Tag Archives: Family

Peering into the past

Bloganuary: How far back in your family tree can you go?

On my husband’s side of the family, they can trace their tree back to the Safavids. (Cool, yes?) On my side of the family, not quite so far.

Both my parents did work on pulling together the family tree. Most of these notes are handwritten or on an old laptop. I’m the keeper of all this now. It’s occurred to me that if I don’t keep them, they’ll be lost forever.

So, yes, genealogy is on my list of things I’d like to tackle this year.

A few months back, I fell down an internet rabbit hole. I knew my grandfather (mother’s side) emigrated from Sweden. He died young—when my mom was six—trying to save another firefighter in a furniture factory fire. This story is part of our family lore. In searching for more information on that, I found a news article listing the names of people who gained citizenship due to their service in World War I.

My grandfather’s name was among those listed. And I was all:

Wait. What?

Considering I spent six years on active duty in the Army, you’d think his service would have come up in conversation. After all, I knew the uncle who flew in WWII. Plus, there’s a story about a German ancestor who fought for the Union during the Civil War.

Now I wonder if my mom even knew about this. Or if the firefighter part of her father’s persona and our family history (her grandfather was a fire chief) simply eclipsed this part of his life.

I’ll never know the answers to those questions. Still, I hope to uncover more about his time in the service. If I can piece together some fragments, I might have a clearer view into the past.

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That Good Night

I’ve been away for a while. I haven’t meant to be, but that’s how it worked out.

Last October, my mom had a major bowel obstruction, which required surgery. (Or rather, it was surgery vs. palliative/hospice care; she opted for surgery).

When I talked to her surgeon—at five a.m., after a twelve-hour stint in the emergency room—he spoke of uncertain outcomes. They wouldn’t know what they’d find once they opened her up. There was her age to consider, her other health issues.

Despite these things, she made it through the surgery surprisingly well. Her incision healed without infection. A different infection, unrelated to her surgery, needed treatment, but her care team found the right antibiotics. My sister and I were cautiously optimistic.

But it was a long winter. One hospital stay led to another. Days before Christmas, it was two blood transfusions in the emergency room. In January, it was fluid overload from the two transfusions in December. In February, it was the three a.m. call from the assisted living triage nurse followed by the frantic drive around the Twin Cities—because no one could tell us which hospital the EMTs had taken her to.

That was the time they had to intubate. My mom spent a week in the ICU. It was then one of the ER doctors turned to me and asked, “Are you a healthcare professional?”

I didn’t know how to respond to that.

During all this, I could hear the voice of that first surgeon, his words a continuous loop in my mind.

Uncertain outcomes.

He was right. Everything was uncertain. Except for one thing.

Did we see what was coming? Yes. And no. Maybe we didn’t want to admit it, not completely. There were talks, often with compassionate palliative care team members. There was a chasm between honoring my mother’s wishes and what was—as everyone else was telling us—realistic. Bridging that gap felt impossible.

Because my mother was a fighter. It might be cliché, but those lines from the Dylan Thomas poem sum it up so completely:

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And yet it wasn’t enough. In the end, she had to stop fighting. In the end, we had to tell her it was okay to do so. In the end, we had to let go.

On April 26th, we started hospice for my mom. On May 2nd, she died. 

I want to write more about this past year. At the same time, I want to look forward, see what’s on the horizon—for me and my writing.

But for now, I leave you with my parents’ trees at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

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