Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I coulda been a contender

"Like a river flows, surely to the sea, darling so it goes, some things are meant to be."

So, as I said, I've been taking a step back from lampworking, sort of. I've made beads twice since I said that, but I've tried to do it mindfully. Usually I light the torch without a plan and just start grabbing colors and working without rhyme or reason. For a change, I've been spending time thinking about what I want to accomplish before rushing in like a fool.

On Sunday I decided to work with just three colors for a while. I chose Adobe, a terracotta shade, Moana, a drop-dead gorgeous limited edition teal blue, and Dark Ivory. I silvered some of the ivory with fine silver, so you might say I had 4 colors to work with. I started with a focal and then I made a set of donut rondelles using just those colors. I also made spacers to coordinate, in transparent light aqua, a transparent called Peachy Keen which looks more like amber than peach, and a color called Golden, which looks like a rose amber.

I felt good about the experiment, so today I worked with three colors again, an emerald green opal called Jade Palace, a blue violet pastel called Lavender Fields, and an ivory-like shade of Butter Pecan. And silvered ivory again. And I picked out my next set of colors, a pearl gray opal, a pink pastel and, surprise, more ivory-like Butter Pecan. To be followed I think by Mint Lozenge opal (think Halls Mentho-lyptus cough drops) and a lilac pastel, and some sort of ivory and silver no doubt.

Yeah, I know, it doesn't sound like much of a step back. But I am stepping it down a bit. I guess I wasn't ready to go cold turkey, or even cool turkey. I'm actually happy to feel motivated again for the moment, but damn, my arm and my neck still hurt.

And as I also said, it isn't just making beads that I'm trying to step away from, it's the immersion in bead culture that I'm trying to draw a line on. (I just ended two phrases in one sentence with prepositions, but a quick Google search tells me that that's AOK, because writing it grammatically correctly would sound stilted and contrived.) I've been spending much too much time on Lampwork Etc. My current post count there is 4,360. That is a bit ridiculous. And Facebook, where I estimate that something like 75% of my current 287 friends are fellow glass community members.

I don't think of myself as having an addictive personality, if such a thing even exists. I gave up smoking after five years of a half-pack-a-day habit when I was 23, and alcohol after more than 20 years of habitual drinking when I was 40. In both cases, I just put down the butt and the glass and didn't look back, although for years I had the occasional nightmare than I smoked a cigarette. I've never been much for recreational drugs, a bit of college exploration notwithstanding.

Caffeine. Well, they will have to pry my coffee mug from my cold dead fingers. Sorry. One is entitled to at least one vice. I don't really count sugar, I love it and crave it sometimes, but I can leave it if I have to. I don't buy lottery tickets, I don't like playing games I don't win. I'm not much of an adrenaline junkie, not a thrill seeker, more of a thrill avoider if you want the truth.

It should be easy for me to ratchet back on lampwork-forum and social-media time suckers. Right?

I doubt anyone will miss me. And that makes me a little sad. But I know it will be better for me to kick the habit, because I'm so tired of letting it make me feel bad when I don't get responses and comments and validation online anyway.

Finding meaningful things to fill the time I save will be my challenge.

One of the things I've been doing is reading Claire Bidwell Smith's blog, working my way forward from August 2006, the earliest post available, to the present. I'm somewhere in 2009 now and it's been no easy feat, as Claire blogged frequently, sometimes daily, and at this point I'm slogging through it. It began as a chronicle of a girl working through grief at the loss of both parents by the time she turned 25, then at some point it morphed into a day-to-day journal about meeting her husband, marriage, pregnancy and the birth of the first of her two daughters.

Claire oscillates a lot between her gratitude for where she is in life and her ongoing mourning for being a motherless, fatherless daughter. I have much compassion for her and at the same time, the picture she paints in her posts is a different one from herself as a girl in her riveting memoir, Rules of Inheritance. As she herself admits, her blog has become just one more mommy blog. Yet I am determined to read it through. I said I wasn't an addictive personality, I didn't say I wasn't an obsessive one.

