Monday, December 15, 2014

Cub Cuteness

Merry Christmas, Darling - The Carpenters

Send a Card to Katie

I hate nursing homes.

I know it’s not fair to lump every single facility in this country together and make such a sweeping condemnation but I’ve been to more than one and I’ve found them to be really, really sad at best. It’s sad that we have them at all. It’s sad that many people have no other option but to deposit aging relatives in them. It’s sad that even the best nursing home employees don’t know how or don’t have the time to love, to honor, to care for our parents and grandparents the way they deserve to be treated. And it’s sad that so many nursing home residents become numbers, files, occupants to be bathed roughly and grudgingly, pushed to the dining room whether they’re hungry or not, left alone when they’re already lonely, forgotten by the same people whose diapers they once changed, whose school lunches they lovingly packed and clothes they laundered with affection and dedication.

I remember the surprisingly loud, haunting sobs that my beloved grandmother began emitting, alone in an empty nursing home dining room in suburban Georgia, as soon as my family members and I kissed her goodbye and headed for our car. I could hear them all the way down the hall and I still remember what they sounded like. My grandma wasn’t a manipulative drama queen. The 94-year-old woman, who probably weighed 100 pounds when wet, was just so devastated to be left alone that every fiber of her, every cell and bone, objected and she became unladylike, undignified, immature and out of control in her desperation. I remember thinking, “Somebody should go be with her, hug her, pat her hand.” When I voiced this to my oldest daughter, Amelia, she replied, “We should.”

Grandma passed away soon after that visit.

I still feel guilty that I didn’t do more with and for her in her final years. It’s so easy to compartmentalize, to push certain thoughts away and justify our individual status quos. And now I’m making the same mistakes with my elderly parents. I’m not doing enough.

So when I signed into Facebook the other day and read a friend’s solicitation on behalf of her own elderly mother, a nursing home resident here in mid-Michigan, I jumped at the chance to heed her call. Diane Hebert, an activist and environmentalist whom I’ve known for years, is doing as much as she can for her 94-year-old mother, Katie. She visits Katie regularly, bringing her favorite food – fish and chips, hush puppies and cole slaw – and complaining when the staff medicates her too much. She recently came up with the idea of requesting that people send Christmas cards directly to her mom so that the staff would see that there are people who care about Katie, so they would remember that she’s there, she’s loved, she’s more than a name on a file or a body in a room.

If you can spare a moment and have an extra holiday card and postage stamp lying around, please send it to:

Katherine “Katie” Beck C37
Brittany Manor
3615 East Ashman Street
Midland, MI 48642

Here’s your chance to spread a little holiday joy. Send a card to Katie and take comfort in knowing that you’ve done your part to keep Christ in Christmas.

Diane and Katie

P.S. I don’t mean to deride the staff at Brittany Manor, by the way. I’ve never been there or met any of them. I just know that they can’t love Katie as much as her daughter does and when I asked if I could issue a call for cards at “What’s the Diehl?,” Diane said yes.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Snow Church

You Bring Me Joy - Mary J. Blige

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

You may notice that I haven’t posted anything in a while. As I explained in a recent Facebook status, this is largely because I’m not sure what to write about the topics of the day – torture, the GOP, racism, police brutality, etc. – that either hasn't already been written or is so obvious that my words would be superfluous. I call it "Writer's Block for the Burned Out and Cynical," I shared. A few friends subsequently reminded me that I’m not obligated to restrict myself to negative topics; in fact, people like reading about joy and awe more than pain and problems.

So here’s some of my joy and awe:

My 13-year-old son, Bryant, who no longer lets me kiss him goodnight but still wants me to come upstairs and tuck him in, never fails to shout goodbye to me by name and reiterate that he loves me as he heads off to school.

Anita loves me so much that she stops almost weekly at one of my favorite local restaurants (Zeus’ Coney Island at 6525 South Pennsylvania in Lansing for those in the area) for takeout even though she’s the family’s breadwinner, money’s tight and I should be eating leftovers.

