an H-E-N-D

H-E-N-D?  Human-engineered, natural disaster.  Hurricane Sandy.  I would have called it a man-made natural disaster, but that sounded too oxymoronic (however, true).

And it would confuse the morons who don’t believe that humans are at least, in part, responsible for climate change.  Ok, I don’t have to be insulting, but let’s just leave it like this:  it has to better for the planet if we don’t dump toxins in the oceans or let toxins loose into the atmosphere.  If we were as gentle with the world as we expect our loved ones to be with us, then maybe we wouldn’t need a political-scientific war of words.

Since I am not good at the big theories, let me tell you about a small, unintended, consequence of H-E-N-D Sandy:  Dad’s care.

With power outages predicted, one of Dad’s children or children-in-law needed to be with him, even though he had a home health aide.  Why? What if he fell, or became confused and agitated, and the phones were down, how would the health aide — who cannot leave his side — get help?  What if, as happened, no one comes to relieve the home health aide because everyone is stranded?  One home health aide couldn’t leave for 60 hours; no one could get to Dad’s house to relieve her and she had no way of getting home.  We needed to be there to let her sleep and help with cooking and minding Dad.  And Dad needs minding.  Especially at night.

We are lucky.  Dad didn’t lose power.  We live nearby.  We married good, kind and loving people who were willing to treat Dad like their own dad and take shifts in Dad’s care.  I slept there twice; HOSOB once.  POB and SOS were there during the day.  SOB had to be in her hospital because other hospitals were evacuating very sick people to her ICU.

But so many of the elderly or infirm in this country are not so lucky.  Their children don’t live nearby.  They can’t come to the rescue in a disaster.

I bet a lot of people went without medications, good food, and proper hygiene during these past three or so days.  And I bet they were frightened.

So, don’t think about this on a global scale.  Think about your neighbors, whether they are elderly or the children who couldn’t fly to their parents’ rescue.  Then, think about your gas guzzler car, your over-processed food, your bottled water.  Then, consider how you (and I) contributed to the crazy weather patterns that made H-E-N-D Sandy an epic disaster.

Sights and Vision

You know how when you hear a new word, all of a sudden you hear it everywhere?

It is the same with emotions or family crises.  The more you share, the more you realize what weights others carry daily, just like you.

And then you start to look around at the nameless faces on the subway, young and old, well-dressed and not, white, black, brown and every shade in between.

And then, you wonder, are we carrying similar burdens, like taking care of an ailing elder?  Or worse, a sick child?

And if we are carrying similar burdens, do we also have similar hopes and aspirations? Why else would we be cheek by jowl in a subway car rushing some place?

I surveyed the subway car today.  People with iPhones.  People with ear buds playing music way too loud.  People not moving into the car to let others on.  People having tooooooo much attitude for a crowded mode of transportation.

But, if I talked to each of them, alone and in a quiet room, would I find that 95% of them shared my fears, my sadnesses, and my struggles?  Even if different in degrees?

Aren’t we all more alike than we think?

Homeward Bound

POB spent some time with Dad yesterday.  He kept telling her that he doesn’t feel as if he is home, even when he is sitting in his living room.  His living room for 50 years.

Often, he says, he gets confused and wonders: “How am I going to get home from here?”  And then either he remembers or his aide (or one of us) reminds him, “you are home.”  Then he relaxes.  But this repeats throughout the days.

Last night, when POB told me about the conversation, I had an unusual panic.  Does “home” mean something different for Dad?

Even though this has been Dad’s home for more than half of his life, Mom isn’t there, and his memories are hard to tease out of the recesses of his mind.  His kids visit, but we don’t live there anymore.  There are lovely aides helping him, but they are strangers.

Daddy, please stay just a little longer with us.  If “home” is some place else, don’t go “home” just yet.  Ok?  Stay here with us.  Because here is still where you live.

Filling the adult shoes

When we were young, my Dad always wore wing-tipped shoes — brown or black. 






He had one pair of Keds sneakers and several pairs of tuxedo shoes.  Maybe he had another pair of shoes for the weekends, but this was the 1960s after all.  And a man of my father’s generation didn’t wear jeans until the late 1970s and sneakers — gasp — only when old-style shoes were too tough on his aging feet.  Dad and his wing-tips.  That’s what men of a certain age wore.

I remember the weekly walk from synagogue after Sunday school and Dad’s racing me the last block home.  He wore his wing-tips and I wore my Mary-Janes (which I hated).  Dad and his wing-tips.  That’s what men of a certain age wore.  Even when playing with their kids.

Dad and his wing-tips.  I used to try to walk in them after he had taken them off and put on slippers (another thing that people haven’t done since the 1970s).  They were so heavy and unforgiving.  I used to clomp around and fall and get up and keep trying. 

