Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The heartbreak of dementia

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

On a recent visit, Mom was in a sour, cranky mood at our arrival, and Dad warned me to stay away from her.  "She's in an impossible mood," he declared. I smiled, remained pleasant, and set about making a fun little lunch for us -  getting out the placemats and the napkins, preparing sub sandwiches, some potato chips, and even a splash of "Fresca" for drink. Nothing fancy, but, welcomed favorites. I tried to entice Mom to the table, but she simply stared at me blankly or responded angrily ("NO!") to any question I asked. Finally, I asked cheerily, "What about Fresca? Would you enjoy a glass of cold Fresca? I remember how much you love this!" and she sneered at me and said bluntly, with vigor, "Run along!"

I had to turn my back to her so that she wouldn't see me laughing. Both the caregiver and I got a chuckle out of that. My father, however, did not. "Why does she speak like that!?" he demanded, "That is so rude!"

I suggested that we simply ignore her for the time being and enjoy the lunch. The caregiver took her to the bathroom to wash her hands (before the lunch which she declared she didn't want!), and I suspected that once she came out of the bathroom, she would emerge a new woman with the whole incident forgotten. Sure enough, when she came out, a much more pleasant person was inhabiting her skin. "Oh my! Turkey sandwiches! That sounds delicious!," she declared when she saw us seated at the  table. She sat down with us and began to settle in happily to the meal.

It's important to act as if the tantrum never happened.

Then the phone rang. The caregiver read the caller ID and called out to my father, "It's Time Warner calling, must be about your cable account, do you want to answer?" Dad stumbled to get out of his chair, saying, "I need to take that call," but he couldn't move quickly enough and he missed it; the call went to voice mail, and he was now the sour, cranky one. He was so frustrated.

Mom and Dad were playing tag team with their moods.

Dad could not settle back into the company of his daughter and son-in-law without resolving the issue first. Lunch for Dad was abruptly over. He wondered what they called about...did he forget to pay the bill? He didn't know how to retrieve the message plus he is hard of hearing and probably couldn't have heard it if he had. His vision is poor, too, so the caregiver read the number back to him, and he dialed it, only to receive the automated message - "our network circuits are busy at this time, please call back." Then began a fruitless series of call backs by Dad, with increasing anger at every repetition of the automated message. I suggested, "Dad, they were probably just calling to sell you a fancier package...just an ad, really, " but he is convinced his account is in arrears. He barks at me - "I bet I forgot to pay the bill! Your mother cannot live without the TV!" (This is funny to me, because it is he who cannot live without the TV, but I do not show any amusement on my face, only patience and understanding.)

Honestly, he tries to call the company for another 30 minutes. It is very painful to watch.

His lunch was forgotten.

What is so sad is that he can no longer discern that this phone call is really not a problem at all. Annoying, yes...but put it aside and chat with your daughter, enjoy their company. Take care of the issue at some other point in time; better yet, let them call back.

My mother, age 88, has full dementia - no knowledge of who I am, no memory of times we shared, no ability to converse anymore. My father, also 88, has Parkinson's - and, sadly, this disease is coupled with the possibility of dementia...he is slowly growing into the same type of mental hell. Honestly, I think it is worse for him, because he is at that place where dementia is beckoning - he is painfully aware of his memory slipping, becoming very anxious at times, beginning to repeat questions over and over, less sure of his short-term memory.

They are in the very best of living arrangements, under these circumstances - living in their own independent home ("cottage") within a retirement community, with a full time caregiver.

On this visit, I see how challenging life is for Dad now. He is no longer able to keep facts and dates straight, no longer sure what needs doing. He was not going to accept any intervention from me and yet he is no longer sure what he has done or not done. He was going to resolve this himself, he was in charge, and yet the solution is just beyond his grasp. There's the catch-22 - he won't hand it over, nor will he solve it himself.

This is the raw pain of aging, the raw pain of short term memory loss, the raw pain of losing control and independence.

