Category Archives: compassion
Many of you know that I do regular volunteer work for Gilda’s Club Twin Cities. Gilda’s is a place where support, education, classes in healthy living, social support and community resources are made available to anyone impacted by cancer – for free. That’s not just people with a cancer diagnosis, but their families and support systems. It’s an incredible organization and a beautiful and healing environment.
Because Gilda’s does not demand anything of its members, it is supported entirely by community donations. Our clubhouse is a gift of time, talent, and resources of many volunteers, community members and business organizations. The position I occupy, Gilda Greeter, is a volunteer position that many of the group of Gilda greeters have been doing for years. There is a lot of love at Gilda’s.
Last week was our big annual fundraiser. The “Imagine a Place” Breakfast started to raise funds to create a clubhouse in our area. Imagine a Place, our founders said, where people could go to get help and support. We continue to imagine and to grow. That takes a lot of time, a lot of hands, and honestly a lot of money. I put in some extra hours last week to help out.
The Aliveness Project has been around in the Twin Cities for a lot longer. They are an organization that supports people who are living with HIV and AIDs. They were one of the first groups that offered free testing. They also provide education and support to their members.
I’ve not been as active with the Aliveness Project, although many of my friends have. One of the best fundraisers they do is called Dining Out for Life. Essentially, restaurants who participate donate a percentage of the days take to the Project. It’s fun to make a date for a night out and know that because of the timing you are also supporting a good cause.
In all honesty, we didn’t plan our night out to happen along with Dining Out for Life. (In spite of the fact that we were all aware it’s a thing.) We didn’t pick the restaurant Northbound Smokehouse because it was one of the biggest supporters of the event (a platinum level participant). We just got lucky.
We ordered big, ate really well, tipped generously and all threw a little something extra in the envelope the Dining Out volunteers provided. We were happy, and grateful, to be enthusiastic participants. It was fun, it was easy, and most especially it was a good cause.
Minnesota has one of the most active non-profit communities in the nation. We have a council that reviews non-profits and provides information about how their money is distributed. We have community events, generous business owners and an understanding that if those in need do better, we all do better.
How do you support your community?
I’ve been posting a little inconsistently because I’ve been spending a lot of weekends “up north” at my parent’s house. As they age their needs have changed. Mom is mostly using a walker to get around, even in the house. She’s really needing a wheelchair if she’s out and about.
There was a big effort in March to get Mom a hospital bed to sleep in. She can use the adjustability. It will also help to have the grab bars just to roll over. We acquired a bed from one of the relatives (in the next state over). The logistics of getting the bed here and installed have been daunting.
The biggest dilemma in all of this has been space. My parents hang on to everything. As my Mom has lost track of what she has, she’s found the need to “replace” things that never were lost. We’ve seen them using what we would call rags and bought new as well. Then we discover the problem is just that the new stuff is being “saved for special.”
We are repeatedly invoking the mantra “Use the stuff! If you don’t use it, then toss it.” We’re at the point where the hospital bed is ready to install and the white gloves come off. We’ve spent the last weekend cleaning, decluttering and tossing. The whirlwind also included putting in new faucets in all the sinks (to stop the dripping).
It’s been a little distressing, a little disgusting, and required a lot of patience. The end result is that Mom can actually take her walker into any room in the house. Furniture has been moved and cleaned behind and under that had been collecting dust for 20 years. There is still a lot to do, but this is a good stopping point.
There is a lot of disorientation, especially on Mom’s part. It will take her some time to get used to the space. Dad has to touch everything that’s been put away and make sure that his most precious memorabilia is where he can get his hands on it at a whim. I’m sure in a couple of weeks piles will begin to accumulate again. Better is still better.
Thanks to my sister Andrea, her husband Butch, her son Zac and his SO Darcy, and Andrea’s daughter Alyx (who spent the weekend scrubbing). I couldn’t have touched this job and they took the lead on all of it. I’m thankful to be able to help at all. 5 years ago, I couldn’t have done anything.
