Can we ever really know the truth?

At my writing group last night one of the women wrote about care-giving for her father who had Alzheimer’s. She wrote of herself as a reluctant caregiver. She found a lot of reasons why she didn’t want to make the 2-hour drive to Columbus and stay overnight at her parents’ house.

I applauded her for her honesty.

And then I started to wonder about myself. Did I resent feeling a responsibility to take care of Mom and Dad over the past years? I don’t remember not wanting to go visit them. I don’t remember it being a burden. What I remember most was being driven to try to fix the problem, to help ease their pain, to scramble to make things better somehow, someway. It was a vocation for me.

I’m sure there were days when I might have preferred to stay home, but I really can’t recall feeling that way.

And it makes me wonder whether I am now in denial, or whether my personal history has made me approach or feel differently about care-giving than some others might. I learned care-giving from a very early age as I stooped to pick Annie’s toys up off the ground where she dropped them, or straightened her up in her chair, or fed her a meal. When I moved away from home it wasn’t very many years before I was giving care to what would eventually be four children in our family.

I know there were times when I grew tired, or frustrated, but I don’t think I would ever refer to myself as reluctant. I wanted to help my parents. I was desperate to make things better.

When things fell apart last December, I spent nights on a sofa in the lobby of a hospital, on a sofa at my Mom’s house, on a Hospice chair that converted to a very hard bed, on an air mattress on the floor, in a recliner beside my father’s bed. I wanted to be there. I went home and slept in my own bed only because I knew that if I didn’t take breaks I would not be able to sustain the level of support I wanted to give.

But in this place of grief where I now dwell, I wonder if I will ever know the truth of any of it anymore. Can we ever really know the truth?

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The amazing planet earth

Downed red bud tree – March 2012

This planet we’re on and the plant life on it never fail to amaze me. Right now a storm just kicked up outside my study window where I sit at my desk. The rain is pouring, tree limbs are moving violently, thunder is booming, and my little dog Arthur is hiding behind the recliner shaking. I’ll have to go get his Thunder Shirt.

Storms amaze me. But that isn’t what this blog is about, just a timely coincidence.

I want to talk about new growth. New life.

You might remember last spring when I came home to find our red bud tree in the back yard lying down on the ground in full bloom, like a carelessly tossed aside bouquet.

Mark went out and cut it off at the ground. I brought in a few boughs for a centerpiece, a floral arrangement to  mourn the loss of this herald of spring.

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And if you’ve followed my blog at all, you probably know I like to take Arthur for walks at the Voice of America park where I often take photos of the birds that frequent the lake and surrounding meadowland. What you don’t know is that they have had a problem with beavers there in recent years. Even if you’ve never seen the results of a beaver’s work on a small tree, you will know right away if you ever do.

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 In March of this year, this is what was left of a Cleveland Pear tree planted in memory of a individual named Walsh.

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And this is what was left of a Swamp White Oak in memory of Dan Fleming.

I thought the trees were goners.

But here’s the amazing part.

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In the beginning of June, the Walsh pear tree started showing signs of life.

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By the end of June, the Swamp White Oak had a lot of dense new growth.

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And finally, our red bud tree is growing again. It looks like a little bush beside the chairs.

I think this is amazing.

What are we to make of it?

Well, some might say, that’s no big deal. The trees have an extensive root system that stayed alive even in the absence of limbs and leaves.

Yes! My point exactly.

It is all underground. I can’t see any of it. There is life pulsing beneath the earth, within the soil. Isn’t that amazing?

This is an incredible beautiful bountiful planet.

Don’t miss it it on your short stay here.

The treasure of memories

The first garden I ever had I made on the hard-packed ground in the corner where the brick chimney met our house. Dad had built planters in the front of our house that he kept blooming with annuals every year. One year, and I think I must have been in high school, as I watched him planting his flowers, I told him I wished I could have a place to plant some flowers myself. And he helped me clear the grass and turn the hard packed dirt over. I bought the flowers and planted them. Then I think I largely ignored them. I have no memory of what happened with that little garden of ageratums.

