Sunday, June 30, 2013

Stepping Aside

I'm honored and privileged to be a member of the Open Group for Bedlam Farm, hosted by New York Times Bestselling author Jon Katz.  The group has awakened those passions that drive an artist.  The miracles I see on this site uplift and support me every day.

Jon doesn't just host the group, he's an active participant.  Walking shoulder to shoulder with the artist.  He spoke today that the hallmark of good writing lies in speaking about one's truth.  Is this real to the artist?  Are we telling the truth about ourselves?  Today, Jon asked why so many folks wrote about their mothers.  Many explained that they had or were active caregivers.  Let me quote Polyface Farm owner and author Joel Salatin, when I say, "Folks, this [lifestyle] ain't normal."

The thread, and the subsequent personal caregiving accounts, brought me back to the day I had to decide my mother's (and my) next steps in her care.  My mind still reeled from the doctor's message of "Just a few months."  They needed a decision from me ASAP as the insurance covered only so many days.  The doctor also recommended Hospice, a road I've traveled just recently as my father had been supported by the agency last year.

A dark vacuum draped over me as I fought with the decision.  Mom looked so good in the rehab facility.  Periods of confusion occurred, but nothing off the charts.  I slept fitfully.  I didn't like having her fate on my shoulders.  Hospice does have guidelines and in a way I felt as if I might be assisting in her death.  Admittedly, when I received my dad's diagnosis, I didn't endure those waves of emotion slamming me around like a rowboat floating in hurricane.  His illness and his disease progression were evident.  I knew then Hospice would keep him comfortable.

My spiritual side has always been my beacon and so I consulted with my mother's priest.  After all, she grew up in and found joy in her faith  For whatever reason, I left that visit feeling OK, but the decision still loomed like an ax over my head.  "Who was I to determine one's fate?"  "I am not God."  My own tradition welled up from my soul as I kept asking Jesus to "take this cup" as he asked his Father as I asked my deceased father in prayer.  That simple phrase summed it up for me.  Jesus knew he faced death, yet he asked that that dreaded decision be made for him.  We certainly have something in common and I had entered the land of weird.  Sleep eluded me.  Eating became a necessity, but I couldn't really taste anything.

I called a friend who I had know for a number of years.  We had gone through the discernment process together.  She became a priest.  I left the program a month before my scheduled ordination due to my father's illness.  The car couldn't get me there fast enough.  As I entered the parish office, tears began to flow.  She just hugged me as the emotions poured out.  As she quietly handed me more tissues in attempt to mop up the mess in front of her, I explained Mom's situation.  How I refused to assist in Mom's death.  Get someone else.  Anyone else.  Not me.  God picked the wrong girl.

Susan listened patiently.  Finally, she said the words that I hadn't expect to hear.  She said, "JD, you are not assisting in your mother's death.  You are stepping aside and letting God take over.  You've done everything you can.  It's time."  Those two simple words, "stepping aside" made sense to me.  Her fate did not rest in my hands.  This decision wasn't what I thought it was and actually a great deal more than I'd believed.  Controlling her end of life didn't rest with me.  The only question left involved taking her home or placing her in a nursing home?

The answer to "where" became clear to my as I visited my mother that day.  She didn't understand the nurse's call button and I found her screaming from her bed to "Help me!  Help me!"  I soothed her, then walked over to the nurses' station to inform them Mom would be coming home.

I'm stepping aside now.  There's something much bigger than me in the universe to help and that's my truth.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Attention! Attention!

Dickens here.  The Lady-Upright has stuff to do.

So, what am I thinking?

The Late Shift, But Not Short On Gratitude

The Hospice nurse left a couple of hours ago.  Mom had an issue, that while I knew what needed to be done, I didn't feel qualified to actually perform the procedure.   Armed with the appropriate meds and training, I think we're OK, now.  Whether a baby, child or elder parent, nothing can breed such intense fear as not being able to discern what's wrong because the poor patient hasn't the ability to express the problem, so they become agitated and frustrated with themselves, with the body they inhabit and their caregiver.  I'm grateful to this nurse who fit my mental image of Clara Barton.  Her reassurance and support-priceless.

I'll be on the late shift tonight to ensure my mother remains comfortable.  I had a nap this afternoon, so I should be good to go.   (Although, we were up most of last night, but hopefully the nap serves double duty.

