Monday, September 25, 2017

The politics of hate

That's the thing about dog whistles: Only those you want to hear its call can discern the full sound. So when the president of these divided states calls on NFL owners to fire the "sons of bitches" who protest racial injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem, you know he's talking about the black players, who should just shut up and be grateful they have a place on the team to begin with, and why on earth would they think that constitutional free-speech protections even apply to them? But when the white supremacist who currently occupies the White House is called on it, he can disingenuously say, "I said nothing about race, this is about respect for the flag and the armed forces, respect for the country. They're disrespecting our heritage." Whose heritage do you mean, though? Another dog whistle. And by the way, the armed forces respect the players' first amendment freedoms, for which they fought, so let's get real, this is just about the bloviator-in-chief throwing red meat to his base. Tellingly, he had nothing to say when Tom Brady declined to visit the White House, but he's all over Steph Curry's disinclination to take part in a victory celebration there. Guess which one is white and which one black? But beware, all this is a distraction from the real dangers at hand, the umpteenth effort to gut healthcare, give huge tax breaks to the wealthy, ban on immigration from Muslim countries, and round up and deport the undocumented in the most heartless manner possible. And so much more. Every Republican who stands by this president is complicit in the stream of dog whistles and everything else. This is the politics of hate. And it is toxic to the very air.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Cooking class

My cousin, Aunt Beulah's oldest daughter, combed through her parents' photo albums to put together a video memorial for her mom's funeral in hurricane ravaged West Palm Beach last weekend. She found some unexpected gems, like these two cooking class photos taken back in the sixties. Then five years old, she was living with us in Jamaica for a few months while her parents toured "the continent," as Europe was known in those days. My mother enrolled the two of us in cooking classes, and my cousin has very detailed memories of seasoning chicken with vinegar and even having her picture with oversized chef hat end up in the local paper. She's a fine cook today. As for me, until I saw this evidence with my own eyes, I had no memory whatsoever of being in that class. That's my mom beside me in the second picture, her face half hidden by my cousin's headwear. I look as if I am serving her a cup of tea, while cousin is offering a slice of cake. If you can't figure which one I am in the lineup above, I'm the chubby one, and my cousin is the littlest. I guess you can't fault my mom for trying.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Bright morning

My husband was downstairs, sitting on a bench in the bright morning, waiting for a colleague from work who was coming by to visit with him. This woman is leaving the museum where they've both worked for years, he as an ichthyologist, she as a mammalogist. She's moving to England to take up a position with the natural history museum of Oxford University. She's German, and thrilled that, despite Brexit, she'll have more ready access to home. She travels today, and couldn't leave, she said, without saying, not goodbye, just see you later to my husband.

Before she arrived, our heart son E. came out of his building, which is opposite ours. He saw my husband sitting there with his hands crossed over the curve of his cane. E. came over and sat with him, and they struck  up a conversation in the bright morning.

Moments later, one of our complex's security guards walked up, a Jamaican man we laugh and share stories with all the time. He has jokes, this one. I like knowing he's out there, watching over my children as they come and go. Soon after that, my husband's work colleague arrived, and they all sat around talking in the bright morning.

They asked my man about all he has recently been through, and in his still hoarse whisper he told them, "Once I decided I wanted to live, then I knew I had to say yes to the operation, and that meant I was also saying yes to everything that came after, the pain of recovery, the slow road back, everything."

Our security guard friend cleared his throat. "Look, man," he said sternly, "no fooling around, now. You better get all the way better, because I never had a father, and I'm telling you now, you are a father figure to me."

"Me too," E. said quietly.

"Me too," my husband's work buddy said.

My husband looked taken aback. He put a hand of over his heart and just nodded, humbled.

It was a moment I won't ever forget, shared by a little cluster of people sitting under the trees on a bright Sunday morning.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Saturday


My daughter's boyfriend's mom (on the left in the photo above, with my girl and her guy) drove to the city from upstate to drop off some suits for her son, who starts his new job with a big data finance firm this week. His sister also came, and she made the most delicious baked ziti and a salad, and brought it over to our house so we could all have lunch together. His mom is a kindergarten teacher, and she was saying that they had a cradle in her classroom, but no baby doll to fill it. Why not a stuffed animal, my girl said, and ran to her former bedroom to find one from her childhood that she didn't mind parting with. The stuffed toy, and the dog my girl is taking care of for a vacationing neighbor, got into the picture too.

The upstaters left in plenty of time to get back home in daylight. The rest of us went out for a walk just now, in the dark, because my husband hadn't yet done his outside walking for the day. He was tired after our visitors left, and inclined to blow it off, but I knew he would feel better if he got in at least one walk. God has a sense of humor, I told him, because never in a million years would we have imagined I'd be the one pushing for us to go walking not once, but twice each day. The fact that these two lovely young people came along for the jaunt made it less like medicine and more like fun. I love that they live nearby. They helped make it a simple good day.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Tinkering

I remember when my children were little, and they were sick, my world got very small. Everything but their misery ceased to matter. I realize now what a luxury that was, that I could be relatively assured whatever ailed my babies, they would in all probability get well again, and the rest of the world would be allowed to reassert itself.

