Example Letter: Telling Family about Mom’s Move into Memory Care

Example Letter: Telling Family about Mom’s Move into Memory Care

Hello family,
We have some news. I’ve been away from my computer for a week—up with mom and dad—thanks for being patient with me. A week ago Thursday, Mom moved into Harbor Care, the memory care building in their retirement community. Dad still lives in the cottages, just one block away, and visits daily. I’ve been visiting late mornings or early afternoons, every other day since it’s a 40-minute drive there for me. Yesterday she and I did a spa day together and had lunch. Family eats for free at Harbor Care!

At first, they asked us to stay away for a few days, so that she could bond with her new friends and caregivers and adjust to her new routine: hardest 4 days of my life. My heart felt like a stone within my chest and I cried if the wind blew the wrong way. I’ve since learned that dad snuck in about 10 times to check on her from a distance. 😉 However, before you get too sad about Mom’s move, listen to what happened this week. From day 1, Mom clearly adored her new digs. She’s been noticeably improving by the day this week. She is talking again (her new friends are chatty and often talk nonsense mixed in with clarity, and we think it’s making her comfortable again with at least trying to speak and not minding nonsense so much). She is laughing and smiling more. She’s even back to recognizing herself in the mirror and using it to adjust her hair instead of thinking that it’s a window with friends on the other side. This was the last thing any of us expected—because it’s always the horror stories that you hear about—so it’s almost unbelievable. But our truth is this: surrounded by friends, even here with late stage Alzheimer’s, mom is thriving at the moment.

Despite her disease, Mom is young and relatively physically fit. Where she lives now is beautiful: they have gardens to stroll through and look out into when the weather is cold, two big activities rooms, 3 rooms that families can use to have private meals or big family celebrations, plus a big TV room with a huge stone fireplace that’s always on now that it’s cold. Because of her disease and her own amazing nature, she only sees the beauty in the place—she misses most of the sadness-inducing things that we see, such as railings along all the walls, nurses stations, and a few very old people in rooms who can barely move anymore. There are 40 residents and what I’d guess is about 25 people there caring for them round the clock (~5 caregivers, 2 nurses, 3 fun activities people, maybe 3 laundry and cleaning staff, 3 front desk staff, many aides/orderlies, a hairdresser in the hair salon who was already mom’s friend, a nutritionist, and the kitchen staff). The place is bright and decorated to look like home (big windows, cool wardrobes, decorated shadow boxes with their names on them at their doorways, and some rooms even have white picket fences and brightly painted mailboxes outside of them). Everyone loves mom. She is almost always happy and the older ladies think that she and I are beautiful and tell us that repeatedly: so good for the ego! The staff tells me every day that her laugh is infectious.

Mom has a new posse of friends: about 5 of the women are younger and relatively fit, like mom, and all of them are far more verbal/talkative than mom is. Two of them took her under their wing immediately. So, every morning they come get her, go for walks around the big circle that the building was built in, go to exercise time together, go to coffee/tea/hot chocolate together, eat meals together, go to arts and crafts and readings and other activities together, and to the singalongs. The big TV room with big fireplace is just across the hall from mom’s room. After supper, they all gather there and watch movies, usually musicals, and they sing together. She is rarely in her own beautifully decorated room that we spent so much time to make welcoming! And we couldn’t be happier about that.

Mom still recognizes us and loves to see us. I just did a spa day with her yesterday: we did lotion hands, lotion feet, and green clay masks on our faces, which made her laugh out loud for half an hour. Dad pops in to visit some mornings and give things/tips/advice to the staff, and he has supper with her most evenings and sometimes stays to watch old movies with them. So, while it still hurts us to not have her with us all the time, we’re still being healed by her. She’s still being our rock and our leader. We are SO DAMN LUCKY. Even with late stage Alzheimer’s disease, she’s amazing. A decade and a half in, she still says “I love you” with a twinkle in her eye, like always. Words fail.

