The Privilege of Being a Caregiver

Occasionally, I have time to read at work when the woman I take care of is napping, but I can’t read anything involving since I need to keep one eye (or ear) open in case she wakes and needs help. So I’ve been reading the forty-year-old Reader’s Digest Condensed books I found on her shelves. I read most of the books in unabridged book form when they were originally published, though I can’t recall many of the stories — that was about 15,000 books ago! I remember the covers, though, as well as the titles and authors, so that’s something, I suppose. Still, whether I’ve read the books before or not, reading them now gives me something to do.

Normally, I wouldn’t bother with the condensed books — it doesn’t take me very long to read a full-length novel, and though I can’t tell when reading the condensed version what has been edited out, I can’t really get into the story. The things that are left out must be the sort of thing that pulls me in and keeps me reading a book at a single sitting, because the condensed versions certainly don’t do that. Sometimes I go for weeks without a chance to read at work, so one of the stories I’m reading can sit there for ages without my being compelled to find out how it ends.

Normally, I wouldn’t have anything to say about condensed books because they simply are not a part of my life, but now they are. Sort of. In the same way that the news and commercials have crept into my life because sometimes I watch Judge Judy or the news with the client, which means lots and lots of commercials.

The good thing about the condensed books is I don’t end up with earworms or brainworms or sticky music or stuck song syndrome from them as I do from the commercials. You know what earworms and all those other terms are: they are all names for the bits of ditties that get stuck in your head that you can’t get out. The term earworm was created over 100 years ago, so apparently, this is an ongoing problem — one I got rid of after I stopped taking dance classes and before I started elder sitting. Oddly, the earworms that most infest my brain are from commercials for various drugs. No wonder people can remember what drugs to ask their doctor about — a whole lot of time and money is spent creating those earworms.

Sometimes I mute the commercial, but that is such an unfair trick to play on the elderly — they have no idea what happened when the sound suddenly stops. So I deal with the earworm, and the condensed books. They are such a small price to pay for the privilege of being a caregiver.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Questioning the Science

A couple of days ago, I saw a comment by a bestselling author who was rather scathing about people who question “the science.” It kind of took me aback because it seemed so . . . ignorant. Science is all about questioning. If it weren’t for questions, there would be no science. It’s the search for answers to those questions that create what we call “science.” Although some questions seem to have been answered, such as why an apple falls (though “gravity” itself still inspires questions) and if the sun is the center of the universe, there are others that haven’t been answered and perhaps never will be, such as what the universe is made of, how life began, what makes us human, what is consciousness, and a whole slew of other questions that make people try to reach beyond what they know.

According to Nasa Space Place, “Science consists of observing the world by watching, listening, observing, and recording. Science is curiosity in thoughtful action about the world and how it behaves.” It also says, “Science is not just a tidy package of knowledge. Science is not just a step-by-step approach to discovery. Science is more like a mystery inviting anyone who is interested to become a detective and join in the fun.”

Nowadays, though, “science” has reached the level of dogma, something that is incontrovertibly true, and anyone who dares question that dogma is branded a heretic. Of course, the word “heretic” isn’t used because it smacks of religion, and science isn’t religion, it’s . . . science. Or so they want you to believe. You’re not allowed to do your own thinking because . . . science. You’re not allowed to question the doctrine they’re foisting on you because . . . science.

But nothing is incontrovertibly true, not even truth (whatever that might be).

Supposedly, there are whole rooms full mysteries in the dark corners of the Smithsonian that don’t fit current theories about evolution, prehistory, whatever. Science only gives us the best possible explanation for observable phenomenon, and science can be manipulated to fit the scientist’s bias and, more probably, to fit the bias of the government or corporation funding the science.

Getting on a soapbox wasn’t my point in writing this piece, however. What prompted this essay is that yesterday, the day after I read that author’s comment, I saw her latest offering among the new books at the library. By habit, I reached out for it, because she was an author I sometimes read, but I couldn’t touch it. She’s nothing special and rather predictable, but that’s not why I could not force myself to pick up the book. It was the memory of her scathing remark about the stupidity of people who question the science.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Mindful Routine

What Socrates supposedly was referring to by his comment that “the unexamined life is not worth living” is a life spent under other people’s rules and under the rule of other people as well as being stuck in a mindless routine without ever stopping to figure out what you really want. Perhaps a life of mindless routine might not worth living (I certainly wouldn’t want to, and for the most part, I managed to live on my own terms), but for sure it would be unfulfilling.

