Author Archives: tinamarierees

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

 

Advertisements

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.

Cowboy Tears

I visited my dad today.

I visited him for the first time since he spent close to a month in a geriatric psychiatric unit, balancing medications meant to stop his volatile, aggressive, and violent behaviors.

I hadn’t seen him in over four weeks as visits to short-term residents of the geri-psych unit weren’t allowed. His transfer to a memory care unit that also dealt with behavioral issues had happened just a week earlier. I had been excited, looking forward to visiting him the day after his transfer when things took a turn for the worse and the staff sent my mother home to protect her from his temper and violent behaviors.

Another medication added, another week of waiting before I visited, another awful story stored in my memory.

I stopped at the administration building before I went in to see my dad. I didn’t want to just ‘drop in’ when I wasn’t sure if I was welcome, or if he was having a bad day, or if things were just too volatile to risk a visit.

Let me tell you, the poor guy in the administrative office was so busy that I wondered how he was handling it all with a smile. I waited with a man who was paying for his mother’s care; when all the phone calls and billing issues were finally completed, the gentleman in the administrative office walked me to the door of my father’s cottage while wishing me a good visit.

Visiting my father had filled me with apprehension. So many scenarios played out in my head, visions of uncomfortable visits with him before his transfer to the geri-psych unit; visions of the behaviors that landed him in the geri-psych unit; fears of how I would explain it to friends and coworkers if he got out of control and put his hands on me. All the fears of my childhood combined with the memories of recent events to torment me; together they made it very hard to visit my father.

And yet…

I couldn’t get the picture of him smiling and laughing out of my head. My mind was filled with memories of visits to my parent’s house in years past; mornings when we’d gone out for coffee and talked for hours; days that we had wandered together in Costco, laughing and talking about what we’d buy and what we thought my mother would buy. I have far more good memories of my father than bad, but my fears would rather replay every bad report I have ever received, every painful memory from my past and the all the memories of the last eight weeks. I finally decided to meditate on the memory of my father’s smiling face to remind me of all the joy I’ve experienced with him, all the laughter and warmth we’ve had together.

It was those memories I meditated on as I drove to my father’s newest memory care placement.

If you are wondering, the visit was a mixed bag of great moments and negativity. I didn’t have to quack (see my blog post from March 31, 2018), not even once!  My father could barely focus on his fears that my mother is out drinking, carousing, and having an affair for more than two or three minutes. Between you and me, dear reader, his fears are so ridiculous as to be laughable.  My mom is so in love with him that she hasn’t begun to get over her grief that she can’t have him at home with her. While the effects of his medications were evident—he drools and is slow of speech—he was calm and easily distracted from discussion of my mother. When I showed him pictures of my youngest daughter’s wedding, he remembered both her and my oldest daughter, asking questions about their careers, their love lives, and where they were currently living (both are out of state.) We talked about my daughters and at some point he smiled and laughed. It was divine!

He admitted that he has little memory of the injuries that forced my mother to place him in a memory care facility. He admitted that he has few memories of the last twenty years in Arizona, including the odd jobs that he worked after his partial retirement.  He has no idea how old he is and asked me about his age repeatedly.  He admitted that he knows that he has good days when he remembers things, and bad days when everything is a confusing  and frightening. He admitted to me that he doesn’t anticipate any significant improvement in his condition. He also admitted that he would rather die than live this way.

I shared pictures and memories with my father, and when he admitted his deficits I shared his sorrow and his frustration. When he expressed a desire to die, I granted him permission to go home to God and be freed of his dementia; I promised that I would not be angry with him for leaving me.

It was a great visit and I am truly glad to have shared a moment of my father’s clarity with him.

Just before my visit, I waited in the administrative office with another man who was paying the bill for his mother’s care. He is at least ten years older than I am, and was dressed like your average Arizona cowboy.  I asked him if he had a loved one in this memory care facility. He told  me that his mother had been there for at least seven months.  I asked how she was doing and he revealed that she was just now getting over her anger and beginning to forgive him for placing her there. I noted that my father had only been there for a little over a week and that he was similarly angry and volatile with my mother for not taking him home.

Let me tell you, it is hard to watch a cowboy cry.

His eyes filled with tears, and he promised me that it gets better after six months or so. He encouraged me to hang on, to push away the guilt and remember that we are doing the best that we can to care for my father.  I took his hand and said that I sincerely hoped that we both might remember these days when we became old and unable to care for ourselves; that we would understand that our family was doing their best by placing us in a memory care unit. I expressed the hope that while we might be angry about our lives, that we wouldn’t blame our family for our circumstances.

It broke my heart to watch him start to cry much harder.