The staff recommends to us that we not take her out for 3 to 4 weeks, to allow her to really fully get that this is her home and to adjust to their remarkable routine, so we’re just visiting her there at the moment. But she’s doing so well that I plan to still take her out for tea/coffee and walk with her over to the assisted living building now and then to visit friends. And we hope to bring her down to our house for visits for these next two holidays. If she continues to improve or stay the same, she’ll definitely be able to do our house for Thanksgiving and Christmas again this year. This is shocking to us, as she’d really gone downhill fast across the past 6 months: more angry and confused than happy, thinking we were abandoning her when we sat at the table to play cards, talking to the people behind the mirror, etc. She knew what we didn’t know: that she needed a larger, round-the-clock community of peers/friends/activities/support. She is magic. We are the daughters/spouse/siblings/friends of a magical being. She is clearly where she needs to be now: she’s among peers again and supported by cool women caregivers and nurses–round the clock–and she’s totally loving it! Every person is different, so maybe a place like Harbor Care isn’t right for everyone, but it’s clearly right for her.

I hope you’ll come visit as often as you can (and as soon as you can, since this disease does progress inevitably). And if you can’t, but you want to send her something, here’s what’s appropriate as a gift for mom now: upbeat cards, photos (especially photos from her youth and from key moments in life such as your favorite trip together or the birth of your kid or the best party you ever had together), paper wall decorations such as holiday decorations (no nails in the walls here), fun stickers that she and I can stick on her mirror or elsewhere, costume jewelry bracelets (she loves to show her bracelets to her friends and family), or a stuffed animal (she likes dogs, cats, and sea creatures). Another fantastic gift would be a gift for her caregivers—like a bouquet of flowers for the caregiver office or a gift card to Starbucks or Whidbey Coffee. These folks do life-saving, amazing work. They help her get dressed in the morning, help her bathe and get ready for the day, help her make her bed and find her glasses, do her laundry, make sure she takes her vitamins and medicines, smile and hug her and say “Hi Linda!” whenever they see her all day, help her find her way to activities and social gatherings, help her get ready for bed, and they even sit with her until she falls asleep right now. They’re warm and kind, professional angels. A gift to them IS a gift to Mom now. They are family, now, too, and we’re so very lucky to have them in our lives. Gifts can be sent to dad or to us, and we will deliver them on your behalf.

Thank you for your unwavering love and support of our family.
We love you too.
– Linda and Jim, Lori and Daniel, Jen and Cam and Jocelyn, and Eva, Batman, Joe, and Bella

Addressing the Tiki Bros of Willful Ignorance Within Myself

Addressing the Tiki Bros of Willful Ignorance Within Myself

Hey University of Nevada, Reno friends, one of the tiki-terrorist guys in Charlotte is from UNR. Do you know him? If so, please find him and talk to him, or direct him to me, before he gets any more people killed. Three have already died in Charlotte. Countless others have been terrorized by him and his friends around the world now. Let’s shut it down, Wolfpack. Now.

***

Hello, tiki-wielding white guys. From here, this march of yours in Charlotte isn’t freedom of speech. It isn’t adulthood or manhood. It’s not a revolution. And it damn sure isn’t being patriotic. This is intentional violence against the spirit, heart, and soul of this country. Against all of us who work and play together to make this country better for ourselves and future generations. This isn’t 1930. You look ridiculous and pathetic so trapped in a delusional past. And, this country as a whole now looks ridiculous and pathetic and trapped in the past in the eyes of the watching world. I, for one, am not ashamed to be out in the light. The world should see this. If for no other reason, to feel better about themselves. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. And, because our need for each other now spans country borders as if they don’t actually exist at all except in our imaginations.

This need to wield torches and march with a small group of other angry white guys intent on striking terror into the hearts of everyone else–from my perspective–is about you not having the truly strong community that you need. You likely have been raised to blame yourself and other individual selves for the problems of the world. The lift-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps shtick. I was, too. I get it. And, its possible to grow fully into that and beyond that. I’ve been helped to grow into recognizing that close, diverse, and tight-knit communities are what most of us need to thrive in the hyper-connected, chaotic world now. The kind of rich community that helps us learn to own our own pain (there’s honoring the bootstraps idea–hear it?), learn how to move with it more fluidly (this was new for me), and how to move through life lifting everyone around me up instead of blaming myself and others, carrying torches, and mowing other people down with my car (this is fully owning the shadow side of bootstraps, which in the past were also seen as useful for beating children into submission–ah, the good old days?).

