Is It Really All Random? Headline Animator

Words

Words. They can be strung together, beads and gems, to express something with texture and sparkle. Entirely frivolous or deeply significant. Sometimes I can capture a moment or sense of spirit, maybe heart beats on paper, and a story unfolds.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Turning the Page


In the nine months since my parents moved to AZ I’ve been on a mission to reclaim my life. And I started with my body.

There were many aspects I’d ignored. How I ate. When/if I exercised. Regular medical screenings. Dental cleanings. I didn’t skip them completely. It’s not like I’m toothless but I was late. On everything.

Me. I worked 20+ years in medicine. I take care of these things. Meticulously.

During the years of caring for my folks I injured my back. Both knees, one twice. Since they moved I had one surgically repaired and spent months on crutches while the other healed. I’ve had sinus surgery. A pap smear nearly a year late. A colonoscopy over two years overdue. A dental cleaning and exam six months past the reminder postcard. 

How did all of this happen when I know what I know? When I know to ‘put my own mask on before helping the person next to me’? When I know the research on shortened life spans of caregivers.

Knowing what you know isn’t enough when thrust into eldercare. That’s the bottom line.

When my brother took over as the custodial child as it were, he’d had a heads up from
watching me in the preceding years. He’d worried about me and wondered why I didn’t ameliorate my behavior and shift some care to myself in spite of my mother’s constant demands and illnesses and my dad’s deadly diagnosis. His concern, and mine, too, was that I might collapse before them, or shortly after. Be too spent to enjoy retirement with my husband because of the cost of caring for Mom and Dad.

I couldn’t answer him when he asked, “Why?” And he has a tough time doing differently with his own behavior now that he’s ‘the one’.

Why?

I’ve asked myself this question many times. My son and husband barraged me with that question. My friends challenged my management of the situation. Every morning I’d awaken and pledge a more even distribution of thought and energy, and by nightfall each day looked exactly as the one before. A time-sink of managing my folks, their business, and their care.

My brother was a scuba instructor and he recalled drowning data from his days as a student in the instructor program and then again from classes he taught. The greatest percentage of drownings occurs between parent and child. It doesn’t matter who’s going down, parent or child, the other rushes in to save the situation and frequently both are lost.

With this information as a springboard I began to consider my situation. My parents’ dire straits hooked me twice over – all my pictures of being a good daughter were invoked (what I knew my parents expected of me) and all those of good mother and caretaker (what I expected of myself). I couldn’t merely toss my folks a life jacket because I was clear they wouldn’t know how to put it on even if I believed they’d know what it was. I was constantly jumping off the boat and swimming out to them. 

Exhausting. And yet I couldn’t stop diving in.

Good daughter and good mother. I put myself in a vice of expectations.

That was the beginning of my own understanding that what I knew about caring for myself was not enough to actually do it. I ran to the water without thinking just as my brother’s scuba data would predict, playing the role of parent and child.

Does this knowledge change anything? No. It helps me understand me. And if affords me the opportunity to say again, what you think you know is not enough to actually follow through with doing. Don’t lose that if you’re a caregiver.

Which brings me to my last point in this series of reflections on care giving – the spouse stands alone.  

My husband saw everything and helped in every way he knew. He did, and does, bear the brunt of a completely unavailable mate. My brain was in such a muddle from juggling my numerous parent related responsibilities there was little to nothing left to relate to him. I lost myself (and often continue to) in hours of computer games or television reruns because I didn’t know another way to quiet myself from running ahead to the next, predictable crisis. He could see the damage being done and was powerless to influence a different outcome for me.

He encouraged me to contribute some small amount of energy to myself but by the time I could hear him it was too late. I was too tired to want to do anything but sleep or zone out.

He was essentially single for years while I was consumed with care giving. Even worse, he didn't have the freedom of being single and would be pressed into duty when both parents were simultaneously in need and I could only tend to one.

Now I hear from my sister-in-law words which echo my husband’s. “I know in my heart I’m your number one priority, but nothing I can see or feel reflects it. I’m lonely and I miss you. I worry you’ll never come back to me and if you do, you’ll be too broken to ever be the same.”

The spouse stands alone. And they shouldn’t have to.

