Tag Archives: caregiving.

Scripted and unscripted love

After reading Fiona’s post describing the making of her banner for Mo’s project (“I Dream of a World Where Love is the Answer), I decided I wanted my own embroidered “love”. So I stitched the word on a strip of walnut-dyed cloth just below an appliquéd heart. It seemed a good spot.

Have you noticed how often typing on a phone that one mistakenly types ‘live’ when one means ‘love’ or ‘love’ when one means ‘live’?

The quirks of a teeny iphone keyboard dishing up a philosophical message is emblematic of our age — for what is life without love?

To live is to love. To love is to live.

If one is loving, of course.

We were out of town this weekend and I got to witness the tender care my sister-in-law gave her 91 year old father. Did he need anything? Could she read his cards to him? Didn’t he look sharp in yellow and how about walking down the hall a little ways? I reflected on how my manner with my sister in no way approaches such soft, tenderness; how I could NEVER get her to walk down the hall a little ways; how impatient and defended I can be.

There are lots of reasons for the differences, reasons both exonerating and out of my control, but the weekend felt like an object lesson anyway.

Because it was also Kentucky Derby weekend, the guys made mint juleps.


The visits are always short these days and all the more precious for being so.

Wait and Attend!


A lot of waiting going on here. My sister went into the hospital the day K and I flew to Boulder last week. There I was walking along the foothills of the Rockies trying this hospital, then that, trying to find out where the ambulance took her. I sat on a rock in the morning sun. Cows lowed nearby, steam rising off their bulk. The nurse had called earlier to say the apartment was locked and appeared to be empty. I got good at leaving hospital web pages up in Safari and hitting the call button. She was in Beverly, turns out.

She’s home again but perhaps shouldn’t be. She cannot eat. Cannot keep meds down. Can barely scooch herself off of the (new) hospital bed onto the potty-chair. I am talking with everyone — the VNA personnel, the North Shore Elder staff, the PT who couldn’t get a hold of her, her psychic friend in Vancouver.

I’m googling all manner of depressing physical symptoms.


I spent the night with her before we flew to Boulder, sleeping on the floor. Her psychic friend had called that morning to say, “If I could SEE her, I’d know.” It’s hard to gauge these things. I honestly thought she might die while we were away, knowing how some people need that — the absence of their loved ones rather than their attendance.

[The nurse just called from my sister’s. They’re readmitting her. This is very good news. I asked a direct question and got even better news, “No, the end is not near,” she ventured. “She’s got a lot of life left in her.”]

Meanwhile, Finn ran away from his dog walker yesterday, running the mile and a half home along busy, well-traveled roads. There I was standing in the line at Marshall’s buying chocolate when I should have been at CVS buying a temporary mouth guard (more on that below). “He’s probably running home. Call your neighbor.” And so I did. I called the one that Finn tried to bite once. She let him in ten minutes later to my enormous relief, but it didn’t spare me the drive home during which I couldn’t help but scan the sides of the roads for an immobile, black heap.

And about that mouth guard. I left a messenger bag in the cab coming from the airport on Monday. This is me, off of ADD meds. I’ve been waiting (with diminishing hope) for a call from the Boston Airport Taxi Lost and Found (it’s not just me, as it turns out). The police officer James took down the hack number, time of pick up and drop off, the cab company and told me not to give up hope. But that was yesterday morning. Now, I’ve pretty much given up hope.

Are you ready for what was in the bag?

  • Laptop.
  • Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
  • New blue tooth ear buds (a total splurge).
  • A quilt I’d put umpteen hours into.
  • My $600 mouth guard.
  • My brand new, barely begun Michael Twitty book, “The Cooking Gene.”
  • A three page list of passwords.

Because I’d backed up my manuscript an hour before we left, I almost don’t care. About any of it. Seriously. It’s just money. It’s not four feet of water in my house. It’s not the prospect of no power for weeks. It’s not a town leveled by wind. It’s not a dead dog on the side of the road. And it’s not sleep interrupted to make watery squirts into a plastic bucket.

No, what bothers me about the loss is what this lapse of attention represents.

Because of an aberrant EKG two weeks ago (you may have read about it before I made the post private), as well as my first EVER high blood pressure reading, I’m off the stimulant meds. I WANT to be off for good. I’m committed. But to be this rattled?


