Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Life Stories

"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living."
Marcus Tullius Cicero


It's happened again. Someone I know died. While Michael Phelps racked up an unprecedented number of medals and Simone Biles vaulted her way into gymnastic history books, my daughter's father-in-law drew his lasts breath.  I know, I know. People die every minute every day. People die in numbers too great to comprehend. Dying is part of the circle of life. It's when the circle narrows to include someone you know or love that death is no longer something that only happens to someone else.

A few weeks ago, my uncle went in for back surgery.  A man so full of life, it never occurred to him or any of us that something could go wrong - horribly wrong.  Complications that had nothing to do with his back sent him into another 4 hours of surgery from which he did not recover. And just like that, the once robust man, my mother's youngest brother, the end of a generation, died. No time for goodbyes. Final I love yous were whispered into the air as life support machines slowed to a stop. Another chapter in the book of life ended.

As the maker of memory bears I have listened to many heart-felt stories. One mother wants a bear, but can't yet part with the shirt her son was wearing before a hit and run driver ended his life. A few months before my uncle died I grabbed an old Vietnam era USMC shirt from the box of memorabilia we'd been searching through, never guessing I'd turn it  into a bear as a reminder of his years of service. I've made bears from quilts pieced together by a loving mother's hands; from the surfing shorts of a young man who couldn't kick his addiction to opiates; from a veteran's combat uniform with cigarette butts still in one of the many pockets; from a beloved grandfather's red and black buffalo plaid hunting jacket; from a souvenir concert T-shirt; from clothes cut from a mother's body in an emergency room. Over the past weekend, while making five bears, I've contemplated how a woman who wore bright, yellow and pink tie-dyed T's could be so ravaged by alcohol that she chose to end her life. The answer, I suppose, lies in the question. Alcohol, like cancer, knows no boundaries.

Having sat next to both my parents as they crossed from this life to the next, I am no stranger to death or its partner grief. I know that each passing is different and each person's experience is different. My goal is to comfort the living by remembering the life, not the death. Making bears helps me do that.

I believe some infinitesimal part of a person remains in the clothes I use to create  bears. I know it sounds weird. I can't explain it. Maybe it's like the butterfly effect. A person's vibrations keep dancing across time even after they are gone.  If I believe there are no coincidences, only God moments, then I have to believe the clothes I have been given are the ones that hold the most sentient pieces of that person. A never-ending trace of the Divine?

Or maybe it's the stories. I always ask for stories about the deceased before I start a bear.  At most any memorial service stories abound that will make you laugh and/or cry.  I wish there was a way to know, really know, a person before you are sitting in a church pew listening to an eulogy.  I've found by the time someone is ready for me to make a bear, they are ready to tell the stories - of life, death, joy, and sorrow. My job is to be present, to listen. Every storyteller, needs a good listener. It's an honor for me to do so.

In the time it's taken me to write this people have died. None of us knows when our turn will come. It behooves us all to make the best of the time we have. We don't have to win gold medals. We just need to be the best we can be. We need to be kind to one another. We need to tell our stories. And we need to listen to others'.


"To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, 
completely and freshly, to what is before us, 
not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. 
In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, 
with a willingness to be changed by what we hear."
Mark Nepo

What's your story?
Merry  ME




Monday, August 8, 2016

Book Review

Misadventures of a Happy Heart
A Memoir of Life Beyond Disabilities

by Amy Quincy

When E-books first came out, I was of the I'll-never-buy-one-because-I-like-the-feel-of-a-book-in-my-hand school of thought. Then I bought one. Then two. Then enough more to realize reading on a Nook was infinitely easier than holding a bound book and turning the pages, especially when reading in bed. Which is where I usually read. I also like the fact that I can make the font bigger to match my diminishing eye sight. I got a new pair of glasses last week and was amazed at how clear and bright the world looked through the new prescription. The saleswoman put a card with tee-tiny writing on it under my nose and I could read with no difficulty at all. Until I got home. Now I'm having to move my head either up or down depending on whether I'm looking far away or close up. Perhaps I should have saved the money I spent on new glasses and bought a larger Nook.

None of that made any difference when I picked up my friend Amy Quincy's newly published, signed with the author's shaky "A,"paperback Misadventures of a Happy Heart A Memoir of Life Beyond Disability. It had been a long time coming. As members of the same writers group, I've been a spectator and cheerleader as Misadventures gestated from wistful idea to finished product. Like an excited aunt, I wanted to hold the book in my hands, turn the crisp, white pages, inhale the words. Words that hadn't exactly been written in blood, but had been baptized by sweat, spilled wine and more than a few 4-letter words.

Misadventures of a Happy Heart is a memoir. It's the story of how Amy picked up the pieces of her life and moved forward when, at the age of 30-something, she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in her brain's prime real estate - the brain stem. With a degree in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing, Amy had been published before the stroke. As with most writers, however, she had to fit writing in somewhere between work and everyday life. In an odd twist of fate, the stroke provided Amy with the time to do what she always wanted to do - write. For 6 years, Amy plugged away with one finger typing at the heart-racing speed of 9 words a minute. Her life as a massage therapist may have ended when the stroke robbed her of clear vision, the ability to walk, clear speech and control of most of her body. But it did not take away her ability or desire to tell stories.

Amy's post-stroke life included a lengthy hospital stay, rehabilitation training, physical therapy, adaptive therapy (horseback riding, soccer, tennis, skiing, and surfing to name a few) and the re-emergence of her once independent self. Amy eventually moved back into her own apartment with her cat, Bella and dog, Frankie. Today she can be seen driving her power chair around her neighborhood to buy groceries, get her hair cut, walk Frankie, or visit with friends at the local Starbucks. In the years that I've known Amy I've seen her maneuver in and out of handicapped vans and cars not much bigger than her wheelchair. I've helped her into hot tubs, mountain cabins, gas station bathrooms and tight shower stalls with no handicapped bars to grab onto. I've poured wine in her sippy cup on more than one occasion. With a determination she must have been born with, because how else could have come so far, Amy never gave up on her dream of writing a book.

"Three paramedics arrive. They're all good-looking. I mouth the word, "cute" to Lee Anne over their bent heads and raise my eyebrows suggestively. She catches it and smiles. I scan for wedding rings. There's just something about a take-charge, good-in-a-crisis man."

Amy's remarkable story begins when she notices some tingling in her lips. Upon examination, one doctor told her to have surgery, another told her "don't let anyone touch you." Before she could get a third opinion, the stoke happened and the decision was taken out of her hands. Amy writes with candor and humor about drug-induced conspiracies while in the rehab hospital. She writes honestly about "the unmentionables." Reading Misadventures of a Happy Heart is like being invited to Amy's house for Thanksgiving dinner and having a ringside seat to her sometimes difficult, sometimes dysfunctional, but always endearing family. Amy's style of writing is laugh-out-loud funny. It will bring you to tears. Try as you might you will be unable to feel sorry for Amy.

With uncompromising dignity, grace and humility Amy is miracle. She knows it and so will you when you've finished reading her book. Yet Amy has no desire to become a poster child for the disabled.  Instead, she's done the one thing she's always wanted to do. She told her story "with the increased urgency of someone who's been given another chance." If you're like me when you've finished Misadventures of a Happy Heart you'll go straight to Google to find everything Amy's ever written. If we're lucky, she's already working on her next book. Don't be surprised if it has something to do with a girl, a wheelchair and a trip to Mexico.

For more of Amy's writings check out her website at www.amyfquincy.wordpress.com; you can also follow her on Face book https://www.facebook.com/MisadventuresofAHappyHeart/home; you can even buy an e-book version of Misadventures of A Happy Heart at Amazon here.

