April 22, 2021

Waiting for "They"

Well before the pandemic, I read Station's Eleven  by Emily St. John Mandel. I guess it is post-apocalyptic, in that modern civilization quickly implodes following a sweeping,fatal respiratory pandemic.

But that's not my point. One scene sticks with me.. Outbound travellers at a midwestern airport are of course aware of the viral death march around them. But what does that have to do with my flight being late? They are annoyed at the confusing delay announcements...and then dumbstruck when the voice finally announces that all personnel have left the airport. As have all the taxis, buses, and other public transports.  

So they sit. Waiting for "they." As in "I'm sure they will send over the National Guard to take us to some hotels."   "I'm sure" dwindles to "I hope they are going to leave us some food" and finally to the edge.

"They wouldn't just leave us here. Would they?"

Sooner or later, some folks let go of their boarding passes and figure out that the only "they" who will care for them are the ones in the mirror

Which brings me to trying to get a COVID vaccine in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. 

I live in a largely affluent county that sits right next to Philadelphia and across the river from the capital of New Jersey. My doctors are part of a sophisticated tertiary-care hospital network and I am smart, energetic, and finally happy to be old because I am now in the coveted "1A" group.  The county is falling over itself converting this college and that mall into injection sites by appointment. 

But how do you get this mysterious appointment?

My doctor's message is "wait for us to call you." So I wait. As all my 1A friends in other states get their vaccines--and their grandchildren.  My doctor can't get enough supply, she suggests I try Rite-Aid, Walgreen's, and CVS. She heard that a local grocery store pharmacy posts new appointments every morning at 5:30 am. She heard? Like she heard that Kim and Kanye are on the outs?

But I grab at any straw. I am up at 5 am every day filling in the same lengthy forms only to arrive at the same page: no appointments available.

I finally locate the County website that is taking names and "we will call you" to schedule an appointment when...when whatever they need to happen occurs. 

Its now early March and my daughter in Illinois is completely vaccinated and I break down crying. Nice, huh? I have turned myself into a madwoman...in all senses. Partially from lack of sleep and the psychic assault that comes from filling in e-forms at dawn every day.  But mostly, it is from outrage (and fear) erupting from my core:  This is what government is for, to protect and defend us.  Aren't "they" supposed to be taking of us?

I turn to "them" directly. My congressman's office completely agrees with me, the lack of a centralized response plan is appalling. And that of course is the fault of the state. My state senator's office completely agrees with me. Too bad the county's such a mess. (My county commissioner had the good sense to return my call when I was not at home.). Both pointed how difficult it is to reach everyone...I pointed out that they had no trouble when they wanted my vote. I added that the local kids' soccer league and pee-wee softball have six signs across the street telling me how to sign up for spring training. Maybe they should contact the local coaches for advice?

Then I got another lead from more whispering-down-the-lane antics and signed up for the medical networks in the next county and throughout New Jersey.  I nearly required cardiac resuscitation when I logged on in an automaton coma for the fourth time in one day and bingo: an appointment!  Of course, I had to drive 60 minutes north but it was worth it. 

And look where they sent me: our amusement park! Dorney Park and Wild Water Kingdom, to be exact.

Ironically, I have always been petrified of roller coasters, tilt-a-whirls and all other rides except for those little boats with the bell you can ring. But Himself told me that if I got my shot and didn't cry, they would give me cotton candy. 

And here's where the story, if you're still with me, turns beautiful.  Because "they" became us. Hundreds and hundred of volunteers logging us in and explaining the drive-through (yes!) procedure...

...giving the injection and handing over the paperwork...

...watching over us for anaphylactic reactions..and cheerily waving us out of the park. Thirty minutes start to finish.

It got me crying again. But this time, it was because I was overwhelmed by these faces. "They," these magnificent volunteers, filled a park in the Poconos chill to make it happen for me...for all of us. Ok, the government "they" made the vaccination possible, but at least in my area, they couldn't do what any little league seems to be able to do: get out the word and sign 'em up.  

But here in Dorney Park, I saw the "they" that is us at its best. They made me safe.  They made it possible for me to fly into the arms of my daughter and grandson next week. They helped the negativity of the early months ease into relief and gratitude.

Now, um, could we talk about the cotton candy thing?


March 24, 2021

Oh Yeah, I Remember Writing

I worked a lot with my hands during the pandemic. First, I cleaned out every space in or near this house. Then, like a crazed Rapunzel, I fashioned yards and yards of my obscene supply of fabric into pillows....

and rag rugs.

 I collaged everything with a bare surface, except for Rob and Molly. 

