Personality

Personality counts. Especially in certain cases, like when you’re getting an ultrasound or another diagnostic test that may be cause for worry or concern. The technician who performed some tests on  me yesterday had almost zero personality. She led me or rather shuffled to the exam room with me trailing behind.  She opened the door and pointed to a paper “gown” that I was to put on. It wasn’t a really gown, but rather a sheet made of paper towel material.

She said, “Is that a dress?

“Yes,” I said.

“Take the dress and your bra off and put the gown on so it’s open in front.”

“Okay,” I said.

When she saw I was undressed with the giant paper towel wrapped around me, she said, “Lay on the table.”

A remake of “Lost in Love” by Air Supply was playing on her CD player / radio. One of my favorite love songs when I was a college freshman.

It seemed incongruous with the proceedings.

The technician begrudgingly pulled out the lower part of the examination table so my calves would not be dangling off the bottom.  The table squeaked when she jerked it down, and it was still too short for me. I’m only 5’6″. How must it be for really tall people?

“I’m going to do the echo cardiogram first,” she said. “Lay on your side.”

“Okay,” I said.

She slathered gel on my chest and starting moving the wand over my flesh.

I felt like a canned ham covered in jelly.

“Now lay on your back,” she said.

The next song that came on the CD player/radio was another remake of an easy listening song.

After ten or fifteen minutes she said, “Now I am going to do the other test.”

“Okay.”

When it was done, she said, sans expression, “You can get dressed now.”

She didn’t offer me any paper towels to wipe off the goop, so I grabbed a few I found near the sink and used the paper towel “gown” to wipe off the rest.

“When will I get the results?” I asked.

“You can go to the front desk, and they will tell you.”

“Thanks.”

She didn’t turn around to convey the information to me.

As I said, personality does count. But as long as she’s good at what she does, I guess it doesn’t matter all that much.

Scarlet Widow

(google image)

Don’t ask
don’t tell
A good widow
stays in the shadows
doesn’t mind the stares

I wear my wedding ring,
a source of confusion to some
I will wear it as long as I need to

So many questions

The lady at the nail salon
wanted to know
all the gorey details of the car accident
while trying to upsell me
on an acrylic manicure.
“I’m trying to save,” I said.
“I only have one income now.”
She said, “You’re lucky to be alive.”
I laughed and said, “I guess.”
I didn’t go back there again.

A good widow knows her place
A bad one has a scarlet letter
carved into her heart

She tries not to upset your
sensibilities

She tries to remember her place

Don’t burn her at the stake

 

 

Truth or Dare

I haven’t spoken to Mom since Christmas — bad daughter.  Yes, I am. I haven’t had the energy or the desire, I suppose, and I haven’t wanted to hear her rebukes, such as, “You haven’t come to see me in so long!”

When Lorin and I lived in New Jersey, I saw her once or week or at least biweekly. Now it’s once a month. I haven’t got time for more pain, and I’m living far away.

A nurse called me from the Actors Home and asked if I could calm her down since she was ranting about being poisoned, again.

This is nothing new.

She shrieked into the phone, “”When are you going to get me out of here? I’m being poisoned.” Then, “Where have you been?” and “You only think about yourself, or dear ole Daddio.”

That pulled the trigger.

“Mom, I have to tell you something.”

“What?”

“Lorin was killed in a car accident. That’s why I haven’t been calling or coming around.”

“Oh no! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I didn’t want to upset you, but it’s time that you know.”

She started to cry or it sounded like crying. “I’m so sorry.”

It felt good to tell her the truth. I have spared her so many truths, but I am tired of lying to her, even if she has Alzheimer’s.  I have no more time for lies and obfuscations.

“And I’ve moved out of state,” I said.

“What? Why?”

“Because I can’t bear to be in New York since Lorin died.”

“But you dumped me here and now I’m alone in this God-forsaken place! Where are you?”

“I’m living in Savannah, Georgia.”

That didn’t seem to register. Her brain must now have been on overload or “tilt.”

