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This weekend I Feel My Mortality

Perhaps it is the overcast weather, or perhaps it is the colourful changing and falling leaves that let us know we are at the midpoint of the autumn season. Perhaps it is the macbre atmosphere that emerges as some people prepare for All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Perhaps it is simply that I am tired from having three nights in a row where I was awake past my usual bedtime. Whatever the perhaps… this weekend I feel my mortality.

Events have meant that I have been given many reasons to reflect and reminisce. On Wednesday I had to send a card to friends who celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary and who seem as much in love today as they did when they met in grade nine. I was not there when they met but they assure all who know them that for each of them “it was love at first sight.” The pictures that I was emailed by a daughter show them sitting regally in their two chairs decorated with flowers and ribbon–each with a walker to the outside of a respective chair so that they could hold hands during the festivities.

Yesterday, I ran into people I had not seen for about ten years and we caught up on children and siblings and mutual friends and acquaintances. We no longer ask about parents for we are at that stage where there is no point.  Yesterday I also listened to the reminiscences of Julia Munro, MPP. The Honourable Ms. Munro is the logest sitting female MPP in Ontario history. Her entire political career followed a 24 year career as a high school history teacher.  One of her purposes in speaking was to encourage women to enter into politics. As she spoke I could not help but think of someone who earlier in the week asked me why I had gone back to school “at your age”, what are you going to do with it. And the same person then asked, “Don’t you feel like you’ve stolen a place from some younger person?” (After checking into it I must say my guilt was relieved to learn that applications to my school for my programme had decreased in number.)

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This past week also contained much discussion about releasing the documents pertaining to the JFK assassination.  How many of the files would President Trump allow to be released? Why wouldn’t they all be released? What have the FBI and CIA got to hide? Is it a conspiracy? Was it a conspiracy? Do you remember where you were when you heard the news that the president had been shot?

Even though we were in Canada the impact the young president had on the world meant that our school had an assembly to honour Kennedy and there were both class and individual student assignments about his life.

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Yes you read it right. I wrote “young president.” In those years 46 was considered young, especially to be an elected head of state. Now politicians who are 50 are considered “long in the tooth” and should perhaps think about making way for some young blood. Pundits and popoulists alike speak of the necessity for change and and for someone younger and more in tune with what society wants. (What happened in the American 2016 election was unusual.)

When Tom Petty died a couple of weeks ago, at the age 66, he was said to have died young. However, no one has said that about Richard Wilbur, Zuzana Ruzickova or Monte Hall at 96 nor Fats Domino, who died this week at the age of 89. In fact, when one of those names was read in the news one of the “on air” personalities stated I thought he was already dead. (I will leave it to your imagination to guess which one.) I began to wonder at what age is it too young to die and at what age are you doing the right thing.

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My self-questioning became more intese yesterday. At the time I was sitting and listening to Ms Munro’s words of wisdom a friend of mine, who is my age, died. I learned of the death from another friend who sent me a message almost immediately. We three had been at university together in our undergraduate years. In most universities there are a few people who are together all the time, and we with others were part of one such group. Like many undergraduate friends we had drifted apart as our lives went in different directions but we had reconnected over the past several years thanks to social media.

Through social media I learned that my friend’s passion for theatre had continued, as a teacher of drama in high school and by working in a local semi-amateur theatre company. Square dancing, being a spouse, a parent, and looking forward to being a grandparent for the first time showed the vitality I had known in my schoolmate as a young adult had continued into middle age and retirement.

This death is sad for a close-knit family, for close friends and colleagues, and even old reacquaintances such as myself. What I am also noticing though, is this is the first time that someone from my cohort has died and I have not heard the phrase “too young.” Several have said “too soon” but the phrase “too young” has not been uttered.

This week I have again heard of the burden of an aging population, of the costs my generation will cause and the resources and infrastructure that will need to be developed to care for us. With all these things that have happened in these past few days I ask myself was the Psalmist right? “The days of our years are three score and ten;” (90:10 KJV) and as such I am approaching my alotted time. This weekend I am feeling my mortality.

