We all have our beloved dead. Remembering them in 'All the Old Familiar Places.'

Passing the International House of Pancakes located down the street from my parents’ old house brings me to tears. It isn’t the menu that makes me sad, but the memories of so many visits to my parents when my daughters were small, and my dad would say, “Who wants some pancakes?” The girls would squeal with delight, and we’d pile into a couple of cars and have a noisy and satisfying breakfast at IHOP, Grandpa’s treat. My dad would charm the waitress so that his coffee cup was always full, and my daughters would fight over who got to pour the cream from the little tin pitcher for him.

I can’t remember the last time I had pancakes there: my dad has been dead for six years, and my daughters are grown. But as I drove by, I pictured us in the parking lot, all hair ribbons and missing teeth and a pure joy in the day, and I cried. This neighborhood often reminds me of one of the Frank Sinatra songs on the record player when I was a kid: “I’ll be seeing you / In all the old familiar places. . .”

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I don’t cry much anymore about the loss of my dad, since it’s been six years, but I’m feeling fragile after a two-day visit with my mother. My mother suffers from advanced Parkinson’s Disease, which is bad enough, but this was the first time her doctor used the “A” word: Alzheimer’s. My siblings and I have attributed her increasing dementia to the Parkinson’s, but somehow it seems worse with the new label. Not much is familiar to my mother these days, especially since she lives in a retirement facility with a full-time caregiver. At one point she thought my dad was at the door. “I want to go back,” she said to me. “I don’t know how I got here.” I explain for the thousandth time, about the Parkinson’s and the broken hip and her many physical incapabilities, but she waves me away, impatient with facts she doesn’t recognize as pertaining to her. She wants me to take her home, but her home has been sold. “I fell while I was Christmas shopping,” she insists. This isn’t true. “OK,” I say. What else can I do but stop talking and let her create her own history?

Sometimes I want to go back, too. We’d all like to cheat time’s passage—isn’t that why I use the expensive face cream that my daughter the esthetician recommended to make my neck smoother, and whose effects seem rather Faustian?—but all we have is today. This blessed day. My dad is gone, my mother’s mind and body are failing horribly, my husband and I say “What did you say?” to each other a lot, my children are adults, and this is all exactly as it should be. Still, a visit with my mother always feels unfinished and unsettling.

I pass the IHOP on my way to the cemetery before I head home. It’s Halloween, and I want to make the two-hour drive home before the trick-or-treaters come calling. I bring my dad a little bunch of orange marigolds and tidy up around his grave marker. A funeral is in progress just over the next rise of the cemetery, a hearse and a canopy and lots of people dressed in black. We all have our beloved dead. My dad’s photo takes center stage on the Dia de los Muertos altar at my house, although more faces are added each year. The melancholy song persists in my head: “And when the night is new / I’ll be looking at the moon / But I’ll be seeing you.” I blow my nose, get on the freeway, and drive away from all the old familiar places.

I wish I could find the words to bring peace and acceptance to my mother’s agitated heart. But I can’t. My attempts only upset her. “I try to make deals with God,” she tells me in a lucid moment, “but he isn’t having it.” This is the deal: God is with us, but God doesn’t send us back. We only make our way ever closer to our rest in the divine.                   

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Lisa Weber
2 years 1 month ago
And despite the sadness, our memories are also prayers of thanksgiving for the gift of those we mourn.
L J
2 years 1 month ago
Crushing story, Valerie. I can empathize but also take much solace. My father also had PD and fhen Alzheimers. He died from Prostate Cancer. My mother died a year later from lekemia. That was 15 years ago and I still miss them daily. I ran to Mass today for All Souls Day which was at Noon. The priest was a no-show. I knelt before the altar in the cathedral, my parish, read the Lectionary readings, prayed a rosary, lit a candle at the Blessed Virgin side altar and took a photo of the candle on my iPad. I sent the photo in an email to the Rector - we have a close relationship - telling him we were dejected no priest showed for All Souls Mass. In my hurt I drove away, held back the tears and remembered Mami y Papi as if they were next to me. Hours later I took comfort that my Catholic rituals brought me great solace: praying before the altar kneeling on the floor (shunning the kneelers), feeling my parents presence in prayer, the rosary in spanish, and of course a candle to the Blessed Mother, mother of all. While I miss them and got over my hurt about a priest not showing for All Souls Mass, I still felt comfort in drawing near to God and the BVM. It helped....alot My rector replied hours later aplogizing, while also explaining he had surgery for a tumor they found. A deacon had been tapped to do a service since our rector was in the hospital and the other priest is out of the area. These things happen. Life happens. God knows every pain all His creatures endure. He does provide balm. He really does

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