Claire began blogging at the essential dawn of the blogosphere, in 2003, although those early posts are long lost in cyberspace. Facebook wasn't yet in its infancy, there were far fewer bloggers then, and she developed a devoted following after her month-young blog was written up in an Australian newspaper. I have nothing but respect for Claire, except perhaps a bit of envy. She not only blogged steadily, she published a lot of articles in well-respected online venues, she wrote the first draft of her book, and she did all of this while getting a graduate degree in clinical psychology and working as a grief therapist.

My fascination with all things Claire comes partly from my ideation that I coulda been a contender. If I have a gift, it is the ability to write, words and sentences that feel like they come through me rather than from me. And I've done so little with it. In the 1990s I had two stories published in the Houston Chronicle and was a finalist in a bedtime story contest. I have a little library of stories I wrote in the '90s and perhaps one of my new projects will be to organize them. You know, in case my children are ever curious about my take on life during the time when both my career and my first marriage were faltering.

From 1999 through 2003 I had a job in corporate communications, writing and editing newsletters and website content. It was the best job of my career and ironically it overlapped with the lowest point in my emotional life, and then after I had fought my way back to wellness, a corporate merger precipitated my first involuntary job loss. My new job entailed only a little writing but I did write a blog on the Houston Chronicle site for several months in 2008, around the time I started making beads.

Until now, that is the sum and substance of the writing I've done, until I started this blog in May of 2012. I'm still such a baby about it too. I feel like I am still flexing long-unused writing muscles and I've gone only as far as sharing two posts on Facebook, this one and this one. (Look at how I just cross-promoted those posts. Who knows, maybe next I will add tags to my posts. I will become a real blogger yet.)

Underachievement. That's how I feel forced to characterize my life. I wanted to be a writer and my mom said, writers starve. So I stopped writing for a long time. Only I didn't replace it with anything else really. I bumbled in and out of jobs until I got my corporate job which lasted 30 years but was rarely a career and never a calling. I floundered in and out of relationships until I stumbled into my first marriage which lasted 18 years if you count the two years we dated and the full year it took to be divorced. And I wobbled through four years of single motherhood, including the devastating end of a relatively brief but profoundly intense love affair.

Life began afresh in 2002, after I moved through the grief and sorrow and ultimate growth precipitated by that failed relationship. A story that I need to share, but not today.

Today I am going to clean beads. I am going to the post office to mail two packages of beads that I sold. I'm going to pick up some fresh bagels for simple dinners on Neil's softball nights. I've already dipped mandrels and I have today's colors laid out on my work bench.

And I'm going to publish this post. With this photo of my first set of mindful beads.



"Wise men say only fools rush in
but I can't help falling in love with you
Shall I stay, would it be a sin
If I can't help falling in love with you

Like a river flows surely to the sea
Darling so it goes
some things are meant to be

Take my hand, take my whole life too
for I can't help falling in love with you."

Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss, recorded and made famous by Elvis Presley.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

We are more similar than different

"Tell me something who could ask for more, than to be living in a moment you would die for?"

I've made a decision. I'm going to take a short step back from bead making. March 2 will mark five years of bead making for me, the last 18 months of it full time. I'm not giving it up. I have hopes of making beads for years to come, not to mention glass enough. It's just time to stop breathing it and dreaming it and thinking it so much of every waking minute. I have not been able to pace myself. My right arm hurts, the left side of my neck hurts, my head feels like it is not properly attached to my spine.

I'm not sure yet if I am taking an actual break, or cutting back on the days and hours I melt glass. I do know that I want to bring other things into my life. I want to lose that extra 20 lbs. I've been hauling around these last few years. I want to do some things that make me feel less isolated. I've a natural tendency to choose solitude over sociability. But I fear it is making me a less interesting person. I want to invest more in experiences and interactions. I believe in the long run this may be the key to my creative growth.

Details at 10. Or whenever I know them.

I just finished reading a book that moved me very much, The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith. I found her story on Kelle Hampton's blog. Kelle you may remember is the author of Bloom and her blog, Enjoying the Small Things, went viral after the birth of her second daughter, Nella, who has Down Syndrome. In amazing photos and appealing prose, Kelle chronicles her story with an emphasis on how we all are more similar than different. The recurring mantra of her story is that when you start looking a little harder for the beauty in life, you start seeing it a little more clearly.

