Category Archives: compassion

Ethel, Not the Prairie Dog

Standard
Ethel, Not the Prairie Dog

If you are a regular reader of the blog (all six of you), you may recall that I named my inner critic Ethel. I’m pretty sure we all have an inner critic, that asshole in your head that makes you second guess your life choices. Sure sometimes they make a valid point, for instance, meth is always a bad idea. Other times it’s less obvious like beating yourself up over that new bold haircut (psst…they rarely go well) or that second slice of chocolate cake.

I visualize my inner critic as an elderly prairie dog named Ethel. Ethel has bifocal glasses that lean so far down her snout they are in danger of falling off her face. She wears hand crocheted sweater vests in terrible color combinations like orange and fuchsia with a splash of brown. Her right hand is on her right hip in that universal condescending stance. Her nose is scrunched in judgement and as a means to keep those glasses from sliding off her sour face. Oh and she’s fat but we don’t discuss that because fat shaming is wrong. She wears sensible brown shoes (to match the vest) and she has a broken pen behind her left ear. That pen hasn’t worked since 1992. Anyway, this post is about a different Ethel, but wasn’t that a fun distraction.

pdfat.jpg

A nude shot of Ethel. You have to imagine the ugly sweater vest, bifocals, brown orthopedic shoes and broken pen.

Last night I stayed with an almost 92 year old lady named Ethel who prefers to be called Jane (keep UP). Her son in-law recently passed away and the family was at his wake. Ethel, I mean Jane, is one of those fun feisty nonagenarians. I didn’t have to do much except bring her food and follow her cues as to how social she wanted to be.

She’s fiercely independent and very lucid with the occasional lapse of judgement. At one point she wanted to ask her daughter about how the Thanksgiving turkey was cooked…not a great idea to call during a wake. I tried to distract her but her will won out and then she felt bad. I assured her it was fine, that the phone was likely on silent and I got the answer via text. In case you’re wondering, the bird was cooked for 14 hours at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, it felt wrong to ask for more details than that.

Jane gets a glass of wine promptly at 7pm, Chianti if you’re curious. After the vino my new friend started spilling family secrets. It’s amazing how much one glass of Chianti can yield, perhaps governments need to change their tactics when dealing with hostile prisoners. We’d probably get further along than we do with water boarding…but that’s an entirely different kind of post.

I will keep the family secrets in the vault but I can share one amusing tale. Jane was in Ireland on vacation with her daughter in-law (Debbie) and a friend (Ann). They were on their way to Trinity College in Dublin to see The Book of Kells exhibition.

For those that don’t know (including myself until 5 minutes ago) The Book of Kells was created around the year 800 and contains the four gospels. The emphasis of the book is on the 340 folios made from calfskin vellum. The book is primarily visual as much of the text is either truncated or erroneously repetitive. So it’s basically a fancy biblical picture book y’all! Here’s a link in case you find yourself in Dublin – The Book of Kells

On this particular trip, Jane discovered a deep dark secret about her friend Ann. Ann was (in the CIA – that’s Catholic Irish American, not the other CIA) a closet smoker. Jane caught her smoking a few times and pretended not to notice (much like I pretend not to see people I know at the grocery store).

Years earlier her other travel companion, Debbie, lost an arm to cancer. She had a prosthetic arm but it was too heavy so she usually went without it. The three of them were walking in a spread out single file line on their way to the exhibition. Debbie, the youngest, was far ahead. My new friend Jane was in the middle and Ann, the closet smoker with undiagnosed emphysema, was the caboose.

Jane: Ann if you don’t slow down….so help me God I will rip off your good arm and beat you over the head with it! Miss smokes-a-lot can’t keep up!!!

True story.

 

 

Blue Bird

Standard
Blue Bird

I think I have a team of angels around me. Many are the clients I have met since starting my business a handful of years ago. The business is set up as a concierge, more times than not, I work with elderly clients. I’m usually brought in by the adult children who worry about their parents safety or want to improve their quality of life. I never know what I’m walking into until the situation reveals itself. Before I can blink I’m attached to my new friends.

