Archive for the 'Magical Thinking File' category

Shredding Event

Some few weeks ago my township held a semi-annual "shredding event", an occasion for citizens to bring forth their accumulated piles of dossiers and documents to be fed into a giant communal shredder, lest our identities be filched and/or days of our lives given over to feeding two sheets of paper at a time into our home shredders.

This was my pile:

To be shredded...

To be shredded...

It might have been much bigger but that was all I could part with at the time.

The pile contained all the Medicare statements and Blue Cross EOB forms I had received for my mother during the time I was her power of attorney. I held on to these until her estate was closed and we were sure all outstanding issues and bills were resolved. It has been many months since the estate closed and I have no further legal need of these documents. But I found it surprisingly hard to let them go.

I browsed through them and their listings of date of service, provider, and service provided. I remembered many of these "services provided", some quite vividly. There were routine doctor visits on which I had accompanied her. There were the "pain shots", the epidural steroids to relieve the pain of her spinal stenosis. Organizing those was like planning the invasion of Normandy, given the astonishing difficulty in communicating with the doctor's office; the need to coordinate scheduling with availability of someone to take her there; and the trickiness of managing all this for someone taking coumadin.  There were the ER visits for falls and other minor emergencies. There was the mountainous paper trail generated near the end, when she bounced from assisted living to hospital to rehab hospital to nursing home and back around till the final bounce home to die. Sometimes I looked at dates and events in disbelief: did that really happen then? so close to the time she died? did all those things really happen so close to one another? Or, oh my god I totally forgot about THAT! How strange, I thought, that these impersonal medical records hold memories of my mother I'm struggling to piece together.

When my father died (young, in his fifties), my mother was devastated. She could not bear the idea that he would go underground. When my brother died, eight months before my mother, we helped her to her feet beside his coffin in the funeral home for the "last goodbye". Though she could barely stand she kind of launched herself at him, weeping over his dead form and declaring "oh Paul, it won't be long, I'll be coming after you." She did not want him to go underground, either.

When she lay dying at home, mostly robbed of speech, she communicated to me one day with great difficulty: "I'm afraid to go in the ground." I don't remember what I said to comfort her beyond "I know" and "I'm sorry" and maybe the pitiful "it will be okay".  I don't know why I didn't ask her why this fear was so strong. Lifelong devout Catholic, each Sunday at Mass she recited "I believe in...the resurrection of the body and life everlasting" and yet in the face of death it appeared this was cold comfort. When her youngest brother, the one she raised from age seven, died before her and was cremated, she did not like that any better. She fretted over how his body would be resurrected at the end of the world. I tried to assure her that if God could do anything, He could surely put her brother's ashes back together in the form of his body. She remained unconvinced.

When she died it was some time before I could leave her side. This parting, unlike every one before it, would not be followed by seeing her smile yet one more time.

I believed I was relatively blasé about the subject of corpses and what should be done with them; I often told Mr. Z he should have mine turned into compost for my garden. At the funeral home, it did not seem to me as if it were her lying there. In the bustle at the house the morning after her death, we could not find her glasses. Lying there without them, that face could have been a wax doll.

And then at the cemetery, the graveside service ended, I wept the tears of a motherless child. I did not want to leave. I knew they would put her in the ground when we left. And she did not want that. It did not matter that she was beyond wanting. Finally, my younger sister said through her sobs and tears, "We have to let her go. Come on. We have to let her go." It was like breaking a spell; her words gave me permission to leave. I let her go, I let her go underground.

A week or so after the funeral my younger sister and I both had the same experience. It was a physical sensation of lightening, as if someone had just removed a very heavy backback from our shoulders. It was not just a mental uplift; we were both still very sad, and actually perplexed by the physical sensation. It was very distinct, and strong. I can only describe it thus: it felt as if I had been literally carrying something on my shoulders, and someone had lifted it off of me. Not that I had set it down, but that the weight had been lifted off me. I had a constant feeling of that sudden lightening for about two weeks. My sister, the same.