Dickens kicked up his paws tonight, so he's resting comfortably.  (See photo above.  Sorry about the lighting, but I didn't want to wake him.   )  I could walk him ten miles.  Just the two of us.  The truly amazing thing about his play dates, for me, rests in the fact that ten minutes running with friends beats a boring old walk with me.  I'm good with that.  I think that learning from him and other dog owners HAS made me a better human being.

Grateful those thunder storms passed us by.  I had enough instability to deal with.  From my mother's discomfort to Dickens's hyperactivity, I do admit enormous gratitude that I'm not bald today.  Today demanded calm from me and I did my best.

So, here's to the night shift.  A time to thank the powers that are for keeping us safe, for reminding me that positive relationships energize each other, for focusing on the good that occurred from waking to sleeping, and for the strength and courage to fight another day.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


The last couple weeks have been tough on this pup.  We changed our routine, changed our walks.  The hazy, hot, and humids returned with an "ick" and I'm not as available to Dickens as I'd like to be.  He's my buddy and he does his best to make sense of my mother's care requirements over his "let's go chase something" priorities.  He hasn't actually been deprived, but change can cause a pup's head to spin.  I get that.

Another thunderstorm moved in this evening just about the time the pup-son goes for his BIG walk of the evening, so Mr. Dickens had a little temper tantrum.  As I opened the front door, Dickens noticed the rain, backed up, and (if he could) would have thrown up his paws in disgust.

In his mind, I guess, there was only one thing to do.  THE ONE THING that would make my head turn and give chase.  That's right, my little son of a gun planned his revenge upon me by grabbing my knitting, shaking the skein of yarn like a chew toy, and then promptly becoming entangled in said wooly stuff to the point where he snapped and panicked as I attempted to liberate him (and my project).

Honestly, I should have read his body language.  Earlier he began to paw the carpet as if trying to release that pent up puppy energy.  I attempted to exhaust him by playing a game of "catch the duck".  I couldn't tire him out.

At the end of the day, the yarn's fine, the pup's fine, and we'll figure out how to manage our respective energy levels.   Now, if I could just teach him to wind a ball of yarn without eating it, we'd be in a much better place.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Letter to Monday

Dear Monday,

Your visit today proved challenging and, dare I say it, miserable.  From 5 AM forward you served up a unholy mess.  You pushed me to my limits, but, dear day of the week, you are 5 minutes away from being history and, with God's help, we'll all rise to witness what Tuesday has in store.

For once I'm not going to focus on the agony you threw at us.  No, no, you aren't the story.  Sorry your 24 hours of fame are over.

I have to say tonight I sit with keyboard in hand and gratitude in my heart.  As I recently became a member of New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz latest endeavor - The Open Group for Bedlam Farm on Facebook.  The group consists of writers, photographers, painters, etc., etc.  These are wonderful, inspirational, soulful, supportive artists.  I visit the site regularly and tonight's entries warmed by heart and I managed to avoid an epic personal pity party.

One blog that spoke to me involved Gratitude.  As I sit here reflecting, I have much to be grateful for, in spite of you, Monday.  Judy has never blogged before and it's our loss.  Her site's address is  Check it out, I think it just might change your attitude toward others, especially me.

I'm grateful for my mother, for the nurses who care for her, for a little dog who can frustrate, but love me, I'm grateful for friends and even enemies who challenge me to call upon the best within me. Gratitude rising for every breath I take, every plant that shows its beauty, and every member of the this artist's group who reveals their souls by the work they produce.

And as I write this, Monday, I'm grateful to you for teaching me to make better choices when the black clouds are above me.

