Hurricane + Elderly Mother’s Mini-Stroke=Yikes!!!

I don’t usually blog about events in my daily life.  I like to write!  Writing descriptive essays or poetry is what I do for relaxation.  There was no relaxation for me since last Thursday, but then that was true for anyone living along the eastern seaboard of the United States.

On Thursday I was celebrating my mother’s 89th birthday with lunch at Panera Bread when she had some kind of a major dizzy spell that scared us both.  I drove her to Urgent Care where her unbelievably high blood pressure and stroke symptoms caused them to call an ambulance and transport her to the hospital.  I think the words “reluctant and difficult patient”  do not even come close to describing  her behavior in the hospital.  She has not seen a doctor in years, so we did not know what we were dealing with and the tests freaked her out.  Her fears caused her to refuse to ever be alone again or ever drive her car again.  Yikes!!!  She has been hanging out at my house, sleeping in the living room, since then.

Meanwhile, my daughter who lives in Galloway, New Jersey near Atlantic City was told to evacuate her condo by 9 a.m. Saturday morning.  We had planned to drive down on Friday for a weekend visit which we had to cancel because of the storm.  She could not find a place to go to with her dog and two cats and she did not want to risk a drive home, so she stayed and weathered the hurricane through some very difficult hours in the dark with no power, high winds, tornado warnings, and the fear of flooding.  While I was taking care of my mother, I was calling other relatives and checking in with the situation with my daughter.  We then lost power like 4 million other people.  This morning life is returning to normal somewhat, but in reality my mother’s situation means life will never be the same for any of us.

You would think, like my husband does, that I would now have such great material to write about.   The problem comes with trying to connect the events of the last few days with poetry.   I’m not sure it will happen.  So I will observe and feel and write in general until the poetic words flow again.   I know they will.


A Reflection on Music’s Connection to Our Past

One of the August concerts at the Round Lake Auditorium is about to begin.  I am always amazed at the historical significance of this place.  Today’s performance is an organ concert, one of at least four presented this month.

The Tracker organ has aged well.  Built in l847 and brought to Round Lake, New York, in 1888, it is the oldest and largest of its kind in the United States.  Equipped with 1900 pipes, it is enormous, filling the wooden building from the platform to the ceiling, dwarfing the young organist at the keyboard.  Today’s organist is twenty-year-old John Walthausen, talented and personable, instructing the audience in the pieces he is playing, a mixture of Bach and newer composers, relaxed and smiling on this day before he leaves for further study in Paris.

The audience is also aged.  The first three rows are filled with senior citizens from one of the retirement villages in the area, their white hair cropped short, talking softly to each other, enjoying another outing to break up their days.  They are an appreciative audience, acknowledging this young talent with their applause and smiles.  I admire these women for their strength and independence.

I am sitting several rows behind them next to my about-to-be eighty-nine-year-old mother.  She does not have a walker or cane, like many of the women in front of us.  She is healthy and mobile, walking slowly but steadily now, and she loves the organ, playing herself even at her age to pass the time each day.  I am surrounded by widows, with only a handful of men in the audience.  I think that in twenty years I could be a widow myself, knowing how women outlive men, a tradition in our family especially.  I could be living in a home for senior citizens, brought to various venues in a bus, looking for ways to add interest to my routine days.

I don’t entirely enjoy the concert.  I appreciate the young man’s talent, but the music is heavy and sluggish at times.  I keep checking my watch.  I begin to count the stripes on the shirt of the woman in front of me.  I check out the patterns in the stained glass windows at the top of the auditorium and I watch how the breeze from the open doors causes the black stage curtains to move from time to time, ghost-like and unpredictable.

In the 1800’s the auditorium was the focus of a Methodist church camp that took up summer residence in the village, at one time a resort with hotels, museums, and lecture halls.  Tiny Victorian cottages replaced the original tents set up for the summer, and they still dot the village with their porches, window boxes, gingerbread trim, and colorful paint.  I wonder as the curtains move gently if it is perhaps not the wind at all, but the spirit of a previous resident, maybe one of the preachers who gave dynamic sermons or one of the women who came from the city with her husband and children to enjoy the cooler air by the lake.  The music is a mere backdrop for the stories unfolding in my head.

