I can’t find my keys

Really, I can’t find my set of keys that hold, not only my car and house keys, but all of those little tags they give you with bar codes that give you special privileges — like discounts at the food market, drugstore, and gas station. It also had my library card on the ring. And a tag that gives my phone number in case the keys are found.

Since I haven’t gotten any calls, I assume that the keys are somewhere in the house. I keep looking. For all I know, they fell into the trash at some point.

There is a place to hang our rings of keys right by the front door when we come in. But I forget to do that.

When I was my mother’s caregiver, and dementia caused her to hide stuff all over the place, I bought a set of key finders and attached them to her keys and her wallet. I would press the remote and the beeping would lead me to the lost article — sometimes tucked in the corner of her pillow case, sometimes in a purse at the bottom of her closet, sometimes under the mattress. Once in the refrigerator.

So I just bought a set of key finders for myself and attached one to my spare set of keys. But I don’t have all of those tags, and now I have to replace them all. I have one “key” finder that can be stuck to the back of something like the tv remote. I think I’ll stick on the back of my iPhone, since that’s the other thing I keep misplacing.

It’s bad enough that, more and more often, I can’t find the word I want to complete my thought. Now it’s my keys that get lost. What’s next? Me?

end of her days

She spends most of her time in a cocoon she makes of my quilt. Sometimes she buries her head; sometimes she stares into space.

I don’t know if it’s her 9th life that she’s nearing the end of; over the past 17 years she certainly has gone through several, including last February, when I (and the vet) thought it might well be her last.

They were are able to diagnose and treat her then for pancreatitis, and she rebounded. But not this time.

The blood and other tests the vet did the other day indicate she’s healthy. Except she’s not. Her x-ray showed some weird pockets of fat where there usually aren’t any. More tests might figure out what that’s all about. But I have decided that there will be no more tests. She’s 17 and has had a good life.

She’s been coming to sit (or get into her “begging” position) at my feet and make strange staccato meows as though she’s trying to tell me something. If I pick her up and put her in my lap, she makes a whining sound low in her throat. If I pet her, she sometimes hisses.

Obviously, something is wrong.

She eats a little. Uses the litter box a little. Sometimes she stops whatever she’s doing and just sits, silent and glassy-eyed, as though introspecting.

So, I’m just giving her “comfort care” until the next stage of whatever is going on inside her. When she becomes “uncomfortable,” I will take the next step and end her days.

She has been my one close and constant companion, has been with me through the deaths of relationships, the deaths of family members. I will do for her what I tried to do for them — the best I can to make the end of her days easier.

Her name is Calli.

my “walker purse” project

As I spend time trying to engage folks at the assisted living center and small memory impaired community, I notice that those using walkers seem to need a handy place to keep tissues, cough drops, and other small items. This seems especially true for the women; men seem to just load up their pants pockets.

So, my new project is designing and making “walker purses.”

An online search for “walker bags” turns up all kinds and sizes, even some hand made. One of the women in the memory impaired unit has a beautiful quilted one, which must have cost close to $40.

I like combining yarn and fabric, so I made a couple of samples that I’m going to ask some of the women to try and and let me know if they find them useful. If they do, maybe I’ll make more and try to sell them through the facility’s gift shop or online.

Like all walker bags, mine loop over the front bar, providing an accessible pouch for a few necessities. They are 10 inches wide and 6 inches deep, are lined with the fabric trim, and are fastened with velcro. I’m wondering if I need to add a zipper along the top — although that would be a lot more work and would therefore make them more expensive.

It’s no Eden.

A volunteering moment: A memory-impaired nonagenarian pats me on the butt. I just ignore it, since earlier today, for the first time, he actually conversed with me and willingly participated in a group activity. I can’t save the world, but today I make a sad old man smile.

Twice a week I volunteer at a geriatric facility that includes folks in assisted living (where I lead “Trivia” and other such group sessions) and a separate space for individuals who are memory-impaired (with whom I sing songs, share photographs and stories, go out for walks, and even play kids’ games). I think doing these things is my way of compensating for the fact that so much of this world is in such a large scale mess that I have no power to affect any of it in any positive way.

I don’t have the money to contribute to saving abused animals, abused environments, and abused people; listening to Sara McLachlan sing in the ASPCA commercial only makes my distress worse, so I avoid even doing that.

Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all of the horrors of the “big picture,” I cut out a piece of the “little picture” that I might be able make a little better. Maybe this geriatric facility is not the worse place in the world for elders to find themselves, but it’s no Eden, either. However, it is a place where I can make a difference without the effort impacting me in a negative way.

As a matter of fact, I’m always surprised at how much of the time I spend with these folks that I actually enjoy. Sometimes I even get inspired in crafty ways that I’d never expect.