My world is small again, this time because the man I love has gone through a tremendous health ordeal, and his body is actively healing. My sister in law, a cardiologist, reminded me yesterday that recovery from open heart surgery is a squiggly line, not straight up. It helps to think of it that way, so I'm not too undone by the nurse practitioner telling us to come to hospital right away so she can do an EKG to check that my man's speeding heart is not in A-fib, which thankfully it was not, and so she sent us home again, with instructions to stop the medicine to raise his blood pressure and instead fill a prescription for a new medicine to lower his heart rate.

Today, it's about the number on the scale, which is somewhat higher than at the start of the week. It would be just a pesky detail for most of us, but for a cardiac patient it means a water pill gets added to the mix for five days and then we check in with the nurse practitioner again. She's feisty older Irish woman, and she scolded my man roundly for not taking his pain meds.

"We're not just giving out candy here," she said, exasperated. "We don't want you to be in pain because it stresses your body while you heal. That's why your heart is beating so dang fast. Trust me, you don't get any ribbons for having a hundred pain pills left at the end. Sheesh, you remind me of my father."

"I'll take that as a compliment," my husband said in his raspy whisper, his eyes dancing as they do.

NP O'Malley cocked an eyebrow at him, unable to hold in her smile.

"Well, yeah," she said grudgingly, "but it's a very thick compliment."

Those were some of the squiggles this week. On the up side, the physical therapist just left and while she was here she showed my husband how to propel himself up from the chair with less pain and greater efficiency, and how to get in and out of bed without putting undue stress on his sore heart and still knitting breast bone. "A Eureka moment," he said, beaming. It's so simple when you know the tricks.

So yes, my world has contracted, this time without the rock solid assurances I recall feeling in the past. In their place are prayers and purpose and hope and belief in the will of this man and the intelligence of his body as it heals and heals and heals.


Our daughter wrote corny jokes on her dad's heart pillow, the one they gave him in the hospital to hold against his chest to cushion his incision when he coughs. One of the jokes in particular had our girl giggling all day. What does a nosy pepper do? Get jalapeño business. Man, the tickled her funny bone. "A whole internet of jokes and that's the one that grabbed you?" her boyfriend inquired, more amused by her than the joke. "But it's funny!" she insisted, and was off giggling again. From his hospital bed, sick as he still was that day, her dad smiled at his delightfully silly girl.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Day by day

I'm so glad Hurricane Irma wasn't as damaging a storm in Florida as it was feared to be, at least in terms of human life. I know there is extensive property damage, and whole swaths of the state are still without power. But my dear Aunt Beulah's funeral, postponed because of the storm, will take place this weekend in West Palm Beach. I'm sad I won't be there. Over here my husband is navigating infusion specialists, visiting nurses, a weekly phlebotomist, and a rumored physical therapist, not to mention a roster of follow up appointments with doctors of various specialities. We also take twice daily walks. I am trying to do as advised by my husband's aunt, whose husband had major open heart surgery 20 years ago now. She said, "Don't look ahead. Don't be impatient for milestones. Don't assume anything should be further along than it is. Just meet each day as it comes and let the healing happen." It feels good to write that down, to look at it plain.

I worry about new things, but even that is progress, because the things I worry about now are no longer life and death; I'm fairly certain he will survive. He has survived, and now it is just quality of life things like when will his full voice return, when will his back be once again strong enough, pain free enough, for him to retrieve an item from the floor or to push out of bed without wincing. I lie awake sometimes in the deep of night researching different aspects of his recovery on my cell phone. Dr. Google is not usually very comforting. So I fall back on his aunt's advice: Day by day.

Late last evening, I sat next to him on the bed, giving him his nightly infusion treatment. It's a series of steps involving two saline syringes, one medicine syringe, and one heparin syringe to keep the tubing clear of clots. I have to disinfect the port of the PICC line embedded in his upper arm before and after each step, remember to open and close the clamp at the proper time, and to replace the green alcohol cap over the receiving end of the port when we're done. It's careful work, with the medicine itself to be delivered over a period of not less than 5 minutes. My hands in plastic gloves, I wield the syringes and the tiny square sterilizing pads, while he times the delivery of medication on his phone. My daughter and son also know how to do all this. We were all present on the night the infusion nurse came to teach us the process.