“Where’s my phone?” I can be heard saying at any given hour of the day. “Where’s my phone?” (K says with kind realism: “You never can find your phone, you know, even on meds.”)

Okay. Okay.

But, I nearly left the same messenger bag in the Denver Airport four days earlier. And I DID leave my Daily Pages in a shop on Pearl Street in Boulder the day of our departure. We’re talking about a full-sized spiral bound notebook!

And so, I had to wonder — do I want to leave this writing project behind so badly I’d inconvenience myself to this astonishing a degree?

My brother says things will settle — in about a month. Meanwhile, I wonder what else I can possibly lose in the interim.

A silver lining must be mentioned before I trundle off to hunt down my Replacement Daily Pages (yes, I lose them in the house, too, and yes, it was that way before). I’ve missed my laptop. It’s almost like having lost a companion and so its loss is not quite purely pecuniary. But, here’s the silver lining — how great it’s been to want to work, to notice the longing to flip the computer open and GO. I cannot remember when I last felt this way. Have I EVER? There’s been a lot of bruising resistance, overpowering doubt, and the suffocating sense of obligation. Productive hours, too, but still.

So that’s good, right? Now I access the files on the PC and I’m reminded how much faster I type on an honest-to-goodness keyboard. So maybe that’s a good thing, too.

Needless to say, I will replace those expensive, noise-cancelling head phones (we are enduring the seventeenth week of jack hammering as I type. In addition, Aftercare has distributed recorders to the kids across the fence and a handful of them are tooting the same note over and over again). I’ve scheduled a dentist appointment for a new mouth guard (probably costs way more than $600 now). Plus, earlier today, I ordered replacement ear buds. Murphy’s Law says that if the bag is to show up, now would be the time.By the way, the folks at the Pearl Street shop who found my Daily Pages (“Oh yes! The notebook with a photo of a very pregnant Serena Williams in the front sleeve? It was in the restroom”) offered to ship it to me gratis. How incredibly nice! I have two parallel fantasies about this. One: they read enough to feel utterly sorry for me. Or, two: they read the rare powerhouse page and thought — this is some writer! We don’t want to get in her way.

It’s probably neither, but it’s fun to imagine.

Festive salad and Salem visit

Lost my mojo. In fact, the campaign and election were disturbing enough to convert me from a “woman who yells” to one who cries. I still feel off, but miss my blog peeps, so here I am with a modest offering of food. This delicious winter salad has four ingredients: romaine, slivered radicchio, thin-sliced red onion, and pomegranate seeds. Topped with a mustard/garlic vinaigrette on the tangy side. The red bits look festive, don’t you think?

Good thing it was tasty because for some reason the frittata bombed. Came out like a rubber mat with inclusions of goat cheese. Seriously.

C acted the good sport and came to Salem with me today. Removed a cruddy rug. Got the AC unit down to the basement. Moved the bed and the exercise machine. We shopped for food and wine. Pictures were hung, curtains put up, and a few decorations fetched from storage.

This was AFTER C. bagged up another five bags of leaves for the neighbor who hired him, making a total of 28. Whew! It was the last leaf pick up in our town. On our side of the fence, it went pretty painlessly. The guy I thought I hired never showed and I’m glad because being outside and raking was one of the sanest and most grounding activities of the last few weeks.

Containment

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Rebellion Farm, 2014 – South Carolina

I’ve shied away from picking annual WORDs because I usually poop out on them long before the year is through. Nevertheless, this year requires one and it is: CONTAINMENT.

An iron pot symbolizes CONTAINMENT, and for 2016, both the inside and the outside of the vessel matter.

The inside of the cauldron stands for a well-tended creative process. In the coming months, I want to stoke the fires of intention/desire/discipline and see some results. I will set deadlines. I will be accountable. I will lean into offered help.

The outside of the pot stands for well-defined personal boundaries, necessary to the process of excluding that which is toxic and debilitating. Some things cannot be excluded. But lots in my life can be.
IMG_2557And yes, now we are talking about my very difficult sister. I am the only person who relates to her on a nearly daily basis and it is one of the most taxing, draining, annoying, infuriating, challenging, and unwelcome responsibilities that I have ever shouldered. It has made me curse my dead parents and God. It has made me hate myself frequently. It has made me hate her frequently. The lessons are there, oh yes they are there, but I’m unwilling to keep paying the price that I’ve been paying to learn them (prime among the lessons: humility and compassion; the big price tags: my health and peace of mind).

