Wrestling a Bear – Covid-19

“Linda doesn’t want to get the vaccine because she thinks it has something to do with the Mark of the Beast!”

“What?!!!” I say to my friend.

“It’s got something to do with the book of Revelation. She’s afraid to get the vaccine!”

I’m not a Bible scholar, but I did graduate from a Bible college. Suffice it to say, I have studied and heard sermons on the book of Revelation for over a decade. It is a confusing book of the Bible and interpreted several different ways. Frankly, I finally concluded I would have to trust God with the book of Revelation. He could explain it one day because people on this earth can mess it all up!

I love the Washington Post article below regarding religion and the vaccine.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2021/02/24/evangelicals-covid-vaccine-russell-moore-walter-kim/

Another close friend who works with the homeless, has not received the vaccine. He doesn’t bring up conspiracy theories. He just hasn’t gotten around to receiving the vaccine. This is most interesting to me because his father was a physician and was vigilant about keeping his family and friends as germ free as possible. I care about this close friend because I was married to him for over 20 years. I send him weekly texts now to encourage him to get the vaccine. “I don’t know where to get it,” he tells me. I sent him a text that Walgreens is giving vaccines. No charge. No appointment needed.

As the Delta variant spreads in my community, my sister asks me to drive her to the airport. She and her husband have received the vaccine, but the retired minister that will be traveling in the car has not. This startles me. She has just told me he is believing the conspiracy theories his daughters are telling him. I had just told her that I wanted to keep a distance from people who have not had the vaccine. She asks, and I say yes! We hang up, and I realize it’s time. It’s really past time (but that’s another story) for me to stand up during this horrific period of a global pandemic. I question myself as I walk around a store that is almost totally empty in the middle of the day and then I go for it. I text her (being the fine, timid, younger sister that I am) and tell her I can’t do it. Maybe the minister’s daughters can drive them to the airport. They could all talk about conspiracy theories on the way, my snarky self wants to say but doesn’t.

Mask up, people, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

We must have respectful, thoughtful discussions with friends and family regarding the vaccine.

LaLa Land

Do you ever think, “I want to visit LaLa Land”? Wouldn’t it be wonderful. No responsibilities. No cares. It would be like floating in the ocean where no sharks could touch you.

Or would it be wonderful? I love the idea of floating in water and irresponsibility, but then there is the flip side. You have no personal connections. You have only your thoughts and your memories to explore.

Perhaps that is why Margaret is having such a horrible time in LaLa Land. She doesn’t float well. She constantly says, “I’m supposed to be doing something. What am I supposed to be doing, Nancy?” “I’m so confused. Today is not a good day.”

“Let’s see if you’ve taken your meds this morning.” I say hoping but realizing my hope is not warranted. She not only has not had her pills this morning, but she did not have her evening pills either. She is anxious, depressed and beyond frustrated.

I’m starting to realize this is what Alzheimer’s looks like. Feels like. Tastes like. Smells like.

It is a putrid smell. A scary smell. If Margaret could get lost in her mind and never return, will I be the same in a few years? The thought frightens me.

She remembers her past vividly but last night and this morning are a total blur. “Is it evening?” She asks me at 10:30 in the morning. I guide her to the large clock, which is a great source. It gives the exact time, the date, the day of the week in large letters. She looks at it, acknowledges the time. Five seconds later she asks if it is evening. I try getting her to write it down. Maybe the synapses will try to fire, or she will remember to look at the writing on the paper. At the very least, I can always point to the paper and not have to verbally respond to the repetitive questions.

It is 100 degrees outside and my m.s. body is feeling the heat in the house. I check the thermostat and realize the air conditioner is turned off!

Margaret and Jack were alone yesterday. A 90 year old couple trying to live independently in their own home, and they were totally alone yesterday. He did not take his pills. She had not taken hers. They appear to be happy with any morsel of food we give them. They eat it and express hunger, which is rare. Did they eat the day before? There is food in the refrigerator but there are no signs that any food was eaten the day before.

I write the family that same evening. “Margaret remembers nothing.” I write in hopes that they realize the importance of that statement. I dig deeper. “They need more than I can give.” I am tapped out. A few days ago, I played George Strait for them on my smartphone. All three of us smiled as we heard George in his soothing voice, “Amarillo in the morning….all the things I have are the things I have on.” I mention Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. Dolly starts singing, “I will always love you.” The couple looks at each other and smiles. It was a treasure to see that tender moment between them. I leave them with it. My time is up. It was a good day with Jack and Margaret.

A Million Dollars Cannot Buy a New Brain

There are moments that change your life.

Yesterday was one of those moments.

