Rage Against the Dying of the Light

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A new friend urged me to write something about the subject of watching a loved one fading away at the end of their life. I suspect it is something that many of my readers have experienced, or, unfortunately, may have to experience in the future.

This is a complex process. It is hard to accept the sudden loss of someone you love, but it is equally hard to accept the slow, agonizing decay and decline that comes with debilitating illnesses. I have lived long enough to have seen both kinds of loss. So, is it better to rip the Band-Aid off all at once? Or do you take it slowly?
Well, the issue here is that you don’t get to chose; God, Fate, the Universe, Randomness, or whatever you believe in, does the choosing for you. You just get to go along for the ride.

Since I have been dealing with the Long Goodbye, I can speak somewhat authoritatively on this subject. My Mother has been fighting Parkinson’s Disease for over 13 years now. It has been a remarkably courageous fight on her part, but she is not dealing with an Opponent whom she can never beat. She is now in late-stage Parkinson’s dementia, and the Fierce Rival has taken almost everything away from her.

As I sit with her now, watching her eyes shift onto hallucinatory objects and scenes, I am consistently amazed at how little of HER is still with us. She is/was an amazingly energetic,  quick-witted human with a marvelous sense of humor, an unceasing sense of fashion and design,  a high Intelligence Quotient, and the determination to move mountains. Now, as she sits helplessly in a wheel chair, unable to formulate the words that could communicate her thoughts, she seems to be NOT my Mother, after all. It’s like the announcement at the end of Elvis Presley’s concerts: Elvis has left the building. My Mother is occupied with scenarios we cannot see and events that could have occurred decades ago; her companions are ghosts of Christmases past. She cannot have conversations with me, or relate to anything I try to tell her about the present. She is not sure who I am anymore, but she seems to still regard me as someone close to her, someone she trusts. That is pretty much what I have left of HER.

The decline of the mind is terrible, and yet fascinating to watch. It hurts so much to see my Mother’s facile and curious mind become an unreachable field of erratic memories and haphazard thoughts loosely strung together by the neurons that are still firing. She no longer can assimilate current events or relationships. She recognizes people that are somehow familiar to her, yet she is never absolutely certain how she knows them. I become her sister, her friend, her acquaintance….but rarely anymore  her daughter.

One of the hardest things for me to accept is that I cannot fix anything about this situation. I no longer have even the smallest sense of control over her health issues or her daily activities. Since I am, by nature, a caretaker personality, it is a struggle to admit that I am powerless now. I can fill out her menu, as I have done for many years; but I cannot be sure she will eat. I can make sure she has coordinated clean clothes, but I cannot be sure she will wear them. I can no longer know if she has a pain or an ache, because she doesn’t connect too much with her own well-being anymore. All I can do is trust the folks who take care of her, oversee her general condition, and pray for the Best to happen for her.

And what is “the Best”? Do we  espouse the words of Dylan Thomas in his famous poem to his Father? Should we  want our loved ones to “Rage against the dying of the light” anymore? Or would it be best for them to slip away from this reality with as little pain as possible? It is a stunning lesson and a questionable place to be, isn’t it? To learn that there might be things worse than that which we fear most: death? That perhaps living in a twilight where nothing is certain and no deep connections are left to anyone or anything we loved, might be worse?

For what makes us who we are, anyway? What defines an individual’s personhood? I think it is the interests we develop and cherish, the beings we love, and the choices we make. It is our ability to continue to learn, to laugh, to investigate, to model behavior through our values, and to share our love. When we lose all of these, who are we then?

I am not sure. But I know that my Mother is not the person she has been to me or to others for most of her full and interesting life. She is frail and incomprehensible. She is lost in a shadowy world where often she cannot be reached. I sincerely wish I didn’t have to see this , but I remember how hard she worked to raise me, and all the amazing things she did for me when I was growing up, and I cannot look away.(Surely taking me to the Beatles concert in 1966 and dealing with 25,000 screaming Beatlemaniacs  is enough to warrant loyalty forever!) I cannot abandon the Good Ship Mother, as it struggles with the crashing waves and sinks slowly out of sight. I must keep my eyes on her until the end.

Beneath the Bitter Snows

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I haven’t posted anything here for a while. I have needed to  be quiet and listen. It’s been a rough time, these past couple months. Upheaval, bitterness, disappointment, fear, anxiety, and shock. So, I have had the need to reflect and look inside. What can I/we do when one is faced with deeply  troubling and seemingly incomprehensible change?

