Baby, It’s BS

The Internet has been blowing up in the last week or so because radio stations are banning the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Apparently, some folks have noticed a few things about the lyrics that they hadn’t noticed before and have decided that the lyrics sound inappropriate.

The internet probably shouldn’t be blowing up over such a small thing, but you know how this goes: someone gets vocal about how inappropriate something seems, and people begin reacting, and then some people start taking action, and then the backlash begins. You get one group of people who get disgusted that everything they used to enjoy is now labeled ‘inappropriate’ or ‘offensive’, so they complain about how sick and tired they are of the whole thing and how political correctness is ruining our country. The other group applies unkind labels to anyone who complains about removing the offensive item, implying that they are insensitive and unwilling to come out of the stone age and fully respect others.

To be honest, each side has a point, but for a moment I’d like to set all that aside and discuss the issue at hand.

For instance, what do you know about the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside”?

The song is a duet, sung by a man and a woman. The song was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser for his wife Lynn Garland; Loesser write the song intending that they would sing it at holiday parties they attended.  The Wikipedia entry for this song states:

The lyrics in this duet are designed to be heard as a conversation between two people, identified as “Mouse” (usually female) and “Wolf” (usually male) on the printed score; they are at the wolf’s home and the mouse decides it is time to go home, but the wolf flirtatiously invites the mouse to stay as it is late and “it’s cold outside.” The mouse states that he/she has enjoyed the time and agrees at one point to another drink, but the mouse also says “I ought to say no, no, no, sir” and tries to return home, worried what family and neighbors will think. Every line in the song features a statement from the mouse followed by a response from the wolf, which is musically known as a call and response song.

I find it fascinating that Mr. Loesser wrote a song for he and his wife to sing and yet he openly identifies the characters in the song as “Wolf” and “Mouse”.  I find that very telling, and also a reflection of American culture in 1944, a time when women were expected to be chaste and coquettish when it came to the issue of sex, and men to expected to pursue and win a woman’s affections, and to consider their female companion as their ‘conquest’. The whole things smacks of women as an object, and I understand how feminists of all genders see the reflection of this attitude in the lyrics of the song and find the whole thing a bit disturbing.

Of course, you should judge things for yourself, so I thought I should include the lyrics of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (the ‘Wolf’s’ lyrics are in italics)

I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby it’s cold outside
This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in
So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice

My mother will start to worry – Beautiful, what’s your hurry?
Father will be pacing the floor – Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I’d better scurry – Beautiful, please don’t hurry
Maybe just a half a drink more – Put some records on while I pour

The neighbors might think – Baby, it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink? – No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how – Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell – I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell

I ought to say no, no, no – Mind if I move in closer?
At least I’m gonna say that I tried – What’s the sense in hurting my pride?
I really can’t stay – Baby don’t hold out
Ah, but it’s cold outside

I’ve got to get home – Oh, baby, you’ll freeze out there
Say, lend me your coat – It’s up to your knees out there
You’ve really been grand – Thrill when you touch my hand
Why don’t you see – How can you do this thing to me?

There’s bound to be talk tomorrow – Think of my life long sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied – If you caught pneumonia and died
I really can’t stay – Get over that hold out
Ah, but it’s cold outside
Oh, baby, it’s cold outside
Oh, baby, it’s cold outside   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby,_It%27s_Cold_Outside

At first read, you can see what people are upset about, especially with lines like “Say, what’s in this drink?”

And I think that’s what the folks who complain about political correctness just don’t get. You can’t look at these lyrics in light of Bill Cosby’s actions and the number of sexual harassment and assault scandals in the last two or three years and not feel just a little disturbed with lyrics that suggest that a woman’s decision to say ‘no’ injures a man’s pride, or that perhaps the drink has a little more than liquor in it.

Too many women have been experienced unwelcome advances, extreme pressure to be sexual, and outright coercion to have sex when they don’t really want to, and lyrics like these start feeling a bit ‘rape-ish’ when you view them through that lens.

The problem is that we cannot evaluate art created decades and decades ago through the lens of where society is now. It is very unwise and unhealthy to declare huge chunks of old American culture and art “inappropriate” just because they don’t meet current standards of behavior, speech, and thought.  And no, I’m not campaigning for free speech at the cost of human decency and respect; there is no tiki torch in my hand as I write this.

Let me make myself clear: I have no problem respecting our diverse and multi-cultural society. Using preferred pronouns when interacting with people who identify as a gender other than the one immediately obvious is a matter of respect. Calling others by their names and not by nicknames like “Sweetie” or “Honey” avoids diminishing their personhood and is a matter of respect. Acknowledging cultural differences and encouraging others to express their diversity without fear is not only a matter of respect and human decency, it is a tacit acknowledgement that every culture, race, and ethnicity has an innate value that should be treasured and protected.

My issue is that censoring art quickly leads to censorship of other kinds.

What makes me think that? Because editing history (including historic art) and declaring it ‘inappropriate’ or ‘undesirable’ is how politicians and the dominant culture have historically erased other cultures, ideas, and modes of expression, that’s why.

Take a look at the history of any country that has come under the rule of a dictator and you will discover that along with suppressing free speech, they also chose to redact and suppress art. Suddenly, historic cultural icons and artists fell out of favor and their art was exempted from what was labeled ‘acceptable’. Redacting the past is an effective way of controlling the narrative in the now.  Erasing history is a fantastic way of convincing people that there never has been any other way to think or to be than what the people in power tell you think and be now.