I have become a companion – a friend to a writer who is losing her mind.

“What do I do now?” she asks fifty times a day.

“Something is just not right with me,” she says in the next breath.

“I just can’t remember. Where is my phone? Do I need to call someone?”

“We need to take care of him. Don’t worry about me.”

“Something is just not right. We were doing something…”

The confusion persists the entire two hours I am with them – Jack and Margaret.

No one knows how much longer they can live independently. I feel that time coming to an end. So much to manage – pills, food, hearing aids, laundry, dishes… Small things to a person operating with their full capacity. Mountains to climb for a person who is losing her mind.

I am so heart filled I cannot sleep. I tossed and turned the majority of the night with good thoughts.

We read some of her work yesterday.

I read aloud as she soaked in the memories – through her writing. We read about her life during the Great Depression. Her family had nothing. They had to move in with her grandparents. They were so poor- something she has never gotten over. Although she is a millionaire now, the large kitchen utensils are not kept in a pretty colorful piece of pottery in the kitchen but in an empty oatmeal container.

Being 90 with a deteriorating mind cannot be changed – even with a million dollars.

Just as we found her files with her writings so are her long-term memories locked in her mind. Upon retrieving and hearing them back, we both begin to cry.

Her grandfather went to church. She went with him. He had her shoes shined, and she was happy to be in his presence. He sang in a beautiful baritone voice, “I’ll fly away……in the morning.”

The day before we read one of her favorite poems by Emily Dickinson. “Hope is the thing with feathers. It perches in the soul.” It never asks a crumb of me – at all.

When she was young, she and her husband drove to an orphanage and adopted a baby boy with red hair. She smiled at the memory. (The talk of living confused, of looking desperately for her phone stops abruptly.) We read about the boy growing up and finding his birth mother. Tears were in her eyes. Should I stop reading? I wondered. Are tears something we should always run from? We both grabbed the nearby tissues and continued to read.

“Joey’s” birth mother and Margaret come to terms with their child. Sharing their love for him. Some children do not receive love from any parent. “Joey” grew up with love from two mothers and an adopted father.

We closed that file and opened the next. I asked Margaret if she wants to stop. “Oh, no,” she says excitedly. We open the next file.

“These are my words,” she says in astonishment. She touches the paper. “Ohhhh – these are my writings.” It has been a form of time travel.

We both instinctively know it is time to put away the words in the folders and save them for another day. We take a short walk, and she apologizes for the umpteenth time.

I reassure her. “It was a lovely way to spend a beautiful day.”

“What a sweet thing to say,” she responds.

We had discussed poetry and rhyming only moments ago. We giggled at the thought of our silly unintentional poem.

It was more than lovely; however, it was a day filled with treasures that money cannot buy. Money was irrelevant, at least for a day.

Words – her words mixed with mine. Her memories of photos and people on the wall.

A writer’s memoir. It was a lovely way to spend a beautiful day.

“I write because I must.”

Memorial Day 2021

Lien is small in stature but tall in determination. She has a Vietnamese accent. She teaches ESL and has raised two small children on her own.

She tells her story deliberately and carefully so that we can understand her.

She lived in Vietnam under Communism rule in the 70s. She was and still is a teacher to those who will listen.

She was married while living in Vietnam until her husband fled to Australia with his mistress. She tells all of us that finances were difficult when he left her and their two children. He managed to send a small piece of gold once a year to them. It was worth approximately $200.

She found her way to America through a Catholic missionary and her own determination to survive and have a better life for her family.

Since we both understand the importance of education, she tells me when she moved to the Dallas area she got her children in the best schools she could find. They are both now physicians.

Today is Memorial Day in America. For those who fought and died in Vietnam, Lien is a testament to you and your families. Your loved ones did not die in vain.

When Your Body Doesn’t Work

It is easy to assume that when you get older, your body will be a bit slower. It is easy to assume that if you are young and have a good job, you will be able to retire comfortably. It is easy to assume that when you marry, you will live happily after. We expect these things out of life. We want these things out of life, but as one writer put it, “life gets interrupted”, or “God laughs at the plans we make.” Hopefully, as you become older, you will be able to laugh at your plans, too.

I stare at the cursor blinking at me longer than I should. I look around my apartment at the fabric, patterns and numerous sheets of paper that should be filed in a safe place, and I can only smile and shrug my shoulders. If only I had the energy to put things neatly away. If only my m.s. legs would do what my brain tells them. If only I could learn to expect how I would feel on any given day.

