Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Crazy Potato

Sometimes life is way too serious. I found a solution for that.

This is my crazy little potato. It volunteered to grow in the compost heap. I found it the other day when I yanked out the potato greenery, which was dying because my dear one threw in a load of grass clippings and they were really cooking.

What do you think it looks like? I think it looks like a seal. And I've made it my new pet. It's going to travel around in the next few days, and I'll show you where it goes.

In the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous is something called "Rule #62": Don't take yourself too seriously. I've just finished four serious tasks: listening to a sponsee do her Fifth Step, getting my novel ready for critique at a writers conference, selecting poems to enter in the state poetry contest, and writing to the American Civil Liberties Union to ask if they'll take on a civil rights case for my mother on behalf of people everywhere whose Advance Directives are ignored by hospitals. (Sigh.) Now it's time to invoke Rule #62.

Me and my crazy little potato shall sally forth into the day and see what it brings.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hope Keeps Me Alive

The Eejit’s Poetry Bus hits the road again. We were told by our Bus driver, Don’t Feed the Pixies, to go somewhere and look at signs. Let the sign spark the lines. So I went somewhere and looked at a sign.

Okay, I went into my own front yard and looked at a garden sign I made last year. Call me unadventurous. People who went more interesting places can be found here.

I have a BIG thing about HOPE. Maybe that’s because I’m a three-time suicide survivor. Four, if you count the night I drove drunkenly and fast along the whole winding length of Malibu Canyon, daring God to make me wreck. I take the survival part as a SIGN that I should keep on living.

Here’s my poem about HOPE.

The Life Cycle in Four-Letter Words



All right. It’s never going to make it into an anthology. We can't be brilliant all the time.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Invincible Insects

Here's a Sunday 160 in honor of the Monkey Man's first anniversary hosting this exercise in brevity:

Ants dash across my desk, taking turns
like rioters do, hurling bombs into shop windows.
Their minuscule legs race faster
than my colossal finger can crush them.

For other tales in exactly 160 characters, including spaces, go here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Meet the Outlaw

Here is a certain young lass as she appeared 55 years ago:

Would you ever guess she would grow up to be a rebel? Look at that starched organza dress! That sweetly upturned fringe! Perhaps I am using that ball as a memo recorder, reminding myself to inflict damage on the person or persons responsible for the stiff dress and stupid hairdo.

This sweet child, in the next 21 years, would grow up to:
~ run away from home at the ages of three and sixteen.
~ write a letter at the age of nine to Jack Ruby protesting the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald.
~ have her first run-in with the law at age eleven for throwing rocks over a freeway bridge.
~ smoke, drink, and take drugs from the age of fourteen through adulthood and become a member in good standing of Alcoholics Anonymous.
~ organize a sit-in on the high-school administration steps to protest the Vietnam War.
~ threaten “legal action” against a high-school teacher for throwing me out of geometry because I talked in class. That one got me to the principal’s office, where I lost the battle and was sentenced to the library with a geometry book for the semester. I failed geometry and never enjoyed math again.
~ engage in a heated argument with my senior-year history teacher about the efficacy of war and was ejected from class. That one also got me to the principal’s office, where I won the battle for free speech and was sent back to class.
~ stage a walk-out during an Explorer Scout meeting when the local police chief came to address the scouts about the field of law enforcement (it was that kind of era).
~ threaten PG&E with a formal complaint to the state utilities commission for wanting to charge me a new-account fee when I was simply changing addresses in college. (They rescinded the charge.)
~ threaten J.C. Penney with a complaint to the Better Business Bureau for their shoddy vacuum cleaner (I was just out of college and it was my first vacuum cleaner; the store gave me a refund).

That sweet little girl has grown up to believe in her right to free speech, to protest infringement of her rights, and to be heard by the powers that be.

My legal projects and research on behalf of my infirm mother, concerning the violation of her civil rights and state laws perpetrated by a local hospital recently (here’s a brief of the gory story), have taken away my blogging time. I’m sorry, my blogging friends.

