Monday, December 30, 2013


The process of defining and naming New Year’s resolutions may perhaps be more important than follow through. We examine our girth, our temperament, our relationships, and identify wonts and ways we could change, consideration being the beginning of truth.

Anne Porter asks for authentication in “A Short Testament” from her book Living Things. I keep a copy hanging by the study door so I can be reminded as I go out to meet my world. Like everything that has a place, the paper has mostly become an unseen part of the wall. But it is there and, when I slow down, I see it and am reminded of its creed.

A Short Testament

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them,

Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I’ve destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them, I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death’s bare branches.


Monday, December 23, 2013

During the joy of Christmas music, lights, good food, we also experience grief. This year we have lost friends. I doubt we are alone. Our transition through time can weigh like a heavy coat and we resent the cold that forces its fabric on our shoulders. We don’t want to mark the days that are gone and the loved ones who have passed beyond our reach, some who have died and some whose memory of us mists like a Pacific Northwest fog.

In the most recent monthly newsletter of the WA Grief Support Services ( Rex Allen wrote three resolutions that perhaps will ease the burden of grief.  Allow me to offer them to you as moments of grace.

In the days to come, take the time to find a few moments and consider these three little resolutions. 

Each day I will nurture the gratitude that memories of my loved one create in my heart.

Recent health studies have shown that when we incorporate gratitude into our lives on a daily basis, we actually improve our overall health. No matter how challenging your relationship with your loved one may have been, look for those memories that help you be grateful on a daily basis.

Each day I will look for moments of peace in every breath that I take.

As best you can, live in the present and allow your life to unfold moment by moment. You cannot change the past, nor can you live an unknown future — look for peace in the moment at hand.

Each day I will open myself to the possibilities of hope.

While it may seem all but impossible now, hope will grow in your life again. Look for the possibilities of hope — hope for a gentler year; hope for more understanding. 

By whatever calendar you mark the beginning of a new year, remember: each day is simply that — another day. And it only carries with it the meaning which you choose to give to it. If in your grief, you can approach each day with the intention of honoring memory, breathing through the opportunity of the moment, and honoring the hope that these little resolutions might provide, then your loved one will never be forgotten or left behind, for their heartbeat will be contained within your own. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013


The dissension swirling around a green fir tree, Christmas or Holiday greetings, lights beginning at winter solstice as done years ago, the reason for the season and much more are mere quibbles. And much of the folderol we attach to our religious exercises depends more on our self concept than fact. The music we entertain at Christmas illustrates the rational theology we will tolerate or consider politically incorrect. The need for a divine child is accepted with humility or rejected with pride.

Anne Porter, one of my favorite poets, pens her view of our situation preceding Christmas.

Adam’s Fall

None of the animals feared me, I’d given them all their names,

At night I fell asleep with my head on the lion’s flank,

All day I did nothing but sing, there was an abundance of fruit,

I had only to hold out my hand,

and the Lord would fill it with bread.


But when I woke up this morning there was no garden around me,

I was lying alone with Eve on the hard ground

And we were hungry, but there was nothing to eat.

The animals wouldn’t come to us anymore,

And where the door to the garden had been, there was nothing

but fire.


Anne Porter. Living Things: Collected Poems. Steerforth Press, LC.



Thursday, December 19, 2013


This week of family celebrations is also a time to remind each other that many different life styles and traditions are enjoyed around the world, traditions that are being disrupted by war and hatred. The destruction of Coptic Christian churches stirred me to re-read Night by Eli Wiesel.

He was born Eliezer Wiesel in Sighet, Romania (1928). He grew up in a Hasidic community and learned to love reading by studying the Pentateuch and other sacred texts. When he was 15, he and his family were rounded up and deported by cattle car to the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Poland. Wiesel lied about his age and was sent to a labor camp with his father, while his mother and a sister went directly to the gas chambers. Wiesel survived eight months at Auschwitz, then Buna and Buchenwald. Between camps, his father died from dysentery and exhaustion. Near the war's end, the guards stopped feeding the prisoners and started killing thousands a day. On the morning of April 11, 1945, an uprising took place within the camp, and it was liberated later that day.

