A lifetime of writing poetry

It seems that I have been writing poems all my life. I kept them in various places – notebooks, boxes, purses, books – until someone told me that I could actually have my poems published and share them with other people who might like poetry as much as I did.  Below is my first poem that I submitted to the magazine insert to the Sunday Commercial Appeal (Memphis TN). I think I was about 9.  Somewhere I have my (sort of) rejection letter, stating that they couldn’t publish it because they didn’t publish poetry. Here is New Orleans Lady.

New Orleans Lady

O, the lace! The frothy, frilly lace,

On the gown, and on the veil

that hides your lovely face.

O’er the satin and the silk

and the skin of rosy milk.

The raven blackness of your hair

that falls in tangled glory past your hips,

and the fullness and the redness

of your boldly curved lips.

The delicate arch of eyebrows

above slanting eyes of green;

The jewels resting on the breast

of one so like a queen.

I learned from that rejection letter that there were markets for poetry, and if I wanted to see my poems published, I would have to find an appropriate market. Unfortunately, my next poem was of an activist nature and I had no idea where to send it. I was 11 when I wrote this poem, entitled The Next War.

The Next War

So you hope there’s not another War?

Well, good! So do we.

But, man, you’d better kneel and pray,

For this is how it will be.

No other wars with shot and shell.

The next will be a living hell!

A scorching, searing, burning flame

that flicks its tongue at all to maim.

No bullet-quick death to still the pain,

But, far more deadly, radioactive rain

That torrents down from red-rimmed skies

And bloats and sears until all die.

Until all die? No! It can’t be!

Think not, foolish Man?

Just you wait and see.

God made Man and loved him

Though his actions proved him sin-

ful. But God intended for Man to be

The image of Him, and so you see

It hurts God to see our heads so swelled

With pride at making this Bomb so well,

While our feeble minds don’t or won’t understand

That this may well be the End of Man.

And what happens after that, O Man?

When you’ve laid waste God’s own dear Land?

Why, with the death of all men,

Then wars will cease!

And God will be satisfied,

For there will be Peace.

Life is a study in contrasts for me.  My husband and I recently went down to the Gulf Coast and tried to find Vrazel’s, one of the best seafood restaurants in the area. When we couldn’t identify it among the new eating places, we pulled into one of the parking lots to turn around and go back to our motel. We then decided to just eat at whatever restaurant we were at, because we heard so many good comments from people coming out of the restaurant. When we relayed our situation to our waiter, he told us that this was, in fact, the “old” Vrazel’s – what a coincidence! Of course, it didn’t look anything like the restaurant we were looking for, but it was new and beautiful and over looked the Coast with the waves coming in at dusk and the lights coming on towards dark.  So romantic! Ambiance was in abundance! And then I saw these two…One More Night.

One More Night

She’s on her second drink,

He’s on his second iced tea.

She stares at him,

He stares at his cell.

The only thing they do together

Is eat the house rolls.

She has a bowl of gumbo,

He has a bowl of salad.

Then their orders come…

A thick steak for him

A pile of fried shrimp for her.

Their server is tall and tan and lean and lovely…

Her customer is tall and tan and lean and hungry

The wife eats the fried shrimp, one by one,

as she stares at him.

He cuts the steak in tiny pieces and deflects her stares

by looking around.

She keeps her eyes glued to his face,

seeing no one else.

His neck swivels back and forth,

looking at everyone else

but her.

She pays the bill.

He pays the price.

One more night without a fight…

Fast-forward to yesterday when I went to one of my favorite places to write, our local Cracker Barrel.  There was a sweet couple who had come in to eat lunch. They laughed and talked as they ate, and when they were finished with their meal, he got up to get her walker. There were many little “comforts” that he had apparently made and attached to the walker – soft foam to cushion her hands, a little basket to put her things in, and a place to fold and secure her sweater. Here is what I observed and wrote about in The Right One:

The Right One

He helps her into her walker

(Still her protector),

She pokes his chest with her finger

(Still the joker!).

He gives her the sweetest look,

She gives him her biggest smile!

Briefly they hug as if getting ready to dance.

As he straightens her blouse,

She puts her hands on his shoulders.

“You two look as if you’re getting ready to dance,”

their server says.

“No, our dancin’ days are done,”

she smiles.

“But we can still prance and joke and have fun!”

he laughs.

Getting old is great, when you chose 

The Right One!

The truth is, I HAVE to write! No writer’s block for me!  I write at all hours of the day and night, when the spirit moves me. I never remember what I composed if I don’t write it down, so I try to be ready! People, pets, and poetry are my passions in life…and what a grand life it is!

How to Learn NOT to Crash and Burn…Part Two

Caregiver Stress – It can blindside you when your main focus is on the person you are caring for.  I had come to such a low point psychologically in dealing with mother’s myriad problems and “The System” that my health began to decline due to the heavy burden of dealing 24/7 with someone else’s personality. My doctor doubled my low-dose medications – “to prevent a stroke or heart attack,” she said. I was aware of dark changes in my own personality due to my having to be the Warrior Daughter, protector of the one who used to protect me.  I realized I was in bad shape but I didn’t know how bad until I decided to write out my feelings, since I had no one to talk to. I sat down at my computer and I spilled my guts. The only way I could control my emotions was to express my comments as a prayer to Almighty God, because when you have no one to tell your troubles to, you can always pray, right?