If I awoke one day with my body totally healed, what would I do? I think I would go line dancing. Yes, I’m 60 years old with a part time body. It decides when I stop walking, so I think line dancing would be appropriate for this former hyper-Baptist. When I was in my 20s, running came in handy when I went through a broken engagement, or if I decided to go to they gym. Those days were before I knew I had multiple sclerosis. Yes, if I were suddenly healed, I think I would go line dancing. Maybe I could learn the Texas Two Step.

When reality sets in, I try to be thankful I can walk and clean a bit during the day and rest in the evening. I try to finish the mermaid costume I started with hopes to start an online business. I try not to be depressed over my financial situation or the taxes I owe the IRS. Only three letters: IRS, yet they are so powerful. My pulse rate increases. I let my cursor blink on my laptop again as I panic. Will I be homeless? Will I be a burden to my family and friends? Am I a wart to society? Will I continue to be alone and penniless? Surely, I am not the only person who panics over these thoughts.

I try to escape. I try to deny. I try to hope. Sometimes, it’s easier to do the first two.

Hope is a big word. It implies that if you have a bad day, you believe tomorrow might be better. For me, it includes the fact that I believe this world is not the end. I hope for a better place, a better body. I hope for a place where there is no sickness, pain or tears. I hope for a home with a God who will hug me and love me deeply.  A powerful God who will look at me through eyes of grace and mercy. He is my light and my path, through difficult times and joyful times.

When your body doesn’t work, above all else, hope and pray. Meditate on God’s goodness and love. He is your home. He is your love. He is your restorer.

Accepting Help from Others

Texas Proud is a slogan you’ll see on several t-shirts and hear on many commercials. After Hurricane Harvey, some Texans are experiencing a dose of humility.

There will be grief over financial, personal and spiritual losses.  Each person, family and business will have different paths to cross. The amount of grit they have will begin to show.

I have never been in a flood or hurricane, but I have experienced loss. I’ve had my own personal tsunamis. They can be devastating.

Approximately, thirty years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It was the first step in a long journey of accepting my physical weaknesses, followed by some emotional meltdowns. My hopes and dreams were often in a smack down with my body saying, “you remember your legs will not carry you from one end of the kitchen to the other.”

Coping, not coping, crying, stuffing my emotions so I could function at work.  Misunderstandings at work over the importance of keeping an office temperature cool so that I could do my job, sadness when realizing my employer didn’t want to understand. Watching my young body change to an older one. These are the wrestling matches a person with a disability must have.

My personal tsunami began after I left my husband of 20+ years. My sister and her family refer to it as the “Louisiana Purchase.” I left my job and everything I knew in Dallas and moved to a small town in Louisiana. I wanted to enjoy the beauty of nature and begin a new life. The idea of purchasing an old farmhouse and redoing it seemed like a fun place to start. I imagined myself writing as I looked from my antique desk to the stately cypress trees. I imagined myself accepting my physical limitations and learning new spiritual truths. I imagined myself enjoying life.

My Louisiana Purchase involved a sociopath. He helped the implosion begin. After begging me to live in the same town as him, after lying to me about his pet hoarding tendencies, after having his 10 dogs and 12 cats pee inside my Louisiana purchase and after not contributing anything financially, my implosion felt like a personal atom bomb. I lost many material things during that short phase of my life. The only reason I kept my sanity partially in tact was due to a few close friends who held me up when I could not stand.

Each of those friends deserve their own chapter. I will start with Teresa.

Why My Mother’s Story Matters

This is my job now.  It is a full time responsibility.  I sleep well, but when I awake at 6:00, the first thing I think of is my mother’s story.

More of her story will follow and will be compiled by her storyteller, me.  It is a story I must tell because her story will affect you one day, and you will possibly not even realize it.  I write for my mother and father.  I write for my family.  I write for your family.  Heck, I even write for our government officials who make important decisions that will affect your pocket book.  I write for the thousands that will try to rebuild their lives after Harvey has taken everything from them.

It happened on a Memorial Day weekend in Georgetown, Texas.  I was vacationing with my husband.  We had fun things planned.  My mother lived in a small group home in Round Rock, just a few miles from Georgetown.  She had fallen, which happens as some of us age.  I visited her in the hospital.  On my way out, I spoke to the neatly dressed nurse and thought I would double check on my mother’s medication.

“She is on her medication, right?”  I asked.

The nurse looked a bit confused, but she tried to hide it.  After all, none of this story is her fault.

“She is on her anti-psychotic medications?”  I asked again, assuming the answer would be in the affirmative.

“I don’t see anything like that on her chart,” she said with a look of confusion.

“We need to contact the doctor right away,” I said firmly.  “She NEEDS her medication.  If she doesn’t get her medication, you will have a problem on your hands,” I tried to emphasize as politely as possible.