I’ve written protest letters to the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, the California Attorney General, the California Department of Public Health, the county district attorney, the county ombudsman’s office, and many patients’ rights organizations and attorneys. The wheels of justice turn slowly, and so far no one has emerged to champion my mother, except me.

Now I’ve written a lengthy letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, asking them to take on my mother’s case on behalf of elderly people across America whose Advance Directives are routinely ignored by medical institutions.

Over my lifetime, my protests have about a 50/50 success rate. That’s not too shabby. Ballplayers who bat .500 get beaucoup bucks.

Wish me luck?


This is a Sepia Saturday post. For more personal glimpses of history, visit the Sepia Saturday blog here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An Earful on Narcissism

It’s not everyday the Doc looks inside your left ear and says, “Wow!”
Wow? Wow what, Doc? I’m here for my RIGHT ear.
Your ear drum is really inflamed! says Doc. It’s really red!
And that’s exciting news…. why? I know: It’s exciting because I’m feeling the pain in my RIGHT ear, right? You’ve never seen that happen, right, Doc?
He hardly glanced in my right ear. It must be dull in there.

So, after learning the new diagnostic terminology of “Wow!” I received antibiotics to treat the phenomenon of pain zooming through my brain to be felt in the opposite ear. Maybe Doc will write me up for a medical journal. I will become the famous Patient C, studied by medical students for decades to come.

And I spent the night ooing and ahing over my amazing ear. No, I guess I really spent the night groaning and moaning, wishing there were an opium den next door. Alas, there is not, which is a good thing for an alcoholic like moi.

To self-treat the annoying situation of deafness in my left ear and pain in my right ear, I opened my email. I found a curious missive there, from a psychology researcher. She’s doing a project on the phenomenon of pain transferred through the brain from one ear to the other!

Not really. Her name is Katy, and she addressed me as “Dear Blogger.” I’m a random contact for a research project about the personality of bloggers.
Katy says, “I am a doctoral student in the psychology department at the University of Texas at Arlington. I am completing my dissertation research on the topic of the personality characteristics of bloggers. One of my goals for this study is to contact actual bloggers and record their self-reported personality traits, and view information posted to their blogs.”

Well, I figure if I can’t be the famous Patient C, I might as well be the famous Blogger A. As a lifelong journalist, I love to research topics, and I thought, why not do a favor for a fellow researcher? So I checked out Katy’s credentials and then participated in her study questionnaire.

It consisted of the expected stuff like “Do you agree or disagree with the following statements: I feel more alive online than I do in real life. I like to look at myself in the mirror. People view me as the It Girl of blogging.” And so on. It was easy to choose my answers (nope, nope, nope).

Then I came to this one: I am more capable than others. Wow! as my Doc would say. In certain useless situations, like knowing what’s what with English grammar, I am more capable than the average bear. But in other situations, like diagnosing my ear trouble, I am a complete dolt. After much back and forthing, I said I agree, but I thought: This one is going to mess up my whole personality profile.

And at the end of the questionnaire, I learned my qualms were justified. One of the things the study was going to discover was whether or not I have “Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a condition in which there is an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with one's self.” Uh-oh.

These are some symptoms (which I googled to find): Has feelings of self-importance; Exaggerates achievements and talents; Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love; Has obsessive self-interest; Pursues mainly selfish goals…

Now, not only do I have a weird ear thing going on, but I am also doomed to being Blogger A who suffers an acute case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and I’m going to skew Katy’s research study and make a bad name for bloggers everywhere.
As my Doc would say, “Wow!”

If you’d like to do your part for bloggers everywhere, you can take part in Katy’s questionnaire here: or contact her here: Katy Rollings at

But you have to forget everything I just said, and please eat this post, because we don't want it to get out to the general public. Or to the specific public either. I promised Katy we wouldn't cheat, okay?


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Poetic Justice

With a flash as if by divine inspiration, Poetikat has set forth the command for this week’s TFE’s Poetry Bus. We are to comment on these photos below.

A 62 foot tall statue of Jesus at an Ohio church burned to the ground after being struck by lightning on June 15. All that remained of the statue, which had been made of plastic foam and fiberglass, was its steel frame.


