A True and Lasting Joy

In case I have not voiced this in a while, let this post serve to tell the world one basic truth of my life. I love my job. And life is a joy for those who love their work. Each day I arise happy to set forth on my work of the moment. I am never disappointed. Sometimes, I meet other people who clearly do not love their jobs. That is a great pity.



Many people I attend to are retired military. Among the eldest of them are a few long retired British Military. Career military gentlemen tend to like to be called by their rank, rather than their names. Many times, this information is not available until the first face to face meeting. This week I had just such a happenstance.

Enter smiling. Me: "Good Morning Mr. Smith."
Large elderly gentleman stands ramrod straight holding the door. A frown passes his countenance, followed by much throat clearing.
I glance at many framed certificates of merit, medals and accolades.
Me: "Would you prefer to be addressed as General, Sir?"
He relaxes visibly, and breaks into a huge smile-
Him: "Now, now, m'dear. don't stand on ceremony. You needn't call me Sir."


Early reasoning

It had been a very eventful day indeed. We had visited one of those stately homes with a turret attached or visa versa. Indeed a hotel was built around the site. The turret was only accessible by a terrible outside climb that noone in their right mind would attempt -or- by this old and very unreliable elevator. The whispers were that the elevator was haunted. This whisper started around the time the elevator took to stopping half-way up and lurching menacingly. It was serviced meticulously and always passed with flying colours, only to act up again once re-certified safe. I was the only one of our party that knew the stories about this aspect and had left it out when persuading everyone to take the trip up to the top.

We had, possibly the worst elevator ride in the history of same, with stops and starts, and creaks and groans until we were all convinced we were going to die. I was so scared that I starting singing to dispel my terror. Everyone else was so scared they did not complain. Once we finally got to the top of the turret, at least 12 minutes since departing the bottom, everyone spilled out whereupon the silly lift disappeared. It went down, stranding us. My dad who was a terrible shade of green announced he would climb down, thank you very much. I looked over the top of the precipace wall- down down down and showed Dad. "Perhaps not" he said.
For some odd reason, as everyone was trying to shake the elevator heebee geebies I told them the stories about it supposedly being haunted. This was, in retrospect, a very bad move. We all now looked down at the suicidal climb and went silent. Just then, a click and a slam announced the return of the elevator. We all looked at one another and got in. This time, one of us held the door open and we tried to distribute the weight evenly, for a better chance at a smooth ride. Once in, the metal trellis was pulled across and down we went. Everyone held their breath expecting the treatment we had on the way up. Nothing at all happened. It was a perfectly normal return to the ground.

One by one we exited, and the guide at the bottom took one look at our befuddled state and said: "Glamis acting up?"
"You call the elevator Glamis?" I asked.
"No, actually we call it the Monster of Glamis but Glamis for short." He was smiling. "She doesn't like me, our Glamis doesnt, so I don't push my luck. I never use it anymore, well, after last time."
We did not ask. Probably because we knew.

All the way to work this morning I was fretting about this experience. I had resolved in my mind never to investigate aging turrets again if the guide did not actually accompany me. I was thinking how I should never have taken Dad there. How ridiculous the whole thing sounded but how terrifying it was in the moment. After my second client, I had a moment where I froze in my tracks and realised that I had never been in a haunted elevator and I certainly had never been on a castle/stately homes/ tourist trip with my father. Good God, I realised, that was a dream.

Is it any wonder that I wear a nametag? I might forget who I am at this rate.
It has been a long while since I had a dream indistinguishable from reality. Whose reality, you ask? The reality of haunted turrets and wayward elevators of course!

This is life. Or something like it.


Magnetron *OFF*

(Magnetron *ON* - - - IT'S ALIVE!!)

Quietly eating my breakfast whilst doing my crossword when a gentleman signals me from across the room. He is a familiar stranger, one of those who frequents the same places at the same times I do. Although I do not know him, I know OF him from the old fellas who cross my path. They do not care much for him as it seems he is a braggart, by their standards.

