Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Can we ever be who we really are?

Yesterday, it was all over the local news that a priest from the parish attached to my daughter's school had done something to someone that he shouldn't have. It wasn't a child that he touched, but a male adult. Yet a scandal none the less.

I thought about him, this priest. It was obvious to me that he was gay. It was also obvious to me that he loved being a priest, he loved gardening as evidenced by the beautiful garden at the church, he loved music. He was allowed to love those things. What he could not do was love who he wanted to love. Be who he was.

And that lead to disaster.

Then I thought about a lot of my hospice patients. How at life's end, all that pretense starts to slip away, and for the first time they become who they really are. Or they stay hidden, only revealing secrets to strangers about regrets over a life not fully lived.

It saddens me to know that we have to hide behind masks many times to fit into what "society" expects from us. Not just our sexuality, but other things as well. Many men see a role that they must play and forgo many things that may have interested them because, well, they just were not manly things. Women, too. We get stuck in roles that force us to become caretakers for so many and we leave behind some of our dreams, many of our own desires.

Perhaps that is why people have a mid-life crisis. Their kids are grown up and they finally realize that they are not living their own true life, not being their own true self. That their life was a lie, built on a set of expectations that never did belong to them. That time is finally running out.

I see it in kids as well. Many kids are lead down paths that their parents choose for them, never realizing the promptings of their own heart. And many kids will grow up trying to appease that parent, sometimes with disasterous results.

I have a saying that hangs, in of all places, the half bathroom on the first floor. In it, she, my favorite author Carol Shields says, " Just let go. Just be."

But can we simply let go and just allow others to be? Do we have to sit as judge and jury all of the time? Can we ever allow ourselves to "just be." I am not sure.

I will say that that priest should not have touched that man. It was wrong. But by not allowing him to be who he really was probably led him to that desperate act. It is a shame, really. Desires can and should be held back when people are adults. Teachers, priests, policemen, any adult really should be able to contain themselves, I know. But this is not what I am talking about.

I am talking about just being allowed to be who we really are. The honest self. I am not talking about the deranged or the mentally ill or the criminal mind. I am talking about the majority, the "normal folks" who have just been pushed down for too long. Maybe forever.

I am sure that many would be shocked to learn what people are really all about behind closed doors, behind that pretty facade and all of those smiling faces posted on Facebook of the happy family that is nothing short of miserable. That pretty house that holds many memories, but also great tragedy. The wedding pictures that look beautiful, but hide the true story.

I think you have to be quite brave to show the world the real you. It is easier to just plod along keeping your head down and going through the motions. Easier, but not fulfilling.

I am not sure what the answer is. I just know that I see a lot of pain and suffering that just does not have to be. Anti-depressants still the the number one prescribed medication. Cardiac disease the number one killer. Sad and heartbroken are many. But you will never know it. They hide behind their mask. Our masks. Many go from doctor to doctor with somatic complaints that haunt them. "What is wrong with me?" they ask. But the answer isn't a pill, or exercising or supplements. It is discovering who they really want to be, what they truly love, how they truly want to live. But it is much easier to take a pill. Changing a life seems too daunting.

It is hard work to let go. To just be.

Anyway, I feel bad about the priest. There won't be a good ending to this story. His true self has come out and it can never be contained again. Is that such a bad thing? I don't know. Perhaps he can leave the priesthood and find himself. One can only hope it leads to good, not bad.

So here is Carol Shield's full quote. I hope you like it. It is my favorite. But if you don't, that is okay too.

Go for long walks,
Indulge in hot baths.
Question your assumptions,
Be kind to yourself,
Live for the moment,
Loosen up, scream,
Curse the world,
Count your blessings,
Just let go, Just be.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Power of One.

At my daughter's school, they have a program called "The power of one." It is a program designed to show the kids what one person can do to make the world a better place. It is a good program and I really like it.