Apparently, people in droves are coming to the same conclusion, hence the phenomenon known as “the great resignation.” So many employees did their jobs without really thinking about what they wanted because they had to work so they could pay their bills, and these resignees would probably still be stuck in their mindless routines if not for the Bob. The abrupt change in routine changed things for a lot of people and gave them time to actually consider what they were doing. It also illuminated the briefness of life, at least for some people, and made them realize they didn’t want to be doing the job they were doing. (It makes me wonder if the currently vaunted low unemployment rate is less about full employment and more about people temporarily opting out.)

Although the newscasters have talked about this so-called great resignation, there’s been no talk about a change in people’s marital status as far as I know, but I would think that the enforced life change brought about by the Bob could also affect marriages. I do know a lot of people, when forced into close proximity to their mates, realized their shared lives were less than satisfactory. Some were married to abusers and with the Bob had no way to escape even temporarily the trauma of such treatment. Others were simply bored. In a few cases, the couple’s love was rekindled. It will be interesting to see what sociological changes will come from people being forced to examine this part of their life, too.

It does seem odd to me that such major changes are taking place, not because the changes are incomprehensible (because they aren’t; they are totally understandable), but that they are so far removed from my own life. I did start working shortly after the Bob showed up, but that change in my circumstances had nothing to do with anything going on in the world; it was just how things worked out. And, of course, I have no marital status or couplehood to change because that was a done deal more than a decade ago. (In just a few weeks, it will be the twelfth anniversary of his death.)

Even when I think I don’t examine my life (as I talked about in my blog post yesterday), I do tend to think about things and to look inward, if for no other reason than to examine my life for a blog topic. Luckily, there are no great changes in circumstances or thoughts or feelings to discuss, though I am aware of small fluctuations during the day. This close to the anniversary, for example, I tend to tear up a bit now and again, but it’s not worth talking about because of the brevity of those moods. (I hate to use the word “mood,” because they are not moods so much as deep feelings rising to the surface, but there’s really no other word to describe such brief fluctuations in feelings.)

I do seem to be in a routine, however — working, blogging, reading, thinking — but it’s not the mindless routine that Socrates was against but rather a mindful routine.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

The Unexamined Life

Sometimes I can only shake my head at myself. I used to think it silly when people wrote about such things as the weather or the mundane tasks of their day, and yet lately, I am writing about those very things. It used to be that I could justify such trite topics by trying to find a moral to my day’s tale or meaning in my activities, but I’ve noticed that I seldom do that anymore. Perhaps I no longer need to search for meaning in the mundane. Perhaps the mundane — the minutiae that make up most of our lives — is enough in itself. Perhaps living is enough.

We humans always seem to want more — more meaning, more money, more material goods — but whatever we have, whatever we do, should be enough because it’s all part of living.

I used to agree with Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living, but now I don’t know how important such scrutiny really is. It is important to the person who wishes to live an examined life, as I used to, but obviously, it’s not important to those who simply live without questioning their motives and morals. (Whew! I sure am using a lot of “m” words in this post!)

But examined or not, every life is worth living, or at least it should be. Admittedly, this is easy for me to say because at the moment, there is nothing wrong with my life. In the years to come, I might change my mind about the worthwhileness of it all as I get feeble or wracked with pain or incur financial difficulties, but that’s straying from the topic of an examined vs an unexamined life. The more I think about it, it can’t matter except to those of us who do like to examine ourselves and our surroundings. After all, small children simply live. They have no need to examine their lives. For them, what is, is. There’s nothing beyond the moment. And no one would ever say that a child’s life — unexamined though it is — is not worth living.

It seems like I’m spending a lot of words to justify my blog posts that present the weather as well as my doings with regards to the weather (shoveling snow, watering grass, planting seeds) without delving into deeper meanings. I guess what I am saying is that I am okay with whatever ends up on the page, whether my words explore my inner worlds or my outer world or simply lay out the experiences of the day. No more shaking my head at my own inanity.

Oh, yes . . . the weather. I almost forgot! It was cold today and will be even colder tomorrow.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Small Town Traffic Jam

There was a real traffic jam in front of my house today, not a big city sort of jam with cars piled one behind the other, but still way more activity than I generally see in a week or even a month.

A friend and I had gone to what we laughingly call the big city (which is basically another small town but with a few more major stores than we have here). She pulled in front of my house, and as we were hauling my groceries out of her car, UPS pulled in behind her with a package for me. “Only one?” I asked, because the order was supposed to come in two packages. “Only one,” he replied.