He hugged me and wished my family well, reminding me that we are doing the very best for my father that we can do.

I don’t know what did my heart better: my father’s smile or a cowboy’s tears.

I can’t decide, so I’ll just praise God for both and pray that I remember this day when I am old, infirm, and entering long-term care.

From this page to God’s ears for all of us.

How Dare You?

Every now and then, middle-class white privilege comes flying across the room and smacks me in the face, stunning me with it’s overwhelming contradictions and ignorance. Good old Dr. Phil delivered one of those slaps to me earlier this week. It was, in a single word, infuriating.

Forget for the moment the actual people involved in the show, because their stories are always so much more complicated and nuanced than what is presented in the 45 minutes of the show that their issues occupy. In the end their actual problems are scrubbed, simplified, and then painted into tropes of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, or ‘victim’ and ‘bad guy’ so that the audience can boo and catcall at all the right moments.

Can you tell that I am not a fan of Dr. Phil’s?

Anyway…the show I happened upon featured two older parents who were frantic because their unstable daughter was living on the streets with their two year-old granddaughter. Their daughter, who had a history of substance abuse, financial instability, and relationships with violent men had proven herself to be a frequent liar, which led her parents to distrust anything and everything she told them about how she was providing for their grandchild. The thrust of the show was whether or not the parents should report their daughter to CPS for her inability to care for their grandchild, as evidenced by her homelessness.

When Dr. Phil finally allowed their daughter to speak (shriek and whine, actually) on her own behalf, he questioned who was caring for her toddler while she worked as a stripper. His disdain for her choice of employment was evident in his tone. When she stated that her daughter was in a licensed daycare, Dr. Phil responded “At 10pm at night? You have your daughter at a daycare at 10pm at night?”  It was obvious that he did not believe this possible.

How does this whole episode smack of middle-class white privilege?

Let me count the ways.

  1. Being homeless is not a crime, and being homeless with children does not make you an unfit parent.

We have to stop criminalizing poverty! Not making enough money to have secure housing does not mean that you are a negligent and abusive parent, in the same way that providing a nicely appointed home in a nicely groomed neighborhood does not prevent child neglect, domestic violence, or child abuse.  While economic instability does increase parental stress levels, there is not a one-to-one relationship between poverty, homelessness, and child neglect/abuse. The idea that the parents should call CPS on their daughter just because she is homeless is evidence of the myriad ways that we pathologize poverty in this country.  We consider the impoverished and especially the homeless to be persons of low character who have failed to successfully become adults, who are incapable of achieving stability without permanent outside assistance, and who obviously have no interest in creating stability for themselves or their family.  This is an absolute lie. While I concede that there is an underclass of persons who are chronically homeless (usually due to mental illness and extreme substance abuse), chronic homelessness is a rare situation.  The truth is that the majority of homeless people are only temporarily homeless due to unexpected financial challenges. Assistance focused on giving the homeless a chance to re-establish financial stability, improve personal health (often the loss of health becomes the impetus for becoming homeless), and increase skill levels (for more lucrative and stable employment) is the key to long term stability for the entire family.

  1. We cannot continue to denigrate sex workers.

Conservatives love to complain about unemployed single mothers and the public “handouts” they receive…and yet when that same young mother gets a job as a sex worker (stripper, prostitute, webcam girl, etc) she is labeled a ‘fallen woman’ and considered to be woman of low moral quality and a bad mother.

Let me get this straight: if she can’t provide for her child, she’s a bad mom, and when provides for her child in a job that you disapprove of, she’s a bad mom.  You’ve got these women in a very tight bind.  A single mother who doesn’t have significant job skills often finds that the best paying job is in the sex industry.  That same mother often finds that the job that affords her the most time to be present to her children (while they are awake) is in the sex industry.  Jobs in the sex industry often pay far better than unskilled “respectable jobs” like grocery cashier or medical assistant. I once listened to the complaints of a young mother of two whose divorce left her working 12-hour days as a dental assistant just so that she could earn enough money to put a roof over her children’s heads. By the time she got home at 6:30pm, her children would only be awake another hour or two before she had to put them to bed. She realized that returning to her job as a stripper (her job prior to her marriage) would earn her more money while allowing her to be home during the day when her children were awake (thus saving daycare costs). She paid someone to bathe her children and put them to bed and then sleep in the house while she worked from 8pm until 2am.  The money she was able to earn was sufficient to pay for her evening childcare, pay off her student loans, and provide for her monthly bills while affording her an entire day to be at home with her children.  How amazing that the stripper would have more time to be a good mom than the dental assistant that she used to be!  Stop calling sex workers immoral and recognize that good single mothers will do almost anything—including sacrificing their self-esteem and even their bodily safety—to provide for their babies and this is virtue, not a moral failure. Shame on you for thinking otherwise!  And no, I do not believe that compromising your morals or bodily safety is preferable to getting more skills, but getting skills costs money and takes time…something single parents rarely have in abundance.  And by the way…single fathers struggle just as much as single moms, but often find that a job that risks their physical safety (i.e. traffic construction, high tension wire maintenance, etc) pays best…so they risk their physical integrity for their children as well, but at least the jobs they choose are respectable. Add ‘male’ to the list of privileges that slapped me in the face.