I was thinking about the power of one today as I was driving to work. But not in a good way. I was thinking about how one off-handed comment or one short remark can have the power to make our day miserable. Or how one small gesture can make our day great.

Think about that.

Say you are driving to work and in a hurry and someone cuts you off and perhaps gives you the finger. How does that make you feel? Certainly not good. It may have only lasted for less than a moment of your day, yet it has the power to cloud the other 23.99 hours. Amazing. What power! And you will most likely never encounter this person again the rest of your life.

Emotions are powerful. One gesture, one comment, one look can send us reeling. It really is the power of one.

But on the flip side, a kind gesture from a stranger can brighten our day. Good things can come from that power as well.

Think about how much time you dwell on things that happened in a moment past. Much of it is not even really about us. Someone else was having a bad day and we just got caught in the crossfire.

I have met people who are still not talking to a friend or relative because of a moment like that. A moment of nonsense and then a decade of divide. Most cannot even remember the incident. They just know that it caused a fission that has never mended. One moment. What power.

I think about moments a lot. Since I deal with the dying, I realize that anything I say or do at that time in someones's life will be remembered by the family, perhaps forever. That one moment has so much potential for either disaster or for comfort. It is daunting to even think about at times. I tread lightly. I speak thoughtfully. I am careful. I am never flippant.

But even I can make mistakes. And I have. And so have you.

We are only human. We all have bad days. It happens. We think, well, it was just a moment. It will pass. They will never remember. They will get over it.

Maybe so. But many times, maybe not.

I am always astonished at what adult children tell me about their parents. The small moments when something was said that stayed with that child forever. An innocent comment that had a long lasting effect. I usually think, "Uh-oh, what have I said lately to my own daughter."

Innocent jokes at the expense of others also have a lot of power. We may think they are funny, and the person to whom it was directed to may have laughed initially. But after it was over, they may have thought more about the cruelness of the joke. And that small moment may have caused more harm than anyone ever intended.

I know, some will say, people should just toughen up.

But most of us are not very tough at all. We may get hard, but that is different from being tough. Most of us are hurt by these things. It affects us. Even when we know that the person did not really mean it.

So, think about the power of one. That one comment, that one gesture, that one look. Think about how it can make or break someone's day. Perhaps even someone's life.

If you want to do good, use that power to do so. Hold open a door for a stranger. Tell someone standing in line that they look like they are in a hurry and let them cut in front of you. Send a lovely card that says, "I am thinking of you" to a friend or relative that you have not seen in a long time. Tell a co-worker how much you like working with them. Tell your kid that you think they are really neat and that you are so lucky to be their parent. Tell your spouse he looks handsome in that shirt. Let a stranger know that you love their outfit or their hairstyle. Tell a parent at the playground that their child seems like a really happy, nice kid. Pet someone's dog (after asking if it is okay) and say, "Wow, nice dog." Smile at people. Acknowledge them.

And then watch the smile creep over their face. Watch them look amazed that they were given a random compliment. Know that it will make them feel good about themselves most of the day, even though they may appear skeptical at first.

Think about how much power you have.

The power of one.

“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”
~~~Pearl Strachan Hurd

"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless."
~~~Mother Teresa

“A bad word whispered will echo a hundred miles”
~~~Chinese Proverbs

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A very bad day, a very bad death.

Yesterday was a very bad day. A patient had a terrible death. I was angry. I wrote about it. But I just could not post it. It was too personal. I just couldn't share it.

This man who died, I did not know him well at all. He was not much older than me. He had a lovely family. The cruelty of his disease and his untimely death got to me. I still despair.

The man that died bled out from his disease. If you do not know what that means, you are lucky. It is one of the very worst ways to die. And we will just leave it at that.

I thought I would be really sad. But what I mostly am is angry. The clinic that he attended for his disease should have tried to prevent a death like this. Everyone is too focused on a cure that will never be. But death was certain and they blew it.

I am not sure his brother will ever get over the trauma of his death. The patient was outside, where he loved to be, when he started bleeding. We had no meds because the clinic would not refer him to hospice soon enough, even though I talked to them and told them I thought he may die soon. Instead, they called me urgently just two hours before his death to get there to help. His brother lifted him into the house. It was a messy scene. Very intense.

"He has more time" the clinic had said to me just one day earlier.

He did not. Time ran out.

Ultimately, by the grace of God, we were able to get him comfortable, to allow his sister and brother to see him peaceful for a time before he took his last breath. The journey there was the hard part. And it didn't have to be.

There is no good ending here. But it is a reminder that life is short and fragile at times. That the experts are many times wrong. That some things do not end well.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