Many of my clients are sick and/or elderly and we typically part ways when they die or move to a nursing home. That’s the hard part. I saw a blue bird this morning and was reminded of a dear client.

Clara, she comes as a blue bird per my request. I didn’t want a cardinal because well, that’s been overplayed. Clara was the mother of an acquaintance of mine. The business was fairly new when she reached out several years ago and asked me to meet her parents. We have since become close friends.

I felt an instant pull toward Clara and honestly I would have visited her for free. If she turned down my services, I would have wept. She had a soul that pulsated love and good energy. I’ve only met a few people like her in my life and I was desperate to be around her. She and her husband lived on a small farm and she was pretty sick when I started. Within a week I suggested that she transition to hospice to be as comfortable as possible.

It was an interesting work environment. I did a lot of laundry and light house keeping which is typical. I also washed outdoor furniture and helped prep for meals and social events. I made my first quiche ever for Clara because she was hosting a breakfast. I’ve since made many and they are super easy and quite impressive. Clara had a way of getting you to do things slightly outside of your comfort zone and then you felt a little bit of pride for the successful stretch.

One of the most memorable days was helping Clara shower before she transitioned to Hospice and got a Home Health Aide. It’s not something I typically do but she was uncomfortable and I would have done just about anything for her. She lost what was left of her hair in that shower. It upset her husband, she was relieved.

Clara moved to America from China as a teenager. From what I can remember she taught herself English over a single summer. She and her husband met at a private prestigious high school. She went on to become a nurse and eventually worked at that school. She was intelligent, kind and just being in her presence made you a better person. She had a life rich with experiences, family, profound friendships, service, world travel and she hosted many delicious meals. Thank you blue bird for the visit this morning.

Venus on the Half Shell

Standard
Venus on the Half Shell

I had a wonderful outing with Rob and Laura today. When I arrived Rob presented me with some spoon bread that he made special just for me. When a 95 year old man puts himself through the effort to cook for you, it’s very humbling. Honestly anytime anyone cooks for me I’m thrilled, this was just extra sweet. Spoon bread tastes like cornbread and I marvel at how someone who eats this stuff on the regular hasn’t succumbed to heart disease. It’s filled with the artery clogging goodness of butter, milk with more butter for good measure, eggs and cornmeal. It’s tasty and lethal to mere mortals like myself. I took a few bites, proclaimed it delicious and took it home to savor later. Seriously this dish should come with a defibrillator.

As we were driving to the grocery store we had our usual carefree chatter. I was discussing travel because I’m leaving for a cruise this weekend. We got on the topic of paintings and I mentioned my all time favorite was Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. Rob mentioned that his mother used to refer to that painting as Venus on the Half Shell and in that moment I felt such regret for having never met the woman. Now whenever the question of which person, living or deceased, would you like most to converse with, my answer will be Rob’s mother. Raise your hand if you agree….that’s a lot of hands in my imagination.

When we got to the grocery store, Laura asked Rob if he wanted his walker. He hesitated a moment and then agreed. I got the shopping cart and gave it to Laura as Rob went on his merry way. Here’s the interesting bit…Rob agreed to that for Laura’s sake. Laura has been struggling more with mobility and refuses to upgrade to a walker from her cane. The grocery cart is basically a socially acceptable walker in Laura’s mind. Rob figured this out in seconds and I pretended not to notice.

As I was getting them tucked back into their home after our outing, Rob took a moment to look me in the eye and tell me how much he appreciates me and that I am like a third daughter to him. I assured him the affection was mutual. Then two minutes later I threatened to brawl with Laura if she didn’t surrender the grocery bag that was half her body weight. She gave me a steely gaze as I took the bag from her.

Me: Let me get that Laura, it’s really heavy.

Laura: Grabs bag with determined look.

Me: Seriously, I will fight you on this.

Laura: Steely gaze.

Me: (Struggles to take bag, maintains eye contact and smile the entire time) Thank you.

 

Oh Fiddle!

Standard
Oh Fiddle!

It’s been a while since I posted about Rob & Laura, they’re doing fine. They’ve had lots of visits with their children. One daughter asked me to check on a cut that Rob mysteriously acquired last week. She really wants Rob to put a bandage on it. When I mentioned this to Rob he informed me that it had a bandage on it already, it’s called a scab. Alright then.