As we were having this conversation, the water meter reader pulled up and took the cover off my meter. The UPS guy left, so I went over to the meter reader, smiled and said, “I thought you didn’t have to manually read the meters on this side of the street.” He agreed that normally he didn’t have to, but since my water usage has been trending higher, he needed to make sure there were no leaks. (He said he could tell there were no leaks because no water was running through the meter since everything was turned off.) He ran off to get a different wrench because the one he was using didn’t work, for some reason.

Before I could make it into the house with my groceries, the postal carrier drove up and placed a few pieces of mail in the box. The UPS driver came back with my other package. Then the meter reader came back with a different wrench. Finally, we got the groceries in the house, and my friend left.

Whew! The odds of all that happening at the same time are astronomical. Not that I have an equation to figure out such a thing, but in all the time I have been here, no two deliverers or workers have been here at the same time, and especially not when I had just returned home from a shopping trip. And for all of that to happen at the same time? Amazing.

That wasn’t the only interesting coincidence. Shortly after this traffic jam, I was at the house of the woman I care for, and my next-door neighbor, who apparently just got a job at the tax assessors office, showed up with property assessment forms to make sure they were current for that address and that no major work had been done on the house in the previous year. In itself, it’s not much of a coincidence, I suppose, since this is a such a small town, but I found it interesting that the city employee would stop by shortly after I arrived at the house. And that I knew who he was.

Even more interesting was all that activity in such a short span of time. I know my reaction seems laughable to big city folk because you’re used to real traffic jams (as I once was), but to me, now, it was . . . exhausting.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Life is a Grand Adventure

I don’t like dreaming. I don’t like the feeling of weird and inexplicable things happening; I don’t like the feeling of being out of control, and mostly I don’t like having to deal with any nightmarishness. I read once that if you wanted to remember your dreams, to take Vitamin B6 before bed, so I immediately stopped taking any B vitamins before bed, and that certainly aided my ability not to recall dreams.

That being said, there are a few dreams that seeped through the B block, dreams that I recall even decades later. In one such dream, I was being led from one elevator to another. When I got out of each elevator, I had to ascend few stairs, so although I was descending deeper into the earth, it seemed as if I were actually going up. I came out of the final elevator to the top floor of a round arena. At the bottom of this round room, a woman stood at what looked like an altar, and through a loudspeaker, I could hear someone saying, “You are now 6,000 feet beneath Death Valley.” At the time, I took that to mean I would be soon dying, but apparently not, because I am still here.

I seldom dream about Jeff specifically, though I have the impression he is a constant companion in my dreams as he was in life. A handful of dreams during the first years after he died were about him specifically. In one such dream, he came into my room, stood at the foot of the bed and touched my blanket-covered feet. He then climbed onto the bed, on top of the covers, and cuddled up to me. He was in his underwear, and in the dream, I knew he’d come from where he’d been sleeping, though I had the impression he’d been with someone, as if he had another life. He said, “I miss you.” When I woke, I felt as if he’d come to see me one last time, though I have no idea what is true when it comes to life, death, and especially dreams.

In another epic dream, I was walking in the desert under a clouded white sky. The sand was pure white and windswept. No vegetation grew in that desert. No dark rocks relieved the hilly expanse of white. It was all just . . . white. As I walked, three white horses sped across my path, then four white bunnies in a bunch, then one at a time, two small white squarish creatures I could not identify, and then finally, one immense white owl. I thought, “I must be dreaming because such magical and mystical things don’t happen in real life,” but that world and my feelings of reality were so solid, it didn’t feel like a dreamscape. Still, I tried to peel back the veneer of the dream and wake myself up, and when I didn’t wake, my dreaming self figured that what I had seen was no dream.

Last night’s dreams, though vivid, weren’t as epic as any of these, but still memorable for the insights they offered me. The first one was brief, just a walk on part. Literally, a walk on. I was walking with an indistinct person when that person stopped abruptly and said to me, “Boy you sure do take short steps.” In the dream, I made a mental note to take longer steps, and when I took my walk today, I made sure not to take baby steps as apparently I have been doing.

In the other dream, I was young, perhaps in my twenties. An old man, a friend of sorts (who wasn’t anyone I know in real life), told me to save my money so that when I was old I could go on a grand adventure, that everyone needed one grand adventure in life. The “me” in the dream thought, “Even if I never go, I’ll still have my adventure. Life is a grand adventure.” For just a minute, after I woke up, I retained the sense of being young with most of my life ahead of me. When the truth dawned, that I was old, and that I’d already gone on a grand adventure, I just shrugged it off, but I did remember what I’d thought in the dream, that life is a grand adventure.

