Thank you from the bottom of my heart: an open letter to Dr. Susan Blasey Ford

 

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…to do the right thing.

 

Dear Dr. Ford:

I watched some of your testimony last week and want you to know that I thought you were amazing. You made sense out of something that was hard to make sense of, and you did it with elegance and good humor and decency.

It was easy to imagine you as a very popular and respected professor – when you alluded to concepts you teach, you did so in an accessible and welcoming way. I bet your students love you.

I’m sure your life has been so up-ended by this. I think I read that you had to leave your house, and that your family is all separated for their – and your – safety. That sucks. I hope you are not paying too much attention to people who have nothing kind or charitable to say about this or you. (Yes, that does include you, President That-Was-One-Shameful-Display and Press Secretary Shameful-Display-Enabler.)

I hope things get back to a new and better normal for you soon. Your display of courage and integrity might not have been enough to keep now-Justice Kavanaugh from being sworn in.  But it was more than enough to provide fuel to fans of doing what’s right even when it’s not easy, but are really, really discouraged and hurting right now.

These things change slowly.

I was so ashamed of what happened to me (we were in eighth grade and it happened in school when a teacher sent us out to fetch something from another part of the building). I was sure that it must have been my fault somehow.  I couldn’t possibly tell my mother (or heaven forbid, my dad!).  So I never did. It was 1973.

But in the 1990s, I had a conversation with my daughters when they were middle schoolers, and when a boy tried pulling that on one of them, he ended up with a swift knee to a tender spot. And now, here we are in 2018. There’s #metoo, and there’s you, who came forward with nothing to gain but preserving your own sense of integrity.

It might seem as if it made no difference.

But it did.

It will.

These things change slowly, but change they do. Make no mistake. Eventually, the power of our stories will overwhelm the deniers hanging on by a thread to power that is eroding. It’s power they don’t deserve. When that happens, our sons & daughters and their sons & daughters will live in a world that doesn’t reward violence and belligerence.

I’d like to see it in our lifetime, but I’m a realist.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart:

Amy Waldman

 

#Metoo vs. #Poormetoo: Senate Committee hears from Ford & Kavanaugh

I caught a little of the testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

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What else am I gonna use? Something horrible? Thanks but no thanks. There’s enough of that already in this post.

It was horrifying.

The contrast between the two witnesses was stark. Dr. Ford told her story with remarkable composure. She was visibly upset, but did an amazing job describing her reasons for coming forward. She answered questions about the event that had brought her to the Senate hearing room, recounting the feelings of a traumatized teen and also using the vocabulary of an expert in explaining the biology of trauma. She was respectful of the process, answering the questions she was asked and asking for clarity when she wasn’t sure about a question.

Before today, I’d done a lot of thinking about Judge Kavanaugh and whether, if he did what Dr. Ford described, whether it should disqualify him from serving.

My conclusion was that while it would have been horrible and terrible and wrong, it would not necessarily have been a deal-breaker.

Why not?

It’s simple.

If Brett Kavanaugh had said, “In my youth, I did things I regret and one of them was sometimes drinking to the point where I didn’t remember things. I don’t do that any more and haven’t since (whenever he realized that this was not a great thing).”

Then, he would have apologized to Dr. Ford, and there might have been some sort of private meeting between them that none of us need know about. And he’d probably have been confirmed. Which he probably will anyway, but we’ll never know now whether he would have been otherwise.

What we do know after today is that Brett Kavanaugh is an overentitled brat whose sense of entitlement is only matched by his sense of outrage at the possibility that he might be called out for his behavior.  And I’m not talking about what happened with Dr. Ford. If I thought I was being falsely accused of something that big, I’d be salty, too.

It’s the other stuff, about his drinking and his actions around a woman who’d attended a nearby girl’s school.

He reminded me of Ex 1, who was at his nastiest when someone challenged his version of reality, whether or not it matched actual events. It was his way or the highway.