I don’t have answers. I wish I did. I have regrets, for myself, my husband, and son. We all lost the same person. Me. And ironically I still wonder if I did enough for my parents. Good daughter/good mother pictures prompting a hamster-wheel of second guessing. Did I do right by them?

I’m hoping that will fade over time. My intellect tells me I cared for them well. Emotions trail behind. 

Though short on answers, I would suggest if you’re in my position you remember three things:

  • What you think you know is not enough – there’s a “knowing-doing” gap. Make a deal with those you trust that you’ll heel when they yank your leash because you’re not doing what’s required to care for yourself. Negotiate this upfront. In the thick of things is too late.
  • Remember the drowning data and consider your own triggers. I realized mine but only in hindsight. Do it now so you can keep them top of mind.
  • Don’t let your spouse stand alone. Yes, they signed up for thick and thin, sickness and health, and they’re most likely willing to do it. But don’t make them watch you throw your health away. They didn’t sign up for that.

This is the fifth piece I’ve written on eldercare. It’s time to get back to being me. I’m finished with this. I'm shaking it off, I'm turning the page. I've offered everything I think might help. 

If you have questions about resources or how I/we handled something, feel free to ask, either here in comments, or email me, but I won’t be writing about this again.

Good luck. Take care. 

Dedicated to my hubs with more gratitude than words can express. And to me. 




Friday, August 23, 2013

The Damage Done

A few weeks back I raised my concern (Racism, Accountability, Paula Deen) about the damage being done to Paula Deen before the lawsuit pending against her had been adjudicated. Heck, at the time, the case hadn't even been completely heard. In the weeks that have followed some of the claims made against Ms. Deen and her brother were dismissed; the remaining claims were dismissed today. Some published news indicates settlement was reached in the sexual harassment portion of the complaint. 

This CNN article (follow the link below) wraps up the issue. I have to wonder whether the same outcome might have been achieved without the damage done. In reading the plaintiff's comments, she appears to be a good woman who wanted a better environment for her colleagues. I'll take her at her word that she attempted to bring issues to her employers' attention. And I'll take Ms. Deen's word that she didn't know, does now, will review and improve her operations. 

It just seems like we could have gotten here without pummeling a reputation. Media, money, rush to judgment, and reactive public opinion all seem to be bigger contributors to the dismantling of the Paula Deen brand than the principals and issues in the lawsuit. 




Friday, August 16, 2013

Maria Shriver - Blog Entry Re-Posted

I hadn't been to Maria's blog in a while and then a friend made a Facebook post with a Mark Epstein piece ("The Taboo Against Trauma") she'd found there. As I followed hyperlinks, I became reacquainted with Maria's website.

A few tweaks since last visiting. Love that woman's spirit. "Powered by Inspiration".

I was struck by the story she told yesterday, the photo she posted, and her dive into the tradition of her annual pilgrimage to Cape Cod to visit her family.

I hope you enjoy it too.

Go Back To Move Forward

by Maria Shriver


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I Was Wrong


From the beginning of this series of blog posts I wanted to write about family relationships, the way they can change. Some grow stronger, others crack or break irreparably, especially with illness or death of a loved one. I saw it when my daughter died, and then again with the death of my husband. Maybe someone presents at the perfect time with grit previously unseen while another disappears. Neither expected. A hero surfaces while someone else avoids a chance to save the day. 

But I didn’t know how to tell this part of the eldercare story without venting or ranting, or being perceived that way no matter how carefully crafted my words or intention.

I still don’t know but I’m writing it anyway because it’s too significant to omit. Excising it would play into the protection racket.

I add a qualifier. This is my tale from my experience. If you spoke to someone else in my family their version could sound different and not untrue from their perspective. 

But it’s important to entertain the possibility that your family could fracture from the strain of prolonged illness. Or, I hope for you, become closer. Perhaps some of both.  

August 29th marks the fourth anniversary of the evening we were told Dad had six weeks to six months to live. Since I was told. I drove to their home in the woods early one Sunday morning, pulled my tentative parents out and carted them to the medical facility I trust most, a drive of four hours. I was able to convince them to come by promising that if I was wrong, I’d happily drive them back that night. First I needed to hear from an expert that Dad was okay. 

Within 30 minutes of arriving at the ER I was told Dad had a tumor that covered half of his brain. He snored with his usual roar on the gurney next to us as the doctor spoke to me. I repeated the words to my mother who sat in stunned silence in the waiting room. I called my husband, my elder brother, then my son. Brother One phoned Brother Two. 