It made me smile, this reminder that whatever else it is, with all its ups and downs, triumphs and traumas, life really is a grand adventure.

Despite these two dreams seeming to be my own subconscious speaking to me of things I should be aware of, I will still make sure to take my B vitamins early enough today so that I don’t dream again tonight.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Tired of Being Nice

I’ve been mulling over a rather strange concept recently. The other day, I was helping someone, and I heard myself think, “I’m tired of being nice.” That rather shocked me because I don’t often have stray thoughts hijacking my mind, and besides, being nice is sort of my defining characteristic. I am unfailingly pleasant and agreeable, not overly effusive or extravagantly generous, just . . . nice.

I wouldn’t even know how to be not nice, assuming I could figure out what that would be. Rude? Selfish? Unpleasant? Disagreeable? I couldn’t be those things — I am too empathic, too aware of other people’s feelings to purposely upset anyone even if they don’t deserve my consideration. (Like people who are rude to me.)

Even when I border on being not nice, I am still nice. For example, a few weeks ago I had to visit the house I’m taking care for an absent friend and fire the fellow who was working for him because the friend needed the money for an emergency. The fellow was distraught, pulling his hair, wandering in circles, frantic about what he was going to do because they had no food to eat and he wouldn’t be able to buy the phone card he needed.

I felt bad for him, but I also got tired of listening to his problems, so I gave him money for his phone card and some food. I also gave him ten dollars to do a couple of small jobs for me (paint a doorframe and a part of the railing leading up to the house). It does sound like much pay for the jobs, but they should only have taken him about fifteen minutes. I know because he never showed up and I had to do the work myself, and that’s how long it took: fifteen minutes.

The point of the story is that yes, I was nice, but not for a particularly nice reason. Still, he got his phone card and some groceries, so that was good. Unfortunately, it didn’t solve any of his problems. I saw him a few days ago, and he had another slew of problems to lay on me. This time, I just listened and said I was sorry for his troubles. When he said he intended to pay me back, I told him to forget the money and went about my business. There was nothing else I could do; his problems went way beyond anything my niceness could solve.

After cogitating about this whole “tired of being nice thing,” I still have no clue what I meant, except to pay attention to the first three words. “I am tired.” I’d read once a long time ago that when people said they were tired of such and such, it often simply meant they were tired, and I think that’s true in this case because I fell asleep reading and slept most of this afternoon.

Some part of me might still be tired of being nice, but at least I’m not tired.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Nightly Recap

During the past year or so, I’ve gotten into the habit of talking to Jeff at night when I am pulling back the bedcovers to get ready for bed. I don’t really tell him anything important; I just say a few words about my day or how I feel about things such as growing older or his being gone or anything else I feel like mentioning. I don’t think he’s listening — if he still exists somewhere, I sure as heck hopes he has something better to do than hang around and listen to me whine — but still, I talk to him, or rather I should say, I talk to his picture.

Occasionally I think it’s a bad habit and one I should break, because after all, it is a bit . . . not crazy, exactly, but off in some way . . . to talk to a picture. On the other hand, it’s not hurting anyone, least of all me, so why not continue? I’m not trying to hold on to him. After almost twelve years, it’s very obvious to me that he is gone. I’ve also built a good life for myself, so it’s not as if I am yearning for the past. I’m simply voicing the highlights (or lowlights) of my day. Although talking to a photo of a dead guy is basically the same as talking to myself, doing so gives me the feeling of imparting my feelings to someone other than to me.

This habit makes me wonder how important such a time of storytelling is, even if it is one-sided. In previous eras, clans and tribes, communities and families, would gather together around the fire in the evening and tell stories about their day. It was a way of saying, “I am here. I am living. I have meaning.” It was also a way of defining the clan, of gathering all their stories into one pot.

People living alone in houses or apartments seems to be a relatively new phenomenon. In previous eras — post-clan and pre-industrial age — families would gather in those members who were left alone, such as widows and maiden aunts and elderly patriarchs, but now, so many people, both young and old, are left to fend for themselves. Not that I want it any different for myself; it’s just an observation about changes through the ages, and how for most of human occupancy on this earth, we told our stories at night.

Whether it was a cultural evolution or written in our genes, it does seem as if this nightly recap is necessary. Oh, we can live without it — I did for over a decade before I developed this new (old) habit — but looking back over the many thousands of years of human interactions, this gathering of people and stories and thoughts seems important to our mental health or at least our sense of self and self-worth.

