You and Me and the Rest of Us

September 22, 2015

Today I’m closing down the blog I started in order to document the old, old age of my mother, a woman who, when transplanted from her familiar world into a new geography at ninety-four, flourished. As all regular readers know, Alice died at age 100 on August 26, 2015.

The blog has also chronicled our relationship these past six years. Alice and I cruised along well enough when I was a child but soon meandered onto a parched and rocky plain. This remained fairly unchanged over several decades, but in our new roles as caregiver/care receiver, we found our way to an oasis of serenity, warmth, laughter, friendship, mutual respect, and great love.

We didn’t know this transformation would occur as a result of Alice’s move to Portland, of course. In fact, neither of us imagined that any such thing could be possible. But living close together in a new context gave us the opportunity to build on what we knew and felt in common, to bond, and to let our differences be differences.  Thanks to the example of people I’ve been fortunate to know as good friends, I learned skills along my way in life that I could call upon with Alice, some more successfully than others: actively listening to what someone is saying, standing up for myself, and a commitment to peaceful exchange of thought and ideas vs. I’m right/You’re wrong. As for Alice’s learning curve, she’d  been no slouch in our years spent apart. She had those and other things in her quiver, plus a bonus card up her sleeve that trumped every trouble and disruption thrown in our path: mother love.

I also wanted to record here several pieces from the narrative of our extended family, a survival story despite great poverty, and one that included remarkable resilience, intimacy, wit, imagination, and the grit that kept that family strong.

Although I’ve been a writer all my life, the writing I’ve done here has revealed me more profoundly to myself than anything else I’ve endeavored. Countless times I’ve been disappointed with my shortcomings, but keeping this online notebook has also delivered me to the shores of compassion for myself as well as for Alice and the many millions of other women and men in caregiver/care receiver positions. The vulnerability experienced on both sides brings us all many, many times to our knees.

When Alice was in hospice care in July, I told her about the book I’ve been writing about her. It’s based on this blog and it’s almost finished. We were in her room at Hopewell House, the hospice center, and it was dark outside and in. Because she’d been experiencing terrible fear, she always wanted me to dim the lights and close the curtains in her room there , but she was starting to emerge from that fear. I sat beside her and told her the book news to cheer her on.

“What will it say?” she wanted to know.

I told her it was the true story of a little girl born into a poor family in a small town on the prairie and the things that happened to her as she grew up into a smart, beautiful, inventive and very funny woman, and the ways she lived through heartbreaking events in her own life and through wars and other enormous changes in the world and came to be very, very old, and in her old old age she made new friends and did things she never would have imagined doing before. I went on to say that it would include as many of her adventures and thoughts and inventions as an old woman that I could cram into it, and a lot about all of her sisters and her parents, too, and the people, both strange and wonderful, who populated that tiny prairie town where she grew up. And it would feature also the story of the two of us, our relationship.

“Who all is in your book?” she asked a couple of weeks later when, her fear gone, she had settled into foster care. “Is Mr. Fickle in there?”

I assured her he was and named as many of the people from The Place as I could remember. She added a few of her own.

“And what are you going to call it?” she asked. She didn’t wait for an answer. She had her own idea. “I think you should call it You and Me and the Rest of Us.”

That probably won’t be the title, but we both laughed because it did strike us as just about right.

I haven’t got a publisher yet, but I do have step one, a smart and sensitive agent in New York who is working with me to complete the book and find a publishing house.

Which brings me to this set of options for you: If you are a subscriber to this blog and want to be notified when the book comes out, you don’t need to do anything. I have the email addresses of subscribers, and I’ll send you a notice.

If you are a subscriber and you do NOT want to be notified about the book, please send me an email: andrea @ andreacarlisle . com (you know the trick, mush all that together so it looks like an email address). When I receive your notice, I will remove your name from the subscriber list.

If you are not a subscriber, but you still want to be notified about the book, send me an email at the address above and I will put you on the list.

You can do any of these at any time in the next several months, even after today when the blog is officially closed down.

