living by voices we shall never hear

5.19.15.6701
5.19.15 ~ Neu-Anspach, Germany

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
~ Henry Beston
(The Outermost House)

Farewell, Auntie Lil

Lillian Elizabeth (Chomiak) Rioux (1915-2016)

Last autumn we lost our aunt, who lived to be 101 years old. The various stories behind the above drawing presented a puzzle for us but after comparing memories we finally decided that the sketch was probably drawn on one of Auntie’s cruises. She kept it hanging above her bed for as long as I can remember, flanked on either side with the senior high school pictures of my sister and me.

Following is the obituary I wrote for the newspapers:

Lillian Elizabeth (Chomiak) Rioux, 101, of Storrs, Connecticut, died on October 27, 2016, at Mansfield Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation, after a short illness.

Lillian was born on January 30, 1915 in New York City, the daughter of the late William & Katherine (Fusiak) Chomiak, both immigrants from Ukraine. She married Leo Oscar Rioux on November 30, 1934 at Montville, Connecticut. Her husband died on June 5, 1957, leaving her a widow for 59 years. Lillian was predeceased by their two sons, Leo Adrian Rioux (1936-1984) and Lance William Rioux (1950-1979).

Lillian was also predeceased by six siblings, Mary Riback, Jon Stephen Chomiak, Augustine Chomiak, Augusta Jean Hereth, Olga Chomiak, and Theodore William Chomiak. She is survived by her sister, Ludmila Sabatiuk of West Virginia, her grandchildren, Leo Rioux, Jr. of Montville and Sarah James of Tennessee, seven nieces and nephews, four great-grandchildren, and a great-great-grandson.

Lil was a graduate of Norwich Free Academy and was a seamstress employed at Hendel Manufacturing Company in New London for many years. She was a long time resident of Montville and later moved to Juniper Hill Village in Storrs to live closer to her brother. An avid traveler, beach bum and shell collector, she loved to sew, cook, grow orchids, do jigsaw puzzles and work with her hands.

A memorial gathering will be planned for next spring. Memorial donations can be made to Mansfield Town Senior Center, 303 Maple Rd, Storrs, CT 06268.

We had our memorial gathering for her on May 6, spreading her ashes on the graves of her parents and her husband and two sons, as she had directed. My Aunt Em read to us her memories of Aunt Lil’s earlier years.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s parents, William Chomiak (1882-1965) & Katherine Fusiak (1887-1943), Comstock Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut

Every year on Memorial Day, my father would drive Aunt Lil to these two adjacent cemeteries, so she could plant geraniums in front of the headstones, each one a different shade of red or pink. When my father could no longer drive, my sister and brother-in-law stepped in to take her. As he has been doing for years now, John once again planted the geraniums that meant so much to her, this time with family spreading ashes and telling stories.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s older son, Leo Adrian Rioux (1936-1984), St. Patrick Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut.

The story Auntie told me was that it was not permitted for her to be buried in the Catholic cemetery with her husband and sons because she never converted to Catholicism. But she married a Catholic and had her sons baptized in the church. It was her wish to join them in the cemetery by spreading her ashes on their graves.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s husband, Leo Oscar Rioux (1913-1957), and their younger son, Lance William Rioux (1950-1979), St. Patrick Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut.

At the last grave Tim read a poem my sister Beverly wrote in memory of Auntie for the occasion.

They were worker’s hands, never soft, never still.
It took me fifty years to catch them, hold them, keep them safe and warm.
A thousand times I watched them go:
knit and purl
peel and chop
turn the pages
stir the pot.

If hands could talk what would they say?
It took me fifty years to hear them, know them, find out how they spoke.
A thousand times I felt their love:
show and tell
hug and pat
acts of kindness
pet the cat.

I’d come to love her knobby hands
that always showed me what to do.
How those hands have touched my life!
They’ve one more job before they’re through:
stitch and mend
my broken heart.

~ Beverly Chomiak
(Her Hands)

Then we all went to eat at one of her favorite restaurants, Old Tymes in Norwich, finishing the meal with dishes of Auntie’s favorite black raspberry ice cream. ❤

impaired executive function

Most people on the spectrum have some level of executive function impairment, but how that impairment impacts our lives can vary greatly from person to person.
~ Cynthia Kim
(Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate)

The most fascinating aspect of autism that I have encountered so far is the idea of impaired executive function. It’s not something that usually gets listed with other features of autism and I had no idea what “executive functioning” could possibly mean.