The concert ends with an energetic symphony by Louis Vierne, written, explains the young organist, as an emotional outlet after he was rejected for a position he coveted and during an explosive divorce from his wife.  Music, I note, is like words used to express one’s emotions, sad or happy, reflective or angry.  The final symphony is full of energy and volume, a good ending to help us depart from the traditions of the past and enter again the predictability of our days.  Whether we are young or old, alone or not, healthy or not, energetic or not, we are always connected to those days that have preceded us, just as we are unaware of what may be ahead.

My mother and I leave the auditorium, walking carefully across the lawn to the parking lot, our footsteps on the same ground where families walked over a hundred years ago, families who also were entertained by the Tracker organ, standing now silent in the aged building, waiting for music to begin again.

Summer Night Symphony

Summer Night Symphony

Darkness begins its descent,
Enveloping the woods behind the house,
And then it begins—
The rhythmic trills of the tree frogs
Breaking open the serenity of the night.

Hyla Versicolor—the northern gray tree frog–
Its color changing with the temperature,
Light green to dark gray,
Clinging to the bark of the pines
With its large sticky toe pads,
All but invisible in the light of day.
Impossible to ignore in the blackness of night.

The tree frogs were apparently there last April,
Having emerged in secret from their burrows
After hibernating all winter under logs and branches,
Freezing until spring.
Then in May came the mating as they left the trees,
Laying eggs in pools of water,
Froglets appearing in the warmth of the summer sun.

Now in late August they fill the night
With their monotonous sound,
And I stand at the open window and listen,
The trilling taking me for a moment back in time
When I was a child of ten, tucked into my bed,
Bedroom windows open to the cool summer night air,
Listening to the peepers in the swamp across the road
Soothed to sleep by the lullaby of nature.

Just before dawn the summer symphony ends,
The sweet night sedative gone for now.
Soon the cold will follow,
The tree frogs will be gone until next spring,
Their frenetic energy stilled,
And the winter nights will be silent
As we wait for the certainty of nature’s music to begin again.

© Barbara Flass 2011

Martina McBride’s new video, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It.”

This morning Good Morning America had a segment on Martina McBride’s new video “I’m Gonna Love You Through It,” a song about helping support those we love through cancer.  I think today we put a lot of effort into trying to raise money for research, basically done through grass roots efforts, and that is important.  Recently, a promising new drug for melanoma was approved by the FDA, so there is hope that some day a new drug will stop women from dying of breast cancer.  Targeted gene therapy is crucial for that.  Still, while we are waiting for some dramatic breakthrough in  finding a cure for breast cancer or preventing breast cancer from occurring, we shouldn’t forget the power of love.

I loved the video and the GMA segment because it showed the strength of one”s friends and family in overcoming cancer, especially breast cancer.  We have all followed Robin Roberts in her fight as well as others such as Sheryl Crow, but every day women not as famous fight for survival with their loved ones by their side.  I wonder sometimes about women who do not have the support of a friend or family member, women who may go through it alone, and I can’t imagine how they can do it.  I know how important it is to have someone by your side all the way.   I was strengthened by the love of my family, especially my daughters, my mother,  and my sister who supported me while struggling to overcome her own battle, a battle she did not win.   The video seemed to focus on survivors, but we can’t forget those who do not survive.

We cannot forget, in the midst of the economic issues in our country, in spite of being in a war, in spite of the need to help starving children, that in our own country there are men and women struggling every day to survive cancer.  Watching Robin Roberts break down along with the entire team of reporters  around her reinforces the fact that one really doesn’t get over cancer.  Survival is one thing.  One’s personal survival without the survival of everyone else going through this disease is not enough.  I urge everyone to look for ways to help others.  I don’t mean just writing a check or joining a walk or participating in a fund raiser, all important options.  I mean doing something to ease the emotional pain of a cancer diagnosis.  For me, it was the bowl of daisies from my daughters waiting for me the day I left the hospital, the angels in all forms given to me as gifts, the phone calls and cards from someone just thinking about me, the hugs, the tears of support, all of those things.  I think if you watch Martina McBride’s video, you will feel compelled in even a small way to make a difference for someone dealing with a cancer diagnosis.  I know you will find a way.

Home Depot, here we come!

