hot tempers, and Marion put the two girls, including Leila, who was seven, in a convent school in Washington, D.C. I believe she visited them once and after that, they remained in touch only by letter. She married a second time, to John V. Plume, from New Jersey, who had come to Georgia to work with his uncle in the banking business. This was around the mid-1800s, and John was hearing all about the Gold Rush in California, and he wanted to make the most of it. He and Marion married in New Orleans, took a steamer from there to San Francisco, and he started California’s first bank the first day they arrived in San Francisco. He did quite well in the banking business during the Gold Rush, and he and Marion moved to New York at one point and traveled to various European cities, I believe while the Civil War was going on back in the east, and especially around the plantation where Marion was born in South Carolina, not far from Beaufort, SC.

While we were staying on Hilton Head, we got the amazing opportunity to visit what was the former Roseland Plantation of 25,000 acres. Several acres are still in the Huguenin family, and Jack and I were given a tour of the remaining land of several acres by a very sweet Huguenin descendant who is my fourth cousin, Kathy. (Thank you Ancestry DNA saliva testing for connecting me to Kathy’s brother, who had also done the test.) We went to the family cemetery on the grounds where my 3rd great grandfather is buried in a large raised red brick grave, along with many other Huguenin ancestors. This was an active spot during the Civil War, and we saw the breast works that still exist on the property overlooking the Broad River, where Robert E. Lee himself once was. The plantation houses were burned during the war, as was the case on the Broward side of my family, as well. The property was absolutely lovely and one of special places was The Avenue, which was a road lined with majestic oaks on either side of it. I did feel as though I was being transported to another time in another world.

I was basking in appreciation of our day and our drop into the Old South last night when a message came in to my Ancestry mail box. I though it was one I has seen earlier, but I decided to check, just in case. Well, it was a new one, this time pertaining to Jack’s DNA sample. The message was from from a woman who shares his DNA, and she passed on some information that completely blew my socks off. A shared name in his tree on his mother’s side back a ways is Batchelder, which is also in this woman’s tree. She was writing to let Jack know that there is some fascinating history a few generations further back, going back to a Stephen Bachilor, who was a very controversial minister who came to America in the early 1600s. Indeed he was, advocating for the separation of church and state and being a proponent of human rights, both in England and in the New World! He definitely came to America for freedom of religion, and he named the town of Hampton, New Hampshire. He gave one of the first sermons in America. The biggest shocker related to this ancestor is that it is believed that the character of Hester Prynne, in the Early American novel, “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, was based on Stephen Bachilor’s fourth wife!

Who needs anything more than family for education and entertainment, when you are Jack and me?!!! And, I forgot to mention that Kathy says we are related to the Swamp Fox by marriage! This journey back into from whence we came may carry me through all my later years! I am grateful for being born at this time in the world for many reasons, but having the internet as a source for information and having DNA genealogy testing recently jumped high on my list. Whew!!!

This and that – a snapshot of my NOW

I got very excited when I was notified of a DNA match for a first or second cousin, the closest yet through this process. I contacted her, and sure enough, she is the granddaughter of my grandfather Slade’s sister, Florence. We have already provided each other with new information, with me being the recipient of so much fascinating history about our second great grandmother. It deserves a post to itself, so I will let you wonder until I do that one. After I shared that Jack had dementia, I learned of dementia in my own family, so you never know what might turn up in these searches.

That brings me to what is really on my mind, which is the changes that are afoot with Jack. There is some slippage going on, which I am very sad about. He has had to add another medication for his AFib heart arrthymia, and that may be at least part of the cause. I am taking over responsibility of more and more, such as doing most of the driving, paying the last two bills he did for himself, and becoming even more involved with his pills. He has been doing the dishes, and they were coming out dirty, and it is hard to say if it is the dishwasher or the operator that is on the fritz. His rememberer is more compromised, and I needed to give the pharmacist our address today. So far, we have had no catastrophes in any area, but we have had had a few oops instances with medication and bills. Hoping right now that the Council on Aging doesn’t deposit his check immediately until his Social Security deposit arrives in the account.

Despite these issues, I have become curious enough about the part of the family of the second great grandmother that had the large plantation in South Carolina that we are going on a field trip to see what we can find. It is/was very near Hilton Head, and I need to use up my vacation club points before I lose them, and I was able to work that out there.

On the brighter side, Jack’s new upper dentures fit and look very good, sun and warmth have returned to Florida, and I have been out in it making progress in rehabilitating the pool and backyard. I still have some muscles. I know this because they are very sore, but it is a good sore.

A Strange Time in My Life

Here I am, back in the south for over three years now, and I am having the opportunity to think about what being a southerner really involves. For all the 45 years when I lived here before moving around the country, I didn’t give it much thought because, despite opportunities to travel, this was largely the world I knew.
Now, being back here, I am seeing the place with new eyes, as I promised myself I would. Upon my return, the new eyes saw much physical beauty in the plants with the big leaves, the beautiful beach I so love, I smelled the intoxicating Confederate jasmine, and I appreciated being reunited with the familiar southern foods I ate as a child. Despite some of the craziness that makes Florida Florida, I have been enjoying being back in the land of my birth.

