October Afternoon

October Afternoon

October afternoon with the sun’s rays
strong upon a cluster of brilliantly luminescent red-gold trees,
light seeming to glow from within each leaf,
it’s peak time in upstate New York.

One tree stands far apart from the others,
stripped of all its beauty with the exception of one branch,
even more striking in its aloneness, its disparity and exclusion
from the surrounding autumnal displays of glory.

Losing does not indicate weakness here but pride.
“One does not give up until it’s time,” it seems to say.
Surviving recent strong winds and heavy rain,
this one branch hangs on for one more day
until one leaf after another will drop,
leaving behind a strong trunk and roots that will herald new life come spring.

Whispering in the wind, it softly states,
“Beauty is not in what was lost but in what remains.”

October: A Month of Ambivalence

October:  A Month of Ambivalence

October is a month of ambivalence—some leaves still lingering green next to brilliant golds and reds, crisp mornings that morph into warm, sunny afternoons, dense fog that rolls in on morning commutes and then moves into clarity an hour later–October with its uncertainty and predictions, courage and fear.

It’s a month that for whatever reason has been designated breast cancer awareness month, a month of prolific pink ribbons, pink scarves and t-shirts, pink appliances, pink M&Ms, marketing gone awry.  Wouldn’t April be a better choice with its first yellow daffodil signaling hope?

In October of 2003 my sister’s breast cancer returned and mine was first diagnosed.  It was a month that changed the course of our family’s life, teaching us not to make plans but to take each day as it comes, a month of inward searches and hidden tears and fears, brave smiles, hope tempered by a reality that loomed large.  My sister’s cancer would not be cured but could be treated for a while, only eighteen months it turned out.

What is certain about October is that it will return every year to be experienced again and again in all its pinkness that could overshadow October’s brilliance if we let it.  It signals the possibility that this October could be my mother’s last.  It signals memories and fears my cancer will return.  It signals uncertainty for my daughters’ and granddaughters’ futures, as we are all reminded of October’s ambivalence, October’s uncertainty, October with its courage and its hope, its losses and its grief.

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If you would like to read the story of how my sister and I faced breast cancer at the same time, my memoir In My Sister’s Footsteps:  A Walk with Breast Cancer is available now on Amazon.  I think the story of my sister’s courage and her determination to live life to the fullest while she could will inspire anyone faced with the challenge of surviving breast cancer.

My Dog Has Dementia!

photo: Muu-karhu

My Dog Has Dementia!

Yesterday while visiting my mother in the nursing home, I asked my husband to take our fourteen-year-old Australian Shepherd to the vet because of a number of problems.  I was alarmed in the morning when I noticed his nose was bleeding, so I was afraid he had a terrible disease and we would lose him.  He was not eating and was pacing and panting in the evening.  He was struggling with stairs and stumbling over tree roots on his walks.  Something was definitely wrong!

The diagnosis was a surprise!  First, the nose bleed was apparently due to my cat’s obnoxious behavior toward him, often jumping on him, wrapping her paws around his back legs and riding along, and hunkering down on the stairs as he approached them to jump out in glee.  The vet saw a scratch on his nose, so that was an easy diagnosis, although trouble looms ahead for the cat.

However, she attributed many of his behavioral changes to his age.  His restlessness, panting, and lack of interest in food she attributed to dementia.  Yikes!  My mother and my dog with dementia!  Can I be far behind?

I’ve been coping with my mother’s advancing dementia for months, although I suspect she has had it for longer than that.  She is easily confused, delusional, and suffers from paranoia and speech and memory difficulties.  Her care in the nursing home is sometimes marginal, requiring my constant attention and intervention.  I’m wondering how my dog’s needs will change in the future.

One good thing is he lives with me so I don’t have to drive to visit him.  He is extremely dependent on me, like my mother.  While she calls me up to ten times a day, he just stays by my side all the time.  He follows me from room to room, lying down next to me.  I am now limiting my trips upstairs because I know he will follow me regardless of how difficult it is for him.  I try to give him more attention.  Our morning routine consists of dragging myself out of bed and getting down on the floor next to him for some cuddle time.  I rub his belly and tell him what a special dog he is.  I tell him how much I love him.  I hug him and rest my head on his and wish him health even though I know his time with me is now limited.

The same is true of my mother.  When I visit her, I make sure she has what she needs.  My presence at the nursing home each day sends the staff fleeing to try to avoid my daily requests for her care.  I sit with her and talk.  I show her the latest photos of her great-granddaughters, the three-year-old in her new ballet tutu ready for her first lesson, the photos of the seven-year-old with twelve friends at her sleep-under birthday party over the weekend. (A sleep-under party is apparently like a sleep-over party with sleeping bags, a movie, and popcorn, but the kids go home instead of spending the night.)  When I leave my mother, I reach down and kiss her on the forehead.  I touch her arm and tell her I will see her soon.  I know her time with me is also limited.  She has been a part of my life for sixty-seven years.  How will I go on without her?  I am still grieving over the loss of my sister.  These impending losses weigh me down.  I am walking through deep mud, struggling to lift up each foot as I maneuver myself through each day.

My dog has been with me for fourteen years, a constant companion.  When I got him as a puppy, he was not the one I initially chose.  I wanted a female puppy.  The breeder had all the puppies in her barn, but when she went to get the female, she accidentally stepped on the paws of one of the puppies.   He whimpered and retreated to the corner.  She said he would never make a good herding dog because he was too timid.  I watched him cower in the corner looking at me with huge sad eyes. The breeder gave me a discount.  I didn’t need it.  I took him home.  He may not have made a good herding dog for the sheep, but he’s pretty good at herding my husband and me around the house.  When he’s ready for bed, he sits in front of me and stares until I get up and move upstairs.  Sometimes he even plays with my old slippers like he used to do as a puppy.  I love him with all my heart.

Saturday night my mother called me at 9:00 p.m. crying.  She didn’t know where she was.  She thought she had been moved to a strange house.  The room was dark.  She was alone and afraid.  In reality, one of the patients was wandering, so they closed off the doors to the rooms so he wouldn’t enter them.  That threw her room into darkness.  My mother thought her roommate had been taken away even though she was actually asleep in her bed on the other side of the room.  I told her I would take care of it and everything would be fine.  I called the nurse to go in and reassure her and turn on a light.  She calmed down.

I wonder if my dog will feel afraid and lost.  I wonder if he will wake up some day and not know where he is.  He won’t be able to tell me what he fears.  I will hold him and kiss him on the head and tell him everything will be okay.  Sometimes a little lie is a necessity.