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.

Lusting After Wanderlust

A friend and I had tea together today, which was so nice, we couldn’t figure out why we didn’t do it more often, though the truth is, we are both busy and our schedules don’t often coincide.

We both live alone, and one of the things we talked about was getting feeble and if there would come a time when we would need to text each other (or text someone, anyway) every day to let them know that we are okay. My next-door neighbors pay attention to the shade in my computer room; if it’s up, they know I’m awake and okay. If it’s closed in the morning or the lights don’t come on at night, they will text me to make sure I’m okay, so I do have that bit of security. More than a bit, actually. It’s very comforting to know that my neighbors would notice if something happened to me.

My friend and I soon decided to change the subject because it was too depressing talking about getting feebler, and besides, it didn’t really seem all that relevant because both of us were feeling good today. Good meaning no real problems. Good meaning not old. Good meaning feeling the way we always did.

Walking home, there was even a spring in my step, and it seemed as if I could do anything I used to do. Until I turned on the computer at home and saw photos from a hiking group I belong to and never unjoined because it seemed too much like giving up. Seeing those photos of various individuals walking on trails way beyond civilization, gave me a bad case of wanderlust.

I might still feel as if I can do what I used to, but the truth is, hiking alone in the wilderness is out of the question. But oh, I do miss those adventures! There was nothing like it, being out alone among the rocks or trees, following a trail wherever it led, nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other and breathe in the freedom. Although I wish I lived closer to a wilderness area, as I did when I lived near the desert, or when I spent that summer in Crescent City with a friend who so generously dropped me off at the beginning of a trail and picked me up at the other end, I suppose it’s just as well I don’t live closer. It’s hard enough yearning for wilderness trails that are beyond reach; it would be almost unbearable if the trails were but a hand’s breadth away and yet I couldn’t trust myself to hike alone.

I might feel differently someday. My knees aren’t really giving me any problem, and I’m gradually getting back in the habit of walking (weather and work permitting) so who knows what I’ll be able to do in the future. And who knows what I won’t be able to do since generally people don’t get younger with the passage of time. But I don’t want to think about that.

Still, walking is good. Trying to get into hiking shape is even better. If nothing else, it will give me something to focus on rather than a possibly feeble future.

***

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.

Too Old to Shovel Snow?

I read an article today in the local paper that said a person should probably stop shoveling snow after they turn 45 years old, and definitely stop after 55. It sounds like an ad for snowblowers, though this was advice from a doctor, not a hardware store. (And anyway, snowblowers create their own risks.) The strenuousness of shoveling is exacerbated by the cold, so shoveling overstresses the heart, increases blood pressure, and constricts the arteries, which puts anyone with heart problems in the danger zone for a heart attack, and oh, yes: apparently studies have shown that perhaps 85% of adults have some sort of underlying arteriosclerotic cardiac disease even though most don’t know it. All this leads to approximately 1,000 heart attack deaths from shoveling every year, as well as thousands of other injuries, including approximately 4,000 back injuries from overextension of the back.

It doesn’t really help knowing this, because there is so much left unsaid. Are those who die sedentary folk who suddenly put their body through the tremendous workout of shoveling snow? If a person is otherwise healthy and physically active, is it still a problem to shovel snow after 45, or 55, or even 65? If you are aware of your physical limitations, can you do small sections of the work at a time without harm?

Mostly, though, it doesn’t help me knowing about the risk of heart attacks and other injuries because I am the only one here to shovel the snow, though occasionally a neighbor will do my walk along with his (but not often because he isn’t a kid, either). “Shoveling,” in my case is rather a misnomer. We mostly get light dry snow around here, so a couple of good sweepings with a stiff broom — one in the middle of a storm and one at the end — keep the need for shoveling to a minimum. And if by chance I do have to shovel, I push the snow with a bent-handled shovel (which is ergonomically designed to reduce stress on the back). And I stop frequently to look around and enjoy the day, because clearing my ramp and sidewalk are about the only times I go outside during snowy times. (I am cognizant of iciness and falls risks, so even if I feel like going out for a walk in such weather, I generally don’t.)

I reduce my snow-related risks in other ways to make up for possible shoveling hazards, such as not driving at all when the roads aren’t completely clear, and I wear heavy all-weather hiking shoes and use trekking poles if I do have to walk on treacherous surfaces.

It’s ironic, now that I think of it: this article was on the same page as an article about the dangers of climate change in Colorado, though (facetiously speaking), you’d think that less snow would be healthier for us considering the dangers of snow removal.

***

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

Hitting the Floor. Or Not.

