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.

A Repeat of Today

This was a strange day weatherwise. It started out cold, hovering around thirty with still air and sunny skies, but as the morning progressed, fierce winds blew in clouds and colder temperatures. By midafternoon, the temperature had dipped even further, and a few flakes of snow fell. It snowed half-heartedly for a while, dropping perhaps as much as an inch, though it was hard to measure since for the first hour, the snow melted when it hit the ground.

By the time I walked home from work, there was a layer of ice beneath the still falling snow, but the snow was so lackadaisical and the clouds so low, it seemed more like a foggy evening than a snowfall. I made sure to step carefully because of the iciness, though with the heavy tread on my shoes and the help of my trekking poles, I wasn’t in much danger of falling.

A bit further north (more than a bit, actually, perhaps 90 miles due north), the towns got dumped on. Two feet! Amazing what a difference a few miles can make.

We have a respite tomorrow then a repeat of today on Thursday. I mean a repeat of today’s weather, of course, though I wouldn’t mind a repeat of today in other respects, too. It was a nice, easy day — no traumas, no dramas, no . . .

[I paused here to check Google to see if there were any other appropriate words that rhymed with drama and trauma to keep the rhythm going, but I couldn’t find anything except words like mama and llama and comma, which would not make any sense in the context I wanted. However, immediately below “what rhymes with drama” I saw, “What word rhymes with Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis?” I’m cracking up here, wondering why anyone would need to rhyme such an obscure term that supposedly refers to a lung disease caused by silica. For a poem about lung disease? For a bit of poesy in an otherwise prosy essay, such as I was trying to do with my drama/trauma coupling? It boggles the mind!]

I hope your day was as nice as mine. I also hope it included a new word as well as a chuckle or two.

***

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

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.

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.

My Own Days

This was one of those oddly busy days though not a lot seemed to get accomplished. Come to think of it, I did get several chores done — a load of laundry, a quick trip to the library, an even quicker trip to store. And when I was coming home from a walk to the library, I met up with a friend who was also out walking. Apparently, we both decided to take advantage of the windless, sunny day before cold descends once again. We wandered a bit and visited, which was nice. You’d think we’d see each other more frequently since we live only a couple of blocks apart, but somehow the days pass without our making an effort to connect, so it’s especially gratifying when we just happen to meet.

We have made plans for teatime in a couple of days, so that’s good. It’s one of the best things about small town living — having friends close by.

Still, all that wasn’t enough to fill up the day, and yet here it is, dark already, and I have no idea where all today’s hours went. I haven’t even been spending much time on the computer, though I did check my email and discovered a refund was being sent to me from part of an order that got lost somewhere along the way. They’d sent my order of four items in three packages. Not terribly efficient, but I suppose I should be glad I got the two items I really needed rather than none of them.

Tracking numbers are such a great thing. I like knowing where my packages are and when they will get here. Even better, if they do get lost, especially if it was a purchase from one of the giants like Walmart or Amazon, they contact me to let me know and advise me they are sending a refund. I remember times when I didn’t get something I ordered, and a dozen calls and much paperwork later, I finally received either a replacement or a refund. This way is so much easier!

Of course, the refund means I now have to find a way to get those missing items, though that’s not a problem. I mostly added them to the order to get free shipping, since the items I needed didn’t meet the minimum, but I can pick up the items the next time I go to the “big city.”

As it stands, tomorrow shouldn’t be busy, oddly or otherwise, since I did all my chores and errands today. I’ll probably take the opportunity to go out walking again since the temperatures won’t drop until Tuesday, and I have a due library book I should finish reading, but other than that, my day is my own.

Actually, all my days are my own. I just choose to use some of those days working. Or whatever.

***

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

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.

Walking Backward

The “walking backward” in the title of this piece isn’t a euphemism. I mean it literally.

It snowed last night, not enough to cover the sidewalks or trees with anything other than a dusting that quickly melted, but snow seems to accumulate on my front ramp, and since there is frigid air above and below the ramp, the snow stays around. I didn’t have a chance to sweep the ramp before I left for work, so I did the next best thing: I walked down the ramp backward so that it looked as if I had arrived home (in case anyone was looking for trouble) rather than that I’d left for the day. I was careful, of course, stepping warily and holding on to the railing, so I made it down the ramp safely.

The thieving neighbor moved, so perhaps such a maneuver wasn’t as important today as it has been in the past when he trolled the streets, but still, I keep getting tarot cards reminding me to be prudent, so I’m being especially cautious nowadays. Of course, I don’t need the cards to tell me to be prudent since I generally am careful, but it’s always good to be reminded that the world isn’t as safe as I would wish it to be.

The snow was melted by the time I got back, so it’s possible my footsteps didn’t hang around long, but still, it did tickle me seeing my shoe prints leading up to the house as I was walking away, so the exercise was worth it on that account alone.

This cold, cold, cold weather will hang around for a few days, with possibly a few flakes of snow drifting our way again, which is fine with me. I do well when the temperature remains fairly consistent, but bobbing barometers wreak havoc with my system. Either I tend to fall asleep during the day or I lie awake most of the night, or both. It’s also easier to figure out how to dress appropriately. And that’s important to me. Even though the people I work for are more than willing to give me a ride home when the weather is inclement, I insist on walking, which seems to bemuse them. To me, it’s about a habit of independence, to keep me on my feet as long as possible. That, too, is literal, and not a euphemism. Being able to stand and walk — backward and forward — are so very important, especially to those of us who are no longer young.

***

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

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.