Tag Archives: Family

Fathers and Daughters

The father-daughter relationship is fraught with all the possibilities a therapist could wish for.  Even in my family.

Well, except for my relationship with my father.

You go ask Dad …” was one of the enduring sounds of my childhood.I only asked “why me” once:

It was a hot summer day when I was about four.  I was happily cooling off in the puddles on the sidewalk.  I didn’t even really want to go to the beach.  My brothers and sister did, though.

“Go ask Dad if he’ll take us to the beach,” Judy commanded.

That summer, Dad, already working two jobs to support his wife and five kids was studying to take his insurance licensing test.

“Why me?” I whined.  “I always have to ask Dad.”

“‘Cause when you ask him, he always says yes” Bob responded.  Judy and Fred agreed.

So I went in and asked him.

Sure enough, he packed up his books, loaded the four of us up into the car, and headed off to Beardsley Park, where there was a delightful stream that formed the most wonderful pools of different depths, where we would each be happy and cool.   I can still see Dad sitting on a rock ledge in the shade, his pants legs rolled up, his feet in the water and a large black binder on his lap.

I never again asked “Why me” when it came to getting Dad to do anything. Because I realized that my brothers and sisters were right.  Dad always said yes to me.

Somehow, the fact that I was the clear favorite in Dad’s eyes was rarely held against me by my brothers and sisters who all had far more complicated relationships with Dad.  It was pretty much accepted by everybody.  That’s just how it was.

Dad and Me in Geneva, June 1998.  You have to guess which is me.

Dad and Me in Geneva, June 1998. You have to guess which is me.

I don’t have any recordings of his voice, which was deep and scary (to everybody but me) when we were kids, and became deep and comforting when we were grown. But this song, while he never heard it, always makes me feel close to Dad, who died in 2000. Today would have been his 98th birthday.

I love you, Dad.

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Filed under Baby You Can Drive My Car, Birthday, Crazy family members, Dad, Family, Father-Daughter Relationships, Geneva Stories, Holidays, Humor, Love, Missing Folks, Taking Care of Each Other, Why the hell do I tell you these stories?, Writing

I am NOT Joseph McCarthy. Really!

The history surrounding the history of Joseph McCarthy, the late Republican senator from Wisconsin, is enough to make a “freedom of speech” lovin’ woman like me shudder.  I’m sure it is no coincidence that Senator McCarthy died right after I was born.  He wouldn’t have stood a chance against me once I hit grade school.

Anyway, for my foreign readers, Senator McCarthy was a nasty, paranoid piece of work.  Here’s Wikipedia’s take on him:

Beginning in 1950, McCarthy became the most visible public face of a period in which Cold War tensions fueled fears of widespread Communist subversion.[1] He was noted for making claims that there were large numbers of Communists and Soviet spies and sympathizers inside the United States federal government and elsewhere. Ultimately, his tactics and inability to substantiate his claims led him to be censured by the United States Senate.

The term McCarthyism, coined in 1950 in reference to McCarthy’s practices, was soon applied to similar anti-communist activities. Today the term is used more generally in reference to demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents.[2]

I also learned that McCarthy was equally ruthless at “outing” gays.

Two peas? Google Image

Separated at Birth?
Google Image

When McCarthy claimed that someone was a communist, generally speaking, it ruined his/her life.  There were many innocent victims of McCarthyism, whose professional and private lives changed.  Folks were fired, not hired, scorned. It impacted people in government, industry and in the arts.  Many of us have heard of the folks in show business in particular who were charged.  And anybody who had had any dealings with the Soviets was fair game.

We all like to think that we would never cast spurious allegations against anyone or anything on our planet.  We all like to think that we are good, kind souls, who would never malign anyone unjustly.  That we would never spread rumors or false charges.

Friends, yesterday I learned that I had done just that.  I “red-baited.”  So while I can ‘splain, I must set the scene.

John’s sister sent us a link to a video:

Naturally I wrote back because I love animal videos, they make me smile.

It was only the next day, when deleting emails from my phone, that I learned of my crime.  Because instead of typing “He’s So Cute!” as I had intended, instead  I maligned that little guy.  Accused him unjustly.  Probably ruined his new life for ever:

“He’s a Soviet,” I, courtesy of spell check, responded.*

Fortunately, John’s sister does not succumb to hysterics.  Or to the politics of fear.  Or to spell check.  In fact, she gave me the benefit of the doubt when I confessed my crime to her.

I was scratching my head.  I thought, is this some old Russian film and Elyse recognized it?