Executive function is a broad term that refers to the cognitive processes that help us regulate, control, and manage our thoughts and actions. It includes planning, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, initiation of actions, and monitoring of actions.
~ Cynthia Kim
(Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate)

I have trouble with all these things! I’ve long considered myself to be inept, clumsy, absent-minded and inflexible — to think how long I’ve desperately tried to force myself to be flexible and easy-going. Even my children tried not to spring things on me, not wanting mom to get hopelessly flustered.

It’s difficult for me to finish a chore if it has too many steps. Sometimes I have to write down each and every step if I want to have any hope of getting the job done. Lists are my friends, I think.

Driving is overwhelming because there are too many things going on to pay attention to. I use my left foot for the brake because the right foot is for the gas pedal. One foot can’t seem to handle two different assignments. When I finally got my driver’s license at the age of 21 the person who tested me decided to pass me if I promised to work on using the one foot for both pedals. He said if I used both feet I would get mixed up and push the wrong pedal sometimes. Now I am glad I didn’t listen to him because I have never gotten the pedals mixed up doing it my way. Now I know why — my brain works a little differently.

I also have many difficulties with problem solving. Often it just doesn’t occur to me that doing something a bit differently would be faster or more effective. And very often I don’t even recognize a problem until someone points it out to me. (I do appreciate the helpful hints, by the way, humble being that I am.) And sometimes when trying to do something familiar in a new setting or at a different time or with different people I simply freeze. In fact freeze is my automatic response when faced with the anxiety of a fight-flight-freeze situation.

When I was a child we often went to visit my widowed aunt who needed my parents’ help with home maintenance and yard work. She always had a stack of gift catalogs — like Harriet Carter, Lillian Vernon, Carol Wright, Miles Kimball — but I called them problem-solving catalogs. My parents never had these fascinating resources! While Auntie was cooking a Sunday dinner I used to study them carefully, amazed at all the clever gadgets people invented to solve problems I never imagined existed!

Something more recent now… I have two tall bookcases with glass doors that I need to move to finish painting the living/dining room. I wanted someone to help me by standing on the floor while I stood on a chair and emptied the top shelf, handing them the items to put on the table. I wanted to do it this way because I didn’t want to have to keep getting up on and down off the chair. That’s pretty much how I always tackled the problem but when I was younger there was always a child available to help me out.

Then one night about a week ago I was sitting on the couch looking at them and it suddenly occurred to me that I could take things off a lower shelf and then move the things off the top shelf onto the lower shelf while still standing on the chair. I was amazed at my sudden and unfamiliar brilliance! Why didn’t I think of this years ago?

What is unusual here is that I figured this one out by myself. To do things my way is usually tedious at best. Most of the shortcuts I’ve learned over the years for doing housework have come from how-to books or from friends and relatives pointing things out to me. I still remember how enlightened I felt when my aunt told me about felt circles I could stick to the bottom of the kitchen chairs to muffle the loud noise they made when moved across the floor. Who knew?

Frustratingly, an executive function deficit is not something you can fix by simply trying harder. Often, other people will look at the symptoms of impaired executive function and assume the autistic person is lazy, spaced out, or disorganized. If only they would make more effort, everything could be fixed. In fact, I think most autistic people — including me — think this of themselves at times.
~ Cynthia Kim
(Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate)

making sense of my life

lesserury-woman-at-writing-desk
“Woman at Writing Desk” by Lesser Ury

If I could, I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results.
~ Charlotte Brontë
(The Life of Charlotte Brontë)

I’ve acquired many labels in my sixty years: highly sensitive person, introvert, obsessive-compulsive, painfully shy, homebody, bookworm, social phobia, agoraphobia, chronic depression, chronic migraine, chronic anxiety. But none of them got to the crux of the matter more definitively than autism.

Feeling like an odd-duck for all of my life I started suspecting autism (or Asperger’s syndrome) a few years ago. Little hints in the occasional magazine article. (Caring for elderly relatives for most of my adult life I’ve spent countless hours in medical and hospital waiting rooms reading magazines.) But last October I read an autobiography written by someone who had been been “diagnosed” late in life. His experience compelled me to read a few more books on the subject. And then a few more. My curiosity finally led me to consult with a neuropsychologist who confirmed my suspicions in December, one month shy of my 60th birthday.

Talk about a paradigm shift! The news actually came as a huge relief. So many things about my life until now are finally making sense.