For better boundaries, I seem unable to simply ‘create distance’ or ‘compartmentalize’.  So I’ve come up with: BRACKETING, DISTRACTION, BREATHING, and MEDICATION.

Maybe these are just ‘creating distance’ and ‘compartmentalizing’ by other names, but they feel different.

BRACKETING: the process of deliberately indulging in simple, pleasurable routines before and after contact, especially visits and the outrageously awful phone calls.  This can be self-care at its most basic, but no less potent for its simplicity — planning a hot bath with eucalyptus salts, having a homemade soup at the ready, asking K. to build a fire.  It’s not complicated and some of it I do already, but it needs to be more conscious. Some of the rewards could be bigger.  DISTRACTION: I can’t really cook while talking to my sister on the phone, or even run water. It offends her. But with a teeny bit of preparation, I could flip through picture books, hem a long hem, or knit. My repeated attempts to craft a mutually agreed upon, respectful way to terminate calls when they get loud and ugly has failed abominably. But the truth is, even some of the less-screechy calls tax my patience — the weird theories, the paranoia and conflict with neighbors, the objection to this celebrity’s forehead or that celebrity’s nostrils, her infatuation with Chuck Norris or Hop Along Cassidy, the hip pain, knee pain, insomnia, gastric upset….

BREATHING: for when we she is pushing my buttons (OFTEN) and I need (URGENTLY NEED) to remain silent. I am going to count to ten. Original, huh? One visit I gave myself ‘a time out’ and did the crossword puzzle for awhile. This seemed acceptable to her and it worked for me.

MEDICATION: hers and mine. Attend to timing. Lastly, I need to be careful about what I ask for. Because I am in this ’til death and because I wouldn’t feel good praying for my sister to drop dead, several times in the last few months I looked heavenward and begged, “Please God, take ONE of us!”

Then I had to have a biopsy.  After two unnerving weeks reading about Graves disease (which I have) and radioactive iodine treatment (which I’ve had) and learning of my increased odds for thyroid cancer, I decided to never again utter that plea. (The biopsy was clear).  This is an unusually personal post and quite at odds with the notion of CONTAINMENT. This kind of disclosure will never be the mainstay of this blog (although I’m not sure why). But I’ve found from reading other peoples’ blogs that occasional personal revelations draw me in and make the more craft-focused posts more meaningful. I hope this does the same.

It’s also my way of saying, fuck it. It’s a new year. I’m gonna take a few risks.

So, on that note: Happy New Year!!

Stock, Shadows, and Metta

IMG_2530I have made the stock for Thursday’s gravy. How nice that someone else is cooking the bird! Neither of the boys will be home this year and we are staying local, so it’s Low Key Central here.

Cornish game hens were on sale over the weekend, so I cooked up a pair for dinner recently and saved the carcasses. Threw in a pack of wings (a “Cook’s Illustrated” trick — their bony gelatinous makeup helps with stock consistency and flavor). And then the usuals: fresh herbs, onions, potatoes, carrots, salt, and bay leaf. I had another chicken carcass in the freezer. That went in, too. Later, I’ll make cranberry-orange relish.

Meanwhile, the November sun remains warm. Longer than other years? I don’t know. The temperatures dropped radically today, but the light has yet to be rinsed of all its gold.
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IMG_2233IMG_2235A circle opened on Saturday here — one of intention and long-knowing. We used to meet often and for decades. Now we meet only now and then. Our prayers and talk turned to many things, but a major theme emerged:  the hazards of inserting ourselves into other people’s business. This flowed into honest attempts at ‘claiming our own shit’. A Jungian shadow dance, for sure, only we stayed seated (in marked contrast to what might have gone down 18 years ago!) (“It’s okay to grow older,” said C).

IMG_2237What is worry about another, really and truly, but a form of projecting our own shit onto them? Mother, sister, child, friend, parent — it doesn’t matter. Health problems, organization problems, questions of motivation, ambition, or money — it doesn’t matter. The particulars don’t matter because the line you cross is always the same: it’s either my business or their business (or could also be God’s business, Byron Katie would say).