Six weeks to six months. But four years have passed. Dad has outlived Mom. On the list of the unexpected, that would be at the top.

Neither would I have predicted I’d lose my family as I knew it. I thought we’d hang tough and hang together. Would spell each other, help each other, console each other, and together contribute to Mom and Dad. Imagined tears and blow-ups and all the emotions and expressions that stress and illness can foment but ultimately, thought we’d be together.

I was wrong.  

After Dad’s diagnosis and Mom’s concomitant illnesses my parents were placed in assisted living a mile from me. I could walk to them. Saw them nearly daily when they lived in California.

I’m a daughter of a certain generation. My parents' expectations of me were different and greater than those of my brothers in this circumstance, as were my expectations of myself. 

I didn’t ask anyone to do what I was willing to do and didn’t expect out-of-county and out-of-state brothers to equal my assistance minute for minute when mile for mile they were further away. I was explicit in saying this. 

But I thought we’d find geographic parody, each doing what he could from his corner.

I was wrong. 

As the sprint became a marathon, the illnesses more grave, and the wear and tear
greater, Brother One stepped up his support, coming from Arizona at scheduled intervals while Brother Two’s assist slowed to a trickle. His wife said we lived too far away to help. She'd need to drive an hour.

I ruminated. I ranted to my husband. I bored myself with my never-ending internal preparation for a meaningful dialogue with my missing sibling.

Actual discussion with him did nothing to influence behavior; I was hurt and angry. I felt abandoned. I wondered why someone I’d always stood by wasn’t standing next to me. 

I fretted on behalf of our parents. The youngest. The cherished. The one in whom they’d most delighted was nearly absent save flocked and glittered holiday cards signed by his wife, “We love you so much.” But little sitting next to. Being with. Listening to.

And no relief for me.

So I asked a clear question. “What can I count on from you so I can plan? What will you do?” 

He was warm. Kind. He smiled. Nodded in understanding. He did not answer and I wouldn't hear what was in the silence. 

Then I emailed. 

He did not reply.

I thought perhaps the sound of my needy voice or sight of my name in his electronic in-box grated on him so I asked my son to call when something was necessary. One day he said, “Please don’t ask me to call Uncle again. His voice, it changes to a ‘what do you want now' tone, and I feel really angry.”

I convinced myself that maybe my youngest brother couldn’t witness the deterioration. Maybe the baby of the family had been so protected he couldn’t watch our parents die. Maybe he couldn’t see me age at warp speed.

Maybe he thought I was made of sterner stuff and didn’t know we were the same stuff. Perhaps he didn’t understand I faced each day as frightened as he but without his contribution had to access my reserves more frequently. I had to dig deeper because he wasn’t. Didn’t realize I’d accept a spade if he didn’t own a shovel. 

Maybe when his wife said she loved me like a sister I’d misunderstood. I’d never had a sister. Maybe sister-love was different than I thought. Different than the way I loved my brothers. Maybe sister-love wasn’t designed to go the distance.

Maybe he thought because I'd managed through the loss of a child and husband I was better prepared. Didn't know when I'd faced the unreasonable, unthinkable, I hadn't been hardened in the crucible but instead was burned and shattered inside. 

While he offered none I devised excuses for him. 

When I couldn’t keep up with caregiver chores any longer, the doctors’ appointments, shopping, hospitalizations and surgeries, hauling one parent to see the other, intercessions with facility staff, when it was too much for me, even with husband and son helping and Brother One flying in and out, we put our heads together to find what we might ask of Brother Two that would not require interruption of his schedule, or travel from his home.

Paperwork. Mom and Dad’s accounting and bill paying.

We found the easiest thing Brother Two might do that would make the biggest difference if lifted from me. Brother One made an email request describing what we needed. Would Brother Two pick up a file box of bank statements and monthly bills, all paid, and take over where I left off so my home office would be free for me to work when I wasn’t with Mom and Dad? Could we change their mailing address to his so that invoices and insurance mail could be reviewed and filed at his house?

He did not respond.

Then I knew. 

I could fool myself no longer. It didn’t matter the reason. He wouldn’t be part of the care team. It wasn’t about distance. Or ease. Or schedule.

