‘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.

A little flow from the stream of consciousness, with music

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Usually I slam out a blog post in a Word file and then transfer it over here to the wordpress template and tinker. Then, after I publish it I find more typos and things to tweak.

This morning, though, I am going to slam down something spontaneous as John Gorka sings “St. Caffeine” and drink coffee in a world where Roy Moore will not be the US Senator from Alabama.

I think in music and songs a lot. I haven’t written very many of my own – as a teenager I played a song I wrote for someone who’d made a few records, and she tore my song a new one and I never tried to write one again. But I know and appreciate a lot of other peoples’ songs, so the rest of this post is going to be the songs I thought of this morning – and one I found for the first time.

His victory does feel kind of like a Hanukkah miracle.

Anyway, along with this one, for all the sex offenders (see definition in prior post) who are going down, here are a couple of songs inspired by Roy Moore and the Alabama Senate election, with some bonus songs thrown in:

  1. “I’m a loser” – You can have this live recording of the Beatles, especially with the screaming girls in the background. Or, if you’re more of the geek type, (like me), there’s this in-studio take which is a little more down-tempo, and which John quits on shortly before the song ends. I also like the instrumental break and the the way it’s mixed. there’s this one.
  2. “Thank you, World” – Karl Wallinger’s band World Party is one of many influenced by the above-mentioned band. Also, it makes terrific music. So it seemed appropriate to express my gratitude to Alabama’s voters (particularly the black women who turned out to help hoist Jones over the finish line). It’s one of my “happy songs,” and I am happy that one less guy who thinks having a Jewish lawyer makes him multicultural is going to be making laws in Washington.
  3. In the Department of “Not so Fast” there’s Roy Moore himself, who is not conceding. I imagine him and Kayla slow-dancing to Jason Aldean’s “I Ain’t Ready to Quit.”
  4. One of my Facebook friends made a comment about God being female, and that made me think of the amazing and way too underknown John Gorka, who wrote “Mean Streak,”  one of the songs that kept me sane during my split from Ex 1. But the one FB pal conjured was “Zuly,” about the Second Coming. This time, Jesus shows up as a baby girl. I’ll let you discover what comes after that.
  5. Finally, two songs for Hanukkah.
    1. This one, by Gorka, is one to think about. It’s called “Ignorance and Privilege,” and I’m just gonna leave it here with space…………………
    2. The last, by my cousin Debbie (z”l) whose mother misses her every day and who I miss almost as much and think about a lot, is a Hanukkah classic. I’ve never played one on TV, but I’ve played “I’m a Latke” on my guitar! Happy Hanukkah to everyone who celebrates, and Merry Upcoming Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa or just plain Happy Winter!

Shit-pile theory of life explains mysterious difference between Democratic and Republican *sex offenders

Al Franken announced his resignation from the Senate Thursday in the wake of a bunch of disclosures from women that he was handy and not in a good way.

That was shortly after the Republican party publicly endorsed Roy Moore, the Senate candidate who was reportedly banned from the Gadsen Mall for creeping on (to use a term I first heard out of the mouth of Ex One’s best friend Tommy) “Tenderonis.”

Since then, there has been a lot of handwringing on social media about why it is that Republican sex offenders* are, for the most part, circling the wagons while Democratic sex offenders* are, for the most part, resigning from office.

I, too, was struggling with this. Well, I was. Then I filtered it through the Shit-Pile Theory of Life, at which point it made perfect sense.

The “Shit-pile Theory of Life”  

I don’t remember when I came up with the Shit-pile Theory of Life (Shpitol). It was at some point during a decade running a Displaced Homemaker program at a Large Midwest Technical College. I wanted to encourage my participants to keep moving forward, even when what was in front of them looked scary and insurmountable.

Here’s how I explained it in those one-on-ones with my participants. For starters, I substituted “Manure” or “poop-pile,” given that shitpile is NSFW.

Every single person – regardless of how rich, successful or powerful – is born with a pile of shit. Here’s the person {insert hand gesture indicating person on left} and here {insert similar hand gesture indicating shitpile on right} is that person’s pile of shit.

Here are four different ways people deal with their piles of shit:

  1. Some say ‘Omigod, Omigod!!! It’s a pile of shit!!!” And they freak out and run around like headless chickens because they’ve got a pile of shit. This, it goes without saying, is not a healthy or effective way of dealing with their shitpiles.
  2. Some say “Oh yeah? A pile of shit? Not here!” These people address their pile of shit by throwing it at other people. Not a good idea, because shit gets thrown back at them and they end up engaged in a constant metaphorical shitwar in which everyone gets dirty.
  3. Some say “Pile of shit? What pile of shit? I don’t smell anything. You must be hallucinating.” These people end up in deep doo-doo, because ignoring your shit does not make it go away.
  4. Some say, “I’m going to turn this shit into fertilizer if it’s the last thing I ever do.” Those are the ones who, if they don’t give up, eventually end up with a garden.