While hospitalized upon his release, Wiesel sketched an outline for a book on his experiences but found it unbearable to face and he put it aside, telling himself he'd return to it someday. He was sent with other orphans to live in France, and a chance photo of him in the newspaper reunited him with his two surviving sisters. He stayed in France and began to study literature and psychology at the Sorbonne. He struggled mostly and was at times suicidal until coming across a militant Jewish organization in Palestine that needed writers for their paper. He began reporting for them and soon found a niche for himself as a foreign correspondent for various French papers.

Finally, a mentor, Fran├žois Mauriac, persuaded Wiesel to write about the war, and over the course of a year, he wrote in Yiddish an almost 900-page memoir, called And the World Was Silent. He found a publisher in Argentina who trimmed the book down to around 300 pages, retitling it Night (1958). Wiesel said: "There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred that is a result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don't see them." Though it initially sold just a few thousand copies, Night has since been translated into 30 languages and has sold roughly 10 million copies worldwide.

For the next decade, Wiesel put out almost a book a year, including Dawn (1961), The Town Beyond the Wall (1962), and A Beggar in Jerusalem (1968), all dealing with the Jewish experience before and after the Holocaust. In 1986, Wiesel received the Nobel Prize in literature for his writing and teaching. He was instrumental in establishing the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and he has campaigned against violence and racism in Darfur, Bosnia, and South Africa.

He said: "Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds."


Thursday, December 5, 2013


Nelson Mandela died today at age 95 having made a difference in this world. His was a miserable life under the insanity of apartheid, then 27 years in prison. He changed us so that we now pause and wonder how he survived each of those years. We wonder if our life is making a difference for those we love and those we hate, and which matters more.

Wendell Berry wrote Enemies:

If you are not to become a monster,
you must care what they think.
If you care what they think,

how will you not hate them,
and so become a monster
of the opposite kind? From where then

is love to come—love for your enemy
that is the way of liberty?
From forgiveness. Forgiven, they go

free of you, and you of them;
they are to you as sunlight
on a green branch. You must not

think of them again, except
as monsters like yourself,
pitiable because unforgiving.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Families are the blessings and complaints of the Thanksgiving Day celebration. Last June my mother attained 98 years of life. I was able to visit her this month and we reminisced about the wonderful years we enjoyed together and some of the lessons learned.

We remember and give thanks for the riches we gained through family members throughout the years. My mother used to evaluate someone who had fallen in life, that they lacked the blessings of inner resources. It was her duty and joy to build our awareness of responsibility and privilege. Now our duty is to give back to our community patient contradiction when we see error in ourselves and others, and to offer assistance and support.

I opened our Book of Common Worship and was pleased to read the prayers offered for those experiencing tragedy, for the sick and those giving care, for one in emotional distress, for someone who is old, for an Alzheimer’s disease patient and for those giving care, for those suffering with AIDS, among others.

In the riches of faith and amid the misery we experience in life, I return to Psalm 100.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.

Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

May your Thanksgiving Day be blessed.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Sitting at the kitchen table after breakfast, a resident latched onto our small, apple basket filled with individually wrapped tea bags. She fanned them out across the table, lining them up like a train wreck. Then she opened three Tetley bags and dropped papers and tea in a pile. I watched her focused attention as I stood at the counter stirring boiling water into the strawberry flavored gelatin. Our caregiver came into the kitchen, saw the tea upheaval and rushed to rescue and re-create order.

The question of the day is this: what does it matter?

A few tea bags are not a great expense.
The wood table and ceramic tile floor are easily swept.
Who says tea bags can only be used to brew tea?
If this activity is removed, with what will we replace it?

I think the issue is that a common object was used in an uncommon way. We are accustomed to seeing tea bags carefully removed from the paper wrapping and dropped into a cup in preparation for hot water. The paper is then crumbled and neatly disposed of.

We all have our preconceptions about appropriate and inappropriate, positions that we lean into rather than carefully evaluate. These positions encourage us to criticize when someone acts differently than we would. We don’t know the story behind someone’s choices; we just know it is not what we would choose.

