Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: The Forgotten Man

Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man. A New History of the Great Depression. Harper Collins Publishers. 2009.

“These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensible units of economic power, for plans like those of 1917 that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”

--Gov. Franklin Roosevelt of New York, radio address in Albany, April 7, 1932

“As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X, or in the better case, what A, B, and C shall do for X….

What I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of….

He works, he votes, generally he prays—but he always pays….”

--William Graham Sumner, Yale University, 1883.

The Forgotten Man “is the story of A, the progressive of the 1920s and ‘30s whose good intentions inspired the country. But it is even more the story of C, the American who was not thought of. He was the man who paid for the big projects, who got make-work instead of real work. He was the man who waited for economic growth that did not come.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TRANSITION: Nearing Death Awareness

Grief Work usually refers to the survivor’s efforts to rebuild, to create a new normal. At Adagio until Grace’s passing we also used the term Grief Work to refer to our participation in our resident’s passage from life to death.

Two Hospice nurses have coined the phrase “Nearing Death Awareness” to describe the stations a dying person travels through to achieve the end of the line. We adopted this change in verbiage as we become aware of Grace’s transition points, gestures, statements, visions. 

A friend gave me the book Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley. They write “As nurses who care for the dying, we see ourselves as the counterparts of birthing coaches or midwives, who assist in bringing life from the womb into the world. At the other end of life, we help to ease the transition from life through death to whatever exists beyond.”  Our goal is to help our dying residents achieve comfort, peace and perhaps even joy.

Callanan and Kelley affirmed us with case studies describing similar experiences to our own. Each of our residents have reported or reacted to seeing loved ones who had died before them, a brother, mother, friend. Some would call this vision a hallucination. I was uncertain, but now am open to the possibility that they were met by important, caring people. These visions brought them comfort that they would not make the crossing alone. I leave it at that.

With our first near death experience I thought our work was the respect we owed someone who had contributed much to family, church, country during his life. I have since learned that expressing appreciation for and confirmation of their life was probably heard since hearing is the last sense to go. Speaking his name, the names of family members, organizations, assuring him that he had done well, he had been a good and faithful servant. He could let go. Speaking his name and assuring him, a confessing believer, that God knew his name and loved him slowed his breathing and I could visibly see him relax. Singing his favorite song in the emergency room calmed him into acceptance of the nursing staff’s physical ministrations.

My husband and I had learned through the years that people may be hanging on until their family gave them permission to “go home.”  They were fearful that they were abandoning their obligations. They may be struggling against death until a family member reunited with them and spoke of their love and perhaps forgiveness. Final Gifts affirmed that experience.

Our dying residents are not our only concern. Their families come in all stages of preparation and acceptance.

 “Patient and family exist as a unit—interacting and struggling together in what can become a perplexing maze of distress and anxiety. The solution to this maze requires attentiveness and willingness to listen and understand.” (Page 28)

Thank you to the Hospice professionals who have attended us at Adagio. Nearing Death Awareness…work we all will come to do at the given time.

Friday, September 9, 2011

From the Land of the Living

Several of you emailed valued responses and questions to my comment on "Patience" in my tribute to Grace. But like anxiety, patience requires research and hard thinking. I need a break from grief work.

An important aspect of living is eating. Last week we feasted on nectarines and the leftovers with berries became a free form tart.
This week we have enjoyed fresh peaches, but a few were developing brown spots. Time to bring out the church cookbooks. Thanks to our friend, Leona Van Sant, we have a copy of the 100th Anniversary Cookbook, I Reformed Church, Sully IA.  I began with the Fruit Crisp contributed by Kelly Zegers. We then developed our own concoction based on the standard oatmeal and yellow cake mix.

We welcome any variations or contributions you care to make. Perhaps we should offer a contest: the winner does not receive a snail mail package of our yellow, week-old broccoli.

Fruit Crisp

5 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 Tablespoon flour
1 cup brown sugar
1½ cup oatmeal
1 can fruit pie filling: apple, cherry, or peach

Place pie filling in bottom of 8X8-inch pan. Mix first 5 ingredients together and crumble over pie filling. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.

Adagio Resurrection Dessert

   We prefer to serve fresh fruit but resurrect this recipe when our fruit is on its last leg: peaches, nectarines, pineapple, bananas, apples, etc., hence our name for Resurrection Dessert.

Grease casserole or 8x8 glass pan.

Pour in 2 cups peeled and sliced peaches or any fruit combination.

Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. (All proper Dutch households store a shaker container of sugar mixed with quality cinnamon.)

2 cups *yellow cake mix 
¼ cup melted butter
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup oatmeal
1 beaten egg
Water, enough to make thick batter.

Pour over peaches.

Bake 350° for 30 minutes or the cake topping becomes firm and golden brown.

"Eet Smakelijk"

Adagio Adult Family Home
Kim Edsall-Badgett
Maxine Brink

*We buy commercial-sized yellow cake mix so here is where your originality can shine.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Grace transitioned this morning at 9:25. Her struggle with dementia is finished.

She taught me much. I now know patience is a decision made when I would prefer to walk away. I learned to release my grip on my agenda and listen to her expressed needs, garbled and vehement, but as legitimate as my own.

The person who thrived before dementia’s inroads took away her conversation skills still existed. She taught me to see the dead leaves and clutter beneath flower pots as offensive. Yet the pictures in her scrapbook are of lush dahlias and geraniums. She was a precise accountant and that mind set was evident as she made her bed and folded her napkin.

Before Grace, I did not know that death’s timing is off the clock. That it can nibble at your mind until it finally eats down into the brain stem, incautiously digesting the cells that on their own supply life to kidneys and lungs. Even in her loss she was gracious and easily smooched, “I like you.”

I did not know the danger in a nurse’s watch as it recorded seconds during which neither I nor Grace would ever breathe again.

Grace’s transition is complete. Mine without her has just begun. I miss you, dear one.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Treena reads a National Bestseller paper back under the hair dryer. Her small frame demonstrates her life-long disciplined eating habits and she wears tapered blue jeans with an ironed crease.  Her knit tee shirt bears no logo or witty saying, like "the trouble with reality is that there is no background music." She carries her wit in her head and speaks clearly with a wry sense of humor.

Her hair began thinning in her thirties, unlike her younger sister who inherited their mother’s thick hair. Three years ago her sister was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease which she inherited from their grandmother. The inequities cause Treena to laugh and inform her expectations of beauty.

The People magazine cover next to her chair pictures only attractive people 50 years her junior and she mostly doesn’t care. Her life has been full and she now feasts on the overflow.

Treena gestures to her hair. “It stinks. But I have arthritis in my hands and arms and can’t comb the back. When my friends come to pick me up they comb the back.”

She volunteers the subject of wigs. “Last time I wore my wig to work, when I took it off I realized I’d worn it backwards all day.”