The Answer is no surprise to any of us.We must still get up every day, and do our best. Whatever that means for each of us; we owe it to ourselves, our families, and our fellow citizens to be the best Americans we can be. This will require us to be compassionate, thoughtful, measured, patient, and diligent. We need cool heads, long fuses, and commitment to our deep convictions.

No one should ever give up in the face of difficult changes. Winston Churchill is famous for saying” Never give in, never, never, never, never…”. He may or may not have said: “If you are going through Hell, keep going”. I’d like to think that he did. Anyway, it is sound advice.

We will find the end of this intricate, convoluted maze. We will find the end, because we have to keep going. We must move forward and make things better for our kids and their kids. I don’t think we could sleep too well at night if we gave in to apathy and indifference. That’s just not who we are.

I look out each day at the frozen landscape that is January in Maine . No sign of flowers, no green grass, no buds on the trees. My rhododendron look so beaten and lifeless. My flower beds are indistinguishable from other mounds of snow. It all seems so hopeless.

But, then I remember Spring. I remember how determined these plants and trees are each year; how they never cease to surprise me with their struggle to once again reach for the Light. They pop up from the ground in all their glory; they push through with new green life, and eventual color and beauty.

So, as the song says:

“Just remember in the Winter, far beneath the bitter snows, Lies the seed, that with the Sun’s love, in the Spring becomes the Rose.”

Clobbered.

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December 30, 2016  brought us a massive Nor’easter that dumped inches and feet of snow throughout New England. My own back deck, pictured above, tells the tale.

Perhaps you can identify with this, no matter where you live. As a Storm approaches, you watch the news, and get more and more agitated with the increasing details. You turn away from it for a while and try to engage yourself in something productive; but there’s something in the atmosphere, the falling barometer, the wind, that engages you. You cannot stay fully committed to your normal activities; the Storm begins to envelop your thoughts. Will the roof hold? Will the huge trees throw limbs at the windows? Will the power we are accustomed to having disappear suddenly, leaving us without the security of warmth and light?

While the Storm rages, you are captive inside your house. It is unsafe to go out, and certainly travelling is out of the question. Where would you go, anyway? You look out your windows and see the accumulation, knowing you will have to deal with all of this when it is over. There will be lots of shoveling, and it will be laborious and unyielding work. You will have to dig your way out of this somehow, and it will be exhausting.

Once the Storm subsides, you must diligently and thoughtfully assess the damage. There will most likely be much more damage than you thought, and you will be on your own to repair it and clean it up. The Good news is that you will be able to see all of it more clearly, now that the Storm has passed over you. And, that is also the Bad news.

Looking out at all of this, we begin to count the weeks and months until this Stormy Weather is over. We hold on tight to our memories of Spring and Summer, and know that if we can hold on long enough, they will come again. Someday.

So, Happy New Year. We can only hope that 2017 is not the tsunami that we fear it will be. We must Keep Hope Alive, and work hard to effect positive changes in the neighborhood in which we live. We must be prepared to take cover if the wind shifts course, and keep a weather eye on approaching Storms.

2016 is over; but stay vigilant, dear readers. I think I heard about a blizzard predicted for the third week in January.

 

Flying Reindeer

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It’s Christmas time, again: that Season of great expectation, goodwill, charity, and severe depression. For many there will be the dinners with family, travel, parties to attend, gift swapping, religious services, and the resulting exhaustion. For some, who have no family and few friends with which to share these rituals, or who are indigent, or sick,  it will be a lonely time…much lonelier than the other days, due to the huge presumptions heaped upon the Holiday.

I am one of the lucky ones. My Mom and Dad made many special Christmases for me, and so have my friends and loved ones since I left my parents home so many years ago. I am surrounded by people who buy me gifts and put every effort into making my Holiday superior each year. My daughter listens carefully to what I might want all year long, and always gives me something that proves she pays close attention. So, my Christmas celebration is always filled with love and a generous helping of indulgence on all levels.

Having said all that, why is there still a feeling of some trepidation as we approach December 25th? Why do most of us get a twinge here and there, and a nagging feeling that we must fight off the Blues before it gets a hold on us? My best guess is that with all the hype and commercialism of this time of year, we face those aforementioned presumptions head on. We cannot ignore that we are supposed to be with those we love, sharing the chestnuts that are roasting. And maybe some of them are no longer with us. Maybe we reflect on those treasured memories and it hurts just a little more during this Season. So, we bake more cookies, buy more stocking stuffers, and put a hat on the Dog for his annual photo by the tree. Anything to keep the Grinch from appearing and ruining things in Whoville. I am not saying we sublimate our feelings or block them or deny them; I am just saying that I believe most of us  find coping mechanisms each year to stay balanced and cheerful. Some people drink or do drugs. Others shop ’til they drop. I bake more cookies.

