Up in smoke


I knew Miss Cathy was going to bring up my trip and somehow, someway, some day when she did-she’d give me agida. I wasn’t sure when but I knew it was coming. And sure enough, a couple days ago it happened. I’d walked into the kitchen for a coffee refill and she was sitting at the counter with her “hot comb” straightening her hair. She said, “You’re counting down the days huh?” It was early in the am and I was still in my own little world so I didn’t really get what she was talking about so I said,” counting down for what?”

While passing a section of hair through the teeth of a very hot device she explained, “till you go to Kansas City.” The smell of burning hair was thick in the air as she used the comb to straighten her natural curls. The air would soon get thicker still for a whole “nother” reason.

“Oh yeah, that”, I thought, it’s not like I’d forgotten about my plans so much as I wasn’t bringing them up (at all in fact). I wasn’t talking about the trip because I was dreading the inevitable argument that would result. I know you’re thinking, “I’m projecting” or “I’m putting a negative out to the universe” or better yet “that on some level I ‘wanted’ the conflict.” But no, but NO, I’ve read my Deepak Oprah, I’ve had a Life-coach and know that we manifest the “story” that we tell and I’ve logged enough hours “navel gazing” during talk therapy to know fact from neurosis. So yes, I know all this and I also know that if YOU spent the amount of time with Miss Cathy that I have you’d think the same-it’s not “negativity” it’s “self preservation”.

Imagine my surprise when she said, “depending on the weather I’m going to go visit Tine while you’re gone.” Tine (Ernestine, “Tine” for short) is Miss Cathy’s youngest sister who still lives in their hometown, Henderson, North Carolina.

Well, she certainly “buried the lead” didn’t she? I was happy as could be for her but “practical me” was wondering, “how was she going to get down there?” and thoughts of me driving her “down South” didn’t exactly thrill me. I don’t know about you but to me it’s as if every mile I drive past the NC border takes a year off the calendar so by the time we’re in Henderson it’s 1952 down there-and I wasn’t born until 1959 so what does that say?!, oh well, what price freedom.

While I pondered her mode of transport she continued, “and I’ll tell you something right now (the mood in the room suddenly changing), if in two or three months you want to go someplace else you go right ahead but I am NOT leaving this house-no more!” (I could have sworn I heard a little sizzle off the “hot comb” but I can’t be sure.)

“Alrighty then, so, here we are, and here we go”, I thought. I put my coffee down, took (half) a deep breath and before I knew it (although I’d predicted it) it was October all over again. Remember, back in October when I told her about my first trip and how she tried for days to convince me that she was “well” and that she should stay home alone. She tried everything, even what I call the ”Five stages of persuasion”:

1)    Intimidation: One has to be loud and authoritative, this works best on small children with a vested interest in survival but not on adult children of parents who no longer pay your bills or wipe your butt for you

2)    Reasoning: This can only work if both parties are in denial about the disease or condition at hand

3)     Cajoling: This could include anything from the “buddy” approach in speech and body language to bribes of favorite meals or money

4)    Threats: These usually take the form of self-important statements that start with “Do you know who I am?” or “ You don’t know who you’re dealing with buddy” but realistically that can’t be backed up by any substantive actions)

5)    Self pity: This can include tears, mournful looks, pleas to God for help and as a last resort threats of suicide but once the “suicide” card is played one can’t keep throwing it down lest somebody calls your bluff

So, after going back and forth and over and over the same territory, I had to ask myself, “Was there anything different about this discussion/argument that was any different from any other discussion/argument we’ve had over the past year about whether or not she could or should be able to stay by herself for any length of time?”

To be honest, the answer was “no” but this time I just wasn’t sure-maybe I was tired. I found myself almost persuaded by her arguments and for the first time I wondered if she was indeed capable of taking care of herself alone for on week or more.

I mean, she made a strong case for it-in volume if nothing else. I listened past the anger and stubbornness, the denial and pride. She may not think I understand what she’s going through but I’m trying (I am HERE after all). To her credit she hasn’t had any accidents in months nor has she shown any lack of judgment that would put her in danger of hurting herself or others.

So, I was in a quandary, I had to admit to myself (if not to her) that maybe “we’d” (Tony and I) had jumped the gun here. Maybe she was “better” and all she needed was some time to get herself together after the events of last year. Could it be, could the doctor’s be wrong?

