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Testing my re-entry here

Haven't posted in a long time. Just re-introducing myself.

A Mother's Gift

I have not posted here in a very long time. Much has changed. I will post more, but want to start with this: a piece I wrote five days before my mother died.


A Mother’s Gift

I don't believe I was one to complain about motherhood when my daughter was a baby, child, or adolescent. At least not beyond the normal grumbling about lack of sleep, sore breasts, or wearing "parfum de puke" as my predominant fragrance. Truth is, I loved being a mother. Once I recovered from the shock of it, I loved the excitement of watching her grow and change. The reality of all things impermanent came to bear in a beautiful way, as each phase of development (sometimes within days) made schedules and routines change rapidly, thus forcing my sense of flexibility to ensue.

But I do remember there were times that caring for a child felt overwhelming. The sleepless nights with illness and crying, and even the relatively peaceful ones while I kept one ear out for the baby monitor. The daily care of preparing meals, the constant changing of diapers, and the lifting and lugging of precious cargo who's weight increased by the day, until I was no longer to bear that burden when she was six years old. Much work as well was the management of her care without me, whether it was private day care or public school. I managed all of this while working and going to school myself, so that both of us could emerge as productive members of our society. At the time, it was an effort beyond compare.

Now, however, my role has completely reversed, while simultaneously parallel.

Two months ago I brought my dying mother home, under the eye of hospice, to face that great unknown in its mysterious timeframe. I am not changing the diapers of a ten, or even twenty, pound child, but those of a 150 pound woman with dead weight. The lifting and carrying of her weakening body, from chair or walker or wheelchair to toilet, commode or bed. The nights with a monitor are no longer filled with the precious cries of a child learning to burst forth into the world, but with the raspy cough of a woman resistant to her fate. Before this extreme deterioration I experienced multiple arguments filled with her denial, resistance and rebellion, because she had believed her life would return to "normal" upon coming home after a two month stay in hospitals and a nursing home. I was caging her, limiting her, in her minds-eye, although I was really only trying to keep her safe at home. My daughter's adolescence could not even compare to the resentment and ingratitude I experienced for that first month when my mother came home. If I could have traded them, I would, a thousand-fold.

I am basically running a hospital with one patient. And this, in the home where I live. I am managing hospice nurses and staff, privately paid staff, family, and friends to assist in my mother's care. I am also a nurse in said hospital. Some of the staff are remarkable; some less so. While some family members are helpful and supportive, there is also a source of resistance and emotional charge. I also manage my mother’s house and bills, and have been working on stabilizing the financial resources to survive this chapter. Oh. And I have a job. And two dogs: my mother’s Chihuahua, and my own terrier mutt, who, at 16, requires his own geriatric care. There is absolutely no "clocking out" for me. I do get relief from family and friends who have been pulling overnights for the past couple of weeks, and the daily paid staff, but if I am home, I am almost never free of duties.

When I first made the complicated arrangements to get Mom home, several people said to me, "It's like having a child." Yes and no. The similarities are there, to be sure. But the differences are striking, just as the pain of child birth cannot compare to other excruciating conditions. Granted, it is completely psychological. But it is very real. In childbirth, there is a ferocious hope that sees one through the agony. While caring for a dying parent, there is no brilliant purpose such as the beginning of new life, or the pleasures of watching the person grow and change into something marvelous. Perhaps this would be different with a parent who was accepting of their impending death. Perhaps not. I can't say. But the lack of hopeful outcomes does affect one's feelings about all the effort one must put forth.

I know that when all is said and done I will be grateful that I had the chance to do this for my mother. I don't need reminders. In fact, I know this now. I do possess the capacity to be present in the moment, and appreciate all that is happening is temporary. I know that soon enough she will be forever gone from me in the physical plane. However, this does not change the reality of my deep exhaustion. It does not change the fact that this is, indeed, the toughest job I have ever had. But I will see it through. Not because she was the greatest of mothers. Not because I am the greatest of daughters. I will see it through because it has to be done. Because we are both human beings and she gave life to me. This experience is a gift my life has given me, however disguised in unattractive wrapping. I do recognize it for what it is worth.

In the grand scheme, I think it somewhat unfortunate that most people do not experience this extent of care for a dying parent before they become a parent themselves. I was not an excessive whiner about my parenting duties when my daughter was a baby, child or adolescent. But I did my share. And I certainly know people who complain about it incessantly. I wish we could all see the relativity of the situation when our babies are tiny. Changing the diaper of a 10 lb. infant is the most joyful thing in the world, compared to the same task with one's 150 pound parent. Primarily it is the psychological awareness that you are raising a child to become their own person, with their own talents and their own future that makes every second of inconvenience worth the effort. When one is preparing someone instead for an eternity in the cold Earth, the only solace is to offer a sense of peace during the transition.

My daughter has given me the gift of life and joy. My mother, the gift of life and death. I am aware that I am giving the gift of my efforts to my mother, whether she recognizes it or not, in this final stage of her Earthly existence. But perhaps the most precious of these is that it is a gift I am giving to myself.

Cking
01.23.14


41 2013

Martha and the Moon

A video I made in 1992. My daughter is now 22. :) Music by Chris Devine.

Enjoy!


