Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Review, Part III

“Family caregivers are faced with the question of when and how to let go.” (315) This is when the caregiver must learn to walk the crooked line between letting go of the care-ee and nurturing her/his own spirit. Not easily done. I feel like I’m standing on the end of a high dive overlooking an olympic sized pool that is my future. I have two choices. One is to take the plunge off without thinking about it to help my father. The other is to slowly and deliberately back down the stairs, don some water wings and step into the shallow end to care for myself. I can’t help but wonder what might happen if the choices were reversed? Could I jump to save myself and proceed with caution to see to my father’s dying needs? I know what I should do, but lack the energy to do it. The irony is that I’ve been so busy looking after others that I’ve abandoned me, and I’m no longer sure where to look to find me. It’s when you’re feeling lost like this that Sheehy says “it’s time to save yourself.” (340) “Recent clinical studies show that long-term caregivers are at high risk for sleep deprivation, immune system deficiency, muscle and joint problems, depression, chronic anxiety, loss of concentration and premature death.” (49)

Another underrated aspect of caregiving is being (wo)man enough to tackle the astronomical bills associated with a chronic illness. The money aspect of this job cannot be ignored any more than grumpy patients or bed sores. The caregiver must attack a pile of Medicare forms with the wisdom of Solomon, the frugality of Scrooge and the prayer of an alcoholic. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

The price of healthcare is skyrocketing. It is often the caregiver who must run the gauntlet of bureaucratic red tape. Sheehy explains in easy to understand language how the “system” works, both for and against, the patient. In my opinion, there are two must reads for everyone in my age bracket. For a short but startling account of how the Hospital/Medicare partnership works, go straight to page 283. Politics schmolitics. Ours is a healthcare system that is as much in need of repair as the hospital recliner that sits by the side of the patient’s bed. (If you’ve ever tried to sleep in one of those things, you know what I’m talking about.)

Passages Epilogue is a mini-course in what the future could look like for you and me. “Who will take care of us?”(359) is more than a rhetorical question. The answer is “us” (359) and it must be answered in the near, not distant, future. “The only way families are going to be able to afford the shift from institutional care to home care for seniors is if government help to support family caregivers. Passages is a call to action.” (359)

You might think a book like Passages would be dry and hard to read. It’s not. It’s got information for those who like to read with a highlighter nearby. It’s got drama for those who dream of going toe-to-toe with a real person, not corporate answering machines. It’s got an incredible love story. It’s even got a happy ending. Sheehy’s husband, for whom she cared for 17 years, found the peace to die (355), while she found the courage to live. Good news for caregivers everywhere.

Passages can be found at all the major book outlets. Do yourself a favor. Pick up a copy. Then do what I’m doing, spread the word. Caregiving, like growing old, is not for the faint of heart. This book could well be the last word on the subject. Except, of course, for mine.


My wish for you is that you will never need to read this book,
Merry ME

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Patience

There are many things I'd like to change about the way I raised my kids.
I'd like to take back the time I smacked Wendy for doing something to her brother in the store. My sister bought her a Pink Panther mug that today serves as a reminder that I was quick to judge and punish.

I'd like to take back the time I attacked Johnson with a wooden spoon. Lord only knows what he did to drive me to the point of madness. I stopped myself before I really got going, but I'll never forget the look on his face.

I'd like to take back the time I told two little kids who were excited about Christmas coming that Santa had had a heart attack and wouldn't be coming that year. God God, was I the devil incarnate or what?

And I'd like to take back the many times when I was in a hurry to go somewhere or do something and I rushed the kids into the car, without giving a thought to their needs or desires. Forget tying shoes at a snail's pace. Forget looking for worms on the way to the car. Forget splashing in a puddle or reading the last page of a good book or grabbing a snack. Get in the car NOW, because I SAID SO.

You'd think if I feel so bad about hurrying my kids along, that I'd have more patience with my father moves slower than sap dripping out of a tree on a cold day.

We were supposed to be somewhere half an hour ago. There is a lady standing on the sidewalk waiting for us. Dad drove by me in his cart and I haven't seen him since. I did go back to check on him. He was sitting on the toilet doing something with his checkbook. I decided to back away and let him alone. I couldn't get into the bathroom to help him up, even if I wanted to. The cart is blocking the doorway. I feel a little frazzled. I feel like screaming. But what's the point?

I have got to quit being in a hurry. That's all there is to it. I think I'll go find a puddle to play in while I wait.