It is said, God, that You don’t give people more trouble than they can bear, but I think that is a lie. You gave my mother’s care to me during the prime of my life and she slowly sucked the life’s blood out of my soul, one day at a time, for 20 years. That’s how we are supposed to live according to the Bible, isn’t it? One day at a time? Well, that’s too long. I learned to count my pleasures in seconds, to take a deep breath because there was only time for one breath, to graze through the day because I had no time to sit down and eat a proper meal. I didn’t always remember when or if I had showered or brushed my teeth or taken my medications. Eventually, when I had some time, I didn’t know what to do with it because if I was not physically in her presence, she was ever-present in my mind.

Her whistle, that shrill sports whistle, which she blew so feebly (“I just don’t have enough breath to make a loud sound,” she said) was a constant in my life, the sound not too dissimilar from the cell phone beeping that I had a message, or the microwave beeping that my tea water was done. Those were sounds I could ignore. But how do you ignore your mother? Just what the world needs – sounds with obligations attached.

“I love you, darling,” she would say as I tucked her into bed at night.

“Yes, mother, I love you, too,” I would answer, not meaning a word of it. But to lie about Love! How awful is that?!

How I longed to say “Why can’t you just die and let me live the remaining years of my life without you in it?!” Mother was very goal-oriented. She would have done it. She often told me that if there was anything she could do for us, just ask and she would do it.


We don’t need your money, I would say. Truth was, she needed our money because she had none. A couple of years in the best privately owned-assisted living facility in our town saw to that. And all those bills associated with rehab and then long-term care – the last month’s bill was for $6000! – that ate into our retirement fund. No, none of this was paid for by Medicare. Every month the costs escalated, often without telling us why. Mother wasn’t rich but she got in because we had the money. (Note the past tense, God. HAD the money.)

Family is supposed to matter. But I don’t consider her my family now, just my obligation. I don’t love her, but I have a duty to her because of a blood tie that I cannot undo.

I have prayed to be released from this duty, God. Actually, I have prayed for her death to release me from this duty, but You don’t seem too big on giving people what they pray for. She’s still here. She’s still alive. And she is thriving under my care.

NO, I am not proud of that. I did not do it out of love for her, or You, or for any reason other than I am tasked with her care. And I have to do it until one of us dies.

And therein lies my problem.

I haven’t had any time to travel, no time to dream or read, uninterrupted. No time to cultivate friends who come over just to talk. No long phone conversations with whomever I want. No time to watch TV without her comments. (“Stress Fat – have you ever heard of such a thing? Your fat surely isn’t from stress. You need to get out more, go to an exercise class. Did you know that belly fat indicates heart trouble? And high blood pressure? And high cholesterol And cancer? And all that runs in our family, so you need to go to a doctor and get yourself tested and get on medication. I could call and make you an appointment, if that would help…)

Thank you, but NO, mother. (The only thing that would help is if you would just drop dead – literally.)


You have affected my husband’s health. In retirement, he tried to shield me from your insidiousness, and for a time he succeeded. But his worry about me, our declining finances and our increasing arguments because I couldn’t go or do things with him because of your care eventually got to him. And I blame you. And I hate you for that and for so many other things. In fact, I cannot find anything that I love you for. I don’t even like you.

Your care is progressive and unrelenting. You drip. You leak. You stink. You suck food off your dentures. You either have diarrhea or constipation and either way I have to clean up after you. I use more rubber gloves than an S&M convention. I have to kneel before you to put on your bedroom shoes, which hurts both my back and my pride. I do not like the symbolism of bowing before you, but you do. You are, after all a LEO, King of the Jungle!

My stomach is in knots. I am bleeding rectally. I have headaches. I have nightmares. I have cut myself off from all contact with people. All I think about or dream about or plan about or look forward to is your death. If I didn’t take anti-depressants, I would die first.

Mother, I have spent 20 years trying to spare you pain and suffering. But now, I just want you gone. I know you will go to Heaven. You have been president of your Sunday School Class for over 50 years and you have been connected with every good cause there is either through donating your time or money. You pray many times a day. I have to read your daily devotions to you because you can no longer read them yourself. You definitely are a good person, and I am sure God will welcome you into Heaven, won’t You, God?

I have heard that when people are dying, their mothers come and show them the way to God’s presence. So that is why I am choosing to go to Hell.  I don’t want to spend Eternity with my mother even if You are there, God.  Why don’t you just send the ones we loved to greet the incoming? Then my husband and I could be together, probably along with our dog Jack, if dogs do go to Heaven…

And so, God – Thank You for listening, and please forgive me, for I have sinned.  I do love You. I just couldn’t pull this off – loving her, I mean. And I am so, so sorry…

Today, my mother died, and I am glad…

When I read this, I was horrified! This wasn’t ME! This was some evil, negative, deranged person whom I did not recognize and did not want to become.

Thankfully, my mother never knew the depth of these feelings against her. I buried my feelings as best I could and continued to provide the best care I could for her. During the last two years of her life, mother’s situation continued to deteriorate. Her condition was such that she really needed access to skilled nursing care for some of her more serious ailments. The last year she was in our house, we had to take her to the emergency room 9 times in that 12-month period. Most of the things that prompted the ER visits could have been handled by a trained nurse.  At one point she suggested that it might be time for her to consider moving to a nursing facility, and she told us that she had found such a place through her hairdresser.

One of the last times she was in the ER, they had to keep her in the hospital. The Social Workers there looked into the nursing facility and found out that they were full. (The only way to get in was directly from the hospital.) A month later she was back in the hospital, and this time there was an opening and she was allowed to enter the nursing facility that she had picked out.