I also quit having migraines for three months. My doctors thought that it was the reduction in stress that allowed me to stop having migraines, but I didn't think so. (For one thing, I still had all my worries about my in-laws, and while I no longer had power-of-attorney duties, I now had executor duties for the estate.) I felt that my body chemistry had been altered by grief. I felt that my body was so physically preoccupied with the sensations of grief and loss, that it had no resources, so to speak, to devote to experiencing migraines. In this way, it was similar to the period just after I had my stroke, when I was almost completely blind. I had no migraines then, either. They did not come back until my sight recovered to the point where the place in my visual field where auras formed was functioning again. After my mother's death, my migraines did not come back until I was no longer completely blinded by grief to the world around me.

Time heals all wounds, as they say, whether you want it to or not. Eventually grief lessens, the sharpness of pain dulls, the loved one recedes into memory, which is unreliable, and must be pieced together through written records and conversations with others. Sending the medical records to the shredder was sending a pile of recorded memory to oblivion. If memory is all that is left, how can we bear to part with even one tiny morsel, no matter how bitter its taste? And yet doctor's appointments and ER visits are memories perhaps not worth savoring. There are so many, they dull the taste of anything sweeter.

I gave my folders to the township for shredding. I let them go. Death is cold, the ground dark and silent, but I remember warm evenings at dinner with mom, in the summer at Apple Annie's in Point Marion, the two of us talking, and her smile.

mom apple annies [640x480]

3 responses so far

The Cabbage is Sad

I've been eating a soup of struggle, pain, and loss for the past two years. Still I have not found my way back to the center, and I begin to suspect there is no one who will or can say "stop, little pot".

Mr. Z and I throw in a dash of bluegrass festival or getaway vacation or just an evening's Jeopardy-watching marathon to season, as we can. In this way it is possible to continue eating the soup; our eyes meet over the rim of our bowls, and we remember the world-without-soup.

In the past few months, we have been eating the soup of sorting, packing, giving away, and leave-taking. My siblings and I are clearing out the house my mother lived in for over eighty years, the house she was, literally, born in, so that it can be sold. Mr. Z and I are helping his parents winnow down their already-once-winnowed possessions for the move from two-bedroom condo to daughter's house. Three lifetime's worth of belongings form a river past our selves; some diverted to siblings, some to charity, some to us, until the river will dry up. As our tributary washes in the front door I begin to dig a channel out the back, pouring in unworn clothing, unused bedding, dishes-replaced-with-dishes, furniture-with-furniture. My channel is no match for the tributary, itself a tiny offshoot of the river; the house floods with worldly goods, memories, and regrets. The river itself would drown me if I am not careful.

Yesterday evening Mr. Z came home with three pottery bowls and a cookbook. You've seen the type; a church or community or extended family gathers favorite and treasured recipes; they are typed up, printed, often spiral bound with a cover evoking embroidery or tatted lace. This morning I began reading the tales of food, love, friends and family. Appetizers and Pickles proved disappointing. How many Taco Dip recipes does one need? The next section was Soup, and there it was, first recipe on the first page: Cabbage and Potato Soup. Hungarians, cabbage and potato soup - surely this will be good. The ingredients list included Kalbasz and sour cream; very promising. And then the first instruction:

Place cabbage in large bowl; sprinkle with salt. Allow it to get sad.

If only this cookbook came with a bubba! Perhaps a DVD bubba, if a real-life one cannot be assigned. A bubba to say "this is how cabbage looks and feels when it is sad; this is what I mean by 'stir occasionally'; lard will not kill you, eat, eat!; done but not mushy is like this; season to taste just so; and here is where you can get real Kalbasz, or how to make it if the old ones are all gone."

Alas, it does not. My mother is gone. My mother-in-law is moving away. I shall have to content myself with My Grandmother's Ravioli. And imagine I am a bubba myself, and try the Cabbage and Potato soup recipe. I will allow the cabbage to get sad; I will stir occasionally; I will cook until tender; I will cook until done but not mushy. I will mix and return to pot. I will season to taste, and I will always remove scum from top of water when cooking with small strainer.

I will do all this, as A.W. asked, in memory of E.R., and in honor of all the bubbas who so willingly cooked and served up food and love against the struggle, pain, and loss, all throughout my life.

6 responses so far

I Wasn't Hearing That So Nicely For So Long

Last night I found a note I’d written to myself at least two and maybe three years ago, at the end of a beach vacation.

The ocean’s so vast – we can’t imagine it fished out.  Mom has been with me so long – I can’t imagine I will lose her. We don’t want to imagine these things. We tell ourselves all is okay even in the face of blatant evidence to the contrary.