Feeling really proud of a fellow writer,
Merry ME

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Letters


Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

John O'Donohue*

I attended a home going, celebration of life, memorial service, funeral yesterday. It matters not what a final farewell is called - it's still saying goodbye to someone you love. A sea of 300 people, most dressed in white (per family wishes) packed a church built to hold a crowd, but still bulged at the seams. Along with the weeping there was singing, praising, hugging, praying, and remembering.

I watched as the deceased's brother walked stoically in front of the gold draped casket. As the priest, it fell to him to dig deep to find the strength to say the words that would comfort the mourners. Her mother and twin sister needed the help of others to get to their seats. That's when I began to cry. I felt their pain. I felt my own.

I've been in their shoes. I've had to make that long slow walk with wobbly knees. I've endured the heartache. I understand how the loss of a loved one is about as individual a pain as anyone can ever feel, and a communal emotion known to all of us since Adam and Eve buried Abel.

It would seem that people of faith - any faith - would have it easy. We believe our loved one is "in a better place." We trust our loved one is the arms of the Divine. We pray that our loved one rests in peace. Yet no matter how much or how little faith one has, how many prayers are offered,  how many casseroles shared, the mourner's journey is one each of us must make in our own time and own way. I don't think there is a word to describe moving through the gut-wrenching brokenness, to somehow living through endless days and nights, to somehow remembering how to breathe again, to somehow seeing calendar years pass by. Hard doesn't come close.

The Japanese have a tradition/philosophy of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and powdered metals, such as gold or silver. In this way "Kintsugi art" transforms the broken piece into something beautiful. Resurrects it into a new, perhaps stronger, life. Perhaps this is what the mourner's path is all about - resurrection. Not just for the person who died. But for the ones left behind who must learn how to live without that person. If ordinary pieces of Oriental china can be "re-purposed" by making cracks and scars visible, it follows (doesn't it?) that grief can do the same thing for the mourner.  By traveling through grief's desert, those who mourn will, even if they don't think it can possible happen, one day bloom again. Is that why Jesus said "blessed are those who mourn"? Because He knew that their unbearable loss would one day be turned into undeniable strength?

Today I met with a family who lost their son in 2014. We talked about making bears from their son's clothes. Eighteen months after his death, they still held on to the shirts, as if holding on to their son. The thought of cutting up his clothes brought them heartache. My job is to turn their pieces of cloth into tangible, huggable bears.

_ _ _ _ 

Dear people who have lost someone they love,

I've been where you are. 
I've felt the sadness, cried the tears. 
I've had to remind myself to breathe. 
I've carried the thousand pound weight of grief on my shoulders for days, weeks, years. 
I've come out the other side. Shaken yet steadfast. Rent yet resilient. 
I'm no authority on the subject. I'm not saying it will be easy. I'm not saying you won't always miss your beloved, but I promise the day will come when you will:
Stop crying.
Want to see the sun again, or hear the ocean.
Find a reason to smile.
Remember your beloved in life, rather than death.
Forgive your beloved* for leaving.
Hear your beloved's favorite song in a grocery store and not run out leaving a basketful of cookies, chips and ice cream.
Want to know something and ask Google instead of calling your beloved.
Stop wearing your beloved's sweater and hang it in the back of the closet.
Use your mother's china/sterling silver/sewing machine. 
Make your beloved's favorite meal again.
Find yourself wanting to wear a brightly colored dress instead of black yoga pants and ratty T-shirts.
See lovers holding hands, making goo goo eyes at each other and not want to throw up.
Return to the places you and your beloved once frequented.
Gain/lose the grief weight.
Give up your stock in Kleenex, Tums and/or Visine.
Take a walk instead of a Valium.
Try something new.
Paint your walls a sunny shade of yellow.
Buy yourself some flowers.
Go on a date.
Take a trip by yourself,
Let go of what might have been to embrace what is.
Volunteer to help others.
Feel grateful to be alive.


Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all,
Merry ME

*Substitute any name for beloved
*From a beautiful blessing by John O'Donohue. Please read the whole thing here





Letters


Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

John O'Donohue*

I attended a home going, celebration of life, memorial service, funeral yesterday. It matters not what a final farewell is called - it's still saying goodbye to someone you love. A sea of 300 people, most dressed in white (per family wishes) packed a church built to hold a crowd, but still bulged at the seams. Along with the weeping there was singing, praising, hugging, praying, and remembering.

I watched as the deceased's brother walked stoically in front of the gold draped casket. As the priest, it fell to him to dig deep to find the strength to say the words that would comfort the mourners. Her mother and twin sister needed the help of others to get to their seats. That's when I began to cry. I felt their pain. I felt my own.

I've been in their shoes. I've had to make that long slow walk with wobbly knees. I've endured the heartache. I understand how the loss of a loved one is about as individual a pain as anyone can ever feel, and a communal emotion known to all of us since Adam and Eve buried Abel.

It would seem that people of faith - any faith - would have it easy. We believe our loved one is "in a better place." We trust our loved one is the arms of the Divine. We pray that our loved one rests in peace. Yet no matter how much or how little faith one has, how many prayers are offered,  how many casseroles shared, the mourner's journey is one each of us must make in our own time and own way. I don't think there is a word to describe moving through the gut-wrenching brokenness, to somehow living through endless days and nights, to somehow remembering how to breathe again, to somehow seeing calendar years pass by. Hard doesn't come close.

The Japanese have a tradition/philosophy of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and powdered metals, such as gold or silver. In this way "Kintsugi art" transforms the broken piece into something beautiful. Resurrects it into a new, perhaps stronger, life. Perhaps this is what the mourner's path is all about - resurrection. Not just for the person who died. But for the ones left behind who must learn how to live without that person. If ordinary pieces of Oriental china can be "re-purposed" by making cracks and scars visible, it follows (doesn't it?) that grief can do the same thing for the mourner.  By traveling through grief's desert, those who mourn will, even if they don't think it can possible happen, one day bloom again. Is that why Jesus said "blessed are those who mourn"? Because He knew that their unbearable loss would one day be turned into undeniable strength?

Today I met with a family who lost their son in 2014. We talked about making bears from their son's clothes. Eighteen months after his death, they still held on to the shirts, as if holding on to their son. The thought of cutting up his clothes brought them heartache. My job is to turn their pieces of cloth into tangible, huggable bears.

_ _ _ _ 

Dear people who have lost someone they love,

I've been where you are. 
I've felt the sadness, cried the tears. 
I've had to remind myself to breathe. 
I've carried the thousand pound weight of grief on my shoulders for days, weeks, years. 
I've come out the other side. Shaken yet steadfast. Rent yet resilient. 
I'm no authority on the subject. I'm not saying it will be easy. I'm not saying you won't always miss your beloved, but I promise the day will come when you will:
Stop crying.
Want to see the sun again, or hear the ocean.
Find a reason to smile.
Remember your beloved in life, rather than death.
Forgive your beloved* for leaving.
Hear your beloved's favorite song in a grocery store and not run out leaving a basketful of cookies, chips and ice cream.
Want to know something and ask Google instead of calling your beloved.
Stop wearing your beloved's sweater and hang it in the back of the closet.
Use your mother's china/sterling silver/sewing machine. 
Make your beloved's favorite meal again.
Find yourself wanting to wear a brightly colored dress instead of black yoga pants and ratty T-shirts.
See lovers holding hands, making goo goo eyes at each other and not want to throw up.
Return to the places you and your beloved once frequented.
Gain/lose the grief weight.
Give up your stock in Kleenex, Tums and/or Visine.
Take a walk instead of a Valium.
Try something new.
Paint your walls a sunny shade of yellow.
Buy yourself some flowers.
Go on a date.
Take a trip by yourself,
Let go of what might have been to embrace what is.
Volunteer to help others.
Feel grateful to be alive.


Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all,
Merry ME

*Substitute any name for beloved
*From a beautiful blessing by John O'Donohue. Please read the whole thing here





Thursday, June 16, 2016

Letters

"Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body."
Martha Graham


June 16, 2016

Dear Slightly Overweight Girl,

Let's be honest your size and shape are not that of the ordinary ballerina. Ashamedly that's what first caught my eye. In a group of small girls, your body type singled you out. But here's the thing, I found it impossible to take my eyes off you.  Not because of your size - that faded away after the first arabesque. What drew me in was your grace. Your smile. Your obvious love of what you were doing. 

You're being "you" in a field of "others" reminded me of the Hot Dog Princess I saw on FB last week. Invited to her dance class's princess party, this independent thinker, stepped into a room full of  satin and lace clad Elsas and Annas, wearing a hot dog costume. An article in inquisitor.com* said "Hot Dog Princess has become a symbol of hope for anyone hiding behind a mask of conformity."

I don't think your purpose for dancing was to stand out. I'm guessing your unadulterated motive was to dance. Your size had nothing to do with it. And that showed in every step you took. 


I wonder if you've already heard the naysayers. You're not thin enough. You have to have long legs. Remember this, they said the same things to Misty Copeland and look where she is now. Maybe being a ballerina is not your lifetime goal. That's ok. What you are developing now is probably more important than jetes and pas de deux's. You've learned discipline, poise, grace. You've stepped onto a stage where blending in is often more important than standing out and discovered the joy that comes from following your heart and being true to yourself. 


I don't know you. I may never see you again. Yet I am so proud of you. May all your dreams come true. May you continue to dance to the music of your own heart. 


Delighted in the beauty of you,

Merry Me

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Letters

Villefranche-sur-Mer
France
24 March 1922

Dear Mother Combs,
(Half-way down page 2)
We have been very happy, too, both of us like to stay at home and play with the baby.
Honestly, without prejudice, I will say that Patricia Combs Aldrich is the sweetest and best baby I ever saw. We both love her almost too much. She is growing fast and is getting smarter every day.
...
Best of love to all,
Clarence

June 15, 2016

Dear Mom,
You sure have been on my mind a lot lately. John thinks Maizey has been waking up in the middle of the night because she sees a ghost. We always kidded that it was Mick Shrock up there. Jack and I are pretty sure there are spirits downstairs - usually wandering down the hall. I wish I knew if for sure if you and or Dad were hanging around. And if so, why? Is that what souls do?

Linda and I went up to Georgia in April to go through Aldrich family memorabilia. Perhaps if spirits are real, you went with us. We had such a good time. There was lots of laughing. Lots of story telling. Some crying and missing people who meant so much to us. Lots of speculating about relationships. Perhaps, for me, the best part of the whole trip was the box of letters I brought home. Reading them is like peeking through a window in time, getting a glimpse of the young Grammy and Grampy and Great Grammy and Great Grampy, when their futures were still dreamy. I feel sad that I wasn't able to know them as an adult. My kid's eye view was pretty narrow.

Linda is quite excited about getting all the Aldrich genealogy put into a computer. Lately I've been researching Aunt Letty's first marriage. I have the faintest memory of you wearing a royal blue dress. In a letter to his father, your Dad describes the wedding as quite an affair.

I haven't made too many quilts lately. My creative projects have slowed to a snail's pace. Mostly I make bears from the clothes of people who have died. I call them memory bears. Linda made each of the sisters one from Dad's well worn Haband shirts.  I made quilts for all of us from your shirts. I found the cutting wasn't so hard, but the sewing together was. Not the sewing per se, but the act of making something new from something old. I didn't want to let go of the old. I wanted you sitting on the stool watching TV than cutting up your clothes. That said, having the quilt to curl up under is very comforting.

That's the way the bears are. In making them, I've found that I can almost feel the person, I wonder if part of the soul resides in something so mundane as a shirt that's been washed and worn a million times. Recently a woman asked me to make 5 bears for her from her mother's clothes. It's only been a few months since her mother passed away. I could feel her raw emotions in her words. I always ask about the person because I want to tap into that spirit thing if it's there. I've actually done it. When this lady told me her mother was a quilter and she was going to learn to quilt so she could finish the projects her mom had started, I told her about how you would sneak up behind me in the dining room when I was sewing away on a quilt. Or how you'd stand over me when I was on the floor arranging squares. Aphasia took your voice, but not your eye for beauty or creativity. I'm not sure I ever told you how much I loved those times together. Remember the summer you taught me how to sew? What a gift you gave me without even realizing it. You probably didn't give it a second thought. That's what mother's did back then. Do you remember ironing on hot summer afternoons? It looked like a chore to me. I've found ironing can be very zen like. Maybe that's something else you knew that would take years for me to learn.

A few weeks ago a friend asked me if I knew how hospitals take care of a body after the person has died. With unexpected tears trickling down my cheeks, I admitted I didn't. I remember everything about the day you left us. Oh how I wish we'd known what was happening. I wish someone had told us so you could have died peacefully right here at home. I wish that we hadn't talked Dad into leaving the hospital. With good intentions we tried to spare him a long death vigil. I wish I'd known then how sacred this period of time can be. I wish I'd known then how touchingly beautiful the act of washing a person's body after death can be. I wish I'd known then to sit quietly with you, that your heart had stopped beating but your maybe your spirit continued to hover in the room. And, in answer to my friend's question, I wish I'd known then how a hospital cares for a body.  I am so sorry I left you. Yeh, I thought it was important to get home to dad. And probably I needed to runaway as fast as I could to the place I've always gone when I needed my mom most, under the covers. Oprah says "when you know better you do better." I knew better and did better when Daddy passed away.

Memories keep you close, still it's hard to be a girl without her mom.
Missing you,
Merry ME

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Letters

At 14 the girl had gone from being called "toothpick" to being whistled at in a two piece bathing suit. It was the mid-sixty's so the suit, while showing off some boob and curves, would be called modest by today's standards. The girl kind of liked the attention. At 14 the girl knew a little bit about making out, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. All three were usually done on a double date  (if you can call boys driving one car and girls driving another, parking next to each other, then pairing up,  a date) at the drive-in movie.  At 14 the girl knew the basics of sex, but had never seen or experienced an erect penis or ejaculate. She had never heard of oral sex, anal sex, kinky sex. To say she was naive would be an understatement. To say her naivety mixed with her blossoming sexuality was a dangerous combination was a certainty. At 14 the girl walked a tight rope between being a "good girl" and following other girls who pushed the limits of "good" to frightening conclusions. The girl made straight A's. She also lied to her parents about where she was going and how she was getting there. She lied about who she would be with. Once out the door, the girl never gave her lies a second thought.

Hitchhiking one night, for no other reason than to see if she and her friend could catch a ride (to nowhere?) a policeman stopped. "Do we look like the kind of girls who would run away from home?" they asked the cop who was seriously considering calling their parents. Holy crap! How would she have explained that? Or the time they spent the weekend at the beach when their parents thought they were at church camp? The stuff parents' nightmares are made of.

One Saturday night, the pair planned to go to a dance at the beach. They assured their parents they had rides both ways and would be home by midnight. The perfect plan. Once on the dance floor they shimmied and gyrated.  As the evening wore on the girl realized a) the clock was ticking closer to midnight b) no Prince Charming had presented himself to drive the girls the 10 miles back home and c) this was beginning to feel like a problem. Good girls, especially good girls who tell lies, often worry about getting caught. Eventually an older guy presented himself. He had a car and didn't mind giving the girls a lift. They jumped in and didn't blink an eye when the guy stopped at a 711 to pick up some beer. The extra guys that hopped in the car did give them pause.