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Changing Circumstances and Clearwater

For years, every June my son and I have travelled together to New York State for a holiday. Our adventure is always based around the Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival Music and Environmental Festival.  It’s a folk festival started by Pete Seeger to bring awareness to the plight of the Hudson River. Most of us just call it Clearwater. There’s a lot to be said about the various parts of the festival but I’ll let you go to the webpage to learn about those.

The first year we left home Friday, enjoyed the festival Saturday and Sunday, and then came back home on Monday. The next year we left home Wednesday, took the train into New York City Thursday and Friday, enjoyed the festival Saturday and Sunday, and then came back home on Monday. The year after that we left home Monday, took the train into New York City Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, walked around Peekskill (where we stay) Friday, enjoyed the festival Saturday and Sunday, and then came back home on Monday. Unfortunately, no matter how we tried, we couldn’t make the trip longer than a week and so a week’s where we maxed-out.

We were planning for Clearwater 2016, wondering when the performers lists would be published when, out of the blue, an announcement we could not believe. Clearwater 2016 was cancelled. Now you have to understand, this is the oldest folk festival in the US and it was being cancelled. There were lots of reasons given, lots of rumours afloat, and lots of fingers being pointed. Suffice it to say that the Executive Director quit while the Board rejigged, regrouped and restructured. I’m sure the other 14,999 people who attend were as heartbroken as I was.

At the same time as Clearwater was dealing with its issues my son was endeavouring to finish his last year of university. I say endeavouring because, as he reminded me every time we talked, he was not enjoying any of it and was having trouble being motivated. However, last October he finally, along with many other young people across the country graduated, and like most who have reached this point in their lives, he was looking for a job. Like many other young people in this country who graduate with a degree in liberal arts or humanities he spent months and months searching and searching, and like many other young people in this country,he went six months before getting an interview. He had become “the son living in the basement”.

I probably don’t need to tell you that he was getting pretty depressed. Finally, in April, he got interviews. He had four of them and two of those called him in for a second interview. One place asked him in for a one day trial saying he’d be paid. That was the place that offered him a job and he likes it. It’s not a career. He wants to go back to school. (Don’t ask!) He’s always wanted to go back to school but not just yet.

This digression is not totally irrelavent to the events I began sharing. You see, he found this job just four weeks, to the day, before we were to leave for our annual holiday. The tickets had been bought for Clearwater (no refunds) and the room had been booked at the Inn on the Hudson. (It’s an ordinary hotel, maybe 3 stars, but man has it got a view.) This year I bought tickets to see Come From Away on Broadway too. (I’d been given a ticket to the Toronto production as a Christmas gift. As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted my son to see it but the Toronto production was sold out. It was heading for Broadway and thanks to Google I learned it was going to be there when we were.) I went to the webpage the day tickets went on sale and got a special rate through a tourist thing and had great seats at a more than reasonable price. They were also non-refundable but I wasn’t worried about that because I was fairly sure I could sell them if I had to.

After we discussed it for a bit my son said that I should go without him. He also suggested a friend I should invite. His choice was very wise–a good friend from years ago with whom I’ve recently reconnected. We usually laugh at the same things and we know we can share accomodation. So I issued the invitation.

I’m afraid the rest of this story–if it interests you at all–is going to have to wait until the next blog because I read somewhere that people will only read about 800 words of a blog before they stop, and I’m at my limit.

 

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Common Compassion & Bombastic Brands

I have not made much use of this blog site. That is because my thinking and writing process is more reminiscent of the tortoise than the hare. It takes a while for my thoughts to fall into place so that I can try to make myself understood by others. However, being a tortoise is okay. For many years I have been assured of this by my good friend, Stuart McLean. No, I never met him, but like many Canadians I looked forward to each Sunday at noon-time when there would be another broadcast of The Vinyl Cafe. Along with many others in the nation I would learn about the gifts and contributions of ordinary people. And like many Canadians I knew Stuart was my good friend because I am an ordinary person and Stuart was a friend of ordinary people. Like many Canadians, this past Wednesday, I felt the numbness and the sorrow when I heard that my good friend, whom I would now never meet, had died.

Stuart reminded us that some of the most important people are the ordinary people. These are the people who don’t always get it right and don’t always look their best. They are the people who make us smile, they make a world of difference to us by simply being there. In some cases they do something they think is unimportant and it can turn a life around.