For the record, please let me state that I have no inside knowledge of the political leanings of this moose, any members of the baby moose’s immediate family, or indeed, I have no information about moose politics in general.  May I also state, unequivocally, that I have never actually seen a moose in the wild.

Lastly, let me state that as a reasonably well-informed individual, I also know that the Soviet Union is no longer a union, and even the folks in the former Soviet Union are not soviets.

 *Clearly, there are communist infiltrators at work at spell check.  We must seek them out and destroy their lives.  Let’s get Ted Cruz on it.

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So Long, Fred

This is a week for repeats here on FiftyFourAndAHalf.com.  Sorry.

But when I learned a little while ago that actor Omar Sharif died of a heart attack today, well, I thought I’d re-run this story, which isn’t mine, and which I love.

It’s a story that was told to me by Omar Sharif.  Sadly, it was in an interview on TV that I saw many years ago, and not in person.

“I was sitting there on the set of Lawrence,” said Omar of his first meeting with co-star and newbie actor, Peter O’Toole.  And this tall blond man I’d never seen before walked up to me and introduced himself.”

“‘I’m Peter, Peter O’Toole,’ he told me.

“I’m Omar Sharif,” I responded reaching out to shake his hand.

And then Peter responded, with an impish, Irish grin on his face:

“‘Nobody is named ‘Omar.’  I shall call you ‘Fred.'”

And with a toss of his head and a resounding laugh, Fred Sharif concluded:  “and he did!”

You’re going to call me WHAT??? Photo Credit, Irish Times

As the daughter, granddaughter and sister of Freds, I love this story.

RIP, Fred.  I hope you are off riding camels again with Peter.

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Filed under Acting, Adult Traumas, All The News You Need, Bat-shit crazy, Huh?, Humor, laughter, Omar Sharif, Peter O'Toole, Plagarizing myself, Rerun, Taking Care of Each Other, Theatre

My Candidate for President — 2016

I have a pretty good track record in choosing Presidents.  Sometimes, I’m way ahead of the game.  I decided in 2004 that I wanted Obama for President.

Obama at the 2004 Democratic Convention

Obama at the 2004 Democratic Convention (Google Image)

Sadly, I didn’t notice him on the ballot for a while.

This time around, I haven’t been able to decide. Hillary?  Bernie?  There are things to recommend each of them.  So what is a good citizen to do?

Well, today I have my answer.  I know who I’m going to vote for. I know who I will work for.  I know who will solve one of the major problems the world faces today.

Please join me in supporting the candidacy of Donald Trump:

Google Image

Google Image

Because Donald Trump stated the following:

Donald Trump says if he gets elected president, he would have to change his hair style because he wouldn’t have time to maintain it, as he would be working his butt off in the White House.…[Emphasis added]

The world will be a far, far better place.

*     *     *

I found this, along with a zillion other brilliant pictures at The Last of the Millenniums.  He’s got a gift for finding the really fun stuff.

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Filed under 2016, Adult Traumas, All The News You Need, All We Are Saying Is Give Peace A Chance, Awards, Bat-shit crazy, Campaigning, Cancer, Climate Change, Conspicuous consumption, Crazy Folks Running, Criminal Activity, Disgustology, Elections, Extra Cash, Farts, I HATE THE BEEP BEEP BOOP

The End of My Rope — Again

Just like three years ago, I am anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act.  Three years ago, I was fairly certain that the right-leaning Court would deem Obamacare unconstitutional.  Three years ago, I was lucky.  And I wrote about it here.

Today, tonight, as I wait for the decision on a far more pedestrian case, I’m still worried.  OK, I’m worried again.

You see, the “Prime Directive” of my life, from the age of 17, has been having and maintaining health insurance.

That’s what happens to you when you develop health problems, regardless of the age.  You need to put your square peg of a life into a round hole of getting the treatment that you need.  It never fits.  And you always lose a lot of yourself.  Oh, and all of your dreams.

And frankly, I resent it.

Healthy folks don’t understand just how thoroughly something most people take for granted — good health, good health insurance — can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Because I’m sure — positive — that the Supremes will be reading this blog, and for the new-ish friends who haven’t read this piece, I’m re-posting my most intimate post.

The End of My Rope

Friday, the first of October, 1982, was a really bad day.

Actually, it was a mostly normal day even after I found a memo and a pamphlet in my office in-box. The law firm where I’d worked for more than three years had just changed health insurance companies. The information about our new policy, beginning November 1, 1982, three weeks before my scheduled surgery, would be with Liberty Mutual. I didn’t give it a thought.