He looks at me and speaks in an almost courtly manner. It comes off as sincere if slick. I am curious to hear what he brags about. It does not take long, in fact he asks me if he is allowed to brag. Yes, he uses that very word.
"Go ahead", I say and away we go. I listen AND do the crossword at the same time as he brag brag brags some more. He has alot TO brag about it seems but when he mentions he got an Academy Award I am incredulous. There is a chance of course that he is a minor player in his field, or a major one for that matter, but an Academy Award? hmm, unlikely. There is also the chance that he has some sort of brain dysfunction and means something other than what he is saying. I have come across that before many times. I still listen but I am plotting my escape. Not that he is annoying me - he is rather charming in fact but I have things to do and he does not. He is at least 25 years older than me and although I love and enjoy conversation I am not really looking for an older boyfriend. I could talk myself into it I am sure but work is work and social is social - I do not want to be a caregiver in my private life unless it is to my own progeny.

As I leave he stops me, standing in that mannerly way, and asks me out for dinner.

(magnetron OFF)

Really, I must fiddle with my settings some more and do a little fine tuning. Many is the charmer I have met in my life in theatre. Many are the men of immense charisma I have crossed paths with. I know the different types well. One thing I can spot easily is the person who wants you to want them and will engage themselves fully until that is achieved - afterwhich it is a question of doing their bidding. The other niggle is that someone who has led the life of a successful professional entertainer in Vegas and LA has been very very much out and about. I am completely convinced that he has indeed led that life- the life of a World Class performer - specialist in his field - especially after using Mr. Google to check.


Owing to the long cool Winter that is stretching into Spring, the beach here fills up at even the slightest increase in sunshine and warmth. We had a record 2 sunny and hot days in a row before the coolness returned. One day it was 50 degrees F and the next it was 85. The sunburns are everywhere.

Even though it has warmed up a tad, I am still wearing my leather jacket. My jeans hide knee socks beneath the denim and when I walk the sands, it is in sensible shoes. Today the tide is way way out as my dog and I do our daily outing. Unbelievably, at the water's edge is a tiny woman with her toes exposed to the water. She is laughing as the water tickles in and out. A couple in their 60's earnestly tries to find out who this lady belongs to. She just laughs her delightful laugh and then suddenly I hear her say: "Ask her. She knows." She means me.

The couple pounce on me and begin an onslaught about negligence and elder abuse and should we call the police so someone can come and take her back to whatever old age home she escaped from and on and on and on. The man has his cellphone out. I look over to the barefoot lady and I recognize her at last.

"No no," I tell the couple, "She lives on the bluff there. She is fine."

Still unconvinced they mutter and walk off. He has his cellphone at the ready, clearly hoping to use it. The little lady calls my dog who is delighted to run over and try to climb onto her.
She bends over and pats him inbetween chuckles.

"How are you doing Bea?" I ask her.

She laughs some more.
"Almost every time I come down here this happens. Some kindly soul tries to save me from myself."

It might have something to do with her tiny stature. Bea is 4 foot nine. It might have something to do with her choice of wardrobe. Bea wears three shades of pink, non matching, and layered innovatively. It might have something to do with the incongruity of a small elderly woman being one mile out from the safety of the curbs where every other person of her age sits.

I ask Bea if she can make it back up the steep stairs or if she is going to walk around the long way. She gives a little snort and I feel chastised.

She stands up releasing my dog. She looks me in the eye, a distance of a foot or so and says:
"I have been coming here since I was 21 years old and newly married. The only thing that has really changed around here is the number of people who have never seen an capable old lady before."

I get the idea and change the subject.

"If I have lost confidence in myself, I have the Universe against me."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson


Links and Leanings

One of my private clients found me at the graveyard on the day I was wandering about looking at the different headstones. I had come to visit my Mom, on a break in work, and was in uniform. I was malingering, somewhat, as Mom had a newish neighbour or three. Possibly the grave had always been there and only the very noticeable headstone was new. Mom is closer to the peerage than ever - her new neighbours are Lord White and Lady Dora. Whomsoever they were. As I pondered on this, a chug from a powerful V* motor caught my attention. Someone was idling! (gasp!)