The depth of the puddles in the driveway and on the roadways today is no match for the amount of water that has accumulated in our basement in the last few days.  It took a while for us to determine the source of the indoor lake, but finally my husband traced it to the aging hot water heater.  Our house is about twenty-five years old, so we know we need to start replacing parts of it.  We started last week with a new roof.  Next on our agenda was the refrigerator and stove exhaust fan.  But our plans were sidetracked by the flood.

The hot water heater was on our list, but we didn’t see any immediate need for a replacement.  Yesterday we did.  We decided to mop up first, and then we headed to Home Depot.  Confused by the choices in the plumbing aisle, we pushed the red call button for help, and within two minutes an employee was at our side.  How lucky could we get?  This guy was also a knowledgeable plumber now assisting customers with their total confusion about pipes.  We told him what hot water heater we were considering, but he actually steered us to the cheapest model.  We asked him about getting someone to install it, but he assured us it was very easy to do it ourselves.  Installation fees were almost the exact price of the hot water heater!  So we listened carefully to his brief tutorial, and I watched my husband’s face to see if there was any understanding at all about the steps he was rattling off.  The employee grabbed parts we would need, had us measure the size of the box to see if we could get it in the car so we wouldn’t have to rent the truck, and then helped us put the box in the car.  As an extra insurance of competency, he recommended several websites that offered tutorials on installing a hot water heater, and we headed home.  We estimated that employee at Home Depot saved us over four hundred dollars.

Getting the hot water heater into the house was a bit of a challenge, but we did it.  Resembling something out of a Three Stooges movie (but with only two stooges), we dragged it into the house and then slid it down the stairs to the wet basement.  There are some areas of repair my husband can still do, but really I did not think this was one of them.  After an afternoon of work, it was finally installed, although the temperature of the water was close to scalding at this point.  So we have hot water but still a very wet basement.  Today with the use of fans and blow dryers, we may be able to salvage some of the lifetime clutter we store in the basement.  We recently worked on organizing the basement and getting rid of a lot of things we had accumulated.  We stored most of our remaining possessions in plastic bags or containers, and some boxes were standing on two-by-fours to keep them off the damp flooring.  We also have a good dehumidifier that usually keeps everything pretty dry, but now that would not be enough.

Retirement offers us many days of leisure, where we do more thinking about what we should do instead of actually doing it.  We have all the time in the world is often our motto.  In reality, we don’t know how much time we have left in our lives, so fate sometimes needs to step in and give us a little nudge.  I guess that’s what we can call the burst hot water heater.  Just a nudge to get us going.  I’m hoping future nudges will just give us some time to recover from this one.

If you ever need to replace your hot water heater, think about going to Home Depot (although unless you live where we do, you may not be so fortunate to find such a wonderful, helpful employee!).

Why should I buy chrysanthemums in August?

Why should I buy chrysanthemums in August?

This morning dawned chilly, the air no longer feeling like summer, more autumn-like with dawn coming minutes later each day now.  How does it happen that mid-August often signals the end of summer instead of mid-September?  I like cool mornings, but I prefer those steamy summer mornings with bright sun poring through the windows instead of the filtered sunlight of August.

Mid-August signals summer’s end in other ways, such as the ads for back-to-school clothes and supplies, articles on healthy kids’ lunches and how to manage frantic school morning routines.  This morning’s ad from Lowe’s featured mums on sale.  Mums!  Aren’t they a fall flower?  Why do I need to buy them now?  Actually, I rarely buy mums.  They make me sad, signaling the coming of winter, and with a brief growing season, they hardly seem worth the effort or the money.

During the summer months, I know why I live in upstate New York.  I can even find wonderful moments in September and October, with the glorious colors of autumn leaves and pumpkins and squash at the farmer’s market.  But I know on the heels of autumn will be the first winter snows, exciting only in the first few flakes.  The cold, biting winds and icy roads now seem too much to bear, and I often wonder how I have endured these northern winters for so many years.