But Andrea, one of my bosses, suggested I give them a call. “You’d better make sure they know about your operation and don’t need more information.”

So I called the number on the brochure.

Forty-five minutes later, Andrea found me at my desk, staring blankly at the ‘Sitting Duck’ poster hanging on my wall. It showed a white cartoon duck wearing sunglasses.  He’d been enjoying himself, sitting in the sun in a turquoise blue lawn chair on the side of his house, sipping a soda.  But he was looking in wide-eyed surprise over his right shoulder at two bullet holes in the wall.

Sitting duck poster

Poster by Michael Bedard
http://www.mbedard.com

I knew that if I looked over my shoulder, I’d see some bullet holes as well. I was that sitting duck — I always seemed to be dodging bullets.  Life with chronic illness had become one fucking thing after another.  Now, just when I’d accepted and agreed to the surgery that so terrified me, my insurance was gone.  BANG! BANG!

“What’s wrong?” Andrea asked.

“It’s not covered,” I said, numbly, without a hint of emotion. Then I began to hyperventilate. “’Pre-… pre-… pre-existing condition,’ they said.”

“What?”

I explained what I’d been told, that the new policy didn’t cover anybody for 30 days and that it didn’t cover pre-existing conditions for a year. The firm had changed insurance to save money. Their decision would cost me everything. Everything.

I didn’t want to have the surgery — it terrified me. But I’d adjusted, accepted that I was, in spite of my attempted denial, quite sick, and that I had to have the operation. But I couldn’t possibly pay for it. Where was I going to get the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars I’d need? I lived pay-check to pay-check, and rarely had a nickle to spare; I had no savings. My parents were retired, living close to the bones themselves. My siblings were likewise broke. And I had insurance!

Loss of the insurance meant one of two things.  I could have the surgery that I really didn’t want to have anyway and pay for it myself. Or I’d face another year of ever-worsening illness — hemorrhages, bleeding, weakness, diarrhea.  Dr. C had been clear — my colitis was not just going to go away, as much as I wanted it to.

Without insurance, even if I could convince my surgeon, the hospital and the zillions of other folks involved in a major operation to actually do the surgery on someone without insurance, I knew that I would spend the rest of my life trying to pay the bills.  Bills that would have been covered just the day before.

My mind whipsawed between the injustice of the loss and terror at what would happen to me if I didn’t have that damn operation.

Andrea came around to my side of my desk and put her hand on my arm. “We’ll figure this out, Elyse. It’s late now, everybody’s gone. But we’ll work this out on Monday.”

She sounded reassuring; I was unconvinced.

“Really, it’ll be OK,” she repeated. “But in the meantime, I need you to …”

Her voice trails off in my memory. Andrea was a compulsive workaholic, an A-type personality. Work always came before anything else. Other people at the firm thought it was annoying, insensitive, or worse. But for me, it helped. It was exactly what I needed. It took my mind off me. I did what she asked, finished up and went home.

Of course I fell apart once I was home and told my roommate, Keily, the news. I ranted, raged, and cried — I wallowed all evening.

“I don’t even want to have this operation,” I shouted as loudly as I could to Keily as I sat in the bathroom, the door open. My gut, naturally, was erupting. It almost always was by then, especially when I was upset. Cramps. Diarrhea. Blood. Urgency. My shitty symptoms mocked me, proving that I couldn’t avoid the surgery. That I couldn’t put it off until my insurance kicked in. That I was totally screwed.

Keily sat outside the bathroom at the top of the stairs, stroking Goliath; that was her perch as I got sicker and sicker. She sat there and talked to me. She kept Goliath out of the tiny bathroom (Keily’s only successful effort at getting the Goose, as we nicknamed him, to obey.) That night, she held Goliath, and soothed him and me at the same time. She let me vent, rage, rant.

“It’ll work out. There’s some mistake. They can’t just do this to you. You need to trust the folks at your office.” Keily said repeatedly.

“You mean the ones who agreed to the new policy?” I wasn’t in a mood to listen.

That night I’d skipped Goliath’s after-work walk. It was getting on towards 10 p.m. and he needed to go out. I needed to do something else, or at least cry somewhere else. Walking clears my head, lets me figure out how to fix a problem, helps me find an answer. I knew a walk would help.

“Do you want me to come?” asked Keily. She often did, and that night she was concerned. I was so shaky and upset.