Last night, though, it was just my husband and me in the apartment, both of us concentrating on getting everything right, bound by a process out of the ordinary of our lives. The moment felt deeply intimate, the two of us on the bed, heads bent over, in a new configuration of together.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

So long, hospital room view, our man is home

He was discharged yesterday, with a fat sheaf of instructions, six prescriptions, plus the infusion medicine that will continue for six weeks. Without putting his private medical information in the public square (more than I already have) he was a very sick honey. The night before surgery, he thought it might be his time, and then he decided no, his children still need him, and I do too. He decided.

He's home, now, the incision scar on his chest knitting together nicely, black stitches peeking out. He woke this morning and pronounced the night in his own bed "the best yet." Our son had arranged his pillows just so, and its architecture, combined with his dad's utter and complete exhaustion, worked its magic. No doubt his first shower in days also helped. No more sitting on a bathtub bench. He's standing under the water again, his back strong enough, the painful spasms mere ghosts now. The medicine is working. Of course, he's still weak; he walks slowly and gingerly. It is extraordinary to watch the body coming back online after its functions were essentially paused, as machines breathed for him and pumped his heart. I am shocked, happily so, by how far he has come in six short days. On this day one week ago, we did not yet know that his doctors would crack his sternum to perform open heart surgery on him the following morning.

Both our children were here with us last night when the infusion nurse came to show us how to administer the IV treatment. In between these twice daily treatments, he is to walk outside twice a day, two blocks to start, increasing the distance every day. We are lucky to live in a complex with garden paths, and benches along the way. This will be good for me, too. I will certainly walk alongside him, and by the end of a month he is to be walking a mile daily, which means I will be, too. File under the category of silver linings.

It turns out my husband's insurance is good: The at home treatments are one hundred percent covered. He has also racked up an impressive number of sick days at work, almost a year's worth, which he will burn through before having to go on disability. All things being well, he will be back at work long before that happens. File under the category of things I am insanely grateful for.

Meanwhile I am worried about our family and friends who are in the path of that monster category 5 hurricane, Irma. It already blew through Antigua and Barbuda, where my husband is from. Our family in Antigua seems to have come through okay, but Barbuda, their tiny sister island, was ravaged, almost leveled. Photographs my brother-in-law sent us show a torn up landscape strewn with sticks and debris, very few houses left standing. Now, as yet another hurricane takes aim, this one a category 2 named Jose, due to arrive on the weekend, they are evacuating the entire population of Barbuda. I cannot even imagine it.

At this moment, Irma is over the Virgin Islands, heading for the Bahamas, where we have more relatives, and then on to Florida where a whole contingent of our family lives, from West Palm Beach up to Orlando. My Aunt Beulah's funeral was supposed to be in West Palm Beach this Saturday, but they've had to postpone it because of the hurricane. My uncle, his youngest daughter, and her wife boarded up the house in Ft. Pierce and drove to Atlanta yesterday to catch a flight to San Francisco, where my cousin and her wife live. They left at noon and it took them till past midnight to get to Atlanta. The highways were bumper to bumper with evacuees.

I haven't yet mentioned that one of my mom's two remaining sisters had a stroke on the same day my husband went into surgery. She is mostly okay, no brain bleeds, just weakness on one side. She is in good hands as she lives with her children. Another cousin, Aunt Beulah's middle daughter, when she heard the news of my husband's heart surgery, said, "Our family is really being tested right now." And we are, but so is the rest of the world. These are difficult times. And yet there is still so much that mitigates our trials. My son mused, "Do bad things really come in threes or do we just start over counting when we get to three?" I found that oddly profound. For myself, I find everything a little easier to navigate if I don't actually keep score.

To my dear Florida friends here, please know I'm sending prayers for your safety through the coming winds and the rain. I hope that monster storm gets blown off course, way out to sea, and that all you receive from it is a watery kiss.


My daughter sat on the windowsill of her dad's hospital room watching the sun rise the morning of his surgery. We got to the hospital at 4:30 AM to be sure we would see him before the gurney arrived to transport him to the OR. 


The surgery lasted six hours. As the hospital is nearby where we live, we went home for the first four hours, then headed back to wait for news in the cardiac floor waiting room.


The monitors and drips and wires in the intensive care unit were something to behold. I asked the nurse what each number meant then sat there watching them obsessively as they dipped and rose, dipped and rose, all day, all night.


My son finally made it home from the hurricane that had trapped him with a wedding party in Cabo, Mexico. By then his dad had been moved out of the ICU and into a private room with a view.


My daughter's boyfriend was a prince, there for us the entire time. During the surgery, my daughter was my rock. He was her rock and I am grateful to him, so much more than he can truly imagine. 


The sky was spitting yesterday morning as I escorted my man home. While we waited for the car to pull up, he walked out to the sidewalk and into the light drizzle. "Come back inside," I begged him, but he turned his face up to the gray sky and said, "No, this feels wonderful."