It's difficult for all of us.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

She's here

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

Sweet girl, so fragile, so impulsive. She's here. One small plastic bag of clothes, a laptop, and a phone. What are the five things you would grab if you were fleeing? She just took off. Hurt, frustrated, spitting angry, driving eight hours and mentally chewing through every slight, every unkind word, every thing her parents ever did or said. Of course, they love her dearly. Her Dad, so strong, always certain, always steady - he must be off balance now...thinking, what the hell? Where did this attitude come from? What was she thinking? How dangerous! To simply take off like that. Her Mom, like me, having had a troubled relationship with her own mother - now having to live out this dear child's rejection. Oh, I feel certain it is not a forever rejection. It's a heartfelt, 24 year old, nobody understands me period of rejection.

I'm in the midst of this mess. The thick of it. I feel strangely serene, sure. We need to shelter her for now. She needs to be here for a bit. The little girl in the spare room. Nothing fancy here. A bit of a retreat, I hope. A few days to look at things differently. Or longer? She spent less than an hour with us last night and went upstairs. I woke up thinking, she's going to need to wash those clothes soon and she doesn't know where our washer is. She knows not this house, she knows not the cereal, the downstairs shower, the toothpaste supplies, the dailyness. I'll be gone to work very early, without seeing her. What to leave a note about? We love you. Be well. It's going to be okay.

Sunday, August 20, 2017


A growing list of all I despise

white supremacist
originated the birther movement
hateful rhetoric
grabs 'em by the pussy
arm candy
sick words about daughter
mean words about exes
thin skin
conflict of interest
garish buildings
tax evader
tanning bed face
that comb-over flop of orange hair
insisting on accolades
totally bereft of moral authority

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

This is our land

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

The day is stifling hot, with oppressive humidity and very little breeze. Maybe it will be cooler in the mountains? What a delight to be in our air conditioned car, listening to our favorite music, with a few hours free to drive to our property for our ritual summer visit. A few years ago (oh my, has it been 12 years now?), Tony and I purchased four acres of land alongside a creek in the Chattahoochee mountains of Georgia. This is sweet country! Great hiking, beautiful vistas, lazy living. When our boys were young, we often rented cabins in this vicinity. Our family has enjoyed so many fabulous days walking wooded and mountainous trails, collecting rocks and sticks, splashing in streams, finding waterfalls, playing in the dirt, reading, drawing, and eating outdoors. One day (soon?) we will get our act together and build a simple cabin here, a get-away.

We travel to Georgia each summer for Tony's family reunion. Every summer we trek to our property for a bit...and our imagination runs wild with plans. We create sketches, talk about a porch overlooking the creek, wonder about trees, birds, deer, and bears. Then, turn around, we are back in the thick of life in Maryland/Washington, D.C. and these musings fizzle out, become more faint.

But, hey, Tony is retired now...maybe we will finally take some serious steps to building this cabin...let's visit again and dream.

Tony knows the way to the our land by heart, but for me, I am still at a loss for how we get there until we are racing along on this one particular two lane road that curves a little to the left and then, just at the bend, Tony slows down considerably and makes a sharp right onto the narrow dirt and gravel lane...a road that demands we drive at 10-15 miles an hour max. We drive past our "neighbors" with simple homes and cabins. I love all the pretty porches, the flowers, the stonework. I smile. We're almost there!

Oh no.

What's that? Just up there on that barn, on the right?

Tony, do you see that?
Was that there last year?

I don't think it was. I'm sure we would have remembered.

We continue on, quiet.

The next house has one, too.

That DEFINITELY wasn't there last year.

As does the next.

And one more...that makes FOUR!... this one is HUGE and ENORMOUS, hanging alongside an American flag.

I am clutching my seat, my feet are acting like brakes on the floor board of the passenger seat. Oh, Tony - what in the world? How can this be? I ask with alarm.

Four Confederate flags.

I try to absorb this visual assault. My mind is racing - these are our neighbors? Just as I think that I cannot breathe, cannot catch my breath, we pass by a fifth property with an enormous flag.

A rainbow flag with the word PEACE emblazoned across.

It's impossible to describe how this rainbow flag lifted me.

Hope, waving in the heat.

This is the world that Trump has unleashed. A world where meaning is reduced to bumper stickers, tweets, and flags; where everyone is certain and absolute, digging in their heels, shouting their truth, and not listening to the other. Daring one another. Opposing. Hating.