Kavanaugh explained away yearbook references to heavy drinking, eg:  “Treasurer of the 100 Kegs or Bust Club” and “Beach Week Ralph Club, Biggest Contributor,” to his love of beer and“weak stomach” and insisted he’d never been drunk enough to forget anything that happened under the influence.

He insisted that he and a bunch of his buddies who repeatedly referred to a girl named Renate and posed for a photograph as the “Renate Alumnius” did so because they had such reverence for her. That makes him sound like a) a really pathetic liar and b) a patronizing asshole. I mean, seriously. How dumb does he think we are?

It was painful to watch the contrast between the lack of respect he seemed to have for the process and Committee. It was even more painful to listen to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) try to out-nasty Judge Kavanaugh.

Not a great day for the Senate, for Dr. Ford or the Judge Kavanaugh. And most definitely not a great day for We, the People.

‘A preference for autocrats and dictators:’ Op-ed writer luckier than Riyadh Ibrahim

On Wednesday, The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed by someone serving at the pleasure of President Trump.

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“Wait, you mean they didn’t even sign their name!????? And the paper still ran it!????”

It was not exactly news to read that the current occupant of the White House is a petty bully who does whatever makes him feel good and repudiates anyone who dares to intimate that he is anything less than the Greatest Being in the Entire Universe.

Also not news? Covert resistance and dissent in the White House.  Rogue POTUS Staff announced itself on Twitter shortly after the inauguration in 2017.

From the get-go, it was clear that @RoguePOTUSStaff was comprised of mid- and lower-level staffers, worker bees beneath the notice of their imperial betters.

The news part was that this writer self-identified as one of the Imperial Betters.

“…many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. I would know. I am one of them.”

The operative word, of course, is “parts.”

“We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous….”

(These, according to Imperial, include “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.” Imperial isn’t specific about “more,” but based on his or her definition of “safer and more prosperous,” all signs point to a hawkish member of the 1 percent class who has never sat in the cheap seats.)

As to President Trump’s “worst inclinations,” Imperial provided this example:

“Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un…”

I have lots of thoughts about this whole matter, but the one thing that I keep coming back to is the book passage of which I was immediately reminded. It’s from The Outlaw State: Saddam Hussein’s Quest for Power and the Gulf Crisis,” Elaine Sciolino’s examination of Iraq and the rise of Hussein’s Baathist Party was published in 1991. Which I know because I reviewed it for The Milwaukee Journal. (Sciolino was a New York Times reporter covering Iraq – file under “random weird coincidences.”)

Here’s an abridged version. If you get a copy of the hardcover edition, it’s on Page 90.

“In 1982, just as the war with Iran started to go badly, Iraq’s minister of health, Riyadh Ibrahim, was executed. Saddam told foreign reporters that Ibrahim had knowingly distributed contaminated medicines. In a rambling speech to the Revolutionary Command Council, which was also filmed and distributed to Party leaders, Saddam called the minister a dangerous saboteur, a traitor. His crime was not just an inadvertert action, a mistake, but a political crime against the state.

“Those who knew Ibrahim and his family told the tale differently. According to an Iraqi doctor who investigated the matter, Saddam became worried when Ayatollah Khomeini began to demand Saddam’s ouster as the price of peace. “One day, when the pressure of Iranian military forces was very high and Iraq was under the threat of occupation by the Iranian Army, Saddam called a cabinet meeting,” the doctor said. “Saddam was in a critical situation. He asked the cabinet ministers, ‘Is there any solution you can find to solve this problem?’ They said, ‘No, Mr. President, you are the hero of our country. You are defending our territorial integrity.’

“Saddam replied, ‘No, tell me the truth. What is the best way to stop the Iranian invasion, even if you believe my resigning is the way to stop the war.’ All the ministers said, ‘No, we don’t agree with you.’ Then Saddam said, ‘No, I don’t mind if you tell me the truth.’