For the first few weeks, I was at the facility every day and sometimes twice a day. Finally the nurses told me that in order for mother to “bond” with the staff, I really should stay at home more often than coming out there.

So I stopped going every day to the Medicaid funded facility that she chose to spend her last days in. Of the 5 facilities she had been in for rehab during her last 6 years, it was the best one – but it still had room for improvement. I continued to go to see mother several times a week (never at the same time) – and I continued my downward spiral.

Some people suggested therapy, but that was not an option for me. I know it works for many people, but I did not think it was right for me. Friends and family members can be a great resource. Just talking to someone who already knows you – like you used to be – and who had faith that you could be yourself again, was helpful for many people I knew. But I had cut myself off from all friends, many family members, and other contacts at work. In fact, I was working from home in order to be available to mother.

The ME that I had become had shut down every feeling and every thought so that I could focus with laser sharpness on the crisis at hand. When mother died, that should have relieved my vigilance, but it left me just as vigilant without a crisis to focus on. I couldn’t relax, or sleep, or work, or do housework. I just WAS… The one thing I had in my favor – other than a wonderfully supportive husband – was that I had a writer’s mindset, seeing every day as a new day “on the set”, observing myself and the people around me as I “play-acted” my way through the days. Reality became negotiable.

Who did I want to be? Oddly enough, I didn’t want to end my life; I wanted to CHANGE it.  I didn’t want to go back to any period of my life.  I wanted to go forward. So I took myself on as a client and asked the telling question:  What do you want to do for the rest of your life? I had already found out that my life made no sense at all except as a writer, where all my disparate experiences and jobs and associates finally had meaning within the covers of a book. So I began to construct a new life for the ME I wanted to be, until I began to feel again, to think again, to plan again, and yes, – to write again.

The things I missed most during my self-imposed years of exile were things of beauty- the arts (music, dance, plays, painting), the seasons (celebrations), and the ability to find and express the simple Joy of Being Alive. I knew I had to construct a life for myself that let me share what Life had given me with other people. I am just now beginning to interact with other people without “assuming the position” of challenger or defender. It is still very difficult for me to relax in the presence of others. But writing out my feelings still helps.

I wrote a book in 2011 and self-published it, and that was the springboard for this blog. I have 10 more books which I have been doing the research on for years. As I finish the research for one book I put it in a bag, and it sits – along with the other ready-to-write books – in a row of overflowing bags facing my desk. An Agreeable Man is the second book in my new life, and I can hardly wait to see how it turns out!

How to Learn NOT to Crash and Burn…Part One

For the past few days I have been constructing the personalities of each of our main, secondary and tertiary characters that make up the cast of characters in An Agreeable Man. I prefer to base my characters on actual people I know, so that I have a good idea of them as full-blown individuals. And so I study their speech patterns, their idiosyncrasies, how they look, how they deal with other people, what their moral/spiritual/religious beliefs are, their outlooks on Life, what their day-to-day situations are and how they deal with them, etc. That is what I have been doing for the past week, and it is going very slowly. I have 3 more people to contact and then I should be able to “play chess” with each one of them on my story board!

We have left Merle in the aftermath of a sudden death, and a most unsatisfactory funeral, and a surreal gathering of friends – but no family – at her house. She is beginning to reflect on Death and what it means in general, and in particular, what it means for her. (Since I rarely go to funerals, I did not have much to draw on to adequately present the range of emotions that a death provides to family and friends. Here are some of my experiences which range from the notification from afar of a friend’s death to being totally present in arranging every aspect of the funeral itself.)

This past weekend, a dear friend of our family died. One of his daughters marked his passing with a thought-provoking quotation:

Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. it is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again! (Henry Scott Holland – 1847-1918 – was Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. He was also a canon of Christ Church, Oxford.)

When my husband’s mother died, he wrote a lovely eulogy and gave this heartfelt and moving tribute to her at her funeral:

“Every day, when I came home, Mom was there – dinner on the table, clothes cleaned, house spotless. My Dad was a very precise, methodical person who took care of everything not related to the house. When he died, I was really worried about Mom being able to take care of things like income tax. So I called and arranged to come down to do her taxes. When I got there, she said she had already taken care of it because she didn’t want to waste a visit with me  doing taxes! That was the first time I realized how resourceful she was. After Dad died, Mom took up art (oil painting) and ceramics. She was congenial and enjoyed being with other people. (Here my husband could only get out a word or two to describe her…)

She was Sweet…Caring…Supportive…

She always put others first. She did not brag on her accomplishments. She was a determined person. She loved her family, her church, her friends.

One by one, she outlasted her friends and family members. All the original pallbearers she had chosen had passed away and were scratched off her list, one by one.

My mother is gone. I loved her and I will miss her.

She was a gentle soul…”

It is a different situation when you are deep in caregiver stress to go through the roiling emotions of arranging a funeral while denying huge negative feelings you didn’t even know you were capable of. This was my situation. 

First of all, the last five years of my mother’s life were chaotic for us all, but particularly for me, and I have never shared these feelings before.  I prayed a lot, but I did not recognize any answers to my prayers and so my faith was shaken. The only way I could deal with Mother’s daily life was through empathy. I had read a poem someone had written and it was the only tangible guidance I had.  And on a good day, it worked!


