“You have to get me out of here. Take me to Grandpa’s house . . . anywhere.”

“Mom, Grandpa is dead. You can’t go there.”

“There’s a room for me there.”

“I don’t think so, Mom.”

More crying.

“I’m coming to see you on Saturday,” I said.

“But that’s not soon enough. You have to get me out now.”

“It’s in three days. Can I bring you anything – soap?”

“Yes, please bring me the lavendar soap. They took that away from me.  And someone scribbled all over my Wuthering Heights. It must have been Lorin.”

“Lorin wouldn’t scribble in your books.”

“Did you bury him?”

“He was cremated.”

“Oh. I’m so so sorry. I’ll pray for you.”

“Thank you. Try to relax. I’ll be there soon.”

“Okay. Jack took me to confession.”

“Oh, good.”

“He prayed with me.”

“I’m glad.”

“I have so many sins. How will I ever be forgiven?”

“It’s okay, Mom.”

More crying. The phone and she sounded far away. I waited for a while, then hung up.

No more lies.

 

 

Yardley English Lavender

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(google)

A bar of soap isn’t just a bar of soap.

For example, there’s Yardley English Lavender–Mom’s favorite.

Last week she said, “I meant to tell you to get me more soap.”

I went into her bathroom and saw three bars of soap–not whole, maybe two-thirds used–but nevertheless, Yardley English Lavender.

“Mom, you have soap,” I said from the bathroom.

“Really?”

“Yes, want to see?” I said.

“Okay,” she said, wheeling into the bathroom. She turned on the faucet and started to wash her face and hands.

“Smell it,” I said, handing her the bar. She sniffed it.

“Okay, thank goodness. Yes, that’s it.”

Her aide Christina* came in the room later and said, “I wanted to ask you to bring your mom more soap.”

“But she has three bars in the bathroom,” I said.

“Yes, but she tells me, ‘That’s not soap.’ She likes the big bars,” she said.

“Okay, I’ll bring some next time.”

Christina nodded and smiled.

Before I left, I said to Mom, “Remember, you have soap. There are three bars in the bathroom.”

“Okay,” she said.

I had a feeling this was not the end of the Soap Saga, so I went to CVS and bought three “real” bars of Yardley English Lavender.

Last night after work I stopped by to visit Mom.

I saw the night nurse Jared* on my way to her room and said, “I’m bringing her some soap.”

“Ah, the English soap,” he said, smiling.

“Yes, she loves it.”

It was 7:30, and Mom was already in bed.

“Do you want to watch some TV?” I asked.

“No, I’m sleepy,” she said.

“I’ll put your soap right her next to you, okay?” I placed the bars of soap on the rolling table next to her bed.

“Yes, that’ll be fine. You didn’t have to come today to bring it.”

“No, I wanted to. I didn’t want you to have to wait.”

“Thank you, dear.”

I kissed her on the forehead and said, “good night.”

“Good night, dear.”

I told Jared, “She was very sleepy, so I put the soap by her bed.”

He said, “You didn’t have to come all this way to just to bring her soap. I could have picked some up at Walgreens.”

“It’s okay,” I said.

Sometimes soap isn’t just soap.

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(google)

*Pseudonyms used for staff members at Actor’s Home.

 

 

 

Square Pegs Can Win

A square red peg hammered into a round hole surrounded by small pieces of the peg. Hammer in background. On a white background. Selective focus. Metaphor for a misfit, incompatibility.

(google)

Ever feel like this?

Me too.

But, as my husband says, “Square pegs can win!”

We are both making a concerted effort to break out of the round holes and be our true selves, wherever that may lead. It’s never too late.

Those are my kernels of wisdom for the day.

Happy Friday, all!

Sundowning

Mom at party(Mom in her green polka dot dress)

“Who did your hair?” she said.

“My hair stylist,” I said.

“I don’t like it. The girls are wearing it long these days.”

I removed my headband, as if that would make a difference.

“You’ve gained so much weight,” she said, scrunching up her face.