Although the afternoon temperatures today got up into the forties, they were still in the thirties (Fahrenheit) when I set out for the library this morning. I had to pick my way over some slick spots, but for the most part, it was an easy walk, even with a heavy load of books in my pack. It was actually a lovely morning — blue skies and still air — and I was bundled appropriately in winter gear, so when I got home, I dropped off my books and went for a longer walk.

I noticed that I walk slower than I did a couple of years ago, but I moved well and with little effort, so I felt pretty good about myself.

For a while, anyway.

I was reading one of the books I picked up today, a mystery about a woman who researched personal histories for people. The book started out fine, with a lot of the history of New Mexico (before it was named New Mexico), but then the character got in too deep. At one point, her room was broken into, and her new friend (who just happened to have been in Special Forces) told her to stay behind him. Worried about people with guns, he said, “If I tell you to drop, you immediately hit the floor.”

I laughed out loud. So much for feeling good about myself! The character was young and could do what she was told, but if I were in her shoes? Well, first of all, I wouldn’t be in her shoes. I’m not that interested in other people’s histories so I wouldn’t be ferreting out their secrets. Second of all, I can’t imagine ever knowing someone that young and capable who was interested enough in me to make sure I was safe and on the ground when bullets began to fly. And third of all . . . um, hit the floor? If I were ever in such dire straits, I’d be done for. By the time I managed to get down on the floor below the level of gunshots, I’d be riddled with holes. Even assuming adrenaline would be rushing through my system, making me feel as if I could do anything, well, the truth is, I couldn’t. There’s too much I simply can’t do, and quickly getting down on the floor is one of them. It’s the same if I ever were in a situation where I’d have to run for my life. Hobble for my life? Possibly. Walk faster than normal? Probably. Run? Definitely not.

I don’t know why I laughed at the bit about “hit the floor,” because it really isn’t funny that I wouldn’t be able to drop quickly in an emergency. Still, I don’t generally end up in situations where a gun is pointed at me, and I do try to be careful and to be cognizant of people around me. Nevertheless, it’s a sobering thought (as well as a laughable one, obviously) about how age has caught up to me. I realize there are people my age who can drop to the ground and/or outrun larcenous folk, but I am not one of them, and though my knees are doing well and acting the way knees are supposed to act, they are, like the rest of me, not young.

I won’t have to worry about such things tomorrow, that’s for sure. With the winter advisory and wind chill warnings, I doubt I will be leaving the house. I’ll still do my knee therapy, of course, and spend a couple of minutes on the elliptical, but that’s about it.

Mostly, I’ll spend the day reading about younger folk getting into — and out of — trouble, and hope I don’t hurt myself laughing.

***

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

Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Because of various Bob-related issues around town, I haven’t been working much lately, which has been nice. I like having my time to myself to do what I wish (and even what I don’t wish but need to get done).

Sometime during the next couple of weeks, things should settle down enough that we (my fellow caregiver and our client) can get back to our regular schedule, which will also be nice because the extra company is good for me and the extra money helps pay for a few frivolities, such as groceries and grass (the lawn kind, not the erstwhile illegal kind). Still, I’m okay with whatever might happen. Over the past decade or so, I’ve learned to be resilient enough to take whatever comes my way, though I do reserve the right to whine a bit if I feel it.

In two weeks and a day, we start a new year. I’ve never been particularly excited about a new year since basically all it means is a clean calendar and learning to put a different year on the few checks I write. Even worse, we carry our old selves into the new year, so despite all our resolutions (or lack of resolutions), the old year folds into the new one without a hitch. For some reason, though, perhaps because of uncertainties The Bob is still causing, I am looking forward to this new year with a bit of hope, as if it is actually something new.

For sure, it’s a new month, one that will bring me closer to spring and spring flowers to brighten my day. It will also bring me closer to another “elder” birthday, but that’s not a problem. The actual number of years don’t matter, of course, though what all those years have done to me does. I can still do almost everything I want to, but I am slower, and I find myself tilting forward when I stand or walk. It takes a concerted effort to remember to roll my shoulders back and stand up straight, but I can still do that, which is good. (In his old age, my father tilted forward when he walked, too, and I always wondered why. Perhaps our sense of equilibrium goes out of whack like so much else.)

The other thing that the new year will bring is an end to my 100-day blogging challenge, though that won’t be the end of the daily blogging. Although sometimes it’s hard to come up with something to say, it’s still a good exercise for me, so I will continue at least until I reach the 1000-day mark. (183 more days.) Or not. Life itself is a continual challenge, and we never quite know what each day will bring, but if everything goes as planned, I’ll be here every day until the middle of June.