For example, I noticed one woman had a really pretty quilted pouch attached to the front of her walker. It’s just big enough to hold some tissues, a few photos, and a pair of glasses. You can buy similar ones online for about $35. It’s a handy little item that I realized other women who use walkers would find helpful. So, I’ve been inspired to design my own version that combines crochet and fabric. Maybe I’ll try to sell them online. Maybe I’ll just give them as gifts. Either way, I now have the kind of creatively useful project that I like to work on at home as I sit around in the evening and watch escapist television.

In her post today on Time Goes By, Ronni Bennett confesses to having become a “cowardly” about dealing with the overwhelming problems in the world around her. She says:

Confronted with calamity – personal, private or global – I have always been strong, eager to understand and self-confident in my ability to do my best to help when I can and pass the word on to others who might have more resources than I.

Now, I’ve become a coward. If I cannot look at the photos, will not read the news stories, won’t listen to the appeals for starving children and abused animals, how can I possibly be part of any solution.

In a real way, it’s my similar cowardice that has led me to volunteer where I do. I can feel I’m helping to make the lives of at least a very small part of the human population a little better, in only three or four hours a week. And, as it turns out (as it so often does when you give of yourself), I get back unexpected appreciation and inspiration.

Although I can do without the nonagenarian’s pat on the butt.

If you want it but it doesn’t exist,
create it.

I moved into this town two years ago after a decade of taking care of my mom. It took me about a year to get over the stress and tension of living with my (demented) mother and (set-in-his-ways) brother for several years. And then my mother passed away.

For a year after that, until now, I have been trying to find a place for myself in this larger community. I joined a gym but found it all very depressing (and expensive). I joined a quilting group, figuring that I like to sew and might enjoy it. But I didn’t for all kinds of reasons, including that I have neither the space where I live nor the design talent and experience to get into quilting. And I find it boring to quilt from a kit.

So, I did more knitting to keep me busy, but that didn’t fill my need for community connection. I tried a couple of book clubs, but they never talked about the books and I didn’t quite fit in with the memberships.

So, I joined the Jewish Community Center, mostly for the Zumba and aerobics and gym facilities, and that helped to get me out of the house. But it still wasn’t what I was hoping to find. The JCC offers some other programs that I might have taken, but they were all at night (and I don’t drive at night) and cost more than I can afford.

So, I joined up to be a Hospice volunteer, got trained, and just met my first assignment. That was a start, but not exactly to the point.

What I miss from my old life are the people with whom I worked and the groups to which I belonged in which I took some leadership. Some were peer discussion groups; some were expressive arts therapy groups. They were groups that dealt with substantive personal issues and opened doors to creative and spiritual exploration (even though I am an atheist). I always made friends with people in those groups because we had those interests in common.

So, I went on a search for a group — preferably a therapeutic group dealing with elder issues or major life transitions.

Uh uh. No such thing. Not even within a 25 mile drive.

So, I drafted a proposal to start such a group under the auspices of the Jewish Community Center, and, since I am a trained study circle facilitator, I volunteered to lead such a group.

I’ve done that before — started a group to which I wanted to belong. It has worked in the past for me, and I’m hoping it will work again.

If it doesn’t, with the SAD season starting, I’m going to find it tough to muddle on through.

Oh well, I’ll think of something……

dealing with that disturbing “D” word
– being a midwife to the dying

Death is the final taboo in our culture. We can talk about illness and religion, politics and sex, gender and race issues, but the D word is still difficult for people to utter in polite company….

From Last Acts of Kindness: Lessons for the Living from the Bedsides of the Dying, by Edith Redwing Keyssar.

I have a unique relationship with death. My father was an undertaker, and we lived in an apartment above his business. Contemplating death and dying — my own and others’ — has been a part of my life since childhood. I have sat vigil during the hours and days of the deaths of both of my parents. At the age of 71, I am closing in on my final years. I have no control over when or why I will die; but I am learning about the choices I have about “how”.

After leaving a comment on a post on Time Goes By about Judith Redwing Keyssar’s book (quoted above), I have had a chance to read that book myself. And, doing so comes at a particularly relevant time in my life as I await my first assignment as a hospice volunteer.

During the intense training that I had to undergo, I learned about my role and responsibilities as part of a hospice team and examined my reasons for choosing this kind of volunteer service. I found that the experiences that Keyssar shares in her book take whatever personal motivations I have for becoming — in her words –“a midwife to the dying” and draws them into an even greater context of compassionate and cosmic significance. As part of her stories, Keyssar reiterates the point that it doesn’t matter what one believe about an “after-life;” the focus of her message is to live fully while embracing the fact that we, after all, are all “terminal.”

At the end of her book, she provides a list definitions, internet links, and bibliographical references if the reader chooses to further explore the range of information available about compassionate care during the final stages of life.