All idols fail
to do justice
to the Real Thing,
Which (or maybe Who)
never fails
to do justice.

The great Elijah
called down fire
that showed the idol
Who was Who.
And the people
cried out, as they do
when fearful, saying
He is the God!
That fire ate everything
right down to the last
drop of water.

The Real Deal
answers by fire.
Raise your arms
in prayer.

Justice burns.


Check out what other bus travelers have done with this.


Friday, June 18, 2010

This Could Be You

A Flash 55, hosted by the G-man.
Not the hospital again!
I can’t believe you don’t hear me loud and clear!
I can’t talk, but I can fight you!
Leave me alone! Call my daughter, my son!
Read my file! Look at my directive!
Don’t stick me with that needle! Don’t sedate me!
Don't tie my hands!
Dear God, make it stop!

For all the people in hospitals who are not able to speak for themselves, whose final wishes, written according to law, are ignored, not even read, by hospital staff, and who find no mercy there.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Don't Get Mad; Get Even

They have messed with my mother, and I’m out looking for blood.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Martin Luther King

My mother, who suffers the incapacity of late stage Alzheimer’s, was taken to a local hospital’s ER recently for a routine check after an unobserved fall in her care facility. She had taken that ride two times before in the ambulance. It was the facility’s requirement to protect itself. Both times previously, she’d been checked out and sent back within a few hours. She looked fine this time, too.

This time, however, something catastrophic happened. Hospital personnel took her information packet, containing my mother's identification, medical status, Do Not Resuscitate order, Power of Attorney for Health Care and Advance Directive, emergency contact numbers for her power of attorney agent and secondary agent, and other stuff. It was practically duct-taped to her body. My state’s law requires them to notify family within 24 hours of her arrival at the hospital.

Without gaining informed consent from her family, without contacting her family, without reading her Power of Attorney for Health Care and Advance Directive, the hospital chose to sedate her, restrain her hands, run an IV line, pump her full of fluids, run a battery of tests, find fluid in her lung, and admit her with her hands tied. Then they all failed to call us, her family and agents, for the next four and a half DAYS.

"And where the offense is, let the great axe fall."
Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Mom’s directive specifies no treatment to prolong her life. When the hospital folks ran the IV line, they violated her directive. She tried to inform them in the only way she could: by trying to yank out the IV. So they tied her hands in restraints for the next four and a half days. She couldn’t even scratch her nose.

We learned on day five that she was there because a doctor used her medical file to call my brother, Mom’s agent, and ask permission to do a lung puncture. Brother called me and we raced to the hospital, told the doctor about the Advance Directive in her file, and he immediately called in Hospice, because pneumonia is the number-one killer of Alzheimer’s patients. My mother has been pleading to die for over a year now.

So Mom was sent home with hospice care, she survived, and she continues to live in a semi-vacant, endlessly pacing, state, unable to communicate, dress herself, feed herself, and all the other lost abilities that Alzheimer’s has stolen from her.

When informed of their failure to notify family, the hospital staff was aghast. But no one made an apology. When I sent a complaint to the home office, the risk management department called me up and said they were sorry. It wouldn’t happen again.

I’ve been researching federal and state law lately, trying to ascertain what legal power resides in a person’s Advance Directive. The answer seems to be: zip. zero. zilch, when you are a medical institution or a doctor. You can ignore the instructions of a patient, violate her body and her wishes, and you will suffer no consequences. More than half the time, says one study, the instructions are ignored by hospitals and doctors. “Simply,” say the researchers, “as far as we could tell, advance directives were irrelevant to decision making” by medical providers. And they can do it without facing a medical malpractice judgment.

"Don't get mad, get even."
Robert F. Kennedy

The deal is, there’s no "incentive" for a doctor or a medical facility to adhere to an advance directive. The courts in America have time and again dismissed lawsuits against medical providers for failure to comply with a patient’s instructions. In essence, the individual’s right to refuse treatment isn’t backed by law when you need it most.