Meantime, there’s the rest of today to enjoy, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and 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.

Settling In, Not Setting Out

A blog I wrote the other day reminded me of one I’d written a long time ago called “The Importance of Being Important,” and I wanted to quote from that old post. I never did find the post; apparently, I had planned to write it, had written the title down on a list of blog topics that eventually got thrown away, and then I forgot all about it. I have no idea what I wanted to say about why we need to be important, but at one time, the idea must have been important to me.

I do think we humans have a need to feel important — to ourselves, if no one else. Importance could be tied in with a need for purpose, for being needed, for feeling that life does mean something, because feeling as if we aren’t important in the scheme of life is a crushing burden.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. In searching for that non-existent post in my archives, I came across essay after essay about my dreams for an epic adventure, plans for such an adventure, preparation for such an adventure, as well as actually setting out on various ventures. It struck me how different my life is now, and how different I am. Instead of setting out to experience more of the world, I am settling in to a world of my own making.

Even if it’s not actually a world I am making, it’s definitely a home — a place of refuge, a place where I belong, and most especially, a place that connects me to the rest of the world. In that respect, it is a way of experiencing more of the world, or at least experiencing the world in a different manner.

After Jeff died, I was afraid of settling down. Since I was well aware of my penchant for being a quasi-hermit (though it’s possible it’s more laziness than an actual penchant because sometimes it takes too much energy to be social), I feared that in settling, I would become a crazy cat lady (sans cats, of course, since I don’t want that much responsibility) and that when my expiration date came, weeks would go by before anyone would know I was gone. Luckily, I have neighbors who keep an eye out for me, and anyway, the role of crazy cat person in this neighborhood is already taken by a man who lives across the street.

[If I ever do write my small-town novel, there are certainly plenty of archetypes to choose from — the aforementioned crazy cat person; the hoarder who won’t let anyone in his house; the neighborhood talker; a generous and civic-minded man and his greedy slumlord brother; the tireless club woman who is active in just about every organization in town; the neighborhood drug dealer and thief. Except for the clubwoman, all the characters are men, which puts a bit of spin on the archetypes.]

Until the Bob issue, I did a good job of finding people to socialize with, but oddly, it’s my place itself that makes me feel as if I am settling in (which to me means taking an active interest in making a comfortable life for myself) rather than settling down (which to me connotes staidness and passively accepting the status quo).

The place seems almost like a presence in my life, as if it wraps itself around me in a comforting way. (I’m laughing here. That sounds almost like the premise of a horror story rather than a pleasant feeling, and perhaps, that’s how crazy old ladies living alone become crazy.)

It’s still early days, of course. I have been here less than three years, and I am just now beginning my journey into elderliness, so who knows how the experience of settling in will turn out. But so far, although I sometimes miss the excitement of setting out, settling in has been good for me.

***

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.

Warm Novembers

The warm weather we’ve been having, while unseasonable, is not unprecedented. I remember another such November — I was young and becoming more in tune with my surroundings as I became more in tune in with myself. I walked miles and miles that November. I remember walking the five miles from my apartment to my parents’ house to celebrate Thanksgiving. It felt so good to be out unburdened by a coat or a sweater, it was if I were dancing all the way.

So much of my distant past is lost in the shadows of time, but I distinctly remember that walk, and how lighthearted I felt.

Here I am, decades later, enjoying that same sort of warm spell. This year, Thanksgiving won’t be as warm as the one I remember, but these recent days sure have been.

I feel almost as lighthearted as I did then — apparently, this weather has that effect on me — but I feel leaden footed without a hint of dance to my step. Of course, that is probably due as much to age as to the hours spent working in my yard earlier today.

I decided to dig up the lily bulbs I planted too shallowly, so I dug up the entire lily garden. To my surprise, I could only find about half the bulbs. Even the ones I clearly remember planting were missing. It’s possible I planted some deeper than I thought I did, especially since I did dump more dirt on top of the garden, but still, I should have found more of them. Well, I’ll have to wait until spring to see what happens, and if necessary, I can order a few more next fall to fill in empty areas.

After that, I planted a couple of dozen tulip bulbs, then I watered the lawn. Not exactly a day to remember decades from now, but a lovely day nonetheless.

I keep telling myself that this will be the last year I do this sort of planting, and that might be true, but I realized when I was out there earlier that the place where the shingles for my gazebo are being stored (they were actually dumped there, but saying they were stored makes it seem less haphazard) would make a perfect daffodil garden — a bright spot for the spring blooms, and yet out of the way for when their season has passed.