It was about something I didn’t understand.

In the pain I wondered why we didn’t matter enough. Why didn't I matter enough?

So I stopped.

I put emotional distance between us. I didn’t ask or phone again. I quit thinking of him as family. It hurt but not as much as being left behind while from my vantage point it seemed his life progressed unchanged.

He was a stranger with whom I shared DNA. A child I’d once walked to kindergarten on his first day of school. The thought of him had me pitch between grief and rage. 

I promised me I'd keep him out of mind, prevent myself from inventing relationship that was not there; I'd stop expecting or hoping.  Or agonizing. 

If I thought of him by accident, I ordered myself to stop. To make the pain go away.

I quit on him. I quit on us. And I admitted I’d always known our relationship was as close as I was willing to knit. Was contingent on my will to do the work. I hoped what I’d already done was enough to keep us close. That he would notice I was gone.

Again. 

I was wrong. 

When we moved our parents to Arizona, Brother One called to tell Brother Two. To the best of my knowledge Two didn’t visit to say good-bye. I thought I couldn’t be surprised. I was. But I don’t think my parents were. They'd long arrived at a place of acceptance I had yet to find. 

Brother One has taken over nearly all contact with Brother Two if there's a change in health status that should be shared. We disclose so when we look in the mirror we know we've acted responsibly. We keep no information from him that might alter his ability to make informed decisions. 

Two days before Christmas, Brother One called me to say Mom was being moved to hospice. He was devastated. To ease his way slightly I made the call to Brother Two before I left to help in Arizona. And say a final good-bye to my mother.

Brother Two stayed home to celebrate Christmas with his widowed father-in-law so his wife’s family wouldn’t think he’d abandoned their tradition; he volunteered this to me when he arrived after the holiday. 

Mom spoke for the last time. “My baby,” she whispered when she saw him. 

When we were young, would fight and argue, scream and scrap as siblings do, she would say, “One day your father and I will be gone and you’ll just have each other. Don’t fight. You’ll be what’s left of our family.”

Wreckage. That's what's left of our family.

Dad’s care goes on. On Easter and Father’s Day he received his Hallmark greetings. But I don’t think he’s seen my younger brother. 

Brother Two is a very nice man. With a wonderful smile. He tells a good joke. People are drawn to him.

He’s charming. And pleasant. 

When friends think of fun they never want to try without him.

He’s an athlete. But apparently lacking stamina.

He’s a sprinter. But I'm guessing not a marathoner.

He’s a lover, not a fighter. Not for Mom and Dad. Or, for me.  

I think he's a family man. 

Just not my family. 

As time has passed and others tell me their stories, I hear a version of this one again and again. Questions left unanswered. Dreams and expectations dashed; disappointment deposited instead. 

I don't pretend to understand. Why, if a chance exists that the journey could be made easier, do families not use each other as a splint to prop the broken spirit? Why splinter, fracture, and wither away?

Do they come back together again? And heal? 

I hope so. I don't like being wrong. 


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I Love A Parade!


Cb_sign
My grandmother, Vivian, grew up in a Jewish orphanage, sent there with her sisters by their father after the sudden death of their mother. This, my great-grandfather assessed, was the best he could do for his female brood. The women in charge would do better for his girls than he could, he thought. He was a struggling tailor in San Francisco nearing the end of the first decade of the 1900s.

My grandmother didn’t like to talk about her time in the orphanage. The youngest of the three girls she was left behind when the others married early to escape the institution. She made a couple of intermediate stops but by the 1930s she landed in Redwood City, CA, then a small town on the Peninsula, south of the City. A place that boasted “Climate Best by Government Test” as well as the largest, oldest Independence Day parade in the state of California.

I have no actual evidence that either of these two statements is true but I’ve never heard anything different so I’ve just gone with it. I grew up in Redwood City and never missed one of those parades. Each year my dad took us to city center so we could see the marching bands, baton twirlers, mounted regiments, floats, veterans, scouts, and color guards strut the streets proudly as we wriggled through the crowds for a better view. And as long my grandmother lived, we stopped at her place to give her ride along with us.

She was an old-fashioned patriot. She could be moved to tears at the playing of the national anthem. For one who saw much pain in her early life she told me many times her saddest days occurred when she heard news of the murders of John and Robert Kennedy. I saw her cry with grief, outrage, and defeat when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Heinous acts were committed against patriots, the victims heroes who died for their country. She considered these the darkest days of the nation because they were attacks from within.

