Sunday, August 26, 2012

My Grandfather's Shepherd Moon



Perhaps it was late summer, even early fall. At any rate, it was a time not unlike this one. I was a teenager, sitting in the living room of our home on Birch Lake. We had moved there from our small farm the year before. I know it was after dark, that a lamp or two was on for reading. I don't know why, but I remember the low light. My mother was on the phone with my grandmother, her mother. I could only hear my mother's part of the conversation, but from the questions she asked and the tone of her voice, I knew something was happening outside the realm of normal. My father and I waited quietly in order to try to understand what event was altering our world.

When my mother hung up the phone, she turned towards where we were sitting. "Pa" had gone out after dark to look for his sheep, sheep that had been gone for many years. My grandmother had not been able to convince him of this, could not bring him back to the present. She didn't know where he was and needed help in finding him.

My grandfather, Moses, had raised sheep during much of his life and often, as a child, I had helped move them from pasture to pasture. It was a time of what seemed to be perpetual sunshine, with the wonderful feeling of warm wool between my fingers. But, that night would become the rest of his life: a sad and not-so-slow decline into dementia. Within three years he would be gone from this world.

In the interim, life changed dramatically for them: from a small farm to a small apartment in town, just a few miles to the north of where we had, for many years, shared a dirt road. From there, it was the nursing home, and it's not too hard to imagine the changes that wrought....

That night, my father went down to their farm and found my grandfather roaming around the hillside near his barn, still looking for his lost sheep. I couldn't tell you what happened immediately after. Perhaps my father simply returned to the house with him, hoping he would remain in the present long enough for a solution to be found. Maybe he went to the hospital for observation. I don't know. I don't remember. I do remember the look on my mother's face when she hung up the phone, as she realized what had happened, that her life, as she had known it, had forever changed.



Here's Enya's "Shepherd Moons." Shepherd moons are the small moons around ringed planets, such as Saturn. Their gravity is what keeps the rings organized and defines their borders, thus filling their role as "shepherds."  This link, which I found very interesting, describes them: http://www.helium.com/items/2092512-what-is-a-shepherd-moon-and-what-does-it-do  




Image: Winslow Homer's "Whittling Boy." It's one of my favorites. I love the sunshine on his straw hat, his high boots, the green leaves....

33 comments:

  1. What a sad and beautiful story Teresa, and the painting is a perfect image of your grandfather. When old people grow confused and senile, it is so cruel - both to themselves and their family. A complete change of life because of a disease which will only grow worse and never better. It must have been a sad moment for your mother. She knew in that moment that this was fatal.
    Thank you for this memory and for the Winslow Homer - and the Shepherd's Moon.
    Grethe

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    1. Thank You, Grethe. This story has been brewing for a while, and today seemed like the day to complete it. It's odd, how these moments stay with us.

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  2. It is a story of change, the kind we hope won't come to our lives, but all too often, they do. I loved the post, the story, the shepherd's moon, and the lovely Enya piece. It made me wonder why wolves howl at the moon. Sometimes I feel like doing it, too.

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    1. It's interesting, how we have both posted on change. Howling at the moon should not be just for wolves.
      A good howl at the moon could be life-changing. :)

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  3. Defining moments - big and small. Those times that you know it won't be the same. You just know.

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    1. Yep. Exactly, One Fly. Thanks for commenting.

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  4. What a sad, powerful post. Thank you for sharing something so intensely personal.

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    1. Often, stories that seem personal are also universal. That helps me in the telling. Thank you, Ashling.

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  5. Oooh such a sad story. Your mother's heart must have been broken, as well as your grandmother's. Yes, it was a moment when they knew their lives would never be the same. Thank you for sharing such a personal memory.

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    1. It must have been extremely difficult and scary for my grandmother. A lifetime together and then that.... a story old as time, though.

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  6. What a sad turning point in his life. I wonder if he found anything in his mind on that night or felt a satisfaction in looking for his sheep...

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    1. Perhaps, in his mind, they were found and sound. It's not hard to imagine that my father, in order to appease him, would have reassured him of such. I mentioned in my previous post the necessity sometimes for subterfuge in order to maintain hope....

      Thank you, montucky.

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  7. Lovely and poignant post, Teresa. This was such wonderful story of memory and lives that came and went in your world. I believe that your grandfather is still herding his sheep somewhere.
    The Enya song was perfect and beautiful.

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    1. That's a lovely thought, and I hold that image, as well, with fields of sunshine. It was the song that triggered the memory. Thank you, Connie.

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  8. Thanks so much for sharing such a heart touching story.

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    1. Thank you for reading and leaving a nice comment. It's very much appreciated.

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  9. My Dad suffered with dementia brought on by his Parkinsons for many years. Until he lost the ability to communicate he would say he was out in the garage fixing the lawn mower. Or something similar. His hands were always moving. But in reality he was just sitting in a wheel chair. It was so sad. But I was always glad that at least his mind thought he was staying busy.

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    1. There is some solace to be found in their thoughts taking them to activities they enjoyed, believing they are still active in life. It's perhaps hardest on the family that loses the ability to have them in the present.

      Thank you, Sharon, for sharing this.

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  10. A sad tale, and a tale told with real love and feeling. Maybe the love can penetrate the confusion - let's hope so.

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    1. I like to think that love can penetrate anything, and that love lives on even through the confusion. Thank you, Alan.

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  11. I listen to Enya often...so haunting.
    Full of sorrow for your words today Teresa, change is the hardest thing for us all I think. What a difficult telephone-call that was for your grandmother and mother, both realising in that short moment that their lives had moved from their familiar tracks.
    I think your reply to Alan's comment echoes my own.

    Hugs Jane x

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    1. Thank you so much, Jane. It's always such a pleasure hearing from you.

      A big hug to you in return.

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  12. How interesting - this was new to me. And so was the song,too.

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    1. Astronomy is endlessly fascinating for me.

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    1. Thank you, Friko, very much. This means a lot to me.

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  14. Such a beautiful posting, Teresa; the painting, the music, the story of your grandfather's final chapter. I can mark moments like the, where your mother took the call and you and your father sensed the shifting of life. They stay with us, evermore.

    There is a poignant sense of place and purpose that I felt when I read that your grandfather went out to look for his sheep. A parable, of sorts. Now I'm tripping all over my words here, so I'll stop and thank you for sharing as only you can.

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    1. I have often thought of it in terms of a parable, so we are on the same page, as we so often are. That his name was Moses, and that he had a brother named Aaron, adds to the sense of place, as though, in my memory, it all took place a very long time ago, especially when I remember helping him herd the sheep to new pasture.

      Thank you, Penny.

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  15. Thank you for sharing this from your heart. It was truly beautiful.

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    1. Thank you, t, I appreciate your response.

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  16. Dear Teresa, this posting on your grandfather and your mother and how his searching for the sheep heralded the beginning of dementia is so touching and poignant. Those moments when the earth shifts on its axis for us as it did then for your mother. Today I read at one sitting your posting on the death of the raccoons and now your posting about your grandfather, the shepherd, and I wonder about your role as "shepherd moon" to both of them. There's a poem, Teresa, within you about this.
    Peace.

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    1. Dee, Thank you, so much, for your thoughts about these two posts. The idea of a poem around this has set something in motion. I'm grateful for the impetus.

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    2. I want to add, Dee: my first draft of this included a sentence about how the universe mirrors our lives, and helps us understand them more. Or perhaps we mirror the universe. Either way, it's all about Oneness, as we have often talked about....

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