Z contemplates life, the universe, and everything

Z contemplates life, the universe, and everything

I knew, from the moment we first got the diagnosis of congestive heart failure for mom, that we were at the beginning of the end. I knew that CHF could be managed, but not cured. And even if it could be cured, there is no cure for life. I knew but as my father-in-law says when we offer information he is not thrilled to receive: “I don’t hear that.”

This was maybe in 2004.  As one does, I resolved to treat time as precious. Resolutions waver, especially in the face of one’s own chronic illness. I often think about the four relatively good years of mom’s life that I let slip by.

In the summer of 2007 she expressed a desire to go to Cape Hatteras once again. It was a family vacation spot with many happy memories.  My younger sister and I managed to take her there for a week in September. We did everything. She didn't even want to wheel by a little yellow flower without a closer look.

The flower she couldn't pass by.

The flower she couldn't pass by.

One night she had food poisoning from some bad shrimp. We feared that she would be out for the rest of the week; I knew how long a similar bout would knock me down. The next morning she up was up, ready, and determined to go. Perhaps she knew this would be her last vacation trip ever. I thought it would be her last. But I didn't hear that.

Happy feet at Hatteras

Happy feet at Hatteras

 

It was January of 2008 when she moved into assisted living.

I became her power of attorney and as time went on, became ever more intimately involved with her affairs and her life. She called me often, sometimes several times a day, and left little voice messages if she didn’t catch me. Suzanne, it’s me, I just called to talk a little bit. Okay, I’ll talk to you later. Bye-bye. Suzanne, it’s me. I just called to see if you’re watching the Steelers. Okay, talk to you later. Her Reader’s Digest subscription needed renewal; send a check to the KDKA Turkey Fund at Thanksgiving; donate to the Red Cross for the Haiti earthquake or the tsunami in Japan.  She would remind me to pay the hairdresser at the assisted living home, tell me to buy a lottery ticket when the jackpot got high (“and one for yourself!”), and ask me to “bring some extra cash” the next time I visited, to pay for some handmade cards purchased from a friend.

Her health status oscillated, each time the peaks scaling a little less height, the troughs diving a little deeper.  The cane left at home when she moved to AL; first a walker, then sometimes a transport chair or wheelchair, then almost always the chairs, while we were out and about. She said she dreamed of being at a home town wedding in the firehall, walking around and saying hi to everyone seated in the chairs around the edge of the dance floor, and I just walked and walked and walked! It was such a good dream! But it's never gonna be. I listened and I sympathized and I felt sad. Still, I didn't hear that, not really.

Last October she was in rehab; at the end of my visit, she tried to coax me to stay an extra day. In my mind I had to get back home for some damn thing. I'm not going to live forever, Suzanne she said. I really did not hear that.

Even as late as last Thanksgiving I was still not hearing so nicely. She'd gotten as strong as I'd seen her in years after a round of PT at the rehab facility and was so happy to be back at her assisted living home. She surely had at least another year yet. We had a glorious feast in her home with many family members present, and she tasted the pleasure of every moment. We made silly art sculptures from vegetable pieces and she laughed.

 

Thanksgiving spread at mom's house

Thanksgiving spread at mom's house

Veggie art

Veggie art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day she fell and broke her arm. In the ER she said to me "This ruins everything" and my heart broke.

I knew broken bones are often the death knell of the elderly; but I didn’t hear that. “It’s only her arm, not her hip” I soothed. “She will recover! It will just take time!” In the nursing home she experienced excruciating pain at the slightest jostling, and by Christmas she was a shadow of the vibrant woman she had been one holiday earlier. By the first week of January, when Dr. Bones pronounced her healed and said the sling could go, she didn’t give much of a good goddamn about anything.  Or perhaps more accurately: she would have given it, but she was clean out of goddamns, good or bad.

I knew for sure then that the end was very close, and yet, I was not having any hearing of that.  Maybe she needed her meds adjusted, or she wasn’t getting enough attention at the nursing home, or the right attention, or she needed to be encouraged more in rehab. Or a pony, or a unicorn.