~~~~Dylan Thomas

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Create a Memory Day On Father's Day.

Here is a scene I witness frequently; a family sitting around the house looking through piles of old pictures, post cards, travel information, trinkets. They are simultaneously crying and laughing. Silent and boisterous.

They are sorting through memories.

The only problem is, they aren't sure what all the memories are about. They really wish dad could sit here and tell them.

The only problem with that is, that right now, Dad is lying in the bedroom, comatose and near death. Everyone has gathered. They pull out pics hoping to find a few good ones to display at the funeral.

Now, if only dad were here to enjoy it. I would bet he would have had so many wonderful stories to tell.

So today, in honor of fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins or whomever, I encourage you to get out that box while they are still very much alive. Go through the memories now. Ask questions. Take notes. Understand what made dad, well, dad.

Start sorting through memories with your own kids, even if they are young. Start a tradition of story telling on Father's Day.

Or start some new memories.

You do not need an elaborate scrapbook for memory making. You can simply use a piece of paper and a pen.

After all, when it is all said and done, we really do only have our memories.

Don't wait. Take the time to do it now. Time has a way of getting away from us. There may not be tomorrow or 'later'. Don't "eventually" get to it. Do it now.

Celebrate life while everyone is living.


Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ~From the television show The Wonder Years

We do not remember days; we remember moments. ~Cesare Pavese, The Burning Brand

Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us. ~Oscar Wilde, "The Importance of Being Earnest"

To live in hearts we leave behind
Is not to die.
~Thomas Campbell, Hallowed Ground

Small losses fill buckets.

I see a whole lot of very big losses in my job. Losing someone you love and have known your whole life tears a huge hole in your world. You grieve. And the world lets you grieve. You are expected to grieve.

But not so much for the little losses that happen to all of us all of the time. We can't grieve for those things. We won't allow ourselves to grieve for those things. We think that those things are just not important enough. We say things like, "Oh, well." We move on.

But do we?

Little losses certainly add up. And they can make you feel awful. Or at the end of your rope.

What do I mean by little losses?

Let's start with aging. Our own age and our parents and our children. Watching a parent we love grow old and frail is heart breaking. But we expect it somehow. People get old, right? Well, it is still a huge change. We often go from the one being cared for to the caregiver. And that is huge.

It can be a major loss for us. But we don't allow ourselves to grieve. We just move on, maybe make some jokes about aging, keep our true feelings at bay.

Empty nest syndrome? Well, it is a loss as well. We should grieve. I know everyone says we should be happy, we will have more time now, more freedom. That it is a good thing.

But it doesn't always feel good. It is another loss.

As is our own aging. Every decade we move further away from who we used to be. Maybe toward something better, some might say. But youth was fun. I know I miss it, even though I am still, by some, considered fairly young. But I know I am not. Not really. Can I grieve for this loss? No. That seems wrong somehow.

Losing possessions shouldn't make us sad, right? I mean, they are only things, right? Perhaps, but I know many people who still talk about something that meant a great deal to them that they lost. They don't exactly "grieve" for the item, but they come close enough.

A pet. Our hair. A family home sold. Our health. All things that happen during the normal course of our lives.

But they are losses. Lost along the way. Terribly missed by us. But not always mourned. Not always recognized for what they are.