Today's wish for you is patience,
Merry ME

Book Review, Part II

Except for a few pages aimed directly at dealing with Alzheimers disease, which does not apply to me, I gulped down Passages like a glass of lemonade on a hot summer’s day. When I got to the last chapters I realized, with a sigh of relief, I am not crazy, just burned out. I’ve been about the business of caregiving for most of my life, so you’d think I would have recognized the symptoms. The fact that I considered, even for a moment, that “burn out” was better than “crazy” is a pretty good sign that I needed the wake-up call Passages provided.

Passages also drew a picture of my caregiving style. Without knowing it, I’ve bypassed Super-hero status and moved right on to God. According to Sheehy “Playing God” is a common trait in caregivers. It is no surprise that people with a “strong sense of compassion” (267) are more likely to jump into the caregiving boxing ring. Because we are not God, by the time we get to round 5 or 6 or 7 we’ve almost succeeded in knocking ourselves to the mat where we hear our own voices counting to ten. “It may feel powerful but over time the caregiver begins to lose herself.” Beware,” warns Sheehy, “wanting to believe I am the one who can do it better. No one else is going to do it the way I do, is a trap.” (268)

“No earthling can control the trajectory of disease or elude the eventuality of death. Taking on the responsibility invites overwhelming stress and is destined to result in a residue of guilt.” (268). Or like me, a bag of resentments I carry around like Santa on Christmas Eve.

My father is nearing the three year anniversary of his cancer diagnosis. We’ve celebrated what we expected to be his last Christmas and birthday. Now it’s September and although he has declined to the point he eats a little, sleeps a lot, and has conversations with people only he can see, Dad still does not appear to be at death’s door. Passages helped made me see that I have been holding my breath for almost a year. As if on Sentry duty, I’ve been on the hyper-alert for the first signs of my father’s imminent demise. Instead of savoring the time we have left, I wake up most mornings with a jolt of adrenaline and a stomach-grabbing dread of what the day may have in store. Like many others in my situation, I am stuck in a hamster wheel of my own making feeling tired, cranky, and shell-shocked. Dare I say disappointed?

Do I want my father to pass away? No.

Do I want this daily routine to let up. Yes.

Do I want to run away and not look back? Yes.

Do I dare leave my father’s side before he’s taken his last breath? No.

Questions like these are not uncommon among caregivers. Sheehy calls this “anticipatory grief” a sense of loss that saturates many of the days of the Long Goodbye. (336)


Please stay tuned for Part III.
Merry ME

Monday, September 27, 2010

Perfect Protest



A certain someone who is 93 years old and driving me to drink used to say to me:
"If you're going to do something at all, do it right."
To my young ears, right meant perfect. Something I have spent my life trying to achieve and falling far short of the mark.

When I was quilting a lot I was never one to have perfectly matched up seams and corners. I read somewhere that the Amish believe only God is perfect so they actually sew a few mistakes into their quilts. Well, that became my "imperfect" excuse.

I was quite delighted to read Brene Brown's blog today. She has started a Perfect Protest, of which I am glad to join. Hop on over there to read what it's all about. Maybe you'll feel like jumping on the bandwagon.

Wishing for you a life without the burden of perfection,
Merry ME

P.S. Here's a picture of what happens when a pyrex dish with a little imperfection meets an oven temperature it doesn't like:

I guess there could be a metaphor for life here also.

Book Review

cPlease consider the following a Public Service Announcement. Because it is long I'm going to chop it up into bite-sized pieces. As you'll be able to tell I really believe that reading this book is something people of my age group should do. Merry ME

Most of you already know my story, but here's a little background. It might explain why I'm so drawn to the topic of caregiving.

I started having children when I was 19. At the ripe old age of 48, my empty nest felt lonely. I could have taken up a strenuous hobby like running marathons or climbing mountains on each of the world’s continents. Instead, I responded to a request by my father to move back home to help care for my mother who had some after-stroke disabilities. Fifteen years later I’m still at it. It’s a sure bet that mountain climbing would have been the easier choice.


Two months after mother’s death, I got a foretaste of what it would be like to care for my father. He had his hip replaced for the third time. While surgical techniques had improved, his aging body took longer to heal. I knew things were taking a distasteful turn when he was asked to leave Brooks Rehab Hospital for cussing at a therapist. I don’t think the words were so offensive, but rather the tone of his voice. Think of a mama grizzly bear protecting a cub - head thrown back, teeth bared and claws sharp enough to cut the air - and you can understand why the hospital chose to release Dad into my care. Thus began the next phase of my caregiving experience. It continues to be both the best of times and the worst of times.


Five years after that surgery, my father was diagnosed with bladder cancer. In hushed tones as if that would keep the devil away the doctors described the tumor as “aggressive.” Dad opted out of periodic surgeries to remove the invading cancer cells. After giving serious consideration to the emotional, physical and spiritual consequences, he also decided against chemotherapy. His primary care doctor enrolled “us” in hospice.


