Monday, May 20, 2013

Sisterhood is powerful

I often check out women with flat chests to see whether they’re flat or just small breasted. Because since I had my bilateral mastectomy seven years ago, I’m always looking for other members of my tribe. It can get a little lonely being the only ambi-Amazon. Plus, I want to figure out whether what they’re wearing works.

On my flight back from San Francisco the other day, I was amused to notice that another woman was checking ME out. I hope it made her day to see a sister.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

No place for old men (or women)

One of the conundrums of elder care is the sense that you should do something, anything, to make your parents’ lives better. But whatever you do is likely to actually make them worse.

Take my parents, for example. My mother suffers from dementia: Her memory is failing. Her speech is so unpredictable that even she seems perplexed by what comes out of her mouth. Her moods range from cantankerous to enraged. Yet she remains the boss, and no one can write a check or make a decision without her imprimatur. Which is a problem, since sometimes she likes to tease by withholding it. She’s like a little boy who lobs rocks into a hornets’ nest for the excitement of it. 

And my father falls for it every time. Though he’s by nature a kindly soul, he’s also a mostly rational one, so her perversity sends him into tantrums of frustration. 

My father’s brain is faring somewhat better than my mother’s, but his hearing is so poor that he often gets the wrong end of the stick, which makes him paranoid. His eyes are going too, and he reads with bottle-glass specs and a magnifying glass, which makes for spotty comprehension. 

Mail is a nightmare with its special offers and faux URGENT stamps and the tendency for the important stuff to end up in recycling and the junk to be saved. 

The two of them spend their days feuding with each other and searching for lost letters. 

They have round-the-clock home aides, who are extraordinarily competent and kind. They seemed like salvation five months ago, when they first began. But now that the roof is leaking and the toilet overflows as often as it flushes, they seem insufficient. 

But getting a roofer to repair the flashing or a contractor to replace the too-narrow waste line or anyone to come in to sort the mail would cause overwhelming disruption. They resist the notion of assisted living, and they’re probably right to do so. A change of that magnitude would make them lose what little of their minds they have left. Plus they’d never speak to me again.

So like Californians waiting for the inevitable earthquake, I too wait for the “big one,” the cataclysmic event that will clarify what I should do. Till then I just wait and watch.

My last image of them before I left for the airport after a nine-day visit was my mother dropping food into her lap and onto the floor, as she does at every meal because for some reason she doesn't like to sit close to the table, and my poor old 90-year-old dad, unsteady on his feet, plunging the most godawful sludge from the toilet. He plunged and plunged and plunged, and the bilge didn’t budge. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It sometimes takes a couple hours.”

Bye, Mom. Bye, Dad. See you in a couple months.

Today's yoga homily grit

When I was little, I used to confuse homily with hominy. Easy to mix them up. And if you think of grit as being a small morsel, you might be inclined, as I once was, to refer to a short sermon as a homily grit. 

In her homily grit today, my yoga teacher had us all focus on our breath, and then she pointed out that simply observing your respiration changed it—slowed it and deepened it and eased it.

That’s part of the magic of yoga: the simplest actions—even inactions—cause a cascade of benefits.

Things I wish I had

“Button your lip” was something adults used to say to kids when I was young. At the time, it was an unwelcome instruction. Recently, though, I was thinking about how convenient it would be to have an actual button—or zipper—to fasten your mouth shut. It would keep you from snoring when you wanted to sleep on your back. Nice also would be a button for your partner’s mouth to keep him from snoring too. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Oldsters do the darnedest things

When the home aides rebelled against cooking with the past-dates food from the deep freeze, my father finally capitulated and threw out all the mastodon-era steaks and Jurassic frozen peas. It must have cost him dearly. The thing was packed with ancient foodstuffs. In the end, he decided to just shut the thing down and not use it at all—as a freezer. But, he found, it makes an excellent file cabinet for old documents that he wasn’t quite ready to throw away. 

The trouble with nonverbal communication is ...

... that it’s nonverbal, so you have no idea what the hell it means.

I had a really juicy cold last week, but I didn’t want to miss the wake of a friend’s father. I didn’t know the father, but the daughter is a close friend, and I wanted to support her. So I packed my pockets with Kleenex and set out on the bus. By the time I got to the funeral home, my supply was depleted. The service had begun, so I took a back seat on the inner aisle and tried to keep my sniffling unobtrusive. 

At one point, there was a call-and-response prayer. I’m not Catholic, and I refrained from responding.

Suddenly a woman across the aisle snatched my hand. Oh! I thought, I didn’t know Catholics held hands during services. I thought that was more a, you know, Unitarian kind of thing. I looked around and saw that no one else was holding hands. Oh, I thought, she’s chiding me for not participating in the responses. 

It finally came to me later that she wasn’t chiding me at all. She had heard my sniffling and assumed I was overcome with grief.