Last week Laura was a bit miffed about the laundromat. She muttered about getting there late and how bad it is if you don’t get there early. I took the bait and showed up 20 minutes earlier today to see if that would alleviate the problem. She was pleased that I was early then in her exuberance she forgot to bring the laundry detergent. That set us back a bit and I got concerned when I heard her say “oh fiddle” from the back seat. “Oh fiddle” is the 92 year old version of Code Red, I acted with extreme caution. If I heard “Fudge!” I would have considered turning around and calling it a day.

While Laura was doing laundry, Rob and I went to the grocery store. We only needed two things and I asked Rob if he wanted to use a cart or his cane, he went with the cane. As we were crossing the parking lot I stated “And they’re off!” in my most announcer like voice. Rob didn’t miss a beat and added “Like a herd of turtles!”

Upon entering the store we heard, “cleanup in produce”. We both chuckled at that because it happens 100% of the time and we go twice a week. Then we looked for Marty, the useless grocery store robot. As we were making our way toward the check out, Marty approached, it got a little weird. At one point Marty got stuck between an older man in a wheel chair and me. George was on my right, Marty on my left and the wheelchair guy was left of Marty.

I could tell Marty was confused as he went back and forth in incremental choppy movements because he didn’t have a clear path out. I was hoping the circumstances would cause Marty extreme frustration resulting in fried wires, a mechanical meltdown of some sort.  For a moment I imagined the encounter would render him incapable of fulfilling his duties (which seem to be limited to aggravating customers with a precision focus on geriatric clients), no such luck.

On the way out Rob commented that the cart with four wheels was easier to navigate than his cane. I remarked that he has a walker which also has 4 wheels and that got me some side eye. I replied with “oh fiddle”.

Heaven Sent

Standard
Heaven Sent

I used to visit her on Tuesday mornings. I would make a cup of tea and fill up the pan with warm soapy water. Kelly would soak her feet a few minutes and we would chat about whatever caught our interest that day. Sipping tea, chatting like old friends though we didn’t know each other that long.

She created a Facebook page for people with cancer so they could pass along items they no longer needed – wigs, walkers, canes, commodes, anything. Kelly wanted to help anyone in need, she was keenly aware that there were many people in need. We also talked about her children – a daughter and two sons. The daughter was married, her youngest son was in middle school, the same age as my boy.

After about 10 minutes I would take one foot out and pat it dry. Then I would give her a pedicure, she always liked a good pedi. It isn’t something I excel at but that’s what she wanted, so I fumbled my way through. She was always grateful for my attempt, a genuine smile on her face. We did this for months before I left for vacation.

That summer my family spent 3 glorious weeks in Italy. Exploring as much as we could – Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Lucca, Orvieto and Rome. My husband speaks fluent Italian and he got us some great rental properties to stay in. It was my all time favorite vacation. It was magical, the four of us in a place of beauty, enriched in history and the food, my God what a time we had.

When I got back home I was preparing to jump back into my schedule when I heard the news. Kelly had passed away just a few weeks after her 48th birthday. Today her birthday came up in my Facebook feed, she would have been 51 today. I turn 51 next week.

I think of her youngest son often. I didn’t know her that well, I was just a hospice volunteer that would visit once a week, make her tea and paint her toes. Sometimes I wonder why life is so hard for some people and seemingly so easy for others. Why did I get to go to Italy while she perished?

Life doesn’t make sense, there is nothing fair about it. So today Kelly reminded me how precious life is and how fleeting and unpredictable it can be…I feel like she would have wanted me to share that message, so I am. Happy Birthday in heaven Kelly.

White Tower View

Standard
White Tower View

When I was a teenager I spent several months living in an all female group home. The ages ranged from 15 to 65 and anyone that was within childbearing age was taken to the gynecologist and put on birth control. It was explained as a way to keep everyone on a regular cycle and minimize mood swings. I didn’t fight it and went on the pill like most of the other residents.