Medical providers can violate patient rights flagrantly without fear of being held accountable, because the courts refuse to penalize those providers for their failure to honor the directive. Your Advance Directive is a legal document with no power of enforcement. Until state and/or federal law changes that situation, you have no civil right to be protected from medical personnel who issue life-prolonging treatment.

The courts that back the medical providers claim there’s no way to compensate a person for “wrongful living.” The pain and suffering of the patient whose life is “saved” has no value to the courts.

Nothing is going to change unless medical providers face a big hit to their pocketbooks. You would call that an “incentive” to change behavior: a court awarding punitive damages to someone like my mom. The federal and state governments need to create a policy that imposes civil liability and promises stiff penalties for a physician or medical facility that ignores a patient’s clear wishes.

The Baby Boomer Generation had best wake up and fight for their civil right to self-determination. All those Advance Directives we so dutifully fill out, at this point, aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, even though they adhere to state law. There is no state law, let alone federal law, that says anyone has to pay attention to them.

But I’m mad as hell, and I’m going to hook up with an attorney advocate, and we’re going to sue the sons of beaches. They messed with my mom.

“Justice is never given; it is exacted, and the struggle must be continuous.”
A. Philip Randolph

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


We harvested our little cherry trees yesterday. In February, I showed you this photo:

Here's what the buds look like now:

These Queen Anne cherries are delicious. We harvested a bucketful that filled up half the sink. The Van cherries that live cheek by jowl with the Queen Anne were even more abundant, filling the sink three-quarters full. The vibrant red Vans are more tart than Queen Annes and are smaller than the Bings you find in grocery stores.

We are wondering what to do with this abundance. Besides eat them, naturally (I'm surprised that thus far we've had no untoward side effects from eating all those cherries as we picked them). So far we've shared with neighbors and family and still have more than we can eat. Can we freeze fresh cherries, does anyone know?

Are you jealous of our abundance? I would be if it were you bragging about all your cherries. I love cherries. I'm also very proud of our harvest, because I've lovingly pruned these trees, which are full-sized genetically, into bonsai-size to fit into my minuscule backyard garden plot (maybe 10 feet by 20). The trees have to share space with perennial herbs, dahlias, hollyhocks, chrysanthemums, butterfly bush, and lamb's ears, as well as lilies, narcissus, and sunflowers in their seasons.

Not to mention I'm grateful as hell to God for sending the good rains last winter.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about going on the warpath. My time these days has been consumed, unlike the cherries, with gut-twisting developments. Please forgive me if I haven't your blog lately. I'm working full time on my mother's situation and then researching at night past the midnight hour... I've become a werewolf, with a bloodthirsty attitude. Tune in tomorrow.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Riding the Rails with Mom

“I see the train,” said my mother, touching her walker.
“It sure keeps you moving, doesn’t it?” I said.
“Yes,” she answered, looking up at me in surprise, “it does.”

My daughter and I visited Mom on Sunday morning. She had a glow, said my daughter afterward, when we found her in the dining area with the other elders. She had a sprig of jasmine tucked behind her ear.

We went outside with her to the padded chairs under the umbrella. Mom wasn’t feeling very communicative, and she played with the woven end of her belt while I told her all the news I could think of. When I stopped talking, there was a silence, and then she said that thing about the train. Maybe she was just waiting for me to shut up. A little later she said, “It’s sad about the trees.”

I don’t know for sure what she meant, but last winter she was concerned about the leafless trees. She thought they were dying because she had forgotten about seasons. So I told her, “But the trees came back! We had lots of rain. They’re doing well now.” I smiled at her. She said, “Oh, yes,” and smiled back.

The activity girls came out and asked if we would like to go to Sunday devotions and singing in the big room. We took the long walk down to it, me leading with my hand lightly resting on Mom’s train, and Milo playing Caboose.

The girls handed out the words to some great old hymns and started the CD. I gave the folder to Mom, and she held it steadily in front of her while I pointed out the words and sang them as loudly as I could. A friendly lady with a spectacular voice sat beside us. Between the songs, she told me that she had five grandchildren. Each time was brand new again.