Passages In Caregiving*

A Book Review


HELP WANTED: Untrained family member or friend to act as advocate, researcher, care manager,and emotional support for a parent or spouse, sibling or friend, who has been diagnosed with a serious illness or chronic disability. Duties: Make medical decisions, negotiate with insurance companies or Medicare; pay bills;legal work;personal care and entertainment in hospital and rehab. Aftercare at home:Substitute for skilled nurse if injections, IV, oxygen wound care or tube feedings are required. Long-term care: Medication management, showering, toileting, lifting, transporting, etc. Hours: On demand. Salary and benefits:0 (10)


I have just finished reading Gail Sheehy’s Passages in Caregiving, Turning Chaos into Confidence. Seldom has a non-fiction book made such an impression on me. Halfway through I felt a shout building in my inner Oprah. GO BUY THIS BOOK. Even if you are not actively engaged in caregiving at this time in your life, chances are if you are over 50, you will find yourself taking care of your parents or a spouse sometime in the future. Passages in Caregiving is bursting with information that I believe everyone (young or old) should be able to tap into at a moment’s notice. If you don’t want to read it now buy it anyway. Put it in your medicine cabinet next to the Prozac. When your doctor says you are suffering from depression, stress or burnout brought on by over zealous caregiving, you’ll know right where to find it.


My writing mentor once told me that when she was caring for her mother who suffered from a rather volatile combination of Alzheimers and Parkinson's diseases, the last thing she wanted to do was spend time in a caregiving support group.** I know that feeling. If you are in charge of the well-being of another***, you might be wondering why I suggest you spend any of your limited free time reading about what you’re already doing 24/7/365? If you have time to read anything you will probably find a fairy tale with a happy ending or a computer instruction manual more interesting that diving into a book about caregiving. But hear me out.


At some point in your caregiving career, I guarantee that you are going to feel like the only person in the world doing what you are doing. If nothing else, Passages will assure you this is not the case. “Nearly 50 million American adults are stumbling along the same un-predictable path trying to take care of their parents or other relatives or supporting a partner through chronic illness.” (10)


It is not possible to list them all so I will just touch on some of Passages highlights that stood out for me. Perhaps the most startling, I learned that “I AM NOT ALONE.” And “I DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS JOB ALONE.” Who better to help you when you feel stranded than someone like Sheehy who struggled in her own caregiving trenches for 17 years. Like other family diseases, or addictions, caregiving can, and often does, take on a life of its own. It is not selective of age, gender, race, or culture. It drags down even the strongest, most compassionate people whose goal is to provide someone they love with the best available care (and sometimes end of life experience). The all-consuming nature of caregiving isolates the one doing the hands-on work (feeding, bathing, diaper changing, entertaining, appointment making/taking, bill paying, wheelchair hefting, et al). Isolation and bone-piercing weariness lead to anger, frustration and depression, which, in turn, can lead to a caregiver that lashes out at innocent victims. The caregiver CANNOT (nor should s/he be expected to) do the job alone. Yet, for a variety of reasons, many are trying to do just that.


Most chapters in Passages are followed by highlighted “Strategy” pages where the author lists in great detail tools, websites, agency contacts and other valuable information for the caregiver, whether new at the job or nearing the final goodbye. These sections alone are worth the price of the book, and a good place to start when you are feeling harried or homicidal.


To be continued.

- - - - -

**Sheehy, Gail. Passages in Caregiving Turning Chaos into Confidence. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2010. Print. (Numbers in parentheses after italicized quotes are page numbers.)

** Instead she wrote her memoir and is now a gifted author and speaker. Her favorite topic? Caregiving. Check out her blog at http://www.caroldodell.com/

*** While I refer to the care and feeding of our parents, many caregivers are taking care of chronically ill children, grandchilren, or a spouse. Each situation is unique. Passages addresses common denominators that apply to all types of caregiving.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

International Peace Day

Even if I hadn't been sick I might have missed the fact that today is International Peace Day if I hadn't read it in Pam's blog. Shame on me. I think maybe in His/Her Infinite Wisdom God may have planned for the birth of a baby king in a Jerusalem stable to be the equivalent of International Peace Day. Even though He/She is God, could anyone have guessed the potential corrupting power of mass marketing at Christmas time. A time when all minds should be on the dawning of peace and not inflatable snow globes or hot pink aluminum trees?

Perhaps the all knowing One wants us to figure out peace on our own. That makes more sense doesn't it? Remember learning to tie your shoes. How, even though it was a little tricky to hold onto that one loop and twirl the other shoe lace around and through, when you did it and pulled the two loops tight and they held. Wow! It felt much better than having mom or dad do it for you.

