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January 25, 2012

What's in a name?

Eileen Hector and her family received a double blow when her father, who had recently had a stroke, was diagnosed with both Alzheimer's disease and advanced lung cancer. Yet, even as she faced this profound loss, she received a special message and blessing from her father--just when something like this seemed out of the realm of possibility. 

NadyaPhoto, iStock Photo

In the days before my father died, my sister and I would sit and talk to him or listen to him while the hospice team made him as comfortable as possible. He had been transferred from his familiar home to the hospice house to help regulate medications to ease his pain.

My father always seemed happy to see us and would address my younger sister by her name, but never addressed me by mine. I wasn’t worried and didn’t make a big deal out of this.

Stepping out of his room one afternoon during lunch, my sister and I commented on this little peculiarity. When we returned to his room, my usually very chatty sister started a conversation and casually asked him what her name was and he answered her. She then asked him what my name was and he seemed to draw a blank.

He focused on my face and searched his ragged memory for the correct name, the name he had given to me at my birth. He seemed to know me, but was not able to verbalize my name. Perhaps in his medicated state he was not able to determine which of his seven children I actually was. He looked directly at my sister and in all sincerity said, “She is my rainbow.”

I’m okay with that.

Never before had he called me his rainbow. I had a few childhood nicknames, but that was not one of them.

My father was an Alzheimer’s patient that suffered a stroke and subsequently was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. He died nearly three months from the date of his diagnoses, one day before his 75th birthday. We had only a short time to prepare for his departure from this world.

I search the sky now and then after a rain, looking for a rainbow, remembering his sweet description for me. I understand it takes the right mixture of sun and rain to create a rainbow and I hope that in his lifetime I brought him a little of both when they were needed most. 
Copyright, Eileen Hector, all rights reserved.

January 20, 2012

At the Sharpe Edge of Loss / Cruzar la frontera de la pérdida

The following prose piece by Mel Goldberg takes us into that difficult space and time in which we learn not only that the end will come, but also how. In very few words, Mel takes the reader through a rich photograph of experience with a parent with Alzheimer's. We see--and feel--the edges of the situation, experience what it is like to believe in the unspoken, to hear the message we most want to hear, but coming from a direction we did not expect. We experience what it is like to affirm gratitude in all circumstances.  A bilingual writer, Mel has also provided a versión en castellano que sigue la versión en inglés. Es un testimonio bello y profundo de la relación especial entre padre e hijo, una relación que perdura más allá de la muerte.


Photo from iStock Photo by Andy Dierks

Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth

by Mel Goldberg

“How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child.”
                                                                                           Shakespeare, King Lear

We walked into the doctor’s office, the stiffness of Parkinson’s disease causing my father to take small mincing steps. Sitting in the two chairs across from the doctor, we waited as he opened a folder. My father voiced the question I wanted to ask but didn’t have the courage.  “The lab tests are conclusive, then?  No mistake?”
“It’s unlikely,” the doctor said quietly.  “You have the onset of Alzheimer's Disease.”
“How long, then, before it takes me over; before I no longer recognize people and things?”
“There’s no way to know. It could be years.”
We left the doctor’s office, walking silently that morning, staring at the ground.  The verdict dogged our heels, pulled at our coat sleeves.
“Well,” said my father after a few minutes, his usual good humor returning,  “I’m hungry.  Let’s get something to eat before I forget how to use a knife and fork.” I tried to smile, but only succeeded in wrinkling my lips a little.


Over the next few months, I realized that the doctor’s prediction was wrong.  It came on inexorably, like the tide at night, eating away at the shore.  Each week another facility was lost.

One morning before I went to run some errands, I made his breakfast and placed his medicine next to his plate, as I always did.  When I left, he was sitting in his lift chair in his bedroom, watching television and flipping channels.  His attention span had become short, so he didn’t stay with a program longer than a few minutes.  I suspected he didn’t comprehend even the simplest shows. When I returned several hours later, his food and medicine were still on the table, untouched, exactly where I had left it.
I went into his bedroom where he was still sitting in his chair.  “You didn’t eat.”

“I must have. I’m not hungry.”
He forgot to bathe unless I reminded and helped him.  When he did, he refused to use soap.  I reminded him to brush his teeth, but he rarely used toothpaste unless I put it on his brush for him.
One day as we were driving through the cliffs that surrounded our small town, he asked me a strange question. “How did these mountains get here?”

“They’ve been here for millions of years.”  I was about to explain tectonic plate pressure, uplift, and erosion, but I stopped.  “I guess I really don’t know.” 


He lost the ability to read, and even to speak in coherent ideas, but he never did forget who I was or what a fork was for.  His favorite meal was breakfast, and we went out often.  We always went to the same restaurant, a place where they knew us well.  I always ordered him the same thing—a Belgian waffle, covered with ice cream and chocolate sauce.  He always poured maple syrup on the whole thing, and ate it all. I filled up just watching him eat. 

I loved to see the shimmer in his eyes and the smile on his face when the waitress brought his plate to the table.  He was indeed like a child.  I thought of Shakespeare’s King Lear, but I knew that unlike that old man, there would be no recovery.  And I chose not to be the thankless child, sharper then a serpent’s tooth.