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Open heart

My husband had open heart surgery yesterday morning, six hours in the OR as we held our breath, but he came through it like a soldier. The first hurdle cleared. They woke him briefly in the later afternoon to test his neuro functions, his responses indicated no cognitive impairment as a consequence of the surgery. The second hurdle cleared. This morning at 5 AM they woke him from the sedation again. They removed the tube from his lungs and began working with him on restrengthening his lungs and everything else. Later they got him out of bed and he sat up in a chair for a couple of hours. We sat with him, mostly just being there, as talking for him was an effort, a hoarse whisper, and he had to concentrate on breathing deeply and clearing the fluid from his body. One day out, all things considered, he's doing well. But there are many more hurdles ahead on the path to full recovery. If you had told us at the start of the week that we'd be in this place five days hence, would we have believed it? And yes, the need for open heart surgery was related to the month of severe back pain and spasms, which turned out to be the secondary condition, and thank God for doctors who were medical detectives, and a flashy, cocky Italian surgeon ready to cut and replace a damaged, malfunctioning valve, and now, tonight, two whirling dervish nurses, two tornados determined to make my husband well, monitoring his pain, his numbers, beating on his back till he coughs up the sticky stuff, strapping massage cuffs on his legs, one nurse the teacher, the other an intern, both of them sent by the angels. He looks so much better tonight. Like himself. Telling me a story. Another hurdle.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

State of things

My husband is in the hospital. Tests and more tests. I can't really talk about it except to say we are finally getting some answers, and they are not easy ones, and we are picking our way through the medical maze.

My daughter was supposed to fly to LA tonight to see friends and on hearing the latest news, at the gate, decided not to go. The airline gave her a full refund, bless them.

My son is in Mexico for a wedding, left early this morning. He was with us last night when his dad was admitted, so was our girl, and it seemed that we finally knew why he wasn't getting better, the MRI had showed the problem, and all that was left was treat it. Except as the doctors investigated further they turned up another underlying problem, possibly the source, which had been asymptomatic while doing its damage, and now surgery is being talked about, really serious chest cracking surgery, and the alternative is pretty scary, too.

My son knew none of this before he left, or he wouldn't have left, and now he's trying to get a flight home, except hurricane bands are now pummeling Cabo and the airports are closing down. He's so upset to be far away. He and his dad were talking on the phone, both of them crying.

That big strong man, making jokes from his hospital bed. And then getting news this afternoon and becoming quiet. Life twists on a dime, and then twists again. We're running to keep up, believing in grace.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Family


It's been great having my niece and nephew here from Jamaica this week. Their big sis, who now lives in New York City, has been taking them around, showing them the sights. They're easy to have; they don't emerge from their rooms till noon, and rather appreciate that I don't have an issue with that. If I don't happen to be in the kitchen when they're ready for breakfast, they get out the frozen waffles and the fresh strawberries themselves, the maple syrup and the whipped cream, and they build their preferred concoctions using said ingredients.

I suspect their breakfast at home is rather healthier fare that store-bought frozen waffles, but hey, I'm the aunt, this what they said they wanted. One week won't hurt them. They spend inordinate amounts of time staring at their phone screens, and I don't complain about that either. They look up enough to engage in conversation about all manner of subjects. They're both brilliant students, aces in school, and opinionated, like the rest of the family. Being bright, opinionated and analytical are fine foundations for scintillating exchanges of the mind. I love getting their take on the world.

My daughter is taking them to Smorgasbord in Brooklyn today. That's an outdoor food festival with vendors selling all manner of exotic fare. My nephew in particular is a budding foodie, and will enjoy himself tremendously. His sister will go along.

I haven't written about my husband's progress. Yesterday everything seemed to be going backwards. He is not better. He has grown quiet. We will see what the new week brings.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

"I will not die in front of you"


Aunt Beulah slept off peacefully at 10:51 PM last night as her three daughters stood around her bed. For most of the day, they had monitored the almost imperceptible rise and fall of her breath. And then, the last soft gurgle. The nurse came in a moment later to check her vitals. Aunt Beulah's daughters said, "We think she's gone." Every death brings back all the others. This one was expected, so why does it hit so hard? Uncle Quintin had gone home to get some sleep and wasn't there when Aunt Beulah died. I think she chose that. The hospice nurses say it is hard to die in front of those who love us hardest. It's been a difficult August. But now Aunt Beulah is beyond all that earthly suffering. I hope she hugs my mom for me, as surely Gloria was among those who came to meet her. (I saw the title of this post on Rebecca's blog. I don't quite recall the context, but that phrase has been echoing in my head all morning.)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Between worlds

My cousin told me this morning that their father told Aunt Beulah last night that he released her, and that it was okay for her to go. She said a Jamaican nurse at the hospice told him he needed to do that, or she would keep hanging on.

