... a voice for those who mourn the loss of a soul mate
"He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began." - Leo Tolstoy

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Purple Rain, Purple Rain




Several weeks ago I posted a blog entitled Tell me what I'm doing wrong here. It covered my quest for a replacement power wheelchair. After being told that the power seat lift option, a feature I have on my current ride, would most likely be denied by the insurance company, I made the commitment to wait through a lengthy pre-authorization process. Then, if denied, I could pursue the full 3 appeals to try and get the seat lift option covered. 

My medical practitioners, bless their generous hearts, thoroughly complied with time consuming evaluations and the extensive paperwork necessary to support my prescription. My well informed equipment representative even accompanied me to medical appointments to get all the necessary forms completed and signed. Everyone on my team became fully vested in getting me this new equipment. Several readers of this blog told me they were sending positive energy and prayers. 

And guess what? It all worked. Somehow stars aligned, my angels toiled overtime, prayers were answered and a completely equipped power wheelchair became available. I am happy to announce the arrival of my new power chair, purple in color. My new ride was immediately christened “Purple Rain” with champagne toasts. Thank you to everyone who supported this successful outcome. I hope to go for a wheel about with you soon.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Comfort Food

What makes a food comfort food? Today for lunch, I enjoyed a special treat. A slice of whole grain oatnut bread spread with extra crunchy peanut butter, topped with slices of banana and then drizzled with honey and covered with a second piece of bread. It tasted of childhood but felt virtuous with the fruit and the honey was much subtler than jelly. It was delicious. Do you prepare a go to lunch sandwich that always makes you feel better, no matter what is wrong with the world? Is it an adult variation of a childhood favorite?

I have a confession to make at this point. I love reading fiction and I particularly love reading series of books with an ongoing protagonist. You are now saying, well that’s nothing special, Betts. A lot of people love fiction. Okay, that isn’t my confession. You see, when I fall in love with a character, I want to eat what he or she is eating. I have made fried bologna sandwiches on white wonder bread spread with mustard, topped with a fried egg, and sweet gherkins ala Kinsey Milhone. Kay Scarpetta is responsible for most of the Italian sauces I have perfected. She and I both take comfort in beating down bread dough to ease a little tension. Jack Reacher and I love biting into a big greasy cheeseburger with a generous side of French fries, a never empty cup of strong black coffee followed by a slice of pie and another cup of coffee. And he said nothing. Stephanie Plum is a sugar freak and seems to live on donuts, preferably with strawberry cream centers. Ranger always tracks her down at the bakery. One of Karin Slaughter’s recent characters made egg bread for her sister. It sounded delicious- all pan toasted with butter and an egg poured on top. I’m still working on that one. Mine comes out sort of like French toast but without the creamy custard consistency. My earliest fiction memory was the story of Heidi, a girl who lived in the Swiss Alps with her grandfather. He would slice a thick slab of homemade bread and top it with a piece of cheese and place it close to the fire so it would melt. Whenever I think of toasted cheese sandwiches, I know I owe it to Heidi, that little Swiss miss. Who hasn’t wanted to tuck into one of those fine dinners that Alex Cross’ grandmother prepares for him? Or want to sit with Sturgis and Davenport at the Indian restaurant where a special dish is being prepared- something with rice, currants and pine nuts? And why don’t I have a fully stocked auto chef like Rourke and Eve Dallas? Or at least a  green smoother to help me sleep.

These characters are all more likeable because we’ve shared their tables. They seem more three dimensional because we know their food preferences. In real life, I miss two person midnight talk fests sustained by fried egg sandwiches on buttered toast or saltine crackers covered with slices of cheddar cheese and broiled a few minutes in the toaster oven. Ambrosia when shared with someone you love. Sort of mundane when eaten alone. Food, like music, is an international language. Why not share your table with another culture and start talking? Namaste.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

How to Help a Mourning Friend

I always feel incredibly powerless in the face of grief. I never know if I am saying or doing the right thing. But my friends have taught me that doing something is so much better than doing nothing or ignoring their sorrow. The death happened. There is no getting around that terrible fact. They are grieving. That is a fact as well and not to be denied. So I have listened to my friends as they talked about what they needed and what they still need. I think anything we can do to help must be based on these things: honesty, compassion, empathy, presence.

Stay in touch. In the early days after a loss, those who are left behind are surrounded with friends and family. All of them want to help ease the grief. But as time goes along, people forget or life reasserts itself and they begin to drift away. That is when the loneliness can set in and the hard finality of loss becomes unavoidable. Staying in touch sends out a lifeline that says, “I still care and will be with you for however long you need someone.”
  • Call just to say, “Hello, how are you doing, how are you really doing?” Do this often, not just once. It may take many tries before they get the message that you really want to know.
  • Email, Facebook and texting are brief ways to say you are thinking about them without added pressure.
  • Share your latest good read with them and offer to discuss it when they finish.

