Saturday, December 8, 2012

Honoring Bill

I came to my blog this rainy, dark evening in the North, to tell my tale since I last wrote.  My companion, Bill, died on August 26, due to advanced liver illness.  It seems it always comes sooner than we think it will.  Last summer he spoke of another friend who probably wouldn't last until Christmas.  The friend is terminally ill and still with us.  I have the thought, but Bill you aren't with us.
With the support of many I have muddled through since he died..  People have been there and done things for me that I never would have guessed were something I needed.  They saw the need and filled it.  

Hospice and the staff were wonderful the last 2 and a half days he was able to be home before passing.  He made a massive effort to get home from the hospital before he died.  A Hospice nurse and Linda G. inched him slowly in the door of our house and he had to repeatedly sit down before getting to the hospital bed set up in our living room.   The day before when I'd visited him at the hospital he had walked up and down the hallway using his walker.  He has been talking and calling people on the phone and seeing visitors.  I was unbearably shocked when I came the next day to take him home.  He was so weak, barely walking to his hospital room door with the walker.

I have written else where about our last night together.  He was moving on and heavily medicated with the elixir given to the dying to ease the passage from life to death.  Linda G. who had some experience with the dying explained the process that they go through.  The Hospice nurse had told me she doubted he would last the weekend.  Karl came to see him.  He wanted to see his friend one last time.

I sang to Bill, held his hand, prayed the Lord's Prayer and Serenity Prayer.  I think his last conscious words to me were "I love you."  It's so hard to let go of  Bill, even now.

He died at 3 an that morning.  I was on the phone to a close friend and looked over and he died then.  She told me, "I think he didn't want you to be alone when he died."

I have a small Christmas shrine at my desk in honor of him.  There is a smiling picture of him looking out from  the table where he sat doing a jig saw puzzle.  I have a small cross stitching that I did that states, "Bless this house with love and laughter."  There is my small, wooden painted prayer box, and a small tree decorated with beads and at the back a candle in a glass with the Serenity Prayer on it.

I honor Bill this way.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Quiet, Unspoken Wish

As many adults my age, I have seen the passing of my parents, 2 siblings, a brother-in-law, grandparents, and other relatives.  It is a loss one never "gets over," though one must realize that life goes on and one must keep living.  Writing in this blog is one way that helps me heal from the losses I've experienced.  I've had a wish that I could write some of the stories of those that have passed.  My fear is that somehow I won't get it quite right when I write about them.  But my hope is that I may capture their essence and somehow give my loved ones a life beyond what has been lost.

Please indulge me when I write about my loved ones.  And I would do the same for you, if by any chance, you needed a listening ear.

Neal was the heart of my immediate family.  A piece of advice he gave me when we were both adults was about the workplace.  His advice was that if a co-worker got promoted or received recognition, pat them on the back and buy them a drink.  No room for resentment and jealousy in this advice, was and still is my thought.  I'm not sure I could always live up to that admonition, but I know Neal would and did.

Not to say he was an angel or always did the right thing.  He could listen to an obscene Eddie Murphy monologue with the nieces and nephews at Christmas time, like any good uncle.  He was a cigarette smoker and enjoyed a good drink.

He graduated from high school in 1967 and entered the Navy soon after.  He did two tours of duty on aircraft carriers in the Tonkin Gulf during the Viet Nam Conflict.  He saw a man get blown away on their ship once due to an accident.  He visited Japan and developed a love for Japanese culture.  He was in an airport rest room once and standing next to him at another urinal was a man in drag.  Quite an experience for the small town country boy.  Another experience he told me about was getting back to the states and knowing "something was wrong" because of all the military clothes in the restroom trash...discarded due to the hostile reception military folks received back in the states.  I asked him once why he enlisted.  He told me, "I was patriotic."

Jobs were hard to come by after he left the Navy.  He had some tough years.  He attended college and received his B.A. in English through the G.I. Bill.  He still struggled to find employment.  He worked at the bowling alley for a while as a manager.  He then worked at the local newspaper and printing business, doing color separation when that was part of the printing process and printing presses were actually still in use.  I see it as an accomplishment that he headed and succeeded in making it a union shop for the printing workers.  A lot of the time he had some very thankless, under appreciated years, but he was well-loved by his family.  Always.

My father told a story once of Neal as a teenager accompanying him on a veterinarian call to doctor a horse.  Neal was in the stall trying to steady a highly excitable stallion.   The stallion backed Neal into the stall.  Dad said to him,  "Don't you open your peep or move, Neal," and somehow Dad quieted the horse and Neal got out of the stall.

Neal, don't you move.  I want you to stay right where you are in my memory.  Don't move.