Even if the weather is back to normal or unseasonably chilly next year, I should be able to manage to plant one small garden.

Meantime, the next two days will be much like today, which will give me a chance to finish planting the tulip bulbs before the temperature begins dropping again.

***

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.

Perspective

Perspective is such an interesting phenomenon. If you look at something from one direction, you see or experience one thing; look at from another direction, you see something else, such as in the famous illusion of an old woman/young woman. In my case, I am looking at the current temperature from the perspective of summer, which makes the day seem much colder than it will after winter.

The temperature never got above the high forties today, and add in a bit of a wind chill, and the cold was too much for me even to contemplate, so I stayed inside. Didn’t water my grass. Didn’t attack any of the multitude of outside chores that need to be done before winter. I did step outside for a minute, then hurried back inside because ⸰.⸰.⸰. well, because it was cold.

Coming out of a blistering summer, as we did, the temperature seems frigid. When winter comes to an end, however, and we are treated to such a day, it will seem wonderfully springlike. In fact, I remember telling someone once that a winter temperature in the forties was my ideal. Now? With many more years weighing me down? Low fifties would be more my style. At least I think it would be. I do know inside temperatures of 72 used to be toasty, and now, not so much.

If I live long enough, I’ll probably be like other elderly folk I’ve known, and wear a heavy coat when the youngsters are out baring their skin. I do remember wondering, when I was young, if those elderly folk were nuts. Now I know they were simply cold.

But I’m not quite that old yet.

And anyway, I have an excuse for not wanting to go out and water when there is a wind chill or any kind of chill — I always seem to get wet (feet, hands, and wherever a spray pattern lands), and I’d hate to get pneumonia from temperatures as balmy as forty-plus degrees. Or maybe my excuse is laziness. Either way, I took a day off from watering.

Tomorrow, we’ll reach sixty, and by Saturday we’ll hit the seventies. Now those really are balmy temperatures, at least compared to the cold spell of the past few days! I’ll be able catch up on the watering I missed today, and even plant the bulbs that finally arrived.

Until then, I’ll bundle up when I have to go outside and try to refrain from thinking that the young folk in their flimsy outfits are nuts.

***

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.

Triply Blessed

In a novel I recently read, a fugitive was found by tracking the water usage of his known confederates on the assumption that one’s water usage suddenly increases when another person moves in.

In my case, of course, that would be an erroneous assumption because I am still living alone, though I now have a lawn to take care of. I just got my most current water bill, and my usage has gone down because I was watering less due to cooler temperatures. The new billing cycle started a day or two before the grass was put in, so next months’ bill, which normally would be even smaller, will go sky high. I sure hope no one knocks on my door wondering if I am harboring a fugitive.

Nope, no fugitive. Just grass. The lawn kind. I was going to say the legal kind, but in this weird culture, sometimes in drought-ridden areas, it’s illegal to have the ground cover sort of grass but perfectly legal to have the getting high sort of grass.

It did feel strange, though, to be out there, on the first of November, bundled up in a winter coat and hat, watering my lawn.

I’d planned to plant a few of the bulbs I ordered, but as I suspected, the order was sucked into the black hole of the Denver postal system. They now say it could be another two or three days before it gets here, which should be okay. By then, this bout of cold weather will have passed, and we’ll have a short spell of high sixties and low seventies temperatures. By then, too, I’ll be going through planting withdrawal and will be glad of a reason to get my hands dirty.

There is one tiny section of my yard that will have to wait until next year for a makeover because there’s a pallet of shingles sitting there, waiting for the builders to come and use for a roof on my gazebo. And who knows when they will get here — such a small job is not exactly high on their list of priorities. I don’t have anything planned for the area blocked by the shingles, so maybe the wait will give me extra time to come up with an idea for a separate garden, something special.

And oh, yes — the raised garden. That hasn’t been built yet, either, but I don’t need that until next May, though considering how long these guys take to get here to do any of these minor (comparatively speaking) tasks, it might behoove me to prettify the rectangular space so that it doesn’t detract from the rest of the yard.

I do feel blessed being able to do this sort of physical work at the moment. Too many friends have health issues, and one younger acquaintance had to quit a job she loved and get a higher-paying job so she can help take care of her elderly parents (who, by the way, are my age). Also, I just found out that this county has the highest rate of deaths from The Bob in the state. So, I am triply blessed — not just physically capable, but also able to isolate myself as much as possible, and to have something as captivating as gardening and landscaping (as well as my modest job) to stave off any loneliness.

***

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.