Kelle gave birth to her third child, a son, on Valentines Day. To give herself and her family time to properly welcome this child, Kelle has chosen to intersperse her own blog posts with posts contributed by women and writers who she admires. Claire was the first. The day after I read her blog post, I went to the library and checked out her book. I read the book over the course of two days. Her story riveted me. She lost her mom to cancer when she was just 18 and her father died when she was 25. She was the only child born to her older parents, although her dad had children from his first marriage.

Claire tells her story within the framework of Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross's five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, acceptance. She writes of the years of her parents' sicknesses and deaths and of her coping (or not coping) mechanisms, and ultimately of making her peace with the past, at least to the extent that anyone ever is able to do that. (I think of The Great Gatsy, which I recently re-read, and its ending thought, through the voice of Nick Carraway, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.") I cried with her through the story. While I think no one could read her book unmoved, my own history with grief and depression allowed me to literally feel her pain.

That isn't necessarily a good thing, but it's not necessarily a bad thing either. There is a part of me that doesn't want to completely lose the feelings, which is the reason I've held on to my own written chronicles of the darkest time of my life. My story is different from Claire's. I lost my father just two years ago and I lost my mom to dementia shortly thereafter, although she still is alive. My story is long, much too long for one post, so I may share it in bits and pieces. It's about my lifelong relationship with anxiety and dysthymia, self-esteem and loneliness, with a couple of flagship episodes of true despair. So I guess in that sense, Claire's story is my story too.

Right now I'm grappling with writing a letter to Claire. I feel like she just bared her soul to me and it would be rude not to acknowledge and validate her sharing of her journey. But somehow writing the letter has led me back to my own story of sorrow. I find myself needing to touch it again, if only to remind myself never to take my present happiness for granted. I never knew I would end up here. For so long, it seemed as though any story with me in a starring role could end only one way, could only play out as a tragedy.

For ten years now I have known love and joy. My children are beautiful and kind and I think they are proud of me, as I am proud of them. My husband is bright and funny and adorable and I trust him, I trust his love for me. My little grandson is a source of constant wonder and happiness.

While I'm grateful that life isn't a television drama, I can't help thinking about Maggie Smith as Violet in the Downton Abbey drawing room, reflecting that we don't always get our just deserts, as (unbeknownst to her) Mathew bleeds out on the side of the road. Because, you know, I'm very fond of desserts. Which is why I have that 20 lbs. to lose.

I've made mistakes, had dark days and pain in my life, and since it is life, after all, it is inevitable that sometimes there will be sorrow.

But right now, at this exact ten seconds of the universe unfolding, I choose to believe that everything that happened up until now was just to bring me to a moment in time when I'd be happier than I ever even imagined being.


"Ashes to ashes
Dust into dust
I'll lay beside you beside you forever in love

And when they carve my stone all they need to write on it
Is once lived a man who got all he ever wanted
Tell me something who could ask for more
Than to be living in a moment you would die for."
(Ty Hearndon)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A blue bead mood

"Saying, welcome, welcome, share this feast, come in away from sorrow."

Today I got my bead soup in the mail! Heather, my exchange partner, apologized for being a little late, but I assured her that I never make anything until the last minute anyway.

I do spent much time pondering the possibilities and imagining how I can best showcase my bead soup ingredients. And in this case I have a lot to think about. Here are the beautiful jewelry components Heather sent, two photos of the "soup" and a closeup of the focal and clasps.



I'm so grateful that Heather wire-wrapped the focal, as she obviously has mad wire wrapping skills that I lack. And I just love the copper elements, especially the beautiful patina she used to finish them. I'll have a lot of fun playing with all the rest, the labradorite ovals, the pearl disks and all the little copper, sodalite, lapis, onyx, tourmaline and agate spacer beads.