How does this apply to the current situation with, globally speaking, the Republicans, aka “elephants” and the Democrats, aka “donkeys”?

At first, everyone was running around like headless chickens. Since moving on from there, the elephants are now throwing and ignoring their shit. The donkeys are trying to turn theirs into fertilizer.

 

Turning shit into fertilizer is hard work. It takes time, thought and deliberation; the end result is growth.

Far easier, in the moment, to throw or ignore it. But as a long-term strategey, it rarely works. Shit has a funny way of sticking around. When you throw it at other people, they tend to throw more back. Ignoring it is even more dangerous, because not only it does it not go away, your pile actually gets bigger and will eventually bury you.

It’s anybody’s guess what will happen tomorrow when Alabama voters head to the polls to pull the lever for Roy Moore, Doug Jones or write-in candidate Lee Busby.

One thing I do know? Ignore that steaming pile at your own peril.

*Sex offender: a person who has offended another person or persons by invoking sexual acts/behavior using words or actions

 

Real Apologies Matter: A brief stroll through Sexual Predator Apology Land

It’s been busy around here. Thanksgiving is in the rear-view mirror. Before that though, my faithful seven-year-old computer went kerflooey. Never mind that I had writing deadlines. Thankfully, I have an understanding editor. And over at the library, we are moving to reduced-service status for the next year or so while we get a new building. So I’ve been weeding like crazy.

And every day, the news features a “Creep du Jour” and it’s either some dude old enough to be your father (I’m looking at you, Charlie Rose) or your little brother (that would be you, Lewis C-K) or the guy who was a complete asshole to your now deceased former husband when said former husband committed the terrible offense (upon finding himself the other occupant of the elevator on which said Creep was riding) of telling the Creep much he enjoyed his work on Saturday Night Live (Al Franken, C’mon down!).

Regarding C-K, his apology engendered this response from one of my more opinionated offspring when I observed that at least he’d apologized. It took place on a mutual friend’s Facebook page.

Opinionated Offspring: “NO COOKIES FOR DOING THE LEAST!! I don’t give him any respect. He’s a predator and he got called on it, it’s not like he voluntarily mea culpa’d out of the goodness of his heart. We should all be absolutely finished with giving men cookies for just doing the right thing— ESPECIALLY when the ‘right’ thing is admitting he’s a sexual predator.”

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A photo taken early in my career as a sex siren, between Incidents #3 & #4 on the list below. I mean, look at me. Am I irresistible or what?

My response was to post the following list:

  1. Bruce P. I was 13. Our teacher sent us to the auditorium to check on something for that night’s performance of “The Wizard of Oz,” our eighth grade play. He decided, with all the other boys standing there, to find out for sure whether or not I stuffed my bra. He never apologized.
  2. Symeon of Symeon’s Greek Restaurant. I was 15. He was married with three children. Mom said “The food is good.” She kept taking us there. He never apologized.
  3. I don’t remember his name. I was 16. He was a 48-year-old divorced classmate of my father’s. He never apologized.
  4. Lewis K. (not c-k) I was 19. He wouldn’t let me leave his dorm room. I talked myself out of there, but made sure to never again be alone with him. He never apologized.
  5. My great-uncle Sam. I was 19. He had a daughter my age. But that didn’t stop him from trying to slip me the tongue. He never apologized.
  6. I don’t remember his name either. I was 20. He was at least 50, lived in Abu Ghosh and worked at Ma’ale HaChamisha. Cornered me in an isolated part of the kitchen to cop a feel. He never apologized.
  7. Mike M. I was 33, divorced, newly-disengaged, never had had a full-time job but was doing all kinds of freelance writing and looking for a full-time writing/reporting job in Milwaukee. He offered me a job but sexual favors were a condition of employment. His response to my reluctance was “If you won’t help me, I won’t help you.” I took a job 200 miles away. He never apologized.
  8. Jeff J. He was a practitioner of what (thank you, Charlie Rose) is now called “The Crusty Paw,” aka “unsolicited shoulder rubs.” We were both at work in an otherwise unoccupied part of the building when he came up behind me and began the pawing, which didn’t faze me until he upped the ante by dropping a kiss on my neck. I said “That was your one freebie and if you ever do it again, I promise you’ll regret it.” He apologized.
  9. Walter B. I was at a neighborhood party in my new neighborhood and he groped me. One night, on a walk with a male neighbor, I told him what happened. “He groped me too,” said the man. Upon further investigation, it turned out that getting groped by Walter at a party was some sort of perverse neighborhood rite of passage. Needless to say, he never apologized to anyone.

All this to say: Apologies, if they are heartfelt, sincere and a first step toward permanent change, matter. Or, to put it in the parlance of another current social movement: “Real Apologies Matter.”

C-K’s apology had me from his opening line.

“These stories are true.” No equivocating. No accusing anyone of lying, or misconstruing, or misunderstanding.