Mom didn’t smile but she seemed to take pleasure in the music. It was lovely, looking at and listening to the elders, some nodding, some singing, some just sitting patiently. The girls read one of Psalms, and then we said the Lord’s Prayer. Mom didn’t speak it. When it was over we sat waiting for our turn to be taken back to Mom’s “neighborhood.” One of the girls came over and thanked us for coming. I asked her if she had seen “Benjamin Button.” “This is like that,” I said. She said yes it was.

I told my daughter as we walked back, “This is like preschool too.” Milo said, “It’s sad.”

When we got ready to go, I told Mom I loved her. “I love you too,” she said and kissed me. Milo said, “I love you, Grandma,” and Mom said, “I love you too.” Milo put her cheek next to her grandma. “Give me a kiss, Grandma.” And Grandma kissed her cheek.

They age backward, I told Milo when we went to the car. They lose their abilities in the same order they gained them. I think my mom is about two years old now. It’s just like the “Benjamin Button” film, I said again because it has been on my mind. It’s really sweet. “I’m glad I went to see her,” Milo said. “It’s nice to know she knows who I am.”

And it’s nice to know she knows she is loved.
My Poetry Bus friends: If you'd like to hear me reading a poem about the significance of one's name, click this link, wait patiently for the file to download, then go to 7:21 and listen until 8:21.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Thingamabobs Save Lives (Flash 55)

The Whosy Whatsy

Sometimes words disappear
and we grunt sounds from our distant
past, when a thing’s name was less
vital than its function.
The whachamacallit worked as well
as the thingamajig when a life
wanted saving or an evening meal
and the doohickey did
what the doodad does
perhaps even better than a thingy.
Can you tell a story in exactly 55 words? That's the G-Man's Flash Friday challenge. Check out the challengers here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I'm Not Eye Candy

Today is Theme Thursday, and candy is the subject. Everything beyond my nose is a blur, so between me and the world has been the barrier of glasses almost all my life. Here are a few glimpses of my perhaps unfortunate choices in eyewear.

Maybe I'll spy a few more frames later. Gotta run for now. See you later, alligator!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Final Arrangements

I haven't been able to do much blog visiting this past week because of my mother's health crisis, and we've had out-of-town family staying with us to pay visits to Mom.

I think today we're going to circle the wagons and decide on Mom's "final arrangements," even though she has bounced back well, and we even were able to take her out for a trip to the nearby ocean. She was weak, but she was in seventh heaven to be at the seaside.

So everyone's been discussing their answers to the question: What final arrangements do YOU want?

Most of us want to be buried in a cardboard refrigerator box and put in the backyard, or cremated and ashes scattered in various places. The bottom line: cheap, cheap, cheap!

We don't know what our mother's wishes are in this regard, but since she used to wash out the paper towels and dry them for another use, we can safely assume she's in the cheap, cheap, cheap! contingent. I took her out to the cemetery two years ago to talk with the director about costs. She laughed when I asked what she wanted us to do with her body. "I won't be in it," she said, "so it doesn't matter to me!"

We all believe that it doesn't matter what survivors do with our shell, on account of our souls will take the express train to Heaven the minute we shuffle off this mortal coil. But it's good we're telling each other how to dispose of our remains now, while we're still kicking.

I'm going to fill out an advance directive and have my hubby fill out one too, so no one has to debate what to do with our corpses. I think it's a smart thing for everyone to do. So here's the link I'm using to download a directive that is legal in the 50 U.S. states. Just in case, you know, you're inspired to take a gander at it....

Have a happy day! I'll be back to blog visiting all of you in a day or two, I hope.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Poetry Bus Visits Flora

The Monday Poetry Bus requires a poem celebrating flora or fauna if we wish to ride it today. The Weaver of Grass drives us on this bucolic tour.

Why the Seeds Don’t Sprout

The seeds I planted in the damp earth
two weeks ago have not sprouted and I think

they never will at this point; they have failed
to crack the hard husk of their possibilities

yet inches away the wild columbine flourishes
a sunburst of yellow stars waving over lacy

leaves in brilliant profusion, and I think
this proves while my intentions were good

the wild heart always triumphs


To visit others on TFE's Bus, click here.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I'm Not a Slave Anymore

It has bothered me almost all my life that women cook and wash up, while men joke, eat and doze. I must have made a vow, when I was a girl child washing dishes after family suppers, that I wasn't going to be a kitchen slave when I grew up.

