The gazebo looks as I feel: dark, tired, diminished. It stands ignored in a barely noticeable space, haphazardly set between the endlessly active clay courts and swimming pool. It looks as sad as I have felt for too long.
In a year of mounting loss, I wrestle to put the loss of love behind me while I prepare to face the loss of my last family underpinning. I feel no progress in either direction, no authentic willingness to accept either. The gazebo seems stuck in limbo to me, a muddled place of not knowing what it is. I know this paralysis. This stuck place has become too familiar to me. I am desperate to find lightness in the anguish of lost love; desperate to find grace in the inevitable loss to come.
In the endless winter of my heartache, I accepted a call I knew would someday come. The weight of my shattered heart was crushing me when duty called to turn my attention from myself to my beloved bachelor uncle. Closing in on ninety, this wonderful man had been beside me for the death of each of my parents. Never imposing or maudlin, he was perfectly strong for me as I buried both mom and dad but three years apart.
This winter his body finally betrayed him. A bout of pneumonia led to a hospital stay that went on too long. Inertia is the enemy of the elderly. He went from hospital to unsuccessful rehab, from driving his own car to a catheter, atrophied limbs and a wheelchair. All independence stolen from him in the blink of an eye.
I had done my best in the years following my dad’s passing to be there for him. He gave his all to me when I separated from husband. This World War II veteran, devout Catholic, and retired teacher met my impending divorce with no judgment as if to bring home the lesson of unconditional love. It was my turnthree-hour
e hour distance between us was impossible and I convinced him to move to a facility near me. It would be an enormous responsibility, but somewhere deep within I sensed that his coming might be just the elixir to help me emerge from my own depths. Another lesson from this teacher uncle: turn your attention to others.
It has been harder than I expected. His body continues its betrayal as I battle the incessant mediocrity of elder care facilities. Each day I seek patience to be present to his increasing emotional needs. I can do nothing for his withering body.
It is exhausting and there is no respite. I am his person now, too close to a time when my own person dismissed me. I have no remaining family structure and so I now turn to friends to buoy me. I am lucky to be rich in friends. I have to remind myself of that. In my human skin, I often lose sight of it.
In a year of challenge and sadness, of no rest and little real pleasure, I consider the tired, ignored gazebo one Friday afternoon. The gazebo may be spent but perhaps a minor adjustment can bring it life.
With a friend beside me the simple rehabilitation begins, calling for nothing more than discarded Christmas lights. In the daylight hours we work our way around the lower edge of its roof. There is no magic in daylight and the sad structure looks almost burdened by the wiring as we walk away.
Yet, as the night sky settles in and food and drink arrives to be shared with friends, the lights of the Gazebo show themselves. The buzz of conversation begins, music plays, children dance, and laughter bursts out from some corners of the gazebo, while other corners host more intimate dialogue.
And I dance and I laugh and I feel lighter surrounded by friends who have no idea what they mean to me now. How could they know?
It is unusually warm on this late summer evening and I dance with abandon. One friend in particular is my co-conspirator, ever eager to engage in shenanigans. Just the suggestion of a shift in adventure and she is in. It is late, but the two of us head over to the darkened pool, not a ripple on the surface. We take a quiet swim to cool ourselves, emerge refreshed and head back to the gazebo.
How beautiful it looks from a distance, illuminated, a place too long ignored, too easily dismissed. It is the heart of this place tonight, and the tableau inspires me; my people gathered and lit under one roof.
The Gazebo now looks as I feel; refreshed, fortified, welcoming.