Sunday, January 30, 2011

Loss and Gain

When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.

I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.

But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.

          Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dementia: Measurement

Learning you is more than
your form.  It is experiencing
your losses
each time you miss a step
and your conversation
staggers between decades.
Your waking hour has long passed
beyond retrieval
slid under the breakfast table
under your husband’s chair
like steam from his coffee
and with your next breath
you will repeat your offer
to pour more coffee
or observe the clouds
certainly are dark this morning
thick and many,
as you will not remember my
reasoning word:
I pour the coffee because it is hot
I pour because I need order
the process unexamined
until now.
Learning you is learning myself.

Monday, January 24, 2011


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.

Adagio Lyrics offers a community sing-along.

Friday, January 21, 2011


How did we get our name?

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.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


If the decision were easy it would not be called “crossing the Rubicon.” How long can Dad/Mom continue to live at home?

Mrs. Buck’s daughter, Claire promised she would never be moved out of her own home. Her friends have died or moved and when Claire brings meals, Mrs. Buck complains about being lonely.

When his wife passed, Mr. Bard’s daughter hired live-in help at the cost of $8,000 a month. He likes the arrangement because he can work in his garden and watch what he wants on TV. A reserved man, Mr. Bard has someone to talk to if he wishes.

Mr. Cline’s children lived several hours distant. Whenever they visited they saw more dents in Dad’s car. The Cline’s neighbor called the closest son several times. His wife frequently brought cooked food to the old man and she saw no evidence of meals other than used cereal bowls in the kitchen sink. One day the neighbor called a daughter. Her Father had been standing out in the yard for over two hours without moving. Did she want 911 called?

Susan has spoken with her Mother’s doctor about a care facility for Mom. Susan’s aunt speaks daily with her sister and tells Susan there is nothing wrong. Susan is wicked for trying to put Mom away.

Caesar did not cross the Rubicon alone. He waited and paced along the banks and questioned his advisors before he made his move.

There are many websites with information. To get started I recommend Alice Kalso's blog, Boomers Guide To Eldercare . The Archive is conveniently organized for subject of interest. 

You are to be commended for asking questions and doing research on behalf of your senior.

Monday, January 17, 2011


No children want to take their Father’s car keys.

Our friend, John reluctantly gave up his driver’s license four years ago but keeps his car garaged. His daughter keeps the keys. He often tells us when his Father turned 84 he had caused two accidents. John and his brother sold their Father’s car. John, age 81, laughs as he remembers his Father claiming he never got the money.

Susan’s brother received a phone call. Their mother had driven to church a few miles from home, but ended up at the Canadian border.

Mr. Dykstra was well known in his community. His house was on the same street as an elementary school. He backed his car out of his driveway like a rocket regardless of traffic. He then drove through town at 15 miles per hour, ignoring stop signs and other vehicles.

John mourns his loss as he gives his daughter his grocery list for the week. Susan and her brothers are reluctant to deprive their Mother of her independence. Mr. Dykstra’s children acted after he was cited following several crashes and finally hit a school bus.

“Crossing the Rubicon” describes a decision that will take us past the point of no return. If we turn back from the Rubicon we are making a decision.  If we dither along the Rubicon’s banks, trailing a toe in the water, that indecision will also have ramifications. And Time is rarely on our side.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


In 50 B.C. Caesar, as Governor of Gaul, was ordered back to Rome. His was the losing political party. He approached the Rubicon River, the border of his region. If he crossed with his standing army, he would be declared a traitor by Pompey, the leader of the Senate. If he crossed alone he had little power to defend himself from Pompey’s probable accusations of malfeasance.

In 1951 Herman Wouk published his novel, The Caine Mutiny. Captain Queeg is a main character. Compulsive, eccentric, increasingly neurotic, he blames others for his failures. After grounding the Caine he is given a tow. Rather than attending to the progression of the ship, he allows himself to be distracted. Lacking direction, his helmsman fails to straighten out of a turn. The Caine severs the tow rope and drowns Queeg in humiliation.

“Crossing the Rubicon” describes a decision that will take us past the point of no return.  When my husband requested emeritus status from active ministry, when we bought Adagio Adult Family Home and agreed to care for seniors with dementia, we crossed the Rubicon.

Fortunately we are not faced daily with decisions of ”Rubiconesque” proportions. But after making such a decision, there are ramifications that require many more choices--to say nothing of explaining your decision to the troops. If the decision were easy it would be called “jumping Plaster Creek.”

Hence, one of my favorite quotes. “Sometimes when faced with decision, you don’t know if you’re Caesar about to cross the Rubicon or Captain Queeg cutting your own tow line.”