Does it matter? Does it cause consequences of irreparable damage? Do our grumbles emanate from a justifiable, moral base? Or is it just different?

By the by, the apple basket was named such because two small wooden, red apples each dangle from an end of short, hemp twine wrapped around a leather handle. And it’s the right size for individual tea bags. Now that I think of it, the Pennsylvania manufacturer does bill it as a tea basket. But we could name it something completely different. If we all agreed, would it matter?


Tuesday, November 12, 2013


One of our residents easily develops hang nails on her cuticles. I Binged it:

A hang nail is a small piece of skin that has separated from the cuticle and is growing away from the nail bed. Hang nails typically occur on the side of the fingernail and they can be red and tender. Hang nails can be a minor annoyance, but they can also become infected if they are not cared for properly. Most health organizations, like the Mayo Clinic, recommend trimming hang nails with a clean pair of nail scissors as soon as they are spotted. Never pull, pick or bite at a hang nail--this is a surefire way to bring about a nail infection. As you are caring for your hang nail, be sure to wash your hands regularly to reduce your risk of infection.

But, here is the truth. She likes to fuss with and about her hang nail. When we cream her cuticles and gently push back at the anomaly, she fusses until the skin again sticks out and annoys.

Does this make sense? Well, here is the truth. We enjoy fussing which rapidily becomes grumbling. And while we are grumbling we are not listening compassionately. We are not asking questions that would lead us to understanding and peace. Understanding and peace demand we give up a piece of ourselves to others and that is hard work.
I made a rapid transition from a minor health issue to a major social issue. Because here is the truth, minor irritants quickly expand to become major conflicts.


Saturday, November 2, 2013


Into every kingdom a dragon will at some time creep, unbidden and fearful. Ever since Eden. It may happen as soon as a child is born to a parent with undeveloped boundaries, or the fire-breathing dragon may greet you at the door to your sixth-grade classroom. We learn quickly what nourishes and what irritates the dragon into erupting like an unpredictable volcano. The dragon in your life may show itself to be a co-worker or supervisor who boldly or perhaps obliquely stings under your skin depositing venom that festers.

Some inhabitants of the kingdom may foolishly think they can corral and train dragons. They torch their energy in vain with self-diminishing results. We are never prepared when the bite comes, shock setting off explosive response. We should not be surprised when we find ourselves cowering in avoidance.

Dementia can be a dragon. Remembering this at all times is the trick to survival. Caution can be exhausting. Learning to embrace the dragon, but just out of reach, is all consuming but gives the caregiver perspective. The dragon will never understand boundaries, but for our own protection boundaries are crucial.  “I am me and you are the habitat of the dragon. I care for myself first and then I can move in and treasure you, care for you and supply your emotional needs.”

Remember, you are never alone in the battle and many supporting wizards are prepared to strengthen you. Consult or similar websites for caregiver support groups. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Our guest writer, Alice Kalso, can be read on her blog,

If your parent has dementia, it can be tricky when a care provider asks him or her direct questions.  The nurse says, "Do you have times when you can't make it to the bathroom in time?" Your parent answers, "No."

You know otherwise. So how do handle the dementia version of the facts?  Two responses immediately spring to mind.  Contradicting your parent in front of an authority--even if you're right--doesn't work.  It sets off a chain of defensiveness. A better way is to wait until after the formal conversation is finished to correct the mistakes in private.

Often my clients teach me things I'd never know otherwise.  Not long ago I observed a third way to handle skewed facts caused by dementia.  An adult child sat next to her father, who had Lewy Body Dementia. Across from them sat a social worker who did his "intake":  a series of questions designed to pinpoint care needs.

As the social worker began to ask questions, it became apparent that the older man's answers didn't match the reality. For example, when the incontinence question came up, the parent shook his head.  "No problems."

His daughter quietly slid her chair back a few feet.  Because of his diminished peripheral vision, caused by dementia, her parent could no longer see her body language.  She "corrected" his answers, simply by nodding or shaking her head, and taking notes on certain points that needed explanation later.

