And the road goes on forever...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Old: "I just want to see the sun."

There are no pretty pictures in today's story.

They are courageous. They are stoic. They are proud. They seem accepting. What has life taught them that I still seem to be learning? As I work with them I feel the need for a new paradigm.

It didn’t happen when my mom was here with us—for she is too close to me. As I pick them up in my car, usually to give them medical transport, these others are strangers, but only for a moment as their sad stories unfold like a blanket around me, suffocating at times. But I force myself to listen, to acknowledge, to learn, to question; and to take away a far more valuable lesson than they ever realize they are teaching me.

In a few short weeks my world has shifted a little. Marc and I are down, we are nearly beat, somewhat broken; but how far worse off are these proud seniors who still face the end of their days with some manner of resilience. Where does it come from? Can I get some of it too? Is it because they are members of the Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw put it? Did life lessons learned from living though the Great Depression give them this ability to remain calm in the face of such personal devastation? Why can’t I be more like them?

Will it make me a better person to try? I think so. I am already humbled beyond belief at the trust they throw at my feet. Their stories, their ailments, their day to day living is excruciating yet they remain so vitally attached to living, that it can’t help but touch my heart.

My whining becomes trivial by comparison. There is tiny, stooped Louise, whose former breast cancer has metastasized to her liver. She is dying and knows it. Doctors aren’t sure if the latest chemotherapy protocol is doing any good, so after one trip to the clinic to see the doctor, we go on another day for a dye scan. She will get the results late this month. She stays in winter in a small, older single wide on a Foothills lot with her equally old husband, who has both cardiac and Alzheimer problems. She told me they take care of each other, but it is mostly she who does the care for him as he is incontinent. She also has bad macular degeneration so she can’t drive very far or on busy roadways, nor see to read so I end up reading her the personal health information form she is to fill out for the dye scan. It almost seems intrusive that I now know her health history.

I am in amazement that these two old people in such poor health flew down from their home in a small town in eastern Washington. “It’s the last year” she tells me quietly. “Dean just gets so depressed in all those long, gray cold winter days, he begged me to come down this year so he could see the sun, but we really shouldn’t have. My chemo schedule has been all fouled up.” “We need to put the place up for sale”, she adds sadly, “but we sure don’t want to do it. We just hate to leave; we’ve been coming here for so long…since 1985.” The end of an era and soon, the end of their lives I’m sure. I wonder how it will be any different when they return home. She tells me her kids lead busy lives and can’t be depended upon to always be around to help out; their small town is a 90 minute drive to the cancer center so when she gets a treatment it’s an all day ordeal. I ask her gently about the possibility of selling their home and moving into an assisted living facility but she says “No, Dean made me promise that he could die at home.” Knowing how Alzheimer’s can advance and cripple every bodily function I wonder how she can deny what is to come. Maybe for now its best not thought of; she probably has no choice but to live in the moment.

Another day, another life lesson. I transport Chris to the Yuma hospital for some outpatient treatment, whose wife also elects to ride along. We chitchat and I get some background on them. They too, are from Washington and have been coming to Yuma for a long time in winters. This too will be their last year; their tidy and immaculate park model in a gated RV park is already up for sale. They live in an assisted living facility in their home town. Coincidentally, they tell me the building is so historic, that the wife went there to high school and graduated in the very building they now live in! I laugh and say “So, you’ve come full circle in your life, huh?” They get a kick out of that.

Chris has some mobility issues, so we secure a wheelchair and I wheel him through the hospital corridors as if I am wearing nurses white, to his treatment room. “I’ll be back to pick you up in 45 minutes” I tell them. On our drive home we talk about medical issues and how they become the main focus of our lives once we become the elderly. Everyone knows it of course; everyone dreads it, so I am curious when I talk with people like this, essentially, how is it you cope on a daily basis? Patty tells me it’s just what you learn to do. She says no one wants to hear you complain and complaining doesn’t do any good anyway so you might as well just take what that one day will offer you and make the best of it. The hardest part for them was giving up the independence of having their own vehicle.

We become old, we become sick—most often with deadly diseases—we lose our ability to care for ourselves—we lose our vaunted independence as we see it just disappear in bits and pieces like the desert dust. I stop and think: am I appreciating the days I have right now enough? I am astute enough to know that since we are all aging; my day today is really the best I am ever going to be physically. It’s all downhill from here at my age—I need to make sure I make the most of what I have right now, even if it’s not the life I wish I was able to live. Wow, light bulb moment for me!

These oldsters…there’s a lot to learn from them if we just listen.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Weather Changes

The wind blew in just the faint scent of rain this morning as the sunrise blazed a glorious crowning glory above the mountains. I no more than made it inside the house and showered after my morning soak in the spa, when the skies let loose. I guess we can’t complain though since it is still warm out.

Marc has not made it out of Bend yet. Indeed, he’s been putting up with daily snow and some temperatures in the teens as he’s struggled to do many maintenance items on mom’s home and both of my kids’ cars. The fix-it man. He managed to get the Freightliner stuck for two days in the back of the lot trying to park the flat bed trailer out of the way. It will be at least another week before I see him. My days stretch out pretty long but I’ve tried to keep busy with my new volunteer job. I hope I can blog about it one day but I am still digesting just how humble it has made me feel to help these seniors who are left with very little beyond their ailments and their old age. It makes my life seem easy by comparison.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The New America

I read today where America’s wealthy are starting once again to spend like there is no tomorrow. Fifteen hundred dollar “bobbles” like Coach purses are flying out the door like crazy. On the other hand, the CEO of WalMart told shareholders, whose shoppers are of course the dregs of this economic downturn, that they are sticking to basics and actually shying away from name brands in favor of WalMart’s Great Value brand. Of course. It’s the little they can do to combat the government denied inflation on foodstuffs which is measured in +80-100% on things like wheat and sugar. Even our morning coffee now ranges 48% higher.