“The health minister said, ‘Yes, Mr. President. I have a suggestion. If you resign temporarily, for three or four months, the Iranian Army will go back to their bases and then you can reappear again.’ Saddam said, ‘Yes, thank you very much. You are very brave. Thank you for your solution.’ He asked the other members what they thought and they all said no to the suggestion. After the meeting, Saddam turned to his bodyguards. They captured Ibrahim and led him out of the room.

“The wife of the minister knew the First Lady. She asked the First Lady to intervene and ask the President to release her husband. When Saddam’s wife told him about the matter, he called the minister’s wife himself and asked if she was asking for her husband’s release. She said, ‘Yes. You’re his friend. You are the leader.’ Saddam asked her, ‘When do you want your husband?’ and she replied, ‘As soon as possible.’ ‘Can I send him tomorrow?’ Saddam asked her. She said of course.

“The next day the security forces came to her house. She rushed to the door and asked, ‘Where is my husband?’ They gave her a big black bag and said, ‘This is your husband.’ And she found the body of her husband, chopped into pieces.”

‘No Bullshit’ 2017 is almost over: Time to ring in #racistinrecovery 2018

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No. We cannot talk about something more pleasant. (On a separate note, for anyone dealing with elderly parents, this is a must-read. I chose it to illustrate this post because the title works for being a racist in recovery, too. Unpleasant but necessary…..)

“It is coercion of the strongest kind, because it appears in the guise of a self-evident necessity and is thus not even recognized as a coercive force.”

Ludwik Fleck, “Genesis & Development of a Scientific Fact”

 

I started 2017 with a post about making this a “no bullshit” year. Seing it out with a post about being a racist in recovery might be as “no bullshit” as it gets.

Attorney, mom, and all-around powerhouse Sandy Broadus introduced me to the term when, during a particularly heated social media discussion, she referred to some of the posters as “racists in recovery.” I may have been included in that group, I may not have. I don’t know.

What I did know was that it was a total hand-meet-glove moment and mine was in the air, waving wildly while yelling, “YES! THANK YOU!!!! THAT’S EXACTLY THE RIGHT TERM FOR IT!!!!”

In my mind, I saw the hashtag (#racistinrecovery). I saw myself wearing the T-shirt. Then I saw myself trying to explain to an angry mob that I had never worn a white sheet, pointy hat, set a cross on fire or dropped the “n-bomb” in casual conversation.

That’s racist behavior. Racist in recovery behavior is something else altogether.

Racist in recovery behavior is what happens upon realizing that the result of growing up majority culture means you have absorbed some default prejudicial beliefs you don’t even know you’ve absorbed. But knowing they’re there bothers you enough to try to undo the damage, at least as much as you can and more if possible. Which is tricky, because you don’t even know where it all is or when or how it’s gonna crop up.

I explained to someone this way: It’s like you’re a tea bag, and you live in a cup full of water. Everything around you is tea. Why would you think there was anything else?  How does a tea bag know that there’s a whole different kind of world outside a teacup? (I realize that this assumes sentience on the part of the tea bag. For purposes of this analogy, that assumption is correct.)

Being a Racist in Recovery means stepping far enough out of your comfort zone to trust someone else’s view of how what you are saying comes across. It means being willing to let go of notions you took for granted. It means taking the word of people’s experiences as people of color at their word, not challenging, minimizing, apologizing or denying those experiences. It means standing quietly and listening, and it means speaking up in situations where you hear someone who might want to be a racist in recovery or who is just a straight-up racist say something racist.

I’m not a big New Years resolver. I want to get more exercise and drop a few pounds, clean my house, write more, play my instruments more and waste less time 12 months of the year. But I would love to see #racistinrecovery become a thing in 2018.

Consider this my “Help Wanted” ad.

Insanity dressed up as ‘Peace:’ a random Jewish person’s take on Jerusalem

On this day, less than 24 hours after President Trump’s reckless decision to toss a lit match into a dry forest, metaphorically speaking, I am so grateful for my Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Sisters.

