I Really Don’t Know Clouds At All

June 5, 2018

A group of clouds in the sky

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I’ve Looked at Clouds from both sides now

From up and down and still somehow

It’s cloud’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know clouds at all.

(Joni Mitchell, Both Sides now)

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Ciao, Ciao Chiavari! Ciao, Ciao Italia. Goodbye to Chiavari and Italy for a while. I am off to the USA for a couple months. It’s time to settle some issues with my old condominium in Minneapolis. It’s time to see family and friends. And it is time to complete a few travel itineraries for people in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. I think I have a plan to accomplish my goals. We shall see.

This time, I flew a new route using Swiss Air Lines. Swiss Air was a pleasant surprise. The flights, the food and the staff were all very good. I watched four movies and paced the plane to stay awake. I kept thinking about my work as a travel planner and what I needed to accomplish. I thought about how much I would miss the sea in Chiavari this summer. I daydreamed about the time I would spend with my girls, Stephanie and Maggie.

Once we deplaned in Chicago, things changed. People were louder. Everywhere I looked I saw more advertisements, more Fox News on Televisions, more Americans. I felt a bit out of place. Everyone was rushing from place to place. No one strolled. People were pushing and jumping lines in the Immigration section. It felt odd.

By the time I reached Minneapolis, after the last plane ride with one man talking loudly the entire flight, it felt surreal. And sleep escaped me, even after 24 hours of travel.

Over the next few days, I felt the culture shock of being in America. The food tasted different. The air was heavy, hot and humid. Air conditioning, a coveted dream for me, now dried my skin and felt chilly. What was happening?

My home is on the market now in Minneapolis. It was time to say farewell to home ownership in Minnesota. If I ever move back to the USA, it will be where my daughter and granddaughter live.

I completed one extensive travel plan for a client from California. It included a balloon ride over Chianti and a visit to the Ferrari museum, among much more.

I completed another for the Dragon Divas, a group of powerful women who will be traveling to Italy to compete in an international paddling competition on the Arno River in Florence.

A person wearing glasses and smiling at the camera

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They will be extending their adventure and visiting Cinque Terre, Portovenere, extra time in Florence and a day trip to Venice. I loved working with these women.

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I have more work to do. I have more loose ends to tie up. But, first, I must see my father in his new home, his new assisted living facility.

The unusual thing about visiting Papa is that I would also be visiting two of his sisters as well.

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Auntie Bena lost her husband just weeks ago and has now moved into her own apartment in the same place as my father. Auntie Roro and Uncle John were already living there. I spent the day with them all last Thursday.

Bena’s daughter, Kathy, Roro’s daughter Janet and I had been very close as children. We were together all the time. We were best friends.

A person standing next to a body of water

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From left to right, Kathy, Me, Janet.

Now, we were meeting in an assisted living facility where their mothers and my father were at differing levels of dementia and Uncle John, although his mind is sharp, is also weakening physically. No more time to be concerned about not being as thin as my cousins. No more thoughts of ourselves as we met in the coffee room at the facility. We shared our love for our families and the suffering we were feeling as we watched these three siblings together, all over 90 years of age, all experiencing a level of forgetfulness. One of these three has gone down the rabbit hole further than the other two. It is heartbreaking for us to watch. It is tragic for the other two siblings, when they can remember what is happening to the third.

My siblings have been taking care of our dad while I have been in Italy. I have talked with my father many times over the last few months, but they were doing the daily work. The families of the other two have been caring for their mothers and for Uncle John, losing sleep and doing all that they can. Kathy, Janet and I have spoken frequently on the phone, comparing notes, supporting each other. But seeing it for the first time, seeing them together, seeing my cousins visibly suffering—it was agonizing. We cousins, we siblings, are powerless over the aging process of those we love. Life shocked me out of culture shock.

We have lost several relatives to dementia on both sides of my family. Auntie Jo and cousin Jane on my mother’s side, Auntie Carmel and perhaps Auntie Bernice on the Ricci side. I hate this. I despise being powerless as I watch them decline.

Yet, I have seen glints of light amidst the memory losses. I have seen Auntie Roro roll her eyes at her sister and brother. I have seen my father laugh at himself when he can’t remember what he did an hour before. I have seen Auntie Bena realize she has said the same thing 20 times and seen her laugh at her brother when he tries to shush her. I see love through the chaos. I watch when they enjoy the moment, even if they don’t recall it later.

We must all learn to experience a moment at a time, and hopefully we can string them all together. Their losses encourage me to let go of some of those bad feelings toward others and simply live and love. I can’t always do this. I want to be better at it. Piano, piano. Their forgetfulness reminds me to imagine what I want for myself and others and pushes me to make it happen when I can. The fact that 3 of 4 living siblings can share their feelings and live under the same big roof gives me hope for our family to be able to express our feelings for each other and hold onto them as we age.

They are in the sunset of their lives.

A sunset over a body of water

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There is a stillness as the sunlight dims. There is beauty in the changing colors. There is a reminder that this moment will never happen again, not like this. There can be an ache as the sun fades. We can capture a part of it in a photo. We can burn it into our memories and cherish it in times of heartache. We can learn from it.

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Ciao for now!

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