Maybe that will be what peace feels like if we ever achieve it. If each of us does our own part, in our own little section of the world, then gradually peace might spread out and encircle the whole world. All man, woman and childkind will rejoice because they found the key that unlocks the secret to understanding each other and sharing peace, pax, shalom, et al. And won't the Grand Creator in the sky be proud of His/Her people then!

In the spirit of the day, I wish for each of you and your children and your children's children a peaceful world,
Merry ME

Being Sick is the Pits

"To feel keenly the poetry of a morning's roses,
one has to have just escaped from the
claws of this vulture which we call sickness. "
Henri Frederic Amiel

I believe I left you with the opinion after my last post that my trip to the doctor and various labs was uneventful, which in caregiving lingo means no crisis ensued. No crisis with the care-ee, I mean. It never occurred to me that I would take ill so swiftly or severely. For two days I blamed every ache and pain in my body, from my eyelashes to my toenails and each spot in between, on that blasted flu shot. Sweetie stood back smugly and gave me an "I told you so" look. He doesn't believe in flu shots. I got over my hangup of the shot being worse than the disease a long time ago. And it was not a live virus so how could I get sick? I was sure it had to be something else, but what? The plague? MRSA? West Nile Virus? Some virulent new strain of Ican'ttakeitanymore?

Seems I'd been brewing an infection of some sort (probably UTI) for awhile. Do you think that's why I've been so tired of late? I can not say with all honesty that I would have paid attention to any other symptoms but I really don't think I had any.

Let me just say this, I can't recall being so sick. And thank God and all his minions for antibiotics. It is amazing to me that a fever of 101 for two and a half days can wreak such havoc on one's body.

I've always been a bit of a hypochondriac. I think it is side effect from my creative nature. In the beginning hours of my illness I was remembered that I had MSRA a few years back. That nasty little bug killed a woman in Orange Park the very day I got sick. One day she was here and one day she was gone. Oh Lord, I prayed, please let me have something else. I'm too young to die and I'll be danged if I want to fall into that statistic about caregivers dying before the person they care for.

After a couple of day, however, death was looking like a nice option. It is instinctual I think to revert to a fetal position, wrap your arms around your knees and try to will the hairs on your head not to move when you are in pain. I had to take back all the nasty things I've ever said about a certain person who seems to whine and beg for attention when he doesn't feel good. I want to hug each of my children and tell them I hope I took good care of them when they were babies and had no one but me to make them them believe they would be okay. I really wanted to be small enough to fit in someone's arms so I could be rocked.

Here's the good news ... I'm sorry I didn't tell you up front ... although I did not see a white light or any of my pre-deceased relatives I think I have come back to the land of the living. I ache in places now that feel more like being in the bed too long aches.

I don't know what each of you does as preventive medicine. I feel it is imperative to give you some Mother Merry advice and send you right to the drug store to pick up extra bottles of Vitamin C, Airborne, Motrin, Tylenol and tissues. Get a flu shot if you believe in them (neither my sister nor father had any reaction at all. Thank you Jesus.) Drink plenty of liquids. Wash your hands like you were in kindergarten. Have an icepack handy. Get some sunshine. Rest when you can.

And one more thing. My friend Patty is in a state of caregiving way more intense than me. For one she is not a complainer and two it's her husband who is sick not her father. I think that puts a whole different spin on things. Today she posted about going about her business and being "soft" in her world. I read that in the wee hours of the morning and went to sleep counting soft things instead of sheep. Although I think a lamb might count as a soft thing - certainly combed and carded lambswool would. I'm going to start a list here. If you have a moment, why not hop - shhhhh, softly - on over to Patty's blog and surround her with softness so that her world, and Michael's won't feel all jagged and pointy and hard.

Some soft things I thought of:
a cotton ball, chocolate pudding, a down pillow, a worn-in quilt, a 3-minute egg, furry slippers,
a bunny, a mink stole, your favorite tune turned on low, the quiet stillness of the ocean at rest, marshmallows, either end of a baby, a cashmere sweater, a poodle puppy ....

Wishing for each of you good health,
Merry ME

P.S. I was so caught up in telling you about ME, I didn't mention that my Sweetie has just earned his caregivers badge. He not only stepped up to the plate to care for me by bringing me anything I asked for, he also hit one out of the ball park by responding to each and every call from my father. That can get a little maddening, but I never heard Sweetie cuss or complain. He donned his nurses cap and did what was needed. Bravo, Sweetie. You're the BEST!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Practicing what I preach

No life is so hard that you can't make it easier by the way you take it.
Ellen Glasgow

I had an 11:30 appointment with my Primary Care doc this morning, am just returning home at 3:29pm. I never expected it to take so long, but am marking the hours of sitting and waiting in the relaxation column! Not a walk on the beach, or a snooze, but time when I didn't have to do anything other than read cooking magazines. I thought I had left my phone on the hall table so in essence I believed I was incommunicado. I borrowed an office phone to check in with Sweetie and tell him my plan, other than that the boys were left to their own devices and so was I.