Who would have guessed that simply sliding a chair could have made such a big impact in ferreting out the truth while maintaining an elder's dignity?  We listen. We learn.  We grow.


Thursday, October 17, 2013


“Pin the Tail on the Donkey” was a game determined to make the blindfolded pinner look asinine. The experience of being blindfolded changed our requirements for functioning. Our emotions rushed from stomach to head causing our fingers holding the pin to tingle. We became aware of sounds and emotions we could no longer see.

A transient ischemic attack, commonly called a mini-stroke or TIA, changes the game. We experience loss that may be insignificant or earth shaking. The insignificant TIAs are more common than we care to know. A more serious stroke effects balance and we fall breaking a bone or hip. Or we lose the ability to speak with words that accurately describe what we think. This “spell” may last for a few minutes before we recover or we may permanently struggle like our residents say, “close but no cigar.” 

At Adagio we encourage each other by laughing when the wanted word hovers just to the left of right. As Nora Ephron wrote, “I know the word I want; it’s floating over there, but my brain doesn’t have peripheral vision.”

TIA’s force us to live along dotted lines. Our firm boundaries have broken down and we need our families to wander with us while we determine where we are and where we aren’t any longer. We also need them to gently provide the backbone as we hope with little hope to return to normal.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

DEMENTIA BOUNDARIES to be cont. later

For some time I have been wondering about the social boundaries—or lack thereof—we use as we experience social changes. It seems to me that the white picket fence has been replaced by barbed wire. Discussion of issues has become replaced by wholesale relegation. And it is wearing me out.

We take great joy in assigning hideous, gross terms to those whose views we disagree with. Hitler has become a popular comparison, although no specifics are given. Just Hitler. If you don’t know what “tea bagger” or “gang banger” mean, you won’t learn it here. “Brown noser” takes on new meaning when the subject shows a hint of African American progenitors. Speaking of racism, who decides that “cracker” or “N….” is the worse slur?

Parodie and clever emails are only funny to the viewer who has decided that the derided person is worthless. That automatic consignment suggests the parodist is taking a break from our common humanity. Snopes may be of service but even that research is done by people of bias.

So I wonder…if you are not my friend on a particular issue, does that make you my enemy? And if we disagree, does that mean that you are a liar, a pervert…you can finish this list with the term you last yelled at your television newscaster. Perhaps the level you stoop to in your name calling illustrates your frustration at being powerless to effect change. It does me.

I don’t know another human being who agrees with my opinions on every subject. Proves there are many smart people. Some of my opinions and boundaries are formed on the fly, but others are built by necessity to satisfy my basic needs. My voice becomes more shrill as your positions cause me pain. And that’s a fact I need to consider as I am tempted to call you “stupid” or worse.

If you get near Springfield, Illinois, the Abraham Lincoln Springfield Museum is a must. They built a tunnel and the sound system plays many Lincoln detractors and supporters shouting at you as you pass pictures of people and events of the Lincoln presidency. Yowzer! Makes Nancy Pelosi and Ted Whatshisname sound intelligent and impartial. (Was that a slur?)

Following Nixon’s election a New York maven exclaimed to her friend, “How did this happen? I don’t know a single Republican.”

So just to let you know, I am not interested in receiving your emails describing any politician in sexual terms, denigrating a politician on anything but their issue—let me re-write that—the topic of disagreement, and I am taking a break from politics altogether until I vote in the next election. I don’t think your poems and essays are funny and I will delete them, saying a prayer for our mutual sanity until better days. Establishing this boundary makes me feel better already.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Boundaries etch lines into our psyche like a potter etches design through the waxy ground on a goblet. Or like ocean sand grinds and polishes glass lost to the waves.

Some of our boundaries are intentional but many dig in unnoticed through our experiences, observations, mistakes. Only when we walk into a similar situation do we realize we hold an opinion. Only when that opinion is challenged do we realize how important it has become, how deeply rooted.