Sometimes we have a lot of losses all at once. Our kids grow up, a parent gets sick, we may lose a job, a marriage fails, we may be diagnosed with a chronic medical condition like hypertension. Suddenly, it becomes overwhelming. Some seek out medical help in the form of prescriptions. Medications to help you sleep, to get you through the day. But how about just allowing yourself to grieve once in awhile. How many do that?

Society doesn't want us to grieve. Even death only allows a few short days of grief, then the world expects us to dust off our boots and jump back into the game, always moving forward.

I think that may be why Prozac and its cousins are the most prescribed drugs on the planet. And why heart disease kills more of us than any cancer.

We are sad and heartbroken. We just don't always recognize it. We are not encouraged to recognize it. We are just encouraged to move on.

I know, we can't go around morose all of the time. And I wouldn't want to. But when I am starting to feel bogged down, I allow myself to think about all that I have lost; my parents, pets, my daughter's dependence on me, changes in my body that I don't particularly like but that come with aging. I have lost some friendships along the way, perhaps due to my own indifference. I lost a favorite item recently. I have lost a work colleague that I enjoyed working with. All these things can add up to what we may simply call a bad day, a cloudy mood. But what they are are losses that have affected our world. I shouldn't take them so lightly. I should allow myself to grieve for them.

Even small losses, like the end of a TV series that we loved or something silly like that can make us feel unsettled for a time. When you have a rhythm in your life that is disrupted, it is still a change that affects you. You just have to recognize it, feel the loss, and move on.

But moving on without feeling the loss, without grieving it, can hurt us.

My mom always said, "Small drops fill buckets". And she was certainly right. Small, sometimes unrecognizable losses can add up and make us feel really bad. So, take the time to recognize the small losses you encounter before they add up and become overwhelming.

Before your bucket gets too full.

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.
~~~Norman Cousins

Sorrows cannot all be explained away in a life truly lived, grief and loss accumulate like possessions.
~~~Stefan Kanfer quotes