Good Morning America is doing a series on the ten most beautiful places in America.  I voted for Sedona, Arizona.  I think I long for Arizona at least ten times a day, remembering the colors, the majesty of the buttes, the pure blue of the sky, and the cleanness of the air.  There are seasons in Arizona, depending on the part of Arizona you visit and the time of the year, but the snows are short-lived, the cold temperatures replaced quickly by sunshine and warmth, the incredible scenery making anything glorious.  The June morning my oldest daughter graduated with a Master’s Degree from Embry-Riddle University in Prescott dawned sunny and a little cool.  Sitting on folding chairs on the athletic field on campus waiting for the ceremony to begin, we began to notice ominous dark-gray clouds boiling up above the mountains rising in the distance, and before the diplomas could be given out, hail was upon us, pelting down on heads and the bare arms of those of us expecting a warm day.  Within an hour it was over, bright sun and comforting warmth in its place.  Arizona is like that.  New York is not.

Maybe the day will come when I can leave the certainty of cold and snow in New York for the impulsive storms of the southwest and the glory of the aftermath.  Until then, I will breathe in the diminishing warmth of summer, take in the beauty of the few remaining roses, soft-blue hydrangea blossoms, and rosy-pink impatiens still flourishing in the gardens, and reject those ads for chrysanthemums a little while longer.

Trauma–Letter to a Husband

Trauma–Letter to a Husband

It was on my yoga mat early one morning
that life took one more crazy turn for me,
just a kink I never could straighten out after that.
Somewhere between my downward dog and warrior pose
came your admission, words softly spoken from the bed,
that the most severe headache ever had occurred in the night,
entering the room like a silent stalker,
omen of a darkness yet to come.

Alarms rang inside of me.
I thought. 
Don’t they say it causes the worst headache ever?

I rose from the mat and directed you to get dressed.
We would go to the hospital, I decided,
and you, who balks at doctors, got up and came with me,
sitting silently beside me as I drove, composure a sham.

And then the CAT scan confirmation of the aneurism,
the ambulance call to transport you to the medical center,
and my lonely trip following, heart racing, breathing uncertainty.
More tests and then to the ICU
where you were surprised to find you were not in a private room,
unaware of the seriousness of this moment in our lives.

I stayed with you days and nights,
how many I don’t remember.
At times I slept in a chair next to you,
even though I knew I was not supposed to.
And I remembered other nights at my sister’s bedside,
sleeping in the room with her until she died,
and I wondered if this was just a nightmare and not a repetition.

The ice storm came a few days later with a ferocity
even greater than usual for upstate New York,
causing tree branches to drop like autumn leaves.
I drove home that day between the freezing rain episodes,
hoping I could drive on the icy expressway.
At home the yard was covered with frozen branches.
I pulled into the driveway smoothly glazed over in silver,
listening to the branches snap and fall around me,
holding on to the car as I slid to open the garage door,
staying only a few minutes to shower and change clothes,
and then I slid back to the car.
The freezing drizzle had begun again,
the drive more complex now.

At the hospital that night I slept on a cot in the lounge,
and there was a man already there on his own cot.
I thought how odd, two strangers, a man and a woman,
sleeping on cots in the same room.
His wife, he told me, had had a stroke.

In the morning I sat alone on a chair in the hallway,
remembering the last time I was in this hospital,
my sister’s mastectomy, a sister I loved with all my being,
my sister who did not survive breast cancer like I did,
and now I feared this place, this ICU,
where people were struggling to survive strokes,
and where you lay quietly in a bed among them
recovering from an aneurism that kills most people
even before they can reach the hospital.

Finally you were well enough to go home,
after complications and setbacks,
and I drove again on the wintry roads
but now with you by my side,
and you settled on the sofa and slept.
Only from then on it was not really you,
not the you I knew before the bleed.
Nothing was the same
now that I had seen you vulnerable for the first time.

Some days I can actually forget we have been through this.
But then there are those days
when I get angry at having to be the memory for both of us,
impatient with the depression, fighting my own,
fearful of the anger I see in you,
and when I can get beyond the trauma,
I feel ashamed of myself for my weakness and my sadness
when really I think I should be joyful for survival.
I miss who we were, the former selves we lost
amid the brain bleed and the renegade cancer cells
we both fought so hard to overcome.

We are left here with an emptiness neither of us can overcome.
When I wake now in the morning and I hear you breathing beside me,
I wait for the joy and relief I should feel but which never comes
because in an instant mere survival can become all there is.

© Barbara Flass 2011