For the next fifteen years I took birth control pills, the lowest dose at the time (ON777). My menstrual cycle was consistent, nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Not painful like some of my friends and the pills didn’t seem to cause any side effects. When I became sexually active, I was grateful for their effectiveness. I went to Planned Parenthood for my annual exam and purchased my birth control pills through them at a discount until my late 20s.

I never had a bad experience. The place was clean, staff was professional and no one shouted “whore” as I made my way into the clinic. Never once did anyone try to sell me on an abortion, I never needed one thanks to those little pills. I had access to effective healthcare, physical and financial accessibility, without which, I could have had a different outcome.

When I got to my early 30s I was starting to get concerned about the long term effects of birth control pills. I decided to give my body a break and go off of them. I discussed this with my long term boyfriend. By this time I had a good job and I owned my own home. My guy was doing well and we were in love, 5 years into our relationship. We were pretty relaxed about the possibility of becoming pregnant and let the universe guide us. We eventually got pregnant….I say we because I don’t know any female that has gotten pregnant on her own (an immaculate conception is pretty rare). We decided it would be a good time to get married and have a kid.

We got married and the pregnancy was going well until 39 weeks in. I felt a dull ache behind my left knee. Turns out I had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which can become fatal if a blood clot breaks away and goes to your heart/lungs/brain, scary stuff. I was fortunate to be within 3 miles of a trauma center hospital. A retractable filter was inserted through my jugular vein and was placed below my heart and lungs to break up any potential killer clots. The fact that I’m typing this lets you know it worked.

It turned into a fairly dramatic birth including me being induced, 5 hours of pushing and a sideways baby that wasn’t budging (I’m happy to say he’s become much more compliant since then). Eventually it was determined that I needed to have a cesarean section. Two weeks later, the retractable filter was removed and I was put on blood thinners for 6 months. I had all kinds of terrible reactions to the medication which caused me to have numerous tests for Lupus, MS and enough blood draws to satiate an army of vampires. It was rough and we didn’t plan to have another child.

Because of the blood clot issue I could not go on BC pills or have any kind of hormone based birth control. IUDs freaked me out, I heard too many horror stories. So our options were a diaphragm, condoms or pull out. We failed at those options and I got pregnant soon after our son’s first birthday. When I told my husband I was pregnant he said – “congratulations, are you sure you want to go through with this?”

It was a fair question given the unexpected complications of my first pregnancy. My husband was traveling internationally on a frequent basis. Most of my pregnancy would be spent with a toddler and no local family, just a handful of friends that I made in the 6 months since we moved. I didn’t hesitate though, I wanted to go through with the pregnancy.

My gyno had become very close with me since the birth of my son. The kind of closeness that comes from a near death experience. I could see the concern on her sweet face when I went in to see her to have the pregnancy confirmed. She contacted the hematologist and gave me the name of a good perinatologist, I was going to be closely monitored.

I did the best I could to not focus on what could happen. My biggest fear was driving or being alone in the house with my son and having a pulmonary embolism or a brain aneurysm, these were not far fetched concerns. I kept thinking of Steel Magnolias when  Shelby dies while making dinner with her young son crying next to her body. The possibility was a shadow throughout my pregnancy.

Six and a half months into the pregnancy I felt that familiar dull ache behind my knee again. I called my gyno she asked me to meet her at the hospital.  Sure enough I had a clot, not a monster DVT like the first time, but a clot which could have been fatal to me or my baby girl. I was put on a heparin drip and remained inpatient for a week. When I was sent home I was given medicine that I needed to inject into my pregnant belly twice a day for the remainder of my pregnancy.

My gyno and my hematologist were getting twitchy. I could see fear in their eyes with every interaction, I was a ticking time bomb. I told my gyno that I wanted a tubal ligation after the baby was born and I could hear her exhale as she expressed gratitude over my choice. To be clear, my husband was also onboard with that and he respected the fact that ultimately it was my decision.

This time I had a planned cesarean and the now familiar retractable filter was inserted just prior to that. They decided to do a c-section at 35w6d and I got my tubal ligation immediately after. Two weeks later the retractable filter was removed followed by a year of blood thinners and more blood draws, so many blood draws. I went to a blood clinic at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey to see if there was a genetic reason for my issue. After more tests and many more blood samples it was determined to be pregnancy related and having no plans for further pregnancies, I was released from care.