Memories are funny that way.

The loss of my parents has been huge for me with many ramifications that I never would have imagined in my outlook on life, worldview, and priority list. I think a lot more about my own death now and in particular, what I can do to try to get rid of some of these items I’ve collected over the years so my children won’t be in a quandary about what to keep to honor my work and my memory. It seems like a huge task to me, and likely as the months pass it will fall lower and lower on my priority list. But I think about it now and I never did before.

Memories of my parents come into my mind frequently, always during the nights while I am trying to sleep, and usually when I’m driving the car. It’s not like I’m deliberately dwelling on my parents or their deaths. The memories come unbidden.

I had a revelation about memories yesterday when I realized that all my memories of my parents are intact, and likely always will be. Then I realized that while my parents were alive, they were living, walking, and talking memories. The person in the moment was only a slight shadow of the person of my many memories. I’m not saying that the “slight shadow” wasn’t held dear, and if you had witnessed my grief at their loss over these past four months you would know I am quite sincere. But what I am saying is that as long as I have my memories, I’ll still have a large portion of who my mother and my father were here with me. I think this is what many people tried to convey to me with their words of sympathy.

And I finally got it.

Grieving is a journey that teaches us how to love in a new way now that our loved one is no longer with us. Consciously remembering those who have died is the key that opens the hearts that allows us to love them in new ways.” — Tom Attig, The Heart of Grief

If the humans left

I was sitting at the kitchen table this morning watching a robin enjoy the hanging planter full of garden refuse that I left for the birds as a kind of discount store or bonanza.

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We had already cleaned all the old dried leaves and winter garden refuse from the ground, and Mark covered it all with a rich, crisp layer of mulch, leaving slim pickins’ for nest-building birds.

I patted myself on the back. If I wouldn’t have created this hanging basket for them, what would the robins have done?

As I watched out the window, I noticed a rustling in the leaves near the top of a tree. A little squirrel emerged with a leaf-laden twig in its mouth and scampered across a few limbs, then up the trunk of a dead tree where I saw she was happily building a nest. It’s a dead ash tree, technically on our neighbor’s property. They plan to have their dead ash trees removed this year. I don’t believe there is anything I can do to save the squirrel, the nest, and any babies that arrive, beyond hoping that the tree-cutters won’t come too soon.

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Yesterday I walked out into our garage and was startled by a small bird in there. I think it was a juvenile wren. One of the two garage doors was open, but the little guy couldn’t seem to find his way out. I spent the next hour or so trying to help him leave. I adjusted both garage doors to try to give him space above and below the door to leave. I moved the car out of the garage so it wouldn’t get in the way. I talked and chirped to the bird, showed him the way out, chased him around the garage with a broom to try to direct him out, and tried to catch him in a sheet.

At one point after I had gone back inside for a few minutes, I found two other wrens in the garage. They left immediately upon my return and my hopes that one of them was the little guy were soon dashed when I heard him chirping. But I was encouraged that I was not the only one trying to rescue the baby.

Eventually I was able to lower the window blind behind him, reach in and catch the little guy in my sheet-covered hand. I patted myself on the back for returning him to the wild.

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What would he have done if I wasn’t here? I wondered.

If I wasn’t here at all, then maybe my house and garage wouldn’t be here either. And the natural progression of that kind of thinking led me to the question, What if all the humans left?

The birds would still be here. The robin would find nature-provided nesting materials all around.

The squirrels’ new home would not be in jeopardy.

And the little bird would never have found its way into a place it couldn’t leave.

When we were driving to Hocking Hills a few weeks ago, we passed an abandoned property on a country road. I first noticed the rusted, decaying car near the road. Then I saw the decrepit house further back in what was becoming woods. The rectangular property lines were clearly discernible where the neighboring properties, still being tended, ended and this abandoned property began,  as if a surveyor had pounded in stakes at the corners and strung a wire around. The grass was long, trees and bushes were sprouting up throughout. The semi-hidden car and the house were falling apart in pieces on the ground. The earth was reclaiming its own.