Our culture has lost track of the sacredness of caring for our elders. We don’t have the time, services, support or even the examples of how to handle this. We are trying to do this work from a distance. 3 hours is no distance from my parents compared to what many of my friends deal with. Very few of us anymore have the resources to take our aging parents into our homes. We do what we can, and are grateful for the opportunity.
Have you missed me? I’ve noticed that when I’m dealing with big events in my life I stop writing. My journals all have gapping holes during the times when I would be most interested in going back and reading about what I was thinking in the moment. I’ve blank spaces from when Orion was a baby, and each of his hospitalizations. I have holes in the record immediately after recording that I had cancer. I stopped journaling when the cupboards came off the walls.
My parents are aging and it’s hard. It’s hard on them and it’s hard on us. I’ve missed the last two blogs. The first I skipped because my folks don’t have internet, the second because I’d just gotten home. I have been slammed with emotional content and I shut down.
When I was a kid I was “sensitive”. I cried in empathy, wore my emotions on my shirtsleeve and was generally harassed about it. I made an active decision to stop.
The first trick was pretty easy, typical in my family. That is to put emotion aside while you deal with a crisis. The idea is to stay clear headed and available, and not add to the chaos while it is occurring. The aftermath, when everything is safe, comes like a tidal wave and can be very confusing as it appears to have no source.
Having that kind of emotional catharsis in public is a great opportunity for gaslighting. There IS nothing to be so upset about (anymore). It IS overreacting (because it’s all the reaction at once). Even the part about “just looking for attention” isn’t entirely false. If I’ve just spent hours offering sympathy and emotional support to others, yes I may be looking for a little sympathy and emotional support for myself.
So I learned to allow myself to be distracted. Eventually I learned never to “get around” to dealing with my emotional content. There are lots of distractions! I’ve been trying to unlearn that.
I’ve found that I’m a better writer when I can be open to emotion. I’ve found that there is strength in vulnerability. I’ve found that it’s really hard to make myself do the work and that I need to create a time and space for it. I still can’t do it in public, at least not until I have a good handle on it myself. The support would be nice, but the gaslighting I can’t deal with.
So I shut down, a little. I look for distractions (I don’t have to look hard). I pick and choose my confidants. I try to carve out some space. Please be patient with me.
I’ve spent the past two weeks babysitting my grandpuppy Minnie. She’s actually 4 years old now and much easier to have around. I was sick one of those weeks and she was warm and comforting. She’s not nearly as hyper or demanding, although she still knows Grandma is a sucker when it comes to treats.
Minnie has been through a lot this past year. My daughter has moved many times, and I had Minnie because she was moving again. All the stress and upheaval has taken a toll on the dog. She’s a lot more volatile, less trusting, quicker to say “enough”. That’s problematic.
Of course to my daughter Minnie is perfect. There is discipline, but not a lot of acknowledgement of an underlying problem. Mostly, I suspect, that’s because my daughter also feels like there’s nothing she can do about it. So I take the dog, and establish a routine. It’s easier for me. I’m home a lot more than my daughter is and just that is a reassurance.
Minnie and Orion have a love/hate relationship. Minnie is scared to death of the wheelchair and looses her mind any time Orion moves. On the other hand he often drops food while he’s eating. Orion adores Minnie, except he doesn’t actually want to touch her and hates all the noise. That’s a dynamic that scares me so I keep an eagle eye on the two of them anytime they interact. I also do a lot to make sure there isn’t much interaction, like putting Minnie outside while Orion comes to the table. It won’t solve anything, but Minnie isn’t my dog.
Karina has a few days off so she’s taken Minnie back. It’s nice to have quiet. No one barks every time a neighbor walks by or comes out of their house next door. It’s easier to have a morning where I’m not running back and forth letting Minnie in and out while Orion gets dressed and ready for his day. It’s nice to jump into the car for a quick trip to the library before the blizzard snow starts to accumulate without having to worry about getting Minnie settled or arguing about who might want to come with.
