Monday, January 21, 2019

Bitter pills by Terri Hall

       My friend Terri Hall joins us today. The story she tells is important because it's so sadly familiar. It ends a little abruptly because the situation is rife with abruptness and non-endings and time spent in limbo--by both people who need care and the ones who love them. The ones who give that care. 
On Saturday, December 22, 2018, my mom called. She was crying hard and in pain. Trust me, that is not at all like her. I knew she was having  terrible pain and had just a few days ago taken her to the doctor. Why he didn't do anything at the time, I have no idea. Anyway, her pain was now much more severe, so I took her to St. Vincent's in Kokomo. They found a compressed fracture in her lumbar area, gave her meds, and sent her home. 
The next evening, I took her back. This time, they had a bed available, so they kept her. (They didn't tell me that was the reason why they sent her home the previous evening.) On Tuesday, they performed surgery. I can't pronounce or spell it, but they squirted an epoxy cement in the disc to stabilize it. It's considered an outpatient surgery; however, because of the lateness of the hour, we were to take her home the following day. Usually, people feel instant relief and can go back to work the next day. Mom had complications and would have to wait till Thursday.
Complications. That is putting it mildly. Apparently, when a person is elderly and especially if they are in the beginning stages of dementia, anesthesia can affect their brain. For several days, my mom was in agony if not dosed with pain meds. The morphine made her hallucinate, so they put her on Advil- and Tylenol-type pills. Finally, the following week, she didn't sleep as much and her pain was tolerable. Her mind was more lucid as well.
At one point, she didn't know any of us. She told my daughter Pamela she looked familiar but didn't know her. Later, she my husband Tom was her own husband. She thought I was her mother, who had been dead for over 43 years. When she first thought I was her mom, I patted her hand and went out the door crying. At the end of the hall, I quietly sobbed. I had a small and bitter taste of what the families of Alzheimer’s patients go through.
Fifteen days after she was admitted, of which I was there for 14 of them, she was taken to a nursing / physical therapy facility to finish recovering. I had already spent several hours at the hospital that day, but had to go back and take her. It was after hours and the place didn't have a vehicle that ran at night; furthermore, the hospital needed the bed.
My sister came up from Tennessee to take turns with me and to visit with mom, but after the first day she was here, she became sick with whatever is going around and has only made it twice for short periods. Pamela and I took turns at the hospital several times, but she couldn't always make it, then she, too, became sick.
Mom is now at a facility in Kokomo. I've watched some of the PT, (mom calls it kindergarten stuff.) I explained it was necessary to gauge her progress and to build her strength. I'm not sure she completely believes me. I’m not sure I completely believe myself.
We are hoping that at the end of two months I'll be able to take her home again. In the meantime, if she transition herself from the bed to the wheelchair and back again can on her own, I'll be able to take her to church and on the occasional joy ride.
I'm praying to that end, but I can't help but wonder if she'll ever be able to come home. She's depressed, hurting, and a little scared. It breaks my heart to see her like this. After doing some of the PT, she's barely able to hold her head up. I can see the despair in her eyes. She believes she'll die there.
We continue to pray for her, visit and encourage her and ourselves. I hate seeing my mom like this. It breaks my heart a little more each day.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

If You Woke Up Rich…

From Peru Indiana Today in February, 2018. I don't work at the library anymore, but it was a lovely job and a wonderful place to spend work hours. I miss it, but I'm glad to have the time to put into other places. 

There was this meme on Facebook today that said, basically, if you woke up with 500 million dollars in the bank, how would you quit your job? I've been thinking about it ever since I saw it. And I can't help but wonder about something.

Why would you want 500 million dollars? Why would anyone? I mean, I definitely get wanting or needing more money than you have. We raised a family in fear of emergencies, because we never had that nice cushion in the bank that was recommended. Eating out was a Big Deal because we couldn't afford to do it very often. Paying book rent at the first of the school year for three kids meant robbing Peter to pay Paul until things fell back into place along about November, just in time to shop for Christmas. More money would have been nice.

It still would, I guess. But, if you're not going to give it away or help someone who needs it, what is the point of having a lot of money? Maybe I have been luckier than many in that I've liked my jobs, both the one I retired from and the ones I have in retirement. There's nothing more fun than writing books, not much that's more fun (for me) than working in a library.

If I had 500 million, even if I had five million dollars, how would life be any better? I suppose the house would be bigger and have more bathrooms. Maybe I wouldn't compare prices at the grocery store or book the cheapest flights or drive my car until its wheels threaten to fall off. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't clean my own house anymore and I know I've always said if I were rich, I'd sleep on clean sheets every single night. I might spend more on clothes. And closets. I'd give more.