“I’m sorry my appearance offends you,” I said.

“Oh, everything’s all wrong. Where are my clothes? The clothes in the closet don’t belong to me!” she said, hyperventilating. “What happened to Grandpa’s house?”

“What do you mean? Grandpa in Wisconsin?”

“No, when he lived with Rony.”

“Mom, Grandpa’s been dead for years,” I said.

“But what about my sister? Can’t I go there?”

“Mom, Rony is dead.”

“What?” she said, her face terrified in disbelief.

“She died several years ago. She had a heart condition.”

“I know she had a heart condition, but I didn’t know she died,” she said.

“Yes, she died.”

“Where have you been? You’ve been gone for so long!”

“Mom, I was here two weeks ago.”

“No, you weren’t!”

“Yes, I was. I brought you the bras you asked for.” I pulled them out of a tote bag.

“No, these are all wrong—they’re too big.”

“I got them too big because you said the other ones shrunk in the wash.”

“Oh, they’re all wrong.”

“Okay, Mom, I think I’ll go now. I don’t need this.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll try to be quiet,” she said.

“You don’t have to be quiet. Just don’t yell at me.”

“But why were you gone so long?”

“I was here two weeks ago. My office moved—I get home at 7:30 at night. I can only see you on weekends.”

She made a face.

“Where have you been? I’m being poisoned here. The air, the fumes,” she said.

“Is it hot in here?” I said.

“Yes, I think so.”

I asked James the nurse if he could turn on the air conditioning in her room.

“I’m so confused. I didn’t think I’d be here forever. Where did I used to live? They’re killing me here.”

“At Schuyler House, in the Bronx.”

“Schuyler House?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t remember that place. I didn’t think I’d be here forever.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“What will become of me? Where will I go?”

“I don’t know, Mom. Rick has the house in Elmira. You’ve seen it.”

“I know that. Stop humoring me,” she said, ramming her wheelchair into the side of her bed frame.

“Dan still lives in the house, and he lives near Greg.”

Dan is my Aunt Rony’s husband; Greg is my cousin.

“Oh, that’s good. He always took care of himself,” Mom said.

“He just turned 90, I think. He goes swimming at the YMCA every day.”

“Yes, he always took care of himself. I’m happy to hear this.”

“Make sure you tell him about my performances at the Actors Home. I want them to know where I am.”

“Which performances?”

“I’m doing Anastasia,” she said.

“Okay, I’ll tell him.”

“Do you want to go for a spin?” I said.

“Yes,” she said, hyperventilating.

“Do you want something to calm you down?”

“Yes, I have some valium somewhere.”

“In the medicine cabinet?” I said.

“Yes, I think so.”

“You can take some after dinner,” I said.

“Okay.”

I told the nurse James* that Mom was having a hard time.

“Can Mom get a sedative?” I asked.

“It’s sundowning,” James said. “It happens around this time.”

It was about 4:30 p.m.

“Let’s go into the garden,” James said. “Come on, Katherine.”

Mom laughed.

I wheeled her out into the garden, James opening the door to the outside world.

“Mom, do you want your coffee?” I said.

“Yes, please.”

“I’ll bring it,” James said.

“And can you bring me a glass of water?” I said.

“Sure,” he said.

“It was about time I had a nervous breakdown,” Mom said, laughing. “Why don’t they show Lust for Life? They keep having it up on the bill.”

“I don’t know, Mom.”

“Would you lay out some clothes for me for tomorrow? I can’t find the polka dot dress I love so much.”

“What color was it?” I said.

“Green polka dots and white background.”

“I’ll try to find it or I’ll get you another,” I said.

I’m watching Terms of Endearment. I never liked it when I was younger, but I do now. I never appreciated the relationship between the mother (Shirley MacLaine) and daughter (Debra Winger), the closeness between them.

I guess I didn’t have that type of relationship with my mom, but it was still a relationship. So much of the time I felt like I was her mother, her nurse, her therapist. Sometimes I think she resented me for it. But it’s who I was schooled to be—the caretaker.