Stuart had the ability, in sharing his observations and stories about ordinary people to help his listeners focus on the goodness in this world. He reminded us of simple kindnesses ordinary people do for one another and he knew that our offers to comfort and to allow ourselves to be comforted were okay–they were ordinary. It is the ordinary people who get us through life and it is often the ordinary people who remind us of our worth and give us our personal excitement. These are the people we must carry in our hearts and memories. These people cannot afford naming rights and we will rarely see one of their names on a building.

Just under 24 hours after hearing of Stuart’s death there was a hastily convened press conference of the President of the United States. The current President has carefully crafted a bombastic brand that rarely offers kind words or compliments and seems so counter to all the goodness that I had been recalling as I remembered Stuart’s warmth, goodness and compliments. In fact, the only person I recall the current President complimenting is his daughter, and that was about her looks and not her personhood.

I heard him complain about the mess he had to clean up, and of course, about his favourite topic–fake news. I heard him insult and criticize. He lambasted and lampooned and his fans adored him. This manoeuvre brought the congress back into line–and the emerging GOP concerns were silenced.

The President’s name is on many buildings, golf courses, a university, and anything else for which he could pay. What an honour! Yet I wonder how people will carry him in their hearts and memories. What I wonder even more is who really contributes more to make this world a good place–the brand or the ordinary person?

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The diaper dilemma.

My friend Laura always expresses the reality of caregiving so well I don’t even try.

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In 2014 there was a heated online discussion about whether the following picture was appropriate.  In this photo we see James Lee carrying his sixteen year old son, who lives with severe disabilities, to the shower.  The image was part of a series authored by NPR exploring the demanding lives of caregivers.

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There was considerable response to the photo, including more negative responses than were expected.  So NPR published a follow-up discussion you can read via the link posted here.

I remember being generally indifferent about the picture.  This image is lived out in my home every day. Heck, we talk about poop at the dinner table.  This morning’s breakfast conversation discussed the timing of enemas.

I did, briefly, wonder if the picture was disrespectful to the Lee’s son who cannot consent to images that might be posted publicly.  But, as an extreme caregiver trying to illuminate the hidden…

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It continues and continues and continues…

Today my progeny phoned me, distraught. I heard the pain-filled voice and my heart lept. With the distance between us I was unable to offer any real comfort–except an ear–and an attempt at a calming voice. First the tears and sobs and then the anguished declaration “I have failed, again!” In the greater scheme of things this was not a life ending situation, but my mother’s heart was breaking.

Parenting is one of those jobs that continues, and continues and continues. I remember that even when I was more than a half century of age I would  turn to my father for adivce. In hindsight, I now wonder if he knew what he had signed on for when he became a parent, if he knew it would last for so many years. I can’t remember what I expected for myself at this stage of my parenting life.

I find that although I am now the parent of an adult I still want to take on those people who would dare to hurt my child–even when the pain was not intended. I also wish to embrace my child, to wipe away the tears, to cuddle, kiss and comfort; but this is not possible. And, so I listen.

Many thoughts enter my head. First, I am glad that I am not young in this day and age. I think it must be a very difficult time to be “starting out in life”.  Second, that despite the many differences, disagreements and arguments, I am still seen as a source of comfort and caring–and I confess it makes me feel good, or at least useful. Third, I am reminded, for the umpteenth time,  why there is so much difficulty for a family when parents become the vulnerable members rather than its supports. Fourth, I am amazed at how similar my child and I are–although most would take a look at the two of us and say “no way!”

We have shared some of the same experiences. I have referred to my life as being one where “I’m always good enough to make the team, but then I sit on the bench all season.” My child and I have each had a life with many blessings but also a not uncommon sense of inadequacy. We are each the type who always makes it to what is considered the upper level, but then is in last place at that level. In this very competitive world there is a constant reminder “I am in the bottom and have failed again”. It might be the bottom of the best, but it is still the bottom. In this very competitive world it is difficult to acknowledge “I have accomplished a great deal.” It is especially hard to acknowledge accomplishment when the pain is fresh.

I do my best to ackowledge the pain, tend to the fragility, and indicate the blessings–in equal parts. I hope I am right and that I have done those things in at least an adequate fashion. In any case, I have done my best. I am a mother and so I wonder.

It continues, and continues and continues….