You can return next week, Monday, but please, please be gentle.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Rocksalot Cottage: Letter from My Inner Caregiver

[I named my inner caregiver "Amelia."  She's quiet, sweet, and emerges when times get tough.  Amelia has thet unique ability to raise me when I'm down and elevate my self-esteem.  The following memorializes Amelia's visit yesterday. ]

Amelia:  You OK?
Me:  No not really.  I'm having a Black Dog Day.  Learned that's what Winston Churchill dubbed his depressed days.
Amelia:  OIC, I've been watching and waited for you to get it all out before we had a chat.
Me:  I think I'm too far gone for that.  Look at me even with five minutes to myself I've make five mistakes on this knitting project.
Amelia:  Um, do you think that maybe you're doing this to yourself?  Do you think you need to accept where you are in order to change it?  Do you think that the pressure you put on yourself might be a tad unrealistic?
Me:  Do you think I really need to hear this now?  Do you think it's easy being a caregiver?  Do you think it's easy trying to keep a person safe, train a dog, homekeeping, bill paying, and not knowing what the future holds?
Amelia (handing me a tissue): I'm not saying it's easy, but I'm saying that perhaps you can make it easier on yourself.  Let's just review yesterday, for example:

Dickens has barking fit at 5:15 AM:  You wake and take him out.
Return from walk, make the dog's breakfast, & wait for coffee
Feed dog
Make Mother's breakfast while sipping coffee
Mom listens to South Pacific during breakfast
Take Dickens out for 1st mile.
Wash bedding
Make second cup of coffee
Call a friend
Pick up prescriptions at pharmacy  (BTW, you forgot one)
Do dishes
Help your mother bathe, dress.
Make third cup of coffee
Prepare lunches (Mom's and Dickens)
Grab handful of potato chips to tide you over until ???
Help Mom to living room for more political news
Take Dickens out for 2nd mile
Prepare and cook dinner
Stop yourself from going for 4th cup of coffee 
Continue laundry
Empty trash
Help Mom to bathroom and back
Eat leftovers from last night's dinner
Serve dinner to Mom & Dickens (promise yourself to eat later.)
Serve dessert
Take Dickens for evening emptying.
Mom goes to bed at 10 PM.
Me:  Not a very productive day.  Look at this place!

Amelia:  That's my point, Lady.  It'll never get done unless you pace yourself.  If you keep going "balls to the wall," you'll be done but the house will remain the same.

Me:  OK, OK.  You're right.  We have to take care of each other which brings me to the topic of chore sharing.  Amelia, you haven't been doing your part.

Amelia:  What do you want from me?  I only an inner child!  I've gotta go and give you a craving for potato chips.  That'll teach you a lesson.  Buh Bye!

Modern Technology Hits a Snag

Our nurse offered a brilliant solution so I could work around the house while my mother rested.  Seemed beyond logical and the "fix" readily available.  What did she recommend?  A video baby monitor.  Genius!

So, before Mom came home I trotted off to the local big box store and left with a less expensive, yet functional, baby monitor.  Let me just say that King Arthur himself could have offered me the choice of Excaliber or a baby monitor and I would have chosen the monitor.

Seeing we live in a neighborhood where folks labor over their property by mowing, weeding, whacking and checking their lawns for tiny imperfections, I thought it best to set up the monitor today in order to tackle the jungle tomorrow.  After all the batteries require an eight-hour charge.

I plugged in the camera and moved on to setting up the remote.  Seemed easy enough, just unscrew the back and insert the batteries.  Fini!  Right?

Oh now dear one, the itty-bitty batteries for this evolution in modern technology required an ancient device to open the back panel of the remote.  This device has been specially crafted to repair eyeglasses and other small things held together with teeny-tiny screws.  Yup, this bad boy required a very fine screwdriver.  Not just slim in appearance, but phillips-head.

I traipsed through the tools.  Nothing.  I scoured the junk drawer.  No luck.  I searched every nook and cranny for said required tool to no avail.   Hate to say this, but the technological term for this failure boiled down to "I was screwed".

Determination won the day as I cleaned out my 40 lb purse and discovered the existence of an even older modern implement - the nail file!  If I canted just so it would nick the "phillipsy" part of the screw and with patience the little sucker began to move.  Success!

The unit sits on the desk charging its little heart out.  I can't believe I stood at the jaws of defeat over a screwdriver.

P.S.  On second thought, if anyone sees King Arthur could you please ask him if I could borrow Excaliber for the day?  I need something magical and sharp to cut through this overgrowth.

Deja Vu With A Twist

Good morning,

Reviewing my blog entries for the past few months I realized there weren't any.  While I kept up with my journaling, this poor little blog stood neglected.

Mom did come home after her rehab and she began to walk better with the assistance of a physical therapist; however, that status did not last long.  She has a condition that returns with reckless abandon   resulting in confusion and the risk of falls.