I do not know who composed his poem, but I used it as insight to dealing with mother after her stroke rendered her almost speechless. I had put it away after I first read it, but I couldn’t find it when she died. I wanted to read it at her funeral. The day we were to leave to go to her out-of-state funeral, it appeared on my bedside table, then on the counter in my bathroom, then in my office as I was closing my computer, and finally beside my luggage. How can you ignore something that obvious? The message was clear: read this at my funeral! And I did. This poem helped me to put myself in her place, feel what she was feeling, see what was happening through her eyes.

And it almost killed me…

Senior/Elder Care – Part Three of What’s YOUR Situation?

This third situation has a happy ending! My aunt was involved in her family’s decision to move her from a house she could no longer care for into a facility that she was familiar with. I thought she had had the perfect setup. There was a lady who cooked for her and cleaned the house and took her places if her son couldn’t do it. But no one was there during the nights, and several bouts with illness made her family concerned for her wellbeing. Senior care outside the home can be very expensive or it can be reasonable, but the fact is that my aunt’s resources were mostly tied up in her house. But her house had to be sold in order to fund her stay in the new facility. And for a while, she missed her house and her lifestyle…and all the memories therein.

My aunt moved around a good bit all her married life. She would breeze back into our town, having lived in faraway places, with big smiles and big hugs and the ability to make you feel as if you were the most important person in her world. Whatever house she found – after each move – was transformed into a lovely home, thanks to her interior decorating skills. Her culinary skills were legendary, and I treasure the recipes she shared with me. The most outstanding thing I remember about her was that she was FUN! She could talk with you on any subject as seriously as needed, but there was always a twist to her thinking that led to giggles and then outright laughter! I’m sure she could be sharp-tongued, but never to me or in my presence.

She never asked someone to do something outright; but after discussing whatever she wanted your help with, you found yourself offering your services – even insisting that she let you help her. And she would reluctantly accept – “that is, if you really want to.” And then she praised your help over and over to you and to your parents or whoever was nearby. She knew how to get things done. Occasionally she ran into a brick wall with her husband. They didn’t see eye to eye on some things, and usually it didn’t matter, but when it did – watch out!  Once, my aunt wanted her bedroom and living room done over and had actually begun acquiring bed linens and other small items. But her husband said he liked things just like they were, so leave them alone. And then he went on a 3 day, 2 night hunting trip. He left his house on Friday and came back late Sunday to her house, although he didn’t realize it until Monday. She had alerted remodelers and painters, and had purchased new furniture and equipment and curtains. And due to excellent prior planning, it was all accomplished within 48 hours! (It was sort of like that TV program where the man takes his wife to dinner and a movie and when they come back, their house has been transformed.) Needless to say, it was mighty quiet at their house for a while…!

I liked her attitude about things, even though it differed from mine. I would complain about having to wash dishes; she would tell me how she loved to make her china and crystal and silverware SPARKLE! I complained about having to make up beds and straighten up rooms; she said having a place for everything and everything in its place made her feel energized and calm at the same time! She never had nothing to do.

So – when I heard that she was going into an assisted living facility, I didn’t know what that would do to such a vibrant person. And here’s what I learned from watching her situation play out. Every person is unique. Even one parent who has been part of a couple for 60+ years is not that same person when facing an entirely new situation as a single person. Suddenly her needs/wants/wishes are addressed. And for those who are used to putting the needs of others ahead of themselves, this can be disconcerting…What DO I like? Want? Need?

My aunt did not need nursing care. She was able to keep her same doctor and her same medicines. She had known about this particular facility for many years and felt that it truly was a “good” place to be. (In fact, she used to belong to a jug band and they had entertained the residents at this same facility several years back!)  Friends and family are close enough to visit, but as she told me this past Sunday when I called her, they don’t visit as often as she would like. (She would LIKE to see them every day!) “I need my hugs!” she said. I love the way she answers the phone. After the initial “Hello,” and she knows it is us calling, she says in her musical southern voice,”Well, hey, darlin’!”

I asked about the food there and she told me the meals are pretty good and that, on balance, “this is a nice place”. She watches some TV but since she has eye problems, she “reads” books on tape instead of having actual books to “read”. Even though she forgets a few things and may tell you the same story or ask the same question several times, she still has a very sharp mind and still can ask the most pertinent questions!

I asked her what she does during the day, what her routine was. “Same old, same old,” she said. She goes to meals in a dining area with the other residents. There’s help if she needs it with putting on clothes, or anything else. She has a spacious apartment with her bed and her living room furniture nicely separated. Displayed are oil paintings she has done, china she has painted and pictures of her family members.

Since she seemed so healthy, I asked her how she was feeling. “I’m feeling real, real good, as far as that goes,” she said. “My bedroom is at the end of the building – a long ways away – so that’s how I get my exercise, and I need it!” She has always been an active person and walking is still the best exercise, even with her walker.

“But enough about me! What’s going on with you all?” She still has a healthy curiosity, and she really wants to know about each of us. So we filled her in.

She really seems happy, but I ask the defining question: “Do you miss living at home?” “Of course I miss my home,” she said. “But I don’t miss housekeeping!”

She recently had a birthday, and now – at 97 – she has lived the longest of any of our family members. We should all be so blessed! Live Long and Be Happy, my dear aunt!

Let’s Get Rid of Management, or so says Barry Wishner…

I enjoy reading thought-provoking articles, but when I saw this excerpt from an article in the Wall Street Journal – one of a series on management do’s and don’ts – I was intrigued by its message and its format (left justified). Any body out there listening?