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVeQhPqvSpE

Adventures in Quitting

I have almost completed my first month on Chantix. I’m not fond of medications, as many people know. I am suspicious of them, I know that side effects are a given, not a chance, and I know that every drug we take weakens our immune system. I also have a huge disregard for the pharmaceutical companies. They are pure greed, and responsible, I believe, for the over-medicating of America and making us all sick.


My decision to try Chantix is a trade-off. The only medicines I have been taking for the past three years are asthma medications. Pretty absurd for a smoker, eh? But my rationale is that if taking Chantix for a limited time (it’s a three month plan) can get me off from asthma medications that I would otherwise have to take daily for the rest of my life, then perhaps the trade-off is worth it. I hope so. The side effects can be pretty scarey, but then again, so are the side effects of cigarettes.


Over the 34 years I have smoked, I have tried to quit several times. I tried cold-turkey, I tried cutting down gradually, I tried “miracle” methods, and I tried hypnosis. Never did I get further than 3 days before I was smoking close to my regular amount. Even when I was pregnant, I only managed to cut down to a little less than half a pack. Otherwise I smoked a pack or more, probably averaging about 25 cigarettes a day.


The Chantix “plan” is interesting. You are supposed to smoke as “usual” for the first week and then on day eight, no more. Cold turkey. The way the drug is supposed to work is that it blocks your nicotine receptors so that you don’t get the same dopamine effect, and thereby is supposed to reduce your cravings. I believe this to a great extent. In the first week I cut down without thinking about it too much (you have to track your daily smokes). Then you stay on the drug for a total of three months.


They have a “support” system that you utilize. Personally, I think that “support” is an inaccurate term. They send an email every morning with information and activities to help. Many of these have been helpful. And after your first week, you get a phone call every evening. A phone call, but it’s automated. I thought there’d be a person there, but there isn’t. They ask if you smoked since your last check in, and if you didn’t, you press 2. Then you get this congratulatory message from a male or female voice. I think I’ve heard three different ones. If you have smoked (and they don’t ask how much), you press 1. Then what seems to be one of maybe four messages comes on to give you more information, attempt to be supportive but encourage you to keep working at it. I think their most common phrase is “slipping up is not the same as giving up.”


What’s happening with me is that I am well on my way. Some days I don’t smoke at all. Most days I have one or two, or even just a few drags. I know it’s not perfect. But it helps me, at this point, to get through the rest of the day without thinking about cigarettes too much. I still plan to get completely smoke-free. But I refuse to beat myself up about it. At this point there are about 300 cigarettes I have not smoked in the past three weeks. And I never want to be there again.


I think what’s different this time is that quitting was completely my idea. I’m not doing it for Steve, or any other partner, I’m not doing it for the children in my life, I’m doing it for me. I’m doing it because I watched my father die as his lungs filled with fluid (he actually hadn’t smoked for about 20 years at that point). But maybe more so because my mother, who still smokes and has COPD, can’t talk or laugh without choking, and I was beginning to see that in myself. So my little signs I have around for my inspiration say “To breathe and laugh without coughing.” And even at this point that is already happening. I’m breathing better and over the past few days found myself laughing more, with nary a cough. And I know it will get even better when I’m completely smoke free. I am already finding that I can walk up hill and climb stairs more easily than before.


And I have other reasons too. Besides the standard “to smell better,” or “to taste food again,” I have other good reasons. My fantasy reason is that I’d like to be able to sing. That’s the most fun goal. But I also want to be able to do things and go places without worrying about how long I have to wait for a cigarette. Steve wants to go to Monhegan Island in Maine. I’ve been scared to go because it’s an all day trip and smoking is not allowed anywhere on the island. Now isn’t that a silly reason not to go to a beautiful Maine Island?


So it is working. Whether it’s the drug itself or my determination or a combination of both, something is working here. I do believe I will become smoke free.


But I have to say I have some issues with the Chantix plan.


It’s cookie cutter. Although they obviously allow for the potential of slip-ups, they expect everyone to become smoke free after seven days. Why can’t this be done more like a meeting with a nutritionist when you have Type 2 diabetes? There you talk about what you regularly eat, what your habits are, and the nutrionist develops a plan that works for YOU. Why can’t they put the effort in to make a plan that fits that particular person? And those phone check ins? That’s a joke. Sure there is some sense of responsibility that you have to take the call and make the choice to be honest, but there’s no person to talk you through it. They do give you a “hotline”: phone number you can call if you get the urge to smoke. I haven’t used it. I really should try it. But I suspect there’s no live person there either. With all the money Pfizer makes, they can’t give some counseling-type people jobs to do these things? What a scam.


And some of their on-line activities are a little hokey too. For day eight, they give you the opportunity to send these E-cards to your smoking and non smoking friends and family to tell them you’re quitting. Well, I told everyone I was dong this as soon as I started, and frankly, I’m not interested in going to the mall or to a movie with anyone to keep me from smoking. I’ve done that for 34 years! And the movies are great: fill your arteries with lard-covered popcorn and watch people smoke on screen to make you want one! I’m sure these suggestions work for some, but for me they are silly. As was the first suggestions about the danger places: suggesting you don’t smoke in your kitchen, your bathroom or your bedroom. I haven’t smoked in my home for 12 years. I have two danger zones: outside and in my car. So, I had to “filter” these suggestions to make them work for me.