Each time the flag would pass our outpost on Middlefield Road, or Main Street, on July 4th, my grandmother would stand, remove her hat, and put her hand over her heart. For every bar of the Star Spangled Banner she would rise and stay put, posture erect, until each note had rung through the crowd.
Color guard
Not to make light, but you can imagine how many times flags passed and the anthem played on July 4th at the state’s largest parade. My grandmother was a veritable jumping bean. I was amazed at the reflex action that snapped her into position without hesitation, never a haw, from start to finish. My dad – her son, and my brothers and I followed her lead. Without question. Because it was proper. For with her on that day, we were patriots, too, thanking men and women everywhere and through the years, for the gift of freedom. Acknowledging our flag, and “the nation for which it stands”.

No doubt this woman, daughter of Russian Jewish émigré, born the year after the great quake and fire of ’06, raised in an orphanage, having survived two world wars and the Great Depression, understood better than I ever will the depth of raw courage and decency, resilience and stalwart devotion to freedom symbolized by Independence Day parades across our land. In cities, townships and villages. On floats and in wagons. Fancy and not.

She didn’t live long enough to meet my son. If she had, she would have seen us walk from our house to Redwood City's downtown each 4th of July. She would have witnessed him marching as a Boy Scout, or gliding along sidelines on skates, selling flags to bystanders. The fourth generation participating in the state’s largest and oldest parade.

What I now see is, of course, this is a family event. A historical trek we make because -– it’s what we do. But as we’re renewing our ties to family and tradition, we’re also renewing them to community, city, and country. In the generational repetition the lines have blurred between personal and national history. They’re now intertwined.

So the little girl from the orphanage created the family she longed for and the tethers she craved. And each time the flag passes before us in Redwood City, CA, where climate is best by government test, we will stand as though there is no other possibility, as we will when we hear the national anthem. Many times, at the state’s largest and oldest parade.

What are your family traditions? Stories? Menus? Rituals? Just please don’t tell me your parade is larger, or your weather better. You know it’d break my heart.

Enjoy your holiday weekend. Be safe. And remember to give a nod to those who have helped to make our lives and our country so very hospitable.

Happy Independence Day, everyone! Let freedom ring...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Racism, Accountability, Paula Deen


I’m interrupting our regularly scheduled programming (my promised entries on Eldercare) because I need to get random here.


I don’t know if she’s a racist. I haven’t talked to her in years. Okay, I’ve never met her. All that cooking and never once has she invited me over.

If she's a racist, there’s no law against it. Moral law, yes. Spiritual law, certainly. But no legal-type law.

If she created a hostile work environment and discriminated against employees, the courts will suss that out and more power to the woman who brought it to the attention of the law.

Not to mention karma. When karma’s involved, you know how that one goes...

But truly, we don’t know anything yet other than Paula Deen’s admission that she used the n-word.

I hate that. And I don’t buy that it was only once because she was robbed by a black man. Though if someone put a gun to my head, goodness knows what I’d say. Or do. Other than clean my britches and hide for about ten years.

There is such a thing as institutionalized racism and we don’t always know when we’re perpetrators. We don’t know what we don’t know. I can’t speak to the covert ways that sections of the human race are demeaned because I don’t walk in their shoes and I can’t always see it. (Not even speaking to the appalling overt behavior I've seen that no one should have to experience.)

When I was very young I was married for all of about 15 minutes. With the last name of Rosenthal, in 15 minutes I learned plenty. About things that had been invisible to me.

I know ugly things are said and said by people who sometimes don’t even know they’re offensive.

“I’m gonna Jew that guy down and see if I can get a better deal.”

“You gypped me.”

Hell, way back when I lived in Texas a restaurant menu showed three salad dressing options. Thousand Island. Blue cheese. And Wop. I assume that’s Italian?

A few years ago I was at a BBQ joint with my parents. In front of us in line was a mixed race couple. My mother said under her breath, “I just hate that.”

I knew my mother. I knew exactly what she was referring to. I feigned ignorance.

“What, Mom? What are you talking about?”

“Black men and white women.” Right after which she attempted to disown her opinion.

