Happy Birthday Mom

Picking a bouquet of wintered over pansies yesterday, I thought of my mom, whose birthday is today. She was born 4/3/21, a date easy to remember!  Pansies were the first of many shared favorites. With her encouragement, I planted them as my first childhood gardening experience. I’ve written of mom and her love of growing flowers before, it’s a memory that makes me smile. It was a part of her that lasted until almost the end of her life, as other parts of her fell away.

I got out these favorite photos of her. One, which I never saw until I cleaned out my folks house, is her as a young, confident woman in 1942, post engagement, but two years before marrying my dad.

The other is us at Rialto Beach just after her 90th birthday. When I realized Alzheimer’s was going to take away her enjoyment of things she loved, I asked where she’d like to take a trip. She loved to travel, and traveled both internationally and throughout the U.S. with my dad and on her own after his death. Without hesitation she said “the seashore”. We made two trips to the ocean, one to Mt Rainer, and one to Anacortes.

The first trip was so much fun, she had not been to the ocean in years. She sat pointing to rocks on the beach with her cane for Mike to pick up. The three of us watched the most spectacular sunset I’ve ever seen at the coast.

I’ve written several times about my mom lately. After she died I was so worn out from the challenges of her care the last years of her life, and I had to immediately face my own challenges with breast cancer, a mastectomy, and so on. I felt little grief, just a sadness and relief.  Over the years I occasionally sort through remaining photos and memorabilia from her life and, as I mentioned in my last post, it has both brought alive a woman I did not know, pre-motherhood, as well as reminding me of who she was pre-dementia. These are not sad memories. On the contrary, they give me back my mom, the fullness of her life, the multi-faceted person she was.

My heart goes out to anyone witnessing a loved one going through any form of dementia. Keep alive memories of who they were/are regardless of how the disease is changing them. Remember always the person you’ve loved and shared life with as you adjust to this new person they are becoming, the changes that are happening, too often too fast.  I felt I was constantly establishing a relationship with someone new, yet I’d see my mom’s spirit shine through in little glimmers.

Here’s some pansies for you mom.

(header photo: Mom at LaPush, ocean trip #2, waving to us on the beach. She was soooo happy sitting and watching the ocean.)


Inland Waters


Salt Creek, Joyce, WA

On my bookshelf is a well-worn book entitled “Exploring the Seashore, in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon”, published in 1978. The penciled in reduced price on the face page indicates it was purchased as a used book. Next to the price is my mother’s name in large, bold, printed letters: R. Hubbard. Most the books in my parent’s library were my dad’s, whose interests and hobbies gave direction to their retirement years. Multiple books about Lewis and Clark testified to his role as founding President of the National Council for the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial, a role that took them on trips and to meetings throughout the states along the trail. There were other books about places they traveled to in the states and abroad, various history and natural history books, cook books, a collection of paperback “classics” and pop literature from the 70s Dad ‘borrowed’ from a box of books from my college years. Mom was not a book person, though she did read more after dad’s death, before Alzheimer’s made remembering and comprehending challenging. This one book, which she bothered to print her name in, represents her very personal love of the ocean.

A trip to the ocean two weekends ago brought memories of a similar trip in 2010. Realizing mom would soon be unable to travel, and knowing how much she loved to go just about anywhere, I asked her one day where she would like to go. She replied, “Oh, I guess the ocean”. So we went, more than once, before she could no longer go.


Mom recruiting Mike to help her collect those ‘special’ rocks on the beach at Rialto.

And she loved it. The first trip, to Rialto Beach, we stayed over night at Three Rivers Resort. Sitting on the beach, ever the rock collector, she pointed with her cane to rocks of all sizes and colors, asking Mike to pick them up for her, putting them in the cup holder of her chair. That evening we watched a breathtaking sunset.

Mike and Mom watching the sunset at Rialto Beach, 2010

Mike and Mom watching the sunset at Rialto Beach, 2010

Our second trip, a few weeks after her 90th birthday in 2011, was to LaPush, where she again sat on the beach, bundled in a blanket, so content, so at peace, and so animated when we ate dinner and played cards that evening…it is a cherished memory.


Happy Mom, LaPush, 2011

Now mom cannot tell you she loves the ocean. She cannot speak, the result of a stroke a month ago, and if she could, there are few words left in her mind’s storehouse of words, and few memories of her self and her life, the result of Alzheimer’s. Mom now lives in her own private inland sea.

Most of this year she was able to talk, even as the words became fewer. Her talking was often repetitive and mostly dealt with what was going on in the moment, yet we had conversations where she was able to express her feelings, her frustrations at missing her granddaughters’ weddings, her embarrassment at having bruises on her arms, her confusion about why others wanted her to shower and do things she no longer wanted to do. She made comments that suggested the fear, confusion, and anger at what was becoming of her life, and herself, emotions I could read in her expressions even as the words became fewer.

Now she is expressionless, she mostly gazes at some place I can not see.  Yet finally there are times she seems calm, there is a placid feeling to her presence.