Then there are the side-effects. The “strange or vivid dreams” started the first night I took it. Actually, I kind of like these. But it made me laugh today when the on-line activity had to do with the “fact” that one gets a better night sleep when not smoking. I do not sleep well on this stuff. I also get head-aches more which I’ve had to take more Tylenol for, and I don’t like to do that. I‘ve had some back-aches too that interfere with my sleep and my daily comfort, and some joint pain. Some of these side effects are not actually listed in their endless list, I found them by reading blogs on law-suits against Pfizer. Comforting, isn’t it? I do have some mood swings but can’t say it’s from the drug or from quitting smoking. Depression has been kept at bay for the most part. So from things I’ve read on-line, at this point, my side effects have been relatively mild. Although Pfizer warns that some of them can happen after you stop taking it. My greatest concern is that I discovered that airline pilots and train engineers are forbidden from taking Chantix, because it can cause fainting. Several car accidents have been documented and attributed to the drug’s use.


I also have a deep concern about the Chantix plan in that, if it’s supposed to block your nicotine receptors, and they believe you can go smoke free in eight days, why do you have to be on it for three months? Marketing strategy perhaps?


There are many things that are not helpful when one is trying to quit smoking. Unsolicited advice (which I also found annoying when I was pregnant) is huge. I know people mean well, but every smoker who is quitting has to do it their own way. And I guess there’s a fine line between the supportive suggestion and unsolicited advice. Trying to educate me about the dangers of smoking? Please. I have a degree from an ivy-league college and I don’t live under a rock. I’m addicted, not stupid. Unfortunately, Steve hasn’t been too helpful, although he’s getting better. He just doesn’t understand the addiction. He got mad at me when I admitted on day eight that I’d smoked a cigarette. Yeah. THAT was helpful. Give me a damn cigarette . . . .But he has gotten better. We just don’t talk about it.


My friends, especially the ones who do or did smoke are particularly helpful. Even my
Adult Ed students, most of whom are smokers, have been wonderful. They ask me every few days how it’s going. I am honest about it. And they are completely supportive. So supportive, in fact, that we’ve had great discussions about them considering quitting. And of course that’s where it starts. In fact, being at work is the easiest place for me. Even though they have three smoke breaks in four hours, I have little trouble avoiding it. Although I do miss going outside.


I think the key to being supportive is to take out the pressure and judgement. For smokers, that combination is lethal. Don’t ask me why but when we feel pressured, or angry, or belittled, we smoke in an attempt to rebel and “I’ll show you.” Makes a lot of sense to get mad at someone and punish them by ultimately harming yourself, doesn’t it? My biggest gap is that I used it as a reward system for myself. Now THAT makes sense. “Yeah, I feel great! I got that finished. Think I’ll reward myself by committing extended suicide!” Funny how we smokers rationalize away our lives.


At this point I have survived arguments with Steve, going to shows, doing housework, driving the car, drinking coffee, drinking wine, talking on the phone, cooking, performing, waking up and going to sleep without cigarettes. I have survived stress, anger, joy, satisfaction, fun, exhaustion, exhilaration and boredom without cigarettes. I think these are things to be proud of.


When I am completely smoke-free, I want to be the kind of person who is not judgemental of smokers. I want to be able to hang with them without disturbance. I want to be able to embrace them and still express my own pride that I was able to quit. In the meantime, I will keep chipping away at this habit. I will find other ways to reward myself and work through my stress. I will find other ways to spend the two hours I wasted every day taking cigarette breaks.


In fact, sitting here now and writing, I took myself an hour away from an urge.

The Eulogy


You Don’t Have to Rush

 

Good morning. I’m Cathy King. On behalf of my mother Glenna, my sisters Gina, Marilyn and Becky, and the rest of our loving family, I thank you all for being here, to honor the memory of my dad, Reggie King.

 

How does one describe in a few short minutes the life of a man? Words. Words are not enough. Yet, as human beings, they are what we have.

 

For instance, when the doctors tell us they can do this procedure or that procedure, it doesn’t explain to us the after effects on the body. You have to see it, touch it, experience it for yourself. Or if you are told that someone died, it doesn’t explain the process. “He died.” It sounds so easy.

 

So if I tell you that my father was a hard worker for his business, a loving husband to my mother, a strong father to all of his girls, a good brother and son, a compassionate person, a lover of animals, and a great story teller and humorist, I know it doesn’t really tell you who he was. If I tell you that wherever he went, people loved him: women, men, children, babies and animals. He embodied the word gregarious. These still can’t explain his essence. Those of us who were lucky enough in our life to experience this, can understand. But they are only words. Still, I have to try. Because my father had a gift of gab, and words were among his many tools. So in his honor, I will try to express who he was, and how much we loved him.

 

Of course, he had his faults like the rest of us. As good as he was with words, he didn’t always say what he really meant. In the last few years particularly, when you'd ask him how he was, he would tend to say, "I'm all right." But he wasn't all right. Or whenever one of us was about to leave after a visit at the house, he would say, “You don’t have to rush.” “You don’t have to rush.” But what he really meant was, “I wish you wouldn’t go.”

 

Just as with all of our friends and spouses, Daddy accepted Linda Allen, Bunny’s partner, into the family with open arms. But there was always that piece of him that was not convinced of her life-style. In fact, I can imagine that as soon as he got to the other side, he was immediately embraced by Bunny, then said to her, “So, did you meet the right man yet?”