The garden is growth and change and that means loss as well as constant new treasures to make up for a few disasters.
~~~May Sarton

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I don't have cancer, but can my day still suck?

I am having a bad day.

My washing machine has been broken for almost two weeks now. The appliance repair guy, who I like and have used before, is not here as promised. I broke a nail. I got into a tiff with my daughter over her snarky attitude this morning. The guy in front of me was driving at about 10 miles per hours with his brake lights on every other second. The line at Dunkin Donuts was too long. The dog brought an egg into the house and ate it upstairs on the white carpet. I have to pay bills today. I will now have to take 6 loads of laundry to the laundromat.

I got a flat tire on Tuesday. I had to pay a lot of money to have it fixed. They want me to bring it back today to have the lug nuts checked. What? Like I have time for that?

Everything always leads to another thing. It is never just a simple problem. They cascade into a waterfall of new things that now must be done. It is maddening.

Am I smiling? No. Am I happy? No. Can I put in all in perspective because I see so much worse.

Hell, no.

I am pissed. And I want to be pissed. It is my right to allow myself to feel that way. I will try not to let it bother others, but the fact remains that my day kind of sucks. Some days are just not that great, no matter how brightly the sun is shining or how beautifully the birds are chirping.

We all have bad days. Sometimes, too many. We even compare bad days with each other, as in, " Well, you think that is bad, let me tell you....."

Sometimes another persons bad day makes me happy that I have just my own. There always seems to be something so much worse.

There is a story I read once about the Sorrow Tree. On Judgement Day, everyone can place their own sorrows there, but then must walk around the tree and select someone else's miseries that he may like better. In the end, everyone always freely takes back their own personal set of sorrows once more.

Seems right to me.

And that is all fine but I am still fuming.

But the bad day stays in a little box. I do try to not let it overwhelm me or to allow it to grow bigger than it needs to be. Most of it is just an inconvenience, not a real problem.

I have two boxes I place thoughts in; one is for the inconvenient things that will pass but make my day bad, the other box is for real problems.

I fill up box one on many days. But then I empty that box, mostly by just plodding through it. Getting the stuff done. Not dwelling on it. Not allowing myself to be consumed by it. Not allowing myself to become the bad day. So I have to go to the Laundromat. I am really mad about it, but what can I do? We need clean clothes. So, I will take a book I have been meaning to read and buy a latte and plod through. I will still hate being there, but I will try to balance the good with the awful.

My problem box is almost always empty. When I say problems, I mean things that can't just be fixed. Things that are huge and life-altering.

I am grateful that that box is near empty.

And, I imagine, most of ours are, if we were honest.

Life is full of inconveniences and annoyances on a daily basis. I think it is fine to get angry about that. But then to let it go. Don't become the anger, don't let it consume you, don't miss out on seeing the good things I wrote about yesterday because you are blinded by a passing rage. Don't let it fester.

But also don't let anyone tell you how to feel, either. If one person says to me, well, that doesn't sound like such a bad day, I cannot promise I will answer in kind. I am allowed to own my feeling of being put out, of being mad, of thinking that my day sucks. Let me wallow in it a bit. I will not drown. Distance yourself from me if you must. Don't try to cheer me up. It will be gone soon. I know it will.

No, it may not be such an awful, horrible bad day. It may turn out that I will find something good today that turns it all around--like a laundress, or a call saying that the washer will be fixed this morning. Or a smile and a hug from my daughter at pick-up, the perfect anecdote for the bad day.

I guess what I am trying to say is that even those of us who see the very worst things that can happen still have bad days as well, even though we don't have cancer, or a life-threatening illness or whatever. We are just living life with its ups and downs like everyone else.

And that is okay.

“No day is so bad it can't be fixed with a nap.”
~Carrie P. Snow

So often time it happens, we all live our life in chains, and we never even know we have the key.
~The Eagles, "Already Gone"

Every thought is a seed. If you plant crab apples, don't count on harvesting Golden Delicious.
~Bill Meyer

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The life around me.

People ask me all of the time if it is depressing working with the dying, the sick, the bereaved.

I will have to be honest and say that, yes, sometimes it is. I see a lot of pain and suffering, a lot of loss. I wish I could do more to help, but often I am only able to provide some comforting words. It is quite frustrating some days. Maddening on most days.

But, I also have to be honest and say that I have never been happier.


Perhaps I don't take the little things for granted as much. Perhaps seeing death so much has opened my eyes a bit and I see more clearly what is important. Perhaps I have grown up a bit. I am not perfect by a long shot, but I am more centered, more content.

I don't really know why. I don't try to analyze it. I just feel it. And that is enough for me.

I am the happiest when I am with my husband and daughter, even if we are just at home doing absolutely nothing. I just like being with them.

I enjoy all the little things, even on bad days. I know that they help us to grow. I try to not to get bogged down with pettiness. I try to avoid petty people.

I try to learn more every day, even something simple. I read more. Perhaps because I know there is a definite end, I want to cram as much life into my years as possible.

I want to love my daughter as much as I possibly can. My husband, too. Love is gift we withhold all to often. And it what people crave the most.

I squandered many years. Caught up in too much nonsense like jealously, anger, and the like. I still have those feelings, of course I do. But I try to just observe them now, let them run their course and for the most part, they dissipate on their own. I do not let those feelings own me any longer.

I also try to avoid negative, petty people. We need to tend our lives like a garden, constantly weeding. Too many weeds can choke out the flowers. And that is true in life. Too many negative people can make you think that your life is negative, that it is bereft of joy. Sometimes we just have to let go of people, or at least distance ourselves. Not easy to do, I know. But essential to the soul.

We also have to take care of ourselves in other ways. One highly regarded published female MD says that we need to look at ourselves like a tree. When the leaves wither, we have to look at the soil that feeds it. The 'soil' being our diet, our rest, our exercise, our feelings. When we take care of ourselves, everything is better.

I love to look at the life around me. I pause often and listen to the birds singing, kids laughing, people talking. I have to make a conscious effort to stop for a moment and actually do that as I am scurrying about my days trapped in busyness. It literally only takes seconds to stop and tune in, but those seconds I spend doing it make the day much, much better. I have to sometimes write it on my to do list or I forget. To Do #3, stop and appreciate life. Next to buying laundry detergent and doing bills.

I try to tune in more to the cadence of life and tune out some of the stuff that weighs heavy; the news media with the 24 hour "spin", the complaining moms at pick up who have great lives but somehow only feel alive when ripping into other's lives, the mess that our world is in and for the most part, politics. I am not saying that I am not aware, I am just trying to keep a distance.

I am also much more thankful for things than I used to be. I used to worry that perhaps I was not given my fair share at times. We have all felt that way, I know. But there are so many things that I am lucky to have and so I thank the Gods or the spirits or whomever. Sometimes I thank my hard-working husband, sometimes I thank my daughter. Sometimes I even thank myself, or my deceased parents or even the bad, horrible, very worst of times that taught me to be tougher.

So, take a moment to listen to the sounds of life around you. Breath them in. Turn off the TV, the iPod, the phone. Step outside and hear the birds, the lawn mowers humming, the cars rushing by, the dogs barking. This is life. This is what it is all about. Take one moment to be thankful you can be part of it all.

Even at the office, at that drudgery of a thankless job, find one thing to savor. On particularly bad days at my job, and there are quite a few, I focus on the pay. I know that seems awfully shallow, but my pay allows me to enjoy extras in my life that I would not otherwise have. So I am thankful I can earn money. Money cannot buy happiness they say; but a lack of it sure buys a lot of pain.

So, anyway, try to find a few things that you can turn to when the going gets tough. And think about them. Hug yourself occasionally. Your life is just an important as anything else. Anybody else.

Just keep remembering to tune into it. The life around you.

“Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live.”

“Our lives at times seem a study in contrast... love & hate, birth & death, right & wrong... everything seen in absolutes of black & white. Too often we are not aware that it is the shades of grey that add depth & meaning to the starkness of those extremes.”
~~~Ansel Adams