Because of them, I am able to continue hoping that we can somehow surmount all the crazy and horrible that’s drowning out the important thing we need to remember – that we’re more alike than different. That by standing together, we can poke giant holes in the lies of those who want to divide and conquer us for their own selfish reasons.

This past January, we met for the first time – a bunch of Jewish women and a bunch of Muslim women.  Some of us knew each other intra-religiously. Except for Jan, no one knew any of the women who weren’t from the same religious community. All of us were traumatized by November 8th. The Muslim women talked of having to soothe and comfort their children, who feared deportation, even though they were US citizens. That meeting left us all wanting more, and over the past year, we have arrived at the place where we are now – getting ready to do something as sisters for the larger community. A couple of us won’t be there the actual day because of Christmas-celebrating family commitments.

The rest of us will be serving dinner at a local organization, Repairers of the Breach. It serves and is governed by homeless individuals. But we’ll all there in spirit, and we’ll be showing up with some gifts of our own. A large part of our last meeting was taken up with discussion about the finer points of travel-sized toiletries and toothbrushes.

As to the Elephant in the Room, or to put it another way, Jerusalem, I wrote what you will see below six years ago in response to something that was happening on the Israel/Palestine front.

Today, it’s what I’d write if I wasn’t at work, dashing this post off on my laptop in the breakroom at lunch. The big difference is that back then, I didn’t have any Muslim pals off of which to bounce this, and now I do. Also there wasn’t a nihilist in the White House.

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Donald Trump, demonstrating his lack of respect and awareness regarding anything having to do with other humans.

 

“Ugly and frightening pretty much sums up the latest chapter in Israel’s relationship with the rest of the world.

It’s hard for me to talk about Israel in general, because I love it so much and want it to thrive and be safe; and I also want to hear the Palestinian National Symphony and see the Palestinian National Dance Company perform before I die, because that will mean that there is a Palestine that’s taking care of itself and its people.

My views on the situation aren’t popular with anyone. My conservative friends think I’m a sellout for not marching to the beat of “Everything Israel Does is Right.”

My liberal friends think I’m a fascist for thinking that Israel has a right to exist at all.

The truth is that Israel needs to exist, and Palestine needs to exist. There needs to be two states – side-by-side and the Palestinian state needs to be contiguous. Both sides need to respect the borders and safety of each other and live like decent neighbors.

And Jerusalem, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims? Sorry, dudes. You need to share it. And I get the whole not wanting to share things. I am an oldest child. I don’t want to share anything. But I am practical. Plus, I have a younger sister. So, bad news, Israel and Palestine. You each have your own country, but you still have to learn to share. You are not only children. You are siblings. Get over it

My latest scheme to institute Peace in the Middle East involves feral cats. I have no idea how, but it seems that trying to solve the feral cat problem has caused as much anguish for some people as the Middle East situation has for others. And there are other similarities. Feral cats are stubborn and difficult to deal with. Dealing with them requires a great deal of finesse and patience. And there are no guarantees that you’ll get the results you’re looking for – trust, affection and a chance to get them neutered or spayed and the chance to love them the way they deserve to be loved.”

 

Anthony Weiner sentenced at an interesting time….

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Yesterday’s New York Times featured a story about Anthony Weiner, the former congressman who decimated his family and career by engaging in virtual sex with random women and a teenage girl.

In November, he will report to prison to begin serving a 21-month sentence, after which he has to register as a sex offender.

There’s no need to go into the details here. That’s not the point of this post. Suffice it to say that they’re easily obtained elsewhere (not that I have done a ton of looking).

The whole mess is sad on multiple levels. Weiner was married to an accomplished and beautiful woman. Their son was very small when the first scandal broke and 15 months old when the second became public. I know that last because evidently the baby was in the room with him when he was engaging in behavior I would rather not think about. So that bit was mentioned in the news stories at the time.