 

He was a very funny guy sometimes, my dad. And an entertaining story teller. Whether it was a tale about blowing up a gas can while filling a running vehicle, or about physically repossessing an appliance that wasn’t paid up, or about his Rottweiler killing a bear in the woods, he always had an adventurous story to tell. I want to share a story with you that he first told me around 1980 . . . after having sat on this little item for about 25 years. You see, he didn't want anyone to know, because he figured he was still wanted by the law.

 

My folks were living in Chaplain, CT with my four older sisters who were still very small. Becky was a baby. Daddy had gotten rid of the upholstery shop in Willimantic and was working out of a shop at their house. He had taken a trip in his flat-bed pick-up truck to New Haven down the Merritt highway which I believe ran between New Haven and Hartford, with Joyce Scammon's brother Herman, to buy supplies for the upholstery business. They had bought reams of cotton, springs and hundred pound boxes each of numbers 4, 6 and 14 upholstery tacks. The fourteens were the big ones: the ones they used to tack down the netting inside the furniture.

 

Their trip went fairly smoothly, I guess, although Daddy did notice about half way up the highway that traffic seemed strangely light. No cars had passed them and none were behind them either. He didn't think too much about it at the time.

 

So when they returned to the house in Chaplain, they went immediately inside to have a coffee break before unloading the truck. What they found was my mom and Joyce glued to the television. There were images of

cars and police cruisers all over the highway, each with four blown out tires. No one could get through. Although the police were desperately searching for the vandals that had spread upholstery tacks all over the highway, they couldn't get far at all before their tires would blow. There was a $5000 reward offered for the identity of the culprits . . . a huge amount of money for 1955.

 

My father of course ran out to the truck . . . only to find the hundred pound box of number 14 upholstery tacks broken open . . . and empty.

 

Of course Herman threatened to turn him in, but if you know anything about Daddy, you know that he made a serious threat to kill the guy if he ever breathed a word. And Daddy never did tell the story until twenty-five years later. And even then, we were sworn to secrecy.

 

Regardless, over the years, particularly when he wasn't well, I would beg him to tell me the story again. I wanted to preserve it in my own memory. And I loved the way he told it.

 

He was a master with words. It is ironic, I think, that as his health failed over the past few weeks, he became less and less able to talk. The last few days he was only able to communicate with the squeeze of our hand, a sigh, or the raise of an eyebrow. I feel so blessed that I had time with him, to share, and talk, and try to help ease him into the great good-bye.

 

At the very end, we were all around him. Suddenly the rattling in his breath stopped. Things grew very quiet, and he began to move his lips, talking to us. There was no sound, yet we watched, and tried to listen to his parting messages. For quite a while, his lips moved, marked only by hard swallows in between, as if he had something separate to say to each of us. You see, he loved us all equally, but differently.

 

I believe I know what he was saying to me.

 

“Help each other through this. Talk to each other. Do not lose yourself in anger, but rather, feel compassion for those who need it. If you need help, ask. Someone will be there for you. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Remember that drama belongs on the stage . . . there’s no need to create it in your life. Never treat people as if you are better than them, or as if they are better than you.

 

I am not afraid of death. I know that Bunny and my Mother, and all the others are waiting. My troubles will be over: all of my stress will evaporate, and you must take comfort in that. Know for a certainty that you will see me again.

 

Remember that at the moment of death you will not be thinking about the bills you paid late, or the house you didn’t keep clean enough, or the boss you didn’t always please. What matters is that you do good for the world.

 

Love yourself . . . love one another: because Love is the only thing that remains eternal. Everything else is temporary. And my love will always be with you.”

 

He grew very peaceful, gave a couple of quiet sighs, and was gone.

 

Words. They are not sufficient. But they are what we have while we’re here.

 

I want to thank you Daddy. For your love, your lessons, your devotion, and your humor. And Daddy, you don’t have to rush.

 

 

May 15, 2009

 
 

 

 

 

The Message


My father experienced some of the worst the medical profession could provide. He underwent a late-diagnosed treatment for NPH, Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus, which is often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s. At a Springfield, Mass hospital, they put a shunt into his head to drain the excess fluid from his brain. But the shunt gave him an infection. He was re-hospitalized, and they implanted a picc line, the heavy-duty sort of IV to put antibiotics directly into the system. That too gave him an infection. As he grew worse, he developed great difficulty in swallowing as well as difficulty speaking. The family met with the doctors and a feeding tube was implanted, with the purpose that he would get better. I had my doubts, but accepted everyone’s wishes as best I could.

            When I arrived at the hospital the day of this last procedure, he was yet to be brought upstairs. They had also opted to put in a new picc line. When they brought him back to the floor, he looked absolutely horrible. I helped them get him back into bed, vowing that there would be no more heroics.

While I sat with him, rubbing his back, a nurse came in and inquired about my identity. I said, “I’m Cathy, the youngest of his five daughters.”

“Oh,” the nurse said, “His other daughter, Brenda, just called a few minutes ago to ask how he was.”

I felt the blood drain from my face. “Excuse me?” I said, “Who did you say called?”

“His other daughter Brenda. Yes, I’m sure that was the name.”

I took in a breath. “My sister Bunny died in 1995,” I informed her. “Her birth name was Brenda.”

The nurse looked at me blankly. “It was some ‘B’ name.”

“Was it Becky, perhaps?” I asked, “I have a sister Becky.”

