Sunday, September 09, 2012
THE HOMEY SWEATER
Some things last longer than you expect them to. So it is with the wear-it-around-home sweater I call my homey sweater. My homey sweater doesn’t look like a sweater that wood last. Woven from some mysteriously stretchy yarn in a pattern resembling the popcorn stitch, you’d think its fuzzy edges would catch, pull and disintegrate to strings and balls. Believing I might only have it for a short time, I wore it sparingly when first it came to me. I met that sweater in September 2005, a bright, breezy September like this one. Early mornings arrived with a chill. In all other ways, that September was different from all others before and since. On the nights when I was able I drowsed brokenly on the cot in Mom’s hospital suite. Palliative Care was marked on the door sign. Every few minutes Mom would cry out and I would speak softly to her, stretching out the time, ramping down the tension, knowing it was too soon for the next painkiller. I’d read to her, tell her stories, sing songs, make promises. If she could be calmed she would rest again. I would doze again. Mornings dawning that September brought brilliant sunshine, chilly breezes. I’d lie a few moments of quiet, waiting for something to happen. When the hospital lights went down and the halls began to stir I would collect my weary self, grab a sweater from the end of Mom’s bed, and step out onto the patio. Closing the door behind me, I’d make phone calls, to Dad, to David, to my kids, to my sisters, to my brother. “A restless night,” I’d say. “We’re okay. See you later on.” Snug in Mom’s sweater, I’d hover in the ever-increasing swirls of autumn leaves, wondering how long it would be, how many more mornings I’d be here, how many mornings Mom would be here. The air was crisp, not the air of summer. Months ago I had wondered this. “We are talking in terms of weeks,” a doctor had said, back in early July. Back then, with work in its summer slowness, I easily developed the patterns of spending time. Work could wait, other things could wait. Now, with September pushing forward, promising October soon behind, people were looking for commitment from me. “I don’t know if I can be there,” I would say. “I might be there. You’ll need to have a back-up plan in case I can’t.” There was a back-up plan for a weeklong course I would have taught to health care staff from Manitoba. There was a back-up plan for a speech at the Canadian Palliative Care Association on September 28, and a good thing too, because that was a day when I could not make it. “Use the time you have,” I said to myself. “Stay here for the time you have.” The day when I would have been speaking on hope in palliative care was the day when we at last gathered up the things that had been brought to Mom’s room over the past few weeks. There were magazines and slippers, Tupperware containers, flower vases, bags of candy, packages of cinnamon buns, the accordion I had played to comfort her, assorted articles of clothing. We carried it all to the car. My arms were full. I wore Mom’s sweater out the front door, the efficient way to transport it. After so many hours spent inside, I haven’t been back in that room or on that patio since. Mom’s sweater was a white sweater, looking quite new at the time when first I began to wear it, not so old even now, though seven years ought to have dimmed the memory of how it felt to shrug in and out of it during that distant September. It’s the kind of sweater you wear, and wash, and wear, and wash and wear again. It’s light on your arms, warm in the cold, , a warm sweater that breathes, the right arm length, the right waist length. It is a comfortable sweater. I could see why she bought it, why she took it with her to the hospital. It seemed fragile when I took it home. “I’ll keep it for a while,” I said. “It won’t last long. It will be stained. It will snag. It will go to balls.” At first I wore it sparingly, not wanting to face the time when it, like Mom, would move beyond my reach. But that homey sweater has staying power. It travels about the house, perching on newel posts, hanging on the backs of chairs, resting on the back door bench, even hanging in the closet occasionally. Still reasonably clean, still reasonably free from snags and balls, it has lasted much longer than I ever expected. That sweater never minds being shrugged off wherever I leave it. It waits for a chill. “Put me on,” it beckons. “I will warm you. Use the time we have.” It’s my homey sweater.