I know I can’t fix Mom. I can’t make her not have Alzheimer’s. I can’t make her remember her sister died or she no longer has a house to live in. I do what I can.

*Note: pseudonym used.

Mom’s Roommate Is Dead

The mattress was gone and all her belongings except for a Town and Country magazine laying across the metal rungs of the bed frame. Mom and Florence* had been roommates since Mom moved into the Actors Home in September 2014. I met one of Florence’s daughters and her son. Her daughter said she had had a stroke which had affected her speech and motor ability. She was a thin African-American with close-cropped salt and pepper hair; when she spoke, her voice wavered, but she had very expressive eyes.

Mom said she died two Saturdays ago, the last time I visited, when we watched The Hustler on TCM. It was also the day Mom told me she had been proposed to.

“We were watching The Day the Earth Stood Still and All About Eve.  I was laughing at something, but I didn’t know she was dead,” Mom said. “I feel bad. I miss her.”

She went on, “I saw her mouth open and she looked like she was having trouble breathing. I didn’t know she had died.”

“She was young,” I said.

“Yes, she was.”

“Her daughter told me she had a stroke,” I said.

“Oh, I didn’t know that. She had arthritis, like me,” Mom said.

Mom said, “The two guys came to my room and we talked and had a good time, Florence too.”

“Was one of the guys the one who proposed to you?” I said.

“Yes,” she said, giggling like a love-stricken teenager.

It sounded like quite the party.

“Do the guys live here?” I said.

“No, they work here.”

“Oh, are they cleaners or nurses?”

“I don’t think so. They help us out here.”

“So they’re aides?” I said.

“They might be.”

“Maybe it was a blessing,” Mom said.

“Yes, maybe,” I said.

“We were watching The Day the Earth Stood Still and All About Eve. It was a good night.”

“I know, Mom. I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” Mom said. “She was with me all the time.”

“I know.”

“Then they did something at the window with the thing. They couldn’t get the window open. And she was dead.”

“Did they tell you that night?”

“Yes, the nurse came in and told me,” she said.

“That must have been hard.”

“Yes.”

“Do you want to go for a spin?” I said.

“Yes, let’s go.”

 

In memory of Florence:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow 
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. 
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, 
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, 
And soonest our best men with thee do go, 
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery. 
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, 
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, 
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well 
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then? 
One short sleep past, we wake eternally 
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. 
–John Donne

*Pseudonym.

If Mama Was Married

On Saturday I saw Mom for a pre-Mother’s Day visit. I brought her cookies, her favorite Yardley English Lavender soap, a card and a bouquet of peach-yellow roses.

She had some very exciting news to impart.

“I had a proposal of marriage,” she said.

“Wow. Really? From whom?”

“A younger man,” she said, flushing with excitement.

“Oh boy. Does he live here?”

“I don’t think so. Anyway, it’s all over now.”

“So you said ‘no’?”

“Yes, it was silly,” she said, still blushing.

“That’s very exciting, Mom. What does he look like?”

“Much younger, and very handsome. Bald.”

“Oh, my.”

We took a spin up and down the halls and into the day room.

“Make sure to point him out to me if you see him,” I said.

“Okay, but I don’t think he’s here anymore.”

I spotted some new male residents in her unit–one was bald and smiling, strapped into his wheelchair. I wondered if that was her new beau.

One of the aides said, “Hi, Katherine. So I heard you’re getting married.”

Mom smiled. “Isn’t it exciting?” I said to the aide.

We returned to her room and watched part of The Hustler on Turner Classic Movies and had coffee and cookies.

“You know what else?” she said, giddily. “He washed my face.”

“Isn’t that nice.”

“He said, ‘I wanted to see if you were wearing any makeup because you look so
young.’ ” She was giggling as she said this.

“And you weren’t wearing makeup.”

“No. I still can’t believe it,” she said.

I started to think she might be talking about her boyfriend from back in Milwaukee, the blond German one that she was so crazy about. I wasn’t sure, though.