The final chapter in Keyssar’s book is a poetic Epilogue (see below) that captures the intent and the spirit of the mission of those who choose to honor and celebrate the final, fleeting days (and sometimes months and years) of a human life by becoming part of a palliative care and/or hospice team.

Epilogue
Job description For Any Member of a Palliative Care Team

I am here to witness
the sacred hearts
broken open.
Friends,lovers, families
whose loved ones die in their arms,
in the homes, in their beds, in hospitals or other places.
Peacefully, nor not.

I am her to witness
the sanctity of human life
as the spirit is released from the temple
to join once again, with the invisible cellular infinity
of the Universe,
the mitochondria of the Milky Way,
becoming energy to light the stars,
since we know —
the energy we manifest as a particular human being,
like any other,
can neither be created
nor destroyed.
God, by any other name by any name, by many names,
by no name,
Is
One.

I am here to witness
the breath
as it enters the body
and exits for the last time.
The miracle of birth.
The miracle of death.
The miracle of each moment in between:
Life
the infusing of consciousness
into each and every cell
enduring every moment
we are here
on earth.

I am here to witness
to feel
to experience
to honor
to know that Love is eternal.
to share this blessing
in gratitude.

and to perform any other duties
required.

Last Acts of Kindness is a book that should be read by everyone who expects some day to die.

____________________________________________________________

As I was writing this post, today Ronni Bennett at Times Goes By posted another piece that includes additional thoughts on death and dying. The conversation continues.

the condition of my condition

It was 104 degrees in the parking lot outside of my doctor’s office this afternoon. I parked near the door to make sure that I only had to walk a few steps from my air conditioned car to the air conditioned office. The older I get, the more such heat really bothers me.

And, am I ever glad that, when I used up every last cent I had to build onto my daughter’s house so that I could move in and have my own space, I was able to include putting in central air. It’s been a life saver all this week as the temps have consistently risen along the east coast. I’ve only gone out of the house to get into the car and run errands at other air conditioned venues.

Spending so much time in the house has motivated me to do some cooking (chicken cacciatore tonight), work on my no-pattern sweater that’s knitted in sections of mitered garter stitch, begin making a special banner for my college class’ 50th reunion this fall, and do a few exercises on my wii.

I’m making a concerted effort to improve my physical condition. I’ve weaned myself off the anti-depressant I’ve been on for several decades, and I’m working on doing the same thing with my Nexium prescription. It’s a very slow process, getting off any kind of long-term meds, but it can be done without major withdrawl effects. To help getting off the Nexium, I’ve halved my dosage and started also taking digestive enzymes and probiotics. It will take me months of slowly tapering off before I’m ready to leave the meds behind. There are some horror stories on the net about rebound effects from stopping too soon. Patience and persistence, I tell myself.

I need to repeat that phrase often these days as I begin trying to lose some weight. My sciatica is acting up even though I do the prescribed stretching exercises several times a day. Carrying around fewer pounds should make some difference in that condition, as well as my always-high cholesterol levels. Patience and persistence.

On Monday I’m going to join the nearby Jewish Community Center so that I can join some exercise classes and participate in some social activities (i.e. book club). The membership is cheaper than any health club and it’s got better facilities and programs than any health club I’ve ever seen. This “identity crisis” in which I have been foundering (after 10 years of focusing on caregiving my mom) is slowly abating. Patience and persistence. And a really good therapist.

From here:

If groundhog is your power animal it is time to explore
alternative states of consciousness.
Pay attention to your dreams and try meditation.
Study a specific subject or area of interest.
Take up a Yoga class and learn to relax.
Dig beyond the surface to get to the truth of important issues.

I did a little online research and learned that it’s possible to tame woodchucks/groundhogs. I wonder if I could tame our resident one enough to let me pet her (I assume it’s a her because she’s got a little one following her around and males leave soon after the babies are born).

the chalice of pain

This is my response to Magpie Tales’ visual writing prompt #42. You can find the responses of others by going here.

The Chalice of Pain

Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass from me! Father, all things are possible to thee, remove this chalice from me!

Pain. We all feel pain. We all would rather not feel pain, and those in pain usually can let you know where it hurts and how badly it hurts.

Except if they have dementia.

There is a false assumption that those with dementia don’t feel pain because they often can’t articulate that fact in ways that are obvious — especially with words.

From “Pain and Dementia,” referenced above:

Over time your family member may lose the ability to speak or may not make sense when they do. Therefore, it is very important to be able to recognize behaviours or actions that indicate pain. Some of these pain-related behaviours include the following:
* frowning, grimacing, crying
* swearing, moaning, calling out, noisy breathing
* fidgeting, pacing, rigid posture
* guarding an area of their body, not wanting to move
* hitting or striking out
* withdrawing or resisting when someone is helping with personal care
* refusing food
* change in appetite, rest periods, or sleep patterns
* increased confusion, crankiness, or distress

From “Behavioural Changes”:

* Sudden changes in behaviour are important to recognize as these are often the only clue that an older person is sick, getting worse in their dementia, becoming depressed, or having a side effect from a new medication.
* Attention to your family member’s behavioural and psychological symptoms are key to improving and maintaining their quality of life.