We all need people who call us on our bullshit while simultaneously loving us and not giving up on us. When we don’t get that we wither, flail, and lash out. To keep growing, we need more people and different people in our lives. Growing means regularly hearing that you don’t have all the answers (damn it), that you’re valuable and loved regardless (thank God), and it also means periodically walking away from those who believe it’s their job to hurt us. Learning often hurts but love doesn’t. We can trust our tender hearts on this one. And here in adulthood we know full well: the people we often need the most next–to mature and grow–very often don’t look at all like us on the outside. The people we need next can only be identified by how they make us feel. They stretch us. Make us more curious about the world. They also make us feel more free to be ourselves: the fearless, learning, growing selves we were at our core when we came into this world. This means we’re more playful in their presence. And more free to reveal our shadow sides. Our hatreds and deep fears.

There are a lot of us in the world suffering from a lack of true community now. In the white world in the U.S., many of us live in isolated bubbles because of our wealth or our long-ago-divided neighborhoods/towns/cities or our failing local economy and job loss or the deep fears and persistent assumptions and biases of our families, and for some of us it’s all of the above. I agree with you that our ancestors were amazing. Both of my grandmothers left their rural homes as children so that they could attend more school. One grandmother defied her own mother after she pulled her out of school because she wanted more help at home with all the younger children. At just 12, my grandmother snuck onto her father’s wagon as it left the farm yard, convinced him to take her hours away to a Catholic school and let her live there indefinitely, and then on the fly convinced a group of nuns and a priest to let her move into the school’s attic because all their student rooms were full. Just so she could keep learning. At 12 years old. That was back in the days when many in the U.S. didn’t count Irish immigrants as white people. I have ancestors who hid their accents and changed their names to get bank loans (this explains a lot about my family’s persistent belief in trying to just fit in). That grandmother became a teacher, then a farmer, then a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and sustainable gardening and living guru. She died just two-weeks short of her 100th birthday. For decades she was considered nutty by many neighbors because she believed that sugar in American diets was our true enemy…

And.

The shadow side of what our ancestors did here, and still do here, is long. Very long. It’s a gaping wound that generations of people have been traumatized and that many of us have spent trying to heal by denying others’ truths, looking the other way, or by throwing Band-Aids at poorly understood problems from a safe, intellectually cold distance. This isn’t a conservative or a progressive issue. It’s an American issue. A human issue. We need to heal generational trauma and we can’t do it separately or only with people who look a lot like us. We’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.

And, we’ve made a lot of progress. In this country today, Nazis intent on spreading pain, terror, destruction, and violence across communities lose the respect of grown women and men, lose the respect of most of their peers, and, more and more, they lose their jobs. Hatred as a constant state of being isn’t sustainable, it eats away at us like a cancer, and life-loving humans won’t stand for it. We’ve already fought several wars about this (start by Googling U.S. Civil War or World War II). The fear-mongering, wall-building folks always lose eventually. Always. Because connecting to more of life–not walling yourself off from it–is the approach that actually heals and actually works. How do more casualties to a dying cause help anyone at all?

There are billions of better ways to vent your frustrations, pain, and anger. Connect to someone new, someone outside your bubble, and find another way.

***

Friends, may we loudly and persistently demand BETTER of ourselves all the way up to the highest elected offices, until all the tiki bros hear our message, even while they’re golfing. Or tweeting.

Looking the other way doesn’t work anymore. Not that it ever did.

***

We do not fear you, tiki bros. Frankly, we can’t anymore.

We (well, empaths like me anyway) are sorry for your pain. I’m sorry for all pain, because I can often feel others’ pain in my chest until I can’t breathe. And, I am one of billions of humans who won’t allow you to spread terror across this world until you burn it to the ground. Because that’s where unexamined, unchecked, stuck and festering hatred–the deliberate cutting yourself off from all life–ends. It burns everyone near it. We won’t build walls. We won’t allow you to spread fear to those we hold dear–which, hello, its 2017, means a whole lot of people of color, people in the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, people of all ages, people with life-altering diseases, people in other countries, women, and some animals, plants, and trees who comfort us on the days when humanity’s pain is too much. We will play together. Dance together. Learn together. Laugh and weep. Together.