“No, thanks, I think I need to be by myself,” I responded. “I’ll be OK.” Actually, I was wishing I could leave myself behind. I was sick of me. Sick of sick me, anyhow.

So Goliath and I got into the VW and headed to the Capitol grounds, where we walked most nights. It’s such a beautiful, inspiring place. Plus for a woman walking her dog, it’s perfect. Of course it’s well lit — you can see it for miles. But there are also security patrols that never bothered us but nevertheless made me feel safe. A 120 lb. German Shepherd helped make me feel secure, too.

It was a clear night, with a half-moon casting shadows from the beautiful cherry and oak trees, from the enormous rhododendron bushes and other carefully tended shrubs across the expansive West Lawn. Nobody else was in sight.

I let Goliath off his leash. Deep in my own thoughts, I didn’t pay much attention to him. Unusually, he stayed right with me that night. He was as worried as Keily.

I cannot believe this is happening to me, I thought, rage building again at the injustice. Because my whole entire adult life had been focused on making sure I had health insurance.

From the time of my first hospitalization at 17, I had lived my life — made every single decision — with health insurance in mind. My dreams of acting, of singing, of writing? Of doing whatever the hell I pleased? They’d all been flushed down the thousands of toilets I’d had to rush to over the 10 years since my diagnosis.

After my first hospitalization, and with word from the doctor that my ulcerative colitis would likely flare up repeatedly throughout my life, my parents forced me to go to secretarial school – a career path that had never figured into my plans. My mother was an office worker and she’d always hated her job.  It seemed boring and demeaning. Secretarial work had once been a good career path for bright women. But that, I thought in my young “know-it-all” way, was no longer the case. Mom was stuck with it, and she and Dad stuck me with it, too.

I complained bitterly; I was talented, funny, smart. It wasn’t fair.

I was wrong about both the work and the women who worked as secretaries. I quickly became pretty ashamed of my attitude, and some of the secretaries I knew became great friends.

Still when the chance emerged to turn a secretarial job into a job as a legal assistant, I jumped at it. In the job I’d had now for three years, I wrote for a living, analyzed legislation and regulations for the firm’s clients and learned about U.S. politics and policy. It was a terrific job. The firm had been good to me. And my parents were happy because I was still working in an office. With health insurance.

Another wave of anger came as I walked down the groomed hillside.

And then I saw it. Something I’d never seen there in the dozens of times I’d walked that route. Inexplicably, on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building, there was a pole sticking out of the grass with a chain attached at the top, and a ball hanging down.

Tetherball.

I walked up to it and started smacking that ball. I’d only seen cheap sets with rope attaching the ball to the pole. This one had a strong chain that was covered in a canvas sheath. But instead of improving my mood, hitting the ball deepened my feelings of desperation.

SMACK. I hit the ball as hard as I could. “MY BODY HATES ME!” I shouted as I pushed the ball around the pole.

WHACK. “MY LIFE SUCKS!”

SLAM. “Fucking, fucking FUCKING INSURANCE!

SMACK, SMACK, SMACK. “Hopeless. Hopeless. Hopeless.”

With each hit of the ball, I pushed myself towards the end of my own rope. There was no way to unravel all the problems I was facing, the problems that kept expanding.  Just as I thought I’d licked one, it would multiply. No way to fix all the crap that kept piling up. Crap that I suddenly felt that I was facing alone.

That was the moment when I realized, with surprising clarity, that life just wasn’t worth the trouble. At least mine wasn’t.

I decided at that moment to hang myself. I would hang myself from the tetherball chain on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.  It suddenly became the perfect solution.

I saw no way out. I couldn’t continue, didn’t want to continue. And I’d gotten way past the amount of shit I could deal with.

I sat down on the grass on the hill just above the contraption and allowed myself one last cry. Naturally I didn’t have any Kleenex. Snot running with my tears did not make me feel any better.

The first problem I discovered was that I couldn’t quite figure out what to call the thing. It seemed important that I know what to call it if I was going to die on it.

I wondered: Is it a tetherball set? A tetherball apparatus? A tetherball thing-y? I didn’t know the answer.

Goliath tried to distract me, to cheer me and when that didn’t work, he sat down next to me and let me use his shoulder. He tried to lick my tears away, but they kept coming. He butted his head into me. But he got bored with my misery and wandered away.

I didn’t watch where he went, I didn’t care. It didn’t matter where he went, what he did. Whom he harassed. I was done.

The decision was made.

I got up and walked up to the tetherball thing-y and realized what I hadn’t noticed before: that the chain was actually quite short. Too short, possibly, for my plan. The ball itself fell to just the height of my shoulder.