When my eldest daughter was getting her Bachelor’s degree in graphic design, her history classes examined the systematic oppression of art by political leaders as a means of controlling the current narrative of their people. It made total sense to me…and I refuse to contribute to that kind of oppression, even in small ways by taking a Christmas song off the airways.

We can choose to respect and honor others without erasing any history that makes it clear that we weren’t always this honorable and respectful. We can let the history of our nation’s struggles to embrace diversity of race, gender, and sexual expression be visible without continuing to oppress whole groups of people in the name of comfort and conformity.

So play the song if it makes you happy…and if it feels icky and rapey to you, turn it off. And don’t demand that everyone else in the world do what you choose to do…instead, explain your choice so that we can understand and respect you a little more. And if your child hears the song and is disturbed by its lyrics (or you simply hate the idea that your child is listening to it), let it be a teaching moment; educate them about the devaluation of women in our society as well as women’s quest for equality.

And while we’re at it, may your holiday season be blessed with family, friends, joy, and the warmth of knowing that you are loved.

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Show Me The Money!

About 20 years ago, I had an epiphany: being a sexual human being with sexual parts (genitals) is a lot like having money, and having sex is a lot like buying groceries.

Let me explain.

If you go to the grocery store, you will see a lot of people wandering around the store. Some look quite purposeful and others are truly wandering, just killing time. No matter how much time people spend in the grocery store, there is no guarantee that they are going to buy groceries. In fact, we don’t even know if they have the money to buy groceries…until they get into the checkout lanes.

One you get in the checkout line at the grocery store, we know a few things about you. First, you are about to buy some groceries.

Second, and more importantly, we now know for certain that you have money.

As you get to the front of the line and the cashier starts to ring up your groceries, you might even get your money out of your wallet or your pocket. At this point, other people can see your money because it is right there in your hand. Yet strangely, no one seems to ever reach out and touch another person’s money or try to snatch their money out of their hand because that would be wrong. Just because someone has exposed their money and everyone can see it does not mean that other people are welcome to touch their money or to grab their money. Money is personal, and other people should keep their hands off.  No one has to tell the people in the checkout lane how to behave, possibly because they learned how to behave properly around money a long time ago, but also possibly because they all have their own money and don’t want anyone trying to touch it or grab it without their permission.

When the groceries are finally rung up, the cashier (who has every reason to expect you to hand over some money) still does NOT reach out and snatch the money out of your hand. No sir. The cashier tells you how much your groceries are going to cost and then the cashier waits patiently for you to offer them your money. Basically, the cashier makes it clear that there is going to be an even exchange here: groceries for money. The cashier lets you know just how much money they want for those groceries…and then the cashier waits for you to decide if you really want to go through with this.

It is a transactional kind of moment. There is no rudeness, no unreasonable expectations.  You actually have to give the money to the cashier willingly, who will in turn give you the groceries willingly.

Consent.

Another thing that is truly interesting: even though the groceries are already rung up, you can decide at the last minute that you are not willing to pay for those groceries. You can say ‘No…I decided I don’t want groceries right now’ and the cashier will simply void the grocery total and they will let you walk away. No one will call you names and accuse you of simply pretending to want groceries. No one will yell at you and demand that you hand over your money while shoving groceries into your hands. No one will impugn your character for deciding you don’t want groceries right now.

Funny how this all works, isn’t it?

And just as there are expectations about how the customer with the money and the cashier handling the groceries will behave, there are expectations about how those who are observing the transaction will behave. They are not really welcome to make comment on your groceries or tell you if your groceries are good enough or appealing to them. They are not welcome to comment on your money, either it’s form (check, EBT, cash, etc.) or the amount you have. And once you have handed over the money, they are not welcome to jump in and start grabbing your groceries and eating.

Now let’s get back to talking about exactly what I am talking about here: sexuality, bodies, and sex itself.

I find it interesting that the whole grocery transaction takes place in public, because so many women get judged for displaying just a little too much ‘money’ in public, leading to the conclusion that they deserve to be assaulted. You know what I mean: how was she dressed? Was she drunk? Was she flirting with him? Was her skirt too short? Was her blouse cut too low?

You know, if some customer took out her wad of cash and was kind of waving it around, being obvious about showing off her money in the grocery store, onlookers might think her immature or ill-mannered, but no one would assault the woman. Really…no matter how much money she flashes in the checkout lane, we are all supposed to leave her alone.  And while we may not approve of her behavior, we’re not really going to do much about it but look away (or foolishly stare) because it’s not really our business what this woman does with her money. In the end, we are certain that money is private and personal and other people’s behaviors with their money are not our business.

This is pretty clear. It isn’t that difficult to understand.

A person’s ‘money’ (body/sexual parts/sexuality) is their own and no one should ever try to take that or force them to give it away for any reason ever. The idea that they ‘showed their money in public’ does not deny them the right to control their money at all times. Moreover, it doesn’t matter that you think the groceries you are offering are superior to all the other groceries in town. You are not to touch/take anyone else’s money without their permission, for any reason, at any time, just because you think you are giving them the ‘good groceries’. And let’s remember that people who are drunk enough to pass out are not awake enough to buy groceries in real life (like at Safeway or Kroger) so you should not try to take their bodily ‘money’ and force your ‘groceries’ on them when they are drunk enough to pass out.