As I looked around for the source of the idler, a power window lowered and a little lady called me over to her car. Madame was clutching the steering wheel proudly. Her hair was that tint of blue once so popular in the over 80 set. She was extremely well dressed and had even applied lipstick, although it was rather more orange than pink and extended a tad beyond the natural lipline. The entire effect was charming. Her car, an aging Cadillac of immaculate condition, was glistening in the sun light. Not only was the paint unblemished, but the leather upholstery was gleaming, the chrome sparkling and the wheels scrubbed clean beyond even collector club standards.

" Can you tell me if you see a headstone marked: "Smithright?", she asked me politely. We conversed a few minutes before I went off on my mission. As she watched from the car, I zipped about reading the markers until I found him.
When I went back and pointed the location out to her, I asked her if she wanted me to escort her over as it was in a middle row. The ground was squishy and she looked to be in vintage heels.
"No No dear, can you just go back and tell him that Doreen is taking good care of the car? Tell him it looks good and say hello for me."
I did that. As I stood over that grave she waved at me, or him, or both and chugged slowly away.

It was a few weeks later that I found out my new 96 year old sparkler of a friend, does not have a driver's license.

"What you risk reveals what you value."

---Jeanette Winterson



Do not fear death so much,
but rather, the inadequate life.

--- Bertolt Brecht




In the line of work I have chosen, situations parallel each other. My eyes see the line of humanity, all different, all the same. The sketches of each situation are like embryos, each so alike until the process of gestation defines the differences.

One of the embryos is a clone. Many many of these selfsame clones inhabit our area. The clones name is ALS. This awful disease takes everything away from the person hosting it.My clientèle matures as do I, and the number of people I meet professionally with this disease increases, evermore.

After watching the declines, it is my thought that those whose breathing muscles go first are the lucky ones. The alternative is that you watch your body shut down, bit by agonizing bit, and you become 100% dependent on other people for your personal care, indeed for everything. Like so many things, this is hardest for those with Type A personalities. Loss of control. Loss of everything.

I am thankful that I have had some very bad experiences with some of these clients as I have learned some very invaluable lessons. I am a person who loves to learn. If I fail at something I need to know how and where I failed not just why. I also need to try it again and apply my insights. There was a terrible experience this week for my client and myself. I am looking forward to betterment.


Sunshine in Dark Corners

Working today in the beautiful sunshine, I was out and up very early. I love being out and about before 6 - it suits my internal clock very well indeed. My cellphone was set to vibrate and it started ringing around 7:45. I did not recognize the number so I delayed calling back until I realized I had messages waiting. Calling in, it was the voice of Vespa, the woman staying with Jimbo, calling from her cell.
All week I have been quietly trying to prepare her for his imminent death. All week she has listened but not heard. And now here she was on the telephone in a panic.

"He keeps trying to talk. He says sunshine over and over. I don't know what to do."

I could not help until the afternoon so I asked her to hang tight. give him ice to suck on and just stay mellow. And, if she was really scared she could always dial 9-1-1 although there is nothing much they could do except to transport him to where he does not want to be. I asked her to go for a little walk if she got too panicked. Jimbo is where he wants to be and how he wishes it to be and we have agreed to honour those wishes. Jimbo has astounded me this last month with his determinedness to stay home no matter what.

When I arrived in the mid afternoon it was to a very light smile and the same word - Sunshine.
"Did you want to go outside? Is that what it is?"
He smiled and tried to nod.
"You aren't getting him up are you?"
Of course I was. The bed cannot fit through the little door but a chair can. And Jimbo was still getting up just two days ago. I know if he wants to do it, he can. With help.

Poor Vespa was aghast. She has been at her wits end. She is all right with companioning and very much not all right with the other things that go along with death. We had a transfer chair and a transfer belt, a hospital bed that goes up and down and me. I looked into those bright eyes, too bright for a mortal. Vespa can't take this part of things so I didn't tell her. Just please hold the chair Vespa and hold it tight - and she did.

I learned this from someone else a few years back. When someone really really wants something right at the end of their life they will do what they can to help. I told Jimbo in a quiet sharp whisper that we had to do the transfer very quick and very crisp and we had to get it right the FIRST time. He smiled again.