Aunt Beulah, my mom's second youngest sister, has been unresponsive for weeks now, and everyone expected when they took her off the ventilator on Monday she would not last much longer. Instead she made it to the hospice, where she has been resting all week in an airy room large enough for her husband and three daughters to stay over every night if they choose to. She has opened her eyes occasionally, but mostly she sleeps, traveling, as we say, between the worlds. She seems peaceful, and it has also been healing for her daughters to be able to spend this week at her bedside, watching her rest without the tangle of tubes and IVs and wires and beeps, all the intrusive machinery of dying.

My cousin believes her mother heard what their father said. She said her mother's breath is slower and shallower this morning. I think it must be a blessed thing at the end of life to let go with all the people you love best around you, loving you back.

That's Aunt Beulah, back row center, loving on one of her babies. Her other two daughters are the uber cool one in the red dress, and the tiny one front row left. They are outside their home in the Bahamas, where my cousins grew up, before they all moved stateside. The eldest now lives in New York City, the middle one in Boston, and the youngest in San Francisco, but they are all in Ft. Pierce, Florida with their parents these last weeks, keeping the final vigil.

We were talking about Aunt Beulah when we gathered for our anniversary a couple nights ago, all of us aware that she is close to the end. She and Uncle Quin were with us for Thanksgiving last year, along with their three daughters and two grandchildren. I'm so grateful for that now. Aunt Beulah was in good spirits, telling us all again and again that she and Uncle Quinn had been married 60 years. It was for her the salient fact of her life on a night when everyone was giving thanks. 

She didn't always recognize us, as she has suffered from Alzheimer's for the past few years. But, as we were saying two nights ago, even when she didn't remember your name, or who you were connected to, she knew she loved you. The love just beamed out of her, so that the vivid transparent green of her eyes lit up with it. I am remembering the remarkable color and warmth of Aunt Beulah's eyes as I sit here, waiting for news.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

L-o-v-e

We had such a lovely time last night with the crew, my kids and their partners, my niece and her partner, and my brother, niece, and nephew visiting from Jamaica—eleven souls in all. Since my husband is still navigating a lot of back pain, even as he moves around more, we opted to celebrate at home, in very low key style, ordering in Peruvian braised chicken, broccoli with garlic, black beans, and sweet plantains. The women folk sipped red wine at the kitchen counter while chatting and laughing with my daughter who was making her famous blueberry peach pie. The men sprawled in the living room watching pre season football, and that's just the way the gender roles fell out although there was liberal mixing back and forth among everyone.

Later in the evening, we all raised a glass to our 31 years of marriage while belting out a rousing rendition of the Nat King Cole's anthem "Love."

L is for the way you look at me
O is for the only one I see
V is very, very extraordinary
E is even more than anyone that you adore


I don't know why, but every single one of us knew all the words of all the verses. My older niece, the de facto master of ceremonies, started it, my daughter and my younger niece picked it up, and pretty soon we all joined in at the top of our lungs, joyously and riotously performing that thing. We sounded like a drunken saloon. Even my husband who looked on dubiously at the spectacle of us at first, was singing along by the end. It was the highlight of the festivities, which wound down around midnight. Most of us have to be at work this morning, though my older niece took the day off and will be back here shortly to squire her younger brother and sister all around the city, shopping for back-to-school supplies and taking in the sights.

My son's girlfriend wrote us the most beautiful sentiment in her card: "I feel so lucky that I get to witness your love for each other; it is so special and true. I love how you share it with your family. It's like a big hug you never want to let go of." I want to remember her words, especially on an evening made somewhat more poignant by my big strong husband's sudden frailty. It brought home our vows made three decades and a year ago, in sickness and in health, come what may. We were both wiped out as we fell into bed at the end of the evening, but our hearts were brimming. My husband said, "Everything was perfect." And it was.










Wednesday, August 23, 2017

31 Years


When we met

 

When we married


Today marks 31 years of marriage for the man and me. I would do it again in a heartbeat, knowing what I know now. Faster than a heartbeat. Happy anniversary, my love. I am grateful for every moment of this journey with you, then, now, always.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Love engine

My heart is in Ft. Pierce today, where my three cousins, my loves, will undertake a heartbreaking and courageous act of daughterly love. Aunt Beulah, your brothers and sisters in the forever are standing by, joyfully awaiting your return, but hopefully not today. Uncle Quinn, our arms and our love are holding you now. Allyson, Cathy, Carla, you have given and are giving from a fountain of magnificent love, abiding faith. Our entire family is with you in spirit today and always. Please kiss Aunt Beulah's forehead for us. Tell her she's been a shining example of love and devotion and laughter her whole life long. Tell her I feel Gloria close by. Tell her, please, how very much she is loved, how eternally blessed we all have been, to be hers.

