Saturday, January 29, 2011

Last Words

Most people don’t really like to think about, much less talk about, the fact that the day is going to come when we all leave our earthly bodies.  When I worked at the church it became a joke among the staff that the most likely person to come to discuss prearrangements for funerals would be in his eighties and wanted to put something in writing "in case I die".

I’ve found, however, that for legal reasons one may not pretend that one will live forever in a medical setting. For even the most minor procedures you are required to sign off that you understand the most remote and dire consequences that could result… up to and including death. Most of us sign the papers, because we have no real choice if we want to receive medical care, but most of the time we don’t think too much about the possibility of that 5% of bad outcomes being ourselves.

A few years ago I had a benign, but fairly serious adrenal tumor. It was affecting my overall health, and it really needed to come out. My surgeon lacked basic common sense, and repeatedly badgered me...including as I was being wheeled into surgery...with whether I understood that the procedure could kill me. I did. He operated and I didn’t die.

That experience did lead me to think about any small legacy I’d like to leave. I got my funeral plans in order and filed them with the church. I got all the legal papers signed giving various people the right to decide when my life is over and what comfort care I preferred. It gave me something to do while I awaited the date with the doctor.

As I played with the idea of being remembered when I’m gone I also decided that I’d really like to change my relationships with people so that whenever that inevitable day might come the final words I exchanged with all those I love would be more loving.

It took a while to get the hang of it, but I do think my sharp tongue has softened a bit. I’m afraid I still occasionally snipe at my husband when he forgets something he’s been asked to do repeatedly, but I think the snipes are more gentle than before and often tempered with humor. He is thanked profusely for all the many kindnesses he does for me every day and in the process of voicing these thanks, I’ve found a new appreciation for the things he does do and do well.

I learned in some of my Social Work classes that one person’s small change can change a whole family group, so perhaps that’s what happened in our case. I didn’t tell my children or husband of my thoughts, and I’m not sure whether that decision changed our family dynamics or what, but it’s been a good long time since I made it, and the number of ugly squabbles in our family (and there have been some doozies!) have diminished to almost zero. Maybe we’ve all just grown older and wiser and more tolerant.

I hope that everyone I care about will remember their last encounter with me as being a positive one. It’s not even all that hard if I stay focused.

We’ll all gather for a family dinner Sunday evening, something that’s increasingly hard to schedule with so many kids schedules to consider. Here’s hoping that our damage free record stands after it’s the dishes are cleared away, and that any tears are the result of laughing too hard at my sons in law making fun of me.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Another Winter To-Do Thing

When I made the list published previously, I was just musing and trying to motivate myself to get moving. In a prime example of how things can change overnight in the course of events, I find myself with one big item on the list of what to do this winter…get my knee replaced. A false step on some stairs and an injury that just isn’t getting better took me to my favorite ortho.

Owen, who was a classmate of Molly’s and the best ortho in the world, in my humble opinion, told me almost eight years ago that both knees were awful and needed replacing, but I had things to do and babies were coming along, so I ignored him as long as possible. By the time I got my left knee done, I had wasted four or five years dragging the thing around and living on pain killers. ( Not hard core…mostly just NSAIDS, but I’ve discovered recently that they are not totally benign either.)

This time I am not as foolish. I’ll have a new knee before Valentine’s day, and if the process goes as well as the last, be walking the neighborhood by Spring Break.

One of my favorite things about recuperating from anything is how magnificent it is to watch God finish man’s work. After the surgeons send you home and the therapists give up on making you into an athlete, God finishes the healing. The only problem I’ve found with this is that it’s on His schedule, not necessarily mine. It does seem to happen, though, with astonishing predictability.

Healing doesn’t just apply to physical damage, either. Looking back over a lifetime of having my heart and ego wounded in various ways, I can truly recognize that God healed those wounds too. Sooner or later, something came along to distract me and lift my spirits and focus my attention away from the hurt while it healed. Oh, the scars are still there, and on a bad day I can identify every one of them, but scars don’t usually hurt…they just are.  Maybe some of you have noticed that too.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

None of Your Business???

In listening to the news accounts of the Tucson shooter, I am confounded by the very difficult position faced by those who were close enough to know something was just not right with this kid. As one who lives with a disabled adult, I face much more minor issues daily about what is my business and what is Walker’s business, and just what to do when I feel the need to intrude into his “space”.

I finally decided that Walker is indeed an adult, but since he lacks the ability to manage some parts of his life the way most adults do (manage his medical needs, pay bills, drive) he doesn’t exactly have full decision making power. I feel lucky that reasoning usually works with him, and when it doesn’t bribes or threats do. He is pretty much a model citizen at home because I made it clear to him during one unpleasant episode years ago that living with us is a privilege. I suppose the idea of getting kicked out was enough to assure compliance with a few household rules, because there has never been another really serious episode.

I realize, though, that mental illness is not as easy to predict as mental retardation, so we’re kind of comparing apples and oranges.