Monday, January 10, 2011


My Mother was a wonderful cook in a time when we rarely "ate out." Meat, potatoes and vegetables with fruit dessert were produced seven days a week.

Every three, four weeks when the cottage cheese containers of leftover pork and beef multiplied in the darkness of the refrigerator, Mom made chopsuey. If you are picturing a wok of aromatic stir fry, put a lid on it. Only the bean sprouts were fresh out of a can. I was never one to hang around the kitchen, so I can’t tell you what made the sauce. We ate it on rice and were dubiously thankful.

Correlate fresh, stir fried vegetables to new memories. Chopsuey is the hodgepodge of old memories, some true and some emotional reactions. The pot bubbles just below the surface. Sometimes it flavors our dreams. Sometimes a juicy tidbit is forked up by conversation, a newspaper article, or a “cringe.”

This is what I call a “cringe”:  I am working at a neutral task like weeding the garden or scrubbing the kitchen sink. Out of the soup arises a smelly memory of a past minor wickedness and involuntarily, I cringe. Not another soul is present to witness the jerk of my shoulders. I am alone with shame.

Like the time I locked out my college roommates. The Halloween we bowed to social pressure from an opinionated member of our congregation, and said “no” to our intricately, gruesomely made-up 13 year old eager to trick-or-treat in our neighborhood.

That’s all you’re going to get of my “cringes.” You’re stuck with your own. Knowing mine won’t make yours any more palatable.

Friday, January 7, 2011


For the past year conversing on the telephone with my 95-year-old mother has been challenging. During a conversation we ask or answer a question, hear her pause, and then she responds according to what she thinks we said. She emails to all my siblings her version of our conversation. We have agreed that what we read about each other and our children may not be accurate. We think still getting emails from her is remarkable. We treasure her and them.

20 years ago I lost a large percentage of the hearing in my right ear. My children forbade me to whisper in a public place. My husband accused me of selectively not hearing him. We don’t eat in noisy restaurants. I am quite good at hearing a few words of a conversation and deciphering the rest. I thought.

This morning I took a hearing test. Again I was told that there was little a hearing aid could do for me.

My husband empathized with my feelings of loss and sorrow. Then he said, “What irritates me is when you think you hear me and argue according to what you think I said.”


Wednesday, January 5, 2011


The “golem” concept garnered almost as many responses as “Egyptian Gold”. I thank you for your emails. Feel free to use the Comment capability of the blog. I am still mulling meanings and illusions from our use of folklore.

I think living “truth” is as difficult as staring into the sun. We lack the necessary equipment. White lies, denials, avoidance allow us to function despite our failures.

Pain is more natural than happiness. But we carefully construct our lives as if the opposite were true. We desire to be viewed as complete. Vibrantly healthy. Innately good. To quote Kay Ryan, “we count on persiflage.”

Then we come together in an organization like the Church.  We dutifully record the story of our congregation until a chapter erupts in conflict and we don’t look so good.

The truth of the Church is as bloody as any country’s wars. We can never create a golem strong enough, wise enough to protect us. That doesn’t stop me from trying.

The truth, if we choose to accept it, is that the story has been told. It is finished. We are the addendum, the mere illustration of fact.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, written by J. R. R. Tolkien was my beginning introduction to the “golem” concept. The character, obsessed with reclaiming his “precious” One Ring, aroused both my pity and loathing. His obsession deformed him. The One Ring would never restore him if he did regain possession.

I read of Golem again in Poetry is a Kind of Money by Kay Ryan.

Poetry is a kind of money
Whose value depends upon reserves.
It’s not the paper it’s written on
Or its self-announced denomination,
But the bullion, sweated from the earth
And hidden, which preserves its worth.
Nobody knows how this works,
And how can it?   Why does something
Stacked in some secret bank or cabinet,
Some miser’s trove, far back, lambent,
And gloated over by its golem, make us
So solemnly convinced of the transaction
When Mandelstam says gold, even
In translation?

Golem first meant “unformed” as King David in Psalm 139 honored God as omnicient. “When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.” Through Jewish folklore and tradition, golem became a creation made of earth, given life through magical incantations.  The golem would protect the faithful in the Jewish community.

Ryan uses the creature as a protector. Osip Mandelshtam, a Russian poet during the Stalin era, once said: “Only in Russia is poetry respected—it gets people killed.”

The “golem” concept intrigues me. Tolkien differed from Jewish folklore, creating a figure that endured a life of its own. A golem I would create would answer to me and never betray me. Golem is not God. It is a tool.

Our folklore emanates from our yearning and desires. It illustrates the world as we think it should be. Dangerous fancy.

Ryan, Kay. The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (Grove Press, NY, 2010)