I don’t know how long the abandoned property has stood there, but my guess is that it hasn’t been all that long in the whole scheme of things.

If the humans left, the earth would reclaim its own in short order most likely. And the birds, the squirrels, the deer and all the creatures would have their paradise without us.

The Lower Ninth Ward

In New Orleans, billboards advertising demolition companies pop up along the roadways and capture my attention. I’ve never seen these signs deep in the heartland of the Midwest where I’m from, far from the hurricane shores.

Just a short drive from the lure of the French Quarter and the glamour of the Garden District, New Orlean’s ninth ward huddles beside the levee, a living and dying reminder of Katrina.

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New construction rises up beside homes left to decay.

Katrina “x’s” are still visible graffiti on doors and walls, evidence of a search for survivors, victims, for the dead.

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The rescuers and home search teams marked the top of the x with the date. Then traveling clockwise around the x, they marked the current hazzards they found within, the number of victims or dead bodies they recovered, and the identification of the search team.

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Some home owners have preserved these records, according to one survivor, as a “reminder to all, that man and all his things are fragile in the face of raw nature, and that our lives are fragile and can be changed or taken from us in an instant.” (Understanding the Katrina X)

For the tourist from the midwest, the x’s are grim reminders of the death and devastation viewed over 24-hour news channels when New Orleans’ lower ninth ward, previously little-known, gained world-wide recognition. And sadly so.

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Nearly eight years ago the flood waters roared over the levees, turning family yards into empty lots.

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Concrete slabs are evidence of a house that was or a new one that will be.

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Dark doorframes sans doors, and windows bereft of glass, identify a home as a lost cause, abandoned.

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Doors and windows are boarded up. Closed. No entrance here. No sign as to whether an owner will someday return and reclaim.

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Decorative wrought iron railings guard a disintegrating home that no longer contains a family or possessions that need to be protected.

New homes are being built. The hardy and the strong, those who will not be defeated return and demolish, reclaim, rebuild, and start again.

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Various organizations like Brad Pitt’s Make it Right have stepped in to help make it right. And new homes in the devastated area rise like a breath of fresh air.

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But the evidence of Katrina remains in the lower ninth ward. The decay is wide-spread and within site wherever you look.

How will this area ever recover? So much destruction in an area with little evidence of the money required to rebuild.

Who are the owners of the homes left to rot? Where are they now?

And why would someone who could afford to buy property choose to buy here, one wonders, with so many reminders of the devastation, destruction, and death, that remain?

I hope for the sake of the courageous residents who would not be defeated that with time the lower ninth ward will reemerge as a solid neighborhood.

There is a lot of work still to be done.

If you would like to read more about the New Orleans 9th Ward, I found this  book as I was searching for information. I thought it looked good. Let me know what you think if you read it.  Untold – The New Orleans 9th Ward You Never Knew by Lynette Norris Wilkinson.

The last snowfall

Although March heralds spring, technically it is still winter until March 20 at 7:02 a.m. according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. And today Mother Nature gave us a very clear reminder.

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Isn’t it beautiful?

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We need to keep the bird feeders filled for our little friends.

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But I don’t mind the snow.

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Daffodils aren’t up yet to have their backs bent by the weight. And the trellis is empty still.

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This wet, heavy snowfall colored my world bright, white, peaceful and calm. From my view out of the kitchen window to the office where I sit as I type.

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Like so many other things in life, the trips we take, the people we love, the snow will be gone soon. I’m soaking this one up as if it is the last one, like a last hug, a last smile, a last word. For lasts do come, most often without an announcement.

This is a beautiful snowfall, and it is the last.

Or maybe not.

Of Guardian Angels, Gardens, and Gratitude

Pecan pie (made by my daughter Anna) minus one slice, from Thanksgiving 2011.