Here's what transpired:
1. I got a flu shot
2. Doc gave me some exercises for my arm/shoulder pain.
3. Doc agreed that I have a stress-filled life. Said the human body isn't made to sustain stress over a long period of time. I guess back in the saber-tooth tiger days, the stress was intense then gone - either you ate or got eaten. Not a lot of in between time for adrenaline rushes. Just to make sure everything is OK Doc ordered labs, EKG and chest X-ray.
4. Since I hadn't eaten I went straight to the lab. Hurry up and wait. Finally had my name called. My blood was drawn by a friendly lady who couldn't wait for the day to be over so she could go to church. A date with her Lord, she called it. Her enthusiasm was infectious. I smiled more on my way out than the way in.
5. Went to the place I was directed to go for the other tests. Was re-directed somewhere else.
6. Went to my favorite hot dog stand. It was closed. My blood-pressure began to rise as my blood-sugar continued to drop.
7. Went to the hospital - the Valet parker was nowhere to be seen so I parked my own car - what a concept. I put a check mark in the exercise column because I had to walk to and from the garage to the hospital.
8. I checked in, then waited. And waited. And waited. I'm not sure why waiting can be so hard. I gave myself a little talking to. I decided to take advantage of the time away from home and tried to relax. That little niggling of fear that I carry around with me at all times - what if something happens while I'm gone and no body can contact me - started bubbling up. I reassured myself that my Sweetie can handle anything that comes down the pike. I read yet another magazine and waited some more.
9. Was directed to the registration desk where a woman - perhaps the fastest typist I've ever seen - fed my information into a computer that already has all my information, then checked it twice like Santa trying to determine who's been good or bad. I was not there to have a baby, or surgery, all I needed was a 2 minute EKG. No matter, you get logged in and a plastic bracelet to identify you.
10. I check in at the test desk. My bracelet is checked by both me and the registering nurse. We agree, I'm ME. She calls to make sure there is someone left in X-ray to do the test. I feel the beginnings of a hissy fit at the thought of having to come back because someone left their position early on a Friday afternoon. No problem, the EKG girl took me by the hand told me to lie down, put bits of sticky tape all over my and before I even closed my eyes was pulling the sticky tape off me.
11. I got the X-ray, no problem.
12. I walked back to the car - uphill, no problem.
13. I got myself something to eat, no problem.
14. As I pulled in the driveway my cell phone rang. Hmmm, seems it had been hiding on the bottom of my purse all along.
15. When I got home, Dad was sleeping soundly. Sweetie looking cool, calm and collected. Everything was fine.

So, it wasn't exactly the kind of getaway I might have planned for myself, but I'll take it anyway. It was what I needed and for that I am grateful. I think I'll put an icepack on my arm, sit next to Dad's bed and listen to him breathe.

Thanking the Divine One for interventions,
Merry ME


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Do what I say, not what I do. P.S.

I am remiss in not adding this to my last post.

I am filled with gratitude to every one of you who reads my blog, sends me emails and post cards, lifts me up, encourages me, makes me smile and understands when I cry. Your love and acceptance give me the "umphf" I need to keep going and give back.

I didn't say it before. Thank you.

Merry ME

Do what I say, not what I do.

"A good, real, unrestrained, hearty laugh
is a sort of glorified internal massage,
performed rapidly and automatically.
It manipulates and revitalizes corners
and unexplored crannies of the system
that are unresponsive to most other exercise methods. *


Not sure I can write down exactly what I'm feeling but need to try.

I'm reading this book, Passages in Caregiving by Gail Sheehy. [More about this later] I know it's kind of crazy to spend my day and part of my night in the act of caregiving, then go to bed and read more about it before I go to sleep.

I'm near the end of the book, which you can imagine is near the end of Sheehy's caregiving story. I'm reading about Medicare, Medicaid, Hospice, Palliative Care, Visiting nurses and the Catch 22 that an untold number of caregivers like me are dealing with on a daily basis. I'm feeling both appalled at a system that is so screwed up and somehow grateful that there is a system at all. I think that's a good thing.