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My thoughts are slow to come…

The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), is that the prohibition of doctors to accede to a request for assisted death is unconstitutional. Therefore, I am glad there may be a law –of some sort—to deal with this, although I do not think it can be examined in isolation. I am glad there will be some type of law in order to avoid the same situation as curently exists regarding abortion. There is no law, and while some may think this is a good thing, it does cause me some concern. These thoughts and concerns of mine come more slowly than I would like–they are still not fully developed. Here is a beginning. It is a beginning that began in a Facebook conversation with two colleagues.

Having no law about abortion in our country means: in  provinces that do not have pharmacare we pay for abortions but not contraception.; we practice eugenics; we cannot temporarily restrain a pregnant woman who decides to carry to term so that she will not ingest substances harmful to the child, etc., in the name of individual rights. At the same time: doctors who believe that abortion is wrong and do not wish to perform the procedures are vilified, and in some provinces might possibly face discipline if they refuse; it is now much harder to raise funds for those caring places that assist pregnant women and girls who do wish to carry to term and to relinquish their children, or those very young single mothers who need support in order to mother to the best of their abilities; there is now also a significant social stigma on those who willingly relinquish children, for whatever reason. I have heard more than one person who has had an abortion say “What choice did I have?” and yet I thought the SCC decision on the constitutionality of abortion was to provide choice.

So what does one SCC decision have to do with the other. When we focus on individual rights we do not think of communal or societal consequences. Does the new situation about doctors being allowed to take away life concern me? Yes. It terrifies me. We now spend very few of our research dollars on symptomatic relief or palliative care. Most medical schools offer little to no training about pain management. The attitude appears to be “If necessary give another drug” even though only two provinces have pharmacare, and many of the current narcotics cause hallucinations, delirium and other side effects that are not considered acceptable, as well as, other recent concerns about opioids that have emerged. (Many people with mental health issues that discontinue their medications also give side effects as the reason.) I have heard the argument that there simply isn’t sufficient pain management available, but as stated above, it is a much underfunded area of research and almost non-funded in non-pharmaceutical areas.

Today, provinces do not fund comfort care provided by massage therapists, physiotherapists, or parish nurses, and these three are recognized health care professionals–so it is not surprising there is nothing covered for any type of complementary medicine pain management when people are dying. The last federal budget didn’t even allocate one extra cent for home care, while at the same time it was preparing this proposed law. The majority of funding goes to active treatment to find cures or to enable people to become “independent productive members of society.”

If this law, that allows doctors to end life, is in effect I am sure there will be even less reason to fund any “care for the terminally ill or dying” causes—because there will always be the cheaper option. I am expecting we will begin to hear the phrase, “You know you don’t have to suffer like this,” being provided frequently as a caring alternative and eventually choosing to have  life ended will become a social expectation. Why do I think this? I’ve already heard news stories on CBC radio about growing old not being all it’s cracked up to be, and I know how shocked my previous lawyer was when I went to prepae a will and some advanced directives and said I do not want a DNR. You would have thought I’d committed mass murder by the look on her face.

I’m afraid the independence and dignity issue doesn’t really convince me either. I am contrary to most North Americans because I value humility, and prefer caring and interdependence to independence. I view independence as leading to some of our most self-centred decisions, making it easy for us to objectify life, both human and non-human and contributing to many of our social and environmental difficulties and collapses. Independence focuses on the individual and what is important to the individual. In this way it contributes to the income gap, colonialism, slavery, family violence, discrimination against people who have various levels of ability, etc. Independence is much less accepting of the imperfect. I as an individual need not be burdened and will idealize personal well-being and self-sufficiency to the point that I begin to realize that asking for help is shameful and undignified.

The two people for whom this thinking was originally intended were speaking from a faith perspective. All of us in the discussion are people of faith. As a person of faith (considered to be mainline Christian) I also do not believe the God I worship made us to be independent but to be interdependent. The writing of the Covenant and Holiness Code provide us with a means by which to live in community and not isolation. We are called to care for one another and to display the humility needed to have others care for us.