Already I am starting to visualize a multi-strand necklace, or maybe three separate strands made to be worn together. I already know I want to use both clasps in the focal piece, one to each side, because they are much too pretty to use in the back. Perhaps a statement focal necklace and a long second accent necklace that can be worn doubled up.

So many options. Almost two months time to design and execute.

And now that she has seen it, here is the soup that I sent to Heather.



As you can see, we each chose a blue theme. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does with mine. I'm betting she'll wire wrap that focal and won't that be sweet? The little round pearl thing with blue stones around it is the clasp I sent and the topaz Swarovski crystal rounds are part of what I had left from the generous amount of swarkies I received from Margot Potter in the last bead soup blog party.

Frankly, I've been in a blue mood lately, and for once I'm not talking about my neurotransmitters. I've been making a lot of blue beads, including this set that you might call a blue study. I used different blues and blue violets for the base colors of each pair.



For some reason I like making stacked dot beads. I sell more focals and frit bead sets than dot beads, but sometimes you have to just make what you love. Maybe even most times. I'm still learning that though.

"Grateful for this sheltered place
With light in every window
Saying 'welcome, welcome, share this feast
Come in away from sorrow'
...
Grateful for what's understood
And all that is forgiven
We try so hard to be good
To lead a life worth living."
(Mary Chapin Carpenter)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bead honors bestowed

"Forget what happened yesterday, I know that better things are on the way."

As I promised, here's a photo of the beads that were in the kiln when I last posted. I was happy with them. Especially the middle one. More about that later. (But isn't that teal blue killer?!)


And while thinking about this topic I realized that much of what I post about beadmaking is about my creativity challenges or my missing mojo. I don't post enough about the good things.

For example, last week I was recognized as one of 30 selected bead artists to be included in the 2013 Inaugural Year Beads of Courage Bead Artist Hall of Fame. I was vaguely aware through Facebook posts that this honor was going to be bestowed during the annual Best Bead Show in Tucson, but the notion that I would be a recipient wasn't even the remotest thought in my mind.

The email letting me know about my selection had this to say:

Your contributions to date including bead donations, event support, financial contributions, and your executive leadership in helping to advance the mission of Beads of Courage, Inc. were all considered in light of this recognition. You were nominated by your peers for this honor.

That last sentence really touched me, because one of the things I grapple with constantly is whether or not I am liked in the lampwork community or if most members of said community are even aware of my existence. This despite the fact that I am fond of saying that what other people think of me is none of my business. And at the bottom line, I do believe this to be true. Yet all my life I have sought acceptance and found it elusive and allowed that exclusion, real or imagined, to hurt me.

I hate to admit it, but to some degree I measure self worth by how many "Likes" I get on Facebook for any photo, status or bead that I post. I compare myself to others whose Facebook post get dozens of comments. I notice that quite a few of the people whose posts I comment on have never once commented or "Liked" anything I've ever posted. I tell myself that some people have huge egos and post about their activities compulsively while possibly never bothering to read anyone else's posts. I rationalize. I justify. I speculate. I spin.

But I don't toot my own horn much. Some of the other Beads of Courage Hall of Famers posted on Facebook about being chosen for the honor. I secretly hoped someone would post the entire list of honorees, but it feels, I don't know, immodest to mention it myself. Not to mention that if few people "Like" or comment, it's just one more little jab at my ever-wavering self-esteem.

And lest there be a silver lining without a cloud, a part of me doesn't feel worthy of the recognition. If you aren't familiar with BOC, it is a program where seriously ill children receive beads for treatment milestones. Most of the beads are purchased commercial beads, but for special milestones, such as the end of a round of chemo, the child may receive an Act of Courage bead made by an artist. A child may get an Act of Courage bead for other things, including just having a really bad day.

I do donate a lot of Act of Courage beads to BOC and I do wholeheartedly support its mission and vision. I do believe in the power of beads to help an ailing child tell the story of their treatment journey. But I don't often sit down at the torch and make beads specifically for BOC. Most of the beads I donate are just beads I happen to make, and since I make a lot of beads, many wind up in the BOC bowl. Yes, I actually have a designated bowl for BOC. Some beads go directly in after being cleaned but most go in after I've had them for a while.