For Christmas, I gave Jack and myself a gift of doing the Ancestry DNA ethnicity testing. I have become totally drawn in to this way of learning more about the history of what makes me me, and what made the world go round in earlier days. I have never been particularly interested in the subject of history, being naturally drawn towards focusing on where we are going, aka progress, and wanting to help shape that, rather than looking backwards, on where did we come from. One fascinating difference I have seen between Jack’s and my history is that Jack’s ancestors were operating in the northern half of the country, and in Canada, whereas almost all of my ancestors were below the Mason-Dixon Line. I have an ancestor who ventured south into a relationship with Cuba, to aid in her fight for independence from Spain, and on the other side of the family, I have an ancestor who started a business of building railroads in Mexico.

One thing that Ancestry.com does with the DNA testing is list the people who have also taken the test that you share DNA with, which, in my case, is over 4,000 individuals. It also gives you an ethnic breakdown of your DNA, and mine was in various percentages from Scandinavia, Ireland, Great Britain, Western Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, and Italy/Greece. Jack’s had high percentages in Western Europe, Great Britain, and Ireland. I found cousins of some degree from each of my paternal and maternal grandparents’ lines, which was very exciting to me. Seeing my DNA connnection to someone from the Kirven line (my father’s mother’s line) was particularly special, because my paternal grandmother died when my father was four and I have known little about her family, although I had heard very positive things about her. As it turns out, my shared DNA Kirven connection was a powerhouse of a woman who just died last year at the tender age of 106, and it sounds like she was quite active until the very end of her life. I found this out by messaging the email address associated with “my match”, and her relative who managed her account got back to me, telling me what a wonderful woman I was related to.

I still have not viewed all 4,000 plus DNA matches, but I have connected with a 4th cousin that I am so enjoying getting to know. Coincidentally, or whatever you want to call it, maybe “meant to be”, this new-found cousin did a blog when her mother was struggling with dementia a few years ago, and I have had the opportunity to go with her on this journey with her mother through her blog. What an unexpected gift that has been to me! There was another name that I was linked to through our shared DNA, and I did some research on the family name, to learn that the family had a plantation in South Carolina, where they grew rice and they had over 300 slaves. (I keep trying to say employed 300 slaves, but they were not employed, they were owned.) Perhaps the most surprising thing I have discovered through this shared DNA exploration is that I have shared DNA with at least twenty individuals whose ethnicity is primarily from several areas in Africa, with some percentage of DNA from Great Britain, Ireland, or Western Europe. I was quite surprised to see the pictures of some of my African-American DNA sharers because, of course, I had no knowledge of these relatives. I am putting two and two together, and imagine that these relatives are the ancestors of slaves who were owned by someone or several someones in my family, probably the latter, because there is not just one line who owned slaves. Just a hunch, of course… (Many years ago, a black woman I worked with said to me one day that “your people owned my people”, and frankly, I could not really process that at the time, and I was clueless as to how to respond.) I may or may not ever know more about these DNA connections because they would have to respond to my messaging, and so far, that has not happened.

And, then, there is Sweet Briar, the southern women’s college I attended that is closing its doors after 114 years. This is another twist to the southern heritage that is mine. Is this really the end for Sweet Briar? Many alums are going to fight the closing. Could Sweet Briar be transformed into something new that can march comfortably in the direction contemporary education is moving? It would be a stretch, but I am not one to rule it completely out.

Who says you can’t go home again?! Yes, you can if you don’t count on it being like it was before. Fortunately for me, I am ALL ABOUT navigating life transitions, I taught this process for many years. Including all the different feelings I am having on this journey, I am so up for this adventure!

As Sick as our Secrets

My book group recently read the book “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng. In certain ways, I felt like I was revisiting my own family’s mode of communication, or actually, non-communication about many things. Things did not work out well for the family in the book, and I missed a lot because of the with holdings in my own family, which of course I learned and practiced in my own life until I learned there was another way.
What is this “don’t tell people” about your own reality, anyway? I could give you a thousand reasons for it, but, in the end, I see how much harm it does to intimacy. If there are lots of subjects that are taboo to talk about, including one’s feelings, so many missed connections and understandings of each other are missed in the process. There was such such emptiness in the non-connections in most of the relationships in the book. Our book group discussed the sadness of it all.
I end up thinking about the old example of how the women over the generations in a family fix their hams in the same way, which involved cutting the end off the ham. The story goes that “that was how Grandma always did it”, but you learn that Grandma did it that way because her pan was too short. There may have been a reason for the behavior once upon a time, but that was then and this is now. I even think about it when I post on FB or on this blog. I am breaking all kinds of family rules in talking about heretofore taboo subjects, feelings, thoughts people might disagree with, dementia, lots more, I’m sure. Life becomes so much richer with self-expression. What do we really think is going to happen when we tell people our truths?

I would love to hear other’s thoughts on this subject.