The ride, as you might expect, turned scary before the first bottle of beer was opened. One girl sat in the front seat sandwiched between two ... let's call them what they were ... men. The other squooshed between three. The men hooted and hollered, the girls remained silent. We've got to stop at a party said the driver, pulling off the main road between the beach and Jacksonville onto a barely visible dirt path through the woods. The nightmare began. Where the car stopped could be the scene from any scary movie where you scream at the screen, "don't go in there." Staying in the car wasn't an option. There were other people there, both men and women, none of them teenagers. And liquor. Maybe drugs, tho' they weren't a big deal back then. Crying to go home got one girl slapped to the ground. The other can't remember much more than the final ride home. 2 girls 5 guys. 2 heads forced down on one huge penis after another. The taste of ejaculate. Choking. Spitting. Swallowing. Crying. The girl can't remember how long it took to get home. Long enough for any semblance of naiveté to be gone.  The girls were let out of the car down the street where from where they promised to spend the night. They snuck into a downstairs porch. Somehow they fell asleep. The next morning, the girls opened their eyes and looked at each other. They laughed. They never spoke of that night again.

At 14 the girl learned what it means to be violated. Because she had lied, she felt she had no recourse. She could not tell her parents. Besides what could she have said. No names were shared, only semen and beer drinking, story-telling innocence. Fifty years later the girl still wonders if what happened to her that night was rape? She still carries a bit of shame for "bringing it on herself.

_ _ _ _


June 9

Dear Mr. Turner,
There's not much I can say that hasn't already been said and splashed across the Internet. Still I'd like to add my two cents to the growing hue and cry.

It's been said that you are not a rapist. You may be a star athlete and a great student. You are also, by the very definition of the word, a rapist.

So what if you were drinking and made a bad decision? People under the influence of alcohol make dumb, stupid, bad decisions all the time. Some end up embarrassed or with a headache. Some plow into other cars and kill innocent people. They go to jail for their actions.

Should your victim have been so drunk she couldn't understand what you had in mind? Probably not. That in no way, however, relieves you of culpability. FYI if a woman is too drunk to say yes, she's saying no. Please DO NOT ever use the word victim for you and her in the same sentence.

This notoriety might cause you to think your life is over. You're right. That's what happens when people make bad decisions. I dare say your drunken actions bad decisions have changed the lives of your victim, her family, the men who saved her, your family, the judge, Stanford University and women all over the world. I'd like to think the life of your defense attorney had been changed also, but, even if he was doing his job, I put him in the slum bag category so I don't care too much about him. Here's what I'm wondering, Mr. Turner, what do you say when you look at your mother? Do you have a sister? a female cousin? and aunt? How do you face them knowing that you've violated another woman in the most despicable of ways?

Time is going to pass. This news story will fade away. Years will go by. Perhaps you'll find a woman to love. Maybe she'll marry you in spite of your poor decision making abilities. Maybe you'll be a father someday. Maybe a little girl will call you Daddy. Maybe she'll look to you for protection. Here's what I really want to know, Mr. Turner. What if someone does to your daughter what you've done to your victim? I daresay you'll be calling for more than 6 months prison time. Is that when you'll  apologize for your part in making a culture of rape okay for a certain elite set of men?

Shame on you, Mr. Turner. Shame on your father. Shame on your lawyer. Shame on Judge Persky.
Each of you may one day be able to put all this notoriety behind you. Rest assured, no matter what transpires in her life from this day forward, she will never forget.
Merry ME

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Letters




June 4, 1921
Southern Hotel
Baltimore, MD.

Dearest, dearest family --


How I wish you could have been here yesterday to see me married to the dearest man in the world! I thought of you all a thousand times and it was the only thing which marred an otherwise perfect day.

The service was read more impressively than I ever heard it before and we both realized very well just what we were doing but neither of us - I know I didn't - had a qualm. I was never more serene and calm and happy in my life!!

Love, hugs and kisses to you all, Gertrude

_ _ _ _


June 8

Dear couple that got engaged yesterday in Memorial Park,

I watched from the other end of the sidewalk as one of you got down on his knee and asked a question while the other threw her arms around you in an answer that could only have been yes. Then your friend walked up, asked for a re-enactment so she could take pictures. I hope your lives together will always be filled with that same kind of happiness.


I don't know what kind of wedding you'll have - a big fancy affair, or a small ceremony at City Hall. Even if you write your own vows, the essence of the promises you make to each other will be the same as lovers have been making for ages. To love and honor each other in good times and bad, sickness and health, for richer or poorer, til death do you part. But here's the thing, what most people won't tell you. It's easy to make those vows, not so easy to keep them. Marriage is hard work.


Most of us are pretty happy during the good times. What about the times that are good for one of you, but not so good for the other. A job promotion, perhaps, that means pack up everything and move across the country. Nothing says good times like finding out you're pregnant, but I promise you will find that trying to calm a newborn baby, when you are sleep deprived will test your abilities to see straight let alone the light at the end of the tunnel (when said child graduates from college.) There will be times when you think the only good times will be the "golden years." Don't forget about stiff joints and menopause. Those are the times that a foundation of good communication and a sense of humor will get your through.


When you pledge to stay together during sickness and health, you won't be thinking about cancer, or car accidents, or Alzheimer's disease. You probably can't even picture one you having to feed the other or wipe the other's bottom. Another scenario is when there is sickness in the extended family. Caring for grandchildren or an elderly parent comes with its own set of woes. This is when that promise you made to each other is going to be a two-sided sword. It both deepens your commitment to each other and rips at its foundation.


According to Divorce.com, "Everyone has financial issues concerning bills, debts, spending and budgets. How a couple deals with those issues can make or break a relationship." I'd like to think winning the lottery would take away this marriage worry, but honestly, what are the chances. You can't win if you don't play. You can go broke if you play too much. Marriage is a balancing act. Give a little - get a little. Rub my back - I'll rub yours.


In the beginning when feel good chemicals are swirling around in your brain and you can't imagine a life without that special someone next to you, the give and take is pretty equal. It's after a few years have passed, when life settles down to ho-hum, when the TV replaces pillow talk, when the person sitting next to you on the bus smells like your lover did when you were dating, when the way the baby throws a tantrum in Walmart, when a couple of beers makes you stupid instead of enlightened, when sex, not dirty socks, was 50 shades of gray, and taking the garbage out becomes an argument instead of a no-brainer that the promises you made begin to wear a little thin.


So now that I've painted a picture that makes you want to forget all about marriage, here's the good news. Being partnered to another who knows you inside and out and loves you anyway is the greatest thing on earth. Having someone to laugh with and a shoulder to cry on makes life 100 times more manageable. Knowing you've got someone to share your failures with makes sharing your successes that much better. Being able to say, I just can't do it, would you mind, with the assurance that the answer will be yes makes it more likely that you'll do the same in return.


If I may be so bold as to suggest a thing or two, I would say ... Learn how to listen with your heart, not just your ears. Talk things out. Hold hands. Dance. Laugh. Don't go to sleep without saying, I love you. Mean it. Remember you are half of a whole, but be wholly you. Lean on each other. Share ideas. Agree to disagree. Apologize. Clean out the sink after you brush your teeth. Fill up the gas tank when it's near empty. Send a valentine in June. Put a date night on your calendar. Take care of your health. Tell the truth. Remember when. Plan for the future. Be friends.


When my grandmother wrote the letter above to her mother ninety-five years ago, she was, like you, young and in love. She married the man of her dreams and lived with him until her death. I can tell you with great certainty that my grandparent's marriage made climbing Mt. Everest look like a Sunday afternoon stroll. I wish I'd known the girl who's hopes and dreams were just beginning. I don't know where things went wrong for them. I do know there was too much alcohol and not enough respect. Too many harsh words and not enough "I'm sorrys." Too much separation and too little communication. Back in their day, marriage was a bit more patriarchal. I think my grandmother was way to smart to be satisfied as "the little woman."