Schizophrenia is a particularly insidious disease because it usually doesn’t manifest clearly until late adolescence or early adulthood, although there may have been earlier behavioral indicators that were ignored or explained away. It must be terribly baffling to watch an adolescent veer off into insanity just at the time you expect him to be maturing and moving into independence.

 Walker’s friend Steffan is a living example to him of what happens when your offenses toward your family are serious enough to get you kicked out of the house…although the social workers involved would probably call Steffen’s alternative living arrangements a “plan of care to assure the well being of Steffan and his family”.

Steffan doesn’t appear to be a dangerous sort, most schizophrenics are not, but his mother stated that he was a threat to her safety when she had him arrested and committed into state custody. I welcome him into my home periodically because he seems to understand the importance of his meds and is conscientious about taking them and his behavior has always been exemplary.

But what if he weren’t? What if I noticed him deteriorating as I did several years ago when he let his hair grow matted and unwashed for months? Should I respect his right to have control of his appearance, assuming that he simply wants to fit in as he hangs around backstage at concerts, hoping to be given some access to rock stars? . What if his suspicious nature escalated into a manifestation of true paranoia? What if some of the stuff he accumulates indicated an unnatural interest in occult matters? What if he purchased a gun?

 You’d better believe I’d get involved. I’d contact someone in the tree of providers that provide his services and give them some evidence to support my hunch that something is amiss. I’m not sure anyone would listen as HIPPA laws might even prevent them from acknowledging that Steffan is a client, but I would know I’d done all I could.

 According to Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, author of “The Insanity Offense” about 1 per cent of mentally ill individuals are violent and that half the rampage murders in the United States are commited by that population.

I hope that next shooter can be stopped by some friend or family member or acquaintance who isn’t too worried about whose business it is. Safety in public places is all our business.

 Perhaps a public awareness campaign of the early signs of mental illness accompanied by an action plan to give those around the subject some idea of what to do could make life happier and safer for all of us, including the mentally ill.

Until then, perhaps we’ll all be a little less polite about minding our own business and think carefully about whether odd behavior constitutes a warning sign.


Monday, January 10, 2011

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

Okay, so technically it’s not yet midwinter. According to my calculations that will be on or about January 25, but we had our first snow day of what will hopefully be a mercifully short winter today, and I decided to make a survival plan to get me through till Spring.

If you can think of something to add to what is obviously an incomplete list, please click comment at the bottom of the page, and I’ll update the list periodically.

Some things to do on a cold winter’s day:

1. Throw something away...anything...everything.

2. Mend something.

3. Iron something.

4. Make sure you’ve gotten the dregs of the Christmas stuff put away.

5. Write those thank you notes.

6. Call somebody you haven’t talked to in a long time.

7. Send a card just to say you care about someone.

8. Sit in the car with the bun warmers on and listen to your favorite music.  (Per my son in law, this could be suicidal if you run the heater...recommended only in ventilated garage for a short while.)

9. Build a fire and keep it going all day.

10. Enjoy some candles even if the lights don’t go out.

11. Cook something that takes all day and sop up the gravy with bread.

12. Have breakfast for dinner.

13. Make some cider with mulling spices and add something to give it a kick.

14. Take a long hot bath and climb up in your bed with the down comforter.

15. Let your dog or cat cuddle up with you….all night.

16. Order prints of last years pictures and put them in an album or a frame.

17. Hang up the clothes lying on the exercycle and get on it.

18. Copy some CDs on to your ipod.

19. Use some gift cards online.

20. Organize your receipts and be ready to do your taxes.

21. Look over last years checks and credit card bills to see where some of your money escaped.

22. Make a grocery list and download some coupons to use when you send your hubby to the store.

23. Make dinner from something in the freezer every night for a week.

24. Make a cake from scratch.

25. Wash the cushions on the bar stools.

26. Wash something that hasn’t been washed in a year.

27. Throw your bed pillows in the dryer with a fabric softener sheet to fluff.

28. Get rid of make up that’s past its prime. Ditto spices, although I keep mine for years sometimes.

29. Start a donation box and look for things to put in it.

30. Make a new folder on your desktop—real or virtual-- to save all pictures from 2011.

31. Walk from one end of the house to the other returning things to the rooms where they belong…repeat until all are at home.

32. Check out the sunset.

33. Make snow ice cream with the not-yellow snow.

34. Make an igloo out of snow blocks.

35. Slide down a hill on something slick…not your bottom.

36. Don’t crash into anything in your car.

37.  Make a tropical drink with umbrella and watch "South Pacific".

38.  Take the Christmas CDs out of your car till next year.

39.  Make a snow angel!

Note after talking to son in law, John:  This list is random in nature.  Purely stream of consciousness.  It will be added to at the whim of the writer and/or others.

40.  Fill bird feeders and check on that pretty bird you can't identify. (slate junko)

41. Stay up late watching your alma mater WIN the National Championship while curled up on the sofa in front of that fire.  War Eagle!

42. Bundle up and go somewhere...anywhere.

43.  Check periodically for first signs of spring bulbs sprouting.

44. Call some friends and play a game of Mahjongg or Bridge or Poker...or whatever.