Finally, a word to the men reading this: I came to this epiphany while I was in counseling because I was afraid of men. By the time I was 35 I’d been assaulted and harassed frequently enough to understand that I was a non-stop sexual object. I was a walking advertisement for sex …and it was my fault that men saw me that way. I am not bragging that I was good looking. I was simply female, breathing, and not overtly disgusting…and therefore a sex object. Society made it clear that I was responsible for somehow conveying to men that I was chaste and unavailable, and if I failed, then I got what I deserved, which was more assault and harassment. You can probably understand why I was so afraid of existing in a world where men roamed freely.

After a while, it felt like having ‘money’ made me guilty of offering something I wasn’t willing to actually give…and so I felt like I had to apologize just for having ‘money’ at all. I felt as if it would have been better for everyone if God had made female ‘money’ a detachable part that we could leave at home so as not to lead men on and make men think that we are ‘grocery’ shopping. Then one day I paid close attention to the way that people behaved in the grocery store checkout lane…and had an epiphany that freed me from having to fear half the human race. I realized that every person in the checkout lane had actual cash money and we all knew it…yet no one tried to take our money, ever.  That’s when I realized that my bodily ‘money’ was mine, and no one had any rights to that ‘money’ but ME.  And I have the right to give my ‘money’ to anyone whose groceries look appealing to me…which for the last 30 years has been my husband. He has…nice groceries.  Very nice.

Back to topic.

This allegory may not work for you the way it works for me, but you have to admit: actual money (I’m talking dollars here) is a very emotionally charged thing. People spend their adult lives trying to get enough money to live comfortably, and most people want more money than they currently have. Some people will do anything, even illegal things, to increase their earning potential.  And the funny thing is that even before I thought about the bodies/sex/money allegory, my mother used to tell me that flashing your wad of bills (cash money) to impress other people was ‘vulgar’…a term we usually use to condemn sexually charged words or actions.

There is so much more than can be explored using this allegory: how some people buy nothing but bread, milk, lunch meat, and apples every single time, while others buy exotic and unusual groceries. What does that mean about the customer? Does it imply something about their morals?  Some customers might buy groceries that another person might not consider fit to eat.  Does that make them a bad person?  You can use this allegory to explore and discuss different types of sexual expression, the morals we often apply to sexual expression, and the importance of not judging people whose sexual choices do not fit cultural norms and stereotypes. You can even use this allegory to talk about ‘healthy eating’…and making sure that you don’t buy groceries that aren’t safe to consume.

If you want to open the door to a rich, meaningful discussion about bodies, consent, sexuality, and sexual choices…go to the grocery store. I encourage you to take your adolescent children down to the grocery store and have them stand there and observe the checkout lanes. Have them observe the behavior of the people in line, especially when it comes to retrieving their money. Have them pay special attention to the interaction between the cashier and the customer when it comes time to pay for the groceries. Have them pay attention to the way that the customers in line interact with each other and the personal space they give the person who is paying for their groceries.

One last thing to tell your children: you are always allowed to touch your own money. That’s kind of like a self-serve grocery checkout lane…the ultimate in ‘safe groceries’.  You may disagree with that idea, but remember: no one ever ended up buying diapers at the grocery store because they touched their own money.

Have you seen my brain?

No, seriously. I could have sworn that I had my brain just a minute ago, and now I can’t find it anywhere.

For all of you who ask questions like “When was the last time you knew you had your brain?”  I am pretty sure I had my brain last December, and I think I might have even had it for part of January. The truth is that I can’t remember the last time I used my brain, which could just be the reason that I can’t find my brain.

Spectacular.

What can I say? 2018 has not been the best friend to me. Some years just suck more than others, and so far, this year has had more than it’s share of icky events.

My father broke all the bones in his face in late January, beginning a chain of crises and consequences that forced us to put him in into a memory care facility, a psychiatric hospital for seniors, and finally a memory care facility for seniors with behavior issues.  (read)

My friend Teri died of breast cancer in early February, only a few weeks after the beginning of my father’s multiple crises. (read this and this)

Finally, my father died in early May. (read)

I wish I could tell you that everything has been sparkling and wonderful since all the crises and tragedy have stopped, but that would be a lie. On the other hand, there has been a good deal of fun since the beginning of the year.

I went to visit my daughter and her husband in Portland in late April.  Trust me, Portland is always a good time.

My mom’s best friend came to visit us for close to a month in June and we always have fun when she’s around.

My husband and I celebrated our 30th anniversary and went on a sort of ‘second honeymoon’ that allowed us to revisit portions of our first honeymoon.  Then we went to San Francisco to visit our eldest daughter and RuPaul. RuPaul is utterly adorable and a total cuddlebg!  (BTW…RuPaul is our brand new grand dog.)

All in all, the laughter and fun have mixed themselves in with the sorrow. Although I have to admit that when it comes to that laughter, the majority of it comes under one heading:

INAPPROPRIATE.

You see, the laughter that I remember best happened at the strangest times and in the least likely circumstances.