I was shocked. How am I going to do this?

I reached up, stood on my tippy-toes like a kindergartner, grabbed the chain in my left hand, and tried to pull it down a little more. But it was a chain, so it was very strong and not at all stretchy. It was also pretty thick, about 2-1/2 inches wide and not terribly pliable.

I stood there, grunting, sobbing, trying to stretch my body. I held the ball and the bottom of the tether chain in my hand, trying to figure out a way to make this work. Wondering if I could quickly have a growth spurt.

How can I get this short thick thing around my neck?

Even on my tippy-toes and pulling it as hard as I could, it wasn’t long enough. It just reached from my chin to my shoulder — not even half way around my neck!

What sort of an idiot designed this damn thing with an impossibly short chain? I wondered. You can’t even smack the ball around the pole more than a couple of times.

Not to mention that it wasn’t at all helpful for putting me out of my misery.

I pursed my lips and moved them from side to side like Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp. I rubbed my chin and scratched my head.  Tried to solve the shortcomings.

Naturally, other problems popped up too.

What can I jump off of?

Of course, the answer was “nothing.” I was on the manicured grounds of the Capitol. I couldn’t pile up debris and jump off of it because there was no debris. The neat grounds rarely had much in the way of move-able objects.  I was starting to get annoyed.

I want to die. Now. Tonight. On the tetherball thing-y. How the hell can I do this?

There on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol Building — with security patrols passing every 10 or so minutes — I was hell-bent on committing suicide by tetherball.  I was trying to stretch, to grow, to find a ladder, a chair, anything I could jump off of with a piece of US Government-issued sports equipment wrapped around my neck. Wanting to and trying to die.

And then it hit me.

Or rather, he hit me. Goliath, of course.

SLAM! Something hard hit the back of my legs.

“Owwww!”

From somewhere on the grounds, Goliath had picked up a huge stick – an uprooted tree by the size of it. It was at least five feet long and four inches around. His mouth was stretched to the limit holding it. And he’d hit me with it in the back of my legs.

WHACK! He did it again. I turned and saw that he’d lowered his chest towards the ground into a bow. He kept his rear end high in the air, wagging the whole back half of his body ferociously.

He’d had enough of me feeling sorry for myself. It was time to play. So he rammed me with it again.

“Owwwww, Goliath STOP THAT!” I commanded.

He didn’t listen. He went around to my left and hit me with it again. His eyes caught the moonlight – they sparkled. He was laughing at me.

SLAP! “Owwww, NO! That hurts. Cut it out!”

He bounced to my right side with the long thick branch firmly in his mouth. Pretending to loosen his grip on it. Teasing me. Trying to get me to play. Wanting me to reach for the stick, which he would never give me.

(Come on, Mom, catch me!) He was play growling at the stick and at me. He bowed again, swung his head to and fro, and the long stick swung left to right, wobbled up and down. It got stuck in the ground for a second, and then he forced it back out again with a flick of his massive head. Goliath came close to me and then bounded off with his treasure. Circling me. Approaching me, but backing off before I could get to him. He never got close enough for me to grab that damn stick.

(Come on, Mom, try to grab it!) We were going to play, whether I wanted to or not. And he hit me with the damn thing again.

“Give me that stick!” I ordered. He wouldn’t. He danced around me and the tetherball thing-y and bashed me and the pole repeatedly.

I’m not sure if he knocked me over or I sat down in defeat, crying. He bashed it into me a few more times, but then lost interest. Goliath dropped his weapon — well out of my reach — and sat down beside me. He put his paw on my lap, his head on my shoulder and nuzzled me. Chewed at my hair and my ear. Let me scratch his ears.

“You silly Goose.” I said pulling his ears and tail affectionately. Hugging him. “You’re gonna kill me one of these days.”

I knew then that I couldn’t kill myself, that night or any other. Nobody in their right mind would take my stupid dog.

 *     *     *

I learned when I went back to work on the following Monday that the person I spoke with at the insurance company was wrong.  Mistaken.  My company’s coverage was considered continuing coverage and so my condition was insured.  I had my surgery and became healthy for the first time in about a decade.

Since the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, started, I have been haunted by the memory of the night I nearly ended my own life in a fit of desperation.  And while I think we can all agree that it was the silliest suicide plan ever constructed, that misses the entire point.

And that point is that folks who lose their insurance or who are without insurance are often desperate.  And close to the end of their rope.  I certainly was .