It can be harrowing to see life through the surreal lenses that warp and tangle and convolute the most simple of activities; activities that the neurologically typical consider ordinary, things like shopping and driving and studying and keeping a job and paying bills and visiting with friends. It can be sad to find that no matter how deeply committed the effort, tenuous results may be all that follow.
~ Liane Holliday Willey
(Pretending to Be Normal: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome)

Reading the above quote for the first time deeply resonated with me. I’ve often tried to figure out how most people can simply hop in the car and run out to the store. For me it is a major and exhausting expedition that needs careful preparation and planning and a lot of recovery time afterwards. I’ve never been able to explain why this is to anyone — and still can’t. For me, so many things don’t respond to the ‘practice makes perfect’ philosophy. Now I know why. Now I can make the allowances I need without feeling so badly about it.

No doubt I will be writing more about this astonishing discovery in the coming months.

my ancestors’ souls

“A Lady Reading” by Gwen John

Moreover, my ancestors’ souls are sustained by the atmosphere of the house, since I answer for them the questions that their lives once left behind. I carve out rough answers as best I can. I have even drawn them on the walls. It is as if a silent, greater family, stretching down the centuries, were peopling the house.
~ Carl Jung
(The Earth Has a Soul: The Nature Writings of C.G. Jung)

enjoy the ride

“Self Portrait” by Zinaida Serebriakova

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time
Any fool can do it
There ain’t nothing to it
Nobody knows how we got to
The top of the hill
But since we’re on our way down
We might as well enjoy the ride

The secret of love is in opening up your heart
It’s okay to feel afraid
But don’t let that stand in your way
‘Cause anyone knows that love is the only road
And since we’re only here for a while
Might as well show some style
Give us a smile

Isn’t it a lovely ride
Sliding down
Gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It’s just a lovely ride
Now the thing about time is that time
Isn’t really real
It’s just your point of view
How does it feel for you
Einstein said he could never understand it all
Planets spinning through space
The smile upon your face
Welcome to the human race

~ James Taylor
♫ (Secret o’ Life) ♫

James Taylor in the 1970s.

The other day this song came on the radio — I hadn’t heard it in ages and found that it has even more meaning to me now than it did in the past. Lately I’ve been so at peace with the passage of time… Even often ‘feeling afraid’ isn’t spoiling the ride. James Taylor was the first singer-songwriter I followed with passion as a teen. Since he was about 9 years older than me I often found his songs expressing and reflecting feelings I’ve had along the way.

He’s going to perform with Bonnie Raitt at Fenway Park in Boston on August 11. Not sure I could handle the traffic or the crowds but it is so tempting to dream about! Live music is always amazing…

into the mist

hmmm… what have we here?

Last weekend we flew down to North Carolina to see the little one, and her parents, of course. 😉 A visit to the Museum of Life & Science in Durham proved to be a great adventure. The museum’s tag line is “know wonder.” We spent most of our visit at the “Into the Mist” outdoor exhibit because that’s where Katherine’s curiosity led her.

time to investigate the intermittent mist at closer range…

Activate push-button mist fields and watch as droplets of water suspended in air form clouds that hover over small valleys. How does humidity and wind impact your misty landscape? Take a one-of-a-kind stroll through this cooling landscape and watch as rainbows appear then disappear. Climb through tunnels, make sand sculptures, or just sit, cool off, and observe the beauty of mist, landforms, and rock.
~ Museum of Life & Science website

noticing how slippery the steps are…

Katherine is an observer. This little amphitheater/mist pit captured her attention. For a good while she studied carefully how the other children played until the mist stopped coming up from the ground and then how one of them would run up the stairs to push a button on top of a pole to make the mist appear again.

continuing her investigation…
still figuring things out…
watching another child press the button…
a new friend to play with on the sidelines…
but it must be more fun in the middle…
think I should try this, Grandpa?

When she finally decided to take the plunge she had a wonderful time and got thoroughly soaked in the mist.

cool!
oh this is fun!
taking note of a pine cone…
joy!
it’s so wet…
the little scientist explores…

After changing Katherine into dry clothes we all had lunch and then Grammy & Grandpa Tim got to take our little darling on the Ellerbe Creek Railway. She’s very interested in trains these days and there are a few more in the area we hope to ride on during our next visit. While on the train we passed the Hideaway Woods outdoor exhibit and will definitely have to check out the huge tree house playground. But we had all had enough excitement for one day and it was getting hotter as the day wore on. Hard to believe it was still February.