We are encouraged not to be perfectionists because we are our own harshest critics and children won't notice or mind if a bead is slightly off center or if a petal of a flower is smeared. As long as the beads are sound, no sharp holes, no easily breakable elements, no exposed metals, BOC can use our beads. I never send the really ugly ones. Those go into the lake. But any beads that have been around for a few months must go and I'm so happy to have a place to send them where maybe they will help a child in healing. But it's no sacrifice.

So, there it is, classic Imposter Syndrome, something good happens and I examine all the reasons that I don't deserve it. And this week I have another good thing to feel guilty about.

I applied and was chosen for a Contributing Editor position for Glass Bead Evolution, a brand new print magazine to be published by the International Society for Glass Beadmakers. I will be writing the Artist to Artist feature. I haven't gotten my first assignment yet, but I'm looking forward to proving to the Editor in Chief, the lampwork world and most importantly to myself that I can nail this baby.

And here are the qualifiers. It's not a paid position, so my competition for the assignment quite possibly did not include any Pulitzer prize-winning journalists. I know the Editor in Chief, I've met her at two Gatherings (ISGB annual conventions) and I've taken a class from her at Blue Moon in Austin. I think she is one of the nicest people in the business of beadmaking and also one of the most talented artists. We have a good rapport and she actually gets my jokes. I've participated in several bead exchanges that she's hosted (I suspect she never sleeps) and she knows she can count on me.

But wait a minute. I earned all that. So maybe I do deserve this one.

And remember that I said one of those beads that were in the kiln when I last posted might inspire a spin-off if it looked as good coming out as it did going in? Well I did like it, and I have been playing with the concept and right now I'm happy about these beads too.


Now I just need a name for this series. The common element in them is encased shards. Maybe I'll call it Under Glass Runes. Although Life on Mars appeals to me too. Why ask why.

"Here's hoping all the days ahead
Wont be as bitter as the ones behind you
Be an optimist instead
And somehow happiness will find you
Forget what happened yesterday
I know that better things are on the way.

"It's really good to see you rocking out and having fun
Living like you just begun
Accept your life and what it brings
I hope tomorrow you'll find better things."
(Ray Davies)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bead soup for the soul

"I give big, I give all and now it’s time to regenerate."

I wish I could show you a picture, but it will have to wait a bit. Today I mailed my bead soup "ingredients" to my partner Heather Otto. Heather's blog is called The Crafthopper and she is practically my neighbor since she lives just a few miles southwest of Austin. Once a year, Lori Anderson who writes a blog called Pretty Things organizes a bead swap that has grown to something like 500 participants. Lori pairs us up, we exchange beads (the soup), we each make something and on the designated "reveal" date, we post what we made on our blogs. The bead soup must include a focal bead and a nice clasp. Sending coordinating beads is optional but traditional. The recipient does not have to use those beads, just the focal and the clasp, and they may be used in one piece or two, along with other beads you may have on hand or choose to buy.

This is my second time to play and the first time my partner was Margot Potter, writer of the blog The Impatient Crafter, and in addition to making things with the lovely beads she sent me, I've gotten to know her a little through her blog and Facebook page. So my Bead Soup experience had a broader impact than just some pretty new baubles. Anyway, beads are in the mail and after Heather has them in hand, and I have the ones she sends me, I'll post pictures. I hope she is blown away when she opens my package and I'm looking forward to seeing what she does with my beads.

I'm also looking forward to seeing what comes out of the kiln tomorrow morning. I had a few days away from the torch, visiting my daughter and grandson, and I think that was a good thing. Because lately I find myself sitting at the torch trying to think of what I want to make and drawing a blank. The wellspring of ideas that burbled and flowed so much faster that I could melt glass has slowed to a trickle. There are storm surges, true, when I get excited about a new style, make beads in that style for a frenetic week or two, but then drought returns and the well ceases to babble. Then it feels more like I am wrestling with the glass than shaping it into objects of beauty. The knots in my back and shoulder ache and I find myself thinking that maybe I should look for a real job.

