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Archive for the ‘Everyday Life’ Category

The Calm after the Storm

I broke down in the supermarket the other day, in the greeting card aisle, looking at Rosh Hashanah cards. This will be the first year I observe Jewish High Holy Days without either of my parents. Just seeing the cards wishing peace and a healthy year to come tore me apart.

Other things unexpectedly lance my gut – the scent of coffee as both my parents could not face the day without a cup or two. The sight of the ocean as we’d lived near the Atlantic on the New Jersey shore or the Pacific in both Hawaii and California. The chirping, twittering sounds of birds as my dad ushered us through rain forests and woods, identifying avian species. The feel of hot wind against my skin, recalling the clutch of Alabama’s unforgiving broiling weather when I lived there as a kindergartner. Pierced constantly, I bleed all over the place.

I look at a pink blouse in Macy’s, thinking how much my mom would like it, maybe I should… then it comes back to me – no need to buy it for her. The same effect on spotting a new crossword puzzle book at CVS, solving puzzles together a favorite pastime when she was alive. The Alzheimer’s that held her in its long noose for so many years is finally over – she passed in late March. Still my emotional pain is ebbing – mom is no longer in the horrific physical pain that stalked the last year of her life, and that’s a good thing. My blood stanches.

I dreamed of my parents standing next to each other, gazing at the Pacific. Their last home was a condo that overlooked the ocean, nothing in front of their window but train rails along the beach and the swelling turquoise sea. My dad had one arm around my mom, the other around me, united again at last.

I know our dreams are personal manifestations of the world as we experience it, filtered through our sleeping subconscious mind. Still, I felt tranquil in that moment, knowing I had done everything I could to care for my ill mom in a way my dad could accept after he died nearly ten years ago. I believe in the survival of the soul – my dream might be a message from the world to come, from the sacred essence that survived the deaths of their corporeality.

Over the last decade, I’ve had a loving, supportive family holding me up. A son and daughter-in-law moved aside like cars in the way of a fire truck, allowing me respite with their two children. My grandchildren, who loved their great-grandmother, not realizing she was ill. She was their Gigi, and they accepted her quixotic inability to remember their names, always knowing she would shower them with kisses and hugs. My grandchildren softened the shredded edge of my worries with play, stories, and antics that allowed me serenity.

Another son and daughter-in-law, living far from us, knew when I needed a phone call. The cell tower network (we are so very fortunate to live in an era of global communication access) leap frogs hundreds of miles so I could contact our two youngest grandchildren. I listened to their baby talk until their babbling chatter over the years became words, then sentences, and finally full throttled conversations about dinosaurs, gymnastics class, and the funny bugs in the yard. To be immersed in such presence is a holy moment.

My husband put up with my despair and commiserated about the injustice of a disease that dismantled my mother’s social and logic skills. He endured me fuming about the legal, health, and financial worries that woke me in the middle of the night like lions hunting on African grasslands, the threat of attack imminent. A husband who visited his mother-in-law without a prompt from me, always with a fresh bouquet of blooms to remind her that she was someone important to him, even when she no longer had any idea who he was. He soothed me back to sleep.

Friends inflated a flotation jacket around me, keeping me from drowning. Some are people I’ve known forever, living near enough for a hug fest, others only close enough for a sobbing phone call late at night. My friends are a bulwark of ears and shoulders, one limb to turn my verbal outrage into sense, the other a net to catch my emotional free fall. Many are family members of other sufferers of Alzheimer’s. We are an alliance of wisdom and folk stories about how to limit the devastation of the disease, both the physical impact on those who are ill and the emotional toll that forces family into no man’s land. All of it is about loss, confusion, and righting a leaky craft. They remain steadfast for me as I do for them.

Alzheimer’s is a shipwreck foundered on alien shoals. But I am learning to jump ship, skip the waves, and wade in the shallows. To smile. To sleep through the night. To feel the consolation that my parents’ long journeys are over, that mine will be an easier trek each new day. There is laughter again, friendship, love, family, and calm after the storm.

 

Note: I’ve written a novel, Where Did Mama Go? about the devastation Alzheimer’s disease inflicts on families. It’s in the process of being edited, and then I’ll start querying for an agent to represent my work. My credentials for writing this story are eighteen years of assisting my mom through the labyrinth of this illness.