One afternoon of the week I was to leave for Science Online 2013, waiting at a red light, I saw an unusual number of cars go through the intersection before me. I saw, but I didn’t see that. The light turned green and the line of traffic just kept on going through the intersection. One, two , three cars…what the hell…red light runners are so fucking annoying…I honked my horn. And then I saw that. I saw the last two cars with little flags attached to their hoods. Flags that said “funeral”.  Oh! Sorry, sorry, I mouthed, hands waving wildly as if that would both communicate my apology and magically ward off some kind of bad karma I had just created.

A few days later, during a meal at SciO13, my cell rang, and it was my younger sister. She told me mom had had what looked like a stroke, and she was having trouble talking, and they had taken her to the hospital for observation. I knew what that meant. And this time, I heard that. I heard everything my sister said, and some things she didn't.

I was on a plane the next morning and at mom's bedside by the afternoon. A few days later she had a grand mal seizure, and by the end of the week we had moved her back home with the help of hospice. Just one week more came the moment when I traded my role as power of attorney for that of executor. Tomorrow will be the half-year anniversary of the transition.

 

She lived a long life. I know how fortunate I am to have had that much time with her, to have been with her at the end, and for her end to have been in her own home as she had wished, as peaceful as we could make it. My grief is not exactly that she should have had more time in her life - not more years of increasing disability and sickness, for sure - but that she should have had more time in her life when I was more present, more respectful, more attentive to her as a person and not just my mom (but also my mom).

Some of you may know I wrote some things in her memory on Twitter; they are collected here in a Storify.

Thank you, dear Zuskateers, for reading this.

Z and Z-mom January 2007

Z-mom and Z, January 2007

 

16 responses so far

Young and Healthy? Your New Year's Resolution: Buy More Insurance!

Welcome to 2013, Zuskateers, and yes, I want you all to buy more insurance, pronto!

I'm not talking car insurance; if you have a car, you no doubt already have it insured. I'm just going to assume you have it insured properly. I'm not talking health insurance either because whatever your situation, there's probably not a whole lot you or I can do about it, even with that socialist Obamacare that's ruining America even as we speak.

And I'm not even talking about gun insurance, which is a dream that may yet some day come true.

Nay, the insurance I speak of is life and long-term care insurance.

If you are really young and healthy, you probably have neither, and this is not good. Every day that goes by increases the risk that you/your family members will need to use this type of insurance, and decreases the likelihood that you will qualify to purchase it, at least at anything like an affordable rate.

Let me give you an example. Some time in my late thirties, my employer offered employees the option to purchase long-term care insurance for themselves and/or for family members, including parents. The insurance was also portable, meaning I/family members could take it with us if/when I left that employer. I was concerned about planning for my mother's future and so we applied for the long-term care policy for her. Myself? I was hale and hearty, and saw no need to "waste" my salary on long-term care insurance premiums. Within two years I had a stroke and that, Zuskateers, was the end of my lifetime opportunity to buy long-term care insurance.

Mr. Z's company recently offered a policy to employees and spouses. Before filling out the application proper, I had to answer three questions, one of which was "have you ever been denied for long-term care insurance?" and another of which was "have you ever had [cancer, heart attack, stroke, etc.]?" A yes answer to any of the three questions leads to this instruction in large bold print: Do Not Fill Out This Application. That's because a yes leads to  automatic denial.  And you don't want to be denied for long-term care insurance if you hope to someday get long-term care insurance. Not that you will be able to get it, what with the cancer/heart attack/stroke stuff. This is known as irony. Of the two of us, I am more likely to need long-term care, and need it sooner, therefore of course the insurance companies will only sell it to Mr. Z. This is why you must buy the insurance when you still can't foresee any need for it.

So Zuskateers, if you are still pre-cancer/heart attack/stroke/other medical disasters, and you have a chance to get yourself some long-term care insurance, you buy it. You make room in your budget, and you buy it. (After you make sure that it is a good policy that actually provides useful benefits.) Do you have any idea how much assisted living costs? I'm not talking nursing home care, I'm talking assisted living. Or in home care? This stuff is pricey. I assure you, it is not too early to start learning about the various types of senior living options. If it's still awhile till you need this information for yourself, you may need it for a parent or other elderly relative sooner than you think.

Just don't kid yourself that you are going to stay your same hale and hearty present self for the rest of your life. This is known as magical thinking.  Injuries, accidents, illnesses can happen in a flash and change your life forever.  Yes, you can eat well and exercise and take care of yourself the best you possibly can, but Fate can have its way with you, and that you can not control. So: long-term care insurance.

