Bowling with the Masons: When yer former athleticism flees the scene.

Sort of looked like this

Last week I took Lietta to the local bowling alley at Hugo’s here on South Hill. As we drove to the site, we began talking about what we used to do, what we might still be able to do and whether or not we were kidding ourselves.

In retrospect, Lietta was not kidding herself and opted to sit behind us and be a cheerleader. I, on the other hand, being all macho and guy-like wanted to present as a still vigorous and athletic 71-year old to  my Masonic brothers. Luckily for me, there were only three to witness my “athleticism.”

My fellow bowlers, one in his 30’s and one closer to my age seemed to have not lost the majority of their touch and were easily headed for at least a score of 100. Me? I could not seem to recapture the rhythmic sense of step and motion that would allow me to stand serenely, a bowling ball in both hands with the thumb and fingers locked in place, take my usual routine of one slow step forward followed by a series of rapid smaller strides … right up to the line with my arm now in forward motion about to release my grip and send the ball streaking down the middle of the lane toward a possible strike.

Yeah, right!!

The dance steps no longer responded to my mind’s summons causing me to start and stop a couple of times and then go back to position one. Finally I just lumbered forward trying to time the forward movement of the ball with reaching the line. The result was a beginning of somehow sideways throwing the ball at the lane and two of the first three were gutter balls and the third knocked down a terrified ten-pin.

About half way through the line, I openly vowed to “break 50” before I was through. Shouldn’t have done that …. by the tenth frame me and 50 were neck and neck. So I carefully and tentatively attempted a somewhat nonchalant throw for my tenth frame.

Didn’t work. My stagger to the line was more pronounced, I began to lose balance and when my foot slid across the line, all hell broke loose. Across the line the lane is coated with slick stuff that turned my legs into runaway roller skates and I was not sliding, but careening down the slippery lane. Finally fell forward as my legs went further forward but then landed flat on my back. When my head banged on the lane almost gently, I started to rise but then told myself to hell with it and lay it back down while I collected by inner dignity.

Next thing I know I’m surrounded by three Masons all attending my possible woundedness. I got to my hands and knees and then managed a standing position, told my wife “I’m okay honey!” and staggered back to the couches trying to look as if I had done it all intentionally for entertainment purposes.

Nobody bought it … and I had to admit that the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. I have a painful bruise on the right side of my hip to prove it. Over the years my arthritis thumbs have become painful in the same gripping place on both hands and the right thumb was mad at me for forcing it to hang on to a heavy marble sphere and throw it at a bowling lane.

Well … my dignity seems intact but the facade of athleticism ain’t. I’ll have to resort to saying “I wish I could still do that!” to folks with whom I am watching a flying dunk in an NBA game on television like I used to tell my kids when we watched Mike Jordan dunk from the foul line.

It was also helpful to take Lietta to Hogan’s Restaurant and eat a tuna melt with my co-masonic-bowlers.

And the jacuzzi at MUV the next day was good to my sore bones.

Arthur Fall Down Go Boom

This foto is ten years old, taken after I got dizzy at work and fell off my chair in my module. But it does reflect how I felt last week.

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He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside still waters.

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people sitting and text

In May, my mother-in-law, Joy Ellsworth, had had enough with a pain in her right side and finally agreed with our urging her to go to the hospital emergency room. Despite the fact that her primary care physician had been encouraging Joy for some time to do just that, Joy’s style was to call the provider’s office, schedule an appointment and make her complaints in person, apparently assuming that eventually blood and urine tests would sufficiently inform the doctor as to what might be source of her discomfort and pain.

Joy at age 81 was being treated for diabetes, was legally blind; possessed of vision only out of the corner of one eye and dealing with intestinal problems she might have assumed to be an irritable bowel syndrome or something else manageable with medication. An extremely stoic personality when it came to her health and privacy issues, Joy tended to long-suffering rather than open herself up to an assortment of medical tests and explorations. She seemed quite ready at the drop of a hat to pooh pooh the notion that she might be seriously in need of more dramatic medical attention and that her ability to endure discomfort had worked for her long enough to cause her to attempt to ignore her condition despite warning signs.

What the medical provider knew in terms of Joy’s complaints, was that appointments, blood and urine tests were not going to provide a solution so long as Joy could “manage” her discomfort and avoid learning anything catastrophic about her health.

