Sunday, April 29, 2012

Running Away from Home

floatplane taking off
 I ran away from home last night.  Not from an abusive environment inside the home.  Nor from threats within our immediate neighbourhood.  No earthquakes, tornadoes or hurricanes threatened either.  So what or who was I running away from?

Or rather, from what or who were both Mama and Papa Bear running away from?

Since we took each other with us, we weren't running away from each other.

icicles hanging off rock face en route
We were running away from a perceived, potentially explosive interpersonal situation.  One in which there could be only losers - no winners.

How did someone as gentle and caring as Papa Bear end up in this kind of situation?  Where running away appears to be the best answer?

 Did he do something wrong?  If so, what?
still waking up from the winter nap
barge plying Georgian Bay tied up at pier
remnants of snow on ground
 It all started innocently enough when several months ago, Papa Bear ended a stretch of unemployment with a new job.  Everything looked good.  At first.  For the first couple of days.  Until the new boss started calling him and his co-worker into the office threatening to fire them, berating them for things that were not in their control.  Refusing to pay for time worked.  The list could go on.

And then, out of the blue a job opportunity came up.  Suddenly.  Good news, right?  In a way.  But then the problem became, how does one extricate oneself from an abusive situation?  Does one do the honourable thing and give notice with the potential of being threatened, fired on the spot, abused for two more weeks, or ignored?

Papa Bear was so distressed, he couldn't sleep at night.  He had no peace.  Tormented, he wrestled with the problem.  Seeking an answer.

two men and their "canoe" hats
unadulterated peace and beauty
And so, last week, he decided the best option, the only option was to leave abruptly.  Unable to reach the boss either in person at the workplace or on the phone, he left all work-related items in the office with a message on the voice mail.

We packed hurriedly - and left, thus avoiding future confrontations either on the phone or at our house.  Only a few people know where we are.

Were we cowards?  Or did we do the right thing?  We will probably never know.

Yes, we will have to return home in a few days, but for the moment we're saturated in peace and beauty, rather than patching up emotional wounds.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What the Devil's Staircase and Chronic Fatigue Have in Common...

There are days when writing a new blog post feels like an uphill battle.  An insurmountable challenge.

Like the portage Papa Bear and I did on our first canoe camping adventure.  For those of you who don't know what a portage its, it is a pathway between two lakes in which one carries EVERYTHING from one lake to the next including all the food the camper is going to need since there are no canoe-through Tim Hortons or MacDonalds in the backcountry, clothing, all gear such as stove, plates, utensils, tent, canoe, paddles and all the miscellenea which would take too much time and space to detail.

This particular route had been billed as easy with only three short portages.  The information failed to mention that the second portage is aptly nicknamed "the Devil's stairway" because most of it is uphill - on the way in.  Try carrying canoe, paddles, backpacks heavily laden with gear and the infamous bear barrel packed with good.  Uphill.  Factor in lack of training for said excursion and you've just about got the gist of it.

I ended up stuck about halfway up, breathing heavily, heart pounding in my chest not from fright but from exertion unable to go any further at any speed, bear barrel lying beside me.  Papa Bear passed me going up, going back down for the rest of our load, and then going back up.

Eventually, I got up and tried again minus said bear barrel.  It would have to find its own way up the Devil's Staircase - or rather another back to go up on.  Actually, I more or less rather up step by wretched step listening for the telltale sound of running water which Papa Bear advised marked that the top of the incline -and torture - was near.  Papa Bear later confided that he was afraid that he was going to have to do the fireman's carry on me and portage me up the incline!  Fortunately, I was spared that indignity.  Thankfully.

That is how I have felt lately when I even think of writing my blog.  No energy.  Stuck on the path.  Gasping for breath.  Every cell in my body crying out for rest.  Sitting up becomes an effort as do most of the myriad of tasks we perform without thinking every day.  Getting out of bed.  Getting dressed.  There have been days lately when I average about one piece of clothing an hour.  And those have been the good days.