“That could have been it,” she said dismissively. “I knew it was some ‘B’ name.”

I could not see my father’s face, as I was behind him. It was extremely odd, and a chill went up my spine. Perhaps my fears that he would not get well were real. Or perhaps Bunny was simply looking out for him and it would get better. Or perhaps it was simply a coincidence.

Within a couple of days he was well enough to return to the nursing home, Poet’s Seat Care Center, which is closer to my mom. At least here she could see him daily, and the rest of the family could see him more as well. He was able to communicate some of the time, although his words were often unintelligible. The staff at the nursing home, for the most part, were stellar. They had gotten to know my dad before the procedure and they all adored him. It showed in the loving care they gave him.

I continued to visit him every other day. These were precious visits. As little as he could speak, he did manage to talk to me at times. At one point he asked, “Is this rough on you?” I paused, tearfully. “Not as rough as it is on you,” I said. Another time, I reminded him about a discussion we had had years before. We had both, though separately, had near-death experiences. They were incredibly similar, and did not involve the cliché tunnel of light. But there was an inexplicable sense of calm, peace and complete lack of stress. There was a sense of brightness and warmth. And there was a sense of our selves. I told him I just didn’t want him to be afraid. He said, “I’m not afraid.”

But, as I suspected, his condition continued to deteriorate. Within a couple of weeks, on a Thursday, they notified us that his lungs were filling with fluid and they were going to detach the feeding tube. They didn’t expect him to make it through the weekend.

The pain management was a difficult task. My sister Becky and I had to watch him writhe in agony at times. Finally, they increased his morphine to 10 cc’s every half hour. That, in addition to Atavan and Tylenol. As long as this regiment was maintained, and he lay on his right side, he rested comfortably for the most part. My mother, my sisters and I would all spend as much time as we could there. That Friday night, my sister Becky and I stayed the entire night, taking shifts to rest, but mostly staying awake. Saturday morning I went home and took a four-hour nap before returning to the Nursing home. I had not intended to pull another all-nighter, but by 11 o’clock I realized I would make it through. My other sisters and mother were exhausted. Becky said she would come later, but I knew she hadn’t had the benefit of a nap as I did.

So I spent the night alone with my dad. Alone, except for the staff, which included the nurse Martha. She knew that my dad’s mother, who died in 1992, was named Martha, as was my daughter. I was impressed with her kindness and efficiency.

 So I read from my Buddhism book some, talked to my dad some, and held his hand. I did manage to rest for a bit, only to awake every 20 minutes to check his raspy breathing.

By 5:30 AM I realized that I was exhausted. I called my sister Marilyn, who was staying with my mom, and asked if she could come in an hour or so to relieve me. She agreed.

I went back to the bed and took my dad’s hand. There was a pillow placed between his knees that protruded. I rested my head there for a few minutes, until I heard someone come to the other side of the bed. I sat up. It was Nurse Martha, of course to give the next dose of morphine. I smiled at her.

“Are you awake enough for a message?” she asked quietly.

“Yes.”

“Your sister Brenda called. She said that she’s running late, but she’ll be here soon.”

The entire world stopped for a moment.

“Excuse me?” I said again, “Who did you say called?”

“Your sister Brenda,” she said. As I remained silent for a moment, she continued, “I was sure to remember the name because I realized it ends in an ‘a’ like mine.”

My eyes filled with tears. “Martha,” I said, “My sister Bunny died in 1995. Her given name was Brenda.” Nurse Martha sat down across from me, her eyes filling with tears as well. “And,” I continued, “I received a message from Brenda at Baystate too, right after the feeding tube was put in.”

 I suggested that it was Becky that called. Martha agreed, but said she heard the name Brenda very clearly.

“He’s going to see her today,” I said to her. “My sister.”

 

I cannot explain the profundity I experienced in those few short moments. I was filled with elation. The first time I had received Bunny’s phone message, I had thought it strange, almost eerie. And my family had agreed. But as the few weeks in between had passed I began to distance myself from it, thinking it was, after all, a strange coincidence. But now this. This was no coincidence. And to come from one who bore his mother’s name. I felt completely blessed.

 

Later that day, I described the event to my sisters Becky and Gina. Becky suddenly startled and said she had just remembered something. The nurse she spoke to at Baystate was also named Martha.

My father died later that evening, on Mother’s Day, May 10, 2009. The end itself was peaceful, though he spent the last few minutes silently talking to us.

 

Most people I know hold some sort of belief about what happens to us after we die. People will say that we go to heaven, or experience rebirth, or that we see our loved ones. Most people have beliefs. But most do not have knowledge. I can now say that I know. I know we will see our loved ones. What ever happens after that, will remain a mystery until we experience it for ourselves. But I now know for a certainty that our loved ones are there, waiting for us, to help us cross over into that great mystery. And when it’s necessary, and appropriate, they will find a way to let us know.

I knew he would go that day. But I knew too it would be later. After all, Bunny was “running late, but she’d be there soon.”

 

I have been blessed.

 

 

Catherine King

05/26/09
 

Calm or passive?

How do we, as Buddhists (or any people for that matter) find the right balance between calm acceptance and simple passivity? I know that it is better to approach life without attachment to outcomes, and to practice acceptance of life as it is. But there are times that I am uncertain whether I am practicing this, or just becoming aloof and disinterested.

