Family traditions start in the most unexpected ways and that is how Sisters’ Weekend began for my sisters and me. It’s a tradition that we’ve faithfully observed every year since our parents passed away years ago.
Most of my family is scattered throughout Connecticut, but my oldest sister, Anita, lives in New York State close to Lake George and I live in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Getting together can be difficult with all sorts of reasons, legitimate or otherwise, popping up to hinder spending time with family.
Our tradition began the year my mother suffered a severe stroke and became wheelchair bound; dependant on others for almost everything. Taking care of her at home, which my dad wanted, was not an easy task. Mom sometimes wouldn’t cooperate and this would cause some friction between them and her caregivers. Anita or I would travel home to take over so Dad, my niece Virginia, and others could get a break.
There were weekends when we girls could be all together. Those were the best! Mom seemed happy to have us all there with her, and we would talk about things we’d never talked about before. Since Mom couldn’t do much for herself in the personal care department, we developed a sense of humor to lighten the situation for her. It usually took two people to help Mom to the bathroom. It wasn’t safe to let her stay alone to do her business, so we perched on the edge of the sink, the bathtub, or plopped into her wheelchair once she was out of it. These trips to the ladies room somehow became known as “potty parties”. I don’t think we ever laughed so much together before then. I wish I could remember the funny things Mom said, but none of us can. We just remember feeling close as we took care of her and that we got through a rough time with love and laughter.
We had planned to have an anniversary celebration that year for our parents at a choice restaurant in West Harford. But Mom was sure she’d ruined everything because of the stroke. We showed her that handicaps don’t have to mean you can’t have fun. My sisters, brother and I took them out to that restaurant for their 49th anniversary, and we had a great time!
Nevertheless, it became apparent after some months, that Mom needed more care than we could provide at home. The decision was made to move her to a nursing home. Mom seemed happy there and took part in all of the activities offered. We signed her out and brought her home for weekends as often as we could.
Still the new place didn’t take the place of a house and home. Mom suffered bouts of depression and lamented the things she wouldn’t ever be able to do again. Of course, there were things that she wouldn’t ever be able to do again, but other things, with a bit of planning and ingenuity could be pulled off.
All this while, my father was my mother’s most faithful companion. He gave up every activity he’d ever enjoyed to be with her as soon as possible after work. He never failed her and was there at the nursing home every single day.
One weekend while we were all there with her, she began recalling all the years that she and Dad had vacationed with me at my house, and tearfully stated she’d never be able to do it again. My sisters and I were determined to show her that with some careful planning, it could be done. Mom and Dad had their doubts as it wouldn’t be a small task. That became a challenge to us girls. With the help of Laura’s daughter, Virginia, and friend, Peggy, we earnestly began to plan “Ladies Weekend”.
On a warm and sunny Thursday, I drove down to help Laura and Virginia get Mom from the nursing home and have everything ready for when Neene and Peggy got there with Neene’s Aerostar van on Friday. That next morning, we took the middle seat out of the van to make room for Mom’s wheelchair. It took four of us to lift Mom and chair into the van—two to lift and push from each side, one lifting from the front and one to pull her in. With bungee cords, we secured the chair so it wouldn’t move and we even managed to get a seat belt around her. We packed our stuff around her, hopped in and drove away.
Nothing happened to mar the ride to New Hampshire. We had no trouble finding accessible restroom and eating places. It was, though, a Super Woman’s feat to get Mom in and out of that van! Still, we joked about it and didn’t let it ruin our enjoyment of the trip. There were six of us in that van, chatting and laughing like schoolgirls.
Once we got to New Hampshire, we went straight to my daughter Amanda’s house where both of my girls were waiting for us. Mom was so pleased to see the girls and their kids as it’d been a long while since she’d seen them. Amanda had a great ham dinner all ready and in a short time there was little left of it! It was quite late when we left but Ladies’ Weekend was off to a wonderful start.
Back then, I lived in a tiny house, and Mom’s wheelchair barely fit through my side door which we had to lift up in order to get it through the door. Next obstacle was the bathroom door—most closest are bigger than that bathroom was. There was no getting a chair into it. There was a tiny sink and toilet on the right wall and a little shower opposite the toilet, and a foot or so in between and we had to cram three of us—my mother and two helpers—into it. I joked about how Mom could soak her feet and use the sink all while sitting on the toilet. Yeah, it was a joke at the time, but it turned out that Mom got sick in the middle of the night and the position of those facilities proved advantageous.
Whatever had been Mom’s problem the night before, she was fine in the morning. We ventured out to do some shopping. Mom had us pushing her all around this store and that one, looking for a specific pair of slacks and a blouse. We never did find the slacks, but she did find two blouses and a tan leather and tapestry bag she was quite please with.
Taking our purchases home, we rummaged through the refrigerator for dinner and discussed what we might like to do that evening. While we all wanted to go to the club where I line danced, none of them knew how to do it. So out to my garage we went for a quick lesson. I put on the country music and attempted to demonstrate the basics. Line dancing isn’t for everyone. With a lot of kidding around, playful insults, and outright guffaws at someone’s heinously mixed up steps, they valiantly tried to imitate me. By the end of our short lesson, they could do a few basic steps.
Once at the club, though, I think they all wished they could be the ones in Mom’s chair so they wouldn’t have to get out there on the floor. Virginia did pretty well and Laura stuck it out like a trooper. But after a little bit, Neene couldn’t handle the crowds, plus she’d been missing about every step, so she slunk back to the table with Mom and Peggy, who hadn’t one wish to be out there with us for a second. Mom enjoyed it the show, happy to be out around people and loving the country western music. I introduced them all to some of my friends and we snacked, sipped sodas and chatted the night away. We noticed that Mom was beginning to look fatigued, so we bundled her off home to my place.
When finally we all crawled out of bed the next morning, we crammed Mom, us and our things back into the van, and descended upon Weeks’ Diner for a tasty breakfast before heading back to Connecticut.
The trip back was far more eventful than the trip up. This time, finding suitable restrooms for a handicapped person was a big problem. All I will say about it now is that I wish I could’ve missed that potty party! Poor Mom cried about having ruined our weekend. We had kept up our good humor over her mishap which never would have happened had we been able to locate a handicapped bathroom sooner. We tried to console her, saying nothing had been ruined and we would absolutely do this again next summer. She didn’t seem to want to believe it, but I think in the end we did succeed in convincing her.
Unfortunately, Ladies Weekend wasn’t to be. Mom’s condition deteriorated so much we weren’t able to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary as we’d hoped to. Mom spent that week in the hospital, and tragically, a week after that, both Mom and Dad passed away a day apart. Dad’s passing was totally unexpected.
As one can imagine we were totally devastated. We made a pact for all of us to get together every year on their anniversary day, March 6th,. There began a second tradition.
My sisters and I have a weekend together at least once a year, usually in the summer, but sometimes not. We’ve changed its title from Ladies’ Weekend to Sisters’ Weekend. We’ve made some conditions in remembrance of Mom: We HAVE to eat out; we HAVE to line dance: we HAVE to SHOP! Ah . . . and mini golfing . . .