You and Me and the Rest of Us of course includes you, dear and attentive readers. Without you, would the road ever have opened into that oasis I mentioned above? I don’t think so. You’ve helped Alice and me through many crises, large and small. Hearing your stories and writing to and for you made me a better caregiver. Your love for Alice helped me to better see, appreciate, and affirm her. These last few months of Alice’s life and after her death, your comments, emails, and cards captured her spirit and have sustained me. In closing down Go Ask Alice…When She’s 94, I feel like I’m waving good-bye to a field of wildflowers. You thought you were just reading a blog, didn’t you? And instead you hung the moon.

 

moon over prairie

 

 

Lines for Winter
Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.
                         –Mark Strand
Photo credit: Thank you to prairie photographer John G. White, whose mother, Mary Laurel White,  lived to be 100 years and six months. More of John’s prairie photos at Listening Stones Farm and his photography web site.

43 Responses to “You and Me and the Rest of Us”

  1. jenny_o Says:

    What a beautiful post, and picture, and poem. I am reading this through many tears – crying for you and your mom, for myself and my dad, and for the beauty here. I wish I had found your blog earlier, but I’m so glad I found it even as late as I did. Looking forward to your book. All the best in your future.

    Like

  2. mike pace Says:

    What a perfect lid you have placed on the box of life that was your blog and will be your book.

    Like

  3. Bette Husted Says:

    Oh, Andrea. Thank you, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. bprodaniuk Says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey, it has helped me on mine.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

  5. Jan Miner Says:

    Dear Andrea,
    I will greatly miss your blog, your stories of Alice, and the feeling that you were a far-away friend, but a friend all the same. I look forward to the publication of your book and shall buy it and read it cover to cover. I wish you the best — and if you ever find another topic about which to blog, please do reach out and let me know. I will be an eager reader. I also hope that you are doing and feeling ok and taking good care of yourself.
    Jan

    Like


  6. Beautifully written. I am so very moved by your blog farewell.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Marty Van Hout Says:

    My dearest Andrea,
    You did such a wonderful job of telling the story of Aunt Alice, her family and your journey. I will miss reading it but look forward to the book. I just got Karen and myself copies of The Riverhouse Stories and look forward to adding this new one to my collection. We love you so much Andrea and are very proud of being able to say you are our cousin. Love you! Marty

    Like

  8. declemen Says:

    Andrea, I look forward to your book with all my heart. Thank you for the stories you’ve told here on this blog. You gave me many tools, inspiration, and courage to care for my mom. I will miss checking in for your regular posts.

    Like

  9. kvwordsmith Says:

    I am so happy these blog adventures are bring threaded together as a book….i have loved being on this journey with you, alice, and my fellow readers….what a gift of life, living, and loving. Deep thanks, and keep my on the mailing list, please and thank you!

    Like

  10. Meghan Merker Says:

    Very dear Andrea. Thank you with all my heart for sharing your heart with the Rest of Us. You and Alice have kept me company through the difficult passings of my father and of too many dear friends. You close your blog with a poem by a very beloved friend of mine who also died this year. Mark Strand was an important friend in my childhood, and he stayed deeply present in my life for all these years (I am 56). It cannot be coincidence that this is the poem that I chose for my own mother’s memorial memento when she died at the age of 46. I was nineteen and thought it likely that I would die then too, of a broken heart. I set that poem by hand with lead type in my father’s pressroom, and printed several copies of it on an old Washington handpress, to give to those who loved her and whom she loved. The process and the poem helped to begin a healing in me. May it be thus for you.
    Love, gratitude and more than a few tears from Meghan in Montana

    Like

  11. Eva Norbro Says:

    Beautiful and thank you. Looking forward to the book.
    Lot’s of Love, Eva

    Like

  12. Dee Packard Says:

    Dearest Andrea, this is an utterly enchanting piece of love and magic woven into good-bye. I miss your blog voice and Alice’s unfathomably spicy adventures in such a small world that gave my own more nuanced attentiveness and tenderness as I narrate the wee happenings of my days to myself. Please keep writing and writing forevermore. You have a gift, always have had, that has flourished into a garden, a field, a long and wide and deep Dakota prairie of rare flowers. Transformative!
    So many thanks.

    Like


  13. As always, so many questions, never enough answers. Hope to see you soon.

    Like

  14. Vanessa Says:

    As always you have said this beautifully. It both saddens and heartens me that the blog has come to an end. Saddens, because I have loved Alice and your life that you have so generously shared with us and heartened for the new adventures that will I know come your way, my dear friend”. It brought tears to my eyes when you said “you thought you were just reading a blog, instead, you hung the moon”. That is awesome. I love you and can’t wait for the book.