Whatever route you take, if you are like most people of a certain age, you find your way to the Star. I remember that during Christmases when I was alone and somewhat dejected, I would always put up a tree, decorate, wrap gifts, and bake. The rituals helped, and in the end, Christmas came, anyway, as Dr. Seuss would say.

So, what is the reason for the Season? We know that the original reason is to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus, and all the miracles that followed his remarkable life. But if you take the man made religious parts away, and break it down to the basics, it becomes this: it is always better (and more fun!) to Give than to Receive. When you are a child, maybe you are focused on the Receiving end, but what adult cannot see that the joy comes in Giving? If you follow Christian theory, Christ gave his Life for Mankind. That is the ultimate giving. But even if you shy away from the religious aspects of this Season, it is still obvious that the real pleasures in life come from doing for others. Your family. Your spouse. Your friends. Your community. You are probably ten times more likely to give to the poor or volunteer at a shelter this time of year.

So, whatever your spiritual belief system, you can enjoy Christmas. It really is the most wonderful time of the year; because more than any other time, a lot of people are focused on how they can make someone else happy. They give, share, and contribute more. They stop thinking about themselves for a little while, and put others first. And while Flying Reindeer come in a close second, people striving for Peace on Earth and sharing some Goodwill with their fellow humans…that’s the real miracle of Christmas.

November

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I have been feeling pretty gloomy, these November days. Since the election I have had a real sense of defeat, disappointment, and dissatisfaction. Not just with the resultant “vote”(whether legal or tampered with), but also with the condition in which we find the United States.

In the past I often joked about an old man I knew as a teen; he lived upstairs from my family and was a real curmudgeon. Mr. McDermott: an 80-something Scotsman. He would curse and yell at the television when commercials interrupted his programs. I thought it was funny then, and have made many jokes at his expense over the years. But, now I have a sense of camaraderie with Mr. McD. I get why he was incensed at the advertisements. It’s all about maturity and perspective. We can see, as we attain “d’un certain age”(as the French would say), the foolhardiness of our brethren. We rage at the stupidity of their naïve outlook and shortsighted choices. And we are frustrated at our powerlessness.

Today there is so much more at stake, it seems. Or, perhaps, we are just more informed of how much there is at stake. Maybe we just know too much about war, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, catastrophic illness, environmental disasters, and man’s inhumanity to man and all other creatures. Maybe we just know too much.

Since I have always been a believer in the line President Kennedy attributed to Dante (which has been perhaps loosely reinterpreted through many centuries) that “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who retain their neutrality in times of moral crisis”, these are tough times to navigate.

What do we do, as Americans raised with certain values that seem overlooked and outnumbered? How do we justify apathy? When and where do we see ourselves returning to our idealized version of the U.S.A.? Was all this a dream? Will we awake to find Bobby Ewing coming out of the shower?

November is gloomy. It’s always gray,  and chilled, and foreboding. I never thought it was fair that my birthday fell in such a dismal, dreary month. The sky holds the threat of snow here; the sun struggles to break through thick clouds, and then retreats again.

We are stuck with this gray, misty moment. But, as any optimist worth their salt will tell you, the sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun. We have to take a deep breath, get up, and get going again. We have to try to incorporate the goodness and strength and steadfast ethics of our heroes and our predecessors  into each action each day. Do good. Do the right thing. Pay it forward. Love thy neighbor. Hug a tree. Kiss your dog right on the snout. Teach your children well. Give Peace a Chance.

We will get through November…..and any other rough months ahead. I promise you, or my name isn’t Mr. McDermott.

 

Beneath the Surface

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What has happened with the results of our current Election is very disturbing. It illustrates the clear cut divide in our populace, and I find that difference shocking and alarming. I have always known that there were real contrasts between those on the right and the left, but these disparities seemed to me to be manageable, tolerable, and often negotiable.

Now I find myself wondering what has happened to the 159 million people in America who voted for a person who refuses to read, learn, or listen, and who apparently has no sense of compunction or remorse. A man who is a narcissist at best, and a racist, elitist, misogynist, and sociopath at worst. The similarities to the leader of Germany during World War II are not unfounded.