How many other Americans have been in that position?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  Millions?  How many think, consider, and/or attempt suicide?

The New England Journal of Medicine reported the following:

First, many suicidal acts — one third to four fifths of all suicide attempts, according to studies — are impulsive. Among people who made near-lethal suicide attempts, for example, 24% took less than 5 minutes between the decision to kill themselves and the actual attempt, and 70% took less than 1 hour.  (Miller and Hemenway, 2008)  (Emphasis added.)

I am not a traditional candidate for suicide, I don’t have the risk factors.  But I was, literally, at the end of my rope because of a combination of constantly dealing with a difficult disease, being broke because I was young and just starting out, and suddenly losing my insurance.  I would have had a huge financial burden I would never be able to pay off.  All through the bad luck of bad health.  Simple bad luck.

When I hear the anti-Affordable Care Act folks preaching about how we need to get rid of Obamacare, I want to scream.  Because a flawed system is better than the old system, where pre-existing conditions — the very thing that makes insurance absolutely necessary — will be the very thing that made insurance coverage impossible.

We need this program or we need a better program.  Going back to the old system is already unthinkable.

Is Obamacare perfect?  Nope.  Is there a perfect solution?  Nope.  But it is an improvement.  A huge, huge improvement.  And the problems will be fixed.

Health insurance for many people makes the difference between life and death.  Literally and figuratively.

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Heartbreak

Here.  You may need this.  (Google Image)

Here, take this. You may need it. (Google Image)

It was always the same.  Mom and Dad.  The kids.  They were a unit, Mom-and-Dad.

I’ve written before of my parents and the great love I was privileged to come from.  Here.  And Here.  But I haven’t told you that it all ended up in heartbreak.  My Dad’s.  Poor Dad.

Whenever I think back to our home growing up, Mom and Dad were together.  The end of the day would find them doing dishes together, and then they’d sit at the kitchen table and talk, smoke cigarettes, and laugh.  In the summer, they’d relocate to the front porch, where they’d laugh.   The sound of their voices, their laughter is as much the sound of my childhood as the train running by the house.

After they retired and moved to Florida, Mom started having health problems.  She’d always had some; she’d contracted polio in the late 40s and got emphysema from smoking.  But in the mid-1990s, Mom had a series of strokes.

Still, she never let it dampen her sense of humor.

“My dog,” she said to me during our daily 10 a.m. call, “is no help at all.”

“What do you mean, Mom?”

“Yesterday, I needed C.K. to be Lassie. He wasn’t,” she giggled.

Huh?

C.K. was Mom and Dad’s golden retriever. He was sweet as are all goldens, but had no rescue training that I knew of. So I didn’t get the connection to Lassie.

“Well, yesterday when I fell and was lying on my back on the patio unable to get up, I told C.K. to …”  her own laughter had interrupted her.

“When you were WHAT?”

“Well you see …” Mom went on to laughingly explain that it had been raining in her part of Florida for days. Finally, shortly after we’d talked the day before, the sun came out. And Mom decided to go outside with CK and sit in the sun.

Google Image (Thank God there was nopool)

Google Image (Thank God there was no pool)

“I thought I’d warm my bones a bit. But the gods were agin’ me” she said, laughing harder.

I was not catching on.

“Well, I climbed onto a chaise lounge and lifted my face to the sun. But things didn’t work out the way I planned.” She was now having trouble telling the story, she was laughing so hard. “I nestled back, and wouldn’t you know it, the damn chaise lounge collapsed!”

“What?” I said. “Are you OK? Did you break anything? Are you hurt?” I got that helpless feeling you get when you are hundreds of miles away and can do absolutely nothing.

“I lay there on my back until Dad got home at lunch time. I couldn’t get up. And all the while I was laughing and saying to C.K., ‘Why aren’t you Lassie? Why don’t you go get help? What good are you?’ But all C.K. would do was lick my face. It didn’t help – his breath was awful.”

Dad gave up his morning job that day.  And it began several years of loving caretaking, with admirable assists from my sister Judy and my brother Bob.

“I thought for sure I’d lost her,” Dad confessed to me a few days later. “I got home and she was nowhere to be found. I looked all over the [small] house, expecting to find her on the floor. I DIDN’T expect to find her on the ground outside – she never goes there!”

My Dad was a very imperfect man. He had a temper and a sarcastic streak.  But he had an incredible soft spot for Mom. He fell in love with her in the 1940s and never stopped loving her. They were inseparable.