I'm learning that I'm not alone. That the tiredness I'm feeling down in my bones is known as "burnout". That I need to step away for an hour, a day, a week. (Hahahaha, she laughed with a tinge of hysteria in her voice that even she could hear.) That stepping away feels like abandoning my father, letting him (and my mother) down somehow, means I'm not committed enough, that I'm a wimp ......

I've been thinking for weeks that if I hear one more person say, "you need to take care of yourself" or "put on your own oxygen mask first" I'm going to scream. Do they (the proverbial they) think I (caregivers in general) don't know how necessary this is.

BUT (Sorry Sweetie) the taking care of oneself is sometimes so much harder than taking care of the care-ee that the very act of attempting it feels way too demanding. Remember when your kids were little and you were going somewhere for R&R and by the time you got the bags packed, then packed into the car, then the dogs to the kennel and left food out for the cat, and stopped the mail and the newspaper, and strapped the fussy children into car seats and you get in the car then you realize you left the cassette tapes and snacks (or worse, the baby) on the kitchen counter and know you won't get far before someone needs to pee even though you made sure every last one of them peed before getting in the car and your husband sat behind the wheel thumbing a let's-get-on-with-it tune on the steering wheel, and you finally get in the car, fasten your own seatbelt as the car moves slowly out of the driveway and you dare to take a breath when a voice in the backseat shrieks something like "he touched me" and your head starts spinning around, your eyes turn red like lit up from hell and green vomit comes spewing out of your mouth, and your husband suggests you chill out because you are officially on vacation and you know in your heart the vacation won't start until the last chorus of Old Mac Donald had a farm is finished and the children are asleep and there are a few blessed minutes of silence. It's just plain hard to get psyched up about taking time off even if you know that its good for you. And then there are the paybacks.

But I digress.

So I've been reading this book, becoming aware. I read a blog by a woman whose husband is very sick. She relates a story that makes me crazy. But more than that my heart hurts for them in a way that it doesn't hurt for me. I'm able to take myself out of myself and reach across the blogosphere and do for her what I can't do for myself. But, in reality I am doing it for myself. Does that make any sense? I hear my gentle words, feel the hug I send her, smell the flowers, or hear the laugh at the other end of my reaching out and I feel better, less tired.

Now I'm not saying practice random acts of kindness to be self-serving. Do for others because they need doing for. And when you do, let yourself feel how the act doubles back to you.

Yeh, I need a break. I'm going to the doctor tomorrow as a first step in taking care of myself. I know what he's going to say. Eat less. Exercise more. Add fruit to my diet, not chocolate ice cream. Take a break. Blah, blah blah. It's not that I'm not listening. It's that I've kind of forgotten how to think of ME. I'm not alone. Caregivers like me are all around you. They are the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters somehow making it through each day.

I'm asking you to put down your Blackberry or Ipad and reach out to someone in some small way. In this cold, hard, technological world, people need human contact. There is no way of knowing what impact you'll have on others. But maybe, just maybe, you'll be the one who triggers a laugh. And that laugh could very easily be the sound of angels singing to someone in need.

I needed to get that off my chest. Thanks for listening.
Wishing for you a belly laugh when you least expect it,
Merry ME

*Author unknown, from an editorial in New York Tribune, quoted in Quotations for Special Occasions by Maud van Buren

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kodachrome

“Most of my images are grounded in people.
I look for the unguarded moment,
the essential soul peeking out,
experience etched on a person’s face."
Steve McCurry*

Probably because I've been spending so much time lately with Dad's slide collection, my ears perked up on Saturday when I heard an interview on NPR with a photographer discussing the end of a photographic era - the last roll of Kodachrome film was processed at Dwayne's Photo Service in Parson's, Kansas in July. As I listened to the photographer talk of his life/work in photo journalism and how much he depended on this film, I thought about how even my own limited foray into the world of taking pictures has changed. No more taking roll after roll of pictures and waiting for them to be developed. No more dark rooms or pictures ruined by a thumb over the lens. Professionals and wanna-bes alike, can point and shoot and have a picture at the touch of a button. Photos that might otherwise be sitting in a slide box, or an I'll-get-to-it-someday drawer, or a neatly crafted scrapbook can be instantly uploaded and sent around the world. What would Matthew Brady think about it all?

Steve McCurry, the interviewee, is a name you might not recognize but you've seen his pictures for years. His most famous, perhaps, is that of the Afghan girl who's haunting eyes seem to look off the cover of National Geographic magazine and into one's soul.

