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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stone walls and iron bars

Stone walls do not a prison make,
 Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
 That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
 And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
 Enjoy such liberty.

Last stanza of "To Althea, from Prison" - Richard Lovelace


Moving day. Daughter number three, who has been living away for a few years, has moved into a new apartment in Montreal and has taken the rest of her possessions from home with her.  A great big van was booked for the occasion. We packed up in the morning, leaving Michael behind for the day with his caregiver, then drove off to Montreal.

We have done this before, she and I, to and from university. In fact I've repeated this job several times with all but the youngest so far.  It is an expedition I rather enjoy, a special bonding time with the child who is leaving.  When the move is complete and good-byes are being said, there are usually more than a few tears as yet another one flies away to independence. With this daughter already well launched into her life in Montreal - three years of university and now a full-time job - there was only happiness this time for this independent young woman. I have shed my tears for her already as I have for her sisters.

At the end of the month comes the last move.  Alas, I cannot assist much with this one because our son is moving to Toronto for a job promotion, and where a move to Montreal is an easy day-trip from here, not so a trip to Toronto.  I've done it twice before for the others and it requires at least an overnight commitment, something I can no longer do. I will have to content myself with assisting all I can from this end to make his departure as smooth as possible.

This is my baby who is leaving.  Though we rarely see him with his busy life, it is the idea of his never being here that I struggle with.  And the knowledge that this is the last. The nest will be well and truly empty.

I'm imagining all the vacant rooms we will have, two of them already only filled on holiday visits.  I am trying to envision other uses for them, but it is a relatively large house and Michael and I need only a few rooms.  Michael's life is confined to the main floor which has been fully adapted to his needs.  I occupy my sanctuary on the second floor but only really use three rooms: bedroom, bathroom, office.  That leaves three others, large gaping holes.

Will we stay here? Is it worth keeping a large house for the rare occasions that all the kids are home together? These are questions I do not need to answer yet. A move for Michael now would be catastrophic. Even slight change can be life-altering for him, so it is impossible to consider such a thing, unless, of course, something happens to me and I can no longer manage the work.

He loves our home, as do I.  We have lived here twenty-two years and have truly made it our own. Besides, it is now so well adapted to his needs, it would be difficult to find anything comparable. It is our own small paradise, nestled in a little village between the Gatineau hills and the river. Over the past year, with little else to do, I have been able to cast my gaze farther than my indoor domestic duties, which were always my chief concern, still are. I have been able to focus on the outside, restoring it to the sanctuary it was before the years of adapting to the harsh new reality of Michael's illness left it sadly neglected.

Financial constraints might be a deciding factor for a move but for now we are secure.  Michael collects a decent pension from a full career with the federal government, and, though it isn't a princely sum, we have always lived frugally and continue to do so.  I am grateful I do not have to concern myself too seriously with money matters, one less thing to worry about.  I manage all our finances, of course, and I am confident and secure that I can take care of my husband in the comfort we now enjoy for the foreseeable future.

With the long-term financial concerns under control, what worries me more are the short-term issues. With a long summer ahead and both of the youngest truly gone, I am thinking of the increasing isolation and quiet.  Laura has always been home for summer jobs, William has always just been here.  The walls are starting to feel closer already, highlighting the prison sentence this disease has imposed on us both. At least it is summer and the large yard allows us to expand our living space.  So, though we are confined to our property most days, it is a prison-paradise for Michael to wander through and enjoy when his medications allow.  I believe it gives him a sense of peace and stability that I too enjoy.



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