I wrote that on Facebook this morning, because in Fort Pierce, Florida, at 1 this afternoon, my three cousins and their dad will be taking my Aunt Beulah off the ventilator that has been breathing for her for the past week. They had planned to do it on Friday, but my uncle said, no, he wasn't ready, give him till Monday. He's a doctor and knows that even though the plan is to transfer my aunt to a lovely, light-filled hospice, she may not make it there. Since her stroke two weeks ago, she has weakened progressively and for the past week has been entirely unresponsive. I imagine her spirit has already flown, greeting her brothers and sisters who have gone before.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to have to make the decision to take your beloved of more than sixty years off life support; to wake up and know that today is the day your mother, who has loved you superbly all your life, might die. As her youngest expressed it to me late last night, "Mommy is a love engine." On waking this morning, my throat was full of tears, and I knew the rest of the family, scattered as we are geographically, were all gathering in spirit around Aunt Beulah's bed. On my phone, I wrote how I was feeling and posted it. I wondered if it would be painful to my cousins that I had acknowledged before the fact what we all know is possible, that Aunt Beulah might leave us today. I don't know, but the rest of the family welcomed the post, so I am putting it here too. To mark this day.




That photo was taken on Uncle Quinn's 90th birthday earlier this year. Aunt Beulah is 88, the fifth of the six Stiebel sisters. A love engine, indeed.

Update at 6 PM : Aunt Beulah is at the hospice and is resting comfortably, surrounded by her family in a spacious room with a sunny private terrace. A moment of peace, a respite for them all, thank you God.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Housefull

My brother and his two younger kids, ages 16 and 13, arrived this morning and will be with us for the week. Their older sister is my niece, the dentist with the edgy new asymmetrical haircut. She and her boyfriend went to a wedding in Baltimore this weekend, and posted this picture. They sure do clean up nice.


My daughter is thrilled her Jamaican cousins are here. She worried that after their grandma died, they wouldn't see each other as much, and she's happy to know she was wrong. She, however, is in St. Lucia with her boyfriend. My son and his girlfriend are also there. It's all sun and sea and night life, and I believe they're having a good time. My daughter posted this picture of herself on the beach they grew up on, across the street from their grandma's house. They all return tomorrow.



As long as I'm posting photos of beautiful young women in my family, here's one of my niece taken earlier this summer, on the night of her high school prom. When on earth did she get this grown? Her brother, too, now a teenager, is taller than I am. He used to be so uninterested in the rest of us, and now he's fully and delightfully engaged, to very comical effect.


Back in New York, my husband is on the mend, sitting up most of the day, and moving around the house with his cane. You can tell he's been sick. He's unshaven, which he usually isn't, but he did manage to shave his head a couple of nights ago, so he looks more like himself. He's quieter than usual amid the hubbub. I realize how much I miss his voice telling stories. Our living room was full all day. Along with our houseguests, my niece and her boyfriend came over, and we all just hung out, chatting, intermittently watching TV, catching up. There's not much else report, except that day by day, my husband is getting better, and that's everything. Thank you for all your comments and concern. I'm so grateful to have this community of souls. I felt your prayers and wishes for healing. I think they're working.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Freedom is an act

"During the Civil Rights Movement, our struggle was not about politics. It was about seeing a philosophy made manifest in our society that recognized the inextricable connection we have to each other. Those ideals represent what is eternally real and they are still true today, though they have receded from the forefront of American imagination. Yes, the election of Obama represented a significant step, but as the following election and all the days beyond that high point in American history have proved, it was not an ending. It was not even a beginning; it was one important step on a continuum of change. It was a major downpayment on the fulfillment of a dream. It was another milestone on our nation's road to freedom. But we must accept one central truth as participants in a democracy: Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society. The work of love, peace, and justice will always be necessary, until their realism and their imperative takes hold of our imagination, crowds out any dream of hatred and revenge, and fills up our existence with their power."

Rep. John Lewis in Across that Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America





A handful of students stood at the center of the white supremacists' torchlit rally in Charlottesville last weekend, decrying the hate. The hostile crowd pressed in on them, shouting epithets, but the students did not flinch. They held their "Act Against White Supremacy" banner high. I was afraid for them, and I loved them, too. This is courage. This is freedom, caught in the act. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

I heart this

On Facebook, my husband's younger brother posted these words: "I pray for the restoration of his health and the continuation of the joy and happiness we see here in his face."

Thank you, Bruce, both for the prayers and for that wonderful childhood picture of two brothers who love each other very much. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Pooled light





12.59 a.m.

I can't write all my fears here. I feel as if I must be brave, wear a brave face. So what's the use of writing anything then? It doesn't feel true. I listen to him breathing in the dark. It sounds labored. I'm scared.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Morning in the city

I went out early this morning to get the man a neck brace. His back is improving slowly, but now his neck is giving him hell, as he's been using it to stabilize his spine for the last two weeks and some. The heating pad has migrated from under his back to under his neck, so a neck brace seemed to be in order. He is now dozing with his neck immobilized. Before that, he walked to the bathroom and back without bracing against the walls much. He said he felt as if he was a misshapen C, but in fact his posture was straight and tall. It meant his back was holding him up without unbearable pain. I took it as a promise.