    Like

  15. Elizabeth Says:

    Oh, it’s too much — these tears, this connection, this beautiful thing you’ve written as if your heart itself had a pen or fingers to type. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    Like

  16. Karen Hutchison Says:

    Andrea…..what a wonderful end to the story of you and Aunt Alice. It’s not really the end, though. You are a wonderful writer and I am so looking forward to your book. I’m going to miss checking in on you two and The Place. I think of you and Alice so much. Two special women…who have touched so many lives by sharing your stories. Karen

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Jo Says:

    Good luck Andrea. I can’t wait for the book. I wish you much love and peace in your life. Thank you for sharing yourself and Alice with us.

    Like

  18. TERESA JORDAN Says:

    Andrea, I got goosebumps a half dozen times reading this … which is the body’s gauge of truth, depth and love. Wow, darlin’, wow. Do you know what you’ve done? Not that you are done done, but you know what I mean. I love you. t

    >

    Like

  19. raksha Says:

    I have only been a part of “the rest of us” for a short while but will miss you heaps. Hope you live a long & love filled life. Raksha

    Liked by 1 person

  20. 37paddington Says:

    Thank you Andrea. It has been such a privilege and a joy sharing your journey with Alice. You helped me too. I look forward to the book. This is not goodbye. Much love.

    Like

  21. Meg Glaser Says:

    Thank you, Andrea, for taking on and taking us on this incredible journey with you. This place, The Place, Alice and all will find special places in our memories and hearts even as this blog closes. Time for a big deep breath and some moon gazing.

    Like

  22. John Says:

    I am glad to know that this blog helped you along the bumpy road of being a caregiver. I’m glad that you shared Alice with us. I’m glad you shared her stories, your stories. You gave her such life on these pages that her passing brought me to tears – a woman I’d never met, only through your words.

    I said this to you in an email, but I think it is important to say again: your blog has helped me more than you know. Hearing you make the little, off the cuff remarks, things like how suddenly something Alice said made you feel like a naughty ten year old again — those are the things that helped the most as I deal with my own mother’s care. Somehow simply knowing that others are out there, treading water, stumbling through unchartered territory – hearing the love in your words, even through the moments of frustration, has made a world of difference to me. I thank you for that.

    You know I want to buy a book when it is available — I might even fly your way to get it signed. 🙂

    Best of everything to you Andrea. May the process of getting the book together help remind you of all the smiles and laughs and love. And may those memories bring you comfort and peace during the next few months.

    Hugs to you … from both of us!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Katharine Says:

    Crying and thanking you again Andrea. I’m with Teresa – do you know what you’ve done? (not yet “done-done”, but done?). Your craft is so skilled and clear. Not one useless word.

    Also thank you and good bye again to Alice … and Good bye my fellow wild flowers! Look, we hung the moon! At least Andrea said so. And when a real writer like Andrea ‘says so’, anything is possible!

    Like


  24. Andrea dear,
    I have so delighted in regularly visiting with you and Alice and the world you created for all of us. I watched eagerly for each posting and read slowly so as to fully enjoy and absorb each delicious morsel.
    I wait with baited breath for your book.
    I love you,
    Catherine

    Like

  25. alancahn Says:

    What will I read now with no more blog?😥😥. “Thanks for the memories”

    Like


  26. Dear Andrea, Of course I want to know when the book is published. You opened your life to “the rest of us” and we became family. I cried reading this beautiful post. I will miss Alice and you, and hope you start a new blog about anything you want. I will read it because you write from the heart. Even in this difficult time you are experiencing you made us feel like we contributed, were a part of you family by saying we hung the moon. What a treasure you are, Andrea. I can hardly wait for the book to be published and no matter what title may be on the cover to me it will be “You and Me and the Rest of Us.” Love and peace to you, and please take care of yourself.