So, what is beneath the surface in my Country? What did I , in my own naivete , not see, feel, intuit, or comprehend? Are so many of my fellow Americans really racists and bigots? Are they so selfish and greedy that they want the least of us to truly suffer? Are all these self-proclaimed “Christians” really  hypocrites and followers of Christ in name only?

I cannot explain what has happened otherwise. I don’t see how anyone who is informed and honest with themselves could put our Country in the hands of a snake oil salesman who has no record of ever doing any public service or ever helping anyone but himself. It is both frightening and humiliating to see this person representing America on a global scale.

So, I guess we have become, to all outside observers, the nation of exclusion, greed, self-interest, and hypocrisy. I am not a flag-waver, but I think I may have to take my flag and hang it upside down.

As Lovely As A Tree………

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I have been taking a lot of photos this Fall. The color of the trees has been astounding, perhaps due to the very dry Summer and Autumn we have enjoyed. I’ve been more alert to the changes of the trees this year, and have been enjoying watching them closely.

So, today, as I watched the cruel rain storm stripping the Maples and sturdy Sycamores in my yard, I stopped to really think about these giants and their many gifts. They are generous, tenacious, and unselfish. Think about it. They spend all their energy giving us oxygen, shade, shelter, and beauty. They provide homes for our feathered and furry friends, and create nuts and seeds for them to eat. They tirelessly produce leaves, only to have them wither and fall each Autumn. Do they complain? Nope. They just start working on the next batch in the Spring. What great powers of example these noble trees are.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we really gave our life force each day to make the World a better place for everyone? What if we focused on sharing everything we have with those who needed food and shelter? What kind of species would we become if we had the generosity of Trees?

The current news cycles are pushing me, in desperation, toward thoughts of an opposite type of behavior. Don’t we want to find the good in others? Don’t we want to help one another get through life’s most difficult struggles? Don’t we all want to protect little children from war and pain and destruction?

I would love to think that my Soul was infused with the generosity and unswerving duty and altruism of Trees. I know that I don’t possess that extreme Grace, much as I would like to think I do. I am not that charitable, or loving, or selfless, except in my wildest dreams. But, you have to admit, it is something to which we should aspire. Remember Sam Cooke’s refrain….What a Wonderful World this would be.

Weather Eye; Whether I……….

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I have always complained about the Weather. I guess it is part of the nature of us spoiled Baby Boomers to complain about almost everything. But, I am ,here and now, making a public statement that I will try to keep my trap shut about Maine weather from now on. As I watch the news and see the devastation that flooding, tornadoes, mudslides, earthquakes, and hurricanes cause in other parts of our great land, I realize that we who live in the Northeast are relatively lucky. Yes, we have to deal with lots of cold months; and yes, we have short Summers and sometimes bleak Springs; but, overall we are fortunate in that we usually don’t have catastrophic weather events.

As you may know, I have lived in other places. A lot of other places. I have experienced earthquakes in San Francisco and Alaska. I have evacuated from hurricanes in Florida. I have suffered through smog in Los Angeles, and heat inversions in Boston. I was also living in Maine in January of 1998, when we did suffer an unusual weather event..the ICE STORM that blanketed our entire State. Taking into consideration all of my travels and moves, I am still grateful to be in Maine now that I am a woman “d’un certain age”. We have a real variety of weather, and often are surprised by what happens.

Today, for example, is a bright sunny day in early October. It is expected to be close to 80 degrees in parts of Maine. Feels like Summer, looks like Fall. Spectacular. This is a day to rejoice and savor. Carpe this diem!

We all have to make choices throughout our lives. Some work out, some we learn from. I don’t regret any of my geographical moves/choices. I learned from all of them, and met wonderful people in each location. As I look back, I think the lesson is that we have to prioritize what we really value each time we make a choice. We have to live with the good and the not-so-good of each decision. If you live where it is almost always hot or warm, there will be trade offs, just as there are if you live where it is almost always cold. There is no perfect climate or perfect place. You just have to decide what you can tolerate and live with. And, occasionally, like today, there will be a perfect day.

 

“And the Seasons they go ’round and ’round”

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It is Fall. A year has passed since I started writing this blog, and many things have changed. When I started, it was with the idea that I would discipline myself to write on a regular basis, in preparation for Something. I was not sure what Something was, but I knew I needed to be prepared.