 

Image of California coastline courtesy of Pixabay

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Labor Day

When I was a kid living on Parkway Avenue in Trenton, New Jersey, all the capital city’s parades marched by my house. Brass bands played their instruments in flashy uniforms, tiara topped queens perched on festive floats, military regiments marched in stately uniforms, and the top-hatted mayor waved from the back seat of a convertible Cadillac – all of them strutted along the route. Horses too, the magnificent beasts without whose presence a parade is just the leftover straggle of a city garage sale.

I doubt I could tell the difference between the Christmas spectacle and the one for Labor Day, except one showcased Santa in a sleigh pulled by a fire truck (where were the reindeer?) and the other highlighted city workers marching beside their union alliances.

Labor Day is a public, federal holiday established to honor the contributions of the American labor movement. It promotes the prosperity and well-being of our country, supported by those who build, serve, clean, maintain, and defend the many enterprises that comprise the enduring and independent fabric of the United States. Their work is usually grungy, often dangerous, sometimes heroic, and rarely makes the nightly news.

I don’t know if Trenton’s parades still march by the house. The house is still there, Google Images showing it’s barely changed in sixty years. But producing a parade is a task requiring a monumental budget with minimal financial recoupment possible. It’s a traveling billboard, perhaps, advertising the best goods for sale, gambling on future purchase of products, city tax base growing among the ranks.

Maybe the Santa parade still treks along Parkway Avenue through the winter snow, but Labor Day? Most of those for whom the end-of-summer holiday was created will work on Labor Day. Holiday pay (yeah, nice, but still…) and no recognition are more the norm than processional exhibition for those who serve in the lowliest service jobs.

If you’re out and about today, smile big at the folks taking a day ON, not off, and leave an extra tip. It’s Labor Day and they’ve got work to do. Taking care of you and me. Here’s where I put my hand over my heart and give a nod of appreciation.

 

Just a Thought 49

 

Photo of Labor Day Parade, Buffalo, New York, circa 1900, courtesy commons.wikimedia

 

The Terrain of the Long Road

It’s been five months since my mom died, nearly ten years since my dad passed. I’ve only started to grieve both of them, appropriate since once they decided to truly stick together (thank God for Marriage Encounter) they were rarely apart. That was well into their marriage, the first twenty-five years packed like a Molotov cocktail with vitriol and blame, the last thirty-six jammed with hand holding and secrets. Also affection, maybe love, and a charmed social appearance that fooled the world. Which meant there was no place for me until I was needed by my mother’s side after my dad died.

My mom suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, the condition from which there’s no respite and only one ultimate outcome. Long before we identified the alien craters of her brain as the vestiges of a decimating disease, I knew she also bore the scars of full throttle psychosis from childhood, a mental health condition that colored her with crazy glue and nearly destroyed me. It took years and years for me, first of hiding, then of admitting, then of sharing (too much, way too much,) to finally begin to heal. I will be seventy-years-old on Labor Day – I have only begun to understand, only begun to heal, but at least I have that.

In the 117 years since Alois Alzheimer identified the disease, they (the scientists, doctors, clinicians) have made virtually no progress in finding a cure, a prevention, or even an effective interruption in the progress of the disease. The study of why the brain constructs this weird labyrinth of reduced communicative skills and thunderous retreat to childhood has flat lined.

The newest research shows that they know next to nothing after all, and the promised cure around the bend is a long way from a pill or a plan. So much for prophecy. Instead it’s a long flat road, getting flatter as they travel, sticking needles into volunteers, taking MRI’s, prescribing pills, diets, and regimens. It’s the brain after all, the most mysterious and complex of human organs. Let us in, the scientists beg, but the brain smiles its twisted spheres and holds tight its secrets, a snarky Cheshire Cat. Drink me, it answers and grins, the key too hard to reach. It’s a long way down the rabbit hole and no easy climb back up. It hardly matters to my parents. They are both gone.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross identified five stages of grief at the loss of a loved one. They have nothing to do with me. I’m not following her order. I’m wallowing in all of them at once and more that she never mentioned. Because part of the process of grief is coming to terms with the history of yourself and the person who died.