This morning it hit me that Weiner is Jewish. I don’t know how or even whether he connects religiously with that. But he was sentenced during the Ten Days of Repentance. That got my attention at a much deeper level than it would have had the sentence been handed down at any other time.

Between Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish New Year, which was last Thursday) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, coming up this Saturday) is a 10-day period when we examine ourselves and our behavior and are judged accordingly.

I was going to look for something succinct to explain it, and then remembered that I wrote a story about it for our local Jewish community paper. In it, I interviewed two rabbis and a rabbi-in-training about what they do during that period, and what we can do.

Here’s me, quoting myself:

“The period is seen as a time when every Jewish adult is on trial. But rather than taking place in a court of law before a jury of our peers, the setting is inside ourselves, and God is the judge. In synagogue, we engage in communal prayer and communal confession.”

Outside of synagogue, we think about ourselves, not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that hopefully allows for us to be better people.

I spend this period examining things I’ve done over the past year of which I am proud and not so proud, and consider ways to do better moving forward. I also make a point of seeking out anyone I have upset or who has upset me and either apologize or forgive, as the case may be.

There is a passage in the holiday liturgy we repeat more than once that basically says for wrongs committed against God,  the Day of Atonement atones. But for wrongs committed against other people, the Day of Atonement does not atone.” Or, to put it another way, we need to take care of our own apology and forgiveness business. (There’s an interesting article about it in Psychology Today.)

It can be awkward, but it’s also purifying. This year, I have upped the ante a bit. Yesterday, I focused some apology/forgiveness mojo on a work aspect that’s sometimes made me feel at sea. I don’t know if the person I spoke with quite understood the timing, but we came away with a better understanding of the other’s point of reference, and that will affect the way we work moving forward.

So, in all this introspection and focusing on self, the timing of Weiner’s sentencing didn’t hit me until this morning. I don’t know what, if anything, it means to him. But it brings to mind, for me, the second paragraph of the Unetanah Tokef, a part of the liturgy on which Leonard Cohen (z”l) based his song “Who by Fire.”

Here is a translation I found on wikipedia:

“On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die after a long life and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval and who by plague, who by strangling and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity annul the severe Decree.”

 

The ‘Gray Rhino’ moves into a nursing home; great experiences ensue

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Me and a friend, both wearing our rhino-chasing faces….and, me, of course, the T-shirt.

When The New York Times recently ran a front page story about China’s effort to combat “gray rhinos” –large and obvious problems that are often ignored until they become crisis– I was beyond excited to see one of my dearest friends getting some well-deserved props.

Then I looked for the citation – because, after all, “The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore” is where the term comes from, and its author, Michele Wucker, is (full disclosure) my closest girlfriend.

The closest the reporter got was this phrase, “an eponymous business book that has become somewhat popular this year in China,” 11 words of a 22-word sentence.

Subsequent stories further twisted the meaning into something that restricted the term to a specific kind of Chinese company.  Every time I read one, I wanted to hurl herds of foam rhinos at my monitor, which was problematic because I don’t own any foam rhinos. (On the upside, CNN MoneyBloombergSouth China Morning Post mentioned the book and even spelled her first name – one “l,” not two – right.)

I remember when Michele first started talking about the book, and I remember when she was writing it. I forget a lot of stuff, but I’m pretty sure would have remembered Chinese banking crises if they’d been in mix for inclusion.  Greek defaults and the Argentinian financial debacle were. China, not so much. (It would have qualified, but it hadn’t happened yet.)

So, a brief review:

So what’s a gray rhino? In disaster avoidance parlance, to paraphrase the book’s subtitle, a gray rhino is an impending and avoidable threat to which you can respond. They do not have to be big international banking crises. A gray rhino can as simple as walking through your kitchen and noticing that the sugar canister is down to less than a tablespoon.

I was dealing with one when Michele was working on her book.