The latent effects of the severe stress I endured in 2011 have been manifesting themselves big-time since early February.  Each week getting worse than the week before instead of better.  Concurrently, I have all the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue.  Sigh.  Along with other symptoms of other aspects such as Psychiatric Injury and Hypervigilance.

Manifestations such as lack of balance have become daily occurrences as has the inability to form the right word necessary to form a complete sentence resulting in a weird game of twenty questions to make myself understood.

Yet, even with these altered abilities I cope with on a daily basis, life is worth living - just in a different way than before.  A way that limits physical activity yet maximizes quality time with people including Matriarch Bear and those who live in the seniors' residence with her during my recent trip.  Emotionally, I was doing OK.  Physically?  Another scenario totally.

Personally, at this point if I had my choice, I'd rather face the physical challenge of the Devil's Staircase than the physical challenges of Chronic Fatigue.  At least I'd know where the end is....

More later.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Another Day as a very young "Senior"

After a brief hiatus, I return to this blog.  While visiting the seniors' residence, besides having a riot talking with the residents and enjoying life, I was coping with some of the disabilities - or rather altered abilities - coming from the past severely stressful situation, i.e. weakness so bad that at times I could not sit up, fatigue, inability to process thoughts and speak correctly, trembling, memory loss.  In short, I basically fit in with the group.

I ask your forgiveness and patience on the days when I am too weak to blog and thank each and every one of you who accesses my blog.  Newcomers always welcome!

Back to the regularly scheduled blog:

Kincardine ON Lighthouse
on the "painters" wall
by Matriarch Bear

OK.  OK.  The word "young" is relative in this case.  A perception.  An assumption on my part.  Or maybe just an opinion.  Does it matter?  I think not.  What is important is the experience.  The bonding - first and most importantly - with Matriarch Bear but also with the staff and the other residents.

The Erie Canal
taken from the bridge on the Main Street of Fairport NY
Life.  Living life to the fullest.  Even with constraints.  For the seniors I'm living with it means living with what I call "altered abilities" rather than disabilities.  Loss of hearing.  Mobility.  Macular degeneration.   Memory loss.  And other various and sundry physical maladies differing according to the resident involved.

It means doctor's appointments on a regular basis, walkers, hearing aids, and, in Matriarch Bear's case, oxygen almost 100% of the time.

It also means living with loss of independence.  Moving to a more structured environment.  Becoming more dependent on their families and staff.
The dining room between meals
Yet, what I see in the residence and its residents resonates of life.  Life being lived as fully as possible.  The ability to smile, to laugh.  Yes, I freely admit that while I don't understand the phenomenon, laughter and smiles seem to follow me wherever I go - including the seniors' residence.  The sharing of memories.  And yes, the caring.  Now I also freely admit that some of the residents are more caring then others but all in all it's a riot to watch them interacting with each other at meal times.  Because people are people and the things that have been there all the time get magnified as they age, there are also petty rivalries, gossip, etc.  And, of course, with over 90 residents, there can be at any given time just about as many opinions on any given matter.  Which makes life in a seniors' residence all that more interesting.
ground floor view of the back garden
So this particular day began, for me, in a relaxed, lazy way.  Breakfast is at 8 a.m.  However, since morning is Matriarch Bear's worst time of the day, we no longer go down to the dining room but rather slowly wake up.  Take it easy.  Smell the coffee?  Heck, no!  We sleep in.  Forget the coffee.