But I'm not sure what I'd do once I was know...not doing what I do now. I don't think sunrises or sunsets would be any more beautiful, my cats more accepting, or my friends any better. I think relationships might change in crumbling, scratchy ways that would cause pain. I think there are people who would decide they liked me because I was rich, and...really, is that a good enough reason?

So, okay, if I wake up with that 500 million, you can have it (except for a little bit--I'm not entirely stupid) and I'll just keep the life I have. But I'd love to hear your answers to why you'd want that much money in the first place.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Cutting it in layers by Liz Flaherty

Every now and then, my two kinds of writing cross paths, and the columnist writes from the perspective of a romance author. I hope you don't mind.

I'm a storyteller. I write contemporary stories about people I know or I am or I want to be. I try to tell them in layers, so that the story’s residents are people and animals you care about and the events are ones you believe. When you reach the end of one of my books or columns, I hope you sigh with pleasure because you feel like you’ve been there. Then I hope you go on to the next book or column.

So this morning I was thinking—I do this (or say I am) when the words aren’t coming and I’ve only written like 12 of them in the last hour—about where those layers come from.

From the past. My grandparents had a fire in the big brick house where they lived. My grandmother, skinny as a rail except for her advanced stage of pregnancy, picked up the treadle sewing machine and carried it downstairs and outside. I don’t know what else they lost, but no one was hurt and Grandma had her sewing machine. This was over 100 years ago, but the story hasn’t changed by so much as a syllable in my lifetime. I don’t know how she did it—I have one of those treadle machines and I can barely move it to clean under it—but she did.

I model my heroines on that one incident. The women I write about will never be extraordinary in looks or intelligence or accomplishment, but if life demands it, they will be able to carry the sewing machine down the steps.

From experience. If not our own, ones that are close to us. An accident happened in my bookEvery Time We Say Goodbye, the result of which is that entire families’ lives are changed forever. Two accidents much like the one I wrote about have happened locally. One of them was nearly 50 years ago, another 25 years ago. Our community still feels the ripples.

From listening. My nephew Kory and his wife Amy have seven children between them, so when they go as a family, they usually take two cars. In December, they went to a family gathering several hours away. The three teenage girls rode with Kory. He listened, laughed, learned, and was scared, and he knew all the girls better when they got there.

From airports. I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t love airports. We sit with our Starbucks cups and watch people and write their stories in our heads or even on our laptops if we haven’t already run our batteries down. We hear accents and close our eyes to try and remember them. We feel the emotions of people saying Goodbye. Of others saying Hello.

From music. Although I write in silence, I hear music in my stories. I see my people dancing in the kitchen—they all do—and there is joy in Writerville.

Where do you find your layers?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The best of things... Liz Flaherty

When I can't think of things to write about--or, more likely, when I'm in danger of writing about the same things too often--I make lists. My favorite this or that or the other. Since I've complained fairly incessantly about the last couple of years, which haven't been my favorite anything, I thought I'd make a list of things about 2018 that were good things. Happy things. I'd love it if you'd offer up some things in the comments, too.

1. Best movie. I don't watch all that many, but I loved Mary Poppins Returns. The cast was so wonderful I don't know how they got so much goodness onto one screen. Seeing Dick Van Dyke dance and Angela Lansbury sing would have had me in tears if I hadn't been smiling so hard.

2. Best time. Thanksgiving weekend, when most of our immediate family was in one place. I remember when our oldest was born, thinking I'd never again be able to love anyone like I did that little baby, but then finding out with his sister and brother how love just grows and multiplies and gets stronger because it's braided instead of single-strand. There are a lot of braids when family gets together.

3. Best bittersweet moment. At my brother's funeral, when one of his best friends related a certain streaking story that relieved and delighted everyone who was there. Thank you, Jim Conley. There was much light offered by friends on that sad day, but yours was the brightest.

4. Best play. Ole Olsen Memorial Theatre, under the direction of Jayne Kesler, presented The Diary of Anne Frank. Kurt Schindler, who's been making me laugh since the day I met him, made me cry. Carsten Loe as Anne was...I don't have the words for how good she was. Sarah Luginbill's magic turned Ole's small stage into an attic so convincing you forgot it had ever been anything else.