It doesn’t matter. She was happy, ebullient, feeling cherished and attractive again. What could be wrong with that? And wouldn’t it be swell if Mama got married?

Are You in the House?

me-and-mom-outside-building

(Mom and me on East 27th Street, New York City)

Are you in the house?

That’s what Mom asked me yesterday when we spoke on the phone. I haven’t seen her since Easter Saturday, and was calling to let her know I wouldn’t be visiting this weekend. I’m feeling under the weather.

“Are you in the house?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m in the house,” I said.

“How are you feeling, Mom?”

“I’m alright.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m taking care of things in the house,” she said.

I was wondering which house she meant. Did she think we were living in the same house now? Was it the house where she grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin?  Was it the fifth floor walkup apartment in New York City where I was born, or the apartment building on Junction Boulevard that was converted into a Jack in the Box and made the Lunney family, with their 10 kids, homeless? Was it the house we rented in Jackson Heights–the last house we lived together as a family? Was it the apartment she lived in in the Bronx before Lorin and I packed up her things and moved her into the nursing home?

What is a house, after all, but a place to lay one’s head. Or was it home Mom was speaking of? A place where family gathers, and hopefully, love makes its presence known.

It’s often hard to know what she means. That’s part of the Alzheimer’s. I interpret what she’s saying much of the time or try not to question at all, to let it be.

“How are the tulips?” I asked.

“They died, dear,” she said.

Why did I even ask? Of course they were dead after two weeks.

“What about the lilacs?” she said.

“They’re not out yet. They come out in May. I’ll bring you some then.”

“Okay. (pause) Where are you? Why aren’t you here?” she said.

“I’m at home. I’m not feeling well and didn’t want to get you sick,” I said.

“Oh.”

“I’ll see you next week, Mom.”

“Oh, okay.”

She sounded deflated. I felt I had let her down. But I can’t be there all the time.

“I’ll see you soon,” I said.

“Okay. See you soon.”

What does house / home mean to you?

Jesus Was a Surfer

Last night I watched King of Kings on the Turner Classic Movie station (TCM). I hadn’t seen this 1961 film since I was a kid–it was one of many religious films we used to watch at Easter time, along with Barabbas and The Robe. My mom always remarked at what a handsome Jesus Jeffrey Hunter made. Being a very pious child–I wanted to be a nun for all of third grade–I took these films very seriously.

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(google image)

Watching the film was a surreal experience. Narrated by Orson Welles, the performances ranged from wooden to campy. But most remarkable was Jesus’s appearance – dark blonde with piercing blue eyes. Kind of like a surfer dude. Rip Torn who played Judas Iscariot was also surferesque. I kept waiting for Jesus to say, “Gnarly waves, dudes.”

White Jesus isn’t anything unusual, as the role in most films has been portrayed by Caucasian actors, including Robert Powell, Max von Sydow, Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jeremy Sisto and Jim Caviezel.

Sarah Griffiths wrote an article in the Daily Mail entitled “Behold the Face of Hollywood Jesus: Artist merges images of actors who’ve played Christ to reveal the ultimate look of the messiah.”  According to retired medical artist Richard Neave, Jesus probably looked more like this:

real jesus

Daily Mail

Sarah Griffiths goes on to say:

Dr. Neave’s team studied first century artwork from various archaeological sites, created before the Bible was written.

From these works, they hypothesised Jesus had dark eyes and likely had a beard, in keeping with Jewish traditions at the time.

The Bible also offered a clue as to how Christ wore his hair – short, with tight curls, unlike many Renaissance depictions, for example.

This comes from a Bible passage by Paul, who wrote: ‘If a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him,’ suggesting Jesus did not have this hairstyle.

When I was a kid, I didn’t question the omnipresent blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus. But it seems odd now. As recent as 2015, Ewan McGregor was cast as Jesus. Why not an actor of color?

I enjoyed watching King of Kings in spite of the casting, but it seems high time we start diversifying.