When my father died, I had no opportunity to grieve. True grieving is, after all, a luxury. There must be time to sit on the sofa and cry all night long, to wander the back alleys looking for something more dangerous than what you’re already enduring, to drink yourself into a stupor and fall naked into someone’s bed, to kneel at a grave and keen the loss. I didn’t have that time. I had a mother whose plunge into Alzheimer’s made rubble of my time. Of me. She needed me as her legal advocate, her appointment transportation, her entertainment committee, her financial warrior, and sometimes her confidante. For while I had no time, she had all the time.

Nothing pressed on mom to get things done. Paying rent, shopping for toothpaste, washing blouses, making dinner, even bathroom assistance – it was all provided. Since the progress of her illness had been identified by her physician as much more severe than I’d realized, (remember, I said my parents had crafted a social appearance to fool the world) I’d been forced to place her in a memory care residence. Not now will I discuss the emotional massacre of removing someone from the privacy and luxury of their own home to an institution, no matter how much safer it is for them. Understand, please, that it robbed me of years of sleep, loaded me with stress as thick and dangerous as the carbs and salt in a family size pizza, deprived me of common sense decision making for my own life, and saddled me with nightmares that segued into daymares – as if I could sleep at all. That was how my time was spent – worrying, second guessing, researching, and driving all over the place because of responsibilities to mom, to my family, and to the trust that paid her expenses.

She spent her time mulling as much as her disease allowed; otherwise she allowed me to function for her. I made myself present in her life, visiting four to five times a week, four to six hours a visit, doing everything I could to make her believe that her life hadn’t changed since her husband had died. A person with Alzheimer’s cannot grieve. They cannot process information or internalize new experiences and move on, they cannot abide by Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ routine. They cannot remember. My mom asked every day when he was coming back, and every time I tried to explain and provide a spiritual reference for comfort. It didn’t stick. So she’d ask again and I’d explain again or try to distract her or simply moan.

And this is where I stand today. Finally sobbing over the deaths of my parents. For while they did not die on the same day, they both died for me when my mom passed on March 30, 2018.

There is no cure around the bend for Alzheimer’s, only the deathly flatness of the road, like farmland tilled and plowed for hundreds of years, land made flatter and flatter as crop after crop is planted and harvested. Still growing tomatoes or corn or strawberries. Still researching and testing with no viable results.

It’s a long road ahead of me, full of trenches, crumbled surfaces, clutching mud. I face a perilous journey before I am fully able to forgive, apologize, move forward, to lay my head on their graves and know it will be OK. I am grieving now.

 

 

Note: I’ve written a novel, Where Did Mama Go? about the devastation Alzheimer’s disease inflicts on families. It’s in the process of being edited, and then I’ll start querying for an agent to represent my work. My credentials for writing this story are eighteen years of assisting my mom through the labyrinth of this illness.

 

Black and white image of grief courtesy CCO Public Domain

 

 

 

Promise Me Anything, Just Make It Dinner

Don’t you just love those TV cooking shows? Three-minute cooking segments between four-minute commercial breaks, promising dinner ready thirty minutes after you walk in the door, and the best part is: no clean up!

Yeah, right.

Thirty minutes as long as you planned the menu ten days ago, bought the food – all of it – last weekend, had your home concierge wash, chop, measure, and lay out in order needed every ingredient a half hour before you got home. Because if Chef Guido Cucino has a helper on his show, in the background of course, why the hell don’t you? Oh yeah – no producer, director, cameraman, or make up artist either. Sheesh, your feet stink, your back aches, and you must have ground your eyeballs into the Panko bread crumbs. Plus, the business proposal your boss needs you to take a look at tonight – it’ll only take a few minutes, a coupla notes written, after the kids go to bed. (If they go to bed.)

Thirty minutes as long as the older kid brought home the right book for her assignment. As long as the toddler doesn’t need a change of pants and will stop crying long enough for your mind to grasp what crisis requires immediate attention. All of it of course. As long as spouse doesn’t get home the same second as you so you have five minutes thinking time to yourself (but then there are the kids) so you can make a cup of coffee (me) or pour glass of wine (you?) before beginning the supportive repartee necessary to keep your relationship smoothly coasting. (Coasting would be fantastic at this moment.)

