In search of story


Rules of the game

OK, so caregiving is not a game. But there are rules among caregivers. This I’ve learned. The hard way.

Rule 1. Know the difference between mouth and ear. When the other caregiver needs to vent, use only your ears. It is her/his turn, not yours. No matter what wisdom you have to impart, no matter your own experience: mouth closed, ears open. (This has not come naturally to me.)

Rule 2. Know the moment. How close is that caregiver to breaking? Hear what’s spoken and unspoken. Feel; don’t analyze.

Rule 3. Never say “it’s harder for me!” or “it’s easier for you!” Caregiving is not a competitive sport.

Rule 4. When another caregiver breaks rule #3, do not commit mayhem.

Recently another caregiver broke Rule #3, and I had to work to observe Rule #4. She said to me, “It was different for you! You were used to it!” Really? And exactly how did I get “used to” a father with dementia?

And it was DIFFERENT for me. The clear implication was “easier.” Again: really? How is living with a demented parent easier than anything?

She was not deliberately denigrating my experience. And she is young, just dipping her toe in that big ocean of caregiving; there is much she doesn’t know yet. She was exhausted, frustrated, scared — and sick. I was mindful of all that; I knew the moment. I was, nonetheless, stewing in my caregiver juices.

I know she needed to have her say. And I need to have mine: here it is.


A place called Me

I’ve had a most interesting exchange with a writing mate. I asked her about home. She asked me back. Home has been on my mind recently, so I’d been thinking about it but I hadn’t put anything into words. You know: words. Those bothersome markers that make a thought visible, graspable, kickable. But they are also the stepping stones. When I lay down the words, I lay a path.

And so it was this morning that I wrote my thoughts on home and began to put down the path.

I grew up in a home. It was authoritarian, cramped, explosive, stable. Sometimes hilarious. My parents had deep roots in the area and those attached to me. So I knew home then.

But not so much in my adulthood. Those things that were the nature and aspect of home for me — marriage, faith, family, house — dissolved, and so I was required to re-define home. Or to admit I would never have it again.

Do externals define home? Yes. The smell inside the old breakfront, the lopsided Christmas tree, the wooded Indiana backways, stories that begin “When I was growing up” — the seeing, hearing, touching, smelling of geographical, architectural, hand-me-down place.

But what about the internal place, where the senses work only in memory? Isn’t that my essential home, and if I don’t know home there, will I know it any place else? And if I do know home there, or, rather, here, inside me, do I need it any place else?

I am 72. These questions have might for me. The path I write will not be straight, cannot be long.


The asking

In the library I walked among books.
Bent to their planes
I read
as tombstones
the names.


I passed by.
But then back.
I lifted

In the park I stopped
attentive by decree:
the water is loud today
I said to myself
roiling and grey.

The eyes in the round glasses
looked back at me
from sun-checked splash
his words already

Who am I?
Bonhoeffer asked
in Nazi prison
soulkeening for flowers

orphaned of all
but self and faith
he held.
Would I?

The water is loud today.


On 20 January I went to the library and then to the park. I am not the first person to leave a library with inconvenient questions.




I have been in a place of real horror. It’s somewhere inside me. It stops me from writing. Even emailing has become too much of a challenge.

It isn’t any want of words. It’s that there are too many words. Too many images. Too many feelings, questions. I cannot latch on to a one of them. It is impossible to think a thought from beginning to middle, let alone from beginning to end. Let alone write it! There’s a dam there. And the water keeps rising and swirling, gathering into itself ever more words. And images. And thoughts. But it can’t go anywhere.




This isn’t a first, and therefore I think it will pass, but meanwhile I am miserable. Writing is a tool for survival, and so when I can’t write I wonder if I will crumple.

My wise writing mates taught me that writing paralysis can be a sign of evasion. What am I evading? What am I trying not to write about? Do I know? Do I know that I know? How deep will this infested water be by the time I find that one twig to yank and bring down the dam?

My writing mates are, I think, pointing the way to that twig. Shirah, with her newly-finished and compelling word portrait, and Tamara, with this morning’s blog post about writing. Both speaking, as writers, to life, the alpha dam.

In the writing of these few words, I’ve had to get up and pace many times. Something in me is trying to stop this measly trickle.