    Like


  27. “And instead you hung the moon,” That made me feel warm all over Andrea. I hoped you were writing that book and of course I want to read it. Finding your blog, all those years ago, was like finding a treasure trove. I am richer for it. Thank you, Debbie XX

    Like

  28. Mark Alter Says:

    Gorgeous closing to a presencing of love. I’ll miss your hearts, Alice, Andrea, and everyone else on here. I’ve pointed young writers to this blog, and said, it can be done. What a beacon.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. nancy nisz Says:

    Andrea, you always manage to bring tears to my eyes. I will miss this blog and both you and Alice. I look forward to the book and know that Alice will keep inspiring it as you move towards finishing, and you for way beyond. You did in fact receive a great gift through your years of caregiving and that wisdom will help others to strive for the same. In closing the blog, all of us will soon be able to open the new pages and keep Alice and you with us forever. Merci beaucoup!

    Like

  30. 37paddington Says:

    And I forgot to say, I love Alice’s title for the book! Maybe it can be the subtitle if you have another title picked out.

    Like

  31. Pene Fedro Says:

    Good luck with your book. I will buy it and read it with excitement to learn more about Alice.

    Like

  32. barb Says:

    Oh Andrea, so happy you are doing a book! If preorders would help at some point count me in!

    Like

  33. Katharine Harding Says:

    Dear Andrea
    Ditto on everything said above. I will miss seeing Go Ask Alice in my in box as I always choose to read it first. Yes, yes to the book and sooner rather than later if the publisher is smart!
    Much love and trust you are taking great care of yourself,
    Katharine H.
    (I wonder who the other “-arine” is-there are fewer of us)

    Like

  34. e Says:

    Thank you, Andrea, for sharing your wonderful mother and your lives, with all of us. I hope the book is a success and I’ll enjoy reading it. Wishing you peace. Elizabeth C.

    Like

  35. HBF Says:

    That is a great title 🙂 Thank you and best of luck! And Katharine, I’m a Hannah but my middle name is Katharine, arrr matey! Get it? 😉 And once again, best of luck Andrea, I’ll be waiting for the book like so many others!

    Like

  36. Eva Gold Says:

    Oh, yes Andrea. The end of an era–as we go from being caregivers of very old mothers to dealing with losing them and what life looks like after. So happy to hear the book will be born, and looking forward to it, and to crossing paths in another way now that I won’t be “in touch” with you in this format. Sending love and thanks. I have felt less alone in my own journey with my mother because you have shared yours.

    Like


  37. Your writing about Alice gave me so many insights into my relationship with my own mother. Thank you for that, and for bringing Alice into our lives. Though I never met her, I feel as though I got to know her through you, and what a wonderful woman she was to know.

    Like

  38. Lisa Oreste Gano Says:

    YOU hung the moon dear Andrea. We all just basked in the Light and the Love and the Learning. I believe it’s accurate to say I fell in love with you and Alice and the stories of a prairie life well lived. “Thank You” seems a meager acknowledgement of such a tremednous gift. “You and Me and The Rest of Us” will be a savoured treasure on my bookshelf and I’m sure a gift to many a friend and fellow caregiver.

    Hugs,
    Lisa Oreste

    Like

  39. Anne Montgomery Says:

    I am so grateful I found your blog and became one of “The rest of Us”. You and Alice and The Place will always be in my heart. Looking forward to the book , and as others have suggested, if you find something new to blog about “The Rest of Us” would be thrilled to tag along (subtle , aren’t we ) .

    Like

  40. Trudy Hussmann Says:

    Andrea, I can’t wait to read your book! I’ve loved your blog, and it’s been close to my heart as I deal with my own mother’s old age and declining health. Thank you so much for openly and honestly sharing your heart with the world!

    Like

  41. bjn Says:

    You and Me and the Rest of Us
    Adventures of the Bigwig of the Prairie

    I will not belabor here my love for you and Alice. I wish for you wonderful things to come.

    By the way, I have a 94 day old miniature goat who loves houseboats and pushovers, in need of a wise, kind, literate caretaker. This beauty is sassy smart, always fun, and can dismantle most anything using just her teeth. Wikipedia says: “Miniature goats can be trained, though it requires quite a bit of work.” Andrea, you are just the gal for the job!

    Like

  42. buddhacrone Says:

    I will miss you and Alice so much. Please let me leave you with this Buddhist blessing:

    May you be well
    May you be happy
    May you find peace

    Really looking forward to your book. Thank you for sharing your life and Alice’s for so long. I will never forget either of you; the love that has arisen in me for you will never die.

    Like

  43. Bill Sharp Says:

    Well done, Dear Andrea, in so many ways.

    Like


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