I spent quite a few hours sharing hilarious stories, watching ridiculous YouTube videos, and in general cracking bad jokes with my friend Teri’s extended family, especially with her husband Andy and both of his sisters, and Teri’s brother Patrick. There were plenty enough hours of silent vigil and daily serious, tear-filled conversations. God knows there were so many difficult issues to deal with in those final weeks. The thing is that I was already good friends with Teri’s husband Andy, and you find yourself becoming fast friends with anyone who stands side by side with you in such an intense and difficult experience, so bonding with their siblings was quick and easy.  Each visit was filled with both laughter and tears, cementing our camaraderie in the face of pain and loss.

It was the perfect demonstration of bittersweet sorrow.

After my father’s fall and initial hospitalization in January, my mom and I spent hours on the phone. At that point, we were just trying to endure what seemed to be one horrible crisis after another, whether a health crisis or the realization that my father’s dementia and behavioral issues were so severe that most memory care units would refuse to admit him. His behaviors made visits very painful for my mom and me, and it was necessary for us to spend some time every day remembering the truths we knew about my father, both the good and the bad. Remembering the good often led to remembering the silly things my father used to do, which led to plenty of laughter. We found ourselves telling the same stories night after night, comforting ourselves with memories of the good times. It made it possible to go and visit him again the next day, knowing how difficult it would be for us to handle his behaviors.

After my father died, we started preparing for the funeral and going through pictures, which led to even more stories and even more laughter.  We wanted to make sure that his funeral reflected the joy and laughter in his life, and we got help from an unexpected source. Kathy, a seriously ill friend of our family, stood up at the funeral to tell a story she began by saying “I’m not sure this is appropriate, but…”   During difficult periods in her illness, Kathy frequently needed assistance with self-care, bathing, and grooming.  My father showed up at her house one day with a hedge trimmer. When she answered the door, my father said “Hey Kathy! I heard you needed help shaving your legs!”

I can’t even write that story without giggling.

God knows that I’ve laughed enough in the last few months to relieve all the tension of the first six months of 2018, so why is it that I still can’t find my brain?

I am working with a good friend on an end-of-life education project for clergy, and I am embarrassed to admit that I am seriously behind on my deliverables. Even worse, I have little to no memory of the planning and strategizing conversations that I’ve had with her over the last six months, which makes it even harder to remember what the heck it is that I am supposed to be delivering!

This is entirely uncharacteristic of me. I am not the kind of person who commits to things and then fails to deliver.

Okay…I used to be like that about 8 – 9 years ago, and then worked hard to stop overcommitting myself, which led to a much better consistency with delivery.

I find myself embarrassed to admit that despite making sure I am not overcommitted, I am still unable to consistently deliver pretty much anything except clean laundry and the occasional witty comment. After that, it’s a crapshoot.

I guess that I had hoped that my brain would return to normal after the stress of all the crises, tragedy, and death stopped.

Nope…not even close.

Grief is a process, and I have been plenty willing to take time to be sad and to allow myself to cry. You might have noticed the time I take to be sad, because it’s on Thursdays when I should be writing.

Yeah…not many blog posts for the last few months.  Thursdays come and I find myself sitting and staring at Facebook, or at my emails, or at my abortive attempts at writing that eventually get filed away under the name “Blog post STUB.” Some of those attempts are so stubby that there are barely three lines of text. Maybe one day they’ll blossom into a blog post where I string them all together and you will get to see just how dysfunctional my mind can be.

Or you could just pay attention my sense of humor and the things that make me laugh. Do that for very long and my brain’s dysfunction becomes immediately evident.

As much as I love writing, and as much as I love sharing my thoughts (and my sick humor) with all of you, the posting may be kind of spotty for a while because I seem to have misplaced my brain and I just can’t find it anywhere.  I’ve cleaned out a few closets and one of my file drawers in the process of looking for my brain, and Goodwill has benefitted massively from this process. Unfortunately, still no brain.

If any of you find any evidence of my brain, could you email me or post a comment here and let me know where you found it?

Thanks.

An Open Letter to Kate Spade’s Family

Hello Andy.

I know that you and Bea** don’t know me, but I just want to convey my sincerest sorrow at your loss. Kate was a beautiful woman and she created beautiful things for all of us. She was your best friend, and your partner or your mother, and you will miss her far more than I will ever understand.

I know that members of the psychiatric community are swearing that you should have seen this coming.***  They really don’t understand how good Kate was at smiling and saying all the right things, do they? They don’t understand what it’s like, living with someone who has a serious mood disorder on a daily basis.

My mother used to come and visit my children and the minute she’d walk through the door she’d exclaim how much they’d grown. I was always stunned at how easily she’d perceive this when I, their mother, never noticed their growth until their clothes didn’t fit anymore. My mom told me that it was being with my children every day that made it hard for me to see their growth, because the change was incremental and therefore not very visible to me. My mother, on the other hand, saw my daughters only once every three or four weeks, which gave her the objectivity to see how they had grown.

The psychiatrists don’t realize that you were caught in the same dilemma. Kate’s doctors saw her once every month or two, and her descent into emotional hell was obvious to them. You, on the other hand, saw Kate every day; you spoke to her every day. The change was incremental for you and therefore that much harder to observe.