“Oh, I know, it may not be right, but that’s just what I think and I can’t help it.”

Interesting, I thought. Bestie’s married to a black guy. Mom loved him.

“Mom, is that what you think every time you see Bestie and Billy?”

“No,” she answered. “I don’t think that at all. They’re different.”

I let the moment breathe. Paused. “Well, Mom, I gotta think you can help it if you don’t think it when you’re with Bestie and Billy.”

She didn’t like that. Nope. Not one bit.

And what’s different about Bestie and Billy? We all know. She knew Billy and trusted him. He isn’t part of a nameless mass of humanity of a different color that’s suspect until proven different.

I come from a bunch of Italians (who discriminated against each other because some were northern Italian and some were bas-Italia, low Italian, otherwise known as Sicilian and very dark) and Russian Jews. Shaken not stirred, vigorously at that, if you know those folks.

But I have an advantage. My predecessors paid my dues. I have homogenized looks and a last name to match. My hair is bleached blonde. Good luck figuring out my ancestry. My roots don’t show (well, sometimes, but then I go to the hairdresser) and for awhile, I didn’t even know what they were.

In third grade my friend said to me, “See that new girl. She’s Jewish.” 

Are you kidding me? Sidra Silberman. Hell, yes, she's Jewish. But at that time I’d never even heard the word.

“What’s Jewish?”

She whispered, “They don’t believe in Jesus.”

Seriously? People who don’t believe in Jesus? I went to catechism on Saturday mornings. My parents made a choice between the two religions they came from. I was raised Catholic. I didn’t know my paternal grandmother was Jewish.

I walked up to Sidra. “You don’t believe in Jesus? Why?” I asked astounded.

Can you imagine? I grimace at the thought, even though I was only nine. I'm really sorry, Sidra. 

Clannish. Humans are clannish. We haven’t been socialized all that long and sometimes I’m not so sure we’re socialized at all. Outsiders are – well, outsiders. Humans tend to hang with their own kind. And there's safety in numbers, after all.

Been to the Castro in San Francisco? They have their own flag for land's sakes. 

None of this is to say that any of this discrimination stuff is okay. It’s not okay. It’s reprehensible. The marginalizing, keeping down, holding down, demeaning of any individual or group. It’s just plain wrong.

But there's a lot about the Deen affair left to come to light. In this situation, quite literally, the jury isn’t out – the jury doesn’t even have the case yet. 

I'm not known to quote Al Sharpton but (paraphrasing) he said something about not being much worried about what she said years ago but plenty interested if it's still going on today. Me, too,and it remains to be heard.

Thank you, Reverend.

Paula Deen's affiliates are cancelling contracts, non-renewing, and running for cover. As though their association was an accident. They just bumped into each other mistakenly. And the media are all over the deal like a wet sweat.

But this is what I absolutely do know. There’s something called accountability. It has a few components. 1) Owning your stuff. Good and bad. 2) Accepting the consequences. 3) Cleaning up any mess; paying the fine; making amends. 4) Making a plan for improvement. 5) Improving.

Rinse. Repeat. Till trust is reestablished.

But who in their right mind will ever do the thing we all say we want, take responsibility and own up, if when we do the world lands on us, judges us, kicks us out before fair hearing? If our message is owning up and cleaning up mean nothing. 

There are some distinctions we need to make in this and other cases. Have those accountability benchmarks been met? With my mom, “I can’t help it,” - not so much. Mel Gibson – improvement? I don’t think so. More like taking his show underground. Anthony Weiner, we’ll see, (but I really don’t wanna see anymore).

Then there’s our role. Have we examined our criteria for forgiveness? Is it reasonable? Which are our one strike and you’re out principles, and which transgressions do we let others earn their way back from? Are our standards rational? Do we hold ourselves to the same ones? Would we be okay if others held us to them?            

Do we know the difference between forgiveness and pardon? Nixon was pardoned and to this day he hasn’t been forgiven. Because pardon doesn’t help produce ownership. It says the opposite. It makes the sin like it didn’t happen.

If Paula Deen did bad, she shouldn’t get a bye. No pardon. Not because she’s 66, raised in the South, is famous, a kindly grandma-type on television, or cried for Matt Lauer. She should be accountable.

But how can she, or any of us enact a plan for improvement and seek forgiveness if we’re shunned and humiliated, and left no place to do that?