Let’s Get

Rid of 



don’t want

to be


They want

to be led.

Whoever heard

of a world


World Leader,


Educational leader.

Political leader.

Religious leader.

Scout leader.

Community leader.

Labor leader.

Business leader.

They lead.

They don’t manage.

The carrot

always wins

over the stick.

Ask your horse.

You can lead your

horse to water,

but you can’t

manage him

to drink.

If you want to

manage somebody,

manage yourself.

Do that well

and you’ll

be ready to

stop managing,

And start


(as published in the Wall Street Journal

by United Technologies Corporation,

Hartford, Connecticut 06101)

Senior/Elder Care – Part Two of What’s YOUR Situation?

To Recap: The topic of Senior/Elder care is addressed within the framework of an article I wrote for hire. In Part One, my husband’s mother’s experience living in a step-down facility is detailed. Part Two tells my mother’s story, which involved being in several institutions. The highlighted parts were not in the original article.

My mother, on the other hand, was as sharp as the proverbial tack, mentally. Her problems were physical ones. Over the years, she had been in and out of the hospital many times, both emergency visits to the ER and hospital stays for surgeries. She lived with us for 22 years in two different houses. We built an apartment in each house for her, at her request. Mother managed her own affairs, including driving, well into her late 80s. My husband and I both worked full-time, and it was a great help that Mother was able to drive herself to her numerous doctor visits, her hair appointments, her grocery buying, her church activities, and visiting with friends.

At age 88, she was diagnosed with bladder cancer, her second cancer diagnosis, and within a week, surgery was scheduled. At Vanderbilt. In Nashville.  Suddenly, I was faced with balancing my work schedule in Murfreesboro with driving two hours round trip to stay with Mother for 4-6 hours a day while she recuperated at Vanderbilt.

Mother came away from that surgery with a urostomy bag that I was taught how to put on and take care of every day until the day she died years later. Not a pleasant task, I assure you. The loss of privacy for my mother and myself was embarrassing, to say the least, but necessary. I found that not a lot of health care professionals know how to take care of a urostomy patient. I had to teach more than one person what to do as a back up in case I wasn’t there to handle any emergencies.

Be careful what you pray for. The daily travel, constant worry, my work, my family obligations – all combined to make my doctor double my two low-dose medications “for protection.” She thought I was a candidate for a heart attack or a stroke, she told me! So when a nurse friend of Mother’s recommended a convalescent center close to home, we thought it would be helpful to all of us. Mother would have round-the-clock-care, and I would finally have some rest.

What a nightmare that turned out to be!

Mother arrived at the facility with a potassium drip, but due to a “communication mixup”, the nursing staff never took it out. We got her a wheelchair so that she could have some mobility, but she quickly began to decline and assumed the fetal position in bed, semi-conscious. She was there for 5 days. The doctor assigned to the facility refused to see her during this time, saying he would drop in on his regularly scheduled weekly visit. On the fourth night, I walked away from her bedside and went to the kitchen where I was joined by a nurse in green scrubs. My first impression of her was that she was so pretty, it was just a joy to look at her! She said, “You look so unhappy.  What’s wrong?” “Everything”, I said, and I told her about Mother’s situation. “Have you talked with the person who is in charge here?” “Yes, I have, when I went in to complain that the only food Mother will eat is yogurt and ALL of their yogurts were over 6 month’s out of date. She didn’t believe me until I took her to the refrigerator and she saw for herself. To her credit, she threw them out.”

“M’am, I don’t want to tell you what to do, but if that sweet lady were my mother, I would take her back to Vanderbilt as soon as you possibly can – or else she will die.” The nurse hugged me gently and I felt a calmness I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I was used to running on FRANTIC! I thanked her as she went out the door.

It was morning a few hours later, and I called my husband, telling him we were going to take Mother out of the facility. When he got there, the morning shift was coming in and the night shift was going out. Both shifts of nurses were horrified that I was taking Mother out of the bed and putting her into her new wheelchair, and into our car. I was told I couldn’t leave without doctor’s orders. As usual, he didn’t answer his page. Once again, they called the doctor. Finally, I said “I need someone to take this drip out of her arm. How hard can it be? If you all don’t help me, I will take it out myself!” Thankfully, a nurse stepped forward and took the drip out. Looking over the assembled group, I asked to see the nurse who had been so kind to me during the night. They told me they had no nurses other than the ones there, and their scrubs were not green, anyway. I never knew who she was, but I’m pretty sure I know where she came from…

As we left the facility, we decided to take her back to Vanderbilt where the doctor who had operated on Mother said she was within a few hours of dying, from “potassium overdose”. 

Mother was ultimately released to our home with Home Health Care provided. That service was great and Mother became quite attached to the workers who helped her recover. Six months later, she was told she could resume normal activities, which included driving. She even felt well enough to go visit her sister in another state, but on the very day we were leaving, she opened her patio door, ignoring the handhold my husband had installed for her, and fell onto the concrete patio, breaking her left arm at the shoulder (ending her driving ability). We had been on our way to work on my husband’s mother’s house and had planned to drop Mother off at her sister’s for a visit. Mother had a nurse friend who offered to take care of her for the week we would be gone. We paid her $100 a day for a week’s care. Little did we know that that “care” consisted of keeping Mother in a recliner with her arm immobilized, which caused her arm to heal with a permanent gap at the shoulder.