And then there was the fact that you had been dealing with her mood disorder for years and years. You had learned to look past her mood swings, her habit of isolating and pushing you away. You had learned that focusing too much on her mood changes made her irritable and even more depressed. She hated feeling like the family ‘problem’ and did everything she could to mask her symptoms, and so you learned not to point out her obvious depression and anxiety because it only made things worse for her. She didn’t want to make life difficult for you and Bea and so she tried her best to smile and sound happy, even when she wasn’t.  You didn’t want to make life more difficult for her, and so you learned to quietly accept her just as she was, whatever mood she was in, however hard it was for her to engage with you.

Combine that with your inability to observe the incremental changes, and you have a potentially fatal combination that masked Kate’s actual intent on the last night that you spoke to her.

Please don’t blame yourself, and tell Bea not to blame herself either. You both loved Kate, and she knew that you loved her. She just thought that both of you would be better off without her, even though we all know that she was so very wrong about that.

People who don’t work with the seriously mentally ill just don’t understand how much of a struggle it is to live a joyful, rich, and productive life while dealing with a mood disorder.

People who aren’t depressed compare Major Depressive Disorder to their sadness and grief, when it’s much more like comparing a nasty cold to pneumonia.  Most medications won’t do anything to impact the duration and intensity of a cold, yet without medication and medical intervention, pneumonia is often fatal.

People who don’t have anxiety disorders compare them to worry or mild anxiousness, when it’s much more like comparing a burn on your hand to being on fire. Both are painful but only one has the potential to be fatal.

People who have never been with someone who is bipolar have no idea what the heights of mania can do to a person, or what the deepest depths of depression can remove from their humanity. I had a client who described her depressive swings as “oily, black, and incapable of admitting light”. The rest of the world cannot imagine how helpless bipolar individuals feel as their mood swings deny them the right to experience daily life in some sort of consistent manner; what it is like to wonder what outrageous things your mania will cause you to do, or just how deep and searing the hell of your depressive swing will be.

People who have never sat for hours floridly imagining the myriad of ways to end their own lives have no idea how terrifying and yet comforting those ideas can be.

You did everything you could to love her and protect her, Andy, but in the end you had to give her the right to live (and end) her own life on her own terms. It is tragic and heartbreaking, but respecting the rights of the mentally ill while doing your best to protect them from their illness is a delicate dance that defies even the most wise and observant of therapists and psychiatrists. You were not Kate’s therapist or her psychiatrist. You were simply the man who loved her more than anyone else. You and Bea were also the portal to the greatest joys she had ever known, and for that, I thank you both for shining light into Kate’s darkness.

My heart breaks for you and Bea, and I want you to know that the community of those who love mentally ill friends and family members stand with you and honor Kate’s legacy and all her work.

May God comfort your family and all of Kate’s friends and colleagues during this difficult time.

** Beatrice is Spade’s daughter.

***https://www.cbsnews.com/video/kate-spade-death-psychiatrist-says-suicide-does-not-just-happen-out-of-the-blue/

For Andy’s statement about Kate’s death, look here:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/06/style/andy-spade-statement.html

 

It’s Finally Over

I have been trying to write again for over a month, and have found myself utterly unable to write a word. Everything I try to say comes out wrong, and in general I feel like someone has sucked my brain out of my head and left me bereft of thought and sense.

A friend told me that grieving makes you feel like you are walking through jello; that everything is exhausting and takes more energy than you have in your body. She also said that she cried at the oddest times, mostly at church and while hiking. I can confirm that I have cried both in church and while working out, so she must be right. Some days I feel emotionally numb and can get through the day without much trouble, and other days I have no motivation to work or move; all I want to do is sit and cry.

My father died of Alzheimer’s on May 7th.

We found out that he had Alzheimer’s about a month before he died. Until then we believed that he had vascular dementia that was caused by his 2009 stroke. And honestly, he did have vascular dementia… it’s just that Alzheimer’s snuck up on us and started turning up the volume on his decline until the advance of Alzheimer’s was unmistakable. Vascular dementia has a much slower trajectory, allowing its victims to suffer for many years before they die. My grandmother died of vascular dementia shortly after she turned 90. She had suffered with vascular dementia for 10-15 years before she died; we have no idea how long she had dementia for sure because she was living in another state and so we didn’t clearly perceive the onset of her dementia. The late stages of her dementia took far too long to take her life and she suffered, unable to move much or speak at all for close to a year before she died.

My father’s death took us by storm, happening in only seven days. It began when he struck another resident, giving the poor man a black eye. The facility increased his medication to reduce my father’s agitation, and he began to sleep almost 24 hours a day. I insisted that he was over-medicated. Looking back, I think I was just in denial that his dementia was advancing with lightening speed.  The memory care facility where we placed my dad is renowned for its ability to deal with seniors with behavior problems; the majority of residents are fully functioning despite being medicated to prevent aggression. The sad fact is that my father was simply moving quickly into his final stages.

My father fell four times in four days, splitting open both eyebrows, bruising himself extensively, and finally breaking his upper left arm very badly. He seemed to be unable to stand or get out of bed without collapsing to the floor. The day he broke his arm was the last day that he was able to communicate at all; that night the hospice nurses found him thrashing in his bed and they were unable to calm him no matter what medications for pain or anxiety they administered. They called my mother just short of midnight to let her know that he appeared to have terminal agitation. Terminal agitation is familiar to hospice nurses, as many patients become restless, agitated, unable to be calmed or find a comfortable position as they move into their final days. The hospice nurse did her best to comfort my father, even holding him in her arms to comfort him as he struggled, calling for my mother and crying out in distress.  The hospice workers called to let my mother know that my father would likely die in the next four to five days, and she called me immediately afterwards to let me know that my father was dying.