Last week I actually water annealed a bead, something I rarely do because I don't like to gunk up my water bowl. I'd rather anneal it and take it off the mandrel later, even if it is destined for the lake. This bead was just too hideous to go into the kiln. It was a costly bead too, it had silver leaf and silver glass and dichroic glass and I kept trying to salvage it by adding more decoration to it. Rule number 30 (I just made that up) in the lampworker's bible is that you can't make a bad bead good by adding more and more glass to it. If it's small enough, technically you can encase the whole thing and do something with it, but this bead was huge and getting huger. And making me sad, so into the water bowl it went.

Today I experimented with variations on the tube shaped beads I've had some fun with lately and I thought one of the last ones had potential, maybe even enough to spin off into something new. And if it does, that will keep me going for, oh, a couple of weeks at least. But I have the sense that it may be time to reassess my relationship to my glass art. It has been so all-consuming, for almost five years now, I've lived it and breathed it and dreamed about it. And that was great as long as I was learning and mastering more skills and feeling a sense of accomplishment. But it's been a long long time since I took my beads out of the kiln and said to Neil, I just made the prettiest bead I've ever made.

So maybe what I need is more balance in my life, to do other more things than chasing this glass dream so relentlessly. Take a few steps back, pace myself, read more, start working out again, go back to working with shelter cats. Blog more. Write more. Definitely write more.

Here's a look at the most recent style of bead I've been excited about. And if the new one turns out well I'll post a picture of it tomorrow.


"I give hard and serve hard and now I, I need a break
I give big, I give all and now it’s time to regenerate
Today’s all about me, all about cup filling
Today’s all about me, learning how, how to receive
How to receive."
(Alanis Morissette)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Assisted living is not really living

"Sometimes all that we can know is, there's no such thing as no regrets."

My father died on November 30, 2010. His 90th birthday would have been December 21, 2010.

Before I launch into the subject of this post, which is the follow-up to my last post about my mother, I have to say that I've wanted to write about innumerable things since I began her story. For example, my older daughter's disastrous entry in an "ugliest tattoo" contest, my trip to Austin for my younger daughter's endoscopy and colonoscopy, my thoughts about "imposter syndrome" as provoked by a blog post by Kat O'Sullivan, my ongoing quest for the ever-elusive mojo, some exciting developments in the world of glass according to me, reflections on my 18 months of living post gainful employment, and a literary analysis of the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. OK, I lied about the last one, I just watched the 1974 movie version of The Great Gatsy and now I'm re-reading the book, and that's about the extent of that.

But I haven't written because I feel like I need to finish my mom's story, or at least bring it to date since the ending remains to be seen. So my readers will have to wait for my discourses on those other enthralling subjects. I hope that's OK with the five of you.

November 30, 2010 was a Tuesday. My work group had had our holiday lunch and were offered the option to return to work afterwards or to take the rest of the day off. I was still fitting bead making into the scant time allotted so I opted to head home. I stopped for a manicure and pedicure, a much greater pleasure during a mid-day mid-week lull, and I got the phone call from my brother as I drove the last mile home.

"Dad's in the hospital. I talked to the nurse and asked her if I should get on a plane. She said, I would if you want to see him again," my brother told me. "I'm looking at flights now."

My dad had been ailing for most of the last 15 years, after surviving colon cancer at the age of 75, cancer that should have been totally avoided if my dad hadn't been squeamish and stubborn and steadfastly refused to have a colonoscopy when it would have helped. He recovered but remained troubled with digestive problems throughout the rest of his life. Mentally he was as sharp as ever but he was very thin and had lost interest in travel, stamp collecting and preferred to spend quiet days in the retirement community in Coconut Creek that had been home for 17 years.

By the time I got home it was over. I had a message on my machine from my mother. "Your father died. I'm sitting with him in the hospital room now. Call me at home later."

My brother found a flight that evening that got him to my parents' condo close to midnight. Neil and I flew down the next day. The funeral was on Friday. Because my dad was a veteran, a military honor guard attended and played Taps at the gravesite. My dad would have liked that. My brother spoke at the service and I spoke, of how my dad had given me my early love of music and poetry, and recited the poem Daffodils by William Wordsworth, one of his favorites.