An early riser, I wake up first and fortify myself with the first of several cups of fully caffeinated coffee.  Then I make the Matriarch Bear her first cuppa tea for the day and bring it into her bedroom.  With this, our "daily" ritual begins - of me trying to wake her up and her ignoring me.  This goes on as long as I let it.  Eventually, she accedes to my wishes and demands, and gets up.  I lay out her clothes.  Matriarch Bear is fully capable of dressing herself.  Make no mistake about that.  However, she's just as happy to wear the same outfit as many days as she can get away with.  Now with a closet full of nice clothes which both her daughters and granddaughters have accumulated for it, it seems like a sin not to wear them, so I lay them out for her.
An expanded view of the back garden
Next, I fix her some breakfast and reheat up her (by now cold) tea.  We have a lazy morning.  Usually I try to head into the village of Fairport to find a WiFi connection remembering that I HAVE to be back by noon for the midday meal.  As an active, "young" (the words "young" and "old" are relative when you're living with seniors, i.e. 60 is young, 97 is old, which means that the 80's fall somewhere in the middle, I guess), I find this schedule constricting.  On my own, I would forage for myself but I'm not on my own this week.  The purpose is to be with Matriarch Bear and bond with her.  For that, meal time is ideal.  And, by the way, the meals are tasty with a qualified cook on site.  Since the noon meal is the main meal of the day, I do not want to miss this event.  Late is one thing.  Missing it entirely is quite another.

The gazebo
Notice the comfortable chairs
I enjoy my walk to the village with the exception of The Hill.  Turn left out the driveway and that is the first thing confronting a pedestrian such as myself.  Speaking of The Hill, now that Matriarch Bear has so much trouble breathing caused by overtaxing her heart, when we take her out we use a wheelchair - which means it's "payback" time for her now grown-up cubs.  And do we have fun threatening in jest to take our hands off the handles at the top and let 'er fly!  Our imaginations may run wild, but our hands and sensibilities do not as we keep the wheelchair in control at all times.

On my walks, I found WiFi connections in the village.  I've never envisioned myself as one who would sit at the table with my designer coffee, laptop powered up.  I always thought these were important, business people.  High fivers (is that a real term?)  I feel that I am right up there with the power people.  Possessor of my own laptop.  And hey!  I'm even able to use it!  Bonus!

The entrance to the residence

Today, since the physical weakness I cope with on a daily basis is kicking in again, I will leave you here.  Approaching the entrance of the residence from my walk.  Moving briskly because I'm late.  Lunch has started.  Matriarch Bear is at her table probably worrying about where her cub is.

Life is good.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Life at 62 in a seniors' residence

The field beside the parking lot
We saw a fox but where unable to
take a picture of him/her
So here I am.  At 62 a resident (for a week) in a seniors' residence.  How do I go about describing the experience?  What words do I use?  What style do I write it in?  Or maybe like when I first starting writing this blog, I just dive on in.  So here we go....

A picture board sibling bear
put on her bathroom room
My day usually begins anywhere between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. when, what I call the brigade, comes in.  Usually first is an aid to put on Matriarch Bear's elasticized stockings which, I believe, are to help with blood flow.

Next, in line is the nurse with a pill - not for me.  Usually, they knock loudly on the door, then open it and call out Matriarch Bear's name.  Now if this doesn't raise the dead - or rather sleeping bear on the pull-out sofa - I don't know what will.

Next comes breakfast in the downstairs dining room at 8 a.m.  Matriarch Bear now skips this as her worst time seems to be in the morning.  She's slow to wake up and her breathing problems, even with oxygen, are worse in the morning. So now they either bring up a tray or one of her cubs makes her breakfast.  It's relatively easy when I'm on-site for one of my irregular visits, but when Sibling Bear is in town, she has to drive over every day and make Matriarch Bear tea and toast and then play a game with Matriarch Bear.

Matriarch Bear's living room
The view from Matriarch Bear's
second floor apartment
Matriarch Bear's door
I love to walk down
the hallway and see
what how the other
residents have decorated
their space

Today, Matriarch Bear had no intention of getting up.  However, a lady was coming to play her trombone in the living room downstairs and I really was curious to see how this went, so I asked Matriarch Bear if she minded if I went down alone.  Apparently, she minded because the next thing I knew she was maneuvering her red, wheeled walker out the door and down the hall.  I had problems keeping up with her!  She can be one determined bear when she wants to be!