He had difficulty walking.  One morning, his arm around my neck and my arm around his waist, I helped him from the car into the restaurant.  The waitress, a woman in her fifties, younger than I was, hurried over to hold the door for us.

“You're a good son,” she said to me as my father shuffled to a table and sat with my assistance. “You're a very good son.”   
Now, years after my father died, I take some comfort in those words, wanting to believe he would have said them himself had he been able.

Photo by DNY59, iStock Photo

Mel’s first novel, Choices, was published in 2003. His second novel, Catch a Killer, Save the World is in search of an agent. He is at work on the final revision of his third novel, Counterfeit Killing, the first chapter of which won the Shared Pen award. Mel’s Website.
Más agudo que el diente de una serpiente
by Mel Goldberg

El título viene de Rey Lear de Shakespeare:
“Cómo más agudo que los dientes de una serpiente que es tener un hijo ingrato”.

Entramos en la oficina del doctor.  La rigidez de la enfermedad de Parkinson obliga a mi padre a dar pequeños pasos cortos. Sentado en las dos sillas frente al médico, esperamos a que él abriera el carpeta.

Mi padre expresó la pregunta que yo quería hacer, pero no tuve el valor. “Las pruebas de laboratorio son concluyentes, ¿entonces? ¿No se equivoque?”.

“Es poco probable”, dijo el médico en voz baja. “Usted tiene el principio de la enfermedad de Alzheimer”.

“¿Hasta cuándo, entonces, antes de que yo ya no reconozca a las personas y a las cosas?”.

“No hay forma de saberlo. Podrían pasar años”.

Salimos de la oficina del doctor, y caminamos en silencio por la mañana, mirando al suelo. El veredicto llegó hasta nuestros talones, tiró de nuestras mangas.

“Bueno”, dijo mi padre, después de unos minutos, su buen humor habitual al regreso, “tengo hambre. Vamos a comer algo antes que me olvide de cómo utilizar un cuchillo y un tenedor”. Traté de sonreír, pero sólo logré arrugar mis labios.

Durante los próximos meses, me di cuenta de que la predicción del médico estuvo equivocada. La enfermedad continuó inexorablemente, como la marea en la noche, comiendo la orilla. Cada semana, otra capacidad se había perdido. 

Una mañana antes de ir a hacer algunas diligencias, hice el desayuno y puse su medicina al lado de su plato, como siempre. Cuando me fui, él estaba sentado en su silla de elevación en su habitación, viendo la televisión y cambiando canales. Su capacidad de atención se había convertido en corta, por lo que no se quedaba con un programa más de unos pocos minutos. Yo sospechaba que él no comprendía aún el programa más sencillo. Cuando volví varias horas más tarde, la comida y la medicina se quedaban sobre la mesa, sin tocar, exactamente donde yo las había dejado.

Fui a su habitación donde aún estaba sentado en su silla. “No comiste”.

“Debo haberlo hecho. No tengo hambre”.

Se olvidaba bañarse a menos que yo le recordaba. Cuando lo hizo, se rehusó a utilizar el jabón. Cada día  tenía que recordarle de cepillarse los dientes, pero rara vez utilizaba pasta de dientes a menos que yo se la pusiera en el cepillo.

Un día, mientras íbamos en el coche por los acantilados que rodean nuestro pequeño pueblo, él me hizo una pregunta extraña. “¿Cómo han venido aquí estas montañas?”.
“Ellas han estado aquí durante millones de años”, respondí. Estaba a punto de explicar la presión de las placas tectónicas, la elevación  y la erosión, pero me detuve. “Supongo que realmente no lo sé”.

Perdió la capacidad de leer, e incluso de expresar ideas coherentes, pero nunca se olvidó de quién era yo o cómo usar un tenedor. Su comida favorita era el desayuno, y salíamos a menudo. Siempre íbamos al mismo restaurante, un lugar donde todos lo conocían muy bien. Y él siempre ordenó lo mismo—un gofre belga, cubierto con helado y salsa de chocolate. Él siempre le derramaba el jarabe de arce en todo el plato, y se lo comía todo. El solo hecho de verlo comer me llenaba.


Me encantaba ver el brillo en sus ojos y la sonrisa en su cara cuando la mesera le traía el plato a la mesa. En realidad, era como un niño. Pensé en el Rey Lear de Shakespeare, pero yo sabía que a diferencia de aquel rey viejo, no habría recuperación. Y opté por no ser el hijo ingrato, más agudo que el diente de una serpiente.

Él tenía dificultad para caminar. Una mañana, su brazo alrededor de mi cuello y mi brazo alrededor de su cintura, le ayudé a mi papá caminar desde el coche hasta el restaurante. La camarera, una mujer de unos cincuenta años se apresuró a sostener la puerta para nosotros.
“Tú eres un buen hijo”, me dijo la mujer. 

Mi padre arrastraba los pies lentamente a una mesa y se sentó con mi ayuda

“Eres un hijo muy bueno”, la mujer dijo de nuevo.