And then as I said, we pretty much scattered back to homes and jobs and lives. On Sunday my brother was the last too leave and shortly after he left my mom took a deliberate overdose of sleeping aids. My brother started calling her the minute he got off the plane and when he got no answer he called me. We ran through possible scenarios, from mom lying on her bed not answering the phone (unlikely) to mom having gone on an outing with compassionate friends (more likely). Mom was famous for not keeping her cell phone on, but turning it on only when she wanted to make a call.

My brother and I decided that if we didn't reach her within one hour we'd call Security at her community and have them check on her. And so it played out that they found her on the floor, conscious but disoriented and quite sick to her stomach. Security called an ambulance; a neighbor told me that she walked out under her own steam. She would only set foot in that apartment one more time in her life.

Mom was admitted to the same hospital where my dad died and spent a week there, being monitored for the effects of the Tylenol PM because apparently acetaminophen can be gravely unfriendly to your liver. I spent a lot of time on the phone that week, taking to care providers present and past. I spoke to my mom daily too. Some of the time she was lucid and rational. Some of the time she talked to imaginary people in German, or murmured incoherently. Because she had attempted to take her own life she was "Baker Acted."

The Florida Mental Health Act of 1971 ("Baker Act") provides for emergency or involuntary commitment if there is evidence that a person has a mental illness and is a harm to self, harm to others, or self neglectful. Named for Florida state representative Maxine Baker, sponsor of the bill , it can be initiated by judges, law enforcement officials, physicians, or mental health professionals.

At the time this seemed like a good thing. My mom was in no shape to go home alone and we were unprepared to mobilize round-the-clock custodial care. A week or two in a geriatric psychiatric hospital, with medication, therapy and some time to get over the shock of my dad's death seemed to fit the bill. I'm not sure we had much choice in the matter anyway, my mom having taken things into her own hands in such a way as to remove the luxury of exploring other options.

Mom finished her week at the regular hospital with a pacemaker implant for a heart condition that might or might not have been related to the pharmaceutical shock to her system. Immediately after the surgery she was transferred to the psych hospital, loaded up with antidepressants, and put in adult diapers although she was not incontinent in any way. She spent a couple of weeks in the ward, not really understanding why she was there but continuing to repeat the mantra that she just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. Therapy was group therapy by a social worker and most of the group members were in no shape to share or to listen. Meals were served in Styrofoam boxes with plastic forks and spoons. The TV blared all day in the one small common area.

There is a phenomenon I've experienced that the minute you don a hospital gown and get into a hospital bed, you begin to feel like a sick person. Even if you are just in for some diagnostic tests, by the time you've had your first hospital meal, you've become a full-blown invalid. My brother was convinced Mom needed to be released from the psych place, ready or not, and coached her to tell the med-management practitioner that she no longer wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. Whether she did so or not, state funding only covers so much, and so it was at the end of two weeks, my mother was transferred to the assisted living residence where she now lives, after my brother and I visited and liked what we saw.

Mom started her sojourn at Homewood as a "respite care" patient. Respite care is designed as a short term stay for situations where a regular caregiver, typically a family member, needs a break. It was also a way for us to see how the living situation suited my mother before signing a long-term contract, furnishing a room and moving in her own linens, towels and wall hangings. We liked the place as much as one can like such an institution. The staff seemed genuinely caring, the food was good and the rooms were clean. Residents ran the gamut of stages of decline, from relatively mobile and conversant to wheelchair-bound with vacant stares.

In the beginning Mom mainly suffered from severe fatigue. She slept a lot and couldn't understand why she felt so weak. She also couldn't remember where she was when she woke in the morning or that there was a pull cord by her bed to summon an aid if she had questions or wanted to get dressed or needed anything. She couldn't remember to charge her cell phone, so regular communication was somewhat problematic. But at least she had resolved to make an effort to live her life again. And at that point I honestly thought she would do it, she would rebound and make some sort of life for herself.