How Are the Bees Doing?

As Bill, my companion, is a beekeeper, I occasionally receive a question about how the bees are doing or are they producing honey, etc.  Most have heard about the prevalence of Colony Collapse Disorder and the dying of whole bee colonies in the U.S.  It would be a terrible catastrophe, if bees died out.  I read one statistic that humans would die out in 5 years if bees ceased to exist.  The reason for this is that bees are the prime pollinators of plants, including fruits and vegetables. 

Bill has a few hives for his own use and as a hobby.  When his father, Paul, died in 1985, he made the statement, "the bee business will all go to Hell after I die,"  and it has in a sense.  Paul's words foreshadowed this current crisis in the beekeeping world.  According to Bill, his father made this statement as a general statement about the bee business.  In the 1980's, mites, that Bill states look like tiny red crabs, came in on a ship into Lake Ontario.  There are other types of mites that prey on bees, as well as diseases, like American Foul Brood and European Foul Brood.  American Foul Brood or "A" is the worst and generally, beekeepers burn the whole hive if it is found to have "A."  They must disinfect footwear, clothing, hive tools, and other implements if coming into contact with it.  It can spread from bee yard to bee yard if care is not taken, like any disease can spread.

Occasionally something will be released in the media, about possible causes of Colony Collapse Disorder.  One possible cause is the existence of pesticides in the environment which weaken bee colonies.  Bee colonies are highly complex and the answers to their collapse may not be simple ones.  Research is being done at many universities, such as the specialized Dyce Lab at Cornell which studies bees and honey production, looking for solutions to the problem.  There are several agricultural organizations that promote  honey and bees like the Empire State Honey Producers Association, Inc.   Bill and his father attended "bee meetings" throughout the country in the 1960's and 1970's.  At these meetings, innovations and knowledge is shared by beekeepers to assist each other.  In Northern NY, the Sustainable Living Project, a non-profit which has a green philosophy and initiative, has been helping local beekeepers in St. Lawrence County to learn and share knowledge.  A recent workshop by a master beekeeper, Mark B., of Brasher consisted of learning to ignite a smoker and keeping it smoking to calm the bees.  Some of the materials used in a smoker are discarded bailer twine, dried pine needles, and the dry red sumac cones.

The wise beekeeper keeps his or her smoker ignited, or suffer the consequences of angry bees.

Monday, April 23, 2012

And the Last Word?

I'm not sure I've ever understood the concept of "getting the last word."  Is it some primal act that has pursued humans through the millenia, this need to get the last word?  In one instance I've encountered  it with someone I worked with.  As we would leave at quitting time and exchanged pleasantries wishing each other a good evening, I found that my coworker would always speak after I spoke.  Somehow it irked me to experience this.  Inevitably I allowed the coworker to get the last word.  And you might ask, who was in control here?  I have never figured it out, but feel a certain anxiety and queasiness about this coworker still.

Now I experience the feeling again as I have entered the world of chat on the Internet.  I'm clumsy enough as it is when it comes to chat.  I don't know all the abbreviations and when I figured out what LMFAO means, I still cringe a little bit.  Not that I don't ever use the word in cursing when the cat knocks something down at 3 am and I step on my car keys by accident and set off the the panic button to my vehicle and it starts honking until Bill has located the keys so I can turn off the horn.  And that was the comment on Facebook when I reported this event as my morning status.  You're right----LMFAO.

On the topic again....I find myself experiencing the last wordedness phenomenon when I do chat on Facebook or on other social networks.  To be honest, the only other social network I've joined is The Experience Project.  So while I am chatting with you and you "LOL" or lower case "lol" along with me, I tend to get very wordy and descriptive and want to really carry on a conversation with you in depth.  Will you really mind if I do that?  And when it comes time for one us to sign off or maybe you or I go offline or have to answer the telephone, get Bill his strawberries, or the cat keeps jumping on my laptop, I feel awkward.

I would love to be there and give you a hug or see if you are truly "feeling fine" like you told me or if you are stressed and needed some human contact.  Or if you have friended me on the social network without having a clue who I am and are taking bets with your cronies on some plan to totally embarrass me and have a good LMFAO at my you still want to have the last word?  The good person that I want to be will let you have it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dance of the Caregiver

Caregiving is something that one hears about quite often in the course of the day to day.  Someone may have the care of an older relative, a parent, a child with a severe disability, and the possibilities are many and varied.  I am finding in the care of my companion as he slowly recovers from 3 stays in the hospital in the last 2 months, that there is kind of a delicate dance of meeting his needs and taking care of my own needs.