Of course, I could just be alibiing my habit, finding reasons that my behavior is reasonable, but still, I wonder.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Pandemics, Fictional and Otherwise

I just finished reading a novel about a pandemic written about twenty years before the onset of The Bob. It reminded me of the original prognostication about the death toll when the virus first showed up, and how over 80% of the world’s population was supposed to succumb. With so many people getting sick and with the death tolls still rising, I’m sure it feels that terrible to a lot of people (especially those who are sick themselves or have to deal with the death of a loved one), but that original estimate is upside down. 80% of the world’s population did not get infected. In fact, WHO says 90% did not get infected.

About 98% percent of the people who get infected recover, which means that a huge percentage of the world’s population didn’t die. (Less than two percent.)

Again, for those who got ill or know someone who did, these statistics seem a slap in the face because for them the percent was 100%, but the point I’m trying to make is that we are a far cry from an 80% fatality rate.

It’s almost impossible to imagine such a scenario (and it is understandable why leaders and health leaders freaked out about it), but I don’t have to imagine it because I just lived through such a pandemic in the book I mentioned. In fact, most books I have read with a pandemic theme were of that variety, where huge swaths of populations disappeared, and life would never be the same.

It will be interesting to see if there is any sociological residual to The Bob. There is what is called “the great resignation,” which seems to have come about because the momentum all the corporate drones and service workers and everyone else who did what they were supposed to do was broken, giving people time to think about what they really wanted. Or more probably, what they didn’t want. But for the most part, life seems to go on as before.

In novels about vast pandemics, life is unalterably changed. Oh, don’t get me wrong — I’m fine with the status quo (mine anyway) right now. I certainly wouldn’t want to put anyone through the horror of a broken civilization and bodies piled everywhere. (Or thrown in a pit, as I had my characters do in A Spark of Heavenly Fire.)

Still, it was interesting reading the book during this particular time. One thing I found interesting was the “blood passports.” There was no vaccine for this fictional plague, but people had to carry a small book that recorded their blood test results. Sound familiar? It was spooky in the book, and spooky in real life, where people need to show vaccine cards and test results before they can do group activities.

Luckily for me, I’m fine without concerts and major shopping expeditions and traveling. Quite frankly, you couldn’t pay me to get on an airplane right now, or ever again, actually.

So that’s my residual to The Bob — doing what comes naturally without any guilt.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Lost in Time

Last evening, for just a minute, I mentally lost track of the days. I normally don’t keep track if I go for long periods with nothing planned, so I frequently don’t know what day it is, but I generally have a sense of where I am in the week, whether it is at the beginning, middle, or end. But yesterday, I hadn’t a clue.

It was a bit disorienting, sort of like being on the verge of waking up from a deep sleep and thinking you have to go to school then you remember it’s Saturday and anyway, you’ve been out of school for decades. I couldn’t immediately go check my phone to find out the day of the week, so I tried to think of something I did during the day to give me an idea of where I was.

I finally remembered I emailed my time sheet that morning, something I do only on Thursdays, so I was able to reorient myself. But yikes. What a strange feeling that was, being lost in time.

It makes me wonder how important time is for our well-being.

[I had to pause here to look up the spelling of well-being. I wanted to use two words without a hyphen, but spellcheck insisted it was one, unhyphenated word. It turns out that the hyphen is correct because when you combine an adjective and a verb, the hyphen is necessary for the words to become one. It used to be that the hyphenated version was correct in the USA and Canada, and the non-hyphenated version prevalent in other English-speaking countries, but the word has started to lose its hyphen in North America now.]

Whether knowing where I am in time is important for my well-being, obviously, being grammatically correct is.

Before there were days of the week to keep track of, maybe it didn’t matter. People were always where they were supposed to be, in their family or clan or tribe or whatever, so it didn’t really matter what day it was. Until increasing populations and civilization made days of the week and calendars imperative, I imagine there were no days but today and yesterday and perhaps tomorrow.

[Why isn’t it tomorrowday? I had to stop to find out this vital fact. “Morrow” is an archaic word meaning “the following day,” so tomorrowday would be redundant. Tomorrow used to be hyphenated — to-morrow — until the fifteenth century when it became one word, so losing hyphens isn’t simply a sign of modern laziness.]

I seem to have strayed far from my topic, which is . . . me. Well, me being lost in time. So far today, I know exactly where I am. Saturday, perhaps. Or maybe it’s Sunday. I’m joking; actually, it’s Friday. I think.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.