There are times I feel more skilled in walking this fine line, but of late I'm having difficulty  telling the difference.

Any suggestions out there?

Familial Karma

 

My sister, M, said to me, on the phone last night, “I must have been a very bad person in a past life to have so many bad things happen.” I replied that I take exception to the interpretation that bad things happen because of the negative karma we’ve earned, but that I’d rather look upon it as bad things happen so that we can earn good karma. She responded, “Yeah, well when does THAT happen?” “Sometimes in this lifetime,” I said, “but more often than not, in many lifetimes to come.”

My view reversal was actually prompted many years ago. A renowned lama had come to our town and gave a talk in a local church. My daughter, only seven at the time, had the courage to ask a question along with the attending adults. She asked him why people are mean to other people, why a child would have to go through being picked on by other children. His response was that classic, “You must have done something to earn bad karma in a past life.” This did nothing for my daughter’s faith in Buddhism, and even less for her self-esteem. It was immediately following the talk that I explained to her my reversed view: that I thought she was earning good karma by having to experience suffering. I believe so firmly in what the Buddha taught, and his ability to practice upaya, that had a child asked him this question, he would have responded in such a way. And the truth is, I think that is the only way for most Westerners to really comprehend it without giving up or rebelling. We are a young nation (as Obama reminded us), and we are such children at heart, that I believe this is the only way most of us can accept the idea of karma.

I understand the Buddhist view that it is our earned negative karma that creates hardship in our lives. My reversal interpretation of it is simply to avoid self-deprecation and loss of self-esteem. Especially for women (in Western society, at least), I think it’s important to escape the vicious cycle of self-blame. And the truth is, bad things happen to good people all of the time. This is part of “dukkha.” Life holds suffering, for everyone. I don’t think the point is to earn enough good karma to escape this. I think the point is learning how to handle it with wisdom.

However, I don’t think I’ve been handling things with much wisdom of late.

There is crisis in my family of origin, again. With aging parents who suffer from denial and hostility, my three remaining sisters and I are preparing to confront them today with what must be done. They have choices to make, and there are consequences to those choices. My sister M, living the furthest away, sees the reality but intends to utilize a form of punishment: the threat that she will not come back if things remain the same. My sister G, the eldest but disabled herself, appears to revel in being able to help them in the most productive way she knows how: by “loaning” her own Personal Care Attendant to baby-sit my father. And my sister B seems to be the most enabling, while taking credit for every little thing she does, thereby defining herself as a hero.

Then there is me. I live only a half-hour away, but I visit very rarely. Maybe once a month and then, only for an hour. I can’t bear the hostility between them. I can’t bear his helplessness combined with his refusal to do what he needs to do, such as using a walker or using adult diapers. He insists he can do the things he used to do, but then falls sometimes four or five times a day, leaving my mother to pick him up. With her, it’s her refusal to change anything in order to adapt better to the situation. She won’t move her gaudy, large furniture so he could actually get around with a walker. She won’t change which side of the table she sits on, even though his left hand was amputated (due to a rare form of cancer), and he needs her to sit to his left. She doesn’t clean the house, but refuses to accept outside assistance to get it done. She doesn’t advocate for him or herself medically, so treatments and tests end up short-lived and as failures. She has diabetes, but won’t wear her prescription shoes or adjust her diet (even though siblings have experienced both amputations and death due to diabetes), and she continues to smoke despite having COPD.

The latest was that he was in the hospital for tests for DPH, a treatable condition that is confused with Alzheimer’s, and could be the key to reopening his mind and his balance. But, because the hospital didn’t pursue his needed medications, and she didn’t advocate to make certain they knew and he had what he needed to stay calm, the test was aborted. He had been so restless that the lumbar drain became dislodged and the drainage stopped two days early. He was discharged. Upon their return home, he fell down four times. The last time was directly on my mother’s foot, and it was broken. She didn’t even go to the doctor. It was G’s PCA that looked at her foot and made her go to the emergency room.

I do believe he should be in a nursing home, but he experience this for a time last year after a bad fall, and now claims that he will kill himself if he has to go. This keeps my 75-year-old mother from calling an ambulance and picking him up herself after his multiple falls. It also keeps the rest of the family in denial of what should happen. If he remains at home, with no hired help, it will probably kill my mother first. She doesn’t take care of herself. I believe this is her own, quiet, rebellious form of passive suicide. In the meantime, they rage at each other, furious at the situation, each blaming the other for their life circumstance. And it leaves their daughters in states of denial, enabling, depression and our own quiet rage and passive suicidal behaviors.

These events have left me depressed for the past four days. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t want to try to exert control that doesn’t belong to me, but neither do I want to live in denial of the situation. I am confused how to apply my Buddhism to the situation. If I live in passive acceptance, is that not the same as denial? And if I attempt to exert control, is that not an unrealistic approach, when control is not mine to exercise? How can I be proactive without deserting my wisdom and compassion? I am at a loss.

If it is karma that has brought my family to this juncture, what is there to be done? Self-pity is not the answer. Self-deprecation is not an answer. Threats and ultimatums seem empty. The truth is, I don’t believe that this confrontation that will happen today is going to create any change at all. And this belief paralyzes me. I simply feel a sense of dread.

I know that the Buddhist answer is not that these things are happening, but in how I handle it. Perhaps knowing that is enough? It doesn’t feel that way. In all honesty, I don’t feel much like a Buddhist right now.