We were in the hospital Emergency Room for more than 8 hours. During that time a sequence of medical tests and examinations were run including scans, an EKG and x-rays. None of the tests indicated a cause of the unremitting pain in her right side just below her rib cage  …. until the last exam, an ultrasound. The result of the ultra sound revealed a growth on her liver and a suspicion that required a biopsy.

Based on the tests, all signs pointed to liver cancer.

In June the results were in, the diagnosis was stage 4 cancer in the liver, bile ducts and lymph nodes. The only question was the origination point from which the cancer had metastasized. It had not begun in the liver and eventually the conclusion was reached that the start point was somewhere near the connection between the stomach and the large intestine.

Joy was referred to an oncologist. By this time, my wife’s siblings had been fully apprised of Joy’s condition and its implications.

My perception of Joy’s stoically heroic or heroically stoic (makes no difference) way of expressing herself about her life, her fears, her expectations, is that the stoicism was part of a larger self-presentation that tended in a narcissistic direction. For years Lietta and I had discussed the seemingly over-arching  concern Joy exhibited in terms of how she was perceived – by everyone – and not just immediate family. Particularly after she became a widow, her need to portray herself in a spot-lighted way became more pronounced.

Lietta and I had arguments about how we ought to manage our interactions with Joy in an open and honest manner, given Joy’s tendency to act as if she were constantly on stage and in front of an audience. On more than one occasion, I found myself caught in a three-way conversation with Lietta and Joy in which I was obviously the audience Joy was speaking to even though her interaction was with Lietta her daughter.

 

The rest of what I write is entirely my opinion and judgement based on my observance of events, behaviors and listening to dialogues between Joy and others.

Once having become aware of Joy’s “performance” and “audience-minded” way of speaking to individuals when other people were present, it became somewhat of a challenge to hold an honest conversation with a mother-in-law who treated everyone in the same self-interested way: she only told you what she wanted you to know … and nothing more.

Under the diagnosis of a terminal illness, Joy could no longer reveal to you only what she wanted you to know. We all knew what Joy knew and had confirmed with her medical providers: she was dying and her condition was not fixable.

Remaining heroically stoic, she rejected the idea of chemo or radiation therapy if such could not hold out a promise of more than six months assuming therapeutic success. Remarkably poised about not wanting unnecessary physical distress and adamant in seeking to preserve her dignity in dying, Joy signed documentation requesting non-heroic measures in treating her condition and agreed to accept hospice care when the time came.

She wanted to die at home, planned to do so and hoped to do it by falling asleep and not waking up.

At the outset, stunned family members flocked to her home almost en masse – which was great for raising her spirits but also harmful in draining her strength and energy.

Lietta and I – next door to Joy’s home – experienced a sense of being somewhat suddenly pushed aside as her children and grandchildren arrived to see mother and grandmother one more time; to “be there” for Mom or Grandmother, and what appeared to be an attempt to one more time act out a previous time when Joy had hosted and presided over a Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration.

Only this time, Joy was in a recliner, breathing through a tube connected to an oxygen machine via a 25 foot rubber tube and doing her best to be the hostess with the mostess.
The visits simultaneously raised her spirits and drained her strength, requiring that she frequently retire to her bed to sleep while the celebration continued. That’s the way she wanted it to be.

For Lietta and I, the two years of Joy’s life in Spokane, during which time we had witnessed the onset of her declining health which was kind of offset by a greater frequency of intimate interactions in private meals, movies, long drives, a seemingly endless array of rummage and craft sales during the autumn months of both years, shopping (including dropping her off at a store and leaving her to leisurely push a cart through an entire Fred Meyer’s, Target, Shopko, Burlington stores. There were church visits,  shared meals at home, Red Hats meetings and visits to several senior centers, church services at the Episcopal cathedral, the Methodist, Lutheran and U.U. churches.

All that came to an abrupt end as Joy became temporarily lost in all the family affection that surrounded her.

The decline in her health was surprisingly rapid. The arrival and departure of family members eventually trickled down to her four adult children. Then a time came when they needed to return home to take care of their own affairs – all the time promising and intending to return for the final scene.