When I think of their later years, I remember one time in particular, during a family vacation in a beach condo in Florida. During hurricane season. The winds were blowing and we were all watching the wind out on the Gulf of Mexico, out of the plate glass storm doors.

Somehow, Mom had an accident. In her pants. She pooped. In front of her whole family.  Poor Mom was mortified.

It was possibly the one time she didn’t laugh at something awful that had happened to her. Instead, tears welled up in her eyes, and she headed back, head down in humiliation, to the bedroom she shared with Dad.

Nobody else knew what had happened. But Dad sensed that something was terribly wrong, and headed back to see what he could do.

Dad turned on the tap in the bathtub, and helped Mom undress. He got her into the tub. He cleaned her tenderly, and then took her soiled clothes out to the washer and started it up. He grabbed two beers out of the fridge and then went back to Mom. He sat on the toilet keeping her company, washing her back, telling her jokes and stories.  Bringing back her laugh.

The two of them spent the rest of the evening together in their room. The rest of us could hear them laughing all evening.

That’s love.

Fast forward to 1995, and Mom really was failing. After the incident with the chaise lounge, Dad stopped working, or he worked from home. He was fortunate that my sister and brother, Judy and Bob, lived nearby and could and did help. A lot. But Dad was Mom’s caretaker. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

All five of us visited in 1995, and then again in 1996 for Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary; we hadn’t expected Mom to make it. But she did. At the celebration, Mom was still somewhat aware of what was going on around her, but not always, and not often. That was October 1996.

Dad, Judy and Bob continued to care for Mom at home. She had more small strokes, but still her sweetness lingered. Still, Dad knew he was, as he said, fighting a loosing battle.  Dad was exhausted, demoralized. He hired some outside help, but even combining resources we couldn’t afford much. But for Dad, it was a labor of love.

My 10 a.m. phone calls continued. Sometimes Mom was receptive, sometimes not. My long-distance job became keeping Dad’s spirits up as much as Mom’s.

One day in early February, though, I heard a shrill voice shouting in the background when Dad answered my call. I had heard a voice like that during my first hospitalization for colitis in 1974 — a woman who was suffering dementia.  The voice that had so terrified me when I was in the hospital at 17. An old woman who’d lost her mind, whose bed was moved into the hall so she didn’t disturb anybody (except she disturbed everybody).  A woman whose voice I still hear in nightmares.

Only this time, that horrible voice was my mother’s.  My sweet mother was possessed by the devil.

You’re trying to kill me so you can have my things. Mother! Help me!

That was my Mom shouting in the background. My sweet Mom. Yelling. Screaming. Terrified.  Lashing out.

You want my stuff. You never loved me.

“Lease, she won’t stop yelling,” Dad said, with a voice filled with hurt. “What have I done?”

I should have listened to my mother. She told me not to marry you. That you only wanted my things.

Dad explained that Mom had started shouting at him in the middle of the night. She hadn’t stopped. She hadn’t rested since about 3 a.m.  Neither had he.

“Lord, I’m tired, Lease,” he said gently, quietly.

“Let me try, Dad,” I said. “I’ll cheer her up.”  I could always make her laugh.  She was an easy audience.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t. She shouted at me, too.

Till Death, they say. That’s what he’s waiting for.   MY Death. Then he’ll have all my stuff.

“But Mom, everything you have is Dad’s too. And what he has is yours. That’s the way it works.”

No. He wants my things. He wants me to die.

 “No, Mom. Dad is right there, helping you. Come on, Mom. Everything is going to be OK.”

But I lied. Of course it wasn’t going to be.

We all tried, Dad most of all, to bring back the real Mom. But she seemed to be gone. Replaced with an abusive Banshee, who was nasty to all of us, but saved her sharpest spears for Dad.

Two days passed. Three. Then a week. Stupidly, we waited for it to pass. The five of us kids did what we could – but Judy and Bob bore the task of really helping Dad. They were there.  Fred and I weren’t.

Ten days passed with no let up. Mom’s doctor told Dad that the only thing for him to do was to put Mom in a nursing home. Dad was determined not to. Adamant. No.

For a dozen days, Dad’s heart was torn out with each word Mom spoke. She was accusing him, always. Of not loving her. Of wanting her things. Of having married her for her stuff.  and worst of all, of wanting her to die.

He knew that it wasn’t Mom speaking. Dementia was shouting at him. Not Mom.  But it didn’t help the hurt.