As you prepare for a life together may you be blessed with strength, courage, compassion, and unending yet ever-growing love,

Merry ME




* http://divorce.com/top-10-reasons-marriages-fail/



Monday, June 6, 2016

Letters


June 6

Dear Mean People,

We're all in this together. Why do you have to be mean?

I try not to judge. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I try steer clear of things that aren't any of my business. But some things are my business, because some things are every body's business. Like the results of mean people being mean.

I like to imagine what the world might be like if there weren't people killing people, or hurting children, or beating up their wives, or fighting wars over imaginary lines in the dirt, or kicking dogs, or having road rage, or yelling at checkout people who sometimes get backed up and have to go slow, or laughing at people who look/act/think different, or hating people because their skin is a different color, or telling people who have to pee that they are in the wrong bathroom, or telling lies, or honking their horn at slow drivers,  or shooting animals, or walking by a homeless person without looking, or drinking too much then driving a car, or stealing, or not telling people their water has been poisoned, or making cows and pigs and chickens live in pens too small for them, or breaking promises to veterans so they think suicide is their best solution, or caring more about getting elected than working for the common good, or ignoring global warming, or throwing garbage in the ocean?

What if people said "hello, how are you" more and "fuck you" less? What if people asked, "can I help" more and ignored less? What if people waved hello more and gave the finger less? What if fields of wildflowers covered more space and asphalt parking lots less? What if people danced more and drove less, sang more and shouted less? What if people slept more and stressed less? What if people prayed more and whined less?

What if people put down their phones and asked "how was your day"? What if children didn't go to school hungry or cold?  What if hugs were used for currency instead of dollar bills? What if politicians traded workable solutions for all instead of barbs.  What if we got to know our neighbor before we went to their funeral? What if we all got as excited for our fellow man's successes as two young Indian spelling bee champions? What if we all said a prayer for healing when we see an ambulance go whizzing by? What if policemen didn't need guns? What if handshakes replaced bullets? What if blessings replaced curses?What if we all sang like South African firefighters before tackling a really hard job?

What if I said I love you more? What if I listened better? What if I said I'm sorry more?  What if I said yes more. What if I said I like it when you smile, sing, rinse out the sink, empty the trash instead of being mad when it doesn't happen? What if I said we more than I? What if I remember the good times and forgive the rest? What if I stop pointing a finger at mean people and start being nice myself?

What if?
Merry ME

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Letters

June 4,


"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth."

June 4
Dear Mohammad Ali,

I never knew you. I've never been a fan of watching people beat each other up. But today, when I heard the news that you'd passed away, I felt an unexpected sadness. There is a hole in the world, where greatness once reigned. The "rumble" you inspired with hard work and a sense of humor has been silenced. You were a champion in and out of the boxing ring. You were a hero, in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Who will fill your shoes?


I'm trying to imagine what heaven must be like today. Are you showing the angels a few of your dance moves? Are you reciting poetry to St. Peter. Are you showing your pretty face to the One who created it? Are you sitting next to Prince resting in the glow of perfect peace?

Thank you for sharing your life with us.
m

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Letters


I wonder if Eve could write letters in Paradise! 
But, poor Eve, she had no one to write to - 
no one to whom to tell what Eden was, 
no beloved child to whom her love traveled through any or all space. 
Poor Eve! 
Catharine M. Sedgwick


June 2,

Dearest Daughter,

I read the news this morning of a shooting at UCLA. It always makes me sad to hear about a shooting (or anything bad happening at a school). It's hard to imagine being a parent that sends her child to school only to find out that something horrific happened at that supposedly safe place. Actually that would be true of most any situation, but it seems especially awful for parents and school children. Today's news brought back memories of your time at UCLA.

In my mind's eye I can still see us on our first drive to UCLA back in 1989. How could I forget that parade of people dressed in black holding pictures of the Ayatollah Khomeini and shouting words that sounded menacing even though I had no comprehension of the language? The idea of leaving you, my  beloved first child, in that place caused me to tremble. I wanted to turn the car around and drive back to San Diego. Did I say that? How many times did I ask you if you were sure this is where you wanted to be. A hundred? I think you were so busy taking it all in, you never heard me.

I realize now that I was more afraid for me than for you. You had the benefit of youth on your side. You still wore that cloak of teenage immortality about you. College life was nothing more than a new door to open. Another adventure. UCLA a place to learn not just English and History, but how and who to trust, how to manage your time, how to stretch a dollar, how much beer you could drink in one evening. It was a place to test not just your mind but your wings.  To see how far and how high you could fly while you still had a semblance of parental boundaries. My mind knew that. Yet, my heart knew that in a short four years, those same wings would take you to places farther away from me. 

I had some fears left over from the day your blue canvas tennis shoes climbed up those big school bus steps taking you to Kindergarten. Would you make friends? Would you miss me? What if you skinned your knees or someone was mean to you? Still, I never had any doubt that you would succeed. You had already proved that you could tackle most any problem and come out on top. That's not just mom-talk. Your grades, your trophies, your friendships echoed my pride. Your successes came from hard work. You had a few falls, but some of our best lessons come from our failures. I'd learned how to stand on the side lines and cheer you on. That doesn't mean I didn't bite my nails and pace the floor in the wee hours of the morning. Do you know I'm still your biggest cheerleader?

Before touring the campus, we sat on a bench waiting for Aunt Linda. I had tears in my eyes, sweat under my arms. You had what can only be called a look of exhilaration on your face. I wanted to cry. Like a racer in the starting blocks, you were ready for the gun to sound so you could run. I was hoping Linda would back me up. That UCLA was too big and scary a place for my girl. I can laugh now to remember she wore the same anticipatory look in her eyes as you. She'd sent two daughters to college. She knew everything would be ok.  As in most of my life's scary times, her calm demeanor helped settle my  nerves. It helped to know she would be close to rescue if needed.  Not surprisingly, my fears were unfounded. You can be thankful that you inherited your courageous and confident genes from your father, your ability to dance from me!

So many years have passed since you were in college. Why do I write this now?Mainly I want to acknowledge the woman you've become. Not just beautiful, but strong and wise and funny and trustworthy and brave and maybe a little wild and wacky.  Have I ever said how proud I am of you? 

I love you more than lying in a hammock on a summer day,
Merry ME (aka Mom)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

THe Art of Letter Writing

June 1. The start of another month. Already one half of the year is gone. I really don't like that time seems to move so fast. I remember when my former husband used to go on deployment with the Navy. Long periods of time.  3 months, 6 months. This was before email, social media, and Facetime. I could usually expect a drunken phone call from some exotic port of call to tell me how much fun he was having. As you might guess, I was never real excited to get those calls. It was good to hear his voice and to have the kids talk him. It just wasn't the best way of communicating. If something bad happened, the only way to get word to him was via the Red Cross. These messages were reserved for "real" emergencies, not the icemaker flooding the kitchen floor, or how to remove the bar of soap the toddler crammed into the flusing part of the toilet. I'd like to say something like "young people today don't know how good they have it." But I won't for two reasons. First, it sounds like something an old person would say. And second, my husband was gone for long stretches of time, but never in a war zone.

Recently, my sister, uncle, cousin and I spent 3 days going through boxes of family photos and memorabilia. We pawed through photo albums of stern-looking people none of us could identify. We combed through scrapbooks from the time my uncle and sister were children. We unpacked military medals, old menus, a nativity scene made of shells that my grandmother made in the 1940's. We touched history. We told stories. We laughed and we cried.