Thirty minutes as long as at least one pot is not in the dishwasher and at least four paper plates can be scrounged – that’s one Batman, one Peppa Pig, one hibiscus luau, and one Barbie (sheesh, how old is that one?) Forget the forks, can eat with our fingers, and if the thirty-minute dinner requires spoons, the whole bet is off – none clean in the house, not even plastic. As for glasses and cups – you can use the ones from last night. (Just water or juice, right?)

Thirty minutes as long as the dog is not jumping around your legs making you splash everything wet and fling everything dry, because Poochie Pie is hungry too, for crying out loud. So is the cat, the fish, the bird, and the bunny the neighbor foisted on you when she took off for a week in Maui (when is it YOUR week in Maui?) because Hopalong Rabbity is so easy to care for, you can just dump in dry pellets whenever you think of it, except it must be today because you haven’t even checked on the fuzzy tail for the last two days. (Or was it three?)

Thirty minutes as long as reality kicks in, so while the cooking show is on TV, here are three options, one of which you’ll actually manage:

  1. Call for pizza delivery, thirty minutes to your door guaranteed. Yes, the pizza shop repeats your order as soon as they pick up the phone because they know you well, and the whole family is beginning to look a little doughy, but at least in thirty minutes you will have five – count ‘em, five – minutes of chomping but otherwise silent satisfaction while everyone eats a slice or two.

 

  1. Unpack take out from the Chinese or Mexican fast food at the corner, the ones that know your standing order, and open all the cartons on the TV tables in the family room, letting everyone but the toddler dish up their favorite. Except the toddler will dish his own anyway. Five minutes of chomping while the TV blares some insipid but G-rated movie you’ve found on Hulu. Thirty minutes because it took that much to pop in and out of the joint and get the food home.

 

  1. Dish up leftovers from the chicken casserole your mom made for the family over the weekend because now that you’re out of her house, she misses you more than words can say. Well, she misses the kids and worries they never eat anything but pizza and fast food. Thirty minutes to heat each bowl in the microwave separately and carefully carry to wherever someone is eating – spouse in the lounge chair, daughter in her bedroom, you in the kitchen with the toddler who’s dripping as much as he’s ingesting. Ten minutes of chomping because Grandma made it, but at least everyone’s eating.

 

The one really honest chef in the whole world was Julia Child, bless her squeaky passion for all things French victual. When she explained how to make Boeuf Bourguignon, describing the details of slicing, searing, sautéing, and simmering, you at least had a chance to understand the labor and time commitment to get dinner on the table. So when you finally – finally – dip into this magnificent dish, you’re disappointed to realize it’s just beef stew. (Five hours after you walked in the door.)

Now why was it you didn’t get anything written today on the work-in-progress?

 

Painting Trinkender Koch, (Drinking Cook) 19th century, artist unknown

This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.

Selfie Mode

Everyone has the ability to be their own reality show. The pose, the clothes. A smirk, a flirt. Hands on hips, pooched lips. Not attached to the shadows in the corners or the nerves on the floor. Always in the limelight, shiny, sparkling, ready for the camera.

This is the big problem with the selfie generation – a flashy blip on a screen but no touching. A kiss blown in the air but no shoulder to lean on. A false sense of creativity but no genuine imagination.

Put down your phone and make real life contact with another person. That takes time but no need for makeup, effort but no public stance, sharing without showing off, listening as well as talking, and a sense for what is real and therefore really important.

Quick, before you lose yourself to the changeling in the glass and slip in the rue beneath your feet.

 

Just a Thought 40

 

Echo and Narcissus, 1903, John William Waterhouse

 

 

 

Go You or I

Ninety-nine point nine percent of all the people in the world are exactly the same. Exactly. We are more kin than stranger. We are more alike than different. We share more than we own. The infinitesimal difference between us is nothing much at all, and is often due more to luck than intent.

No, it isn’t because of all the wonderful things we’ve individually accomplished to make ourselves uniquely special. It isn’t because we’ve worked so diligently that we’ve earned our blessings. It’s just blind luck.