They say the best part about having grandchildren is that you get to give them back. This is true. Still, I find I’m Missing Miss Minnie. I catch myself looking for her, or thinking about her next treat. It’s definitely easier and quieter having her gone. It’s also just a little more lonely.
I got to spend the weekend up at my folks helping to make a happy birthday celebration happen for my Mom. Fragile is not I word I would ever have thought to apply to my mother. She’s the strong one, who will do whatever is necessary no matter where she is at. She bounces back. Climbing mountains after surgery is something I learned from her. She’s “in charge” and keeping track of all the moving pieces at any event she attends. At 82 today, she struggles to reconcile a self image which she can no longer maintain.
She rarely goes out anymore. It’s hard for her to get around. It’s hard for her to sit in the car for any length of time. When there are a lot of distractions, or conversations going on she gets confused. My Mom has been dealing with chronic pain for a long time. Her allergies are severe and complicated enough that medicating pain isn’t an option, beyond an occasional Tylenol. Her mouth is dry, so eating and talking become impossible when she doesn’t have water at hand.
We took her 100 miles there and another 100 miles back to go out to lunch with a good sized group. I went a few days early so we could get her showered, lay out her outfit and do some massage therapy in advance. Just my presence gives her a space to gather her resources. I make sure her water glasses are always full so she doesn’t have to ask. I put food in front of her rather than quizzing her about what she might want and what is available. I do the dishes and sweep the floors, which are both really big jobs for her. She can bank a little reserve.
For her, it was more than worth it. She had a really good day. She enjoyed it so much she didn’t want to go to bed because she didn’t want the day to be over. My youngest sister couldn’t make it, but all the rest of the female children and grandchildren were in attendance. It was a girls day out. There were lots of leftovers, but she knew I would get them home and see that they were used. The wait staff sang happy birthday and fussed over her desert. We all tried to keep the table conversation with one person talking at a time. There was a lot of love.
I am so very fortunate to be able to help facilitate that kind of good day for my Mom. I’m grateful for every opportunity I have to see her out and about and having a good time. It’s a joy to watch her relax and participate and let go of the worry of being “in charge”. I wish I could do more.
Happy birthday Mom!
The temperatures are dropping and the wind is gusting. The cold and damp are fitting for the season, they set the mood. There are ghosts walking.
I am at that age where parents die in clusters. This is the way of things, of course, but that doesn’t make it easy. I worry about my own parents as they approach their “end years”. I see that gradual decline isn’t so gradual any more. It’s getting harder for them to keep up, to get by, to get things done.
This year in particular I find myself trying to offer comfort to friends whose loss simply can not be consoled. Grief comes in waves, it takes its own time. Those “stages” are neither sequential nor independent. They can come in any order, repeatedly and sometimes all at once. And I take those phone calls. I listen. I witness. Sometimes that’s enough.
I’m looking for comfort too. I want to escape in a good book. I want a fire in the fireplace. I want a pot of soup on the stove. For my ancestors those things were just part of the days. Now I can go to the grocery store and buy mirepoix, precut and measured. (I didn’t, but I can.) Bone broth is on the shelf in boxes because much of our meat is already removed from the bones. Soup is no longer the ever present cauldron, but a can in the pantry.
Baking is part of that comfort factor as well. A good bread, warm from the oven, and I can feel myself relax into the smell. Pop-up biscuits from the refrigerator case do not elicit the same affect.
There is no time for this kind of comfort in most of our lives. We rush through our days, rush through our meals, rush through our grieving and just “get on”. Perhaps the most important part of this season is to make a point and take some time. In most of the U.S. we have an extra hour coming to us this coming Sunday. How are you going to use it?
I’ve said many times that this notion we have of balance is active and not a point of stasis. But sometimes balance is easy, once you get the hang of it, like riding a bike. Other times it’s like crossing a rope bridge on a windy day with a big pack.