One of the best finds I brought home with me. A shoebox full of letters, between my great grandmother and my great grandfather when they were separated for many months in 1911. None of us knows the reason she was in LA. We think she was helping to care for her father. The letters, back and forth, are written on heavy paper with a fountain pen. Some are smeared and hard to read. They are love letters in every sense of the word.

There were also letters from my grandmother to her mother from 1920-21. Grammy went to Washington DC to work for a senator. She also went to be close to my grandfather who was in his last year at the Naval Academy. Her letters are full of what you might imagine a young woman, away from home for the first time, would write her mother about. Clothes, shoes, dances, work, summer heat, roommates. She even hinted a few times that things with Clarence were not always hunky dory. A foreshadowing, perhaps, of what turned out to be a long, but tough marriage. My favorite letters told of Grammy and Grampy's late afternoon wedding shortly after he graduated - how the room was decorated with daisies, how the Senator gave her away, how excited they were to start their life together. And the one announcing my mother's birth in an army field hospital in Germany. At the time, my grandfather was in Italy, so except for another wife who was traveling in Europe, my grandmother was alone. Thinking back on it, she must have been as scared as she was excited.

Another bunch of letters were from my great-uncle to his mom about life at the Naval Academy. Times have probably changed a lot over the years, but I suspect plebe summer is as difficult to survive now as it was in 1921. As it turned out, my uncle got sick and had to leave the Navy. He spent a lot of his life as an invalid.

The final pack of letters was from my grandfather to his father. Again, we don't have the whole story, but know that the two were somewhat estranged. The letters were informative, but not warm. In this envelope of letters, there are three dated in the 1800's. We think they are to my grandfather's father when he was just a boy.

I spent three afternoons reading one letter after another. Even though I was sitting in my chair in my house, I felt like I was transported in time and place to LA, Vermont, DC and Europe. I loved not only the words, but the feel of the paper and the cursive writing. At times the letters were folded like origami. I had to flip the paper back and forth and over but the stories never lost their appeal.

I couldn't help but mourn the lost art of letter writing. I love letters. I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to texting a quick question or emailing a short note. Technology has made it easier to communicate with loved ones far away. It's also made it harder to stay in touch. Touch being the operative word here. You can save an email, but you can't hold it and feel close to the sender. You can't stick it under your pillow. You can't cry on it or hold it next to your heart. You can't tear it to shreds in a fit of rage. You can't save the words for generations to come.

Last year I sent my daughter a postcard everyday for the month of her birth. Post cards are like text messages with a pretty picture and fancy stamp (don't get me started on stamps!). Even though the writing is usually brief and compact, it means the sender took the time to pick out the card, write the message and post it. It means the receiver has the fun of opening up the mailbox to a little piece of wherever the sender had been. I have to give it to my former husband, who may have not been so great with phone conversations, but never lacked in the postcard department. I'm sad to say there came a time when I'd moved them so many times, I finally thought why bother and threw them out.

I know .... shame on me. I not only tossed a box of cards, but I tossed a part of our family history. I tossed the opportunity for my children's children's children to discover a hidden treasure in a stinky old cedar chest. To know about the places a distant grandfather visited. To lace together bits and pieces of family stories.

The Japanese art of de-cluttering has become popular lately. I'm pretty good at getting rid of things when I'm in the mood. While it feels good in the moment, I often regret it. That's why I'm holding on to my mother's silver tea set and my grandmother's sterling flatware (that she described to her mom in one of those letters) and old photo albums filled with people no one knows anymore. My children have no need or desire for them.  So they sit under lock and key, the metal tarnishing. How can a place serving of silverware or china tell a story? Is history in the eye of the beholder? Is a letter only worth the paper it's written on? I wonder?

I'm going to challenge myself to write a letter a day for the next month. What about you?
Merry ME

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Peacock Wisdom

Sweetie and I took ourselves on a mini-vacation last week. Neither of us had been to the west coast of Florida so it seemed like a good place to visit. The Sportsman's Lodge, in Eastpoint, FL was our destination. When you make reservations in a place with Lodge in the name, you probably shouldn't expect too much. In business for over 40 years, the rooms were, shall we say, rustic. Our room looked out on the Apalachicola River. A stunning view. Perfect for watching sea birds, purple martins, peacock mating rituals, people cleaning fish and the most beautiful sunsets you can imagine.
We settled into our home away from home with relaxation as our only goal.  The mattresses groaned when we sat on the bed. Neither the groaning sound or that of the window air conditioner interfered with our unscheduled afternoon naps.

The sounds emanating from the Lodge's peafowl were a bit harder to ignore. Something between a bull horn and an alley cat's drawn out meows, God must have spent all Her time creating beautiful iridescent feathers instead of a sexy melodic song. I was treated to some National Geographic entertainment when I went outside every morning to write and soak up Mother Nature's gifts. Peahens wandered around pecking at the ground like most birds left up to their own devices. Mr. Peacock, as I affectionately named him, did a lot more showing off. I thought at first the display of fanned feathers, shimming and tail shaking was aimed at the Mrs. Peacock. I soon realized that searching the grass for something to eat proffered much more appeal.

"Look at this," cried Mr. Peacock waving his feathers in a back and forth dance move.

I imagined the less than interested Mrs. Peacock saying something like, "Honestly, Harold, stop making a fool of yourself."

Not to be thwarted in his romantic efforts, Harold turned his attention to me. He waved his spectacular fan at me. He turned to show me how his puffed up tail feathers. He hopped. He crowed. He jumped up on the fence so I'd have a better view. It's been a long time since I was courted with as much gusto. Alas, like Mrs. Peacock, when I failed to answer the call of the wild, Mr. Peacock walked off in search of another opportunity to wow a lady.

I decided there is a lot to learn from a peacock.
1. Be yourself even when no one else is looking.
2. Make your own path. Don't follow where others may go.
3. Don't give up. If at first you don't succeed, shimmy, shimmy again.
4. Take a risk. (There were times Mrs. Peacock stepped close enough to the dance floor to be confused as a willing partner. To Mr. Peacock's dismay, she knew the tastiest grass grew right under his feet.)
5. Dance to your own music.
6. When all else fails, take a nap.

Sweetie wants to go back to "the forgotten coast" sometime soon. Next time we'll stay in a less rustic place and take a fishing pole. It's hard to watch other people cleaning the fish you wish you had caught.

Merry ME

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Good News!

At the beginning of the month Sweetie finally had a PET scan. I asked if I could watch. I wanted to see for myself the plaques and tangles that show up in the brain of a person with ALZ. Of course, my request was denied. There was too much confidential material about other patients in there. Huh?

Oh well, I remained in the waiting room, on the too low couch, with very little stuffing while some kind of NatGeo program recycled view after view of underwater scenes with music whose only purpose could possibly be to lull people to sleep. I woke myself up by snoring too loud. It was a rather long wait.

But not as long as eighteen days it took to get the results. Finally - drum roll please - the time came. We were ushered into a small exam room where all Sweetie's newest medications were added to his computerized chart. His vitals were taken. Unlike mine, his blood pressure was on the low side.
Then Dr. Mody walked in and introduced herself. Doctor number 3 we've seen since this journey began three years ago.

Diminutive. I think that's the word to describe this doctor. Like other Indians I've met in recent years, I knew not to let her size steer me in the wrong direction. While waiting I googled her and found her education quite impressive. Since she is new to this practice and to Sweetie's case, she repeated the often asked questions about memory, other medical conditions, tremors, balance, mood. She took her time, took notes, and, though I don't think it was her intent, prolonged the agony. Finally she began to read from the computer, the results of the scan. All it showed, was Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a "clinical" diagnosis representing a doctor's best professional judgment about the reason for a person's symptoms. MCI causes cognitive changes that are serious enough to be noticed by the individuals experiencing them or to other people, but the changes are not severe enough to interfere with daily life or independent function.