To make a long story short she returned to the rehab facility with a dire prognosis.  Doctors have determined that she has a matter of months.  Nothing can be done.  (Now where have I written that before?)  So, after more sleepless nights and a swimming in a river of indecisiveness, I took her home with, wait for it, Hospice keeping my back and hers.  I could have placed her in a facility where she'd get round the clock care.  She wanted to be home.  In this house her wish has always been my command.

Some days she lucid.  Most days she's doesn't know who I am.  Some days the fear overwhelms me.  Other days, I stare the fear down.  As they say in emergency management, "The situation remains fluid."

My little dog "Dickens" has joined our care team.  When Mom's particularly confused, he lays in the bed with her, licking her hand as if to say, "Let's get our minds off our problems and play."  She laughs and appears to genuinely enjoy this playtime.  Some days she accuses him of biting her, but that's an emerging memory from long ago.  Dickens hasn't been trained as a Canine Companion,  but he naturally picks up her vibe, dispensing cuddles and kisses to distract her.

These days are precious.  Fear and the fear of what the future holds have no room in our lives right now.

At least that's what I keep telling myself.  The challenge being I've got to believe it from the depths of my soul.  I'm working on it.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

You've Got To Be Taught

Way back in 1949, and in an effort to show my mother his softer side, my father took my mother to a Broadway production of South Pacific a musical, or so the family lore goes.  The musical tells the tale of a young Navy nurse based on an island in the South Pacific.  A subplot examines the inner turmoil  of a young Naval who falls in love with a Tonkinese woman.  The play focuses on romance and prejudice.

Today, Mom listens to the soundtrack endlessly from her hospital bed.  She closes her eyes and drifts back to that wonderful evening.  She's not agitated.  As she listens the electricity of that play and her engagement evening soothe her better than any medication on earth.  I've kept a pretty good count and in the last two weeks we've played this CD 87 times.  I know the words to all the pieces by heart at this point.  It's better than the non-stop talk radio shows that permeated these walls not too long ago.

One song in particular resonates with me today involving prejudice.  The song's name, "You've Got To Be Taught".  Here are the lyrics:

You've Got To Be Carefully Taught 

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

Last night I wrote about my neighbors kind invitation for us to stop in during their "Puppy Party".  This gathering of dog lovers who formed great friendships at the local dog park both excited me and scared the wits out of me.  You see when Dickens was a wee lad, a vet labeled him as "aggressive".  That label stuck with me and I've read everything ever written about aggressive dogs.  At the time, the vet's pronouncement slayed me.  A label had been smacked square on my dog's forehead.  Fortunately, a second vet correctly diagnosed my little one as suffering from digestive issues and his diet's made him a different dog; however, the first vet's opinion has always stayed in the back of my mind.

I mulled the invitation over all day.  It would only be a drop in visit...less than ten minutes, so I could get back to caring for my mother.  The questions plagued me as well.  "What if a dog pushed Dickens too far?"  "What if Dickens pushed another dog too far?"  Could I break up a real dog fight?  "What if Dickens got hurt?" 

In that moment of introspection the song played from Mom's room.  Isolating this poor pup would never prove or disprove a "professional's" label.  Consciously or unconsciously, I had been taught to be afraid of what my dog would do.  I had been handed a list of do's and don'ts.  Given information about the Tufts University Dog Clinic.  What if I trusted that I believe with all the love in my heart that this dog can be amazing with other dogs and humans?  

Well, our brief visit turned out to be some kind of wonderful.  Great dog lovers and dogs attended.  The only thing Dickens shredded was a napkin a guest dropped (OK, he's not perfect).  He found himself on the receiving end of a snarl for trying to mount a puppy guest, but he didn't morph into Cujo.  He acted like a gentleman with canine and human alike.
On the way home I noticed a group of neighbors chasing a little white puppy who should have been named Houdini had she been male.  Cars whizzed up the street.  This time I didn't think twice about the label...about Dickens having puppy for dessert.  The little pup ran toward Dickens with the neighbors in hot pursuit.  We stopped.  The pup sniffed.  Dickens sniffed.  And we all walked back to the puppy's home where she found her leash securely applied.