"A high point in his career was the rediscovery of the previously unidentified Afghan refugee girl that many have described as the most recognizable photograph in the world today. When McCurry finally located Sharbat Gula after almost two decades, he said, “Her skin is weathered; there are wrinkles now, but she is a striking as she was all those years ago.”*

From what I've read, McCurry was privileged to use the very last roll of Kodachrome film made. Dwayne's will continue processing the film until the end of the year, then it will be history, like Brownie cameras, Friday night slide shows, and black paged scrap books held together by a shoelace, with each picture held in place (sort of) by sticky black corners.

You can guess that since I was driving, and my memory isn't all that good anyway, that I don't recall most of the interview. What I do remember, however, is that McCurry said that digital cameras are great, but to be really safe, one should back up the pictures at least 3 times. If something happens to your camera or computer, poof! there go your pictures. One of the plusses about Kodachrome slides is that they last (if preserved well, unlike some of my Father's). McCurry talked about finding a box of negatives that had been stored (and forgotten) in a garage instead of secure, temperature-controlled room and each picture was just as good as new.

My sister is a saver of things. For years she saved every Time Magazine she ever read. She's got boxes of Madam Alexander dolls packed away just waiting for a doll museum to ask for them. And she's got the negatives from almost every picture she's ever taken. Unlike me, who has been known to toss them along with the drug store envelope they came in. My back up (I only have one, not three) and ace-in-the-hole is the knowledge that Linda will be able to put her hands on almost any picture I ask about, whether it was taken this year or back in 1974. Linda is a great sister to have for many reasons, but her genetic pre-disposition to keep things neatly stored in her garage ranks up there near the top of the list. It is the flip side to my desire to throw things away or make teetering piles on every flat surface in the house.

My blog friends, Molly, Mandy and Pam take some amazing photographs. The kind that makes me say, "how did she do that?" My son has an eye for detail that makes his photos take my breath away. Jon Katz who is as much a photographer as he is a writer has branched out from taking pictures of his dogs and farm animals. He has a talent for finding the beauty and "soul" of deserted barns, county fairs and farm chores. Like McCurry these photo-makers have "an uncanny ability to cross boundaries of language and culture to capture stories of human experience."*

I found this video on You-tube which I will offer up as a tribute to the iconic film workhorse.

Wishing for you memories of days gone by,
Merry ME


*www.stevemccurry.com

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I remember Mama

"Today, we gather to be reassured that God hears
the lamenting and bitter weeping of Mother America
because so many of her children are no more.
Let us now seek that assurance in prayer
for the healing of our grief stricken hearts,
for the souls and sacred memory
of those who have been lost.
Let us also pray for divine wisdom
as our leaders consider the necessary actions for national security,
wisdom of the grace of God that as we act,
we not become the evil we deplore.”*


I was in Mrs. Carden's 6th grade classroom when the news that John Kennedy had been shot was announced over the loudspeaker. A collective gasp escaped the mouths of children too young, too naive to understand what had just happened. I tried to hide my tears on the bus ride home. Neighborhood boys made wise cracks and pointed fingers at nerds like me who cried for something they couldn't comprehend. I wept as the boys postured.

I watched in horror as Walter Cronkite reported first Martin Luther King's assassination, then Robert Kennedy's. I was frozen in a deja vu moment on the sunny California afternoon when Ronald Reagan was shot. And then there was Waco, the Oklahoma Federal Building and Columbine. Each incident searing itself into my life by news commentators that couldn't/wouldn't leave it alone. With each story I think the callus around my heart grew a little thicker. Like a drive-by shooting on the northside of my own town ( a place I stay away from) I somehow deflected the grief because it didn't happen to me personally. I was unable to feel what others were experiencing. My tears and and prayers and donation dollars were added to a shared crucible of heartache. I moved on, unable to sustain the grief for more than a few days.

Then came September 11, 2001. Like so many others, I started the day in the usual way. There was no way to expect or anticipate what was going to happen. I lived in a room above the garage and usually made it down to breakfast after my parents were settled into their morning routine. Dad was reading the paper. I knew from the look on my mother's face that something was wrong. In her blue velour robe Mom stared at the Today Show as a befuddled Katie Couric tried to make sense of the unimaginable. A plane had flown into the Twin Towers. Mom and I sat in stunned silence as Evil personified flashed across the TV screen. I hated watching it, but was unable to take my eyes from it.

As I write, memories come rushing back. Time, as it does, has softened the vision, like an out of focus photograph, but after all the speeches and all the flag waving, there has been no long term resolution. In a world of plenty Evil still exists, suicide bombers still blow themselves and others to smithereens, every day heros still fight for freedoms some people can not even imagine, we are still afraid of people who don't look or sound like us, and mothers and fathers still long for a peaceful world in which to raise their children.

A lot has happened in the years between then and now. Like that day back in 1963, each of us has a picture of where we were on 9/11 burned into our hearts and minds. How can we forget?

