Pets aren’t children. We’re allowed to have favorites. Of my three cats, Simon, my foster failure, is my most adored animal. I thought I’d be fostering him briefly. He was eight years old and fat. I didn’t need or want three cats. But love often isn’t planned. I feel better when Simon is in the room with me. I love all my cats, but he’s my best buddy, all twenty pounds of him. I’m grateful every day that he’s mine.
Work on the psychiatry ward had been especially challenging all week for numerous and complex reasons. On one particular day, I did my work and anxiously waited for the day to be over. Usually the treatment teams assess new patients in the morning, but sometimes, on a bad day, in the early afternoon. That day we saw a patient at three o’clock—extremely late. My patient appeared sad. He looked like he might cry but informed us he felt “just fine.” I wasn’t buying it.
After completing the assessment with the team, instead of rushing to my office to dash off a chart note and quickly exit for the day, I met with him privately for about fifteen minutes. We discussed the things he’d not been ready to talk about in the larger meeting. He wiped away tears as we parted, and observed, “You must be very good at your job.” I felt I’d reached him in a fundamental way that I hoped would be helpful. Focusing on my patient, offering my best to him and having it accepted, healed many of my bad feelings from the week. He reminded me of what’s important to me. Through my efforts to help him, I restored myself. This is one of the many reasons I love being a social worker.
To live well with chronic illness, enjoy small indulgences. One of my favorite treats is quality dark chocolate—in moderation. If I’m having a hard day, I’ll splurge on a large bar of gourmet chocolate and then savor it over the course of a few days. It never fails to please.
One vacation day, I went to the earliest showing of the movie, Hidden Figures, at about 10:30 on a Friday morning. Settling into my seat, I heard a baby crying. Initially annoyed, I checked my bad attitude. I reasoned that the baby’s caregiver had probably picked a showing in which the baby was least likely to annoy other movie patrons. No one goes to the movies that early on a weekday without a good reason, such as needing to get out of the house for a break.
I decided to accept the baby and simply hoped it would calm down. It did. It gurgled a few times during the film, but that was all. I felt ashamed that I’d initially been so indignant, but also pleased by my change of heart. Sometimes the only thing in my control is my attitude. I fail often, but I continue to try to remember to be positive and kind whenever possible.
Getting older is hard. Parts of my body that previously worked well are now creaky and less robust. At fifty-seven, I keenly feel the effects of aging. But occasionally my body improves. Being caught in the rain used to be wholly unpleasant, mostly because raindrops landed on my glasses, obscuring my vision. This occurred even when it sprinkled. But since I had cataract and PRK surgeries, I have perfect vision except for reading, and I no longer wear glasses outdoors. The rain comes, I might get wet, but I can see clearly. It’s a big change and a huge relief. This change reminds me that while I can’t avoid the effects of aging, positive physical changes may also occur, creating balance. When managing poor health, being mindful of balance is a key coping
Once when in a grocery store as a teenager, I watched as my grandmother declined to purchase lemons, informing me that they were overpriced. This surprised me. Grandma’s home was filled with antiques, and she often traveled internationally. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand her refusal to buy the pricey lemons. Grandma’s ability to make prudent daily purchases enabled her to splurge on larger items when she chose to. She never minded spending money, but she demanded value, whether going on a luxury cruise or buying a lemon. I try to follow her example by getting good value out of everything I buy. I’ve often been told I’m “good with money.” I apply this principle to other areas of my life as well. My time and energy are limited because of poor health. So whatever activity I embark on, I want to ensure it has value to me, whether it’s important or insignificant.
It’s easy to get bogged down when life is stressful. We may be physically or mentally ill, or be facing challenging circumstances. But one good day can give us hope. A single day where my issues don’t dominate my thoughts or demand my attention helps renew my perspective. I think, I can handle this. It’s not that bad. When personal issues aren’t intruding on my day, my thoughts clear, and I’m able to appreciate my life and move toward being positive again.
This Blog was first published on the HuffPost Blog on June 20, 2017
Love and hate often go together. I both love and hate writing to my father every week. When my stepmother placed him in an assisted living facility in 2014, I asked her if I could do anything for him in his new home. She suggested I send him cards. So for the last three years, every week I’ve mailed him a greeting card.
My parents divorced when I was six years old. For the first four years after their divorce, my entire family lived in New York City, and my brother and I visited our father, and later our stepmother, every other weekend. He never called us, but we felt connected to him through regular visitations.