Once again, we made the round of doctors, therapists and specialists, whose various, uncoordinated treatments produced a badly healed arm which became chronically painful. The home health care provider had ceased business operations in our area. Through a neighbor, we located a Nashville-based provider, and Mother regained a certain level of mobility, even though she had to use a walker.

Then, Mother’s heart began functioning erratically, causing temporary loss of consciousness and several falls, and it was determined that she needed a pacemaker, even though she was past 90. We went back to Nashville for that operation. When she was being wheeled back into her post-op room, the doctor came in. I thought to came to tell me how the operation went. He was just furious – with Mother! He apparently only took patients that could enhance his reputation and her crushed shoulder left bone shards in the very place he was going to house the pacemaker! He had to put the pacemaker in a less desirable place. My first thought was how painful that must be for mother – excruciating pain that painkillers couldn’t touch – but he continued to yell at her. I asked him if the operation had been a success, and he said it had. Then I asked him to leave Mother’s room and not come back. I later filed a complaint with the Medical Board, my mother’s heart doctor and her GP. I never heard anything about it.

It took about six months for some of her strength to return, but now there were three specialists in two towns to see, plus juggling side effects of multiple, uncoordinated medications, plus the dentist (ill-fitting dentures), plus the eye doctor (macular degeneration), plus dealing with her loss of sleep, and depression (due to chronic severe pain.)

On the positive side, Mother began to walk without a walker, and she “exercised” by walking from her patio to the driveway and back five times a day.  She still did her own cooking, medications, dressing, personal hygiene, bed making, paid her bills, read  books, magazines and newspapers, and kept up with the world through TV. And she had an opinion on everything! She was 91.

I will wrap up my mother’s final few years, in and out of institutions, until her death at age 96 in 2008.

So much for our family. Your family situation will pose different questions. How do you decide when it is time to entrust your loved one’s care to another? Some indicators may include a parent’s inability to maintain the activities of the home, such as paying bills, yard work, cooking, steps, frequent falls or suffering the isolation of living alone. Health problems to be considered include memory loss, confusion about taking medication, forgetting to eat or overeating, and safety concerns such as heaters and stoves left on “by accident.” Should you bring assistance into the home? Or look at assisted living or nursing home care?

Much will depend on how open your family member is to receiving help. And on the caregiver’s part, there are the emotional issues involved in making decisions for your parents, and the guilt one feels when we are unsure that we are doing the right thing. We have to be loving but firm when we find conditions that seem unsafe or unsanitary. And we have to question our motives as well.

Nashville is fortunate to have many wonderful senior care providers, and housing options from in-home care to assisted living and nursing home care.

It was at this point in the article that I addressed each real-life problem of our mothers and matched them with specific organizations and their contact information as to possible solutions. 

Senior/Elder Care – Part Three. Next week, I will conclude this series with the story of my aunt (mother’s sister), who is in a nursing home in her home town and she loves it! She is 96.

Senior/Elder Care – What’s YOUR situation? (Part one)

The Wednesday chapter of AN AGREEABLE MAN will be updated on Friday, August 4.

A few years ago, I was commissioned as a researcher/writer to write an article for a Nashville publication for a very nice sum of money. The publication asked me to tie together the services of several local providers to the needs of local seniors, and asked that I personalize it – “humanize” it – by adding in some real-life stories. From first hand experience, my husband and I had had to deal with the failing health of our mothers during the past few years. Between their two very different situations, we had run the gamut of problems (and solutions) inherent in many senior care issues. And so, I began by interviewing the heads of the service providers that the magazine wanted me to publicize, got background statistics about  the Senior Care industry, and mixed it all together with our family-based “real-life” experience. Then I felt I was ready to write.

When I turned in the article, I received a nice letter and a check for $1500! However, as I read the letter, I became very upset! The president of the magazine who had assigned me the article told me that they were paying me for the “background information” I had written. But they couldn’t use it as an article because it was not believable – ! I called the president and told him that not only was every written word true, but also I had left out the truly bad parts. As he talked on, I realized he had no concept of what “elder care” involved.  

“Sir, how old are you?” I asked. “Thirty-five,” he answered. “Do you have a plan for your parents when they need your care?” “Uh, no,”, he said, “but they are relatively young and I won’t have to face that situation for a long time…” 

Oh, my…

That’s when I told him I had torn up his check and would mail it back to him that day. I also reminded him that I now retained all rights to this submitted-but-not-published article, and that I would encourage him to get a researcher of his choice to look up the problems inherent in caring for family members and see how “unbelievable” my article was in comparison.

Here is Part One of the article I submitted, which was never published…until today.

Like most problems in life, the topic of making healthcare decisions for one’s parents seems a benign issue – until it happens to you.  Suddenly, or gradually, you will be called on to make life-changing decisions that will affect not only the lives of your parents, but also your own personal and family life. Trying to do the “right thing” for either group puts you squarely in the middle, and can rob you personally of your success as a family member and a business person, not to mention your own health and well-being. That is, unless you have an understanding partner and some resources that can help you every step of the way in making informed and wise decisions.

Many of us are planners: we like to peer into the future and choose options for dealing with what we think the future holds so that we can be prepared when it comes. If we don’t plan ahead, the default plan is crisis management. Senior care issues are often precipitated by one or more crises, few of which lend themselves to neat solutions unless we have taken the time to inform ourselves beforehand.