Boundaries maintained by fear paralyze us, disassociate us from ability to analyze and evaluate possible benefits of changing our position. Fear causes reactions to erupt from our *brain stem, emotional and irrational as we carve community into pieces irretrievable when we decide we desperately need to recreate a productive whole.

We may consider ourselves safe within such boundaries. In fact, we are isolated.

Dementia builds walls with fear as it slowly strangles rational past behavior. The challenge of caregiving is to learn the new boundaries as they appear, and adjust our behavior to accommodate. The challenge of leadership is to listen to community members explore the formation and defense of their boundaries.

*The human brain is divided into three parts: the Neocortex analyzes, observes, creates; the Mammalian loves, hates, bonds and plays; the brain stem or Reptilian controls automatic functions, survival, and unconscious acts like breathing.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013


We have all read Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall” that begins, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall….”

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.

If Frost and his neighbor scattered the stones of their wall, the legal boundary line would still exist. Frost would pay taxes on his property and the neighbor would pick up the community requirements within his designated perimeter. The alteration would be visual but without legal ramifications.

We each have needs that must be met for content, productive living. We develop boundaries that give us safe space, that allow us to function with family, friends, strangers, work partners.

Frost ponders the psychological barrier between his neighbor and himself as they walk their border, each contributing to the stone wall. Like Frost, we may profit from evaluating the boundaries we build within our relationships.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013


How can we maintain authenticity and integrity if we do not clearly identify “what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.” (Boundaries. Chapter 2) A boundary is a dotted line demarcating who I am and lets in good information and closes ranks to shut out damaging stuff. Or so the theory goes.

Our self definition and conscious recognition that this is who I am may be as follows:  Physically, I will never be a tall, lanky bean pole. I was genetically built with my father’s nose and his mother’s thin hair. My sister inherited the accounting genes, but I was gifted with science skills that place me in the medical health care industry. Emotionally, two of us inherited our father’s quiet patience and one our mother’s busy finger-in-every pie energy.
As we experience life, we further define who we are and who we will never become no matter how hard we try. And that that’s okay. Recognition and acceptance of this person who lives within our boundaries assists us fend off demands that we be something other than what we are.
The better we become at self identification and verbalization, the better our boundaries will hold our self together, allowing us to explore and experience new opportunities, to encourage and give to those around us.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Interaction with one other person requires being aware of our boundaries. The lines that define our personhood and its physical containment may be invisible but never amorphous, moveable with limitations but ignored to our detriment and with disagreeable consequences.

The most useful documentation I have on my bookshelf is Boundaries, When to Say Yes, When to Say No To Take Control of Your Life. The authors are Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.

Operating an adult family home demands that we delineate our boundaries. Because the subject is so important, Washington State DSHS has outlined rules for us in a hefty, continually revised missive affectionately called the WAC. For example, we wash our hands in the kitchen sink only when we are handling food. Any bathroom-type activity requires washing in the bathroom or the utility room.

Until you verbalize this boundary and think about the ramifications (contagious bugs) it may seem silly. It is a legitimate boundary. Like telling someone that they are hurting you when their handshake is too hearty. Like telling someone that you do not want telephone calls after a certain hour. Like telling a coworker that when they don’t come to work on time they are affecting your work.

Identifying a boundary to the people with whom we share this planet may require that we also identify consequences. (Rather than you call me after 10PM I will be happy to call you at 5AM when I get up.) And here comes the sticky wicket. Somewhere in our lifetime we were told that we need to be nice. If you are not nice then you must be horrible.

My dear father-in-law could draw out the “i” vowel and create a truly frightful sound. He forever ruined for me that pleasant word “nice.” Try it adding a whine while you smile into the “i.”