By the time I got to see my father Sunday morning, he was already unresponsive. By Sunday night he was showing signs of wasting (hollow cheeks, change in skin tone.) By Monday morning his temples were hollow. I sat with him, singing hymns and reading Scripture. My mother and I discussed what we might want at his memorial service. My dad ran a fever that couldn’t be suppressed and we listened to the sounds of the ‘death rattle’ as he struggled to breathe. We finally left at 5:30pm to head home for dinner because his death seemed to be dozens of hours away; there were no signs that he was in his final hours.

The hospice nurse that arrived only 30 minutes after we left said that she had never seen anyone progressing through their final hours so quickly. It was as if my father had waited for us to leave so that he could die without us having to watch his death.

He died shortly after 8pm and the memory care facility called us so that we could come to grieve and pray over him before the funeral home arrived to take his body. I couldn’t stop shaking and could barely speak after I got the call, but somehow I made it to the care facility to be with my mother and our close friends. Later on I found out that shaking, uncontrollable crying, and inability to speak are common signs of the shock of grief. God’s grace alone got me safely through that twenty minute drive—that and two of my friends who listened to the depths of my grief. I cannot thank them enough for what they did for me.

There have been many challenges since my father’s death:

My estranged brother decided to attend the memorial, which meant I saw him for the first time in six years. He did not welcome the reunion…but later emailed me. I am still trying to figure out how to respond. My father’s death reduced the number of abusers in my life by one…and adding my brother back would increase the number by one. I don’t know what to do…and yet I miss my brother very much.

Both of my daughters were home at the same time for the first time since Christmas 2016. It was hard to spend time with them and simultaneously take care of my mother, give the eulogy at my father’s funeral, and grieve my father’s death. In all truth it was hard to function at all.

At the same time, there have been moments of extreme grace:

My church family came through for me in ways that I could not have imagined. Teri’s husband Andy cried while playing Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone. Teri died on February 11th, 2018 and her memorial was on March 10th, 2018. I know that playing the same song he played for his wife’s funeral only two months earlier was extremely painful and yet he did this to comfort me. My senior pastor, the church staff, the Praise Band, and the ladies who volunteer to staff funeral receptions did everything they possibly could to make the entire funeral deeply comforting and almost effort free for my family. I have never felt so loved and supported by my church family, and it was truly beautiful!

My son-in-law and his family bent over backwards to make sure that my mom, my daughters, and I had all the support we needed. They inconvenienced themselves to serve us, and I am deeply thankful for their presence in my life.

My parent’s family of friends were amazing, offering a lifeline for my mom as she faced the loss of her lifelong love. They made sure that she was never alone when she needed a shoulder to cry on or a friend to provide a meal.  They made sure that I never had to worry about my mom. They showed up to pray with us at my father’s deathbed. They proved their love in actions that lifted our hearts when we were grieving.

 

This has been a long and difficult journey for my family. I am well aware that many of my readers are also on this journey with one or more of their parents. Know that I continue to pray for all of you as your parents find their way back home to God.

My mother and I truly believe that my father, who was fixated on going home with my mom from the minute he entered a care facility in February, realized that he could never go back home to his own house, and so he chose to head home to his Father’s house. I know that he is truly happy in his Father’s house and he finally knows that we did all we could to make his life joyful in his final months.

Happy Ultimate Birthday, Daddy!  You are home forever, and I will be there soon enough. I can’t wait to see you again!

Reality?

Today I found myself discussing something I know very little about.

Reality TV.

I was with my girlfriend, sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for them to call us back to the examination room…and wouldn’t you know it? They had a copy of US Magazine in the waiting room. It was full of coverage of the Real Housewives of (some urban area in a city that I don’t live in).

You know that show, don’t you?

Okay…I have to admit that I have never watched a Real Housewives of (any city) because I don’t have cable TV and I am unwilling to pull it off of Hulu or Netflix.  I have never, for one minute of my life, compared my life as a housewife in Phoenix to anyone who considers themselves a ‘Real Housewife’ of anywhere else.  I don’t know that I’d survive the comparison.  First of all, I love my husband, but we are NOT that kind of rich.  Second, I love my husband, but being an engineer at Boeing does not make you any kind of famous. Finally, I love my husband, but he did not marry a woman who can be classified as “hot” housewife…not even remotely.  Then there’s the problem that neither I or my friends look good in designer gowns.

So there it is. I may be a housewife, but I’m not very ‘Real’.  Bummer, man.

Even so, my girlfriend and I looked at the pictures in US Magazine and were like WTH???

They had pictures of a lavish baby shower, a party of such epic importance that thousands of dollars were spent decorating the room where the baby shower was held; thousands more were spent on the catering and designer cake/cocktails/party favors.

I was incredulous.  Every baby shower I had ever attended was held in the conference room at the company where I worked. No lavish decorations. No interior designer. No custom cupcake flavors. No epic surprise gifts that had to be wheeled in while I closed my eyes.  The truth looked more like this: cake from Costco. Balloons from Party City. Pizza from Dominos or Pizza Hut. Gift money loaded onto a gift card by a motivated coworker who organized the entire party because they really, really liked me, or at the very least really, really wanted to be an event planner.