So down with the bed, into semi-fowler position (head up, feet down),chair alongside the bed, shoes on Jimbo, belt on, sat him up fast, grabbed him tight tight tight and 1-2-3- up and into the chair. 1.5 seconds. Safety belt on, and out through the patio door to the little porch where I had a hassock with a pillow out there for his feet. Jimbo was quite floppsie - it was pretty risky but still I had enough control factors and I knew I would not drop him. Jimbo epitomizes one of my early mottoes in life: "Risk to Live!"
Not all risks are worth taking but this one was. I was not worried about that in the moment. I was too busy watching Jimbo turning his face to the sunshine and smiling. This is a man who loves the outdoors, loves the sea and the sun, loves life - every scrap of it.

We sat outside for 15 minutes. I had to pretend I was sitting behind Jimbo but actually I was supporting his head as I am not completely out of touch with reality - just a dreamer and wish-fulfillment agent. All the pillows in the world are no substitute for hands on. After our sunbath the three of is went back in. I got him back to bed with rather more difficulty. Not too bad but not something I would do on a daily basis for any period of time. That Hospice hospital bed made all the difference. (God bless Hospice and all who work with it, all over the world.)

Once back to bed, some necessary adjustments made Jimbo more comfie and it was then I realized that considerably more pre-death signs were evident. He opened his eyes really wide and did that amazing stare into eternity with a look of surprise and then pleasure. He sat like that for 25 minutes, holding both our hands and squeezing them every so often. He was conscious and satisfied. And he died, smiling.

Vespa asked me if I thought we killed him by taking him outside.
I looked at his body with all the op sites, the powerful frame holding a completely depleted form and the smile- that huge smile still fixed on his face, that old man 33 year old face. I looked her in the eye and said: "Death by happiness? Not the worst way to go, Vespa. "

So in that moment Vespa understood me and a few minutes later I understood her.

"I was not going to tell you but now, somehow I want to, before I chicken out. I always thought Jimbo gave me HIV but I think now I gave it to him and I am so so very scared."

Not much to say in those moments that stretch out. Two people making bad choices in a situation where the loaded gun has a bullet in every single chamber. I just gave her a hug. Poor Vespa, what a confession. I would never have known had she not told me. She is positive but a-symptomatic.

We had a list made out weeks ago about what to do in case of death and I noted with a smile that she had written in pencil above #1 to call me. Together we went through the list and then I had to go back to my own life. When I left she hugged me tight and in a very quiet voice asked nervously: "Can I call you when, uh, if, uh, well,..."

Of course she can call me.



har·mo·ni·um (här-mō'nē-əm) Instrument that produces tones with free metal reeds actuated by air forced from a bellows.

I am the bellows.


Bitter Home Truths

One of my private clients asked me if I ever write about my caregiving experiences. I was surprised when he asked me to write about him. He wants people to know his story.
I asked why he doesn't write about it himself but he just smiled and said that he was past those days. Talking yes, writing no.

"Write about me when I am gone. Or almost gone. But write about me as if I mattered."

The client asked me to refer to him as Jimbo. He said it with a laugh. I am not in on that particular private joke that gave him such pleasure. Jimbo is from a very small community north of here. He is of aboriginal descent and is a very beautiful man. Jimbo is 33 and in the last few weeks of his life. A battle with alcoholism began for him at the age of 8. He remembers drinking before that age but considers 8 the age at which he became addicted. For a time, Jimbo was a resident of the Downtown East Side of Vancouver. During that stint on skid row, he contracted HIV. For the past decade he lived with HIV until this last year when full blown AIDS hit. Jimbo has little anger for his lot in life and much insight. Now that this life is drawing to a close, he requires someone else to help with his ADLs. The reason Jimbo is a private client has to do with the way he perceives people treat him. We met by chance when I opened a door for him at he local thrift store. Once inside he walked directly to the furniture section and sat down and coughed for a good long time into a handkerchief. I got a glass from the shelf, threw a dime to the cashier and washed it thoroughly before filling it with water. He was still coughing when I sat down beside him.

As it turned out, this was one of the last times Jimbo was able to go out on his own. I had given him the phone number for the Island Health Authority but he could not get past the idea of strangers helping him. One day I came home to a call from a woman I do not know. Amazingly, I had actually answered my telephone! The woman had gone to a considerable bit of trouble tracking me down as she knew where I worked. She knew a co-worker and a client or three and somehow managed to figure out my last name. She wanted to ask me if I could possible manage to consider a part time job checking in on Jimbo. " He doesn't have more than a few weeks but he can't stay home without help."