Take, for example, the situation of my husband’s mom. After her husband’s death, Mom lived alone for 20+ years in a three-bedroom house that was centrally located to her church, her grocery store, and her hairdresser. She was able to drive to these places and manage her own affairs well into her late 80s. When Mom broke her ankle while planting flowers in her front yard, she had to have home health care for six months, and really bonded with her “visitors.” She loved the company!  On one visit, she introduced us to her “vampire,” eyes twinkling, referring to the nurse who drew blood to check her vital signs. Eventually, she needed more care, and went to stay with her daughter and son-in-law in another state. Soon other decisions had to be made because both of them were working full-time.

Fortunately, Mom’s retirement income allowed her the option of moving to a step-down facility since she was capable, at that time, of independent living. (This was comparable to living in a hotel: there was maid service, meals taken in a nice dining room, activities to do with people she came to know and get along with. And there was a schedule to her days, and people to talk with.) She lived in a one-bedroom apartment with a living room, a small kitchenette and a little balcony. Although she used a walker, she managed to perform most daily activities without assistance.

Mom was incredibly healthy. She bore her two children in a hospital 50-60 years ago, and managed to stay out of the hospital until she broke her ankle late in life. When she went into the independent living facility, her blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and weight were all normal. She never had smoked, and lived the moderate lifestyle of a stay-at-home wife and mother who cooked three meals a day from scratch and supported her family members in all their activities with her love, help and presence.

Eventually, her mental abilities began to decline, and she was moved to the assisted living side of the facility with the same apartment set-up but with more care. She was checked on at more frequent intervals and escorted to meals and other activities. Finally, she was moved to another floor whose tenants were in various stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s. She was 93.

During all of this, my husband and his sister had to make some major decisions. What should they do with their mother’s house – which had been vacant for a couple of years – and with her things? They agreed to get the house ready to sell, but when they began looking for the title to her house, they were in for a surprise. While still driving and apparently mentally competent, Mom had gone to her bank and emptied out the safe deposit box and had taken everything home “for safekeeping.” Many sentimental items were lost.

(Incredibly, we had just been down for a visit with her and had gone to the bank to make a list of the things in her safe deposit box at her request. She was looking for the names of her husband’s pallbearers.) Documents had to be recreated through the legal system before work could be started on her house to get it ready to sell, and her pre-paid burial policy had to be re-created as well. Both my husband and his sister got Durable Power of Attorney so that they could act on her behalf. Fortunately, Mom had made a will years ago, as well as a Living Will.

My husband and his sister tried to split the burdens that having someone’s life imposed on your own presents. Mom’s house was in one state; my husband’s sister and her husband lived in another state; and we lived in a third state. We made many trips back to Mom’s house, dealing with contractors and suppliers to get Mom’s house in shape to sell. After a couple of bad experiences, we hired an excellent realtor. Whatever money the house brought would go toward her care because Medicare paid nothing for Assisted Living care. Mom’s daughter saw to her day-to-day finances and needs, and came by often to visit.

However, when my husband’s sister had major surgery requiring many months of recuperation, and her husband had a heart attack, they did not get to visit Mom for several months, and Mom’s condition quickly deteriorated. On one of our house renovation visits we brought Mom’s brother for a visit. She did not recognize him. On another renovation visit, we were reminiscing with Mom about when my husband – her son – was a small child.  She laughed delightedly and clapped her hands. “You mean I have a son?” she asked. Chills went over me and my husband. “Yes, Mom, I’m your son.” They hugged and then sat back down. “Now, tell me,” she asked my husband, as if on a new topic, “how do you fit into the picture?” She had forgotten the concept of what a “son” was.

Below are some of the “real-life experiences” that I left out of the original article.

Our visits were always unsettling. Here we thought that Mom was being well taken care of, but a combination of events made her every day life miserable. Early on when she went to the dementia wing, she still had enough presence of mind to follow us to the elevator when we got ready to leave. “You know the way home,” she said, and she tried to get in the elevator with us. “No, Mom, this is your home now.” She looked very confused and uncertain, and we were heartbroken. One of the nurses took her back to her room.

Another incident made me so angry. We couldn’t find her when we dropped in for a visit a few months later.  Her room was just a couple of doors down from the nurses station, and the hallway was filled with an extremely high volume of loud music.  When we asked where Mom was and commented on the music, they said she liked it loud.  They unlocked her door – ! – and sure enough it was her TV turned up so loud that my ears hurt.  Mom lay on the bed, immobile. Honestly, I thought she might be dead. She wasn’t, but their assessment of her as “liking” the loud noise, and locking her room so that she had no escape from the noise, was mind boggling. The solution to that problem was to leave the door unlocked, and to keep the TV off, as she no longer could process the programming.

Another time, our visit was over about noon and the nurses told her she could come to lunch. She told me that she really would rather not eat, if she had to sit at a table with crazy people. No wonder she lost weight during her last months there. So many more incidents like this have come to the surface in the writing of this blog.

I am crying as I write this! I just have to file these memories away for the time being, but I must tell you this: I took copious notes of Mom’s comments and our observations during our visits, just as I did with my Mother’s decline into institutionalism, and someday they will emerge in a book. I am staring my future in the face and if my husband and I don’t help our children plan for our care, who knows what is ahead for us?

Watch this blog Thursday for the next part of this series on Senior/Elder Care, in which my (now-deceased) mother’s institutional experiences will be presented as well as those of her sister, who is still living in an assisted living facility – and loving it!