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What we think we do for love.

I am lucky. I get to see a whole lot of adult children every time I work. I get to see them with their whole family, with their mom or dad, sometimes even with their grandparents, too. A whole generation together. Telling me many stories. Sharing their lives with me.

It is the best learning environment I could ever imagine. I learn more about child raising by watching how these kids turned out than I could learn from any book written by purported "experts" ever.

Most adults have issues. I know. We all have been raised by less than perfect parents. We are less than perfect parents ourselves.

But some things that parents do just stick out. And I see the results over and over again.

The one thing that adult children talk about is denial. How their parents denied everything, like in "No, I am fine", "I am not angry", "You don't need to know that" and so on.

Parents think they are protecting the kids by withholding information. But they are not. The kids know that something is wrong. They may stop asking about it, but worry silently instead.

Some adult children complain to me that their parents are still denying them the chance to discuss things with them. They say that it made them mistrust people, that they always felt that people would not tell them the whole story. They often quit asking questions. They say that as much as their parents thought they were protecting them, they weren't. They were making them more frightened, cause if mom or dad can't talk about it, it must be really bad. Or I must have done something to cause this.

The adult children get even more upset now when I can talk to the patient, their own mom or dad, and they tell me about their pain, but won't tell their own child, who is now an adult. That adult child still feels shut out. It is a bad feeling. It causes much despair.

"Mom never talked to me when I was a kid and now won't do it even though I am an adult. She would rather confide in strangers. It is so maddening. Nothing has changed. There is always a chasm between us."

Lesson learned.

Talk to your kids. Don't feel the need to go into detail, but talk. Don't shut them out. It is not protective. It is hurtful. And sometimes cruel.

Another thing I see a lot are issues around food.