One of my heroes is Stephen Hawking. Imagine the personal decisions he has had to make and the humility he must have exercised to make them and live his life to the fullest. However, because of his case I have questions. For example, why is it that everyone cannot have his level of care? Why is it that the two people with ALS that I knew personally were not able to have voice synthesizers, as well as other aids available to Hawking? Will we deprive the 1% if we offer this type of care?

Do I want people to be forced to suffer pain with aggressive treatment after aggressive treatment for diseases that have only one outcome? Of course not. Aggressive treatment should not always be pursued. More important, once again, adequate research needs to be conducted so that pain management can be further explored.  Do I think that it’s right that people lose their dignity because they cannot care for themselves? Of course not. But how did our society get so fixated on self? In recent history we have devoted more energy to self development than caring for people. Rather than focusing on improving quality we are talking about ending life. Why is there so little research being done to deal with the consequences of accidents, diseases and aging. We have finally increased dementia research, and that is a good thing, but what about failing sight and hearing, what about arthritis, mobility issues and all the other compounding “ailments” that make life miserable, and as many would say “not worth living”. Why is growing old becoming more unaffordable?

When I cared for mother for the last few years of her life she would say that she wished she had not had her stroke, but she also was glad she had the opportunity to see and meet so many caring people and she adjusted where she found pleasure. When I cared for my father during the last few years of his life—he would also say that although he wished he had not begun to need dialysis it taught him that people cared about him. Each of my parents decided when it was appropriate to end active treatment. My mother’s death was in an era when we still wished to have people live forever, and the private care giving agency was too concerned about litigation, so that I had to argue and fight for everything she wanted. My father’s was much better because of the palliative care, home nursing we received and the willingness to adjust drugs etc. As well, we were fortunate in that we were able to pay for uncovered items such as a massage therapist and other such care.

I believe strongly that any legislation that allows for people to request that their doctors end their living needs to be accompanied by equally strong legislated caveats to ensure it is a choice and not an expectation.

 

 

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I do not succeed…

When I last wrote I mentioned that it was suggested I post a blog each week. My last blog was four weeks ago and so it is quite clear I have not succeeded in following this suggestion. Even as I wrote my first blog I wondered how I would find things about which to write. My life–although for the most part quite good–is also uneventful. There is very little in my life that I think would interest others. Neither is there much that is special in my life and worth reporting. Rarely do I need to dress up in my best “bib and tucker”. Most days of the year it seems I have nothing more to do than throw on whatever’s clean.

Recently I was looking at webpages for the various churches in my neighbourhood. It has probably been all the publicity surrounding The United Church of Canada (UCCan) and the Rev. Gretta Vosper that has been one of my motivators. How are the churches in my neighbourhood presenting themselves and what type of worship do they offer.

There are four churches in this part of the city that would be considered main-line descendants of the Reform Tradition. Two are UCCan and two are Presbyterian. From the webpages it appears that one of the churches is happy to be both theologically and socially conservative. The other three, that are within walking distance, proudly advertise themselves as casual. It also appears to me clear they are progressive theologically.

I read the webpages and the way they present themselves and I suddennly realize I’m getting old. I miss special. When everything is casual it is no longer unique or special. When every Sunday is casual, none is special. These churches are no more noteworthy than the churches of of my childhood when everyone dressed up for every Sunday–none special. Then again, when I was very young most of the people with whom I went to church belonged to blue collar families and so dressing up one day a week was special. In my teen years it was different. Most of the people were white collar workers and not wearing a tie or panty hose was a reason to rejoice.

I often sit with my family and friends in a casual fashion, after we have been working out and are still in our sweats; or over coffee, lunch or a drink. There have even been times when my son and I have sat in our pyjamas together enjoying a single malt as we discuss how to make a perfect world. (We have all the answers.) However, there are times when I see my family and friends that are special and I dress up and behave differntly–more formally. I would not think of wearing my overalls to a wedding, or when attending a citizenship ceremony.

I love my triune God (yes, my theology is orthodox). And just as I love those casual, intimate moments with friends and family I also love sitting in the casual comfort of God’s embrace. However, I am missing the special when celebrating certain events in the Christian year. Just as I appreciate the casual I also appreciate those times when the surroundings are special, and there is a reason to “dress up” without feeling out of place. I believe that Godhead that is the centre of my faith is very, very special–and occasionaly, I’d like to do something special to celebrate that specialness. I guess I am growing old.