 

 

 


Mac's Anniversary

Tonight is the 2-year anniversary of the last night I spent with my beloved dog, Mac.

At nearly 15 years old, he became very ill on January 7th. I took him to the vet, and then spent three nights and four days in excruciating pain about what might happen. When my vet gave me the word that it was kidney failure and there was no hope, I begged him to let me bring Mac home for 24 hours before we put him down. He agreed.

I fixed him a nice steak for dinner, which he seemed to relish. Sparky and I shared it with him. I took some final pictures of him.
It was a long night, as I dozed on and off on the couch to be near him. He could no longer walk, and had to use puppy-pads beneath him, which he hated. He had never had an accident in the house, and was so uncomfortable with the lack of control. I even had to go to work for a few hours the next day, which was tormenting. But once I was home, the family and a friend gathered and we had a little celebration of his life while we awaited  Dr. Katz arrival.

It was a very difficult moment for us. My daughter, who had grown up with him, was devastated. We kneeled around him and talked to him as Dr. Katz gave him the sedative over-dose and he quickly drifted off to sleep, and then was gone.

This was the Obituary I sent out to family and friends:
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In Memoriam

Mac

April 8, 1992 – January 11, 2007

 

 

 

  

 We are deeply saddened to announce the loss of our beloved dog, Mac. He died gently at home with his loved ones around him.

 

Mac came to us in October 1994, only 2 ½ years old, when we lived on Fourth Street in Turners Falls. Two weeks after coming to us, he saved Cathy from the attack of a neighborhood dog. Mac graced the Shea Theater stage in 1998, playing Belle in ACT’s The Miracle Worker, when he was featured on the tv show, Real to Reel. He also starred, with the help of Martha, in a couple of commercials for the MCTV Telethon. One of his favorite activities was to ride in the Merkur and visit Pete’s grave at Green River Cemetery. On the first day we adopted Sparky in 1999, Cathy gave Mac a potato chip, but he turned to the side and put the chip down in front of Sparky, giving it to him. Mac continued to be generous through out his life.

 


He was afraid of thunder storms, and when he was young would often climb under the bed covers with Martha during a storm.

 

Mac loved living on Steve’s hill in Leverett. He loved to walk in the woods With the family, or just peruse the area around the shop. He walked around freely, acting as sentinel, as he’d circle the house, and was often found simply resting on the lawn or the front stoop. He was the best dog in the world. He never had an accident in the house, and would always bark to let us know if he wanted to go out or in, or even if Sparky did.

 

                                                           
He leaves his loving family at home, Martha, Cathy, Steve, Collin, and Sparky; also his extended family and many friends.

Mac’s passing is one of the saddest events of our lives.  His love and devotion will always live in our hearts.

Good dog, Mac.
 

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In March, I heard about the Menu Foods poisoning, that injured and killed many, many pets. Sure enough, I had been feeding one of the brands to Mac. Interestingly, when Mac was hospitalized, Sparky had vomited once, and he would never eat canned food again. Mac did love to eat, and he so often would eat most of Sparky's food too. He may have saved Sparky's life. What I also find interesting, is that the Buddha died from food poisoning, too.

I did join the class action suit. We are supposed to see a little reimbursement money in March. But they did not allow for pain and suffering, because by law, pets are property and not living beings. The laws must be changed.

It is two years later, and I still think of Mac everyday. I suspect Sparky does often, as well.  I especially miss him when it snows. He loved the snow. And it's snowing tonight, in his honor.

Mac is buried in the woods within view from the huge windows in the house. I marked his grave with a statue of Hoi Tae that I had painted black and gold. He will always be with us. And on this, the second anniversary of his passing, I give thanks again for him being a part of my life.  He was the most enlightened being I've ever known.

 





Forever With Us

 

The fates can grant no greater gift than unconditioned love,

Wrapped in a gentle package more tender than the dove:

To tug a toy or heartstrings joy, to ride the car with panting breath,

Or dance upon days-long return, or to defend in certain threat;

To stare upon the dinner’s fare, or lick the sweat away from skin;

To sound a happy, gleeful bark, or on the leg to rest his chin.

How grateful we to have that time with our devoted dog;

No word explains emotions felt in this, his sad prologue.

An emptiness forever rests within our broken hearts,

Yet through our grief, the tenderness will be its counterpart.

For well we know the absence of ability to stroke,

To feel soft fur or steamy breath, or spy him in the oaks,

Does not negate his presence, in our earthly, daily lives,

Forever will he stay with us, prancing along our sides.

And when the day that we depart finds us lost within the fog,

We know so well our hearts will leap when greeted by that dog.

What a long, strange trip it's been . . . .

A hodge-podge of thoughts . . . .

Wow. Hard to believe it's been a year since I've written anything here.

I just recently turned the big 5 - 0. It is a strange feeling. Mostly strange, because I don't feel much different than I did at 30. Well, physically, yes, there's been some deterioration. But in my mind's eye, I'm still the same person. Perhaps I am a little more confident. Afterall, who can tell you what to do or who to be when you've survived a half-century of jobs, men, friends, shows, rejections, acceptance, poverty, college, surgeries, surprises, disappointments, pure luck, mistakes, cruelty, kindness, wisdom, ignorance, politics, religion, birth, death and revelations? So why is it that I still have to remind myself of this? Why do I still have to convince myself, at times, that I am what I am and that's okay? In fact, better than okay. Is it because I'm a woman? Or is it simply because I'm human?