Food is a big part of our lives. We eat when we are happy, when we are sad, when we go the the movies, when we celebrate, when we mourn.

And food is always a touchy subject. Even very sick elderly parents will talk to me about the poor eating habits of their adult children.

"Can you believe the crap that they are eating?", one 70 year old woman recently said to me. The patient was in a hospital bed in the living room at her daughter's home. They were all eating pizza and drinking Coke.

"I never raised them to eat like that. We always had home cooked meals in my day."

"Ma has always been on my case, ever since I was a child", said the daughter, now in her 40's. "She never let me eat what the other kids were eating, we always had to have something homemade, never from a box. I always felt like I was missing out on everything. When I got older, it lead to binge eating and sneaking food."

I looked at her. She was a bit overweight, but not too heavy. I asked her how she raised her own girls. There were 4 of them; all thin, all healthy.

"I denied nothing. I teach them moderation. I don't judge people based on what they are eating. Too many people do that."

She is right. I am also tired of the pompous, self-proclaimed "smart eater" who say they only feed their kids "healthy" food.

I mean, no pop-tarts ever? No Fruit Loops? No ice cream? No Oreos with milk? No Lucky Charms?

I don't think we are doing any favors to our kids by being militant about food. A healthy diet is not something you enforce, it is something you teach.

And, as Mary Poppins most famously said, "Enough is as good as a feast."

So teach portion control.

But, geesh, let your kids be a kid. It is really okay. They will love you for it as they look back on their life with you. Those few years with you mold them into the adults they will one day become. And they are adults for many, many decades. Beyond your control.

So anyway, I do find myself looking at my own 11 year old daughter and thinking, what am I doing today to screw her up for tomorrow? Is is really wise to withhold information? Probably not. Is it wise to deny her my true feelings? Probably not. Is it okay for her to have Fruit Loops, at least once in a while? Of course it is.

We really don't need advice from all the experts. We have our own lab; our friends and colleagues and siblings. Look to see how they turned out. Listen to what they say about growing up. It is quite telling.

So, my daughter does know more than she probably should, eats more junk than she probably needs to, and sees more movies that she probably shouldn't. I am not sure if it is all okay. I am sure that I have made and will continue to make plenty of mistakes to screw her up. We all will. It is just a fact.

But it feels right to include her in my life. It feels right to see her eating ice cream and laughing on a hot summer day. It feels right to have pizza and a Coke once in while while sitting on the floor in the family room with friends. It feels right to see her happy most of the time. It feels good to say yes more than no.

And if things feel right, than that is all I can hope for.