 I learned how to paint. 

" Memory Keeper"

And then I traveled in our Airstream for 3 months, 12,000 miles, and 15 mostly Western states. 

                                                           The Badlands, South Dakota

I did all this stuff. 

But I forgot to write.

Ok, Grace, since you're still sitting across from me demanding that I tell only truth, that is a big fat lie.   I did jot down daily descriptions in my journal about  how I spent the day, just to affirm that I was coping. And perhaps, for the future, to chronicle what coping looked like.  But I couldn't muster any interest in coming here.  At first, I thought I had nothing to say...a big psychic "Who Cares?"  Then, as I became more and more intrigued by painting, I thought "I know how to write, let me spend my time learning how to paint." 

This morning, with my second dose of Moderna vaccine just three weeks away, my pandemic cocoon is starting to feel tight around the edges. I peeked back out into the world and happened to catch up on Saskia's blog as she moves through these very early days of losing both her parents.. And that helped me understand the truth.  I wasn't reluctant to write, I just couldn't write truth about anything that wasn't about my own broken heart after the loss of my parents. And for me, the work of healing required--requires--a lot more feeling and a lot less word-crafting. 

With that understanding, I also took a peek at my old self. I read back through my own entries here and saw how well I captured my experiences of their deaths. And how I reached total strangers who nodded in agreement.

And how over some 157 posts, I made us laugh, you and me both.  

I remember writing. And how good it all feels.



January 27, 2020

"My, people come and go so quickly here..."

Those were the words of that great Kansas philosopher, Dorothy Gale. She muttered it in Munchkinland but, based on my last year or so, I now accept it as a sound Principle of Life.

As you know from my last post, Mom died in September of 2018. Our big black boxer Tui started having seizures two months later and died the following March from a presumptive brain tumor. (Presumptive because I said no to Dr. Crazy Canine Neurologist, who advocated spending $3,500 for an MRI to find out for sure so I could then subject him--the dog, not the neurologist--to brain surgery.)

My daughter and her husband safely delivered my gorgeous grandson Ezra in July and he thrives, happy and loved. I tried to upload a video because I know you have never seen adorable babies before, but Blogger says the file is too big. I'm sure they offer a workaround for Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen, but all I can do is give you this Ewok in its place.
One month later, my 92-year-old father died. I know now that he worked as hard as he could to stay alive without my mother, who was his light. He pushed and pushed through the strangulating effects of Parkinson's on his physical ability and his mental clarity. He pushed until he could see that his beloved granddaughter and her new son were fine and that I had a clear mastery of and full legal access to his estate. Despite the fact that, to his lifelong chagrin, I am no better at math now than I was in fifth grade.

When Dad saw that all was fine, he just stopped pushing. He felt weak on Sunday morning and died the following Saturday, in the early morning hours of my mother's birthday. He spoke his last words to me from a fog midweek. "Be sure to clear away the leaves."  From where, Dad?  "From the ground." 
My daughter and her new family left for the funeral. She and the baby headed to Detroit. Her husband headed to Wisconsin. His grandfather, the man who helped make my son-in-law the spectacular man that he is, died one day after my dad.

In October, my stepson and his wife safely delivered a beautiful baby elfin child. She too thrives, happy and loved.
One week later, little Ezra and little A's auntie, my stepdaughter, announced that HER son will be arriving at the end of May!

And so now I see what Dorothy Gale saw. People come....people go. Sometimes, its as fast as the Wicked Witch of the East going up in smoke or the Good Witch popping down in her bubble. 

I became a Bobbe (Yiddish for Nana/Grandma/Granny/Mom Mom and all that other cockamamie stuff) and an orphan in four weeks. The family I grew up with once was four...and then there was one.  My other family, the one facing forward, will have three new babies within 10 months.

Other times, it is only visible out of the rear view mirror. Now, I am the next generation in line to slip away.

Hopefully, without drama.

But it is always happening. I struggled mightily with the tornado as it whirled around me. But now I accept it. In fact, it isn't a tornado, it is the way. The Way. Perhaps my acceptance comes from a daily meditation practice that seems to have at last taken root. Perhaps it comes because once again, the passage of time remains the best cure for what ails ya. I am not going to look a gift of acceptance in the mouth, that's for sure.

Ironically, like Dorothy, Himself and Molly and I are also headed to Kansas. Next month, this beauty comes into our driveway.

Our own Airstream! When it comes, we will go. To the Black Hills of South Dakota, via the Oregon Trail and whatever else strikes our fancy. No deadlines, no reservations.