I was fortunate to have two healthy babies, now teenagers. I had a caring partner with both pregnancies. I had assistance with child care when I had to go to the hospital. I had good health insurance. I had a vehicle to get myself to the necessary appointments. I had money to pay for gas, pay for a sitter, pay co-payments, I had a network of support. I also lived within reasonable proximity to excellent reproductive healthcare.

What if I couldn’t get birth control as a young woman? What if there was no clinic, no sliding-scale fee, no access? What if I was a woman of color? Would my seemingly minor medical complaints have been taken seriously? Would that dull ache get the attention it deserved? Or would I just be another sad anonymous number in a case study?

I understand how the pro-life movement can seem like the high moral ground when you are looking down from an ivory tower. You can’t see deep enough into the brush to see what is happening there so it simply blends into the background, it’s just scenery. I would ask you to take those long steps down and see what is happening outside of your limited view.

Have you ever gone with a 15 year old girl who was getting an abortion? I have, it was devastating. She made a mistake, she was so scared, just 15. I held her and cared for her and listened to her when she told me about the recurring nightmares of her unborn child. This was not an easy decision, she was gutted.

Have you ever seen the bruises of domestic violence on a pregnant woman? I have and I wanted to kill the guy. I threw a baby shower for a dear friend when we were both 20. She married her long term asshole of a boyfriend when she got pregnant. Fun fact – domestic violence often escalates during pregnancy. She got changed in front of me and her chest was covered in bruises. She and her baby eventually got out of that situation, it took a long time.

Have you known anyone who had a late term abortion? I knew someone who had a late term abortion. It was heartbreaking. A co-worker of mine found out that her fetus died in utero in her third trimester. She was given the choice to abort or wait for her body to naturally go into labor and deliver a stillborn baby. Can you imagine living with that trauma?

Do you know any females that have been raped in a manner which could have resulted in an unwanted pregnancy? I expect every hand to be raised at this one. Has the #MeToo movement taught us anything? Sexual violence and molestation is rampant – at work, in the military, college campuses, church, school, pretty much everywhere including home for some unfortunate victims. These women should go to jail if they abort an unwanted zygote? Should they be denied a morning after pill? What if the trauma has them so horrified that it takes them a few weeks to come to terms with the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy? What if the victim is also beaten badly during the rape and is in a coma – does she get a f*cking pass then?

We all have strong feelings about this topic and I’m not trying to isolate anyone, truly I am not. I’ve seen some horrible stuff up close and in person. My own personal experiences and those of people close to me have helped to form my opinions and I’m sure the same is true for you. There is a lot of gray area for me and in the end I always circle back to individual choice. I can’t know the fine print details of each individual situation. I’m not a medical professional, psychologist or social worker. I’m not pro-abortion, I’m pro-choice.

 

 

 

Friend of the Family

Standard
Friend of the Family

The other day I was assisting clients at the grocery store. We are a slow moving parade when we navigate the aisles. The shopping cart transforms into a makeshift walker for Rob while Laura has her permanent downward head tilt and a cane. This does not go unnoticed by the fellow shoppers or staff. Rob greets each store employee by name with a genuine smile, he’s the real deal. I reach for the items that are too high, too low or too far away. Then I get out the way so they can do what they can, I am mindful of their need to participate as much as possible.

Shopper: It’s so nice that you help them. Are they your parents?

Me: No, I’m a friend of the family.

Laura will refer to me as their driver or nurse depending on who asks (psst…I’m not their nurse or a nurse of any kind, this has been mentioned). Rob refers to me by my name.

That’s really how I see myself. Yes, I get paid to help but I am so much more than paid help. I am an advocate at doctor appointments, a reminder to take medication and I bring yummy meals. I represent freedom with the prolonged ability to live home independently.  I am contact with the outside world when the walls feel like they are closing in. I am a listener, a friend, a caregiver. I am the triage between family members. It is so much more than errands and tasks around the house, it is mutual respect, genuine concern and affection. I am indeed, a friend of the family.