Nikita (on the right) getting mehndi
before an Indian wedding
My 15-year-old daughter, Nikita, who frequently conveys the same disdain for me that most 15-year-old girls convey for their rule-making father figures, occasionally actually rinses out her oatmeal bowl as requested before leaving for the bus stop and asks if it’s okay before helping herself to late-night ice cream or cookies. (Parents of teenagers will understand why this qualifies as joyful and awesome.)

Amelia and me
The power of the human spirit – the leadership of people like young, Nobel Prize-winning Pakistani Malala Yousafzai, the strength of women like Arizona’s Gabby Giffords and the sheer intelligence of people like astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, President Barack Obama and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow – awes me.

When I recently looked again at an old photo in Facebook of my estranged oldest daughter, Amelia, and me – I had posted it in March of 2010, joyfully announcing a reconciliation that would prove temporary – my friends were notified of my action by Zuckerberg’s ticker and, not realizing that the picture was old, literally dozens congratulated and complimented me.

In larger families like mine, any one member’s return from a trip or errand can be overlooked during hectic moments but one of my two Maltese, Jerry (brother of Ben), never fails to notice that I’m back, rapidly wagging his little tail and licking my nose if I get close enough.

The two fastidious, well-to-do men who live across the street (let’s call them Jon and Hobie) seriously decorate their property – a large house, several different-sized trees and bushes and both their front and back yards – each holiday season. The stunning, tasteful, magical display of wreaths, lights and ribbons draws carloads of gawkers to our neighborhood from the day it debuts until the day it comes down.

Several times in recent weeks, Anita or I spotted deer – large, beautiful does – standing motionless in our backyard at night, watching and listening to whatever it is that these majestic animals watch and listen to for five or ten minutes before bounding off to wherever they go when they’re finished gracing my lawn.

My 11-year-old daughter, Maya, who just started playing basketball in a local youth league, has accompanied me more than once – not her birth father or her athletically-superior brother or her girlfriends, but me – to a local court to practice and work on drills together.

Few things are more enjoyable, in fact, than sitting in the stands or on the sidelines at a football practice, basketball game or swim meet and cheering on your children with other proud parents.

I think it’s awesome any time people come together – altering their lives to better serve others or just altering their day to include another – and provide meaning where it wasn’t obvious before. (Click here to read, “NFL Star Quits Football To Build Free Farm And Feed Hungry People.” Click here to read, “Police officer and young demonstrator share hug during Ferguson rally in Portland.”) Just connecting with someone else – making a bag lunch for the homeless man who resides in a local park, getting down on your hands and knees in a grocery store and picking up spilled berries together with a stranger, or sharing tips and anecdotes with others in line for something – is a source of comfort and joy for me in an at-times cold world. (This ability, which Anita regularly displays, is one of her most attractive and noteworthy traits.)

Game days – Michigan State University football days, to be specific – are always fun and joyful. One can find tasty chips and queso, “kids’ wine” (sparkling juice in wine-looking bottles), four pumped-up children and green and white attire at my house on these special fall weekends. (Anita obtained her bachelor’s degree and her late father earned his doctorate from MSU so her blood runs green and white.)

Sassy Devina
My nine-year-old daughter, Devina, who’s developing the same occasionally-challenging attitude as her older siblings can display, still likes to cuddle with her mommy and hand us loving, homemade cards when no one’s looking on special occasions.

One night last month I stood on a curb in the cold to watch the annual "Silver Bells" holiday parade downtown. Although the temperature felt like it was in the single digits and the kids sat inside a restaurant watching it through a window while sipping hot chocolate – as I conceded in Facebook, they got their intelligence from their mother – I was hit with a sudden jolt of happiness so strong that it was palpable. My family brings me joy. My family is awesome.

Tahquamenon Falls
I know I don’t have a lock on deriving joy from being in nature but this post would be lacking without a mention of woods and waterfalls, lakes and creeks, mountains and meadows, trails and beaches and how just experiencing these can alter my mood, change my day, enhance my life. I’m one of those who just has to remove myself from my home or office (when I have one) and go to a place devoid of the trappings of humankind to feel renewed, invigorated, recharged. I don’t do this nearly enough.

There are of course other sources of joy – music, relationships and babies come quickly to mind – but this is what I’m thinking about right now. And my Facebook friends are right – I feel better after writing and reading this.

Lake Michigan at Muskegon