This is our land.

We stop at our property and get out of the car, walking slowly and quietly. A hawk soars overhead. Tall trees surround us. So much green all around. A smattering of lacelike white wildflowers. So many beautiful rocks. A chipmunk scurries through the underbrush. The creek glistens in the sun.

This is our land.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Beyond hope

So many people feeling so hurt, so disrespected, so denigrated.
Black men.

I believe
I am inextricably in the midst.
Your pain is my pain.
Your hurt is my hurt.
We are all connected.

Our divide is so painful.

In that hellish June,
with young Black men killed,
with police officers killed,
he spoke angrily to me
about Blacks,
spewing diatribe gleaned from his only news channel,
and I quietly, respectfully, purposefully responded

"There is pain on all sides...so much hurt and suspicion."

And he charged back, bitterly,

"You are beyond hope, Maureen."

There was no sarcasm in his voice.
No laughter.
No joking.

This is a frustrated, hateful, angry old man,
disappointed in my open-mindedness,
dismayed by my civility,
disgusted by my politics,
done with me.
His daughter.

Yes, the diatribe is more satisfying.
To be of his one clear opinion is more satisfying.
To be alone is more satisfying.

The words echo
"You are beyond hope, Maureen."

I squeaked back, quietly, reminding

"I am of you."

and was met by silence.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Time stands still

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

Rhode Island Metro, Red Line. He pushes a stroller onto the metro, and a toddler boy in the stroller is wailing, screaming, very upset. "Dad" looks angry, too; he sits down at the 'priority seating' and seems far away, distant from this crying. The child wails, unconsoled, and Dad robotically takes his son from the stroller and holds him to his chest, patting his back. The boy continues to cry, but a little softer - yes, this is better. He wiggles away a bit, to sit beside Dad on the bench seat, still wailing.

What is this young father angry about?
What's on his mind, what burdens him?
Isn't hard to understand what a child needs?
How sweet that Dad manages to give a little love, in the midst of his frustration.

Diagonally across from Dad and baby, two young girls settle into a seat - they are maybe four and five years old. Their "Mom" sits down right behind them.

When did they get on the metro?
This same stop?
Just now?
Another young family.

Wait. The baby boy seems to be looking their way. Yup, they're together. Mom calls out - "Here. Stop crying. Take your bottle." Little guy jumps away from seat with Dad, runs to her, grabs bottle, back to seat with Dad, still crying. Sipping the bottle is soothing and the crying stops. Dad glares at Mom and then looks away, obviously fuming.

Why isn't this family sitting together?
How old are these parents? 20 years old?
Aren't their hands are full? Wow, three young children.
Aren't those girls precious - so quiet and happy, sitting together?

All of a sudden, Dad yells, "It was YOUR fault! You did it! He was with you, but you didn't ..." Mom yells back, "You full of it! It was YOUR fault!" And they start to argue loudly. The gist of the argument escapes me.

Something to do with the little boy?
Something else?
Don't they realize how inappropriate this is?
On a metro train, out in public?
In front of their young children?
Please don't argue here.

But they do, and the argument escalates. This is unbridled anger, frightening, out of control. These two know exactly how to needle each other.

I look up and around. There are maybe seven other passengers in the vicinity. Most have perked up as I have, looking around. We catch each others' eyes. We are all unsettled.

Next metro stop. NOMA Gallaudet. Argument continues. A couple passengers get on and, hearing the loud voices, they move to the opposite end of the car.

Dad pulls some papers from the stroller, rolled up tightly - "And what you want me to do with THIS! You don't take no responsibility for this, do YOU?! What about these papers, hunh?!" She argues back, "They ain't mine! That's on you!" And in the midst of these yelling voices, the little boy begins to cry again and runs to Mom and sits on her lap. Dad jumps up, holding the papers, angrily pushes the empty stroller to Mom (at Mom?), and yells - "I ain't taking any more of your &#%!  *%#&@ you!" and he storms off through the emergency exit at the end of the car into the next train car.

(Obviously ignoring the large sign STOP - EMERGENCY USE ONLY on these doors.)
(But, then again, maybe this is emergency use. I'm okay with it, at this point and time.)