Just coming and going.

May 5, 2019

What My Mother Taught Me About Dying

Last year, as spring slid into summer, my mother slowly slid into what would be the last months of her life. The process started with disengagement. First, she shied from the outings that had always energized her. Then, she grumbled at having to leave the apartment. Finally, she refused to leave the couch, where she slept most of the day tucked in the nest of handmade pillows that she collected over a lifetime of traveling around the world.

The next step was a week-long tsunami of agitation and combativeness. This was even more astonishing because the single gift of Mom's dementia had been to make her sweet and compliant.

In retrospect, I now see that I was actually astonished by the whole last months of her life. ..or were they the first few months of her dying?  Because the first thing I learned from my mother's death in mid-September was that even at age 64, I knew nothing at all about dying.

I was a young teenager when Elisabeth Kubler-Ross challenged our notions of how to treat the dying. Along with the rest of the culture, I assimilated the radical notion of On Death and Dying that we should no longer shunt our dying loved ones to the hospital. The New Directive was to support their dying at home or in a compassionate environment like Hospice, where they could retain their dignity all through their final hours.

And let me add that, in the absence of any direct experience, I just assumed that dying was exactly that: a matter of hours.  Fed by the filtered black and white photos in my copy of On Death and Dying, I developed quite a poetic bank of images of what those final hours would look like. You know what I mean. A hospital bed, its steel softened by a handmade quilt and the family cat, sits by the window, arranged to capture the view of the magnolia tree in pink bloom. A bedside candle flame dances as loved ones hold hands, share memories, and beg--or offer--forgiveness. The whispered "I love you" and then...perhaps a shudder...and then sorrow. With serenity just around the corner.  

My mother's death left me with a profoundly different bank of images.

Yes, there were the angelic aides from Hospice, who alternated between lovingly massaging cream into Mom's eroding skin and checking their cell phones for Facebook updates. Yes, there was a hospital bed but I couldn't add the afghans she had knit because my father keeps the thermostat set to "Human Body, Feverish." 

But there was no candle (see thermostat, above). And there were none of the serene exchanges that resolve all unspoken tensions between mother and daughter.  In fact, there were no exchanges at all. My real mother's default response to emotion was avoidance. I will never know if dying would have changed her mind because her mind was full of Ativan, Haldol, and morphine to control terminal agitation.

Yeah, "terminal agitation." Ever hear of it?  Me neither.

As the name suggests, terminal agitation is an escalating picture of restlessness, agitation, and downright combativeness that may occur in the last weeks of life. Hospice considers it a crisis--and given all they have to deal with, that's saying a lot.

Terminal agitation has bloodied all my fantasies of how we die. Here's a snapshot from the morning I stayed with Mom during a care planning meeting. The last day she ever talked to me.

"We need to go now," she insisted, trying to get off the couch without any success.
"Get me out of here NOW," she commanded. I obliged, trying to figure out a route away from the public spaces of the nursing home.

"Can't you go any faster?" she demanded, as I wheeled her up and down the halls of the third floor. That held her. Until it didn't.

"What's the matter with you, we need lunch."

"Ok, here you go," I said as we returned to the apartment and I slipped a small plate of her favorite foods on to the table.

"What's the matter with you? I said 'lunch'!"

Here is where mothering two toddlers came in handy. "Okay, here's lunch," I said as I put two M & Ms in her mouth. But she wasn't having any and I was shit out of ideas. Luckily for the both of us, the nurse returned and, even luckier, she had a morphine injection in her pocket. I coaxed Mom to the couch, where she relaxed into my arms. She asked me to tell her a story...which I did, with tears in my throat.

My gentle and gentlemanly father could not acknowledge that his wife of 65 years was dying and so could not help but scream at her when she swore at and scratched at the aides. Hospice took her to another apartment to stabilize her (and him). Mercifully for me, they told me I shouldn't come by. By the time I saw her four days later, "stabilized" looked a lot like unconscious.

If I hadn't experienced the agitation myself, I would have suspected they were simply drugging her to make their lives easier. But they weren't. They were drugging her to make her life easier for her. ...to make her death easier for her.

We went to our craft show for the weekend because 1) no one told me I should not and 2) I desperately needed to catch my breath.  Rona the Super Aide stayed with Mom in her deep fog, whispering to her that I would be home on Monday as she cleansed the sweat off her brow (see temperature, above).

I came back Monday morning and held her hand, searching for any sign that she was holding my hand too.

"I'm going home now to change and will be back later," I whispered. "But if  you need to go now, it is ok. I am taking care of Daddy and I will make sure he will be all right."