When it’s someone close that you worry about (especially a dependent), interference may seem legitimate, but it cannot hold. Offering advice and forming expectations always wreck a soft heart!

We talked about ‘compassionate detachment’.  About how having boundaries is essential and serves the other.
shadow-dog-treebranch-deemallonWe said Metta for ourselves and for those we worry about. Always for the self first!!  I brought in the Hearts for Charleston Quilt squares and we said Metta again — for the nine who died as well as for the three who survived.IMG_2548Maybe that’s all you really can do for another human being? Utter the words: “May they be peaceful. May they be free of inner and outer harm. May they know joy, wisdom, and compassion.”IMG_2238purple-shadows-dog-branches-deemallon

Flow vs neoprene suit

Why sometimes does caregiving feel part of a flow, not effortless exactly but free of the stickiness of resistance, and other times not? Today the thought of going up to Salem and doing whatever it is I’ll do for my sister feels like donning a neoprene suit in sweltering heat with no body of water in sight.

Is there a trick of mind that could turn the latter state into the former? A practice of the heart that could cool the hot refusals?

And then on my (sweltering) walk with Finn look what I find! The ultimate symbol of freedom, even if fallen from a bird that rarely resorts to flight and has all the grace of a velociraptor (I speak, of course, of our neighborhood turkeys).

Here’s the miracle for the day. I return to a message from my sister: if you don’t want to come today, please don’t.  It’s okay!

Generosity and Pauses

four-quarters-moon

Sometimes I am blown away by other people’s generosity.

First, there was my brother, taking my sister and me out to lunch, then proceeding to buy her a cartload of soil and annuals and herbs (she is still smiling!). Next, there was the consummate professional at Lady Grace who, with kindness and resourcefulness and humor, fit my sister for a bra.

[If you are a large-breasted woman — (and have been taunted by boys and men, stared at by all manner of strangers, tortured by mammogram machines, mothers, and ill-fitting garments, never mind the weight of the anatomy itself) — you know just how significant an event this was. Generosity turned a seemingly pedestrian retail moment into a near-religious experience.

I have learned that right next to Gallows Humor resides Big-Breast Humor. At the register, my sister gushed, “I think I’ll call you Boobie Wan Kanobi” and without missing a beat, the retailer intoned, “May the support be with you!”]

Next came a shoebox full of NY Times crossword puzzles that my sister had clipped and saved for me (month and months of them!!) I dip into them, now, like a box full of chocolates.

  four-quarters-and-ground    table-assortment

Then there was the box of fabric that arrived from Sandy Meegan… someone I have never met who spent money to send a load of fabric to me, not once, but twice! Not just ANY fabric, mind you, but  an unbelievable assortment of to-die-for (and PRESSED!) scraps in a delicious array of colors and fibers! How great is that?

Then, there was my brother treating again, this time taking the boys out to lunch, sharing I’m sure, his contagious optimism and inviting both of them to Los Angeles for a piece of the summer. They returned with a delicious salad for me.

And sometimes, I am snowed under by other peoples’ needs.

It’s been that kind of span here. Five medical appointments in the last six business days, only two of them mine. The return of Son #1 (think: Charlie Chan, not Marathon Bombers) who is a slob and completely unmotivated to win either my approval or silence by complying with my requests (‘requests’ being a rather nice word for ‘nags’). You would think his having been in this very house for 19 years would make his return also a return to the status quo, but it doesn’t work that way. A new status quo had time to emerge, and it features a neater house (not a TON neater, but noticeably neater).  Son # 2 was sick for a couple of days. Husband for longer. (Both have recovered).

Roughly five days ago I sat down to post, with the intention of saying something along the lines that the one of the few things I could really rely on was being interrupted, when Jack threw up.  Somehow that  — combined with the ongoing challenges associated with our upgrades (again, please notice I am not ranting, even though I want to scream!) — derailed me again.

So! Until a rhythm is re-established and pathways to creation re-set, I may have only words to offer. I will make a point of keeping at least half positive. [later – NOW pictures upload… why NOW and NOT earlier?!]