The other piece of the insurance pie is life insurance. You're young, you can't imagine what's the need. What will you do with it? You'll be dead after all, won't you? Okay, first of all: life insurance pays out immediately after a death. Those folks are prompt. So if nothing else, your family members will have ready cash on hand to cover your burial expenses. Second: are you a two-income family? You are, right? I don't think there are many 1-percenters reading this blog. What will your family do if one of those incomes is suddenly lost through death? How will your surviving partner/kids cover the bills, the rent/mortgage, everything? Hint: life insurance will help.  Are you a single parent? How do you expect your children to be cared for if something happens to you? I'm sure you have someone in mind to look out for them if the unthinkable happens, but wouldn't it be much better if these kind souls had an insurance benefit to help provide for them?  Yes, it would.

Again I use myself as an example: I have a life insurance policy that is provided through my disability insurance (that itself came through my last employer). If something happened to me, this would help Mr. Z compensate for the loss of my disability income. This insurance policy, however, is only in effect until age 65. Ideally I would purchase something else to compensate for the fact that this policy will go away someday - except, of course, insurance companies aren't thrilled about insuring people who have had strokes. Safe to say it's best to buy your insurance before you've had any major health issues.

So my young and healthy Zuskateers, your New Year's resolution: get thee to an insurance agent. Get some quotes from several agents. Learn about long term care policies, learn about life insurance, learn about the level of coverage you need now to protect yourself and your loved ones.  I mean it.

The gyms are all going to be way too crowded the first two weeks of January anyway. You might as well take this time to begin your insurance research.

10 responses so far

TRAPPED!!!!

Oct 27 2011 Published by under Daily Struggles, Magical Thinking File

Day 1, Hour 1 of captivity

Conehead lies in despair next to the bathroom door.

If only it would open and let him out.

14 days of this hell????

He swears he'll never eat another needle if only you let him out to sweet, sweet freedom.

 

 

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For My Friend With The Crazy Boss

Or should I say, series of crazy bosses.  Why, you wonder.  Why you?  What is wrong with you? You work well with plenty of other colleagues.  They seem to like you.  But the crazy bosses keep on coming.  There must be something wrong with you, because otherwise you just don't get it.

I don't think there's anything to "get". I've had my share of crazy bosses, in academia and in industry. For a long time I thought "why do I keep getting these crazy bosses? what is wrong with me?" There are just lots of wackaloon people. Many of them end up in boss positions. What you hear about on the news is some working class stiff who went shitznutz and came back to work with a gun and shot a bunch of people and everyone nods their heads and says "yeah, those poor folk and their guns. they are whack." You do not hear about the white collar, middle to upper middle class people who go shitznutz and instead of bringing a gun to work and shooting up a bunch of folks, just psychologically abuse the hell out of everyone under their control. Structurally, I think the way we work is designed to produce more of the latter than the former, but the former get airplay, and the latter are completely hidden from view, so that each person's encounter with Crazy Boss is experienced as a unique and strange experience that is felt as somehow reflecting on their personal worth, as a personal failing, not as something the system was almost guaranteed to cough up for them sooner or later.

15 responses so far

Never Let Your Guard Down: Magical Thinking File

Aug 31 2010 Published by under (if) Elder (why) Care, Magical Thinking File

A Twenty-First Century American Tale

The Tickets. You had the tickets.  You bought them a long time ago.  Maybe everything seemed more or less stable then, maybe someone convinced you that you really needed a night off once in awhile.  You put them in a drawer and thought, "maybe I'll go, maybe I won't."  The day came, life was more or less under some sort of control, everybody you felt responsible for seemed alright.  Or a friend or relative came along and said "look, you really, really need to go.  You already spent the money.  The show is just xx minutes away.  They have the lifelinealertonemedicalert button.  Your sibling/their neighbor/the home health aide is available.  Just go."

You went.  You thought, this is okay.  A little drive there and back, a few hours inside at the show, it was nice to take your mind off things.  You met up with friends.  Maybe you even turned your cell phone completely off - not just on vibrate - while you were in the show!

The Phone. Your cell phone - that smart phone - is always on.  Always.

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4 responses so far