Jimbo is now hooked up with Hospice and has the right equipment to stay at home. Typically, this is happening much past the time it should have or could have. He has a friend (the caller) who is staying with him but cannot do his care. He is conscious but refusing food. He calls his friend "Vespa" and they laugh. I am thinking there was a scooter involved somewhere along the line.

The reason Jimbo wanted me to write about him is so simple and so sad.
"You are the only person who was ever truly kind to me without being more afraid of me."
I cannot believe that is true but it is his perception at this time.
Jimbo has a face that looks 100 and has writ on it every battle he has fought. He was obviously a larger fellow most of his life. He looks like he could have gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson. He also looks like he lost about 100 pounds. But he is human same as us all.

This will be the last week of Jimbo's life. A Nurse checks in, sent by the Band Office. She is wearing more than just the apron, mask and gloves. She is wearing almost a moon suit. She looks at me in horror as I hold his hand. As far as I know the HIV virus cannot live outside the human body unless a blood or much more rarely, saliva host helps out. Even then, the virus can only last a microsecond. My fingers do not have any orifices, or open sores last time I looked.

Jimbo asked me to bill the Band Office. He has no money left.
He is more concerned with me "working for free" than he is with his imminent passing.
I told him that I work with Hospice and that it is quite all right. This is true. Not current, but true.

A month from now, I will still have the option to work privately for those in this area who have lots of ready money or veteran's benefits. I will still have my little job that I love so dearly. Jimbo will be on the winds, and in the memory.

Is this kindness on my part? I think it is just humanity.
When my time comes someone will hold my hand. I know it.

Why are people afraid of their fellow man when circumstance brings tragedy?
Life piled on life?

Perhaps it is the brain injury I carry with me. I know what it is like to feel shunned labeled and alone. I know what low is.

Aww Jimbo. I did write about you. Sparingly.
You see, this is all I know about him. He told me "You know all the important stuff." what's that I asked. "You see the real me."

And he is beautifully human.

------------- !!


Spring. Not Spring. Spring.

Dizzying, these changes of weather. Mother's day today- flowers to the grave and wishing I had a mother. One who actually loved me and accepted me as I was/am. A lifelong search for those stolen moments in my nightly dreams. No crime since they never truly existed.

Joy and sorrow.
Sorrow and loss.
Loss and emptiness.

I have found joy in becoming what I never had. Giving freely what I craved so deeply. Teaching as I can, those hard lessons so diligently learned. Joy Joy Joy in my journey and yours.

Here at my beach the ocean spills into the bay; grey waters lapping greyer sands. I want what we all need. Chances slim to none. But still, there IS a chance.


Look Up!

Today the winds were perfect for flying. The sun was shining and the beach beckoned. My dog was beckoning as well so it seemed a perfect idea to walk the sands. The no dog restriction was lifted May 1st so Mr. Fluffy-Pajamas and I joyfully strode out along the shoreline. I was just about to let him run free when I looked up. Way up. An eagle was pacing us from a few hundred feet in the air. A companion was soaring higher but also way too interested in our progress. I did my anti-cougar stance raising my arms high over my head and trying to look as large as possible. The big birds flew away. They have several places along the bay they can sit and survey the action so out of sight for me does not necessarily mean out of their sight. Every year people lose small dogs to eagles in exactly this way. I know my dog. He would have put his butt down and scooted like a very fast rabbit across the beach happily. And those lightning fast eagles would have descended in a flash to claim him.

Look up.


The Very Long Wait

Time time time - see what's become of me...

So wet and gloomy this long Spring has been, that I read with great surprise how Friday coming shall be truly warm. According to the weather networks the temperatures will double. Perhaps this will wake me up more from this slumber the Spring has companioned. Part of the deuced unpleasant trade-off , drugs for sleep, serenity for mania are these strange periods where my experience and the world are not compatible. I am not unhappy, not depressed, not annoyed, not anything at all really - just alive to the possibility that better things are beckoning just over the horizon. I need to be more flexible.