I was in the car for 15 minutes when Rona called me to tell me she was gone.

It is going on eight months since that phone call. I am starting accept, rather than avoid, my new understanding of the reality of dying.  I am starting to accept what my mother taught me about dying: it is not a moment but a process. It may not be pretty, but it will be real...as real as life.

And I am now starting to catch glimpses of my real mother through the searing images of last year.  They are in the way I am quick to judge anybody and the way I wave my hand to dismiss opinions of others. They are in the way I trim fat off the brisket I cook for Passover and the way I fold used pieces of aluminum foil and tuck them in the drawer.They are in the way I love adventure and the color red.

They are in the way I am washing and folding the sweaters she knit for my babies, readying them for the grandchild I am expecting in July.

Thanks, Mom.

September 3, 2018

An Army of Daughters

Everywhere I look, I see an army massing.

It is the army of daughters, holding on to their aged parents.

To doctors and dentists, to dinners at 5 pm and 10% off days for seniors. Down the halls of nursing homes and up aisles at supermarkets, slowly pushing a cart that holds two apples, one tomato, and a small box of low-sodium Saltine crackers.

The army of daughters is in every corner of the parking lot, snapping walkers and wheelchairs into and out of trunks in two expert maneuvers..the way they mastered strollers so many years ago.  Always scanning for a car door swinging shut too soon, or an SUV backing out of a parking space too fast.

The way they protected their toddlers so many years ago.

The army of daughters is hardly a silent one. In fact, they're always on their phones.  They're pleading with medical receptionists to let them bring Mom this afternoon so that this night too does not end in the emergency room.  They're dialing every number in the zip code to find an after-hours pharmacy that is truly open past 6 pm. They're calling Dad for grocery lists, which will inevitably include all the items they just dropped off the day before.

And they try so very hard to answer the ringing phone calmly, even when their throats constrict as they see the number on the caller ID...

...and they find themselves throwing on jeans and heading out the door.


At its best, this army is a holy exercise in compassion and a desperate primal desire to prevent the suffering overtaking the minds and bodies of those who taught them Love. At its worst, the army of daughters can't choke back the ugly thought that you don't enlist in this army...

You get drafted.

July 8, 2018

Home Dec

We had a lot of construction around here this winter. Mostly so Himself, now retired and a full time woodworker, could have a studio that 1) facilitates the level of craftsmanship he has attained and 2) does away with the need to climb over large power tools butted up against one another like a herd of sheep at shearing season.  (You can see pictures of the tools now running free over at our website.)

Being the opportunist that I am, I agreed to sign off on the New Studio Bill if I could attach to it House Amendment #2018, stipulating new kitchen cabinets and countertops. We tiled the backsplashes ourselves and managed to stay married. But we deliberately left one stretch undone, so that I could go to it with my broken china, bottles, and other ephemera that I have dug up in the finest trash heaps the United States has to offer.

I am really happy with the result. (And yes, my favorite woodworker made that counter top).
The strange object on the left is called a "land line."
I spent lots of time trolling Pinterest for ideas and latched on to two of them: making it flow along the wall, instead of covering it. And letting it come out of the wall, adding dimension and the whimsy that I so love. That made good use of the intact pieces I have found.

While I was rushing to get this done in time for a Memorial day weekend wedding in our backyard, I asked Himself to focus on one of the outside projects. I love the sound of running water. Could he come up with an idea for a fountain that we could hook into the return valve on the pool? 

He did.
 "How will that fit into the wedding that the millenial bride and groom are imagining? I asked.  

"Hmmm. You're right," he said.  

But it didn't him long to come up with a solution.

April 29, 2018

Back to collage

No, its not a typo. Cutting up pages from magazines, adding bits of handmade paper, throwing in the odd bit of ephemera here and there...and gluing it all down without thought into my journal has become the only way I can name emotions too big for me to look right in the eye.  (You can read about my technique, if you call it that, here.)

The other evening, even two glasses of a very nice beaujolais failed to dissolve the massive emotion that was still pushing out from my brain into my eyes. I was desperate. I surrendered to glue stick and my plastic box of clippings.

And 10 minutes later, this appeared.
 The Yiddish alone told me the name of the emotion: I miss my mother. She is here but she is not she any more.

I keep the little Mexican china bowl on her coffee table filled with M & Ms and slip her oatmeal raisin cookies every few minutes. I remind her that I am not just "Mort's daughter," but her daughter, too, and she also had a son. Once. I tell her the weather outside every three minutes.

I love this woman...

But I miss my mother. A lot.