I was grateful for the gifts and the attention, and I considered it a bonus that my company allowed us all to slack off our work for 30 minutes or so to eat pizza and cake and celebrate something as obnoxious as impending maternity leave for a critical team member (that was me!)

It was nice to be considered ‘critical’ even if it meant that I couldn’t take the full twelve weeks of maternity leave.

As I sat there, waiting in the doctor’s office with my friend, I found that I didn’t know how to process all the slick pictures of balloons that were color coordinated to the theme of the baby’s nursery. I had no idea what it must be like to be a mom famous for being married to someone, enjoying a party for a person who isn’t yet born, eating catered food from a famous chef and a cake that cost more than I earn in a month.  I was a little disgusted by the excess and frustrated that I was expected to be deeply interested in gratuitous displays of wealth and privilege that have little to do with the event being celebrated.  Basically, the entire event spoke volumes about the wealth of the parents, the wealth of their friends, and the fame they had for being wealthy. There really wasn’t much to be said about the unborn child who was supposedly being celebrated, unless you count the sterling silver Tiffany rattle and the  top-of-the-line diaper service given as gifts, because doesn’t every newborn need precious metals to chew on and the softest, whitest diapers made of sustainable bamboo fibers washed in ecologically safe, non-sulfate detergents?

For a moment, can we admit that ‘Reality TV’ is an oxymoron? If you are watching TV, you are only accidentally (if at all) observing anything approaching reality.

I am not saying that TV never portrays reality. I have seen actual reality on television more than once. In fact, I can think of several instances when I watched actual reality untold on TV in real time.

I remember watching Harry Reasoner lose his composure in the hour after the news broke that Ronald Reagan had been shot. Reasoner, having lived through Kennedy’s assassination, was desperate to know if Reagan was alive or dead, if he was announcing the mourning of a nation or the failed attempt to assassinate the symbol of American power.

I remember watching the newsmen running away from the Alfred P Murrah building in Oklahoma City after they suspected a second bomb had been found. The chaos was terrifying as cameramen and reporters frantically ran from the site of the initial bombing and the bodies of hundreds who were massacred by Timothy McVeigh.  Later on, I watched reporters cry as they announced that McVeigh had bombed a building with a daycare onsite, and that children were among the dead.

I remember listening to the horrified reporters who watched as victims jumped from the upper floors of the burning World Trade Center buildings. The shock was evident in their voices; they were unable to contain their sorrow. I listened to the stunned silence of those same reporters as we watched the twin towers collapse in plumes of smoke and debris.

I have seen reality on television and it isn’t pretty or polished; it is never color-coordinated. It has nothing to do with the rich and the powerful. Reality on TV has always had to do with tragedy and sorrow, when editors had no time to polish the report before it was put on camera, when no political spin could be achieved because the news was too bloody and fresh to be politicized.

Anything glibly called ‘Reality TV’ today is actually nothing more than TV, filmed on location with minimal script. I’d like to say that it has little political agenda, but Reality TV has always tended to show  Americans as people who either fight to survive in some competition (thus showing our physical prowess and strength of will) or as people of wealth and finesse (thus showing our financial dominance and well-deserved opulence) which means that reality TV is rife with political agenda. In essence, American ‘Reality TV’ shows are nothing more than an advertisement for the American dream, selling the world on the idea that we are stronger, richer, smarter, and more powerful than everyone else. It’s a slick lie that we foist on ourselves and on anyone who chooses to consume the propaganda of American wealth and dominance.

I normally don’t disparage our nation or our broadcasting networks quite this much, but today I am disgusted by what the media feeds us (and the world) about our country, when the best nature of the people in the United States has always been illustrated in the midst of ‘actual reality’, which tends to be one damn disaster after another. Americans display our best qualities when we are busy doing anything and everything we can to help one another despite whatever disaster has overcome us at the moment: natural disasters, financial disasters, terrorism, wars, you name it. The best qualities of US residents are always found in our response to the uglier realities of our day-to-day existence, no matter what we glorify on television.

Did you notice that I tried to include all persons living in the US? That’s because living in the US tends to draw us into a sense of common good, whether we are immigrant or long-term citizen, no matter our skin color, no matter our ethnic ancestry, no matter our current identification of citizenship or belonging. To live in the US is to slowly join in the hope that we truly can become ONE despite our differences, that there really is a great melting pot. To put a fine point to it, the diversity of this nation is its strength and its greatest gift. As a melting pot, we are deliciously wonderful, and I couldn’t be more pleased with my actual nation…far more pleased with its messy reality than the glorified version of it that is sold in the media. I know that much is wrong in the US and there is much to be addressed before there can be peace, safety, and equality for everyone, but I have faith that love is stronger than fear and that we are stronger than the hatred we were taught by culture indoctrination. Let me assure you: the struggles and tragedy that we all live with make us one homogenous mass of people in need, and in those moments we transcend our fears and serve each other in the most beautiful ways.

And that, my friend, is real REALITY. It isn’t pretty, but it is everything that I value: committed, selfless, and absent of artificial boundaries.

May God make it so, and soon.

Always Be Yourself, Unless You Can be Batman…Then Be Batman

I was getting a massage today when my massage therapist asked about my dad.  I’ve told her quite a bit about the situation with my father over the last six months because it is such a major source of stress.