As we walked home, I realized we are carefully taught to believe things that just aren't true about people and about dogs.  Both of us felt freer...more bonded...more loving toward each other.  The label that stood as a barrier between us lifted by love.  The love of a kind neighbor who believed in Dickens's goodness...the love of an owner who needed put fear aside...the love all around if we just look for it and lead it home.

Well done, my little  man!  Well done!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Pup-mom Learns to Let Go.

As I've said before, Dickens has gained many friends in the neighborhood...Brady, Bentley, Bruno, and Junior to name a few.  He's been invited and accepted many play-dates and I'm grateful to their pup-parents for helping hone this pup's social life and for trying to calm my fears.

With endless encouragement from these kind folk and with pleading eyes from a certain Cairn Terrier, I've had to face the fear of something happening vs. the best interest of this dog.  Letting go of that leash, even in a fenced yard has caused gallons of "stress sweat" as I angst over each encounter.  I love this little not-too-well-mannered-but we're-working-on-it creature.  I've had to have a serious talk with myself.  These chats include, but are not limited to, topics such as the benefits of socialization, rejection, and safety.  If there's a Dr. Spock equivalent for canines, then I've read it.   I can go from 0 to 60 on the stress meter in a heartbeat.

Lately, I've been trying to look at the other side of the coin as I see things that occurred in my childhood that didn't necessarily school me in games children play.  My folks loved me and over-protected me.  Being unable to participate in childhood activities forced me to make up for lost time in adulthood.  I know I felt a certain deficiency in my youth and asked such questions to the cosmos such as, "Why can't I be part of that [insert activity]?  What's wrong with me?"  It might sound strange, but I don't want to do that to my dog.

So, tonight on our short jaunt around the 'hood, I accepted my neighbor's invitation for Dickens to play with two dogs he knew and two he had never met.  (Let the stress sweat begin.)  In those brief moments, I saw this little lad light up, perform his sniff greeting, and run around with his new buds with all his heart.  He returned to me panting with a glint in his eye and I swear wearing a smile that said, "Wow, this is great!"  One of the new friends had to educate Dickens in no uncertain terms that he was top dog, but all in all the outing went well.

Once home and watered, Dickens settled down easier and more relaxed than his usual terrier self.  It's going to take a while for me to gain the confidence to let go (a little).  He's been invited to a puppy-party this Saturday evening.  I'm mulling it over...

So, take that fear, my pup-son won't be growing up around you.

Monday, June 17, 2013

If I Monday, I Must be Running...

Monday knocked on my door at 4 AM.  Much as I love sunrises, birdsong, and solitary walks with Dickens, 4 AM crosses the line.  Yes, I'm an urban farmer, but honestly my garden beds do quite well at 5 AM.

Dickens looked up at from his quiet repose with a quizzical look as if to say, "Not my problem."  Mom just wanted to chat.  At 4 AM.  I. Do. Not. Chat. At. 4 AM.  Ditto 3 AM.  I don't know my name at that hour.

Mom wakes up and starts to call me.  She has a habit of calling me repeatedly until she physically sees me.  As I stumble to the bathroom the conversation goes something like this:

Mom:  JD!!!!  JD!!!!JD!!!!
Me:  Mom I'm coming, I just have to dash to the bathroom.
Mom:  What?  What?  What?
Me:  I'll be right there.
Mom:   JD!!!!  JD!!!!JD!!!!
Mom:  What?  What?  What?
Me:  (rushing to take care of business)  I'LL BE RIGHT THERE!
Mom:  Mom:  What?  What?  What?
Me:  I'll be right there.
Mom:   JD!!!!  JD!!!!JD!!!!
Mom:  What?  What?  What?
Me:  (rushing to take care of business)  I'LL BE RIGHT THERE!
Mom:  Mom:  What?  What?  What?

This dialogue goes on ad infinitem until I present myself to her looking like something from the movie "Zombies".  She might require a drink or to query me on a dream she's had that I honestly can't track.  This little early morning episode concludes with her asking to go back to sleep.  After tucking her in,  I dream of catching another hour's sleep.

I drag myself back to the bedroom only to be greeted by a wide awake Dickens who needs a short walk of his own.  I crawl into my clothes, snap on his harness, and off we go.  As we re-enter the house, I drop his leash.  As it drops onto the carpeted floor I hear a question from the Mom's bedroom, "What was that?"

Every day is Groundhog Day-sleep optional.