In the early 1990s, Italian designers started selling women’s wing-tipped shoes.  More refined than the clunky saddle shoes of the prior decades.  I have several pairs in black and brown, although I went for a simpler look:









For years, I didn’t wear them because I thought I looked too dyke-y in them.  Since Dad’s fall, I wear them again.

If I am going to be as good and kind to him as he was to us, I need to walk in his shoes.  The shoes he wore when he had all the answers.   


Out of the darkness into a warming light

Some times, people think I am too open about my emotions and observations.  And talking about sad things can really depress people.  And if you only talk about the stuff in your life, not only do you lose friends, but you risk losing those essential human traits of empathy and compassion for others and what inevitably are their challenges, fears and bags of trouble.

Here is one of the great surprises.  Many of the friends and family who have held me close (physically and figuratively) have also shared their past and present sadnesses and allowed me to try to comfort them or share in their memories.  And I am grateful.

I guess we all walk the paths of crises, loss, joy, exhilaration and near-misses, but not at the same times.  Friends and family allowed Dad’s crisis to open me up, rather than close me down.  And it is hard not to be joyful about his long and happy life.  And it is hard not to feel the heartbreak of others whose family members aren’t as lucky as Dad has been.

Life is a journey.  Success is having made that journey surrounded by loved ones and friends.

Stuck in the middle

Wherever you are, you need to be somewhere else.  And whatever you are doing wherever you are, it is a little inadequate, a little late and a little unfocused.

This is the life of the sandwich generation.

I called Dad this morning and went over the plan for the day and who was visiting and what he needed to accomplish. 

“Are you coming?”  

“No, Dad, not today.  I am spending the day with SOS and we are going to the Met.” 

“You are choosing a museum over me?  Tell my grandson I am so sad that I might cry!” Dad said jokingly. 

Jokingly (but not fully joking) and quite manipulatively.  We have played this game before.  Dad doesn’t want me to feel bad after I hold firm to my decision.  He doesn’t mean to make me crazy or sad.  

But now it is different.  Dad is still full of life and he is being hemmed in by things beyond his control.  He is a prisoner of a few block radius around his apartment and the vagueness and forgetfulness of his mind in areas where he had his brain injury.   So, I want to cry and throw up.  Before this, the man could play a concerto on my emotional buttons.  Now, he is maestro.

But SOS is my priority.  We went to Arms and Armor because boys love their implements of destruction.  And, certain things about men don’t change from the middle ages to the present, as noted by the expanded “pocket” on this particular armor.  Front angle and side angle.










Too funny.

SOB and a family friend had lunch with Dad.  SOB did strong work this weekend, covering the “Dad call” so that I could chill a little and catch up on family and work.   I have the “Dad call” part of this week and next weekend. (We use medical terms because, as Jews, we act as if we are all doctors, actual licenses being irrelevant.)

And I will go over tomorrow for cocktail hour.  And no doubt he will want to dance a few turns with me before his make-believe scotch.  That man still dances better than I ever will.  And he remembers the songs and tunes of the Big Band Era better than most people.  He is quite a remarkable man.

So we will see whether he can go for a longer and further outing this week.  Maybe even to the Upper West Side for brunch next weekend. 

Speaking of sandwiches, today I had a pastrami and corned beef on rye.  Because if you are stuck in the middle, taking care of the older and the younger generations, a little soul food goes a long way.

This Week in Dad

Over the course of the week, Dad’s physical and mental state has improved at a miraculous rate.  He is the comeback kid. But he will never be the same or independent.  He tires quickly and when he is tired, he is confused.  

I learned many things this week about my father and me. 

Lesson 1:  I am in mourning for the end of his independence. 

He still thinks he can be independent again, which is uplifting and heartbreaking in the same moment.   

Lesson 2: Temporary is as temporary does. 

Dad kibbitzes with his home attendants.  He seems rather fond of them and they seem to dote on Dad.  But there is only one person with whom Dad will share a home and Mom is gone.  So, while these home attendant are a diversion for now, he views the situation as a temporary, necessary intrusion into his life.  But, I know temporary lasts until, looking back, you realize it was permanent.   So temporary is fine, as long as it is, in fact, permanent.

Lesson 3:  Unconditional love is tested both ways when a parent is declining.

I imagine we will have numerous conversations about whether and how much assistance he needs and some will not go well.  At some point in his miraculous recovery, my fiercely independent and proud father will be displeased  — righteously indignant, actually — at being told that the 24/7 care will not end.  And he will not understand our insistence on it.  And deep down he will know that we are in control.  Will he know that we are doing what we think is best and that we do what we do because we love him?  I never want Dad to feel let down by his kids.

Lesson 4:  I need to be the Grinch who stole Christmas.

It is my job to look for the chinks in his armor, to make sure that we have the systems in place to control for his deficits.  While I can be thrilled at his recovery, I cannot get lulled into a relaxed mindset.  His safety depends on my being the doomsday sayer.

Lessons 1 – 4 all together:  Being a parent to my father is among the scariest, saddest and most important roles of my life.