‘Tis the time of year to think about gratitude. Gratitude always reminds me of the time I spent volunteering at Our Daily Bread in Over-the-Rhine, downtown Cincinnati, in 2006. Our Daily Bread provides a warm meal, social services and socialization for neighborhood residents.

You know from some of my recent posts about Cincinnati that Over-the-Rhine is making a resurgence and that Mark and I frequently visit the local restaurants or entertainment venues there now. But in 2006, it could still a bit rough in some parts of the neighborhood at times. What follows is a short op-ed I wrote, submitted, and was published in  “Your Voice” in the Cincinnati Enquirer, December 24, 2006.

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Guardian Angels in Over the Rhine

Guardian angels come from unexpected places.

This fall I volunteered at Our Daily Bread in Over the Rhine where I met Ted, a well-liked and regular guest.

“I am 75 years old and proud of it,” Ted claims.  He has a limp that he acquired from a war wound in Vietnam and walks slowly with a wooden cane.  A long black rosary hangs around his neck and a royal blue ball cap rests on his head with his wiry gray hair sticking out of the bottom.  Ted’s eyes are brown and his smile is genuine. He has street smarts and is quick to laugh during conversations.

Ted’s financial difficulties come from the fact that he’s an alcoholic and has made bad choices in the past.

As I was leaving Our Daily Bread that day I witnessed a fight.  One man was pressed up against a car yelling, “Help!  Call the police.”   People were standing around on the sidewalks just watching.

When the men separated and I saw the gleam of a knife in one of their hands, I hurried back inside Our Daily Bread to get help.  A few minutes later the situation diffused itself as one of the men left.

The following week I spoke with Ted again.  I asked him why nobody wanted to do anything to help this guy who was taking a beating.  The people, Ted said, “Don’t care.  Don’t want to be involved.”

“If I was in trouble, do you think someone would help me?”  I asked him.

“I would,” he said.

As I was getting ready to leave, Ted asked, “Are you going to be all right?”

“I’ll be fine,” I said.

He stood up and started walking behind me.  He wanted to know where I had parked.  I reassured him that my car was just across the street and a few car-lengths away.  He continued with me as I went outside.  He stood there on the corner on that chilly autumn day and watched me get into my car and drive away.

I smiled as I thought, “What is Ted going to do, at his age and with his disability, if I need help?”  And then I felt my eyes begin to fill with tears at his noble gesture.

Ted returned my wave as I drove past, then he turned around and slowly walked back into the soup kitchen on a corner in Over the Rhine.

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I mention Ted’s story today when I want to remind everyone of gratitude, because on any given day you could ask Ted, “How are you?” and without fail, he would answer, “I’m blessed.”

As my American friends are getting ready to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving, and for my international friends for who it is always a good idea to remember and be grateful, I thought I would leave a couple of “Pocket Positives” from another one of my little books:

“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” ~ Sir Winston Churchill, British Statesman, Prime Minister and Writer

“I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door; I’ll go through another door — or I’ll make a door: Something  terrific will come no matter how dark the present.” ~ Joan Rivers, American Comedian

“May I a small house, and large garden have. And a few Friends, and many Books, both true, both wise, and both delightful too.” ~ Abraham Cowley, English Poet

“How to be happy when you are miserable. Plant Japanese poppies with cornflowers and mignonette, and set out the petunias among the sweet-peas so they shall scent each other. See the sweet-peas coming up.”~ Rumer Godden, English Writer

I give thanks for parents who raised me, a husband who loves and supports me, children who enrich my life, a little dog who keeps me company and all of nature that surprises and thrills me, friends who lighten my spirits, and all of you for sharing this time of your life with me. Happy Thanksgiving.

Witnessing nature — the good and the bad

As you know if you’ve read many of my blogs, I enjoy watching nature, especially the little birds that frequent our feeders. Surrounded by this small woods, we get the opportunity to observe nature up close and personal.