I think there has been many things written about care giving.  The one that comes to mind is "Caregiver Therapy" one of the Abbey Press Elf Help booklets that address human concerns in a way that gives a light touch to serious topics.  These books are all illustrated by R.W. Alley.  The caregiver book is written by Julie Kuebelbeck and Victoria O'Connor.  I need to buy a copy to help me cope with some of the stress I've been experiencing.  I am finding it is taking a lot of my inner strength and resources to manage the household and give Bill the care he needs.  Some things I'm letting slide.  They will be finished in some eventuality, I tell myself.

He is gradually growing stronger and able to do more for himself.  I get cranky, though, when I get tired and my energy is waning.  We are having healthier meals and using more fresh vegetables. I'm planning meals more carefully.  But I have to tell you I have a lot of dirty dishes that I'm having difficulty getting washed.  Writing it here and being open about my struggles will help me, I know.    The trips to the laundromat are tiring, also.  A little voice in the back of my mind tells me I SHOULD have been better prepared for this happening----the time involved in hospital visits and driving to Syracuse for 2 hours and home again.

He is being a prince when I get cranky and tells me he loves me.  I tell myself I've been ill many years past and had help while I was recovering.  This time with Bill's illness there have been many who have helped us and stepped up with support and kindness.  Our neighbor built a step to the bedroom so that it was easier to step up into where there had been only one high 10 inch step.   Someone loaned us a walker when Bill was very weak and needed the extra help.  He was very concerned about a credit card payment, and a friend went to the store and paid it for him.  Several have visited him in the hospital, even in Syracuse.  There have been gifts of many kinds given to us during this difficult time. 

So one dances a dance at times of illness, giving and taking and accepting and asking.  There is the interweaving of help and helplessness.  There is the music of friend's and family's concern and caring voices that accompanies me in the care giving journey I'm on these last few months.  I'm thankful for all I've received and learned in this dance.   My steps are clumsy once in awhile, but I stumble on and pick myself again for the next round.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Secret Room

One day this week, I received an excited knock at my door and my brother announced that a secret room had been discovered in the next door house where we grew up.  It had been purchased by a lovely family who are doing major renovations to the house.  In the floor of what my family called the dining room, a small room with a wooden slat trap door over it had been discovered by C. as he was tearing up old flooring.

I handed my brother a disposable camera and asked him to get pictures and in a few minutes, I went over to the house to see the secret room.  It was very exciting to see this little room that had been hidden under linoleum and homesote for so many years without our knowledge.  We wondered if it could possibly be a hiding place on the Underground Railroad.  I took more pictures and T. explained that their dachshund had run across and actually fallen into the room.  C had. retrieved her and stated he didn't want to go into the small enclosure again and would be closing it up soon.

There are some local houses noted for being stops during the era of the Underground Railroad.  I contacted the local town historian and while he said it sounded very interesting, he didn't believe this particular house was noted for it.  He politely asked for copies of the pictures that we took and referred  me to another historian in the county who has made a study of the Underground Railroad in our area.  I felt my excitement wane somewhat when hearing this.  I did contact the other historian and told him what I had been told by Mr. L. 

One of my sisters has sent me a few Internet links on cisterns in old houses, and this may be the answer to what the secret room might be.  One of the links actually showed a picture of a cistern with the small wooden trap door in it.  Our father often mentioned that our shower in the cellar had been built from an old cistern in the house and maybe the secret room was the remains of the original.  It's placement I think is close to where C. found the secret room.

How many of us growing up in big old houses wondered if there were secret rooms and passageways in our houses?  Reading books like the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis will foster this daydreaming of the secret places in our growing up places and even in our hearts.

I still laugh when I think of my brother's comment to me as I viewed the secret room this past week:  "We didn't find any buried treasure!"  He would dig holes as a boy looking for buried treasure.  I think the treasure was knowing there had been a secret room in house and not knowing it all the many years we lived there.  And if my parents knew about it, having built that shower from the cistern many years ago, they never told us.  I can hear my Dad's laughter now.

A Day for the Young and the Young at Heart

The first day of Daylight Savings Time burst forth today with temperatures reaching the mid 50's.  While waiting in my vehicle in the grocery store parking lot for Bill to do some shopping, I observed several in short sleeves striding purposefully to and from the store.  I assume the wonderful weather had added some energy and a boost to their purpose of the moment.

The physically young looked relaxed and happy to be enjoying this beautiful day.  Those with more age seemed to walk a little slower, almost a little tentative, as if not quite believing that the worst of winter was over.  The last week has been difficult for many families in this town.  There have been several deaths.  The people who passed were generally 50 or older, which still seems young and a shock and tremendous loss.  Somehow it seems harder to just bounce back when faced with so many losses in the village.   I find myself privately shaking my head and telling myself that this is a part of life.  I wonder how many others grieve privately this week and the coming weeks, trying to make some sense of a death due to cancer or suicide or car accident.