On Sunday, August 13th, Lietta and I inherited the care and keeping of Joy who by that time was almost entirely sleeping her way through each day. On Monday we helped her walk to the living room to her chair after she awoke. After a few hours, she was ready to return to her bed, but her strength had failed her and she was unable to stand or walk. Lietta called hospice and ordered a wheel chair which was delivered that afternoon. We managed to return Joy to her bed. She did not leave that bed again.

By Wednesday, after emotional episodes with Joy who was in and out of coherency,  Lietta and I had concluded that Joy was more than likely not going to be able to pass in her home in her sleep. We contacted the hospice folks who were of the same mind.

She was taken to a hospice facility in North Spokane where adequate care was given and skilled nursing immediately available on a constant basis. Lietta’s brother flew in from Arizona to be with his mother at the end.

Friday morning, we gathered around Joy’s bed, Lietta tearful and bearing up with a courage I cannot measure. Joy was lying on her side, seemly asleep or unconscious, her death rattle already sounding. The hospice chaplain was miles away and not scheduled to visit until the afternoon.

Never taking her eyes off her mother, Lietta asked me to read scripture. I read The Lord’s Prayer verse by verse with Lietta repeating after me and speaking to Joy. When we were finished I started into the 23rd Psalm (the Lord is My Shepherd).

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside still waters.”

At some point, when Lietta was repeating a phrase I had just read, Joy opened her eyes, looked directly into Lietta’s face for a few last fleeting moments and then closed her eyes again.

I did not see her breathe again. Lietta called for the nurse who confirmed Joy’s passing.

The last mortal vision Joy saw was that of her oldest daughter attending her until the final moment.

 

I have no idea how long it will be until Lietta is fully at peace with her mother’s passing. She is tormented by a sense of regret at her perception of how hard and harshly she treated her mother in encouraging her to perform the necessary self-care, seek the necessary training and information regarding blindness, diabetes, pain management, not to mention the household chores Joy could manage in maintaining her domestic independence.

Lietta says she badly wants a do-over, believing that in encouraging her Mom to do as much self-care as possible, she (Lietta) gave up her desired role as a daughter and unwillingly became a care-giver in the absence of professionals to whom Joy would not give attention.

I’ve witnessed her sense of loss and the greater sense of alienation from some members of her own family who have misread and misunderstood the actions she took in asking her mother and the rest of her family to take the illnesses seriously; who expected them to be able and willing to prepare for that time when the finality of Joy’s mortality was  unavoidable.

I see her pain daily.

I weep for her weeping, and grieve for her grieving. She has become over the past month, a monument to personal courage, grace under fire and her own fierce and unyielding commitment to the honoring of a life and integrity of dying.

69 going on 70: The mind, the body, the spirit.

grandad_and_child_2

Three months ago I finished my 7th decade and embarked on the first year of my eighth. I seem to have come to a greater intimate friendship with more folks ahead of me than behind me. In fact, most folks behind me with whom I share something of an intimate relationship are family members. Most of those ahead of me are social friends connected with the neighborhood, my lodge (which has more younger members than older), the Order of the Eastern Star chapters and of course the local senior centers (In 3 of which we maintain membership.)

It’s the older ones who concern me; not because they are older and more frail, but because for the most part they remain enthused and animated about many of their life activities. I admit, I don’t know what goes on when they are not on a public “stage” and act without a public script in the privacy of their homes or marriages.

I guess that is what I do too. I have a public persona with which I inform most people of what I want them to believe me to be. However, only my dear Lietta knows what I’m really like in the intimate privacy of our home and marriage. I suppose that for the most part such things will remain private through our coming end times.

We’ve had a major transition in process going back to the time of my retirement now five years back. She used to ask me what I saw myself doing after retirement and insisted that I get used to the new mode by being off the clock and off the agenda for at least six months.

How did that work out?

Depends on how it is defined. Not having to go to work every day was wonderful and my most initial reaction was that each day felt like Saturday did when I was working.

Coping with the reality of fixed income and uncertainties of our future health was meaner.  This proved to be more provocative and stressful than I anticipated. Almost immediately I commenced awakening in the middle of the night and became conscious of the fact that I seemed to be counting money in my head in anticipation of meeting bills and making all the ends meet. It would be almost four years before I achieved an internal state that allowed me to get away from my thoughts … and that not necessarily completely.