Legitimate boundaries will offend someone sometime, but you will remain intact, authentic, faithful, trustworthy, and perhaps even a bit nice.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013


A found poem takes verbiage from an unpoetic source and shuffles the rhythm and words.  We saw a bumper sticker with the following advice:

Do Not Meddle in the Affairs
of Dragons...For You are 
Crunchy & Good with Ketchup
Food is what you give your dragons
in order for them to gain experience
and increase their flight level. Dragon food
is produced in camouflaged farms
to prevent them from foraging themselves sick.
These farms can be upgraded to unlock
a wider variety of plants that will
then produce larger stacks of food.
If you are serious about training a dragon,
you must keep them fed or they will begin
to view their keepers as a viable food source.
Other ways to obtain food include:
a gift from friends, or
inside mystery eggs, being visited
by friends’ balloons, or completing
certain goals for daily prizes.
Whatever source you choose,
be consistent and stay out of reach.
                   Maxine Brink  © 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013


The heron stands
motionless, balanced
between one meal and the next.

The swallow turns
and banks, nipping insects.
The dragonfly wings away.

I rock feebly.
They bib me for dinner,
but when did we eat breakfast?

My Mother danced
above hot pots steaming,
my plate and memory full.

Now, I hold neither
hunger nor remembrance.
Strength fails without balance.

                M. Brink © 2013

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”   Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Guest Blogger: Alice Kalso

As life draws to a close for your aging parent--or for any of us, for that matter--the complex becomes simple.  Dr. Ira Byock, MD, physician and author of "The Four Things That Matter Most," boils down the essence of end of life into four sentences:

1.  Please forgive me.
2.  I forgive you.
3.  Thank you.
4.  I love you.

Notice the order of the sentences.  Forgiveness comes first. Not terribly surprising.

Dr. Byock's preface contains a meaningful quote by theologian Paul Tillich about forgiveness.

"Forgiving presupposes remembering.  And it creates a forgetting, not in the natural way we forget yesterday's weather; but in the way of the great 'inspite' that says I forget although I remember: Without this kind of forgetting no human relationship can endure healthily."

Our job is to listen, support and affirm.  And  forgive.  As we hear these four sentences--either audibly or nonverbally--we enfold our aging parent in love.


Saturday, July 27, 2013


Imbalance may be related to conflict. Families have had years to develop impediments in their interpersonal relationships and behavioral habits.

A mother can sit calmly as her sons walk in the front door, but become agitated and quarrelsome as the daughter visits. A father can lie unresponsive in his bed when one son visits and exhibit agitation and anxiety when a different child appears.

These are patterns that have developed through the years and will not disappear when dementia moves into the parent’s brain.

The time to resolve conflict is when we mentally can. An entire lifetime does not need to be brought out, he said she said teased apart and isolated for examination. But children were children when the relationship was built usually while the parent was anxiously building a career and discovering who they were themselves. Assumptions both child and parent made were partial truths. Identifying a particular memory and cleansing it in apology deactivates the deadly power the memory has to divide and continue to cause pain.

War is a deadly method of resolution. Balance can be restored by lifting one foot to see what impediment causes the hazard. Then holding on to the arm of the offender/offended, scrape it off and together throw it away.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


The tempo Adagio is sometimes prescriptive rather than descriptive, the required balance nowhere in evidence. Balance is an interesting concept originating from the Vulgar Latin balancia equivalent to the Late Latin, a pair of scales. When we lose our balance the sight can be truly (vulgar) outlandish.

Balance requires kinesthetic sense placing our foundation -- usually our feet although sometimes the weight distributed in the pelvic area – beneath our gravity centers as we stand or motate. Interestingly, walking requires balance to be shifted from foot to foot while in transition until a new foundation is established, suspending us imbalanced. We don’t think about it until someone pulls the chair out from under us, or our foot is placed wrongly and we stagger, out of balance.

Balance is so important that we carry the concept’s language into interpersonal relationships, mental conditions, family budgets, business relationships, etc. Where do we place our weight?

When dementia afflicts a brain the balance between reality and delusion becomes affected. To varying degrees we each maintain our own psychological balance between fear, need, and satisfaction. When balance remains precarious, we invent compensations that allow us to move forward in living either scherzo, adagio, grave, or some combination. Compensations like eye glasses, crutches, wheel chairs, or even war to remove the impediment.

Friday, July 12, 2013


Recently I conversed with an 86 year-old widow caring for her 62 year-old disabled son. Fortunately he is highly functional and a pleasant man. She told me of her plans for her son when she can no longer be the chauffeur and main functioning member of their family. We agreed that her plans were not for “if” but allowed for “when” the transition would take place. She is a wise woman.