Make no mistake – her professional associates aren’t severing ties on moral grounds. It's about money. They’re getting rid of her before their sponsors, clients or customers get rid of them. No report of one saying more than, “We’re weighing our options.”

How about, “There will be no decision until all the facts are in. Because that’s the diligence with which we make our product and we believe that’s what you value about us.” Or, "She's been an excellent partner to us and we believe everyone should have a fair hearing."  

Nope. They think we’re reactive, irrational, and unforgiving. Really, I think they think we don’t think.

Again I say, there’s no excuse for racist behavior. I pray I haven’t unknowingly been an
example of Jane Elliott’s “Blue Eyed 
Experiment” but that’s probably too much to hope. Instead I’ll ask for forgiveness and the opportunity to make things right if I’ve caused a hurtful impact I didn’t intend. I would wish that for anyone.

While the court sorts out what Deen did and didn’t do, while she explains and dusts herself off, I believe we need to hold ourselves to a standard, too. We have a role in this, in the great world of accountability. Let’s play it well.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Protection Racket


Identity

It has a clear, maybe not simple, definition for me. It’s the reputation I have with myself. Who I say I am. What I’m proud of. My talents, skills, competencies; the roles I play. My perception of my weaknesses and strengths. How I see beauty and success, and why. What I value, what I believe. And key personal, historical components that have contributed to my thoughts about how the world works, who I am in it, and what’s possible for me. That’s my identity

©pamela hester king
You have one, too, made up of all those things. 

When I work with leaders learning to give feedback, I tell them to be cautious when giving information that contradicts identity. It may be perceived as an identity assault. It's important to give necessary and sometimes negative feedback but equally so to help the recipient maintain their definition of who they are, hang on to their dignity.

Whole wars have been waged, and continue now, over identity. Look at the Middle East if you don’t believe me. 

I won’t give feedback or information that ‘deconstructs’ identity if in my opinion the situation is such that it’s impossible for the person on the receiving end to restore their reputation with self, or build a new one. If they can’t somehow make things right for themselves.

Does that make sense? I have an example.

A long time ago a friend phoned to tell me her mom was terminally ill. My friend had a lot of unfinished business with her mom. She wanted me to guide her in a clear-the-air conversation, and help her say things to her mother that had been left unsaid, or were said but not heard for years preceding.


©pamela hester king

I coach communication so I was a logical choice for help. We were old friends; I knew her mom and had a deep understanding of the issues that troubled my friend. But there was a rub for me. If I helped my friend say what she wanted, I’d likely also undo the accomplishment of which her mom was most proud – she had tried to be a good mother. Believed she had been. Thought she raised her daughter well, with love and advantages, and was leaving to her only child a large estate to secure her daughter’s future and that of her grandsons.

Giving my friend the benefit of the doubt, I’ll say she planned to be compassionate in the conversation. I still said no. Would not do it. Not under the circumstances. There was no time left to work through things. For her mother to refurbish her reputation with herself as having done right by her daughter, let alone time to shift her daughter’s opinion. 

My decision caused a rift. My friend was angry with me. Felt deserted in a time of need. All the things she needed to say before her mother’s passing might never be said. 

I understand her point of view better now. 
©pamela hester king

But that is how I thought, and think today. If there’s no opportunity to restore or rebuild, I won’t be party to sending someone off whose identity has been upended, and may be left to believe they were not who they strived to be through a lifetime so someone else feels better. It serves no one. It has its own fall out for those who remain behind. One burden lessened while another takes its place…

So as my own parents struggled with their illnesses and my brother and I were challenged with maneuvering through a minefield of financial mishaps we hadn’t known existed, we positioned information to my parents to preserve their identities and protect them from ever feeling ‘less than’ in our eyes.

We told most of the truth. That we needed to be judicious, budgets were required, assets were limited and creativity necessary, but we kept to ourselves that at nearly every junction where a decision needed making my parents had chosen poorly with devastating consequences to their future. They never asked certain questions and we didn't feel compelled to tell. 

We protected them with our money. We protected them by doing things that may have been better handled professionally had more resources been available; we protected them by filling in as many blanks as necessary so they were never without, sometimes to our own detriment.

We protected them from gaining the knowledge that they worked a lifetime to wind up insolvent. We could not bear the pain that would be caused for them were they fully in the know, especially my dad whose identity in part consisted of being a good provider.