Those of us connected to all of life can’t fear you anymore. We can fear for our lives and our communities, sure, but we can’t fear you. Not anymore. You just look small and sad and highly unlikely to ever get laid again there locked inside a fading 1930s-era fear bubble of isolation with a bunch of other angry white dudes. Even with your guy in the white house. Your faces shine out from Twitter and Facebook in torch light looking like the saddest, most lonely and lost little boys in the world trying to find their way home having stolen their parents’ old party torches. You look like the little boys in Lord of the Flies with not a single playful spirit and true elder among you. The entire rest of the world does not want to be in that fading fear bubble with you.

We want you to come out here. Come out and play with life.

Come out here and truly be with us–learning, wandering, working, playing, struggling, eating, and laughing together. Don’t mistake the people knocking on your door, asking you to come outside to play, for torch-wielding villagers. We may be hurting. But the torch-wielding villagers are only in your mirror.

***

Friends, those of us connected to the wider world–those of us who love life as a result–must speak out. Let’s not let homegrown white terrorists create yet another new and ridiculous hate-elevating flag, maybe this time with a Fox News logo and a tiki torch on it, imagining themselves as the next ISIS (minus the fake Islam, and adding a fake Jesus, of course), and showing up to march in more towns. Let’s not let these guys be the face of white America. This is the face of unchecked arrogance and ignorance run amok. This is not me! Or is it? This is also the face of kind and open and listening and loving white people not calling their own family and friends on pure bullshit every time they hear it. Not being aware of each other’s pain, let alone helping each other out, when we’re at our most angry, vulnerable, or terrified. We used to be afraid to do so–trapped behind our own walls.

Then we saw the tiki bros and something clicked within us–at least, within this white woman. Wait. These guys? We were afraid of these guys. The farm boys and frat boys we grew up with? Those who needed a lot more kindness than they ever got at home? Those who hated themselves. What were we thinking fearing these guys?!

Let’s commit, Gen Xers and Millennials and all kick-ass Boomers not inclined to give up despite years of struggle. Let’s commit to connecting to more of life. To tapping into her full resources and growing and changing like healthy, living, life-loving beings. Its up to us. If you haven’t already, educate yourself about how to build community and how to approach hatred like this. The world is full of leaders and hard-won wisdom about how to do this, and you’ll make many new friends in the process. Start here if you’re wondering where to start: start here with ten ways to fight hate in your community. Or start here if you’re most curious about how to build a new or stronger community.

Let’s talk to friends and make agreements to support each other in having difficult conversations. I will not be afraid of difficult conversations–with family, neighbors, coworkers–with anyone who I could imagine showing up in Charlotte to cause terror and reopen generational trauma and wounds in communities of color. The love, listening, and willingness to learn and laugh at our core are protection enough for humanity as a whole.

I’m going to speak up more. Every time I feel strong enough to do so, which will be more often, not less so, in the future. My close-knit diverse community of lovely humans, yoga classes and gym membership, and tree advisors will see to that. I’ve dedicated myself to learning and to doing what it takes to become strong enough so that I can speak out against bullshit bigotry and trapped/stuck/spinning-in-our-own-hatred every single time.

We are stronger than we know.

Let’s take back what it means to be human, and what it means to be white (if that’s a label you carry), from the utterly ridiculous, embarrassing, and horrifying Tiki Bros of Willful Ignorance. Because the world doesn’t need another terrorist organization. The world doesn’t have to burn to bring forth massive change–these are the illusions of young people who cannot find truly playful and strong elders to lean on when they need to lean.

Playful elders live a wider truth: the world herself heals us when we set our torches down.

Shattering

Shattering

I wrote this three years ago and somehow forgot to publish it. Its about to become an essay in my new book Unshaken Wonder, which will reach others in October 2017. I’m posting it here now for my friend Clay Forsberg. In part, in response to his lovely new essay Staying Strong. Stay strong, Clay! You’ve got this…

Shattering

I shattered this year as my family shattered.

My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. My father’s been caregiving for 9 years and his own health and well-being and attitude have taken a hit. My sister and I are care partners for both of them now. My extended family has been in a court battle over my grandparents’ estate for a year and a half. Too many of my once-close family can’t stand each other now. So much anger. Some days I choke on it.