I thought her energy would return. I thought her friends would continue to visit. I thought she'd participate in the activities of the residence and resume some sort of social life. We added Aricept to her prescription protocol and on the counsel of her physician we expected to see some of the cognitive cloud lift from her mind. We arranged for grief counseling and physical therapy and crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

For a short while there was some improvement. Mom even went on a "field trip" to Tradewinds Park and said it was "very nice." That was the high point though. Soon she was losing ground again. The Aricept did not appear to be working and she was in a horrible phase of being confused, knowing she was confused and feeling terrible about being confused.

In April, one evening after dinner she fell. She wasn't hurt and could remember how it happened, but the night staff found her sitting on the floor and sent her to the hospital to be checked out according to standard operating procedure. A well meaning doctor admitted her and kept her in a hospital bed running tests for a week and once again she emerged from the hospital in weaker, sadder shape. She began using a wheelchair. The staff put her in bed because it was easier to keep tabs on her there, so she slept much of the time.

About this time my brother and I, with the concurrence of her medical practitioner, decided to discontinue the Aricept. This had the desired effect. She was still confused but she was no longer worried about it. We also took her off the antidepressants and everything else that we deemed unnecessary and useless. Then she fell again and my brother and I were adamant about keeping her out of the hospital. At that point her doctor referred her to a hospice program.

I remember hearing the word "hospice" and feeling the proverbial cold chill run down my back. Hospice to me meant days left to live, but the medical director explained to me that patients sometimes stayed in hospice for a long time, as long as two years. It was May 2011, a couple of weeks shy of my mom's 88th birthday. I had plane tickets to see her then, but she was in a decline and it was uncertain if she'd live two more weeks. I was conflicted, wanting to go immediately and just sit with her during her last hours, while knowing that she might live for many more months. I waited and she rallied.

I won't say she returned to anything close to the person we knew before my dad's death, but she was in a steady state. We hired an aide to keep her engaged and encourage her to participate in house activities such as daily "exercise" class. We continued with physical therapy and had her walking again with a walker. We'd long abandoned grief counseling; you can't make progress if you can't remember ever meeting the therapist before at every session. But mom didn't seem unhappy, she rarely remembered that my dad was gone although she asked for him sometimes.

Gradually though, her stamina waned. Her ankles swelled and she had to have them elevated as much as possible. Being in bed with legs propped on pillows was a little too conducive to sleeping a good part of each day.

And now it is February 2013 and my mom is approaching her 90th birthday in May and her second anniversary in the hospice program. She has been taking Megace, an appetite stimulant often used with cancer and aids patients, and has put on weight, but just lately she has been refusing to eat, or more precisely, to feed herself. She will eat if she is fed. But the Megace-induced food exuberance is gone.

My brother thinks she is sending a message by not feeding herself. I think she lacks that much reasoning power at this point and just isn't hungry. You don't work up much appetite sitting and sleeping. But last night we kicked around the ethics of taking her off Megace and letting nature take it's course. There's a fine line between doing something affirmative to hasten nature's course and ceasing to do something to inhibit it. We didn't land anywhere other than an agreement to have a philosophical discussion with her medical team about the idea of taking Mom off Megace. Making the decision based on the feedback from that discussion would be another discussion

Right now I'm looking at flights and planning a trip to see Mom in March, with the idea of going again for her birthday in May. As much as I comprehend that her life is a mere existence rather than a meaningful life, I am not ready to say goodbye and let her go. In the end I know it isn't my choice, she will die one day and I will accept it and maybe find some relief in it. When a nonagenarian dies it isn't a tragedy and if she goes to sleep and never wakes up, well it is what she said she wanted. I don't pretend I understand that or believe she had the right to engineer it in her grief.

"All are under sentence of death," as Galsworthy put it. And as Milton put in, "they also serve who only stand and wait." Or in my mom's case sit and sleep.

But really, what's the rush?

"for life's not a paragraph

and death i think is no parenthesis."

(e.e. cummings)




"There's no such thing as no regrets
But baby it's alright
I'm not running
I'm not hiding
I'm not reaching
I'm just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in
And I'm almost home."

(Mary Chapin Carpenter)