A major transition in our country’s economics occurred on October 15, 2007.  It was the day the very first baby boomer filed for social security benefits.  For the next 20 years more than 10,000 baby boomers will hit retirement age every day and nearly 75% of them expect to live well into their 80s, even 90s.

Major companies for many years have recognized this shift in finances and wisely prepared for it. Fewer and fewer companies offer pensions. Most encourage and contribute to 401 plans. This means the employee must save and plan for herself.

It also means that contributors to social security will no longer be doing so but will become a draw. For millions of retirees their monthly checks are not enough to live on, an income which, of course, social security was never meant to provide. Somehow expectations have exceeded the possibility.

In practical terms the transition from “if” to “when” affects the money the baby boomers’ children thought they could spend on vacations that “they deserved”; it means they will not have their homes paid off by age 50. It means they will not have the savings necessary for assistance “when” they need it at age 62 or 72 or older, costs that—without medical bills and prescriptions—can deplete their funds by $3 to $9,000 per month.

Baby boomers themselves can be the worst culprits in the denial game. The statistics of people over 62 shows falls as a major debilitating experience. But we continue to load our golf clubs into the van with no plan about when the physical fails.

Today my right eye ball was measured for cataract replacement. My two technical nurses had both experienced life threatening car accidents but neither knew about the POLST form.

If we fail to plan realistically, we plan to fail at great cost.  (I do dislike this ditty but have none other that serves the purpose as well.) Transition is not about “if” but “when.”  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


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 five 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.

Sunday, June 30, 2013


License plate on an SUV.

The dark SUV waited next to us at the traffic light before we both turned left onto the 526 entrance ramp. When they pulled ahead as the ramp narrowed to a single lane, I read the message on their license plate. Considering the obnoxious and aggressively political stickers on other cars, I was impressed. The SATISFID driver veered right to travel south to Seattle. I wished them well.

We continued over the hill facing east. The Cascades stretched out before us like a century’s long dragon tail, the mountains’ peaks boasted white covering remnants above 12,000 feet.  The air was unusually clear and we could see the crevices and outcroppings normally hidden in blue grey haze this time of year. Blue sky bowled up and over the mountains accented by high, white cirrus clouds.

We smiled. Our conversation expressed satisfaction: We get to live here. We are healthy. We have the money to shop at Costco for our unusual family. Our car runs. We haven’t received any emergency phone calls. Etc. Here is our appreciation for the family who chose to publically express the unusual sentiment of contentment.

Friday, June 21, 2013


Everett is known as blue collar but has become an artsy town and every August the Schack Arts Center sponsors an art festival along the waterfront of Gardiner Bay.

Several years ago we were still learning senior care, dementia, joyful choices and all the rest that goes into enriching people’s lives at the end without killing ourselves. I walked into a booth of photographs by Kathy Williams and fell in love. My favorite is a series portraying the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington with intimacy yet variety of formidable terrain. I bought a card displaying “Phantom Trees.” Other frames show a hillside strewn with rocks that tumble down to a stream half-heartedly meandering somewhere. Above the stream is the stony path in my photo that first looks accessible, but at a curve is obliterated by the traveling rocks. In the distance on a hillock three and two conifers wait in the mist to see whether I challenge the path or turn back.

I have written essays, a story and poems while studying my small copy of “Phantom Trees.” They have been words I needed tell myself whether or not they are ever read by others.

The photograph is a rich metaphor of trouble that everyone I know has lived at least once during their lifetime. Challenges that either break us off at the ankle or bless us with renewed passion for the journey. From the looks of some of the boulders blocking the path I think I best leave the hiking to Kathy with her camera and work at the challenges in our home.

Today while visiting a dear friend in the hospital I saw displayed in a visitors’ area Kathleen’s large photo of the stream. It gave me assurance that my friend would survive this landslide in her journey and continue with renewed strength.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013


There are many people I wish had not died. The shock of William Stafford no longer writing still reverberates my nerve endings. I just recently discovered Richard Hugo, and he’s gone.