I mean, at the end of the day all I want is for her to be happy (and safe) and although I know what the doctors have said I’m the one living with her and from what I’ve observed she’s not doing too bad.

She was also doing her hair the entire time we were talking and it was somewhere around this point in our discussion/argument while she was straightening a section of hair that she singed the ends because she’d left the curling iron on the heat too long.

Nothing like the smell of frying hair to give you pause while you’re arguing. Since she’d just finished making a long winded, pretty well rehearsed speech about how well she could take care of herself I was tempted to use what had just happened against her but she was embarrassed enough (not to mention that it would take weeks for her hair to grow out so she’d be reminded enough of “how well she’s taking care of herself”).

So, I graciously said nothing while she sat there pulling at her burned follicles and let that be the end of the discussion/argument…….. for now.

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I think I’m ready to go under


Night after night Miss Cathy says, “I think I’m ready to go under”. No, she’s not channeling Dr Kevorkian; she’s just letting me know that she’s ready for me to turn off her TV and bedside lamp so that she can go to sleep. She’s not ready for the “Big sleep”- just a deep one. But, when I hear it I know that it’s a sign for me that the day is done and I’m pretty much free to be.

Recently I’d been spending my days stressing about telling her about my upcoming trip. It’s that time again, my “quarterly time-off”!(sounds like I’m working for an insurance company). My plans have been set for weeks now but I was waiting till about two weeks before (the trip) to tell her because I’ve been dreading a repeat of what happened last October when I told her I was leaving for a week (my first “time off” after being here for three months). She had no problem with me taking a trip (in fact she was happy for me) the problem started when she realized that my leaving didn’t mean that she’d get to stay alone in her apartment, it meant she’d have to go over to my brothers’ while I was gone (in her mind a fate tad amount to internment). Which also meant almost daily conversations, arguments and campaigns on her part to stay home alone. Oy Vey! It was exhausting and by the time I dropped her ass off at my brother’s “you best believe” I was in need of a holiday.

I’d remembered something that a psychiatrist told me years ago about sharing difficult news, she suggested letting the news come out of a normal activity and not to call any more attention to the news than was necessary by doing something out of the ordinary like 1) sharing it on a major holiday b) calling everyone to a specific room to share the news or 3) taking the person someplace unfamiliar to talk to them, lest you set up a future trauma that would include not just the news BUT the person, place or thing surrounding what you have to say.

So, with that in mind I set about waiting for an opportunity to tell her about the trip. The moment presented itself the other day while we were playing 3-13, the card game. She had asked if I wanted to play and at first I thought “Uggh, I am not in the mood”, then I realized that it would be the “normal activity” I was waiting for so I said “I’m in!”

It was after I’d won the game and we were still sitting at the dining room table, straightening up when I simply said,” I’ve got some news. I’ve got a trip planned and I’ll be gone Feb one through the ninth.” I know it sounds kinda dry, but I didn’t want to make a “bigger” deal out of the trip (nor did I want it to spark a major blow up either) so I opted for a “Readers Digest” version of events. After delivering my news I braced for whatever she was going to say but other than asking me to repeat the dates a couple times she didn’t say much else. I suggested that if she didn’t want to stay with Tony that maybe she could ask her girlfriend, Adele, about staying with her. That kind of just lay there so I burbled on about “too bad the weather wasn’t nicer or you could take some time and go home to North Carolina for a visit.” After chatting a few more moments we were up from the table and onto our separate activities for the rest of the day.

I gotta say, I was a little surprised by her response; maybe I’d built it up too much in my head (and believe me the quiet way she received the news was far preferable to what I’d imagined). Not sure what was coming (if anything) I kinda walked around the rest of the day “waiting” and “it” never came.

Well, it’s been three days since I gave her the news and not a peep out of her about it. Maybe I misjudged what her reaction was going to be (Nah!), maybe she didn’t hear me or maybe she’s just resigned to the way things are-the “new normal”. What I really think is that she’s just waiting for her moment (same as me) and she’ll “pop” out with something that I didn’t expect so I’ll deal with it then.

No matter, she’s given me plenty to think about at night right before “I go under”.