It felt peaceful strolling the city in the early morning. It's a beautiful day, not too warm, not in the least bit humid, the light falling at an angle just so. The man at the medical supply store was a bodhisattva, showing me the pros and cons of different braces, letting me know that if I needed it, they could deliver whatever else I might require. I don't know what it was about him. He just seemed so calm, so grounded and kind. It was impossible to think in a catastrophic way in his presence. I left feeling as if everything will be okay, I just have to give it time.


Photos:
1. Barnard College, my alma mater. Those are the windows of the English department on the fourth floor. I knew it well. I was an English/Writing and Geography/Cartography double major. Such a long time ago, now. And yet, a blink.
2. Pomander Walk is a hidden Tudor-style village right on 94th Street on the Upper West Side. I lived in this city for decades before I even knew it was there.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

News

My husband seems to be turning a corner. If he's not yet fully around it, at least he's able to see around the bend to what lies ahead. Please hold a good thought.

Meanwhile, Trump is tweeting about poll numbers and fake news while North Korea tests nuclear missile warheads that could conceivably reach Chicago and even Washington D.C. He has made no comment whatsoever on the bombing of the Minneapolis mosque over the weekend. His lack of comment speaks loudly to his base.

Everywhere, people are struggling it seems, with physical challenges, emotional upsets, and one devastating tragedy in the life of someone we love. I'm trying to be present for people without allowing my perspective to turn gloomy. I'm trying to live in the light, which commonsense tells us exists in equal measure to the shadow.

It's later now. Maybe I lied about turning the corner. Tonight it looks more like we're still on approach. The muscle spasms are back. The slightest uncalculated movement brings them on, even running and jumping in his dreams. 




Monday, August 7, 2017

Happy 91st birthday Aunt Grace!

My mom's third youngest sister is 91 years old today, and she wears it as gracefully as her name. There she is with two of her nine great grandchildren. The photo below is of two of her eight granddaughters, with another one of her greats. She also has one grandson among those eight granddaughter girls.

I've probably lost you in all the numbers, but here's another cherished one: Aunt Grace is one of the six girls in my mom's family, and they stayed extraordinarily close their entire lives. Three of the six, including my mom, are gone now, and the youngest two are not doing well. One had a stroke last week and is in the hospital as I write this. She also suffers from Alzheimers. The other is in and out of hospital with respiratory issues, and is too weak to travel anywhere else. Aunt Grace is the only one left who is up and about, jet setting between her children in Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Vancouver.


Those are the Vancouver granddaughters. There are four of them. The one that's missing now lives in Alberta with her husband and five kids. As you can see, our birthday girl has spawned some good looking offspring. In case you think that's an accident, here's a photo of Grace when she was in her early twenties. She was a beauty then, and she's a beauty now, inside and out, but even more than that, Aunt Grace has a delightful wit, and it doesn't quit. Her laugh rings out like bells.

Aunt Grace lives in Toronto, and loves having her own apartment, even though her two daughters both live in very elegant houses with suites set aside for her. Aunt Grace has many friends in Toronto, people she calls her "angels." Her daughters flew to be with her for her big day. She is the sister whose voice is so like my mother's even their own children couldn't tell them apart. That she is 91 today, and doing well, fills my heart to bursting.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Lifers at the farm


A group of them went to the farm this weekend, a mini reunion. I swiped this pic from Snapchat. These two were schoolbus buddies at four years old. They're all grown up now, and living on different coasts, but they still get together with the gang at the farm come summer, their soul cluster, all of them still close. I wanted a happy picture at the top of my blog because I don't want to dwell on the fact that my husband's painful spasms have not let go. Still, the X-ray showed no fracture of the spine, and no disc herniation or other misalignment, so the trend is positive.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Day 10


Found on tinybuddha: "We can't control everything. Sometimes we just need to relax and have faith that things will work out. Let go a little and let life happen." I am trying to remember this in the moments, and to be grateful for the rather expert help offered by our children. We have no answers, despite yesterday's blood work and X-rays, and the fierce inquiry of my husband's doctor, a tiny, brilliant woman who is anything but laissez faire. With her on the case, I trust answers are on the way.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Day 6

It's a calm blue day outside, not in the least bit humid, a gentle breeze rustling the leaves. I am mostly stuck inside, cranking through my daily 1,000 words and caring for the man whose back muscles stopped cooperating almost a week ago now; they haven't been cajoled back into service yet. Walking remains excruciating, but his appetite is slowly returning, and his mood is gentle. He is a better patient than I would have thought, considerate, undemanding, not crotchety as I thought he would be, and angry at his incapacitation. Instead he reads, is reflective and wryly humorous. And he's appreciative, though he doesn't actually say so. But I know how to read him; I know what the hand on my head in the middle of the night means. Oh how I wish him better. There will be more diagnostic steps to take once he is able to move around again, without such blinding pain. What brought this on? How to prevent its return? The body is a mystery.