Not everyone attends the activities, so there were maybe 20 or so residents listening to the trombone lady.  She was actually quite good and engaged her audience in conversation.  Laughter.  Clapping. Enthusiasm.  Good music. Doesn't get much better than that now does it?

You've heard of the long, long trailer?
Well, here's the long, long hallway
Next ... one of the big "social" events of the day.  Lunch.  Or probably rather dinner as they serve the main meal in the middle of the day and a lighter meal in the evening.  When the residence first opened, they tried letting people sit more or less where they wanted to.  But they didn't work out well, so now each resident is assigned to a table.  Since, there are no extra places at the table for four where Matriarch Bear usually sits, we've been moved to a table with two lovely newcomers to the residence, B and M; 90 and 97 respectively.  These two ladies were neighbours for years but were forced to move when the management of their apartment building decided to renovate the units.

Alack and alas, I must stop now as supper, the last major social event of the day, starts at five - and I have at least a 10 minute walk back.  Oops.

Can't get in trouble with Matriarch Bear, now can I?

So I will stop where I am ... and come back for more tomorrow.

The living room - on normal day

The wall of art in the dining room
Several of Matriarch Bear's original paintings are on this wall -
towards the left.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Matriarch Bear ...

… begins a new life....
The house on Annabelle Drive
gone but not forgotten
Today I am posting from the megalopolis of Fairport NY situated on the historie Erie Canal from an enriched seniors’ housing unit.

For those who are uninitiated in senior-speak,  enriched seniors’ living is the lowest, least intrusive level of assisted living.

the magnolia Patriarch Bear, a true Southern gentlman
planted in the early 1970's
the first year it was but a mere twig with two blossoms 
Not a nursing home, Matriarch Bear has her own one-bedroom apartment.  She sleeps in the same solid maple bed she’s slept in all her married life.   All her bedroom furniture moved with her as well.  The pictures she’s painted over a lifetime of being an amateur artist decorate her walls.  The table that was originally her own mother’s sits in the combined living/dining room.  Patriarch Bear’s secretary (NOT a female but rather a combination, old-fashioned writing desk and bookcase with glass doors) dominates her living room.  Thus, she is surrounded with old, familiar, treasured items.  Memories that neither time nor age can dim.
Enriched seniors’ living means that the residents must be relatively active and alert; able to take care of themselves.  Nursing staff is available 24/7 as are aids.  Meals and meds are provided.  Laundry is done once a week.  As well, there is a small, free laundry room on each floor for residents who want to do their own laundry.

the backyard as it looked at the time of sale 
Each apartment boasts of it’s own small kitchen should the resident decide to cook.

For Matriarch Bear to move from the home she’d lived in for more than 40 years in one state in the Midwest and move several hundred miles northward to a completely new community albeit one in which one of her own cubs lived, was a difficult decision.  But a necessary one.  She was increasingly becoming prey to con men.  There was the increasing possibility of a life-threatening illness happening undetected since Matriarch Bear lived alone.  Most of her family grown and gone.  Ditto the old neighbours who once upon a time looked after one another.  

It was time for a change.

All of Matriarch Bear's life was in that house.  Most of it would have to be disposed of.  Only a fraction of her treasures would be able to move with her.  The house had to be sold.  Her beloved garden said goodbye to.  Life as she knew it changed drastically with that decision.

Saying good-bye
She had to mourn her loss.  She felt that she’d lost her independence and for a while succumbed to apathy as at the age of 90, Matriarch Bear moved into a new, somewhat frightening stage of life.  That of living completely independently to living semi-independently.

Yet, she herself had acknowledged that it was a good decision.  She likes not having to cook her own meals and although seniors have some similarities to children and teenagers, the Matriarch of our clan sees people and socializes with others daily.

Best of all, the distance to visit her has been cut in half for this cub and weekend trips are doable.

More from the seniors' place tomorrow....