Ahora, años después de que murió mi padre, tomo un poco de consuelo en esas palabras, y deseo creer que él habría dicho las mismas palabras si hubiera sido capaz.

 La primera novela de Mel, Choices, se publicó en 2003. Su segunda novela, Catch a Killer, Save the World está a la espera de encontrar un representante literario. Está trabajando actualmente en la revisión final de su novela tercera, Counterfeit Killing. El primer capítulo de este libro ganó el premio de Shared Pen. Sitio Web de Mel.
Copyright, all rights reserved, todos los derechos reservados, Mel Goldberg.

January 18, 2012


Below is an utterly still yet dynamic image by Catherine Andrako. If you have never visited her blog, A Thousand Clapping Hands, add it to your list of fun things to do. Be prepared, though; it is a feast, and you won't want to hurry through it. In the meantime, you're invited to come into Catherine's artful photograph, experience its beauty, its poignancy, the power of its hushed-ness. It reminds me of Helen Schulman's words posted earlier on this blog: Love and light remain.

Catherine Andrako, all rights reserved.

January 7, 2012

Signs and Wonders: Our Next Theme

Ysabel de la Rosa
Many are the stories that tell of signs and wonders appearing after a loved one's death: a rose blooming in a blizzard, unexplainable "coincidences," messages discovered in unlikely places, and wonders brought to us by the natural world.... in short, things we cannot make up, yet present themselves both clearly and mysteriously. (The rose at left bloomed during our first snow in November. I planted the rose bush in memory of my sister.)

Even as a child, I was prone to notice such things, but when I read Lawrence Kushner's Honey from the Rock (a magnificent, soul-nourishing work), he affirmed for me that "nothing is too small to be a sign from God." I believe that the same is true when receiving or noticing signs from our loved ones who have moved on.  

Often, the natural world speaks to us. I found a single spectacular magnolia bloom in my yard on the anniversary of my mother's death, in a season when magnolias do not bloom. In fact, I have often been greeted by beautiful blossoms utterly out of season on important anniversaries, such as a loved one's birthday or date of departure. 

Sometimes the signs are gently humorous or more worldly. During the first year after my sister's death, on my hardest days of grieving, I would see something related to Chi Omega, her college sorority, whether a person in a T-shirt, a bumper sticker, or a decal. This had not happened prior to her death, and I might call this mere coincidence, except that these "sightings" happened only and consistently on difficult days. 

Other times, it could be a message, perhaps in a song. I remember standing in a grocery store, fighting the tears that can come on so suddenly, without warning, and thinking to myself, "What am I going to do now?" At that moment the line from the song playing on the speaker system was: "Live like you're dying." Like it or not, I know that is supremely good advice. Or, as the Spanish saying goes, "Hay más tiempo que vida". There is no time to be wasted. Wasted time is wasted living.

Onurdongel, iStock Photo
Speaking of time, a dear friend of mine whose 23-year-old son died suddenly from an undiagnosed illness, ordered a special watch for her younger son's birthday. When the watch arrived in the mail, its date was set to the birth date of the son who died, which was no where near the day or year of its arrival.

The key is to be attentive, to notice, sometimes even the smallest detail. I know from talking to friends and family members that these signs and wonders can lift our spirits when nothing else can. It's not about proving anything, just Being... Minding ... Seeing .... Listening ... and Opening. The way a flower opens.

aloha 17, iStock Photo
Do you have a story, essay, poem, photograph or other kind of image of a sign or wonder that has appeared in your life, connected to the departure of a loved one? If you do and you'd like to share it with the readers of this Blog, send it to ysadelarosa(at)gmail(dot)com.

Submissions of poetry, prose, and images relating to this theme will be accepted through February 29, 2012. Submissions accepted in English, Spanish, French, Italian.

January 2, 2012

Writing of the Divine Author

And to begin our new year, a poem of praise and affirmation by Katherine Walker. 

CREDIT: NASA, ESA, R., F. Paresce, E. Young, the WFC3 Science Oversight Committee, and the Hubble Heritage Team

Master Poet Laureate of the Universe

Master Poet Laureate of the universe
your thoughts are ablaze in omniscient God glory.
You hold the love calipers of time and space
in the palm of your hands,
fling stars and planets throughout the universe
with a flip of your mighty wrist,

call sun and moon from their chambers -
sun to light the day —
moon to light the night.

Flash beams of light shoot from
the tips of your fingers,
tell of your magnificent strength and excellent power.
When you move
angels fall prostrate at your feet.

You write symphonies on the pages of
your leather-bound God journal so the heavens can sing
forth your praise.

You are music.
You are light.
You are life.
You are truth.

You are the Master Poet Laureate of the universe.
In you we find perfect salvation on Golgotha's hill
unearthed on that first Easter morn.

You are my song.
You are the reason I sing.


Poem copyright Katherine K. Walker, all rights reserved. 
Photo: A young, glittering collection of stars looks like an aerial burst. The cluster is surrounded by clouds of interstellar gas and dust—the raw material for new star formation. The nebula, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina, contains a central cluster of huge, hot stars, called NGC 3603.