In the extended family I was born to, there was no wonderful sacred society of women cooking mysterious dishes and delicious meals, secretly passing on the legacy from generation unto generation unto the sixth or seventh generation of them that love to eat.

My grandmothers on both sides of the family were the offspring of rural folk who made do with what they had, and it was obvious that what they had was not exotic. We had plain old American meat and potatoes, served with a Jello salad and maybe a sheet cake, or possibly a cobbler, for after. For excitement, there was sometimes the relish dish, made up of store-bought sweet pickles and canned olives served in a fine glass dish divided down the center for this very purpose.

The most exotic and mysterious I ever saw my grandmothers get about kitchen duty was when my dad’s mom, a largish lady decked out in an old dress with a homemade floral apron over it, cleaned some butchered chickens at the sink while I watched. She showed me the grit inside the gizzards. I thought that was interesting.

But generally, there was nothing of note going on in the kitchen except work on the part of the family women. The family men, waiting for the women to feed them, sat around in the living room and made fun of each other.

In the early 1960s I was old enough to be enlisted for KP by my mother after we ate. No one asked me if I preferred to play with my cousins. I don’t remember being asked about my preferences at all. It was just a bald order: Get in there and help with the dishes. To be honest, my big brother had to do it too. We were burdened with one dirty dish after another, as the women put the food away, and sometimes we could hear manly snores from the living room.

And there I think I made my vow, while staring down at the cold, soapless dirty dishwater I had my hands in trying to find that elusive last spoon, and here comes my ma with a giant kettle of encrusted mashed potatoes and she plops it into that water…I vowed that I would not wear this ball and chain when I was a grown-up.

Well, I grew up, got a great job, got feminist, and still cooked and washed up while the men joked and watched football or whatever on TV. I think I divorced my first husband because of it.

Now my dearest is retired, and he's the head cook and I'm the chief bottle washer. It is good and right and fair. He makes more than meat and potatoes too. And so can I. Apparently we both have become the sacred society of kitchen workers because our respective children call us and ask for our secret recipes.

Here’s my secret recipe for candied yams, recently requested by my daughter Milo:
Open a big can of cooked yams, drain and dump it in a casserole dish.
Put some brown sugar and butter in a bowl with a wee bit of water and stir it around a little after nuking it. Pour it over the yams.
Put a bunch of mini marshmallows on top and bake it for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Very mysterious and everyone loves it.

If you know a kitchen slave, or you are one, I share these vital words: Break the chain, while you still can!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Fat Boy" Gets His Wish

They called him “Fat Boy” with affection even though he wasn’t fat. It was an honorable title bestowed on him by the football team, in recognition of work well done as a fullback. He lettered in football two years running and he wore his letterman’s sweater for the senior photos with pride, because it was the only thing he was really good at in high school.

He almost didn’t graduate, thanks to failing grades. He wasn’t a good student. In the first place, he was a wiseacre who didn’t hesitate to mouth off to teachers, and in the second place, he had no use for school. He got kicked out of Driver’s Ed. when he got smart with one of the teacher’s questions, “What’s the first thing you do when you’re ready to drive a car?” she asked.

“Turn the key on!” he hollered from the back row. He knew more about driving a car, he said, than any teacher sitting at a desk. That was the end of his driver’s ed. career.

When it was clear he couldn’t graduate with his grades, he got a good tutor, the May Queen (whom he had known since first grade), and she undertook his education with dead-on seriousness. She quizzed him on math and American history in long sessions at the gas station where he worked after school every day. He barely squeaked by.

Where he was headed in life, he said, he didn’t need no stinking diploma. He was a wheeler dealer, and he was going to be in charge someday.
So he married the May Queen, learned a trade, raised a family and ran his own business. He was finally in charge.

I love this photo of my pop, the light in his eyes and that gallant hair.

