Sunday, October 31, 2010


Edwin H. Friedman has written a collection of fables posing “dilemmas of human phenomenon.” The first time I read the first fable I was horrified at his proposition and I quivered for more than a week.

The fable describes a man who has, after much thought, determined his life’s goal. He packs a satchel and heads out to achieve it. He has a vision.

Traversing a bridge he sees a stranger approaching from the other side carrying a coil of rope looped around his waist and shoulder. They greet each other. The stranger asks the man to hold the end of his rope for a minute.

Not wishing to be rude—but wishing he had kept walking—the man reluctantly agrees. He no sooner holds the rope end in his hand than the stranger walks to the side edge of the bridge, uncoils the rope and jumps off.

Dr. Friedman recounts the conversation between the man and the stranger dangling at the end of his rope. We read the man recognizing his situation: continue to hold the rope and lose his vision or let go and hear the stranger drop.

In another book Dr. Friedman writes that asking correct questions is more important than searching for a smattering of answers.

The question I read in this fable is: what is the guiding force in the man’s life?
What question do you see?

Friedman's Fables - The Bridge

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Children of alcoholics smell anxiety like a cat smells a dog.  Their life depends on reading the people they depend on.

Though hard of hearing with her thought processes clouded by her dementia, Geraldine will wake up when someone else experiences distress. From her space she will offer “I’m sorry” without being involved in the situation. We offer to roll her to her room so she can put on lipstick. She knows she is being removed and she automatically says, “I’m so dumb.”

The wind chime of Geraldine’s family of origin was a jumbled kaleidoscope of sharp edges and unexplained change. There was a constant buzz of anxiety whenever her father showed up at the house. Would he be happy? Angry? Would he punish whoever unwittingly crossed his path? When Dad began to vibrate, everyone suffered.

Geraldine married a man just like dear old dad. We usually do because we search out the same level of coping that we grew up with. We are comfortable with what we know. After a tumultuous year her mother moved in and her husband moved out.

Forty years later her mind returns her to the reality of her youth. Knowing that reality helps us transition her to love and laughter in the present.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Geraldine has lived with worsening dementia for several years. Her family struggled to keep her in her own home much longer than was good for her. But how do you know?

They hired home care nurses to manage her medications and Geraldine chased them out with her fists and rake. She hid the pill bottles or took half the pills at one time. When her family discovered she was hiding her bills under her mattress and not paying them, they changed her mail delivery to their address. When they took over her banking, they learned she hadn’t cashed a pension or social security check in two years.

The family could no longer cover for her when Geraldine’s neighbors called at 2 AM complaining that she was pounding on their door asking for a ride to her house “miles away.” She did have the sense to call 911 after turning on all the gas burners of her stove.

“What happened?” she often asks us. “I worked hard all my life and I can’t even live in my own home. This isn’t fair.”

In her mind Geraldine is 40 or maybe even 50 years old. She kept a clean house and worked outside through rain and cold to manicure a yard the envy of the neighborhood. In her mind that is still the case.

Geraldine loved to weed and could reach the ground without bending her knees. Since a series of small TIAs she has been unable to walk more than 40 steps without a walker and assistance. In her mind she needs to get going and “do some stuff.”

Unable to raise herself out of her wheelchair she whispers conspiratorially, “How do I get out of this place?”

Her nephews and nieces come to visit but she doesn’t recognize these adult people. In her mind they should look like teenagers with long, unruly hair.

Geraldine lives in her own reality, sometimes joining ours and sometimes resisting. What happened is immaterial. What gives her pleasure and joy does matter.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Dementia smells anxiety like a cat smells a dog.

She can survive a loud noise, a door bell. Noisy visitors in the kitchen bring her forward in her living room chair. With a frown on her face she asks “What the hell?” (More about language later.) This is a sudden, acute anxious reaction.

But chronic anxiety that never becomes obvious enough to transition into a feeling is too much continual stimulation. Without knowing why, Dementia becomes angry.

When Dementia begins to vibrate, everyone suffers.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Someone in our family, who will remain nameless, dislikes tinkling wind chimes. I used to have a wind chime but became tired of re-hanging it after someone took it down. If the shells from Hawaii or cheap, tinkling tubes from China reproduced the thundering majesty of Berlioz’ Requiem with four brass choirs, 400 singers and a thousand kazillion tympanis, he someone would hang them on both north and south sides of our house. I have settled for occasionally enjoying our neighbor’s large, wooden wind chime singing in a stiff wind.

Similarly our families, as emotional units, vibrate like a wind chime or mobile. Each member is separate yet attached to another through the supporting bar or string. When a breeze disturbs one member, the balance shifts and all parts are affected. 

Transitional winds puff and blow, challenging our family’s balance. Our pattern of response reveals our system's learned coping techniques. 

None of us swings freely like a spider beginning a new web. We are all connected to long-established webs, some of which effectively fed us and some of which were easily blown apart, giving us little support and no sense of security. Considering the variety of wind chimes and mobiles available in the market place, we also recognize the variety and uniqueness of family systems.

Thank you to the creative and generous Sue Rena Curtis for allowing us to display her mobile, “Irene”.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Lyrics are words written to accompany music as expression of emotion and thought. Our emotions may set us to chattering. When we take a deep breath and release the unessential verbiage, we enter a spiritual exercise in succinct storytelling.

First we tell our story to ourselves. It is wise to apply the adage, don’t believe everything you think. Then we call for accountability and confirmation and the harmony begins. In time Truth may settle our nerves, and while it may not give us perfect pitch, Truth will encourage us to keep living with lyricism.

We enjoy favorites that combine musicality and words expressing our feelings of identity, place, belonging. Experience can be so individual that we continually invent new expressions. When we experience change these favorite lyrics keep us on the page.

It is a plain song that denies the history of our relationships, the connections with previous generations and dependence on a creative being beyond ourselves.

Unfortunately some days come when we begin to sing and the words wander away from us, when we need others to pick up the staff and lead us. Dementia or stressful circumstances force us into transitions where we barely recognize ourselves. The stories of family, friends and faith support us.

I look forward to sharing lyrics with you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


When we bought our adult family home we were edging side step toward retirement. Having never been retired before, we were uncertain how to define our life. Time was obviously an element of the definition as was activity. Remove meaningful activity and retirement becomes a slow death. We decided we preferred transition.

Our licensed home carried a name that began with an R and had little meaning for us. My husband suggested Adagio which would put us at the beginning of the alphabet (marketing tool). A musical term, Adagio indicates a slower tempo than Presto or Allegro, but faster than Grave.

We particularly liked the dance definition as “a section of the pas de deux in which the ballerina and her partner perform steps requiring lyricism and great skill in lifting, balancing, and turning.” Lifting and turning sounded a lot like transfers and physical therapy. Adagio is usually the second movement in a four-movement symphony. After almost three years of senior care, movement is written daily in our log but accompanied by important words like hard, formed, loose.

Adagio is a deliberate tempo giving time for reflection and deep breathing, rich harmonies and counterpoint. We move with ease from running arpeggios into soft, exploratory chords.

Adagio is a good change of pace regardless of your age or situation, a balanced stance during transition.