“Okay, we’ll contact her doctor, but he is on vacation.”

I assumed the hospital, the doctors and the nurses would work in tandem regarding the stelazine and other drugs my mother had to take.  I checked with the woman who oversaw the group home.

“The doctor is out of town, and Mother is off her medication.”

Sheri’s eyes widened.  “I gave them the list of medications,” she said emphatically.

We both knew a tsunami would hit if my mother was not kept on her prescribed anti-psychotic medication.

I struggled to have a good time with my husband on our short trip to Austin.  My mind was elsewhere.  It was on my mother who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia since she was in her 20s.  Paranoid schizophrenia is a horrible disease.  We try not to discuss it in polite society.  “Break the stigma,” some mental health advocates say.  I wish they would come up with a new slogan.  BREAK THE DISEASE is what I would like to do.  Find a cure is what needs to be cried from the rooftops.

Three words:  FIND A CURE!!!!

Another few words:  There is a mental health crisis in America!  Most people don’t even know it.  Most people will be affected by it and pass it every day on the way to work.  The dirty, homeless man wandering the streets of downtown alone, the families torn apart because they can’t find help for their mentally ill loved ones who refuse care because of their mental illness.  The overcrowded jails, the tax dollars spent on band aids to fix a much larger problem than any of them realize, are all symptoms.

Four words:  It is a travesty.

On our way back home to Dallas, we stopped by the hospital to check on my mother.  As soon as I stood at the entrance to the unit, I could hear her screaming.  The nurse I had spoken to only days before was running back and forth from my mother’s room to me.

“What do you do when this happens?” she frantically asked me.

My heart sank.  Mother had been off her medication for three days.  It was evident.

As I listened to her loud, persistent cries, I knew there was no way I could help her.  There was no way for the nurse to help her.

What do I do when this happens?

“I don’t know what they do!  I can’t do a damn thing!  She has to go to the psych hospital when this happens!!”  I said stunned that this horrible situation had happened and could have been prevented had the doctor returned the phone calls that the nurses made, but he was on vacation.

That simple event of the lack of necessary medications caused a spiral effect.  Mother, of course, continued to spiral down due to more delusions, paranoia and hallucinations.  No talk therapy could have helped her at this moment.  No amount of prayer was going to cure my mother from the severe anxiety she was going through.

Nothing but medication was going to help my mother.  Not only did my mother have to suffer, but so did the hospital staff as they desperately tried to ease her pain.  It took valuable resources that could have been used on people who were physically ill.  It caused distress on other patients who had to hear my mother’s screams.  It caused her family anxiety and depression because there was absolutely nothing that could be done.  Nothing!  As I bang my computer keys to relive this story and its pain, I don’t care that my apartment is a mess or that I desperately need to bathe and comb my hair.  I don’t care about me at all in this moment because I don’t tell my mother’s story lightly.  There are repeated events in my childhood and adult years that distressed me, but this story is not about me!  It’s about you.!  It’s about your neighbor and your family.  It’s about your community and the first responders, the homeless who will be walking aimlessly down the street looking for anything to pacify the hallucinations, the people who will end up in jail chained to their bed because all they needed was their medication.

I worry and pray for everyone involved with Hurricane Harvey, but I mostly worry about the mentally ill patients and society’s misunderstandings about the importance of their medication.  There are many who will need their medications immediately to survive, but there is also an IMMEDIATE need for the government officials to address those who need their medications to stay sane.

 

Harvey’s Mentally Ill

As you pray for the flood victims, please say a special prayer for the mentally ill. I suspect there are some that have lost their medication and will have difficulty getting back on it. This can be a game changer for them and their loved ones. It can also be a game changer in the shelters if they have numerous mentally ill patients in desperate need of seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety, depression, hallucinations, trauma…. There is a shortage of psychiatrists in our country. I just hope some of them will be available at the shelters to write prescriptions that have been lost in the flood.  If not, the situation will become worse.  My prayer and hope is that the government officials are considering this piece of the puzzle as they try to put communities and people back together again.

It is not a topic that you’ll see on the news, yet it is the first thing I think of when I hear about the flood that has taken so many things from people.

It won’t be pretty if it is not addressed. Mental illness is not a respecter of persons. It can affect the rich and the poor, your neighbor and even your family.

Courage under Fire

It is Sunday morning, and I am once again late to church but determined to go.  I moved to this new town in east Texas a few months ago, and I know two people.  It’s time to make some friends and find a good church.