I remember the planes, the fire, the smoke, the ash.
I remember the heros, the victims.
I remember the sorrow, the grief, the horror, the tears, the rage, the panic, the incredulity of it all.
I remember patriots, blood donors, volunteers, firefighters, rescue dogs.
I remember my son, who heard the blast and smelled the smoke from his vantage point just a couple miles from the Pentagon.
I remember sitting in an empty church not knowing where or how to start my prayers.

And, with a pain in my chest that sits right about where the scar on my heart has been for almost 8 years, I remember my mom in her blue velour robe.

I've rambled. If you want to read a really good post, read Dani's blog. She has a way of summing up everything I want to say but don't know how.

Wishing for you a quiet time for remembering,
Merry ME


*- Rev. Nathan Baxter, Dean of Washington National Cathedral from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/terrorism/july-dec01/remember_9-14.html

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What to Wear

“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only.
Fashion is in the sky, in the street,
fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live,
what is happening.”
CoCo Chanel

Even though there are a lot of people in the blog world already talking about the onset of autumn, I'm sitting here sweating. One would think that as the temperatures start to drop, the hot flashes would also begin to diminish. If not in heat at least in frequency. Estrogen, or lack of, is a funny thing.

The weatherman said that mornings would begin to be a little cooler but noontime temps would still hit 90+ which is down from 100+. What's weird is that 90 something actually feels less hot which is ridiculous because, as we all know, anything over 90 falls in to the red zone. Still, I think that there are changes in the air. Oh so small, but still there. In Florida there is not a lot of color change like there is when you get even a little further North. And for some reason the oak trees shed in the Spring, not the fall.

So how do I know the seasons are about to change? Easy, the catalogues have switched from summer clothes that show a lot of skin, to winter woolies that cover everything. Oh, and don't forget they are already pitching Christmas stuff.

As Dad finished his coffee last night, I took a stroll through the LL Bean catalog. For reasons I don't really understand looking at the catalog makes me feel like I'm going home. I get lost in the olive greens, red plaids, and aubergines of the season. I yearn to comfort myself by pulling on an Irish made Aran sweater (loose and well-worn, of course), flannel shirt, and socks. I know that sleeping under flannel sheets would be like sleeping in Hell, but the idea of turning the A/C down to about 68 degrees and being tucked up under warm sheets and a hand made quilt is like Heaven to me. Could it be my New England roots?

Truth be told I doubt seriously if I'd enjoy living anywhere I'd be comfortable wearing LL Bean clothes. Been there. Done that. I remember snow storms that covered the car - literally, nothing but the top showed. I've skidded in circles after hitting a patch of ice. I know, you're not supposed to slam on the breaks, you're supposed to have enough wits about you to turn into the skid. Well let me just say this for the record, when flying across an icy road heading for a tree lined ditch my gut instinct screams STOP! which sends the message to my feet to hit the breaks. Regardless, at this time of year I picture myself somewhere north of the Mason Dixon line enjoying the sight of colored leaves and the first pristine snowfall; the smell of a wood fire and a flavorful stew; and the comfort of cozying up with a good book, dressed from head to toe in LL Bean garb.

My friend Dani recently posted a picture of herself on her blog. Dani has her own personal panache when it comes to fashion. She can wear scarves casually draped around her neck and not look like she's ready for a hanging. She can wear big chunky necklaces and look stylish, not costumey. She can wear fancy shoes, Birkenstock sandals or go barefoot and still look well dressed. Much as I like that look, I can't just throw things on and look casual. When I try to dress up I look as cramped as I feel. It could have to do with the clothes, but I think, perhaps, it has to do with a my fashion identity. Or more accurately the lack of that identity. I don't have one style that says ME. It's more like I have a multiple personality fashion crisis. Who shall I be today? Fancy Nancy, Annie Oakley, Audrey Hepburn (with a few extra pounds), a Flower child, or Paul Bunyan's gal pal? For this reason, and the fact that I rarely get out of the house other than to run to WalMart and when I do that I am often better dressed than most, I stick with my mom jeans, faded tank tops and trusted Birky slides. In reality, the one fashion thing that I says, "ah" to me, is my collection of double strapped (Arizona) hippie sandals. This is not a problem in Florida where almost all year round one can go sockless. I'm just not sure about how to blend this fashion icon with my LL Bean Barn coat.

Here's the good news. Even with the minute drop in temperatures, it won't be snowing in Florida anytime soon. I can dream and drool over the catalogues all day long, but my checkbook can rest secure in the knowledge that I won't be buying anything made of flannel, wool, fleece or cashmere.

Wishing for you something you feel comfortable in,
Merry ME