5. Best song. When Duane sings "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

6. Best new place. There are many contenders for this--you only have to look at the buildings in downtown Peru--but Black Dog Coffee in Logansport is my favorite. Scott Johnson has done as much for art and artists of all media as anyone I've ever known, and he's still doing it.

7. Best TV show. Murphy Brown. It's not for everyone, I know, but it is perfect for me. No, better yet, it's less than perfect. Its characters are flawed and so are its stories.

8. Best book. Too many to choose from. My friend Nan Reinhardt's A Small Town Christmas is right up there. So are 2018 releases by Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Laura Drake, Mary Balogh...

9. Best day. Today.

So, Happy New Year. I hope you share your bests--or worsts. Mostly, I hope 2019 is wonderful.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018


This was printed Saturday, December 22, in Peru Indiana Today. Apologies for such a quick turnaround on the blog, but...well, it's Christmas Day. I hope you're having a great one.

Every now and then…well, most days, I look out the west window of my office at the trees and the fields and the big round bales of hay that manage to convince me they are deer if I only see them out of the corner of my eye. And I get philosophical. I’m not sure if that comes with age or experience or weariness, but there it is. I find myself with tears on my face and not knowing where they came from or why they’re there. I laugh out loud here in the silence of this beloved room, yet am unable to pinpoint what’s so funny.
          This morning, in this quiet place, I’m thinking about Christmas. I’m not “feeling it” very much so far this year. As long as I’m with family or friends, I can find it in the laughter and music that is shared there, but the feeling leaves me too soon. There is still the blessing to be found in believing, the joy in giving, and the rush of pleasure that comes with lights and wide-eyed children.
          And yet.
          There is so much depression at this time of year, so much loneliness, so much awareness of what we don’t have. Relationships may have changed or disappeared through the year. Loss might have become such a part of you that it seems to have its own heartbeat. You may try to go back to sleep when you wake in the morning because facing the day is just…well, it’s beyond you. You just can’t.
          Yes, you know how lucky you are and how wonderful life is and that soon you will feel better. You get the thing with counting your blessings and faking it until you make it and smiling even though it makes your cheeks wobble and your eyes water. You get all of that.
          But now it is Christmas and even though you love the lights and the kids and the excitement and the music, you’re kind of overwhelmed, too. You don’t feel like you think you should. You might be angry for no identifiable reason. You might feel compelled to make someone else feel bad because…I don’t know why. Maybe just because. Your own pain from loss and change you didn’t want may threaten to take over your life and take you down with it.
          This is when you need to find your west window, even if you don’t know you have one. But you don’t have to do it alone. If you need help, it is up to you to make the call. It is when you must remember…you MUST remember…that it’s not just you. That lots of people are in the same place as you, even ones you think have perfect lives. The Size Twos. The ones with perennially good hair and always full wallets and kids who behave in the grocery store and spouses who know what they’re thinking.
But there’s fear, isn’t there?—that’s hard to get around. If you’ve been hurt, it could happen again. You could lose all the emotional gains you’ve dragged up from inside yourself in just an instant and the next time it will be even worse because you’ve talked to somebody about it and now they know. They know, but they care. If it happens again, and real life tells us it very well might, they’ll still care.
It’s dark now, a morning later, sitting here beside the west window. The
office Christmas tree is covered in white lights but only a few ornaments because I never finished decorating it. The desktop is the same mess it always is, with memories showing up sometimes in the piles, stirring the laughter or the tears or both.
There…as the sun comes up in the opposite window, a deer makes his light-footed way through the field. It’s not quite light enough to see him, but I’m almost sure…but it’s not. It’s a round bale, as beautiful in its way as the deer would have been.
I shouldn’t give advice—I am as unqualified to do so as anyone could possibly be—but advice comes, I am convinced, not from thinking you know it all but from caring about the person you’re talking to. But even as I spill out here what I think you should do, I know that the best thing anyone can do for someone else, much better than giving advice, is to listen.

And the best thing you can do for yourself is the giving I mentioned earlier. Whether it’s gifts or time or just a listening ear or a terrible joke. Take an angel from a giving tree, hang mittens on another, ring a bell, visit someone who doesn’t normally get visitors. Instead of scrolling with your phone, call someone and talk on it. They’ll be glad to hear your voice. If you’re not a phone talker (there are those of us around), text. Write a letter or send a card. The truth is, if you’re thinking about someone else, you give yourself a rest.
So, if you’re having a rough holiday season, whatever the cause, find your own west window and things that give comfort—even if they’re round bales instead of deer. There is hope and love and sharing to be found and I hope you find all of it. I hope I do, too.
Merry Christmas.