Sunday, November 24, 2013

We love you Dottie!

     Dorothy Harris, known affectionately as Dottie, passed away leaving a void where before a kind and generous soul inhabited. Dottie you lived well, but then quiet, sensitive people don’t generate drama. I will miss your laugh, kindness, concern and gentle prods to take better care of myself. It was impossible to be angry with you, except for leaving life too soon. You gave more love than you asked for and listened more than you spoke. There are so many things I still want to tell you just to watch you roll your eyes and laugh. We never crossed words and I draw a blank on problems, except one time I did not return a flashlight right away, which is the most I can come up with. Sitting on your lanai on Molokai, staring at the ocean when conversation seemed less important than sharing a moment, I learned serenity from you. You never failed to have a smile waiting, a warm hug and a wonderful welcome at your door. Humility is that quality where a person doesn’t expect a result, a reward or a favor in return. Dottie, you embodied those qualities and could always be counted on to tell the truth.

     Our dear friend is gone and it hurts.  My heart goes out to Bill and her family. Mickey said it best, “They are unconditionally lovely people.” There are so many good memories too, our week in American Samoa, countless family style dinners and shared laughter. Dottie emanated positive good will. She cared, said so and we believed her because she always told the truth in her quiet loving way. We are so much richer for her friendship. I love you Dottie and I sure miss you.  

Monday, November 11, 2013


     My Mother first showed signs of dementia ten years ago. Currently she believes she is in her early twenties and has no memory of me. Yesterday she announced that the Kleenex in her hand was a book of secrets. Her slow decline has gradually allowed me to adjust to the surprising attributes of a demented mind. The toilet brush in the refrigerator, a banana peel in her Ugh and a flashlight flushed down the toilet are all in a day. The more recent turn towards violence over not being responded to instantly, even by the people on television who she often talks to, is most difficult. Mom loses her teeth and hides things like cutlery and half eaten fruit in her diaper. When I threw a nasty diaper away that she believed was something precious worth saving I was admonished in a hissing voice with, “You go lick your own ass!” When I threw out the used ‘book of secrets’ she scorned, “You are the kind of person who really should hate yourself.” When I asked her to say something nice, she responded by punching me in the ribs.

     I called a plumber when the toilet overflowed because there is little time to fix anything myself. I had taped the lid closed to prevent it from being used until it was repaired. In a logical world that would have stopped most people. Undeterred Mom took a dump on the lid. I keep heavy duty gloves and a respirator on standby because cleaning up shit is a reality with people who barely recognize one end from the other.            

      Mom has taught me more patience than if I joined a monastery. She has numbed me into never taking anything personally. I work out to improve my health because taking care of both Mom and Dad last year nearly did me in. After many months of insane stress and little sleep I had developed a heart condition and it turns out that frequent hard exercise is the best remedy. Time at the gym is not frivolous. Hopefully I’m not mistaken, but I believe we are here to learn. Mom’s evenings during sun downing are a nightmare of anxiety, instant rage and confused sentiments. In her best moments she is maudlin, nonsensical or asleep. She is rarely likeable, but occasionally a human speaks through her and she sincerely thanks me for helping her. Her actions are unpredictable and I keep a wary eye on her hands to make sure she is not carrying anything sharp. A few weeks ago she walked out of the bedroom with her breasts stretched out in her hands leering at me while demanding, “Suck on these!” To her I might look like a man who she hopes would be interested in such things. To me it is a horror I do not always know how to cope with. For the last six months I’ve been on duty for seventeen hours a day, seven days a week and all day Sunday. I rarely get a full night’s sleep and sometimes make up for it during the day when another care giver takes over.

     Last week when we were discussing care options for Mom my brother said, “At least it is not stressful.” In charitable moments I interpret his comment as, “Way to go sis, you have miraculously found the strength to cope with this nightmare since you’re not showing signs of your health deteriorating from the stress again.” What part of this isn’t stressful? A few nights a week I get to paint if I can talk Mom into going to bed early or I forgo sleep for the privilege. Time at the gym is not extra-curricular. It is akin to putting on my own oxygen mask before helping a child. Hiking in the surrounding hills offers a restorative serenity found solely in the beauty of nature and those moments are not negotiable either. I have much to be grateful for and no regrets, although so far I have yet to banish the hope that my Mom will see who I truly am.  On the deepest level isn’t that what we all want? To be seen and heard without judgment? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to receive unconditional goodwill from the people closest to us? It is more often wished for than found, but definitely easier to strive for than licking your own ass.  
me at Castle Rock near Mt. Diablo (thanks Karen!)

lone leafless tree

sun flare over rocks that look like Stonehenge

 Diablo Foothills, Walnut Creek, California

serene pond with an egret near Shell Ridge

bellowing cow

friends on a fallen giant