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.
~~~Katharine Hepburn

Friday, June 4, 2010

Life, death and religious icons.

Today, as I was stopped at a red light, I looked over to my right and there was a really old lady in a car with about 10 religious statues attached to her front dashboard. And a crucifix dangling from her rear view mirror, along with her handicap decal. I looked at her, she looked at me. I saw a picture of the Pope, too.

She could barely see over the steering wheel. But there she was; older, independent, well groomed, well dressed.

Do the icons protect her?

Does her belief in the icons protect her?

I often wonder.

I see a lot of religious icons in many of the houses I enter as a hospice nurse. I used to see them a lot at my own Grandparent's home when I was young.

Yesterday, I was in the home of an 88 year old Armenian woman whose walls were plastered in them. Just plastered.

But she did not speak of them. She said they "didn't work." She thought about taking them down, but decided it would be too much work to do so.

It seems that all the icons appear when the bad diagnosis comes(except for a few who had them always, like my grandparents.) Everyone talked about religion then, when the diagnosis came. Some found religion for the first time, or resurrected it from the past.

Or they found some other type of spirituality.

They prayed. They read the bible. They lit candles. They spoke of others who did in fact get better against all odds. They searched for meaning in their illness.

They had prayer chains. They went to mass more often. They were hopeful there would be a miracle. I met some who went to Lourdes.

But once all that failed, or appeared to fail, and they came onto hospice, a lot of that stopped. I rarely hear a word about religion. I rarely have a Chaplin referral.

It is like some deep part of the person has resigned themselves to death, and now have turned inward. I know some are angry at God or whomever they believe in. It becomes a touchy subject between family members. It becomes a tense issue as opposed to a comforting one.

No more talk of miracles.

Just silence on the subject.

I am not interested in getting into a discussion about religion. We as hospice nurses let people believe in what they want. We do not judge, we do not comment. That belongs to the patient and the family.

I like the religious icons. I find them soothing. I have a few of my grandparent's prayer cards and such in the house, even though I am not Catholic. I like to think that they keep me close to my grandparents and parents in some way. Some kind of spiritual link, as odd as that may sound.

But I do not talk of them.

They are just present.

And perhaps that is what they are meant to be. Who knows, really.

Anyway, there is no real point to this story, just an observation.

And that older lady with the statues? She gunned it when the light turned green and cut me off. Happily and safely she sped off while I slammed on the brake and had heart-pounding palpitations set in.

She seemed invincible behind her icons.

I gotta get me some of those statues.

Especially for protection from Boston drivers.

Of any age.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Embrace the Ordinary Day.

Ever have one of those ho-hum, boring, predictable days? Perhaps you find your whole life predictable, the routine so well established you almost seem to sleep walk through it.

"Nothing new" you tell people when they ask you how things are. You get up each morning, prepare for the inevitable chaos of getting everyone out the door. You may go to your job, or run the vacuum, get the mail, run a few errands, maybe meet a friend for coffee. You tell your 11 year old for the twenty-seventh time today not to roll her eyes at you; you have now told your 3 year old 'no' for the seven hundredth time. You go for a walk. You prepare dinner. You help with the homework.

Everyone goes to bed, finally. You plop down exhausted, ready to sleep so that it can all start again tomorrow.

You are so very lucky.

You may not realize how lucky you are. Not until you are thrown out of your boring, ordinary routine. The one you hate.

The one you would now give anything to get back to.

Life has a way of surprising us. We never know when it can happen. Most times, we really don't want to know. We hope we never really have a chance to find out.

We hear of other's misfortunes. We think we are lucky, or that something like that could never happen to us. We plan for tomorrow and next year and think about college for our kids or worry about our retirement savings.

Sometimes we hear about a tragedy on the news and we stop for a moment and consider what is important to us. What our life is really all about. We may hug our children extra tight, tell our husbands how much we love them, call our moms. But that is usually short lived. The news goes away, life goes on and we forget.

Until it happens to us.

Then life stops.

You watch helplessly as life continues to go on around you. You are trapped in your own anguish. No one understands. Life is upside down.

Then life changes. Sometimes forever. Never to be ordinary again.

So, embrace the ordinary day. Be happy to hear the fighting kids, the morning news on the Today Show, the dogs barking. Enjoy looking for that lost sweatshirt, searching for the missing homework, drinking that same cup of coffee you have with skim milk and one sweet and lo every single day.

This is your life. Your ordinary, wonderful life. These are the days the kids will remember forever. How mom always wore that blue robe, how dad woke up late and cursed each morning, how the backyard birds sang in the trees, how fun it was to wait for the bus with all the kids on the block.

Or maybe they will remember riding in the car with you each morning to school talking about the day, or listening to a song that you sing to that they claim is "so embarrassing."

These ordinary times are the building blocks of a lifetime of memories.

I see too often the folks who would do anything to have those days back. Who regret that they squandered them or cursed them or wished for something better.

There really is nothing better than the ordinary day.

Embrace it.

For pragmatic reasons, I love the routine. I love the structure of it. I love knowing that my days are free. I know where I'm going at night. I know my life is kind of orderly. I just like that better.
Andrea Martin

Life is like topography, Hobbes. There are summits of happiness and success, flat stretches of boring routine, and valleys of frustration and failure.
Calvin & Hobbes