This season my experience of balance has been a lot more like the latter example. I’m off, the world is off, my home is off, it’s just crazy. I suspect I took advantage of the little surgery I had to just check out for a bit. Unfortunately that has made getting back on track even more difficult.
On the good side are my kids, my work and a lot of unexpected support. On the rough side is money, time, and overall despondency. I’m frustrated with people who are fixed minded about an issue that they clearly don’t actually understand. I’m frustrated with the vile, demeaning attitudes that people have decided are okay to unleash. I’m frustrated with the notion that being polite and having good judgement are somehow not positive attributes.
Then we do something like attend the Kaposia Gala. This is Orion’s day program and work placement group. I see Ramsey county, being the second county in the country to pass legislation allowing them to directly employ people with disabilities. I see a group of people encouraging young performers who have to work a little harder for clear speech or to get through a piece of music. I sit at a table with people in all manner of dress knowing that they all “dressed up” for the occasion, that what they have on is the best that they have.
When I speak with the disabled community, or those with chronic illnesses, I recognize that we share an understanding outside of “normal” experience. When I spend time talking with members at Gilda’s Club there is an inherent desire to make that most out of what we have. When I find the small things that make me smile I remember how important those small things can be.
So I struggle to stand in my own truth and not be blown over by the winds of the world. I shift and adjust and accommodate and work to hang on to the notion that things can be better. I go back to daily practices of gratitude and just take a moment to recognize all the privilege I have in my life. I may be swaying pretty heavily, but at least I’ve got a bridge.
We, as a nation, are being buffeted about by hurricanes and firestorms, floods and droughts, protests and political manipulations. It’s a scary world out there. Today, September 11, is the anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers in NYC. For many Americans, it was the day we learned what it was to be afraid.
In spite of all that, people persist. They stand up in the winds of change and hardship and continue on with their lives. This morning Orion listed all the people he knows, and there were a lot, who have birthdays today. Forever, their birthday is 9/11. How odd that must be to want to celebrate in a world determined to grieve and remember.
I know the other side too. I understand what it is to be overwhelmed with circumstances and appalled that the rest of the world doesn’t just stop alongside you. I know what it feels like to dig into a huge job, to work, eat, and sleep, and then come up for air and find you’ve lost days, weeks or even months.
Sometimes standing in the wind is taking an opportunity to use a public platform to call out bad behavior, racism, terrorism (thank you Miss Texas Margana Wood even when it might cost you a crown. Sometimes standing in the wind is choosing to skip a few meals this week to buy a birthday cake for your kid with food stamps. Sometimes standing in the wind is getting out of bed in the morning, getting dressed, and doing one of the 100 tasks that have been put off because it just seems too hard.
I know people who are on the front lines fighting fires in the western states. I know people hoping that they have homes to return to on the gulf. I know people who are in the streets day after day fighting against injustice in many forms, in many ways.
We have a culture (white culture) that allows us to take credit, take pride in the work other people are doing. We sit in front of our TV’s watching people standing in the wind and say, “Yes! They are US!” None of us can do all the work. No one can stand in all the storms at once. No one can stand again and again in all the storms. But cheering on the workers and having pride in what others have done isn’t enough.
How can we shift our culture, our attitudes in a way that allows us to truly stand, acknowledge our own storms, our own ability to survive and still reach out and honestly support others? Can we recognize our own work, with strength and pride, and still be grateful for the support we had that allowed us to stand there? Can we encourage people to celebrate and still recognize the work that needs to be done? Can we find a way to come together when the storms rage, and to stay connected when the storm is over?
Facebook has exploded with photos, meme’s, commentary, and disgust at what happened this weekend in Charlottesville. I’ve got friends, People of Color, who are triggered. I would be too. Free speech is one thing, but Hate Speech is not protected under the 1st amendment and this entire rally was about Hate specifically directed at People of Color. They should never have gotten a permit under that premise. Even allowing the ACLU supporting their right to march, they should have been shut down as soon as they showed up with torches and weapons.