A recent PBS Frontline program, “Facing Death,” documented the pain suffered by both family (emotional pain) and those dying from dementia and other illnesses (both emotional and physical pain.) You can watch the program at the above link. Also of great insight are the comments left by viewers.

From “What happens when elderly people die?”

…fewer than one in five people can have a peaceful end, since ‘dying is a messy business’ for which relatives are unprepared. He continues: ‘Too often, patients and their families cherish expectations that cannot be met, with the result that death is made all the more difficult by frustration and disappointment with a medical community that may be able to do no better.’

Relatives who expect aware deaths may become angry and turn their anger onto doctors and nurses when death takes other forms. Dying people often need psychosocial support, but the potential for introducing this occurs only when the dying phase is identified. This is not always possible in trajectories 2 and 3….. [2) long-term disability with periodic exacerbations and unpredictable timing of death that characterize dying with chronic organ or system failures (some cancers that respond to treatment and then relapse come into this category); (3) self-care deficits and a slowly dwindling course to death from dementia.]

After watching the Frontline program and hearing how the doctors explain the options to the families of dying patients, it seems to me that there needs to be more honesty from the medical profession about the dying process, its inevitability, and the benefits to the dying of making those patients as pain-free as possible.

Maybe, because I grew up above a funeral parlor operated by my father, a funeral director – maybe, because I sat at my father’s bedside while it took days for him to die of cancer (his mind was alert and he chose to die at home with a certain amount of pain) – maybe because I survived the excruciating pain of a breech birth and thought I had died and now I’m not afraid to die – I feel strongly that, when death is close at hand, it should be welcomed as a relief from pain and that pain (for example, of old organs failing, of agitated dementia) should be aided by pain-relief medication.

On my bookshelf is “Final Exit,” which I bought a long time ago out of curiosity about peaceful “self-deliverance” when my time comes, especially if that time comes riddled with pain.

But it becomes a lot more complicated if a form of dementia has stolen my ability to communicate my pain and my wishes. My daughter knows that I’d rather die in peace than die in pain.

In the story of the Garden of Olives, even Jesus pleaded for the chalice of pain to be taken from him. No one wants pain, although we often are willing to bear with a certain amount of it if it’s going to get better. But the pain of dying does not get better.

Somehow we need to be educated about that fact so that we hold the best pain-free interests of our dying relatives in mind.

The Deathwatch Diary (Final)

My mom is gone. She died peacefully 11 hours after she was taken off the morphine drip as a result of my brother’s insistence. She never woke up. I guess our collective magic worked. Or maybe it was just that her time had finally come.

I have gone back with my brother to his house to get her clothes ready and find her rosary. Tomorrow I will go and stay with friends in Albany until the funeral later this week in Yonkers, where our family is buried.

My brother will finalize the funeral arrangements. I am tired of getting into arguments with him.

I write this clumsily on my iPhone because my brother has disconnected his wifi that I use for my netbook because he doesn’t want me blogging. Well, isn’t that just too bad.

He is already harassing me about crumbs on the floor and too many lights on. I thought my mother’s death might diffuse his nastiness toward me. Wrong, again.

But I will get through this and then go home. And not come back.

The Deathwatch Diary (Four)

Atheist though I am, I still marvel at the awesomeness of synchronicities.

All afternoon today, as I cried and blogged and cursed, and my brother argued, and my mother lay still and panting in her hospital bed, the fat gull flew and strutted around the roof outside my mother’s window, screeching, The sound was like fingernails on a blackboard. There was no ignoring it.
So, I googled “seagull totem” and found this, which I share here:

Spiritual Messengers

Sea Gulls are messengers from the gods, especially ancient Celtic deities.

They bridge the gap between the living world and the spirit world.

Opening yourself to their energy enables you to communicate with the other side.

Sea Gull can also give you the ability to soar above your problems

and see things from above. Seeing all the different viewpoints.

Better than any fortune cookie.

And then, went I went outside to get another book from my car, I found the item in the photo below in my book bag, and I hung it on the rack on my mother’s bed that is supposed to hold IV bags.

It’s the talking stick that I and my five women friends jointly and ritually made from a root, stones, feathers, ribbon, yarn, thread, spangles, and even a golf tee. Crone magic of a very special kind.

My daughter chants to set my mother’s spirit free. And I embrace roots and wings for my own spiritual sustenance.

Such everyday magic, these synchronicities.