As blind as justice that lets most criminals escape and most victims suffer without relief and many innocent bear the weight of the true criminal. As blind as the man dragging his fingers along the wall that keeps him out before he realizes it’s a barrier to keep him from falling into a chasm. As blind as the baby in the womb who can’t see his mother’s face yet trusts that the salty sea will continue to nourish until he’s pulled into a dry embrace that feels aberrant . Until he is calmed by those arms, those breasts, those noises so unlike the lu-DUB lu-DUB he’d found his first salve, and falls asleep to his new comfort.

We all need and want, dream and aspire. You the limelight, her the career, him the acknowledgement, them the community, me the opportunity. Really, no more a difference than a wooden plaque or bronze statue.

And after the applause or the star on the chart, all we really want is to be loved.

Someone who gets us and gives to us, who wants to be near us in body and thought, to hear our voice the last sound at night, to say our name first thing in the morning , to share our vision and argue about what that might be. To hold our hand when we worry, cool our head when we fever, weep with us over our failures, and admonish us when we step out of line.

It’s because we are loved – because YOU are loved, that I want to say to you: The path has few markers we can see, the cheers never last until dawn, the shelf on which the trophy sits gets dusty faster than we can earn another. None of that matters as much as that you are here in the world. And that someone loves you.

When you fear the ache, when you despise the dark hole, when doubt makes you nauseous, when you believe that one more moment is unbearable, reach out. The despair is temporary. The flesh burn heals. The tumult in your soul calms. Call someone and talk. Call me and I’ll listen. Put out your hand, we’ll grab hold and not let go.

Ninety-nine point nine percent of all the people in the world are exactly the same.

Except one of those people loves you. Do not forget nor forsake the one who loves you. For if that momentary relief by rope or pill or bullet or knife removes the pain from your heart, it empties the pain into the one who loves you. And it stays forever in their marrow, as long as they live. Their tears never dry, they wonder always if they were the reason, they search every frontier trying to find the explanation. Trying to bring you back. Trying to remind you that they miss you and need you.

We are all saddened and shocked by the suicides last week of two remarkably talented and admired superstars. Heroes who brought us the world and brought the world to our door. As much as we, their fans and supporters, miss them and wonder what crucial need we didn’t fill on their behalf, it is the two young daughters left behind who will bear the weight of their absences.

Ninety-nine point nine percent of all the people in the world are exactly the same. But those young girls are unique and different. They were your point one percent. I wish you’d lingered over their pictures one millisecond longer because I bet you would have reconsidered your actions. I bet you would still be here. Please do not let your permanent solution be their permanent grief.

There but for fortune, may go you or I.

 

The title words Go You or I are borrowed from the song There But for Fortune written by Phil Ochs in 1964. He was a brilliant and sensitive man who suffered from mental instability and succumbed to his despair by committing suicide in 1976. Before that, Phil Ochs left a legacy of hundreds of songs about the many social and political issues that brought him to grief. His work has been sung by dozens of famous recording artists and is on the lips of the millions of us who remember him and hope he knows we still praise the man who helped make us aware of the rest of the world.

 

Weeping Nude, 1914, by Edvard Munch

 

 

 

3-Day Quote Challenge, #1

My dear friend, Sarah, brilliant innovator over at Art Expedition

tagged me to participate in the

3-Day Quote Challenge

Thank you, Sarah, for thinking me worthy of this honor and trusting I have inspiring quotes to share.

So I will begin with a quote from my two-year-old granddaughter, Tessa, because nothing convinces me more that it’s worthwhile to get up each morning than the promise of talking with her, her brother, or her two cousins.

A bit of background about Tessa. First of all, Tessa isn’t her real name. Being so young and unable to comprehend privacy, I’ve changed her name and the names of all the children in this article. It’s OK to put myself out there but I don’t have the right to expose these little ones. Everything else, however, is true.

Tessa is learning to talk and she’s both friendly and willing to try out her new communication skills with everyone. Her usual introduction is to look you in the eye and say,

“I Tessa. I two.”

She holds up the index finger of one hand, then the pointer finger. But that dang little pointer finger drags her middle finger along for the ride, and three fingers now declare her age (incorrectly) so she uses her other hand to hold down the rebellious middle finger. Victorious, she shows two fingers to match her age.