This is a Sepia Saturday post. For more personal glimpses of history, visit the Sepia Saturday blog here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Were you saying goodbye, Mom?

Can you tell a story in exactly 55 words? That's the G-Man's Flash Friday challenge. Check out the challengers here.

After Alzheimer’s destroyed you,
you had one glowing day, clear as sunlight,
when your blue eyes twinkled at me.
Your face was beautiful in its ancient joy.
You reached up and cupped my face
in your hands, smiling as you studied me.
It’s wonderful you said, and I knew
it was dying that you described.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Learning About Dying

We’re taking Mom home to her room at the care home today. She’s been such a great gal in the hospital, by all staff accounts from the long weekend before we knew she was there, and by my own experience Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Wednesday, she actually called me by my name for the first time in a couple of months, she recognized her sister, and she said to me, "That's a big smile." She spit her medication at the nurse this morning, and this afternoon she nicely told the pretty young doctor, "You have a nasty nose."
She meant to say, "You have a pretty face," because that's what she has always said to young women since getting dementia. But she gave us a good laugh.

I’ve learned an awful lot about dying this week. I’ve learned what the physical process is, how the body and the person living in it prepare it to stop functioning. I’ve learned how death often comes, the sounds it creates, how hearing is the last sense to go, why Mom’s legs and hands are so cool to the touch (even the bloodstream knows what to do and where to send the remaining energy).

Hunger and thirst go away, as they seem to be doing in Mom, an instinct that naturally reduces the strain on the body’s organs (like the gastro-intestinal tract), which are growing weaker. It appears also to be more comfortable and relieves the person of several potential conditions that would be distressing, like fluid buildup in the throat or lungs, having to poop or pee and not being able to, etc.

What stands out for me is how well organized it seems to be. The brain might be shrinking and disintegrating, but it remains a good director, as if God designed it that way.
When a person can no longer say more than six words in a row, the brain stops controlling the swallow reflex and the involuntary muscles involved. The person then can’t swallow. But that doesn’t matter, because hunger and thirst have disappeared. Starvation and dehydration develop next, and they seem to anesthetize nerves that conduct pain messages. Hospice knows how to relieve any discomfort that arises out of the process.

I’m thankful to God for my mother’s long life. She wasn’t perfect, but she was human, and the Almighty gave me lots of good years with her.
I’m so glad my mother left an Advance Directive and made her wishes known every which way but loose. That makes it so simple: just do what I know she would do. (She would jump out of bed and run naked through the streets if that would get her to heaven sooner.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mom's in Hospital

We just learned yesterday morning (Tues) that Mom has been hospitalized with pneumonia since Thursday night. Four days without a friendly face! Heads are going to roll at the hospital. I'm sharpening my axe ...
Mom has advanced Alzheimer's. The most common cause of death for someone who suffers from Alzheimer's is pneumonia. Ergo, Mom might die of pneumonia. We're asking God to give her peace and comfort. If you pray, please add Mom's peace and comfort to your list.
We're chosing to do nothing about the pneumonia except administer antibiotics. Today, Mom clearly said, "Oh, God, please take me home." Later she laughed at some random image or idea that crossed her mind. The doc is calling in Hospice. I'll meet them tomorrow. Thanks for your prayers.

I Tried Laying Hands on My Mother

A hank of hair rests on the bony forehead
which swells above the chin
which droops toward the neckline
bisected by the wide slash of mouth
An immobile line.

I brush back the thatch of white
But it falls through my fingers
I touch the knobby cheekbones that rise
like mountains above the sunken cheeks
Every movement of my hand is forced
against a tide

Suddenly I remember my daughter
at the age of five, lying on her bed
with the nightlight on. Her eyelashes
make little wings on her cheeks
I draw on her soft little face with a finger
tip, and I sing a monotonous song:
I’m skiing down your nose and skiing
round your eyeballs…I’m skiing round
your cheeks and down around your mouth

She lies on her bed still as a statue
while my fingertip skis over her face
and I love it, and she loves it, she asks
for this. And this I can’t give
to my mother, lying still as a statue
on her bed. My hand will not allow it.