  1. Why does Dr. Phil not know that there are licensed daycares open 24/7?

Stop for a minute and think about all the places that are open 24 hours a day.  Local pharmacies. Gas stations. Certain grocery stores. Police stations. Fire Departments. Every. Single. Hospital. Who do you think is staffing those places? Do you honestly think that every single parent working in those establishments has a parent/partner/friend who can care for their children while they work? What drugs are you ON?

Seriously, people, it stuns me that educated middle-class white Americans like Dr. Phil do not realize that it is normal to have certain licensed daycares be open 24 hours a day to provide for the single mothers and fathers who work the night shift so that they can benefit from the pay differential that you get when you work late night shifts. The tone of disbelief in Dr. Phil’s voice when he asked “10pm? You have your kids in daycare at 10pm?” was stunning to me. It illustrated a level of disconnect from the experience of persons who are not affluent, well educated, married, and WHITE that defies reason. Good Lord, how disconnected are we from the rest of the world when we conveniently forget that Emergency Rooms are fully staffed and open all night and that the people who work there have children, too.

This is what I mean when I say that middle-class, white privilege punched me in the face. I was horrified, not just at how Dr. Phil was treating the young woman he was addressing (because that was disturbing as well) but at the implications his words had to millions of other young parents struggling to care for their children. His caustic tone and thoughtless words condemned hundreds of thousands of women and men who choose to be sex workers so that they can provide for their children; condemned hundreds of thousands of men and women who work all night while their children sleep in day care centers just so that they can get the pay differential to afford fees for the Pop Warner football league and the gymnastics program their children desire; condemned the tens of thousands of homeless parents who struggle to keep their children safe and to provide food and clothing when housing is beyond their reach. **

It would be great if we could all live in an optimal environment, and no one is doubting that truth. It would also be great if we could stop condemning and pathologizing the folks struggling at the fringes; the folks living in the margins who are doing their best to survive every day. Let’s not make their burden any harder than it already is by heaping our scorn and disdain onto them. In fact…how about we do the opposite and offer them a hand? Not a hand-out, but just a hand…a hand of friendship, acceptance, and comaraderie so that they know that we see them and that we are willing to listen. After we’ve done that, and only after we’ve done that, can be begin to know what they really need and how best to help them find that optimal life, the optimal life that we so value. To do anything less is hypocrisy and disdain for the God that created us all.

 

 

** On a single night in January 2017:

An estimated 184,661 people in families — or 57,971 family households — were identified as homeless.

Almost 17,000 (16,938) people in families were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not meant for human habitation.

Over the course of 2016, roughly half a million people in families stayed at a homeless shelter or transitional housing program — 292,166 were children, and 144,991 were under the age of six.

Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness  https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/who-experiences-homelessness/children-and-families/

 

Quack!!!

So here we are…it is Holy Week again, and this year I am not quite ready.

The last two months have been really hard on me. I lost a very close friend to cancer after spending months doing everything I could to take care of her and her family. And then on 1/29/18, my father fell and broke all the bones in his face, advancing his dementia in ways I never imagined. He will not be allowed to live at home with my mother in his home ever again, and he will never be the man he was on January 28th, 2018.

I am grieving in more ways than you can imagine.

But this season, while grief-filled and painful, has been truly good for me.

I needed to remember that God resurrects everything to a new and different life, to a life that couldn’t be imagined before death, to a life that only Heaven owns.

My grief is so overwhelming that I cannot seem to see beyond the grief and the pain. I look at my friend’s family and at my own family and wonder how we will ever go on. I don’t quite understand how we are supposed to smile again, to laugh again, to feel like life is good again.

And then, out of the blue, someone reminds me of what it is that God lends us to deal with all our pain.

I went to see my massage therapist this morning because my last appointment, only a week ago, revealed that my body is telling the tale of all the stress I’ve endured since Christmas. She asked me to book another appointment with her as soon as possible, even though I normally book an appointment with her only once every three weeks. After her recommendation, I booked another appointment only 7 days after I’d last seen her, knowing that it would be 14 days after that before I could see her again.