‘Woman with with weird resume seeking soft landing’

Ten years ago, something happened at my grant-funded job that made it pretty clear its days were numbered. Ironically, a large component of my job involved helping other people address the fallout from their up-ended lives. I helped them figure out what their best next moves were, then did what I could to see them through those moves. Given that, it would have been pretty hypocritical to pretend I didn’t need to start casting about for my own best chance at a soft landing, which turned out to be enrolling in a library and information science graduate program.

I got laid off the year after I walked across a stage to pick up my master’s degree, spent the following 11 months of non-day-job work applying for day jobs, editing dissertations, writing freelance newspaper and web-based stories and indexing a book. Then, one of those applications panned out and, to my great delight, I landed a job as a public librarian.

Michele loves that story. She keeps asking me to blog about it. But I want to blog about a different gray rhino.

My mom.

Mom has been in a nursing home for almost four years. Before she actually ended up in one, ending up in one was her biggest fear.

Rhino avoided….for awhile

I have vivid memories of nursing home visits to elderly relatives with 50-something Mom. That woman was vibrant. She ran from morning ‘til night. She worked, volunteered, played bridge, was active in her synagogue, a regular at book group and still found time to travel the world with her sisters and host friends at her house on Cape Cod.

We’d walk into a facility and the smell – a melange of stale, damp and vague decay – would hit us. Then, there’d be the sights en route to our destination, usually someone’s room. Near-comatose old people with wispy hair and rheumy eyes sitting in wheelchairs in the halls, or arranged in rows in common rooms in front of a TV. Some would stare at nothing, some were aware of us. Some babbled weird things that were unintelligible or if intelligible, more closely resembled random word strings than coherent thoughts.

We’d find our person and have our visit. On our walk back to the car, Mom would utter a variation of the same declaration.

“If I’m ever like that, shoot me or give me pills.”

I’m pretty sure that 50-year-old Mom would shoot 89-year-old Mom.

Eighty-nine-year-old Mom, however, is not nearly as upset about her current situation.

There are, I think, several reasons for this, many of which involve a veritable herd of Michele-style Gray Rhinos. If Parkinson’s disease had not derailed her well-laid out plans, she’d be living quite contentedly on Cape Cod, using her yearly required withdrawal from her 401K to travel. She’d still be living off her pension and social security checks for daily expenses. Parkinson’s disease was the gray rhino that led us, ultimately, to what Mom – and the rest of us – didn’t think existed.

A good nursing home experience.

After nearly four years, it dawned on me recently that my family is having one. In a very real sense, we were damned lucky to bumble into it. But we also did – and have continued to do – things to maximize the “good” ness of our situation.

How to have a ‘good’ nursing home experience

I could write for days about this, but no one wants to read that much for that long. So I’ll do my best to keep it simple. Here are four tips, two of which I have never seen in any book about nursing homes.

  1. PR Rollout
  2. Show up!
  3. Their casa is your casa
  4. Plan ahead

Before I elaborate, though, a disclaimer.  A lot of what went down in the decade or so preceding Mom’s decision (and it was her decision) to move to a nursing home had reassured her that as far as my sister and I were concerned, she was still in charge. Losing mobility and stamina did not mean losing the right to have her wishes honored while she was still intact enough to make those decisions herself. That still stands now that I am in charge of making decisions on her behalf.

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Words to live by. And so benign-seeming when surrounded by painted gingerbread people.

So, without further ado, this, based on our experience, is how to have a great nursing home experience.

Create buzz

If possible, try to build some buzz around your person’s arrival. Think “PR rollout.”  We didn’t plan or intend that, but it turned out to be a lucky and very happy accident.

Mom, having made the decision that the nursing home was where she needed to be, opted to blow town and visit her sisters, leaving me to divest of what wouldn’t fit in her new room and choose what would and should. She flew off to California to spend three weeks with her older sisters.  (My daughter was headed out there for a conference, so she stopped and picked up Granny on the way; my sister flew from Canada to California, then brought Mom home to her new room.)