To be clear, I also pointed out to Opinionated Offspring and anyone else reading the thread that C-K’s apology does not in any way minimize his (hard-earned? {ducks}) predator status. It cracks open a door he may or may not be able to actually step through at some point. (Which is a lot more than can be said for Roy Moore or the Groper-in-Chief.)

I am not smart enough or sophisticated enough to know what a person who preys on others this way needs to do to fix himself (or herself if the gender shoe fits).

I can’t speak for anyone other than myself in speculating about how someone in this position begins to rebuild that blown trust and credibility with the people they’ve wronged.

But for me, admission of responsibility and an apology would constitute an excellent start.

I’ve seen Bruce P. at several high school reunions, and every time it makes my flesh crawl. I want to stand on a table and scream “How dare you show up here!” at the same time I’m cowering underneath it. But it’s as if I’m somehow paralyzed, so I just try to pretend that whatever corner of the room he’s in doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, he’s Mr. Oblivious, laughing, happy and and holding court with groups of laughing female classmates I can’t approach because I’m busy avoiding that corner of the room.

At our most recent reunion, I buttonholed the female classmate in that cluster who I trusted most (which I am realizing as I write this was kind of an awkward, eighth-grade-level attempt to get her to be my wingwoman in some sort of possible meeting in which I could possibly get some resolution, given that he is obviously not going to stop coming to reunions and I am not going to let him stop me from showing up). I was not heartened by her response.

“I’m sure he doesn’t even remember! He was probably drunk!”

Me ( in my mind): “We were 13! Are you on crack?”

Me (aloud): “Whatever.” {Changes subject}

So, where does any of this leave all of us #metoo types?

Over on Facebook, a few people reacted to my posted list with horror, kindness and empathy.

My response was to reassure those good people that I am, and remain, fine.

“I don’t live in all this, or even relive it. But it’s important to not bury it. People need to understand how common the behavior is and how uncommon the apologies are. There really needs to be ‘Truth & Reconciliation’ type activities around all this, and for the people who have committed this type of action to know what they’ve done and say it aloud is an important step.”

NRA helps ‘lone wolf’ Las Vegas shooter kill, injure hundreds at concert: how is this ‘not terrorism?’

 

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This morning, Sweetheart came in and sat at the at the edge of the bed.

“There’s coffee downstairs. And it happened after we went to bed last night, but there’s fresh hell,” he said.

I sat up. More quickly than I usually do first thing in the morning.

“Fifty people were killed and more than 200 were injured at a country music concert in Las Vegas,” he said. “A man on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel had automatic weapons. He’s dead.”

“Shit!” I said. “Fucking NRA.”

Downstairs, Fox News was on. I listened to it while I made Sweetheart’s lunch. It was on when I kissed him goodbye and said what I always do when he leaves for work. (“Work safely and come home.”)

It’s still on as I am writing this. As of this moment, we know the guy’s name (Stephen Paddock – I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess he’s white, because if he wasn’t, Fox and the other networks would be making sure to mention that every other minute). We know he was with a woman named Marilou, whose player card was found in the room and evidently she’s now being questioned.

We know there were multiple weapons in the room, that the windows at the hotel don’t open but that it was no biggie to shoot out a window as a prelude to mayhem.

Motive? What kind of sick piece of human offal takes out people listening to music? My first father-in-law Sidney used to say “You can’t judge irrational behavior by rational standards.”

That fits.

But still, we look for reasons.

Okay. I look for reasons. Dude was born in 1953. Is he a Vietnam veteran? Did the Ken Burns documentary kick open some locked door in his psyche? I’m not blaming Ken Burns. I’m also not blaming guns.

I know how to shoot. I’m a good shot. I’ve owned guns and have thought about getting one. Because I know what I’m doing. But the idea of amassing an arsenal and heading off to kill as many people as I can in one go turns my stomach. (There are hunters in my family, but all I’ve ever killed with a gun is paper and clay pigeons. I have also wounded tin cans.)

The National Rifle Association, though? That’s another story. They’re as complicit as anyone for this. They’ve perverted the Second Amendment. Between lobbying to make sure that sensible gun legislation isn’t enacted, making it easy for people to pick up guns at gun shows and generally tarring anyone who doesn’t agree with them lock, stock and barrel as some sort of wussy liberal….They’re responsible for making it as easy for this man to do what he did.

News is now reporting that the shooter was “known” to Las Vegas police. Whose hands were probably tied in regard to his gun ownership. Thanks again, NRA and the legislators who support them. I’m sure you are all sleeping like babies. Because of your actions, more than 50 people won’t ever wake up again, more than 200 are in hospitals and countless others will startle awake, reliving the event via nightmare.

 

PS When a white guy shoots up a concert full of people, it’s an “aberration” and not “terrorism,” according to a Fox interviewee. I wonder what he’d say if Stephen Paddock’s name was Hassan Abeddin. (Sorry to anyone named Hassan Abeddin.)

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.