As it turned out, Something was my first novel. I began thinking I might write a short story, and, well…things happened. So, that being said, I now look  back on the time spent writing as a joyous and productive time; a cathartic and spiritual time that I thoroughly enjoyed. So much so, in fact, that I am in preparation for writing another novel. Things happened.

During the past year several important beings in my inner circle have passed away. The losses are, of course, immeasurable. And with each loss there is a transformation; we are not the same as we were, and apparently, we are meant to be ever-changing. For each of you who reads this, there are probably losses you have endured  in the past year; and you have changed, too.

The Seasons are perhaps nowhere more dramatically evident than in New England. Autumn, brief as it is, shouts out with glorious color and vibrancy as her leaves dazzle us with their audacity, and then fall to earth and fade into obscurity. Covered under the Snows and Ice of Winter, their death nurtures the soil and prepares it for Spring and new Life. Summer bestows warmth and bright laughing days before she recedes into the inevitability of Autumn, again. Joni Mitchell wrote:” And the Seasons, they go ’round and ’round, the Painted Ponies go up and down, we’re captive on the carousel of Time”. So we are. Captives riding this carousel on the whirling planet Earth.

So what do we do with the changes? Fear them? Embrace them? Deny them? All of the above? I guess by the time you reach 65 years old, you know that we have no real choice but to accept them. These transformations are a part of the carousel ride, and we grow and evolve into the final products that we become through the changes.

I struggle, as do many of us, with Change. Never cared for it. I am a big fan of HOLDING ON to just about everything. It’s tough to LET GO. But, having been forced to do so, I am trying to find a way to accept it. Fighting against Change really hasn’t worked too well for me.

So, for today, I will look out my window at the bright red color trying to overtake the green on my Maple tree. I will realize, once again, that I am not in charge of the Universe (don’t you hate when that happens?). I will sigh, and let go of Summer. I will welcome Autumn for her brief and spectacular visit. And I will be a different Me tomorrow than I am today.

September 11, 2001

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It’s funny, but I can remember the perfection of the sky that day. Most days in Southwest Florida have a similar quality; they seem to run into one another without much distinction: they are almost always sunny and bright. But this day, because of what it would bring forth, is etched in my memory. The sky was brilliantly blue and clear: an excellent September morning with no clouds on the horizon.

I drove over the Sanibel Causeway bridge into Fort Myers, heading for the local Real Estate licensing board’s office. Having passed the Florida  exam, I would now get fingerprinted and sign the documents to legally become a Realtor.

As I waited in the office for my paperwork to be completed, I heard a woman start talking excitedly from the room beyond the waiting area. She had spoken to her husband on the phone and he had told her that a small plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. The first thing that came to my mind was that someone who had just gotten a pilot’s license had veered off course and slammed into the building by accident. As the seconds passed, someone turned on a television in the office and the information started coming in that would confirm the awful truth that this was no accident.

What happened next seems, in retrospect, to have happened in slow motion. I partially digested the information that we were under some sort of attack, and could only think of getting home to the Island as quickly as possible to pick up my daughter from school. She was in the second grade. I called the school and, since I was a regular volunteer parent, was asked to come in and help.

I raced back to the Island and stopped at my home, where I encountered the two young men who were working on my pool. They were listening to their portable radio on the back of their truck. I invited them in to watch what was unfolding on the television for a couple minutes; we watched in silent shock together.

Then I went to the Sanibel School, and was told that for today, no one would discuss what had happened. The Principal and Staff had decided this was a subject for parents to handle as they wished, and kids could stay for the day or go home.If they stayed, there would be no mention or discussion of what was becoming something too frightful to imagine further. We adults looked each other in the eyes, but tried to seem as normal as we could to the kids. There was plenty of fear in those eyes, but everyone pulled it together when they walked into a classroom. No discussion. Stay focused. Put on a happy face.

I don’t know how we got through the next four hours, but we did. When school let out, we went home and I discussed the terrible day with my daughter. We talked about it, and its after effects, for many days. Eventually things in the second grade overtook the horror, and the kids returned to what would be their new normal.

America changed significantly that day. We all know how, and we all know why. The morning hours before the planes hit the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and another plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, were the last hours of our ignorance and innocence. Most of us were ignorant of the evil that claimed those 3,000 plus lives. And most of us were innocent enough to have thought such a thing couldn’t happen to us in our homeland. Now we know better. Now we have been informed of how much the terrorists hate us, and to what lengths they will go to kill us and ruin our way of life.

I liked the early part of that September morning. There were no clouds on the horizon, and the sky was so blue.