Sometimes it feels more up close than I might prefer.

Last week I wrote about the hawk haunting our feeders. On Saturday, while I was sipping a cup of tea at the breakfast table, a movement caught my eye out of the window and I saw what I believe was a large hawk take off from the ground beside our deck and fly low away through the woods with something in its grasp.

I told Mark, who was oblivious to the whole small drama. “Where did it go?” he asked.

“Just went a short way in that direction. It’s probably stopped to eat whatever it had,” I answered. “Do hawks leave behind the bones? I’ve never seen that here anywhere.”

“Owls eat everything,” Mark said.

I know.  I have seen an owl pellet here.

“There’s a lot of chipmunks out there,” Mark said.

That didn’t make me feel a lot better, because I actually like the chipmunks.

“If we had mice, the hawks would be helpful,” I said. And even though I actually think mice are cute too, I don’t care for them so much if they get in the house.

Then Mark stepped out on the deck and looked down. “Oh no,” he said. “There’s a bunch of feathers out here.”

When our senses get involved, everything has more impact. Knowing that hawks eat small critters is one thing. Seeing the carnage is another.

This is true for everything. Reading or being told about something affects our intellect. But seeing, hearing, or smelling, a traumatic or tragic event or its aftermath affects our emotions. That’s why authors are encouraged to provide sensory information to make a scene as real as possible.

I think the link between our intellect and emotion is an interesting one to explore. I think the opposite of what writers attempt to do, and using our intellect to distance ourselves from the emotional overload of sensory information, may also be possible and helpful in some circumstances.

Is that something you are able to do?

Re-evaluating

I started this blog with the intention to post about whatever was on my mind when I woke up each morning. Our heater isn’t functioning well, and I woke up this morning not wanting to move from my warm cocoon of blankets into the cold morning air in our room. Then I thought of all those people on the east coast without electricity, perhaps without a home or bed with warm covers.

Life can change in a moment. You think you’ve made it through a storm, and then a dam breaks and you’re on your rooftop.

Now that I’m awake, wrapped in a warm robe, and sitting at my desk, I have a lot of thoughts running through my head, mostly about our children and our parents. It seems like we go along on status quo for some time, and then everybody shifts position. We have a child adjusting to a second baby, another contemplating a change of job entailing a move, a third needing involved dental work, and another looking for a co-op job in a saturated market. Mark’s mom needs a shoulder replacement, and you know how it goes with my parents.

The point I’m trying to make here is that I have a lot on my mind today, none of which I consider blog-worthy. Which brings me back around to one last thing I’ve been thinking about lately, Is it worth the time to continue blogging?

Last week I came across Lynn Spreen’s post on blog Any Shiny Thing where she answered that very question, Should you quit blogging?

It’s a good read, and I think you might appreciate it.

Do you ever question that yourself? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thirteen things Dad can still do

So many times when we lose abilities, that is where our focus lies, on our loss. As we approach the fourth anniversary of Dad’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, I’m trying to focus on, and appreciate, what he is still able to do. I am very proud of how hard he continues to try and how he hasn’t simply given up. I tell him every time I see him.

Thirteen things Dad can still do

1. Stand up from a seated position on the side of his bed or from his wheelchair, with assistance.

2. Walk a few slow, short, and shaky steps while using his walker, with assistance.

3. Respond to yes or no questions, with an affirmative nod or negative shake of his head, once you have his attention.

4. Give a thumb’s up.

5. Write his first name in cursive.

6. Wash and dry the kitchen table after a meal.

7. Chew and swallow soft or ground up foods, and drink with a straw.

8. Feed himself his breakfast cereal, peanut butter crackers, and select dinner foods using his right hand.

9. Chew his pills when given them in a spoonful of pudding.

10. Speak a word, or even a short sentence, on rare occasions, creating a moment of amazement and joy for all who witness it.

11. Wave good-bye.

12. Recognize me.

13. Cry.