Many in my family won’t speak to each other at all now. Some quietly drifted away. Some cut ties with us because they can’t handle our pain on top of their own. One I cut ties with because after a year of inflexible rage I realized that I was actually talking to a wall, not a person, and so was she. I’ve been told my poetry is experienced by some as bashing the family and that my immediate family is no longer experienced as part of the larger family. Some are certain that their ties are broken forever. Some cry for weeks on end. Those not speaking to each other tend to make wild assumptions about the motives and stories being told by the other side. There are apparently “sides” now and a lot of us don’t recognize that taking sides and creating sides are the same thing. Several of the people who spent decades teaching me to love tried—and failed—to teach me to hate. Game changer! It’s bizarre. They rage at each other. Rage to anyone who’ll listen, actually. Sometimes they appear to enjoy imagining and saying the worst. Many feel torn in half. Betrayed. I know I do.

If you want to remain in the Keep Calm and Carry On world forever, by all means, don’t come here. Don’t enter the space between.

Here we rage. We fail. We scream. We yell. We weep. We make huge, unforgiveable mistakes. We fight. We flee. We watch our hands become axes as we cut ties with those we love/hate/must move away from just to survive. Wonder if those sharp axes will ever be reimagined into poet’s hands again.

Here we shatter.

We shatter.

From Keep Calm and Carry On Land, we may appear crazy. Out of control. Scary. Broken. Dangerous.

Oh but we aren’t. We are living a different kind of life is all: a wilder, wider, always-moving-now life.

One life is a pond. It is calm and serene on the surface. Its danger is stagnation and limited self-reflection pointing only at the sky. In humans this can show up as stability. Without shatter, though, it can also show up as rigidity, self-righteousness, losing touch with beyond-self reality, and choking on a festering stew of your own judgments and imagined monsters. I don’t have to imagine this. I live it.

Life within the shatter is more like a river. Its danger is flooding and overwhelm. In humans, this can show up as flexibility, empathy, and exploring the nature of things far beyond the self/pond. Without some stability, though, it can also show up as being so far out of control that you visibly cause harm to yourself and anyone in your path. I don’t have to imagine this life either. I live with shatter every day now.

Shattering is not easy. The shattering of my mom‘s former self and memory is heartbreaking some days: wonder-filled and awe-inspiring and beyond amazing other days. This past year, the shattering of my entire family was so heartbreaking it felt like I was going to die. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t.

Instead, I became a family elder. Cut ties with some relatives (and some cut ties with me) to have more energy for supporting my parents, sister, aunt, cousins, husband, and self.

I became sillier. I binge watched all 153 episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix to mend my broken heart. A show that I’d never watched before and written off in passing as ridiculous, harmful, sexist, girly pop-culture brainless fluff. (Gosh, I’m not judgmental at all, am I?). The show mended a little girl’s broken heart. This little girl, age 44. My sister and I then reimagined ourselves as an improv comedy caregiving troupe: Team Jinda.

I became a dragon. I spoke my truth in person, in poetry, and in essays and drew the wrath of extended family, who screamed “You know that’s not true!” at me for sharing my perspective. It worked. Those previously inclined to rage at my exhausted father and my pregnant sister turned their eyes and their rage on me. Or tried to anyway. It’s remarkably hard to fuck with a dragon: especially a poet dragon who works part time as part of an improv comedy troupe. I am a person now comfortable in the presence of pure rage. Yours and mine.

Those who appear crazy, out of control, dangerous, scary, or broken don’t scare me as much now. Those who rage, scream, flail, yell, weep, fight, flee, or make unforgiveable mistakes don’t scare me either.

That’s just my people.

People who shattered. Survived. And got remarkably fluid, powerful, and silly in the process. We got stronger.

We move together like a river now. More powerful, and broken, than before.

We mix metaphors like fancy cocktails with little umbrellas.

Here within the shatter, the sign in the window always glows Open. Wide Open, actually.

Except for the brief moments it glows Get the Fuck Out and Let’s Try Again Next Year.

That’s what staying strong looks like for us now.

Stay strong, my friend!