After four years, my father and step-mother moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, two thousand miles away, and our visits went from every couple of weeks to three times a year during school vacations. Both our father and stepmother wrote regularly. Their correspondence became our sole form of communication between season-long gaps in personal contact. After Dad and Suzy moved away, I spent every Sunday afternoon at my paternal grandmother’s home, where I wrote letters to Albuquerque. I’m a terrible speller, and I felt hugely proud of myself when I learned to spell Albuquerque correctly. This enabled me to address the envelopes to my father and stepmother without my grandmother’s assistance.
Less than a year after my father and stepmother moved to New Mexico, my mother, brother, and I also made a cross-country move to California. The letters between me and my family in Albuquerque continued. My grandmother had helped me establish my writing habit. During the last eight years of my childhood, I don’t recall receiving even one phone call from my father, but by the time I left for college, I had a huge stack of handwritten letters from Dad and Suzy.
Our letters evolved into phone calls when I moved to college, probably because I was then in charge of my own phone bills and could pay for the calls out of my college budget. My father and stepmother had established, and were largely funding, this budget.
When I was in my early thirties, a friend living in another state became acutely sick. I bought and sent a year’s worth of greeting cards to cheer her up. After the year ended, I replaced the cards with letters. I took pride in sending those weekly letters, and I hoped she enjoyed receiving them. This correspondence was entirely one sided, with no expectation of reciprocity. Our friendship was reciprocity enough. I ended this correspondence about fifteen years later when I became so sick, I missed two months of work. I simply couldn’t muster the stamina the letters required. After my health rebounded, I realized I’d burned out, and I stopped writing them. My friend didn’t seem to notice or care, but I hoped the fifteen years of cards and letters from me had brought her a small amount of pleasure.
I’ve also carried on a correspondence since 1979 with a childhood friend I reunited with in college. My friend and I rarely see each other or speak on the phone, but the correspondence is so intimate, I feel as if we’ve been having a thirty-eight-year conversation. Our letters are the bedrock of our friendship.
When Dad was first institutionalized, I tucked photos I’d taken in with the cards. I’d ask interesting looking strangers if I could photograph them, explaining my purpose. Two especially memorable photos depicted a baby in a straw fedora and a woman with rainbow-colored hair. I called it the Alzheimer’s Project, and no one ever refused my request. But over time, I realized Dad’s cognitive abilities had declined so significantly, he might not be able to understand the reason for the photos or the brief comments accompanying them. I expressed these concerns to my stepmother, who agreed that a simple message would now be all Dad could understand.
My greetings on the colorful cards I mail him weekly have simplified into two true sentiments: I hope you are enjoying your day and I’m thinking about you. Occasionally I check with my stepmother to ensure that the cards are still welcome. She assures me that Dad continues to enjoy them, and he shows them to her when she visits.
I hate sending the cards to Dad because they remind me of all that my family has lost—a brilliant, caring, and funny man who is now a remnant of his former self. But I love sending them because the cards allow me to care for Dad and connect with him through this small gesture, even if he no longer remembers who I am.
Dad established my life-long role as a letter writer, unintentionally setting the stage for our current one-way correspondence. I’ve been writing and publishing professionally since 2015. I’ve learned writing lessons too numerous to list here. But one of the most important things I’ve learned is to do my best and let go of the outcome. I’ll continue to write to Dad every week without any expectation of how my cards are received. This is a small part of the on-going process of letting go of my beloved father.
When I arrived early to the movie, I decided to buy popcorn and eat it in the theater’s lounge behind the ticket taker’s line. This location allowed me to happily “people watch.” Rogue One: A STAR WARS STORY was in its second day of release, and swarms of eager Star Wars’ fans jammed the lobby.
Star Wars isn’t my favorite movie franchise. I’ve seen only the original 1977 film, but I can appreciate the devotion of its fans. Countless school-age boys, who seemed wildly excited, waited in line. Numerous couples were in the crowd as well as many individuals in their twenties and thirties. Their excitement and happiness unified them in my mind. Watching all those happy filmgoers made me feel a kinship with them. I’m often at my happiest at the movies, and I understood their emotions. Star Wars doesn’t need to be my favorite film franchise for me to appreciate the joy I see in its devotees. I watched the new Will Smith film, Collateral Beauty, but I’m grateful to Star Wars for another happy experience at the movies.
RIP Carrie Fisher. You were amazing in life and in the movies. We will miss your wit and courage