As I make my way through the parking lot, I see a young black woman with three boys heading towards the large church door.  The boys are reluctant to go, and I hear her encouraging them to keep moving.  She’s black and about to walk into a church auditorium filled with a 1,000  white people.

“Have you visited here before?” I say to her.  She looks quietly and says, “No.”

“Do you mind if I sit with you?  I’m new, too.”

“Okay,” she quietly says.

We walk in and there is beautiful music and the church is packed. We sit in the back because that’s the only place to sit.  Her boys are cleanly dressed but there are large patches on the middle boys jeans.  Two of the boys immediately ask to go to the bathroom. I don’t see them for the next 30 minutes.  My impulse was to check on them, but I figured they were her kids and maybe she needed a break from being a single mom.  I decide not to butt in, which goes against who I am.

While the congregation is singing a song neither of us know, I start talking to the lady I just met.  I already consider her to be a very brave woman.  I learn she just moved from Mississippi with her children because she had a job lined up to take care of an elderly woman, but the woman passed away.  She is like me, new to the area.  She talks more, and I learn she is like me, she doesn’t have much money.  She’s not asking me for anything, but I learn her electricity will be turned off in the next few days if she can’t put together $50.  She has also applied for numerous jobs and is clearly not lazy.

The title of the sermon is “Courage under Fire”.  We both listen intently.  We’ve been there.

I’ve gone to numerous Baptist churches, numerous times.  These days there are usually 5 – 10 beautiful, talented people on the platform of the church singing praises and alleluias.

The contrast hit me, however.  The contrast of so many white people in beautiful clothes rejoicing and the young single black woman in the back of the church with 3 boys wondering if her electricity is going to be turned off.  My new friend has gone to a few churches in the area, but they all tell her they don’t have any money to give.

When the service is over, I offer to take her family out for pizza but first I need to stop by my apartment and find some cash.  We agree to meet at the pizza place.  I finally arrive, and they are sitting in the hot baking sun waiting for me.

Tamara asks me like she’s already figured out she hasn’t made a new friend, “Are we getting this to go?”

I look at her and ask, “Do you want it to go?”  Then I realize, she thought I didn’t want to sit with them and have a meal.

Her boys are very respectful and eat salad without complaining.  Clearly, she is doing something right.  What kid fills his plate up with salad?  A hungry one.

Tamara and I visit as the boys eat their food hurriedly, then go straight to the arcades.  My new friend and I have money for food but no entertainment. The boys don’t give up asking her for a quarter to play a game.  I never hear them whine when the answer is no.

“I try to not let it show on my face, but I’m worried,” she tells me. “I don’t want my kids to see how worried I am.”

“Do you have access to the internet?” I ask her.

“I go to the library and use the internet so that I can apply for jobs,” she says. “My kids think I’m going to work.”

“I can’t go back to Mississippi,” she tells me.  “My family has abused me,” she says quietly but clearly.  There are no tears, but there is a look of resolve on her face.

“I love to cook.  I can work two jobs.”

She shows me numerous photos of special meals she has prepared. The strawberries dipped in chocolate catch my eye. I can tell she is trying to find her way through life and is not going to give up.  She told me that after the church service, she spoke to someone about her predicament. They agreed to pray for her.  She also left her phone number with them.

Hopefully, the beautiful white people at the affluent church will do more than pray.  I hope they will give.  I hope they will help her find a job, so she never has to worry again about her electricity being turned off.

As we part and go our separate ways, one of her boys looks at me and says, “See you next time at church.”  I hope he associates church with people who want to support his family.  I hope they feel welcome if they decide to return to the predominantly white church.  I hope when they’re my age, they will remember someone from church tried to help them.

I tell my family the story, and they worry that I am prey to scammers.  They have no idea how much joy it brought me to help someone in need.  I am out a few dollars for pizza and gas, but my tank is full.

 

Amidst the Storm

It is good to be alone at times, but when you know a storm is coming, there is safety in numbers.  Especially, if those numbers are on your side, and you know the storm will be hitting them, too.

On a very blustery day, I was sitting on the front porch of my sister’s beautiful home. I was alone, I thought.  I noticed a nearby tree with very thin limbs and some small objects on them.  As I looked closer, I could see that the small objects were little birds clinging to the tree limbs for dear life!

When the winds came, the birds did not move.  Their claws dug in deeper, and they stayed together.  There was no arguing amidst the group; they were partners.  They had resolve. They did not know if the storm might destroy everything around them. There must have been some innate voice that said, “Stay with your friends.  They have your back.”

I love the beauty of tall trees, but on this particular day, I loved the beauty of the bird family sticking together even more.Birds on Tree

Partners

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