Include them. In a world of couples, it is all too easy to forget about those who are no longer part of a pair. The solitude that comes with that new existence can be devastating. Like little Kevin in the movie Home Alone, the one left alone may feel they are standing outside the window looking in at the rest of the world enjoying companionship and special occasions. Just know that your friend may not always be up to accepting your invitations, but they will always appreciate the thoughtfulness behind them.
  • Invite them to see the latest comedy or blockbuster hit with you.
  • Invite them to join you for dinner. If that is too much, maybe a coffee date?
  • Remember that holidays can be especially difficult. Include them in Christmas dinner, Thanksgiving, family parties and picnics, etc.

Offer distractions. But release any expectations. Sometimes all they will need is to simply have another living being with them so they are not alone. Just know that your friend may not welcome distractions right away but one day they will.
  • Make a date to watch a video and eat popcorn together. Wine is optional but probably a great idea. Talking is optional, too. Bonus points for watching a movie they loved together.
  • If they have no pets, offer to have a play date to share your furbabies with them. If they do have pets, plan a play date “for the pets.”
  • Consider taking a short class or attending a lecture as an opportunity to spend time together.

Keep the memories alive. You can be sure it hurts more to act as though that person has been erased than it is to talk about them. They are still very much alive in your friend’s heart.
  • Reminisce about the times you had together with their loved one.
  • Encourage them to talk about the one they have lost or what they are feeling. And LISTEN!
  • Call them by name. Call their loved one by name.
  • Write a note to them recalling one special memory of the one they have lost.
  • On special dates – birthdays, anniversaries of marriage or even death, etc. – offer to “celebrate” (i.e. reminisce) with a special dinner out or send flowers or a card.


Friday, September 16, 2016

The good ole days

Over the course of our relationship and marriage, John and I enjoyed many different employment opportunities. John started out [at the time I met him] as a case manager/therapist in a child and adolescent mental health clinic. Later on, he went to nursing school. I have always been a nurse but I have worked in many different specialties - psychiatry mostly, but also preemie nursery, surgical, medical, operating room, just to name a few. Not only was I a floor nurse but I worked my way through management from charge nurse to Head Nurse to Supervisor to eventually Director of Nursing. Later on I went back to school, got my degree and some additional training in legal nursing and forensics and started my own legal nurse consulting business. I think I enjoyed that the most.
But probably the most challenging episode was when John and I worked as agency nurses back in the late 80's to mid 90's. We were sent to places we would never have been otherwise. Because we could pick and choose where and when we worked, we chose to go to hospitals that required us to drive several hours each week and we picked shifts that paid the most. Consequently, our most lucrative assignment was in Hershey PA on the oncology unit. There we worked two 16 hour shifts every weekend driving two and half hours down from our home outside Wilkes Barre PA on Friday afternoon and driving back home on Sunday morning. The upside to this grueling schedule was that we were off from Sunday to Thursday every week!
We had plenty of time to play and do other things and we were making what we liked to refer to as a "boatload" [at the time] of money. We were finally able to put money aside for retirement.
But we were able to enjoy our time together too.
We took a vacation every month.
We slept in. We relaxed.
We were in the process of remodeling our home and had the time to do it.
And we had time to just enjoy each other's company.
John said over and over that we were going to look back and call those days the "good old days". Except he said it in present tense at the time. "These are the good ole days." I remember how much that impressed me at the time.
He was right, of course [although now I refer to all my days with John as the good old days].
But what he taught me was precious. He was telling me we needed to enjoy those days for what they were when they were, not wait until years down the road and then pine for them.
It was a valuable lesson.
One of the things I remember about my father is that he used to always say "Some day".
Some day we would...
Some day we would have...
Some day we would go...
Most of the time he never got to do or have any of those things and he missed what was in front of him along the way.
He was the opposite of the "good old days" theory. He was wishing for what hadn't happened yet.
That's not a good way to live either.
And I was in danger of carrying on that legacy until John.
John opened my eyes and my heart and for that I am very grateful.
Every day is a good old day.
Even if it's swinging on the porch swing with your honey.
Or sitting quietly and watching a bird hopping across the lawn.
Or looking at a sunset and admiring the beautiful colors.
Life is to be lived, not wished or pined for.
John is not physically here with me now but I can still look at the world as if he is.
And I can be grateful for that gift he gave me and know it was given with love. **

** Excerpted from the soon-to-be-published book I Will Never Leave You by Joy Collins.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

“No Regrets”




Is it better to lose someone quickly with the here today gone tonight passing? Or is it better to have the devastating terminal illness, with expiration date unknown, passing? I hold this discussion in my head frequently. Three years before he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer my husband almost died from complications of bypass surgery following a heart attack. During surgery both lungs collapsed and he was on a vent for 19 days in a medically induced coma during which he contracted MRSA disease. Several times, prayers were answered and he remained viable. After a six-month recovery period we started on bonus years. I didn’t know to call them bonus years at the time. That’s a term I learned later from a hospice nurse. I just knew we were blessed that he was still alive. We converted to a healthier food plan. We started the “chicken years”. Beef and bacon became memories of bygone taste experiences. Cheese was no longer a snack food. Cheese and crackers were not to be considered a meal. Butter was rationed and whole wheat bread became the staple rather than a choice. Fruit took up more space in our fridge and fresh seasonal vegetables covered our kitchen counters. Ice cream desserts were replaced by non-fat (tasteless) frozen yogurt or sherbet. The can opener was only used to open dog or cat food. We spent more time on food gathering and preparation. We talked a lot about mortality, second chances, and what we considered God’s loud wake up call.