For two weeks Dad was assaulted, constantly.  The five of us all thought that the time had come. That Dad needed to have Mom go to a nursing home, at least for a short while, or it would kill him.  It was killing him, with each word she stabbed at him.  We suggested it short term, at least to let him catch his breath. He knew we were right, but still.  He couldn’t do it.  In sickness and in health.  Till Death.

Mother! He only wants my things! He wants me to die! Mother!

Mom shouted from her recliner in the Family Room.  From her bed in the night.  From her wheelchair.  From the bathroom.

After two weeks, Dad, exhausted, sat at the dining room table, with his head in his hands, knowing that he had to make a terrible decision. That he had to put Mom, his Doris, the love of his life, into a nursing home.  That she was going to die, and it would kill him, too.

“I held my head in my hands, and looked down at the floor,” Dad said. “I was so tired. So hurt, even though I knew it wasn’t really her yelling at me. Screaming those horrible things. Not stopping – accusing me of wanting her to die.”

You never loved me.

“I couldn’t take it any more, Lease,” he said. “I lifted my head, turned towards her and said ‘Would you please be quiet for a little while and give me some peace?’ Her eyes widened, then her mouth slumped and she stopped. She stopped yelling at me!  The relief was overwhelming,” he said, weeping.

I already knew what had happened. All I wanted was to be with Dad at that point. I was still so far away.

“At first, the peace was just such a relief,” he said, with a mountain of grief in his voice. “But I realized within a minute or two what had happened. Another stroke.”

Mom paralyzed by this, more powerful stroke, was never able to speak again.

Dad was broken-hearted for as long as he lived – because he’d silenced her.  Because he spoke to her harshly, out of patience.  Out of exhaustion.  Out of hurt.  Mom died a month or so after she went to live in a nursing home. Dad stayed by her side, all day, every day. Holding her hand, talking with her, wishing she would speak to him, laugh with him, just one more time.

Judy Holliday’s voice is very similar to my Mom’s.  Listening, I can hear her, clinking dishes and laughing with Dad.

*     *    *

Mom suffered from dementia at the end of her life — that’s what turned her from being a sweet woman into a Banshee.  That is what broke my Dad’s heart.  It is a disease that has broken many hearts and will continue to do so as our population ages.

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month.

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Dad, Family, Good Deed Doers, Health, Health and Medicine, History, Illness, laughter, Love, Mental Health, Mom, Peace

A Phila — A Philan — A Good Deed Doer

A week or two back, on Gibber Jabber, I responded to a question (because that’s what happens over at Gibber Jabber, she asks questions and you answer them.)  I said that my dream job would be to be a philanthropist.  A good deed doer.

They're called ... (Google, natch)

They’re called … phila — philan — “Good Deed Doers” (Google, natch)

 

And of course, if I could, I would give the world a whole lot of good stuff.

But this week I’ve found myself to be the benefactor of a good deed doer!  Yup, Me!

A very generous, very wealthy man gave me, John and mostly Duncan a lovely hunk of land in Maine on Mount Dessert Island where we are right now.

For many years, we’ve been coming to this island with our various dogs.  Acadia National Park takes up much of the island, and it is an amazingly beautiful place to hike or just sit and watch the sea from a pink mountaintop.  Acadia is magical.

But there are leash laws in Acadia, as it is a National Park.  And while we haven’t always been strict adherents to that particular rule, well, the park is full of people, some of whom don’t really want to meet my dogs (imagine!).

Last year, we found out about Little Long Pond. It is a family preserve, owned by the Rockefellers, with hiking trails, carriage roads and a lovely, well, long pond.  Dogs were allowed to run free there.  In all 1,000 acres of the place.

Little Long Pond Boat house

And this month, David Rockefeller celebrated his 100th birthday by giving this piece of land to Duncan!  Well, and me.  And John.  And you!

FREEDOM!

FREEDOM!

To celebrate his 100th birthday, he donated the land which abuts Acadia National Park (much of which his family had also donated) to the nonprofit Land and Garden Preserve, so that they will keep and preserve it AND CONTINUE TO LET DOGS RUN FREE!

Thank you, Mr. Rockefeller!

Thank you, Mr. Rockefeller!

Thanks, Mr. Rockefeller.  We wish you many happy returns.  We know we will have many happy returns to Little Long Pond; and we will think of you and thank you each time we do.

*     *     *

 I am not a particularly good photographer, but I have a camera shy dog.

 

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Filed under All The News You Need, All We Are Saying Is Give Peace A Chance, Dogs, Duncan, Good Deed Doers, Health, Holidays, Humor, Maine, Pets, Taking Care of Each Other