In his book of essays on poetry and writing, “The Triggering Town” Hugo suggests writers avoid form and rhyme unless they are dry and need the structure to re-juice themselves. I think I disagree but maybe not. Writing from the limitations of a form, albeit ABBA, sonnet or sestina, forces me to enlarge my vocabulary and visual associations. Internal rhymes, slant or straight up and down can make a poem sing, especially when the  rhyme is not an endstop.

Some things to think about when deliberately beginning to write a poem. Or when you are reading a poem.

Richard Wilbur is still alive and writing as far as I know. What caught my attention was his self-imposed form in the poem, “Flying.”  My sister recently reminded me of a tree we used to climb. Sitting high in the branches came close to flying. Wish I had such a tree today.


Treetops are not so high
Nor I so low
That I don't instinctively know
How it would be to fly

Through gaps that the wind makes, when
The leaves arouse
And there is a lifting of boughs
That settle and lift again.

Whatever my kind may be,
It is not absurd
To confuse myself with a bird
For the space of a reverie:

My species never flew,
But I somehow know
It is something that long ago
I almost adapted to.

"Flying" by Richard Wilbur, from Anterooms. © Houghton Mifflin, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Family caregivers need respite or their physical and emotional health will be adversely affected. Asking for help is a first step. Naps, even short ones, rejuvenate the caregiver. Now if we could only get everyone who thinks they need to talk with us to cooperate during these brief rests, full benefit would be received.

Rest Disrupted
I rest with head and feet raised on two pillows each,
My ping pong mind dribbling slower
And slower among my duties past and future

When the phone rings, once. Annoyed awake I focus
On possible callers: A ring once and hang up. Perhaps
They’ll try again. Or someone in the house answered

And heard important information. More likely
They were offered a billing service if our company
Accepts credit card payments. Or a sales
Rep in North Carolina sees we should be needing
Disinfectant. Which makes me wonder
From my bed if we have used up the six gallons

We bought last year to receive free shipping.
Not likely. Or the recorded voice was NOT concerned
About our credit card but we should know--at

Which point I would press “1”  to remove our name
From their list, an action that hasn’t worked
In six years. No footfalls in the hall mean no one

Is coming to get me. But the damage is done;
Curiosity rattles rest from my mind and
The fall out shoves me from the bed. Finis.

Saturday, May 11, 2013



Unless you killed in an accident or become sick and die, you will continue living. For a while.

You would not believe how many people avoid this reality. They may be reminded when they receive a funny greeting card on a birthday or anniversary, but otherwise they choose denial and cling to evasion with admirable tenacity. But there is a cost to living day after wonderful day.

Many are flummoxed when they do not continue in the same health and condition as they enjoyed ten years previous. Personally, I don’t like the decline however subtle, but there doesn’t appear to be much I can do about it, Dr. Oz and the latest health juju not withstanding.

We buy life insurance, car insurance, stumble around to find understandable health insurance. What we cannot purchase at any price is a guarantee that health and energy will continue unabated forever and ever. In fact the opposite is a surety. Following a stint with Weight Watchers, I can barely tolerate the maxim, Failure to Plan is a Plan to Fail. Unfortunately FPPF is truest with our health and preparations for eventual sickness.

There is a price to be paid for living. (Older people tend to repeat themselves.)

So here is reality. As we age we require more medications that require more money from the insurance plus our co-pay. Once we start down this slippery slope there is no loose gravel to dig in, gain traction and climb back up.

You can claim otherwise but the statistics are not in your favor. And reality shadows the sun in many unpleasant directions.

If you are younger than 40, the above sad tale may be describing your parents rather than yourself, for now. We have been fortunate to have my 98-year old mother blaze a path through mortality and we commend her for aging gracefully. Especially since tomorrow is Mother's Day. But we witness many families where FPPF is the modus operandi. When one parent or both become ill, the children react as if the decline must be temporary and soon Dad or Mom will bounce back to the vibrant person they have always been.

These families suffer from “Neophobia” and are crippled by FPPF.