I have a daughter who is amazingly bright, sophisticated, beautiful, alluring, and not yet 24 years old. She’s at the top of her game. She has been on numerous interviews but has yet to land a job since moving back to Portland, OR over two months ago. The interview process is now very arduous, sometimes encompassing four different interviews with various department heads. One wrong move, one wrong sentence and you are out. After all, there are 900 others who responded to this ad which ran less than one week; all holding marketing degrees just like hers.

So I think about Marc and I and what possible chance we may hold to realistically get any kind of good jobs. Please people—remember there is still a terrible disconnect in this country between the haves and the have nots. Too many of us are still unemployed—our inquiries, our applications not even acknowledged. Interviews for people our age just don’t seem to happen. We’re now without any safety net, unemployment compensation having run out long ago. The only edge we possess is eating up my retirement, which goes month by month by the wayside. It can never be replaced. So what happens when we get old enough we can’t work and no longer have this money saved because it’s all being spent now?

I fear for us but I fear even more for the future of America. Maybe the Bible was right; Armageddon is not far off. Despite the government’s assurances that things are improving (because everyone knows the stock market is going ballistic for the wealthy) we have more people on food assistance (stamps) than we’ve ever had in the history of our country. Fully one quarter to one third of you out there who had counted on the equity in your home to provide some assistance or wealth in your old age no longer have any. You are underwater on your loans or your equity has evaporated like a ghost in the wind. They tell us this isn’t easily fixed—the current prognosis is that it will be 2013 until the depreciating values even start to level off! Then a possible further five years of bumping along a bottom. There will be no demand for so many homes, because the vast majority will have very little wealth left to buy anything. Our middle class has disappeared if you haven’t been paying attention, in just a scant five years.

I can believe this because we are living it right now. We went from a comfortable standard of living in a now defunct industry (construction), to not being able to get jobs, to now living at poverty level—all in the seemingly blink of an eye, at an age where chances are there will be no recovery. Or certainly, not on a level to which we lived before. Welcome to the new normal they tell us.

Yeah, right.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Dealing with the heartbreak of my mother’s mind these past few months has really taken it out of me. How long does grieving last? I was somewhat on the outs with my father when he died and thus haven’t felt it nearly as keenly as my mother. My father changed so much over the past five years particularly, that I dared call him the “imposter” who had taken over my true father’s body, as in who stole my real dad? My grief, I remember, happened several years ago for the man I truly loved. My mom unfortunately had to continue living with him, to see and experience his slow degeneration and the deterioration of his ability to communicate. By the time he died he could hardly hear any conversation.

My mom left this morning. We had a rough initial few weeks here; more than I can relate. But in the last few weeks we seemed to have finally come together on a more even keel—she was more light hearted and accepting. She would sit outside on our patio in the pleasant weather, just drinking it in. We developed a ritual of playing Mexican Train about 3 p.m. almost daily over our glasses of wine. Before we knew it, it would be time to wrap it up and get dinner. She so loved that game she decided to buy a set for herself but I don’t know who she will be able to play it with. My fear is that she will see no one at her home in Bend save for my brother.

So today I went about my morning very sad at her leave-taking. Thank God, I had a volunteer experience to spend my day at, which totally took my mind off my husband, my mom, and her dog Rocky suddenly missing from this space. All I hear tonight is the ticking of my clock on the wall as I imagine where they are in their journey home. I didn’t realize when she was here that I might miss her, maybe forever; after all she is nearly 84. Her last words to me were “I hope I get to see you again soon.” I never thought I would admit it, but life is suddenly emptier without her here, looking out through the RV windows. I can't live with her; I can't live without her.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Things Have Been Busy!

Not that we’ve done anything of major note lately; certainly nothing out of the ordinary to blog about. Marc has worked on the axles which will take much tweaking so he is only partially through the process. Next up, he needs the springs which are being made in Redmond, OR before going farther on the install. Since there appears to be a weather window coming up, the decision was made for him to return Mom to Bend starting Tuesday. They will make a couple stops along the way in California, staying with friends and relatives. I will remain in Yuma as with Rocky along, there really isn’t any room for me!

We’ve entertained lots of out of town company lately; ending up last night with RV friends Don & Ellen gathered around the outdoor fire under starry skies as a proper send-off for Mom. We had a wonderful dinner of smoked, slow cooked pork ribs and mom’s great macaroni salad—al fresco of course, under the gazebo. Yuma is finally warming once again after a short two day arctic blast that crippled much of the rest of the nation. Here, it just destroyed some of the vegetable agricultural crops, so expect your veggie prices to jump people.

Mom, Marc and I have spent many hours under the gazebo teaching her to play Mexican Train. She is so enamoured of the game, she went out and bought her own set. In addition, I recently signed up to be a volunteer with a local organization which helps out seniors. I’ve committed to a few days a week starting this week with driving a senior to her eye doctor appointment and also helping to organize, sort and price things for the second big flea market held as a fundraiser. You may recall mom and I having gone to the first one which I previously blogged about. Volunteers get first dibs on the merchandise so it may prove to be worthwhile as well as fun.

Marc and I feel the winds of change coming soon. Having no income is pressing us to consider many options—all of which will require moving on soon from Yuma; probably as soon as the axle replacement can be completed. There will be more about this issue as we sort the options out.