The cardio exercise program was strictly adhered to. Medications and follow up doctors’ appointments were meticulously scheduled. And we had three, albeit structured, years to appraise our lives, entertain friends, embrace family and generally live well. We took long weekend vacations and cut back on work hours. We thought we were home free. We talked a bit about retiring, and what we would be doing when we had more leisure time to spend together. We daydreamed some wonderful fishing adventures (I would be doing retail therapy - I get sea sick) in New Zealand, Costa Rica, and other exotic locales. We made bucket lists of places and friends to visit.

And then a routine chest x-ray showed a malignant mass. Surgery, chemo, radiation, bone fractures, horrible bouts of pain, hospitalizations, and hospice quickly followed. Within 8 months Jer Bear was gone. But during that period, we had time to talk, to decide on his bequests, to invite friends and family to visit. So which is better? I honestly still don’t know but I do know that having that time, difficult as it was, gave us the opportunity to reassure each other that in our relationship we had “No regrets”. *

*From the soon to be published book Not Too Frayed to Fly by Betts McCalla.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Widow Tunnel Syndrome

I have been on the computer way too much in the last week. Between a part-time job that I have [and enjoy!], working on this project with my two friends, and just plain web-surfing, my mousing hand has started to complain - loudly!
So I have been trying to limit my time online - on the computer, on my iPad, and on my iPhone.
My chiropractor has suggested I wear a soft brace on my wrist and while it helps to alleviate the pain by keeping my wrist straight, it definitely restricts my typing ability - which is probably what she had in mind.
But all this denial of social access - and thus access to interaction in general - has got me thinking.
Why does all this online time call to me so much?
It didn't used to be this way.
I used to have a life.
Truth be told - I still do of course.
But it's not the same.
A few short years ago, I was living with the man of my dreams. Now I only see him in my dreams. My reality is I am a widow. My life has drastically changed. There is no longer someone to ask about my day - and for me to ask about his. No discussion of world events, no laughing over the latest antics of our fur-children, no talk of the weather, extended family members, the budget, plans, frustrations - nothing.
Just me and my shadow as the old song goes.
If I'm late coming from somewhere there is no one to worry why, no one to call to reassure.
And if I don't wake up tomorrow who will notice besides the furballs?
I was reminded of this again just this week.
A "critter" had taken up residence in my garage and while I try to be as peaceful a co-exister as I can, I can't have someone chewing up my possessions and the wires inside my car. So, I called a local exterminator to check things out. Jeremy was a very nice man. In fact, in just a few short minutes we eased into a comfortable conversation, especially when we realized we were both fur-parents. He also dispensed with formality and called me "Joy" which was music to me ears. Who doesn't like the sound of their own name?
He quickly went about checking out my garage for access and damage. At one point, I was inside in my office and he was outside and needed my attention so he called out. "Joy!"
And that's when it hit me - how quiet this house is since John has been gone. No more calls to me from another room. No one calling my name because they need me.
I am not trying to sound maudlin. It's just how things are.
Even though I have wonderful friends, the truth is they have their lives - and I have mine.
And mine is solitary.
And so I turn to the airwaves for a connection.
We all need that connection, if only briefly. "It is not good for man to be alone" - or a woman.
And so I have a pain in my wrist from communicating. The pain hasn't reached the proportions of carpal tunnel syndrome - yet.
I have dubbed it widow tunnel syndrome.
Me at one end of my fingertips, the world at the other end.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Say my name, say my name When no one is around you -Destiny’s Child




Often when a spouse or partner passes, loneliness sneaks in very quietly on padded feet. You think you are doing fine and you suddenly realize you have not left the house or spoken to a human for several days or longer. You need to reach out and have someone say your name, to acknowledge you, to confirm you are still viable, still visible.

Earlier this week, a friend posted an article on Facebook about a program in England called The Silver Line Helpline, a 24-hour call center for older adults seeking to fill a basic need: contact with other people. Often people withdraw without being noticed and will go days and sometimes weeks without any interpersonal contact. This is particularly true in instances where there are no relatives living close by and social circumstances have changed due to loss by death of a spouse or siblings or possibly relocation of grown children to other parts of the country.

According to the article, researchers have found mounting evidence linking loneliness to physical illness and to functional and cognitive decline. As a predictor of early death, loneliness eclipses obesity. Recent research has shown that loneliness affects several key bodily functions, at least in part through over stimulation of the body’s stress response. Chronic loneliness is associated with increased levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone, as well as higher vascular resistance, which can raise blood pressure and decrease blood flow to vital organs.

If you or you suspect someone you know is caught in this loneliness trap, establish a quick phone call habit every day or two. A short phone chat consisting of even a minute or two just to say “Hi”, and ask “How are you feeling today?” helps break the isolation barrier. Encourage scheduling continuous weekly activities like attending church service, going to the library and to the grocery store. And remember to “say my name, say my name.”

"When you love someone, you say their name different. Like it's safe inside your mouth.”
― Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care