Then of course the curse of awakening out of habit at 4:30 or 5:00 am – something I began doing years before retirement because for me the most creative and alive time of my mind was early in the morning. I would leave for work at 7:30 but by 8:30 my mind had essentially gone to the dull side as I labored in the public assistance office, from which I’d arrive home grateful to be with my wife but mentally exhausted.

That was in 2011.

By the end of 2012 we had moved out of our 120-year-old home in Pacific County which had proven to be too much for us to repair and maintain on fixed income.  We were renting in Spokane.  We eventually moved into a condominium that has proven to be totally more enjoyable than we’d anticipated and in a small urban setting that totally elevated our community life as compared to retirement in a fishing village of 200 souls in Pacific County.

There have been ups and downs, wonderful experiences in the city and traveling about – especially camping and yurting during the summer months. We’ve driven back and forth to the West side of the state for family activities and to relatives in Idaho and Montana and have encountered interesting alternative locations that remain tempting and inviting.

However … back to a 70-year old body, mind and spirit. My health is quite good for my age. My dear one persuaded me to enter into what is called a paleo diet by which I have lost a lot of pounds, lowered my blood pressure significantly and have subsequently felt more “lubricated” as in a well-oiled functioning machine even if it is 7 decades old.

So why do I often awaken in the mornings with a sense of dread that seems to originate in the context of whatever I was doing in my dreams. It’s as if I woke up and suddenly remember that someone near and dear to me had passed on or that I would be going in that day for a root canal. Some sense of unease without having something specific about which to worry.

Actually, beyond a vague sense of dread or uneasiness, I’m more aware of losing interest in all the things I used to be driven about and planned on doing when my career wasn’t competing for my time and attention.

What’s with that?

Is this what aging is about?

I still love to read and write, blog on line, but other activities like sports don’t do for me what they once did. I used to gorge myself on fantasy baseball and basketball and in some years maintained upwards of 20 separate teams at sites like Yahoo Fantasy and ESPN Fantasy Sport. I’m down to 8 teams which is not something facetious for me and that’s enought to hold my interest.

The most consistent interest that seems self-sustaining in my love of music and enjoyment of playing the piano. Lietta gifted me with a second instrument, something I’ve wanted for a long time. It’s a recorder, made of wood, plays mostly like a clarinet and is best played gently. No hard blowing as in saxophone or clarinet both of which I played well in high school. With some motivation from my siblings (Randy and Adrian Ruger) last April, I’ve upgraded my piano-playing and find myself serenading my sweetheart with a bunch of new songs as well as all the old pieces I’ve played for her for years.

I composed a piece for her as part of our wedding gifts to each other in 1996 and am of a mind to compose more. As for the recorder, I want to learn to play it the way Native American musicians such as Coyote Oldman play it. With available electronics I can play along with any piece I can find and am looking forward to it.

16 years ago while on vacation, I began writing poetry using what for me was a mystical device combining two separate phrases from my collections of thoughts and quotes. My poetry is mostly lyrical and I’m drifting more to writing poetry as competition to my not-running-down desire to write.

I’ve authored a historical novel and an assortment of blog articles and that part of me has not faded much. I still want to write on spiritual matters and opine about what’s going on in the world.

I’ve come to think of aging as an awareness and experience of my body and mind getting older and possessing the right to slow down, get rusty, start aching and creaking along. Arthritis is my daily companion but it is not now and does not seem to be on a path to debilitating pain, discomfort and ability.

I thought I’d lost my hearing in one ear but a visit to the VA medical center corrected that with a cleaning of a large wax deposit that had accumulated with my constant abusive use of Q-tips. I had concluded that as I got older, my hearing was disappearing.

Not so.

Energy and stamina aren’t what they used to be my wife and I know I will never single-handedly move us from one location to another again.

So I still get up early, sometimes in a bad or sad mood, warm up as soon as my sweetheart awakens smiles and me and rings the bell I gave her as a signal to bring coffee, come back to bed, and read our electronic devices like smart phones and kindle.

I’ll get chores done during the day, cook a meal or two, and fall asleep in the afternoon in my recliner and again in the evening while watching a TV program before bedtime.

Growing Old Ain’t What I Thought It Would Be