I do not understand how any writer can have writer’s block as long as he/she can read the daily news. You can’t make this stuff up! Just become a people watcher/news reader and problem solved! Truth IS stranger than fiction…

Japanese Police Arrest Haiku Poet After Five Killings

This headline appeared in last weeks news and instantly attracted my attention.  I knew that words could kill, but those must have been some strong words to kill five people! As I looked into it, I found that “Japanese police … arrested a man when he disappeared after five people were murdered in a tiny mountain village.” Police officers found three corpses inside two burned-out houses and then uncovered two more bodies in separate homes. The five victims, who all appeared to have been battered to death, were in their 70s or 80s and represented a third of the population of the hamlet.  When Kosei Homi, 63, was found in nearby mountains, he was dressed only in his underwear. Police found a haiku stuck to the window of Homi’s house which read: “Setting a fire – smoke gives delight – to a country fellow.”

The article included a definition of Haiku: “The haiku is a traditional Japanese form, a three-line verse of 17 syllables in a five-seven-five (syllable) arrangement. It customarily evokes natural phenomena and usually involves a reference to the seasons.”

Here are some examples of my Haiku-style poetry … with a  twist:


Fan in hand

I ponder how to say

“I love you”

in Haiku;

No words…



I wake to find

A precious hour


No time to dream…

Late for class.



Thoughts of hot food 

Make me tremble

With hunger.

Reaching, I clutch…

old rolls.



The moon, bright pumpkin,

Intrudes on lovers


Garlic for supper.



Bargain Hunters

My computer problems have resolved (fingers crossed!), and let me tell you what I did.  I went back into the earliest AN AGREEABLE MAN posts and introduced and expanded  Merlie’s and Jack’s friends.  There will be other additions (and possible deletions) as the plot thickens, and as more characters are introduced or fleshed out or deleted. Meanwhile, The Schedule rules, with poetry & short writing pieces on Mondays and Fridays; Tuesdays and Thursdays will host fact & opinion pieces; and Wednesdays will be devoted to continue writing AN AGREEABLE MAN, as the plots & characters unfold.

Today’s poems are short, but sweet!


We need four girls…

One with a good car,

One with a parking card,

One with a fun attitude


One with a brain – !

With these four things

We can go anywhere

And do anything…

Until they catch us!

We are the Coupon Ladies!

The Bargain Hunters!

We love to get

More for Less…

While looking good

And having fun!


I would let pork chops burn

In my cast iron skillet…

If you wanted

A hug.

I would wake up early

Or stay up late

For one of your

Slow, sweet kisses!

I would put off bathing,

Or bathe twice a day,

Just to be in your arms

And hear you say

“I like the way you smell – !

Due to Technical Difficulties…

Well, I am so frustrated I could scream…Computer problems are beyond me.  I tried all day to solve them, but the solutions are not forthcoming!  So I will try again tomorrow to post the Wednesday segment of AN AGREEABLE MAN.

In the meantime, here is one way I have found to relieve frustration of any kind.  I am going outside to submerge myself in Nature!


Come with me to the country and let’s just walk around.

Get out of your truck and start looking,

Start smelling,

Start melting into the whole scene.

The grass and the trees

and the rocks …and the bees…

Oh, yes! Nature can be dangerous!

You might get stung,

You might get bitten,

You might get poison ivy – but

You might get hooked!


Take a good, long look.

360 degrees, if you can.

Where do you fit into the picture?

All the green, green grass,

All the puffy white clouds,

In the glorious blue sky!

Birds singing and flying,

butterflies, and yes,

The bees!

Still flying around,

Still pollenating, still doing their thing,

(and they will sting, you know – it is their thing!)

No artist could adequately paint these colors


These colors come with emotions built in.

Each hue creates a memory,

Each scent ties you to certain flowers

(remember the honeysuckle?)

And they will evoke this afternoon

When we remember it.

And the sunshine!

My God! How soft and warm it feels,

Like a kiss from the Creator,

or an arm around our shoulders!

You asked me once if I were a religious person;

I am not very “religious”.

I have not yet found God in any church I have visited.

My God is so much bigger than a building!

And God is here!

Not a personage, but the God that is Beauty,

and Peace,

and Order,

and Purpose,

and Hope,

and Forgiveness,

and Love…

Most of all


That God is here

Don’t you feel it?

It is as if God came down one day

and had a passionate affair

with flirtatious Earth!

And the result is all this beauty and glory!

A true Love Child…

The Earth hums and shimmers

And sighs and cries and dies and is reborn

As Life unfolds before her, within her,

every Day and every Night,

Over and over again.

Too soon,

It’s time to go.

Take one last breath,

Stay one last minute,

Close your eyes and feel

All this around you!

Smell the Earth!

Take off your shoes and

Wiggle your feet in the soil.

Feel the warm air on the hairs

of your arms!

Drink it all in…


After a while, you wil swear

That the Earth is talking to you

Because you can almost hear

Her sweet whispers in your ears…

Her message?

‘Come back soon!

I’m not done with you, and you

Are not done with me…’

She whispers enticingly

‘Come back to the country

And lose yourself,

And find yourself,

at the same time…’

What does She mean?

She means that you need to hear the message

She is passing on to you.

The message that you can’t hear

at home, at work, in the world you live in,

because of all the noise

So, above all,


There is a message here just for you.

It has your name on it.

It is yours for the taking.

Write it down if you have to,

because you will need to remember it,

Especially when you go back

Into the Jungle…