Winter View

Standard
Winter View

I can just barely make out her house from the window above my kitchen sink. Once the trees fill out for spring, I may just see a splash of color or a bit of rooftop. It’s a beautiful house, old and charming, lovingly decorated with authentic treasures and keepsakes. It isn’t large or small and there is nothing cookie cutter about it. Little nooks and crannies are filled with art and memories, photos line the hall going up to the main level. The kitchen is open with modern appliances that somehow work in this older space. There is an air of authenticity about the place. Ginger and Amber are two tiger striped cats and they fit right in.

I went to visit my neighbor today. It was the first time I had ever been inside her house. Years ago my kids and I stood in her driveway getting bags and reflective vests for a neighborhood roadside cleanup. Neighborhood sounds misleading, these houses are all independent of each other in construction and in life. This area is upscale and spread out sadly, I can only name a handful of my neighbors and we’ve lived here for ten years. This is not unusual as most people have busy lives that are headed in different directions.

Today’s visit was as a hospice volunteer, I relieved the caregiver so she could go food shopping. I’ve often wondered what that particular house looked like on the inside and now I know. Once again, I am reminded a lot of people have something difficult going on in their lives right now. Sometimes it’s an inconvenience or a wounded ego, other times it is facing an imminent final goodbye. I’m not sure if I will see my neighbor again. I am sure that I will think of her whenever I drive by her house and I’ll be reminded of what is truly important.

 

Grief Fog

Standard
Grief Fog

Apparently there is a Mercury Retrograde phase right now which means we are all ripe for disaster my friends. Mercury is a bit of an asshole whilst in retrograde and this year March, July and November are on track to be awful. Here’s a link if you want your head to explode with all the retrogradey stuff….OHSHITMERCURYRETROGRADE

Mercury aside, I have been feeling all the feels today. You ever find yourself driving and suddenly realize you can’t remember the past 15 minutes? You’ve been on the road so many times that you slip into autopilot and you aren’t really aware of your surroundings. The past 10 months have felt like this for me. First my Father in-law got sick and passed away, then four months later I lost my own father. I’ve been in a grief fog ever since. Sure I do all the things that need to be done but I’m a muted version of myself.

During this process I haven’t been fully aware and in tune with the world including my small community. I know I’ve missed some important stuff and I haven’t been present in my usual capacity. Last night I found out that a local parent has been having chemo treatments for several months, I had no idea. Year ago me would have set up a Sign Up Genius and initiated a meal train, the current version of myself found out haphazardly in a group text. I’ve clearly been out of the loop bogged down in my own muck. I’d beat myself up about it a little more if I had the energy, I don’t.

Grief is a process, it isn’t a stage or a series of milestones that you pass and then it’s behind you. It becomes a part of you…sometimes it’s a tiny speck and sometimes it envelops you. If you are grieving, I hope you are patient with yourself…you deserve that.

 

 

Featured Photo Credit:

 

 

 

 

 

I Get To…

Standard
I Get To…

Every so often the Gods of social media send a pearl of wisdom my way. This morning I was browsing Facebook when I saw a photo that caught my eye. The original post was from Kristen Hampton of WBTV Good News, it featured a handwritten sign which stated: I get to…

According to the original post, Kristen saw that note at a friend’s house. A friend who is currently undergoing chemo for what is described as an awful cancer. Kristen’s friend explained that “I get to” is a substitute for “I have to” and the simplicity and sheer gratitude of that suggestion is inspiring.

I get to is a gentle reminder that all of this is temporary. Whatever problems we have individually and collectively, it’s all so transient.  The kids we wait on will leave the nest (eventually), the aging parents we care for, they’ll also move on to a more permanent place, that boss you can’t stand likely won’t be in your life in five years and on it goes. The list of daily chores and obstacles can seem impossibly long and arduous. I get to is a beautiful, gentle reminder that this is all temporary, so enjoy the ride.

I get to recognizes that it is a gift to be able to tick off the list of things to do for ourselves and others. A reminder that we can control the narrative of our own inner voice.  It reminds us that we are fortunate to have the physical and mental capacity to do the things that need to be done. A suggestion that we have the ability to choose a more positive frame of mind, one grounded in gratitude.