Everything gets quiet. I meet the eyes of the gal sitting diagonally across from me, and I nod, thinking, whew. That's over. That was a close one.

What were those papers?
Is this a legal issue?
Maybe something to do with custody?
Or some sort of a summons?
Oh my, their hands are full; mistakes have been made; they need guidance.

Third metro stop. UNION STATION. Mom gets out of her seat, holding little boy by the hand, pushing his stroller, and beckons the little girls, "Come on, we're getting off here." She walks down to the far end of train to exit - opposite direction from the car that the Dad ran into. One gentleman enters and stands at the door, not moving to a seat; he looks like a military man - very fit and strong, military-style camouflage backpack, some sort of 'issued' pants with all those special pockets...

It's a new metro train, which means the doors stay propped open momentarily at this metro stop, as the robotic voice announces "This train is stopped for schedule adjustment."

Time stands still.

The platform has many passengers, coming and going. A couple other passengers enter our train car and sit down.

In a flash,
from my seat on the metro,
I see the Dad, race onto the platform from the other train car, up to the Mom and family, yelling, "I'm taking my son!," he grabs at the child, the woman in the seat behind me immediately calls Metro Police - and calmly says "I am on Red Line Train from Glenmont, stopped at Union Station, there is a domestic situation on the platform, police needed immediately," Mom screams, "Oh no you ain't!," Dad smacks her upside her face, Mom slugs him across his head, all the while holding onto her baby boy's hand, the two girls are screaming, Mr. Military goes flying off my train, as does a another young male, they grab the Dad, who fights and resists and curses, and they slam Dad to the floor, with Mr. Military yelling, "You have to calm down!" and Dad is pinned, with Mr. Military at his head/arms and the young man holding his feet, two other helpers are holding Mom back from Dad, she is screaming "Let me go! I need my kids!," another is holding the little boy, one screaming little girl separates from the others and runs in fear up the escalator, I jump from my seat on the train to run catch her and keep her safe, another woman is faster, ahead of me, enveloping her, comforting, bringing her back to her sister and brother, other helpers come from all directions, staying with the children, keeping them at a distance from the melee, Dad and Mom continue to scream at each other, the children are screaming, so many people daring to get involved,
a Metro policeman comes
down the escalator
too slowly for my liking
the bell chimes for the Metro doors to close
I know I am not needed
I go back onto the train

What was that?
What is happening?
How could so much happen in just a moment?
How did so many people know what to do?
I am incredulous at this calm emergency response.
So many Good Samaritans on the scene, helping, staying
insisting on peace,
preventing worse.

What about those dear children?

What's gone wrong in these young parents' lives?
How can things get better?
What's going to happen?
What support exists for them?
What is the cost of this anger?
How to make a better life?

What about those dear children?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

It is always something

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

Wrinkled, worn, weathered, looking older than his years,
Thin body, sunken eyes, missing teeth.
Everyday norm is achey, heady, tired.
Much neglect of health, and, now, diabetes.
It is always something.
Money, money, money. Always needing money.
How to pay rent? Buy groceries? Get insulin?
Mistakes made, hints of jail time served.
Marriage lost.
It is always something.
Wages garnished for childcare,
Full-time work is beyond his grasp.
No experience, no education, no training.
Odd jobs only, clearing trash, pulling weeds, handyman tasks.
It is always something.
Do you have any work for me?
Cellphone is a luxury. Just cannot afford.
How to get in touch with him?
No affordable housing nearby.
Long commutes from remote suburbs.
It is always something.
Tiny setbacks have big consequences.
Missing the bus.
Too much rain, can't work outside.
Someone steals his wallet -
His little cash is gone, as is driver's license
It is always something.
Need replacement ID for food stamps...
Red tape, bureaucracy, slow lines, paperwork
(Precious time spent not earning money.)
Begging landlord to give him a couple more days -
He'll get that money for rent, yes, he will.
Please, could you spare a little?
It is always something.
Life is hard when you are down and out.
It seems impossible to crawl out from under the burden that is your life.
What does trying look like, when everything is hard?
He wears a big smile of hope.
It is truly something.