She and I talked this morning about all of my stress and everything that was weighing on her heart, since she has children and children always weigh on our hearts.  Her sons are becoming teenagers, and I found myself sharing all I learned when my daughters became teenagers and so much went wrong. I shared about the group of people that saved my daughter, my relationship with my husband, and my entire family.

My massage therapist fixes my body and improves my life, and I do what I can to give her tools to heal her own body and fix her life. Our gifts differ just enough that we are able to help each other at the same time.

During my massage, as I related all the things that have happened with my mother and father since I last saw my massage therapist I realized something really crucial.

I have lost my sense of humor when it comes to my dad.

My family deals with almost everything with humor, even when we have to use black humor that other people would frown on, just so that we can get through difficult times.

My mother and I have watched my father lose his wits, his mind, his sense of self, and his self-control. He has threatened my mother and assaulted his caregivers (medical and otherwise) until we had to resort to extreme measures to help him. After 3 weeks in a psych ward and much medication, we thought we might have finally recovered my father…the man we all miss, the person we wish were with us instead of the violent, unruly, mentally unwell man who woke up after breaking all his facial bones.

Nope.

Not. Even. Close.

The situation has broken my heart and strained my relationship with my father. There is only so much hatred and threat that I can listen to before the child in me wants to run away. I cannot hear my father threaten my mother…not for long. I was so excited, anticipating the man that we would receive when he came home from the psych unit medicated and peaceful; for a hot minute it seemed that we had found the man we knew and loved and then…disaster!

It was during my massage, talking with the woman who restores my body, that I realized that I had abandoned the coping mechanism that restores my mind.

Humor.  I have lost my humor when it comes to my father’s behavior.

I could argue that there isn’t anything funny about physically assaulting my family or the nursing staff. I could swear that there is nothing to laugh at when you are facing horrific levels of liability for the damage done to some tiny woman who chose to provide care to those who are aged and losing their memory.  And there is nothing funny about a man who thinks his family has abandoned him, that we have left him to die when he needs us most, despite the fact that we are making the best possible choices for his care that we can, even when the care we choose comes at considerable cost and sacrifice for the family.

The situation isn’t funny at all.

And yet…

Why aren’t I allowed to laugh? Why aren’t I allowed to be silly, unreasonable, unaccepting of the tragedy that I cannot escape?  My mother laughs at the tragedy of her chronic illness. I laugh at the tragedy that I inherited from that illness and the fact that I get sicker every day. I laugh with my daughters when they report that they also inherited these illnesses, since we have only once choice: laugh, or cry. We laugh about what we cannot change, or instead we choose to weep daily, soaking in our tragedy.

I. Choose. Laughter.

No matter how much it all hurts, I choose laughter. No matter how much the whole situation sucks, I choose laughter. Laughter has gotten me through so much loss in the past that I know it will not fail me now.

God invented laughter, and I truly believe that just before he committed his spirit to God, that Christ looked down on all the Centurions gathered at his feet and laughed.  Those foolish children believed that they could kill the one and only son of God; they believed that they would win and that Jesus had no chance of succeeding. What a disappointment…and what a blessing!

When I look at the history of my Savior, I choose laughter.

When I visit my father and he is fixated on his anger at my mother, I have decided to start quacking like a duck to distract him.  When I quack like a duck I am going to remind him that I cannot change my mother’s choices and that I really want to know about him, about his new life, about his new friends and his new domicile. I want to tell him about my own life, about my own children (that he doesn’t recognize anymore) and my ministry.

I may have to quack like a duck every 10 seconds to keep him focused on something other than the life he has lost; the life that makes him angry and violent. I’m good with that. I’ll quack as often as I need to in order to unsettle him, to distract my dad from his fixation on my mom and his beliefs about her unfaithfulness and bad behavior. In the end, all I want is a father that I can relate to, separate from his beliefs about my mother. I cannot hear his hatred, anger, and judgment about my mom anymore. It is toxic to my soul, since his thoughts are all based in fear and delusion.

I am going to quack like a duck because it makes me laugh, and it just might work.

Please pray for ducks to assist me, and for God to make mercy for my father out of ducks and humor.

By the way, I found an awesome shirt that refers to raccoons as “Trash Pandas”, bears as “Death Floofs” and bunnies as “Boople Snoots”. I need that kind of humor, and so I am choosing to quack like a duck and smile when I think of “Boople Snoots”. I’ll let you know how it works.

Thank you for your prayers for my family. I know that you are praying because there is no such thing as Christians who read about pain and don’t pray. I appreciate you more than you know, even when I don’t know your name.  Blessings!