Our son, keeping his dad company.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Light and dark

There's a lot going on, life happening. My husband is in a lot of pain with muscle spasms in his back, walking is excruciating for him, and our son slept over last night to help out. Our daughter just texted that she's coming over tonight to cook us dinner so we don't have to think about that, and my God how lucky and blessed we are with our children. I am humbled with gratitude for them. My son took his dad to the ER yesterday, and I think his EMT uniform got them moved through a little more quickly than would otherwise have happened. Just as I never worry about a situation being well handled if my husband is present, I realize that now I feel the same way about my children.

As for the current president's decree yesterday that transgendered people should no longer be allowed to serve in any capacity in the military, I hope someone sues his office and forces the courts to overturn him. Some say the tweeted decree was his effort to distract people from the health care shenanigans playing out in the Senate, another atrocity, but if that is so, it just shows the extent of his soullessness, that he could conceive of such inhumanity in the name of distraction. He is empty to the core, a yawning dark hole of malevolence. We will not be sucked into its maw. We will resist him and his enablers.

In the meantime, my daughter and her boyfriend are dog-sitting again this week, a chilled-out little guy named Beau. Last weekend they sat for a puppy named Ned, who they said was a cute little monster, who had to be walked incessantly. In the middle of the night, after cleaning up Ned's mess in her brand new apartment, my girl logged onto the dog sitting website and changed her profile to say no dogs under nine months, or who are not house trained. That's a picture of her holding Ned. I love when she dog sits because I meet her in the courtyard and stroll along with her as she walks the dog. Loveliest exercise ever.

Please send a good thought for my husband, that his pain goes away, that he can walk firm once more. My son says I am trying to will him better on an unreasonable timeline for what he has. Only time and rest will fix things, he said. The meds aren't fixing anything; they don't even take the edge off the pain. 

Patience, grasshopper. 




Monday, July 24, 2017

Thank you, Gus



Gus Trowbridge's book Begin With a Dream tells the story of Manhattan Country School, the progressive elementary and middle school my daughter attended for the first decade of her life in the classroom. It's a memoir of how Augustus Trowbridge, whose forebears made the family fortune as merchants in the triangle trade, would use his privilege to found a school in which there would be no racial or economic majority and where each child would, in the immortal words of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Gus and his wife Marty were utterly inspired to do this work by Dr. King. Gus once told me how he and Marty sat in front of their TV screens watching the brutality that transpired during the 1965 March on Selma, and in that moment they knew they would have to do something to rebalance the scales of privilege in America. They would devote the rest of their lives to doing that. "Differences must be immediately experienced, treasured and understood," Gus wrote in the school's inaugural brochure, "because a school that avoids differences places education outside the context of living."

As an editor, I ended up being a sort of midwife to Gus's book and I believe it is work I was meant to do--work I was honored to do. Perhaps it is why I happened across this small progressive school in the first place, and why its very walls whispered to me that this was to be my daughter's place. Surely it is why, the first time I heard Gus speak at a conference about his life's work, I went up to him afterwards and gushed, "You need to write a book about this." He looked somewhat startled, I was a stranger to him then, and he stammered, "Well, I'm trying to do that." Gus was retired by that time, and was no longer a daily presence at the school. But four years later, he approached me in the living room of the school, which was then located in what used to be a very grand townhouse on the margin of the Upper East Side and Harlem, and he said, "Well, I have completed a draft of that book, and I would like it if you could read it and tell me what you think." It was the first time we had spoken since the day I so presumptuously suggested he write his story.

The next day when I dropped my then fifth-grader off at school, Gus had left for me 600 single-spaced pages in a binder. Over the next year, working together, we reorganized and edited the book down to 353 pages that tell the very moving story of a man committed to a mission despite all manner of obstacles, and a school committed to realizing the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My daughter is immeasurably richer because of her foundational experience at this school, and its working organic farm. But not just my daughter, our entire family was positively imprinted by our connection to this "beloved community." Thank you, Gus, for the lifelong friendships forged, the minds opened, in a school that sends children out into the world as people of conscience, courage, and purpose, as connectors, as healers, as change-makers. Thank you, Gus, for using your life to pursue our highest good. The world is a better place because you were here. Rest In Peace. You've so richly earned it. Your legacy will live on.


Augustus Trowbridge
August 14, 1934—July 09, 2017

This appeared in "Remembering Gus Trowbridge." I'm re-posting it here for my own record, and because I believe good ripples out. Gus's vision and purpose changed us all.

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