They had lost the dream of aging and dying in their own home. Were reconciled with great difficulty to the knowledge they would not be leaving much to their children; for them a final picture of meaningful parenting had died. I couldn’t tell the entire, unvarnished truth of their circumstances. Couldn’t handle taking anything else away. Even an illusion.

We managed the facts in small bits, without lying. But without fully truthing either. It was a protection racket.

And then it finally became necessary to ensure their future well-being with the move to Arizona where they would have the benefit of the ALTCS program if needed. I wrote about that a few weeks ago in, Working the System.

Mom called the move her extradition from California. She thought I was too tired to continue caring for them as the primary custodial child. Thought I didn’t love her enough to do the hard stuff anymore. She was disappointed, angry and sad. Afraid to leave what little she had that was familiar.

I highlighted all the reasons why the move was good. Better weather. Close to my brother. A larger apartment with more amenities. Bigger resident population with less dementia so more real peers, companions, and activities. Things which were important to her. As my brother had done when they lived near me, I planned to come monthly to visit. She would have one child near her and the other visiting. The reverse of what we’d done in California.

But the most important piece of information was held back except for the words, “You’ll never have to worry about your financial future.”

Though my brother and I never stopped worrying, I don’t know that they ever did, we'd protected them so well.  
©pamela hester king

My mom fretted. 

told her it was our last great adventure together as a family. We spent part of my 
childhood moving from city to city because of Dad’s work. And here we were again, blazing a trail, learning a new town, making new friends, adapting, just as she'd taught us.

She was not appeased.

I kept wondering whether we’d, I'd, protected Mom too much. In my fervor to help them maintain their identities as sovereign, responsible adults, she had no real context for the move. She was a native born San Franciscan. Californian to the core and was being asked to surrender one more piece of her history. Of herself. The protection bill had come due. My mother would not, could not, did not understand.

If my father understood more than was said I don’t know. He cooperated, even seemed a little excited, until the evening before the move during which he cried out in his sleep, became restless then finally remained awake and disoriented for the rest of the night.
A lifetime of love, Mom & cousin

When Mom said good-bye to her favorite cousin the week before we left for Arizona, they both knew realistically, it was forever. It wasn't easy. There was no protection from that.

The move itself, on December 1, went smoothly. Mom helped unpack and directed furniture placement. She appeared to recover some enthusiasm for her living situation, except for the new laundry routine. She vigorously disapproved of the weekly schedule and told me so on the phone twice daily for a week after I left. When I distracted her with a planned shopping trip upon my next visit and she was nearly restored, temporarily. 

I left her on December 5, my air travel ticket already secured for a return trip immediately after Christmas. She had her Christmas lights and ornaments and my sister-in-law to help decorate their suite. I ordered a wreath for their door.

Mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas. As ever, she didn’t get it. 

“I want you to scout every nook and cranny of this building so that when I come back you can give me a tour, show me everything they have here and introduce me to your new friends. That’s what I want for Christmas.” I hugged her and said, “I love you,” her tiny body lost in my bear hug. She nodded, waited and watched as I walked down the hallway to the exit.

Mom & Brother 
I turned around a few times to see her still standing at her front door. We waved and blew kisses every few feet. I exited.

Ten days later she was in the hospital. Ten more in hospice. Five and she was gone.

Had I protected her right out of life? Broken her heart with what she didn't know? I don’t have the answer. 

Nobody talks about this aspect of elder care. We talk about self-care (I’ll get to that), we talk about social services (I did that in Working the System) but the place where I started, No One Knows How to Do This, well, I know less now than when I began the journey. How to help with adjustments and loss of independence and the different, difficult crises that emerge on the way to the end. 

I don't know that if I'd done everything perfectly it would have made a difference. I can't always tell what's out of my hands. I ask myself some of the same questions even now that there's only Dad to care for. What should I tell him? What should I demand from him in participation because it's good for him and protection only serves to weaken him? I don't know. I say that more often than ever. 

I did the best I knew, as did my brother. We need to protect our own identities, too, from second-guessing ourselves. From not being able to shield our parents completely from the pain of withering away. 

But that never was assigned to us. We took it on. 

We try to protect ourselves from wishing we were more than only human, with mere human power and limits.