In search of story


Connections: March 15.18


is a four-letter word

shameless, brazen, uncouth

the dig of a bully’s elbow

 the gnaw of a blunted tooth

it stops the clock on the wall

and renders good company mute

makes us ponder our hangnails

and feel like slow-rotting fruit

impolite, crass and unseemly

intrusive, indifferent to plan

from childhood to dotage it stalks us

intractable bogeyman.



Thanks yet again to the S.W. Berg Photo Archives and the ever-ready camera of the curator thereof.




Connections: May 4


where time stops

where machines and tubes

beepings, flashing numbers

measure life

in lifeless pulse.

My chair once

sometimes my younger son’s

as we


for one fading generation

now my firstborn’s

as he waits

for me.


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Connections: November 8

An entire playground!

Does it matter?

Naturally not —

they want the same ladder.

At the same moment.

Because better than play

is sibling foment.

An album opens

in my head —

other siblings,

some long dead.

‘Twas ever thus:

siblings meant to feud and fuss.

Then years go agley

to entropy:

family, home, brain and bone.

One crumpled sibling stands alone

in hospital starkness

sleepless darkness.

Why is one

the caregiver daughter or caregiver son?




My Uncle George was the dearest man in the world. His first wife, my pretty Aunt Mary, died of breast cancer in 1953. Forty-five years later, dying, he lay still and unaware for days. Except for one day when he was restless and agitated. It was the anniversary of Mary’s death.

My incorrigible Grandma Mauck, 90, was in the hospital apparently comatose. She was unresponsive, removed from time and place. She died on the same date Grandpa Mauck had died 36 years earlier.

How did they know?

Some years ago, I told my wise friend Mary Jo that I felt bad but I didn’t know why. “Don’t you have some anniversaries right now?” she asked. I was astounded. I was the one comatose! I’d been unaware of the time, the late winter months. Same time it is right now.

I’ve been struggling with insomnia for weeks now. It is horrible. I have inventoried several reasons for it, including heredity, but only yesterday did I remember Mary Jo’s words. This is a time of anniversary. Dad’s last months. The memories are insistent, grueling. It isn’t the death; it’s multiple deaths; it’s the dying. The anger, the aloneness, the exhaustion. The rising tide of losses.

Does trauma imbed itself in time so that it comes again and again, revolving with the earth? Are our souls aware when our minds are not?

“This too shall pass” is cruel platitude.


A daughter on Mothers’ Day

Mom was struggling to breathe, so I drove her to the ER. Pericardial effusion, they said, then emergency surgery, biopsy, and pathologist’s report: possible cancer. A week later, wanting only an understanding of what was happening to her and a proper bath and shampoo, she lay in her hospital bed.

Telling my mother to do anything was usually not an option for me. However, after that surgery and that week, I told her we were going to the University of Chicago Hospitals, and I told her to ask her primary care physician for a referral there. Uncharacteristically, she did not argue.

That’s how things stood that day when I was sitting in a chair at the foot of Mom’s bed, and he came in. He gave Mom a Chicago doctor’s name, a name he’d picked, he said, because he found it amusing. A cardiologist. Mom expressed her surprise, that she’d expected to be referred to an oncologist.

Stabbing his finger in the air at her, he raised his voice: “I NEVER SAID YOU HAD CANCER! NO ONE EVER SAID YOU HAD CANCER!”

Mom started to shake and reached for the oxygen, but she persisted, asking why, then, the pathologist had mentioned possible cancer cells.

“Because,” he snapped, “she’s a woman and she’s covering her ass!”

Less than two months later, Mom died. Cancer in her brain, lung, lymph nodes, pericardium and heart. We never knew where it started or where else it had metastasized.

Mom’s dying was tortured, brutal. I was there, and I can still see it. “I NEVER SAID YOU HAD CANCER” sounds in infinite loop around it.

My stomach hurts as I write this. Where do caregivers go with these memories? Where are the words for the anger and the helplessness?

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When you’ve had enough…

“You’re talking about me! I know you’re talking about me!”

I looked up. There came my mother full tilt down the hall.

Yes, Mom, I’m talking about you! This is the nurses’ station and I am going home for the night! I’m telling them there is no one with you now!

There was no patience in my voice. I’d had enough of her paranoia and enough of not knowing who she was.

A few years later, my father threatened me. I walked out of his hospital room fighting back the tears, to a different nurses’ station, where I told them I was leaving and didn’t give a damn what my father did.

I’d had enough of Dad’s dementia and enough of not knowing who he was.

My mother’s last Mothers’ Day present was chemotherapy. On Dad’s last Fathers’ Day we took a ride and hit a rough patch of road which caused me to exclaim “It’s a good thing we haven’t eaten yet!” He replied, “You mean we ate already?”

A lot about caregiving comes back to me at this time of year. Dad died at the end of March. Mom went into crisis in mid-April and died mid-June. Different years, same season. Same me. Mom’s brain tumors, Dad’s dementia, spring, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day…it all blends together like muck and mud.

Sometimes you have your parents but you don’t. You see and hear only the look-alikes that disease has left in their stead. They know you, but you don’t know them. Eventually they don’t know you either. So where’s the Hallmark card that says “Happy Mothers’ Day, Whoever You Are,” or “Happy Fathers’ Day from the Daughter You Don’t Know”?

Forget “When you care enough.” It should be “When you’ve had enough.”