Yes…I talk during massages, which I know is odd, but I fall asleep if I just silently lay there and I’m not going to sleep through something I paid for, so…

Did you notice the title of my blog is …because it’s hard to shut me up?

I talk…a lot.

But I digress…

My massage therapist asked about my dad and I told her all about my last visit with my dad, which was really good, and my mom’s last encounter with my dad which was not good at all.  My dad became very agitated and began demanding to know why he can’t live at home with my mom. We’ve explained this to him multiple times and he never remembers, and while explaining it again really isn’t a problem, he doesn’t want to hear it. No one wants to hear that they are so demented and feeble that they require more care than their loved ones can provide, let alone that they can’t come home because they are violent and uncontrollable.

My heart breaks for my mom, who bears the brunt of his anger. At the same time, I am beginning to wonder if frequent visits, originally meant to keep my dad from feeling lonely, are actually making him agitated and uncomfortable.

Mom and I discussed the situation earlier this week after he yelled and cursed at her for refusing to take him home. My mother worries that he’ll never get out of the behavioral unit at his memory care facility. I worry that we’ll never manage to find the right balance of visits and absences, which will force us to stop visiting just so that he can stop having episodes of agitation and violence.

There are times when I genuinely fear that I will never get to see my father again.

I realize that there is nothing preventing me from visiting my father. It’s not like the Lord posted an angel with a flaming sword at the door. (I mean, the memory care facility is nice, but it’s not that nice.)*  The thing is that I want my father to be happy, to have some modicum of joy in his life, and I am willing to give up my visits with him if that is what will make his life the most joyful.  If my mother’s visits are what is causing his agitation, I am willing to be the only one visiting him even though that increases the amount of time I will need to spend visiting him. And I am committed to supporting my mother in her partial or total withdrawal from my father because no one deserves to be pummeled with verbal abuse and threats of violence.

I explained all this to my massage therapist, and that is when she got a bit teary eyed and said very nice things about me. She called me thoughtful and compassionate and a whole lot of other very nice things.  I appreciated her words, but that has very little to do with my thoughts and feelings about visiting my dad.

What does?  Authenticity.

What does that have to do with my dad?

Let me explain.

Being authentic is about constantly embodying who I am and who I want to be in the world. I know who I am, both good and bad, and I know who I want to be as a pastor, counselor, friend, wife, mother, and daughter.

When I am trying to decide what to do about my dad and how I want to be with my dad, I ask myself: Who am I in relationship? Who do I want to be as a daughter? What do I believe that good daughters do and how should I express that?

Notice I didn’t say “What do good daughters do?” because that question gets answered with a lot of BS from culture, society, church, and all the other systems that I participate in that want to lay claim on the role of ‘daughter’. I am not interested in what other people think. I want to be a good daughter to my father, and that means that I need to remember what matters to me.

Again, let me explain. Society tells us that good daughters visit their dads regularly because not doing so means that you are abandoning your parent in their old age. Society says that good daughters encourage their fathers to eat healthy and exercise so that they live a long life.

I believe that good daughters love their elderly fathers enough to attend to their father’s needs, even if that means that things are not the way the daughter wants them to be. If that means that we visit weekly, so be it. If that means we only visit once a month, so be it. If that means that Daddy lives in his PJs and eats cookies for every meal, so be it. My vanity and my needs for things to look or appear some certain way is meaningless. My desire to have my dad be healthy and live as long as possible is meaningless. What matters is that my dad needs to have a little joy in his life again before he dies. He hasn’t had much joy for quite a few months now, so a little joy before he dies is my goal as a daughter, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else (except my mother) thinks ought to be happening.  And when it comes to my mother, I encourage her to think about her own needs and not just my father’s needs, because she has spent the last nine years as a caregiver, putting Daddy’s needs first, and that has to stop. My dad is in a memory care facility now. Someone else takes care of Daddy’s daily needs and my mom needs to return her primary interest to herself so that she can have a little joy too. My mom needs to find a meaningful life alone, separate from her husband, whom she has served for 54 years.  My mom and dad have differing needs, and I—as their daughter—need to be mindful of both so that I can be a good daughter to both of them.

Does all that sound exhausting? Sometimes it is, and many of you may be thinking that I have bought into the cultural BS of the ‘Good Daughter who Sacrifices for her Parents’. Of course, you are free to think that. Personally, that’s not where I am.  I want to know that when I look in the mirror at the end of the day, and it’s just me, my reflection, and my God, that I have been who God created me to be in this world. My job here is to be authentically me…and for me, being a good daughter to both my parents matters a lot, just like being a good mom to both my daughters matters a lot.

Thank God I only have one husband!

So for this week, being a good daughter means that I call the social worker at the memory care facility and discuss what to do when visitation seems to be the cause of agitation. I’m betting that the social worker will have some suggestions and that together we can figure out a plan to help both my mom and dad find a little joy in every day.  If not, well, at least I tried my best to do what I believe a good daughter would do. And at the end of the day, that’s all the comfort I have to give myself.

So far, it works for me.

And as for being a good Christian, I take my comfort from the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus appears to be cranky, impulsive, emotional, and irascible.  If the goal is to be Christlike, I do believe that I am almost there, which is probably a blog post for a different day.

Until that day…

*  Remember the Garden of Eden?  See Genesis 3:23-24.