The meme’s that truly twist my gut are the one’s that compare the police responses. Charlottesville vs Ferguson (actually, according to some eye-witness responses I’ve read the most aggressive police actions in Charlottesville were against the unarmed counter-protestors.) Charlottesville vs Standing Rock (When the Nazi’s showed up armed where were the high pressure water hoses (in freezing temperatures) and the rubber bullets?). Most terrorist acts in this country have been committed by alt-right, white, males. Why aren’t we more afraid?
Well, some of us are. The problem is that most of the “authority” in this country is also white and male. I guess it’s harder to be afraid of someone who looks like you. People of Color know. None of them are surprised by the way things went down in Charlottesville. Women know too, but we’ve been taught to stay silent, to accept that ‘boys will be boys’.
Being Politically Correct takes a bad rap. But let’s talk about being socially correct. Let’s talk about being kind, civil, caring, thoughtful and considerate. Can we say, “That is NOT acceptable behavior.” when someone is actively trying to hurt someone else? Can we say, “That is a hurtful statement.” when someone says something that may not be intentional but is still not appropriate? Can we say, “Your feelings do not entitle you to hurt someone else.” when someone uses Free Speech as an excuse for Hate?
How often in my life have I remained silent when someone has spouted aggressive, hateful language? How often have I neglected to come to the defense of people I love, who society has marginalized? I have heard comments about People of Color, Gay people, Trans people, Disabled people, People of Faith and I have not always spoken up.
Small excuses lead to big actions. When someone is not called out, it gives them permission to continue. When no line is drawn there is implicit permission to escalate. What happened in Charlottesville is not acceptable behavior. Anyone who can’t see that needs to take a good look at why they support rude, hateful, hurtful, and inconsiderate behavior and recognize that it is supporting that kind of behavior that is truly evil.
My schedule has changed considerably in the past few weeks. My son’s step-mother and I have come to an agreement that scheduling would work better for everyone if the two of us confab and just let the ex know what we’ve arranged. That said, she even offered to return to the original agreement ex and I had when we first split up!
This is huge for everyone. It means Orion will be spending quite a bit more time with his father. It means that it will be easier on both sides to plan weekend events. It also means I may actually have an opportunity for a life outside of being “Mom”.
Orion and I spent the week of 4th of July with my parents. It’s clear they need a little help as they age and I’ve been trying to visit more frequently and for longer periods of time. I missed the trip I’d planned for Memorial Day weekend as I was in bed on heavy duty pain killers. Walking in at my folks I admit to feeling a little guilty for not making it up.
I know what it’s like to not be able to keep up with the day-to-day of living.
My own house is suffering from years of neglect and I’m playing catch up when I can. My parents are now at a point where they also need a boost just to stay even. They didn’t get that when I didn’t show up in May. After I’d been there a day I texted a friend “I think I’ve done more housework since I arrived than I’ve done at my house in the last month!” (I’m not sure if she was shocked about how much I was doing there or how little I’d done at home. LOL)
I don’t want to give the impression I’m doing it all. My sister is a trouper. She’s covering long drives, doctor appointments and scheduling, medications, emergencies and the 30 min. weekly (plus) drop-in to see how things are going. Her new husband has done things like adding grab bars to the bathrooms, helping with deadfall, and maintaining the driveway. He has also committed to shoring up the back porch and gazebo. (I wish I had one or two of him at my house!)
It’s not all work either. I had a lovely chat or two with my Mom. Orion and I got Dad to take us out on the lake in the canoe. Meals are still good (even if I am doing more of the cooking) and Dad still bakes bread. Orion gets his waffles for breakfast and most of the time he and Dad manage ‘bathed and dressed’ without me. (I do lay clothes out the night before.)
I’m grateful that I still have them to visit and that I’m able to be helpful. I’m grateful that they are still managing in their home. I’m very grateful my sister is close by when they need something.
Things change and life moves on. It’s clear we’re all shifting into a new stage. Hopefully we’ll all manage to do this with grace and compassion (and maybe a little fun).