Hood Canal at Scenic Beach State Park

After our few days at the ocean, Mike and I camped two days at Salt Creek Recreation Area on the Strait of Juan de Fuca before going home to spend time with mom. Though storms can churn the inland waters, most days there is a gentle rhythm to the tides on the strait, protected from oceanic forces. Wanting to camp once more before Mike went back to work, we spent this past weekend at Scenic Beach State Park, on the Hood Canal, close enough to where mom lives so I could spend time with her. The Canal was serene, the incoming tides gentle, the clear water lapping the rocky beach. Water and mountain views were in muted shades of gray/blue/green. These are the inland waters of the Northwest.*

Like mom, I too love the ocean (doesn’t everyone?) and the sense of exhilaration and freedom one feels when walking on ocean beaches. Ocean lovers go to the beaches to let the power of the sea wash away what ever needs washing away in our lives and minds. We partake of inner soul cleansing while watching the tides wash clean the beaches of debris. The ocean can help expand our perspective on many things as we gaze at the horizon that seems to go on to infinity and walk beaches that seem endless. Rocks, sand, shore birds….the exploration of flora and fauna unique to the seashore, it is a world of wonder. Mom’s book she so boldly marked as her own reveals she found the seashore a fascinating place and wanted to know more of its inhabitants. Growing up, no matter where we lived, driftwood decorated our home.  In her bathroom, mom kept a jar of favorite stones, covered with water to enhance their colors. She brought the ocean home.

On this recent trip, to my surprise, I found the ocean’s energies almost too much. I appreciated the calmer inland waters. Juxtaposing these inland beach visits with visits to mom, I realized, as I witness her journey, I am watching her move to the more phlegmatic inland waters of her deteriorating mind.

She would have loved the gentle waters of Scenic Beach, only 30 minutes from where she now lives. But her body is too weak and mind to frail to make even that short trip.


the calm, blue/gray view from Scenic Beach

There were other trips with Mom…over nights to Mt. Rainier, Anacortes, lots of day trips. Any trip Mike and I took without her she followed on a map and vicariously enjoyed the places we went, I sent her pictures and notes when I could so she knew where we were. Last fall a day trip here to the Olympic Peninsula to have lunch at our house was a delight for her. Though tired from the trip, the Ruth-that-loves-to-go-and-see-the-world was alive and happy at the end of the day.

That Ruth is gone. The Ruth of now is on a journey I, nor anyone, can share with her. I pray that on her silent inward journey she is experiencing calm seas.

(Below, I too was recruited into retrieving mom’s beach combing finds. Mike took this series of pictures as we shared a new find and a precious moment at Rialto, 2010)

mom and pj rialto

* note: Though the term inland sea usually refers to land locked seas, and the strait, canal, sound, and bays of Washington are not landlocked, they are “inland” from the ocean, thus I call them the inland waters.


Life On The Rock at Low Tide

the first anemone to open to the incoming waves

On the beach at Fort Flagler State park there is a huge rock. Uncovered at low tide, it is teeming with life, a world that may stay submerged days at a time. Only when the moon and earth sync for a super low tide does this world come up for air as we know it.  Giant barnacles, colorful little snails, other critters I’m not familiar with, and zillions of sea anemones.  Slimy looking, gelatinous, olive green little ‘donuts’, the anemones close up during this air ‘exposure’ and wait for the sea to return.  Fascinated, I waited with them, ankle deep in the cold water, shifting and moving as the sand washed out from under my feet, I watched as the first ones, the front line, began to swell.  I wanted to see them open, exposing their seemingly delicate pink ‘mouths’ and tentacles. Open to the touch of water and the nutrients it provides them, the life it gives them. It is all quite magical and lovely, but as with all of nature, there is a survival dance going on. Those little tentacles, called Cnidocytes, both defend and kill…….

From Wikipedia:
Cnidocytes contain nematocyst…..Each nematocyst contains a small vesicle filled with toxins (actinoporins), an inner filament, and an external sensory hair. When the hair is touched it mechanically triggers the cell explosion, a harpoon-like structure which attaches to organisms that trigger it, and injects a dose of poison in the flesh of the aggressor or prey. This gives the anemone its characteristic sticky feeling. The sea anemone eats small fish and shrimp……”

I wondered as I waited – do the creatures of this rock world like, even look forward to, these involuntary forays into the world of breezes and blue skies (or gray, as was the case on this particular day)?  Is it necessary to their survival?  Or do they feel stressed, waiting for the waves to return and cover their world once again?  Of course biologist know the answers to my wonderings, but I enjoy standing there watching, (though there is little to watch except the occasional shift of a tiny snail) curious to what is going on in the primitive ‘minds’ (nervous systems) of this thriving pile of life.  

Tiny sea snails are the only action on the ‘The Rock’,
moving at snail’s pace of course!
gelatinous anemones wait, squished in between giant barnacles

opening……looking for something to eat!

  (click photos for a larger view of this crowded micro world)