I still say it's unfair that I have to deal with hot flashes AND acne. You'd think I could have at least grown out of the skin issues when I had to start throwing the blankets off in the middle of the night.

There have been a few positive constants through out my life. Theatre is the first. My daughter, at least for the past 21 years, is the other. And my family, as wierd and irritating as they are, at least have been there. And there are several friends as well. For the past 11 my man has been a constant as well, for better or worse, so to speak. And my Buddhist studies have been there for the past 19 years. When I take stock, these are all tremendous things for which to be thankful.

One of the best things I developed (late into) this past year is that I began reading again for pleasure. I love it. Don't know why I gave it up. Perhaps it wasn't that I gave it up, but that I just never focused on developing it as a habit. That's not a good idea for a wannabe writer. Reading has at least inspired me more to write. Of course, I haven't. But the inspiration is there. That's got to count for something. Now I don't have the time to write because I spend my free time reading.

I finished "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle," by David Wrobelewski on New Year's Eve day. Very powerful. It was days before I even wanted to pick up another book. I couldn't get my head out of that world. Lots and lots of forums out there about it. People loved it or hated it. I recommend it, although it's important to note that it's a "Hamlet" based story.

Reading novels does have it's dangers for me. I tend to live in that world between the times I pick up the book. And some, like "Sawtelle," are so masterful that I live there for days or weeks, afterward. I want to write like that. But alas, I'm too busy with my everyday duties to devote the time and energy it takes to do this. Plus, I don't think I've read enough to be a really effective writer. So I guess that's the road my writer's journey has taken for the time-being. If I just keep reading, perhaps some of it will rub off on my by osmosis.

This past year I've done better with my health, too. I started juicing (no, not steroids!) and now have a fruit smoothie for breakfast and usually for a lunch a vegetable concoction. I'm getting about 12 servings of fruit and vegies a day, and I feel much better. Of course, I get a lot of complaints about my vegetable juice at work. When people first saw it and asked what it was, I told them, "it's vegetable juice." "But it's GREEN!" they all say. "Uh, yeah. Most vegetables are green," is my reply. Then they complain about the smell, and about the color. You see, where I work, apparently vegetables are little yellow kernels that come in a can, or round-starchy things with green coloring added. Or maybe they're donuts, or Kraft Mac and Cheese. At best they come in a thick, red sauce that one pours over long, off-white strands of pasta. Green leafy vegetables are against their religion, or, at least, forbidden in their culture. So, because of my Holy-Green-Vegetable God, I'm putting in for a transfer.

I stopped getting chiropractic care this year too. It wasn't by choice. My chiropractor, who I had worked for, closed shop. I had been getting aggressive, bi-weekly treatments for two years when it stopped. I do love that woman, and I learned a lot from her about my health. My regular use of the Neti-Pot, my drinking of Noni-juice, and my getting off almost every medication I had been taking for years, I owe to her. But I have to admit. My neck feels much better now. I have to admit it wasn't as good for me as I had been lead to believe. It was too aggressive. I do think I'm in better health than I had been in years, but it is mostly from the periphery of the treatment, and the things I learned about how dangerous pharmecueticals are and how the phamecuetical companies have this nation over a barrel: keeping us sick and then prescribing more and more medicines to treat the symptoms we get from being over medicated. It's a vicious cycle that makes this nation more ill than any other developed nation. I am now suspicious of any medication, and will do everything I can to treat conditions as naturally as possible. And I'm healthier than I've been.

Of course the contradiction in all this is that I still smoke cigarettes. But I was good: I went to an All Natural brand. When Massachusetts declared that all cigarettes sold in this state had to have fire-safe papers, I starting having head-aches everytime I lit up. I looked it up. The chemicals they put on the papers cause headaches and kidney damage. So I send away for cigarettes from out of state now. It's cheaper too.

And I still drink wine. Too much, in fact. Not too much everyday, but occasionally it sneaks up on me.

So I'm balancing out my bad habits with good ones. It's all a balancing act. Reminds me of when I was pregnant with my daughter. I had cut my cigarette usage in half, but wasn't able to quit. The doctor and nurses kept saying to me: "You need to quit. Your baby will end up being too small." About 2/3 of the way through the pregnancy, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Unfortunately, the health professionals didn't even know enough about it at the time. When I first found out the nurse told me to stop eating sugar and bread. Not exactly a well-rounded treatment for diabetes. When she told me the risks of not controlling the diabetes, she said the greatest risk would be that the baby would be too big. My response: "So give me a cigarette!" 

Just to follow up on that, I did go to a nutritionist, and then I brought the materials to my doctor's office to educate THEM about treating gestational diabetes with diet. And my daughter weighed 7 lbs 14 ounces. Just the right size. All because of diet and cigarettes.

But I digress . . .

I'm now looking at 2009 with tempered optimism. We have a new president. The economy sucks but perhaps it will improve. I've always been poor anyway, so ti won't take a lot of adjustment if I get MORE poor. And right now I have a job, with a second part time job of directing a high school musical. And there's a second part time job that's very likely to happen. So I can't complain in this moment about that.

It's a new year. I begin my second-half of a century. Doubt I'll complete it, at least in this incarnation. But that's okay too.