I spent the next three weeks cleaning out her apartment, the latter two of them moving things over to her new place, which was in an adjoining building. In the process I got to know the people on her unit. I found out that many of the CNAs had been there for years, a very good sign. They exclaimed over her artwork and listened to my stories about Mom. There was something exotic about her being in California, and the idea that she’d be arriving on a night in the future, like some movie star on tour.

I hadn’t intended the three weeks she was gone to be a buzz-building campaign, but that’s how it worked out. By the time she arrived, everyone was really excited to meet her. Note: I also decorated her room somewhat strategically, placing her United Way ‘Self Above Service’ award and other recognitions she’d received over the course of her life for teaching and synagogue involvement in view of the entrance to her room.

Be present!

I had the luxury of working a mile-and-a-half from Mom for the first two years she was at the Home. But if you can’t be the person who pops in between four and five times weekly (more often even), try to get someone else to do it for you. These don’t have to be extended visits. Sometimes the trip there and back took more time than the quick hello, hug and kiss for Mom and a ‘Hi!’ to other residents and staff people.

Now that I work on the other side of town at a much less flexible job, I’m only there a couple of times a week. But everyone knows why. My sister arranged for her to have a companion two nights a week, so even though I’m not there as often, Mom still gets outside attention.

One of my proudest moments some two years into Mom’s being there occurred when she, more lucid then, reported that on a bathroom run in the middle of the night, the attendants were talking past her (which happens, sadly). One said to the other, “We have to take care of her right away, otherwise she’ll call her daughter.” If you can’t win ‘em over with kindness, making them afraid of you is the next best thing.

By the way, about the staff people: Learn their names. And if you are that kind of person, learn their stories. My sister and I have both worked as reporters. Reporters are curious people who are genuinely interested in other people and their stories. If you’re not built that way, find other ways to be kind to the CNAs and caregivers. Figure out what’s in your comfort zone and show them you appreciate what they’re doing for your person.

Debby and I have ended up making some lovely friends. We also have gotten unofficial calls from staff who’ve let us know when Mom has needed something specific and/or something has happened of which they think we should be aware. To say that we’re grateful doesn’t begin to express our feelings of appreciation and respect for these amazing people.

Don’t treat it like an institution.

You may have to sign in and out and your house probably didn’t have elevators, CNAs and nurses (unless the latter two were your parents and/or siblings) but don’t be shy about treating the place like home. There was the time a new nurse-practitioner was looking for ice and asked a busy staffer. I knew where it was and got it for him.  My attitude? Yeah, it’s a nursing home. But my mother lives here. So it’s my mom’s house. That goes whether I’m rummaging in the kitchen for cups, straws and tops during an ice water run, fetching a towel or a wheelchair from the storage closets or helping out when dinner’s being served.

Look ahead.

Even though I thought I knew this, I didn’t. I do now because of something I said earlier: “Get to know the staff people.”

I have promised Mom a beautiful, easy death. Which is why, last month, I signed papers with hospice care. Mom gets to stay where she is, and a bunch of new people now come in to see her (social worker, nurse, personal care workers, music therapist).

She’s not at the point where anyone needs to swoop in as what my dear friend Julie (who spent a month in hospice before heading off to the Great Mysterious Beyond Place) referred to as “the pharmaceutical death factory.” But when it does, the hospice people are going to be right there to catch her.

What I didn’t know was that if those papers and that plan isn’t in place and your loved one in a nursing home takes a sudden turn for the worse, the lag time between contacting doctors and pharmacies might well mean that your loved one suffers and dies in pain.

That’s what happened recently to someone on Mom’s unit. The family hadn’t made any arrangements; their loved one did not have the easy death that would otherwise have happened. It tore at the hearts of the staff to watch someone they had come to love and care for suffer when that didn’t have to be the case.