Tessa teaches as much as she learns every day. How to welcome the audacity to try new things. How to step up and do what the big kids do, or at least what her big brother does. How to screech with glee over each little effort and every single event because why wait for something out of the ordinary when the whole world blooms extraordinary? Her shadow stretched to challenge giants, her hands poised to paint, her mouth eager to taste, Tessa embraces adventure.

I’ve lost the capacity to be as thunderstruck as Tessa, but I am a rebel through and through. I’m supposed to post a favorite quote once a day for three days in a row, and nominate three fellow bloggers each day. I’m going to post one quote, except today it will be six, once a week for three weeks. If you are so inclined, please join in this 3-Day Quote Challenge and invite yourself to participate. Figuratively I hold up that rebellious middle finger but it means something a bit different from adorable Tessa’s intent. Yeah, you’ve likely figured it out.

My next favorite quote is from her big brother, Callan, who is four. Callan’s vocabulary is enormous and he puts a lot of thought into his presence on Earth. On his third birthday, he reached milestone after milestone, becoming a big kid before everyone’s eyes. He petted a mouse at the pet store, ate all the frosting off his birthday cake but none of the cake, had a snowball fight, planted flowers in the garden, and pooped and peed in the big toilet for the first time. That’s as good as traveling to the moon and back when you’ve just turned three. He got very serious and said,

“I’m Callan right now. When I grow up, will I still be Callan?”

Yes, you will, Callan. Only older, more thoughtful, still bursting with the enthusiasm to take on the world, one adventure after another. Then he exclaimed,

“Marvelous…simply marvelous.”

With you in the world, Callan, the whole world is indeed marvelous. I’m trying to help keep the world safe for you, beautiful for you, healthy for you. Because you and all other children deserve a good and decent world to live in, that you may grow up and be who you choose to be – Lego builder, rocket man, artist, train conductor, scientist, thinker, leader, gardener.

My sparkling and articulate granddaughter Lila, who’s now ten, makes every stranger her friend, inviting them to share her joy at marching in the local Fourth of July parade with pom pom headbands she made for her entire Girl Scout troop, or to a giggle-filled sleep over in the bonus room. When she was four, after I ran out of pennies playing dreidle, she pushed half her pile to me. Winning wasn’t important, playing was, and always with her ingratiating smile.

She exhibited her comprehension skills when she was only six. It was the end of kindergarten and the whole summer lay before her like a horizon on the move. First, though, I wanted to inspect her school packet, a notebook with entries for each unit studied. Kids these days study topics I didn’t encounter until college, so when I saw the Mayflower she’d cut and pasted on blue paper, I felt comfortable asking her to tell me about it. Eagerly Lila said,

“It’s a picture of the Titanic that left China to go across the Pacific and land on bedrock because the king wouldn’t let them go to church.”

This child understands history and its implications on the current political situation. I wish I had her zestful ambassadorial skill. Thankfully, she isn’t allowed to Tweet. Yet.

My first grandchild is Adam, and at twelve he bears his responsibility as The Oldest with sensitivity and dignity.  He patiently mentors the younger children who adore him. For two years he served as his sister’s secret friend, leaving notes so she would still believe in fairies. Grace resides in this child’s soul. Someone you love having by your side, he comes home from the first day of school, from a Boy Scout meeting, or a day at the zoo, from working at a park clean up, from just about everything, and says,

“This was the best day ever.”

At the recent death of his great-grandmother, he was devastated when, after hearing the adults in our family share our memories of her, he realized he had never known her when she was healthy, before Alzheimer’s disease stole her mind. It shook him mightily to grasp that the great-grandmother he’d known was a very different person only ten years before he met her. But he loved her dearly.

Adam, you are appreciative and gracious every day of your life. You have wisdom beyond your years. I wish I had half your ability to wrap yourself in the joy of each occasion yet still be empathetic with the sorrows of the world.

I explained the meaning of a prayer when Adam was about eight and asked if he knew what the word “amen” meant. He answered,

“In political terms, ‘End of message.’”

My grandchildren remind me how wonderful it is to be alive. End of message.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All photos from Pratt Family archives. No permission given to use these photos.