Those with MCI have an increased risk of eventually developing Alzheimer's or another type of dementia. However, not all people with MCI get worse and some eventually get better. (ALZ.org)

This is good news. While MCI can be a precursor to ALZ, some patients never get any worse. As we've been told again and again, the only way to definitively diagnose ALZ is with an autopsy. With the help of scans, neuro-psychological tests, repeated MOCA (30 questions) tests, doctors are able to track a patients decline. With the exception of dropping a few points on the MOCA Sweetie has not declined. In some ways his memory has improved. This could be due to the medication - a combo of Aracept and Namenda.

I admit, after the first sigh of relief, both of us felt a little angry. Why were we told it was ALZ in the first place? Mainly because Sweetie's CT scan in 2014 showed a shrinkage in the frontal lobes of his brain and in the rear of his brain. This shrinkage is common in ALZ. It appeared at the time, that was the slippery slope we were on. And it still may be. But for now we're going to stop grieving and get back to living. Not sure yet what that will look like. Hopefully a lot less fear and drama.

Thanks for hanging in there with us on this roller coaster,
Merry ME

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spring Forward

Before I went to bed last night I set the clocks ahead an hour for Daylight Savings Time. Well, not all the clocks. Seems I forgot the most important one. My alarm clock. The one with the bright digital numbers that I can see through half-open eyelids in the middle of the night.

Contrary to my usual slow wake-up, I got out of bed this morning at 9:15, giving myself the exact amount of time to get ready for church. Sweetie and I discussed church attendance before falling asleep, so I was kind of surprised to see him reading/snoozing when I got out of the shower.

Uhm, I thought we were going to church, I said, coveting the pillow his head rested upon.
You're a little late, Sweetie answered.
What do you mean? Look at the clock.
You didn't re-set that one. No way we can make it to church in 3 minutes.

He had me there.

Instead of church we went downtown to an art/music festival. Neither of us knew what to expect. Certainly not the time machine ride back to the 60's. I've never seen so much tie-dyed clothing in one place. Girls covered their short shorts and tank tops with crocheted vests. Colorful flowing skirts made of cotton looked a lot more comfortable than my too-tight blue jeans. Lavender soap and patchouli scented candles mixed with smoke from electric cigarettes. Jewelry vendors sold macrame bracelets adorned with pieces of gemstones, lava balls or beads. Women tried on rings and bracelets, men kept walking. Babies in strollers and dogs on leashes rounded out the crowd. Tattoos were every bit as colorful as the clothing. Positive affirmations hung in trees, leaned against tables and shared space  with the kids climbing on a giant gator next to the "don't climb on the gator" sign.

Sweetie and I started out together but soon parted ways. One of us stopped to look at bracelets, one discussed poetry with a non-profit vendor who works with juvenile offenders. You gotta admire someone who can go into a jail or homeless shelter and convince kids who have been hardened by life circumstances that poetry might be a way out of a hopeless situation. If not poetry then art made from old wooden pallets, or accessories made from old t-shirts.

Even though I grew up in the age of Aquarius, I kept my inner hippie from running wild. I remained clean shaven when my high school friend eschewed razors and could braid the hair under their arms. I sipped Singapore Slings in the Officer's club while kids my age got high on marijuana laced brownies. When they danced wild and free at Woodstock, I learned how to play bridge because that's what navy wives did. I got married in a church wearing white satin and lace. One of my hippie friends shared a tepee with a man she had no intention of marrying. As the sexual revolution, Vietnam War, Civil Rights movement and fight for women's liberation upset the status quo, I lived in a cocoon reminiscent of the 1950's.


I wonder sometimes what my life would have been like if I'd chosen the fork in the road that pointed towards a wild and uncharted future. To be honest, I don't think I would make a very good revolutionary.  But when I looked around at those colorful clothes today, I could feel something inside of me trying to break loose. I wanted one of everything. Mostly I wanted to break out of my self-imposed stuffiness to dance barefoot in the grass with flowers in my hair.

Funny how springing forward had me looking back.


Don't forget to be awesome!
Merry ME



Monday, February 22, 2016

Not So Fast

 I jumped the gun a little bit in my last post. It turns out Sweetie has not been approved for a PET scan. In fact he's been denied for a third time and United Healthcare (now a dirty word in our house) refused a peer-to-peer discussion with the doctor on the grounds that the appeal was denied. Denied, I might add, even though they had all the documentation they asked for that said Sweetie met their criteria.

Needless to say my Sweetie was not so sweet upon leaving.

It didn't help that all that information came after taking the MOCA (don't know what it stands for) test. 30 fairly easy questions unless you have a memory problem. Then easy becomes difficult and difficult becomes embarrassing. The questions start out with what's the date?where are you right now? Then they move up to draw a clock that reads 9:15, redraw this picture of some kind of multi-sided shape. Then come the stumpers. Remember these 5 words. Starting at 100, subtract 7 and keep going. Sweet had trouble with both. We all knew he could figure out the numbers but his brain just didn't want to work. The more it didn't work, the harder it became, followed closely by embarrassment. Eventually he just shut down.

It's not only hard for him. It's hard for me. I can't help. I can only sit and watch and try to send telepathic messages. And on that 5 word test, I'm no help at all. It is especially rough because both of us at one point in our lives prided ourselves on our stellar memories. Without a hint of smugness, I could recite phone numbers, memorize notes for tests, remember birthday and anniversary dates. Sadly, around the time I had to start holding reading material at arm's length in order to see it clearly, I had to cross my knees when sneezing and start checking my address book for correct zip codes. Having a cell phone hasn't helped.

Needless to say, we were already on edge when the PA came in to talk to us about a) the test score b) the PET scan and c) the doctor's notes - or lack of. The reason both of us were a little disconcerted last time we saw the doctor was because he, himself, questioned the ALZ diagnosis. In fact, he took it off Sweetie's chart all together. The teeny tiny silver lining to this black cloud was that the peer-to-peer conversation never took place. How a doctor who isn't sure of the diagnosis was going to convince United Healthcare that Sweetie needed the PET scan for said diagnosis remains doubtful.

Here's where the PA, Debbie, came in to play. She's much easier to talk to, answers all our questions, even the ones we repeat over and over. She makes good notes in Sweetie's chart, so there's no scratching one's head when going back to the beginning. She has a smooth, comforting demeanor which helps to diffuse a ticking bomb situation. We left with a plan we could all agree on - new request for PET scan with all the requirements documented and a change in doctors. Hopefully by April 16th we'll know for sure if Sweetie has ALZ, some other form of dementia, or just a failing memory like most other people his age.

What exactly is a Positron Emission Tomography?  Here's what I found out.

 Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is one of the most effective uses in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are now new drug therapies that have been developed to delay the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in affected individuals. However, to make full use of these new therapies, early detection of Alzheimer’s is required. (And I might add, insurance companies need to be willing to pay for them.)
PET imaging has been cited as being the most accurate predictor of Alzheimer’s disease out of all of the different types of medical diagnostic imaging procedures available. A PET scan image of Alzheimers is able to show a physician the biological changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study taken at UCLA, the California based university, have shown that PET imaging improves a doctor’s ability to forecast a patient’s future cognitive functions by up to 30%. This find relates to Alzheimer’s detection as PET imaging increases the ability of a physician to predict, in patients with early memory complaints, whether this condition will significantly worsen in the years following the initial exam.
PET scans for Alzheimer’s disease involves the administration of a radioactive tracer that is a combination of a radioisotope (a radioactive compound whose movements are detectable by a PET scanner) with a natural body compound. In Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the radioactive tracer used in the Positron Emission Tomography procedure is Fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), which combines the natural body compound glucose with the radioisotope Fluorine-18. This radioactive tracer, or radiopharmaceutical, is used in Alzheimer’s diagnosis as the radioactive compound that it uses has a short half-life and will disappear from the body within hours. Therefore, PET scans for Alzheimer’s are safe and the patient should not have any worry about the radiation content of this procedure.Additionally, Alzheimer’s PET scans use FDG as it contains the body compound glucose. The use of FDG, which shares a similar structure to glucose, is important, as the absorption of glucose is effective in determining the metabolic activity of the brain. In Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, the brain produces a metabolic pattern that is significantly different from the metabolic pattern of healthy brain cells. As PET imaging examines the metabolic activity of brain cells by tracing how FDG is absorbed, it is able to detect Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Additionally, recent studies have confirmed the effectiveness of Positron Emission Tomography in distinguishing Alzheimer’s disease from other forms of dementia. This is because Alzheimer’s disease has a metabolic abnormality (bilateral temporoparietal hypometabolism) that is significantly different from metabolic abnormalities found in other forms of dementia.
PET scan of Alzheimer’s have increased in recent years as PET imaging provides a noninvasive, painless way for physicians to confirm the presence of Alzheimer’s in patients. Traditionally, autopsy or biopsy was considered the only methods to absolutely confirm the presence of Alzheimer’s disease. With PET technology, it is now possible to identify Alzheimer’s in its early phase and subsequently use new drug therapies to delay its progression.
Recent medical studies have pointed to the possible effectiveness of using PET scanning of the hippocampus as a way to detect Alzheimer’s disease while in its early stages. It is a well-known medical fact that the hippocampus, a region of the bran that is instrumental in learning and short-term memory, is affected in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed that through a PET scan of hippocampus that it will be possible to see the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease long before it has spread to the cerebral cortex, which damages cognitive function and impairs the memory. Future studies on the viability of a PET scan of hippocampus have been undertaken to further the use of PET scanning for detecting Alzheimer’s disease. (
http://www.radiology-info.org/nuclear-medicine-positron-emission-tomography/pet-scan-alzheimers-disease.html)
According to alz.com in 2015:

  •  "The number of Americans of all ages with ALZ is estimated to be 5.3 million.
  •  Of that 5.3 million and estimated 5.1 million are 65 and older (3.2 women/1.9 men)
  • It is estimated that half of all nursing home residents suffer from ALZ or related disorder
  • The number of Americans with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias will grow each year as the size and proportion of the U.S. population age 65 and older continue to increase. By 2025, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease is estimated to reach 7.1 million — a 40 percent increase from 2015. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease may nearly triple, from 5.1 million to a projected 13.8 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent or cure the disease.
  • The national tab for caring for individuals with Alzheimer's disease is estimated at $100 billion annually. (www. alzheimersfoundation.org)
  • Alzheimer's disease costs U.S. businesses more than $60 billion a year, stemming from lost productivity and absenteeism by primary caregivers, and insurance costs (www. alzheimersfoundation.org)
  • The annual cost of caring for one individual with Alzheimer's disease ranges from nearly $18,500 to more than $36,000, depending on the stage of the disease. (www. alzheimersfoundation.org)
  • One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer's or other dementia. (www.alzheimer.about.com)
  • "Alzheimer's is the most expensive condition in our country," according to the Alzheimer's Association's annual report on 2014 Facts and Figures. (www.alzheimer.about.com)
  • It's estimated to cost $214 billion, including direct and indirect costs. (www.alzheimer.about.com)



It seems to me, with numbers that staggering, that insurance companies would want to make sure the disease is diagnosed correctly and as early as possible so new treatments can be discovered. Wouldn't it be a whole lot cheaper to have a person take a pill or two (not to mention exercise, diet, etc that always go a long way to add quality to life) to slow down the disease so the patient can stay safely in his/her own home for a longer period of time, thus saving the cost of nursing homes and care facilities. Just a thought.

Just saying,
Merry ME

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Updates

ME
Three days ago I tied up my well worn Nike's and went for a walk.  Almost 6 months to the day since I broke my ankle. I've been taking short walks with Buddy. If you can call them walks.  For a dog that is not only teacher's pet, and an A+ student in class,  walking around the block is no "walk in the park" (pun intended). It's mostly sniffing. If there's something stinky out there, Buddy is the one to find it. His non-discriminating palate can zero in on a cat turd like a drone searching for an ISIS stronghold.

Adolescence for a dog usually occurs around 6 or 7 months. From what the trainer tells us, this period of time is a combination of terrible twos and puberty. So far, he's right on track. He has developed some doggy pimples on his chin, which I attribute to his constant drool. His adult coat has come in, replacing soft puppy fur.  His bark has deepened to something a junk yard dog might use to scare people away. In Buddy's case, it's more funny than frightening. He has learned from his big sister, how to stare out the front window and warn us of possible stranger danger. For all his teenage characteristics, he is scared of loud noises and still suckles himself to sleep on his fake fleece bed. We refer to it as his "mama" bed.

Today is Buddy's 8 month birthday. If I could get him on a scale, I'm pretty sure it would hit the 70 pound mark or more. Wrestling a 70 pound bundle of inquisitive, leash-yanking, tripodding  (putting on the brakes and locking his hind legs into an I'm-not-moving stance) dog and fighting to lead rather be dragged, does not make for a fun walk or cardiac workout. My elbow, shoulder and back, however, have been well exercised. I come home drenched in sweat.

I consider my almost 2.5 mile walk around the neighborhood quite an accomplishment. My toes still tingle. My ankle still swells. But there's no pain. This means, I hope, that I can get back to my daily walk routine.

SWEETIE
We went to the neurologist this week for a 3-month check up. With no discernible differences in his memory or behavior these visits feel a tad pointless while, at the same time, like there's one of those black cartoon bombs with a lit sparkler on the end sitting under the examination table.

Like most doctor appointments, these are pretty routine. Blood pressure, temperature and oxygen rate taken. Prescription list updated. I don't know about Sweetie, but I don't start getting nervous until the doctor actually makes an appearance. It's those memory questions that worry me.

Doctor: "I'm going to say three words, then you repeat after me."
Sweetie: Okay.
D: Apple.
S: Apple.
D: Blue.
S: Blue.
D: Glasses
S: Glasses.
Sweetie has to stay focused cause the doctor continues asking questions.
D: What day is it?
D: What city are we in?
D: Copy this picture.
Nothing real challenging, unless you're brain is shrinking. The doctor sits at his computer, recording Sweetie's responses. Then, as if it's no big deal, he asks the killer question - what were those three words.

I realize these questions are not about me, that Sweetie is the patient. But I always breathe a little easier if I can silently repeat them. Apple, blue, and glasses now reside in a spot in my brain, that I return to over and over as a mini-check of my own memory, which, let's face it, is not as sharp as it once was.

The main achievement of this appointment is that Sweetie has been ok'd for a PET scan.  While there is no definitive diagnosis of ALZ until an autopsy is done after the patient has died. MRI and CT scans can give a few clues. The PET scan is the best. It's more detailed. It's also expensive which is why the insurance company has been balking at the cost for 18 months. And here's the kicker, even after the test, we may be still not know any more than we know now.

I could tell Sweetie felt frustrated. He was silent but his body language screamed WTF? Silence hung in the air between us like humidity on a hot Florida afternoon.

Almost home, Sweetie yelled as he banged his fist on the steering wheel, "Do I have ALZ or not?"
There's the question we may never be able to answer. Needless to say, it's frustrating. For now we know the medication is controlling Sweetie's memory loss.  Maybe that's all we need to know.

Merry ME