Sweets n’ treats


Miss Cathy’s project d’jour was cleaning all the pieces in the china cabinet. I was happy to see that she was doing something other than sitting in the living room watching television (not that there’s anything wrong with that-I too continue to clock way too many hours staring into “the box”). She said she thinks it’s been at least two or maybe three years since she’s taken out all the dishes, crystal stemware and choctchkes and washed each by hand. It’s a big commitment of time and energy, delicately removing each piece and not breaking it or any of the other items that are stuffed onto the shelves.

The dining room in the apartment is rarely used, except by me to work (sometimes). I don’t remember the last time anyone actually had a meal in there. It’s not a large space and unfortunately it’s made even more uninviting by the huge “Mediterranean” style dining room “suite” that Miss Cathy brought here from one of her previous marriages. The furniture is too large for the room (I think it was designed with a Medieval Spanish Castle in mind), several of the chairs are in need of repair (meaning broken) and I was beside myself with joy when Miss Cathy suggested that I get rid of two of them not too long ago.

I took to the task of breaking down the chairs with gusto, in my mind they were just two more things standing in the way of this becoming a “livable” space instead of the stuffed animal “way-station” filled with chairs that were either uncomfortable, broken or occupied by her collection. Since the chairs were so old and wobbly (not unlike our matriarch come to think of it), it was very easy to pull them apart (I know what you’re thinking……..but, no, I NEVER think of “pulling Miss Cathy apart”). After my remark about “understanding” elder abuse I feel a need to include disclaimers ever so often lest social services may be reading “in” or someone feels the need to mistake my sense of humor for a confession of condoning or participating in aberrant behavior. All rightly then, now that that’s out of the way………..

In no time at all I had the pieces tied into two bundles ready for the trash. Unfortunately they couldn’t be recycled or used as kindling because they were made of some kind of wood composite or man-made, factory turned material. I think if you put a match to them you would asphyxiate from the smoke rising off the plastic.

So, happy that she was occupied with an activity I was off to “the city” to have lunch in downtown DC with three friends from Philadelphia who were down for the day to visit the National Portrait Gallery (and to see me, of course). We had a great time at lunch and seeing friends had the usual effect of working like a ‘tonic’ on me-I drove home energized and refreshed.

Before we walked to the restaurant from the museum where I met them I had the chance to talk to one of my friends alone about Miss Cathy. Cassandra has been taking care of her mother for years now so I was happy to have some time to compare notes and ask her advice. Our mothers do not suffer from all the same illnesses but they do have diabetes in common. No matter the particulars, if only for the benefit of being able to sit across from and vent to someone who ‘gets it”. Besides, I think there’s always something to be gained from talking to a “fellow” traveler who walks down the path of care giving.

I listened to some of her “war” stories then I shared some of mine. Then we got on the topic of “picking our battles”, we were talking about the fact that both our mothers are diabetic but love sweets, we sounded like two parents with little children feeling guilty because we’re the ones doing the shopping and have control over buying the foods they consume but find it difficult/exasperating/hard to say “no” to their requests sometimes.

Cassandra told me that what she does (on top of rationing her mom’s sugar intake-and picking her battles) is to give her mother a baked sweet potato loaded with Cinnamon, it not only satisfies her cravings for dessert it’s healthy food that can be easily digested and it helps psychologically because one doesn’t feel deprived.

I thought that was a brilliant idea and now I can’t wait to try it out on Miss Cathy, who knows, maybe I’ll serve it to here in the dining room on one of her china plates now that they’re sparkling clean.

This n’ that


Not much to report as the New Year gets underway (and considering all that 2010 had to offer that’s a good thing).

Miss Cathy’s doing pretty well, its Sunday so she has her religious programs that she watches on TV in the morning and football to keep her company in the afternoon.

I’m a little concerned that she hasn’t been out of the apartment (other than to go to the doctor’s office) in a couple of weeks but her spirits are high and she says she’s enjoying being inside “out of the cold”.

Last week we went to the Doctor’s for a check up and the reports were all good, so physically she’s going great. Now I have to schedule a check up for her metal health and I’m taking her to the Dentist next week for her annual visit.

She hasn’t seen the neurologist, Dr Alemayehu for about six months now so it’s time for a check up, I’m sure there wont’ be any discernable change but we need to keep on our schedule of appointments as a matter of routine.

I have been out and about a little more than usual, thanks to the holidays and my birthday. I’m feeling more and comfortable being away from home for hours at a time, and although I haven’t availed myself of the help that’s been offered, I know that there are a few friends and relatives that I can call on to sit with Miss Cathy if need be.