In search of story


The thanks

My younger son lives about twenty miles away. He just graduated from college and is working 70-80-hour weeks. He’s weary. Even young healthy people need sleep. But he comes. He eats Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital with us. He gives up his New Year’s Eve to be with me at home because I can’t get an aide and he knows I am afraid of Dad at night. He listens to me, sees what I see.

My older son is in California, light years away. He calls and he listens. He emails. He makes me laugh.

My brother also in California. He listens in emails, supports me with thoughtful feedback. Never criticizing, never second-guessing.

My dear friend Dorothy lets me vent. The only friend I have who knows about caregiving, she listens and vents back. Daily she saves me with her empathy and humor as we email frustrations and absurdities.

My dear friend Sandy leaves a message: “Just wanted you to know I’m thinking about you.” No “call me back.” No requirement from me at all. The message of a listener.

My dear friend Mary Jo stands by for anything. I’m out of chocolate-covered raisins and Doritos; she brings them. She gives no lecture on how I need to eat better, does not substitute carrot sticks and kale. She listens and does.

My gentle cousin Betty calls and we discuss caregiving, she for a husband with cancer, I for a dad with dementia. Why don’t people get it? we ask each other.

Listeners are the caregiver’s lifeline. I know I will forever be grateful for these listeners. I survive because of them. I hope for more of them for all the caregivers to come.


The plea

I am trying to tell you I am exhausted, scared, confused. I don’t sleep much, I am on constant guard, I don’t know what to do. You immediately change the subject to yourself, stuffing me back down my own throat. Your stories about you are a hand over my mouth. They keep you safe from empathy.

I am trying to tell you how I feel even when I’m not sure I feel anything. You ask fact-finding questions, conjuring up a problem which you, as magician inventor, handily solve. You tell me what’s wrong and then what I should do about it. I’m not asking you what’s wrong, let alone what I should do about it. But you must hide behind that wall of probing and pronouncing; it shields you from feelings.

I’m trying to tell you I am being crushed. You don’t believe me, do you? You can’t see it so you don’t believe it; you just brush me off. I’m not dandruff on your shoulder! I’m a caregiver. I am trying to take care of someone whose disintegration you do not — or will not — perceive. How convenient for you. It relieves you of the burdens of conscience.

I do not need “Ten Steps to a Better Caregiver’s Life.” Spare me the “How to be Happy While Keeping Your Parent from Falling Out of the Car.” Don’t tell me this too shall pass and don’t tell me that God never sends us more than we can handle, or the sun will come out tomorrow. What drivel. It excuses you from real thought.

Stories about you. Contrived advice. Shabby drivel. They meet your need, not mine. I need the opportunity to talk.

Please. Just listen.


Writer in winter

If the fog comes on little cat feet, this snow is coming on a whirligig. I watch it from my kitchen window. Is the wind from the north, south, east or west? Yes. Some of the snow is falling up. The whole of it wants order.

This is not last week’s wall of white but rather gravity-resistant polkadots cavorting mid-air. I can see some clearly enough to imagine feathers; they are the ones that rock lazily back and forth on their vagrant way.

Some fall to rooftops, where they gather in the shingle edges and slowly build a giant grid, neatly right-angled. They gather also in my neighbor’s precise mowing lines, like so many tiny landing strips. In the street, the snow is fingerpaint to an Ansel Adams wind, swirling the white in curls and flourishes, not covering the blacktop but reveling in the contrasts.

A few days ago, the temperature hovered at 50. Robins! Phlox! How embarrassed they must be now: that was not the coming of spring; it was just cruel scam. The green of the emergent phlox was as welcome as the robin red in the bony crabapple tree, but neither belonged.

This is, as the song says, “the bleak mid-winter.” A world of buff and dun, huddled, withdrawn. I like it. It is still my preferred half of the year. Unenthusiastic about dark and cold, I nonetheless love the enforced quiet of this season, its inwardness, its pledge to sustain unseen life. Snow insulates, I am told, so growth can resume.

Gladly slowed, I hold tight to winter’s cloak and mitten-fumble for words.

like words. pushing up no matter the season

like feelings, pushing up no matter the season



We’re primed. Stoked. Scared. A blizzard is promised. Bad enough. But this one heralds a polar vortex, a frigid enormity escaped from its northern confines like some Hans Christian Andersen hoar spirit, a deadly winged thing, snuffing out all warmth with its alien whorl. Unknown, unseen, imminent.

Last night, anxious, I studied the sky. It was blackened purple, hunched over our roofs, silent, anonymous. There was no intention in it, no breathing. Just a color like a deep bruise. No lullaby in that color. More like The Erlking.

This morning’s snow was yesterday’s, nothing more. Except for the wait. Then the veil came down and now I watch the world through it. It grows thicker, and the world through it whiter. Enlaced, this everyday suburbia becomes a fantastical bakery, transformed as it is into wedding cakes and meringues.

And who knew there were so many twigs? Every tree and bush reaches into the air and pulls the white onto itself. Each bit of bark, each leftover dry tendril gathers the softness in finely balanced heaps. Each stands out against the moving air in meticulous relief: white embossed on white. Formal, elegant.

The houses up the street wear a heavier veil now; they are more distant though no farther away. The snow does that, you know: it makes things seem more distant; it disorients with its dim contours, and, as it removes all else from sight and hearing, it leaves us with just ourselves. This is its gift and its threat.

Now sky, roofs, streets, plumes of birch and upstretched arms of maple merge into one white as the temperature catapults downward. A cold fanged wind coils these indistinct forms in an arctic night. Fragile, we wait in menacing beauty.

Midpoint 1.5.14

Midpoint 1.5.14