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Sunday in the Park

Right off, let me tell you I’m not Teri. Although I look an awful lot like her, sound quite a bit like her, and can fairly successfully forge her signature, I am, in fact, my own person.

She asked me if I would fill in for her now and again, here on the page, as she tends to travel more and more, and finds it difficult to submit her column while on the road, or before she leaves. Having been the former editor of this paper, and I suspect a pre-test crammer in her school days, she’s a bit of a deadline junkie. She likes turning her column in with minutes to spare so unless she’s available to be at her desk, writing, exactly at the time she likes to write the piece (like five minutes before it’s too late), she tends to have a really hard time getting it in. That said, she hates to disappoint her readers, as many of you have been following her travels, antics, musings, and tribulations for many years. So she asked if, as her daughter, I wouldn’t mind writing now and again. And, I wouldn’t mind. (I’m flattered, actually.) So here I am.

But I’m a little nervous, because this is a doozie of a debut.

My mom’s had a hard year. But this last week was the hardest. She lost her mother. Not in the actual, physical sense. We know where she is, so she’s not lost in that way, and she’s walking, talking, eating, etc., so she’s not lost in that way, either. But, she’s gone.

We’re not exactly sure when the dementia began. Jean’s gotten increasingly "drifty" over the last couple of years, but forgetting her wallet, or misspelling a name now and again didn’t seem to be a huge cause for concern. She’s always been independent, impressively so at times, so besides the fact that none of the family lives near her, she’s staunchly refused any kind of assistance. She broke her hip two years ago, and the family thought she’d need assistance than, and possibly need to move from her house. Nope. She recovered, and continued her solo life.

But this last summer, she was going in for a battery of tests, and my mother went to see her. My mother was alarmed by a number of things in the house. Small things, but all telling that Jean needed reminders and help with day-to-day activities. She spoke to her mom’s doctors who said, basically, the lady’s 85. She’s doing fine for her age. Like any octogenarian, she would certainly benefit from some help, from time to time, but we’re not going to "prescribe" any lifestyle changes leave her be.

Judging from bills, bank statements, and the like, she really began breaking from reality in September. But, she was aware enough to keep up appearances, and her independence, until late November.

Always dressed up, with matching hat and shoes no less, Jean has forever taken pride in her appearance. So, when she showed up last week at the Republican Women’s event in sweats, slippers, no makeup and NO HAT (she has over 600 in the collection), her friends knew there was something seriously wrong. And thankfully they called for help.

Teri and her half-sister Linda flew to the Bay Area the day before Thanksgiving to assess the situation. They ended up putting my grandmother in the best facility possible, with staff who can and will help her through the difficult, frustrating times ahead. When she’s alert, she vacillates between anger, confusion and sadness. When she’s not alert, well, she’s concerned about political conspiracies and fascinated with movie stars from the ’40s.

I know many of you have lost loved ones and it’s sad, and it’s hard, and you may feel that you can empathize with Teri. But I’m not sure many of you can. You see, she didn’t really get along with Jean. That’s putting it mildly. There weren’t many "Hallmark moments" in her childhood Jean wasn’t nurturing, a good cook, a kind shoulder, helpful or attentive. The only example she set for motherhood was one Teri made sure not follow. As adults, Teri and Jean have completely opposite views on, well, most everything family values, food, society, wealth, politics, relationships, driving, even jewelry. Teri didn’t lose a role model, a friend, or a confidant their relationship has been strained at best. So, you may think that it would be easier for her to deal with the feeling that her mother has passed.

But she lost someone she wanted to love, wanted to like, wanted to be close to. Even though Jean is still physically with us, and sometimes mentally, too, I think the thing that Teri has really lost is hope.

Because I know, deep down, she hoped against all odds that she might someday have a meaningful connection with her mom. And now, she knows she never will. This next week, please do me a favor be gentle with Teri. She’s mourning not for losing her mom, who should have been one of the most important people in her life, but for losing the hope that her mom would be one of the most important people in her life.

My mom, Teri, is like her mom, Jean, in many ways incredibly independent, fiercely opinionated, tenacious, clever as a fox, and loyal to a fault. I hope she can find some solace in the things they shared, appreciate the fondest memories she has of her mom, and let the rest of the disappointing truth be part of her past.

If you’re lucky, like me, and you’ve had a parent that you love, respect, and enjoy spending time with, be thankful. And tell them, if you’re still fortunate enough to have them. And, if you’re still holding on to some hope that you might one day make that meaningful connection, my best wishes to you that it will happen. Mom, I love you today, tomorrow, and every day in the Park

Jenny Knaak is the daughter of Teri Orr, mother of one of Teri’s perfect grandchildren, and a person in her own right.


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