I find myself turning to the Bible for answers and comfort for my own disquiet and questions.  I feel on edge and anxious.  I read inspirational meditations that I receive daily in my email.  It all helps, but I still feel a hollow place inside.

It's been a glorious early Spring day.  Why would one think such thoughts  when the sun is shining, the sky is a bright blue, and the breeze gradually warms during the day?  Maybe knowing there is darkness in the light, makes the light and warmth even more so to me.

Finding answers to these thoughts may not be my goal today.  Being able to express my questions may be all that can fulfilled for me.  In the asking, there is a sense of fulfillment.  And that may fill up the hollowness a little bit.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Companion, A Beekeeper, and A Man With a Memory

My companion, Bill, came to live with me ten years ago this June 2012.  When we got together, he had been widowed the year before, losing his wife of 23 years, Sharon.  She had several health issues and suffered from chronic illnesses which resulted in her death.  There is a photograph of Bill and Sharon on the living room wall when they were young and newly married.

Bill is a man with a phenomenal memory possibly due to being a savant.  He remembers many weather statistics, history facts, coin collecting, sports, baseball, and other trivia. He is also a skilled beekeeper, having been raised in a family that had a highly successful bee and honey production business since the early 1920's.  The family bee business no longer exists, as his parents are deceased and his siblings are also gone.  He still keeps bees as a hobby and is very knowledgeable about all the ins and outs of beehives and honey

In the course of living with Bill and sharing our companionable love and affection, I have learned a lot about bees and what is involved with keeping them.  It has been an interesting lesson to learn about bees, especially at a time when Colony Collapse Disorder is in the news media  in the last few years.   When Bill works with his beehives, he quite often gets stung and rubs the area until the stinger comes out.  Occasionally, there is a hive that is more miserable than others and he speaks of the bees boiling out of it in anger when disturbed.  It doesn't help that one of the other beekeepers will bang the wooden supers that house the beehives and get that particular hive riled up, so it does boil out angrily.

Bears are not a friend to beekeepers and ways are devised to protect hives from the damage of foraging bears.  Some beekeepers place electric fence around several hives attached to batteries and set up cameras to view the marauders.  Other locations may be chosen due to being protected by lots of brush, such as prickly ash, or in areas where bears are seldom sighted.  The area around Fort Drum was formerly good for honey production, but now bears are often found there and do irreversible damage to what Bill calls beautiful hives.

A lot of sweat and labor goes into honey production and the building up of hives.  The hobby beekeepers who are in the apiary field on a small scale, generally wrap their hives in tar paper in the fall to winter them during the colder months.  Hopefully, during the winter there will be a few days of warmth, so the bees are able to have a flight out of their hive to dispose of their bodily waste.  If this doesn't happen, survival is not as optimum.

I have learned in the course of my lessons from Bill, that I'm not afraid of bees.  I sit in his truck sometimes when he's working with them and I have the windows down.  I have been stung once and remembered Bill's advice of not getting all angry about it and slapping and jerking around in panic.  But then, neither do I don a hat and veil and use the smoker to calm them as he does.  It is a mesmerizing experience to hear the hum of a hive, smell the sweet pine needle smoke, and watch Bill minster to these creatures as they form a haze of flight around him.  I have seen the master at work with his bees. 

Most likely, there will be more posts about bees in the course of my writing.  It gives me an abundance of material to write about and reflect on from our ten years together.  Bill's aptitude for memory, I will write about another time.  He has been written about before in other places and I hope to expound on what has been written and give  a fuller picture of him.  I hope there will be better understanding in the course of writing about Bill and our life together.  One person made a comment to me once that he knew all about that big German.  I take that as a challenge, in my own way, and Bill might add, "What's the matter jealous, because you're not one?"

Reading My 1982 Journal - I'm Still here 30 Years Later!

I have been searching the last several days for the title to the car which I recently traded in for a newer, used vehicle.  In the course of the search, several other things have materialized that I had forgotten about or have triggered memories.  Among them were two boxes of mementos that were my mother's which she kept in her desk.  Many of the items have meaning to me and are representative of her great love of her family and friends, her patriotism for the U.S., and her spiritual beliefs that were her strength in difficult times.  There are newspaper clippings of World War II relatives and friends who served in the military and the obituary of one who did not survive the war.  There is a picture of my oldest brother when he played pedal steel guitar out West during the 1970's.  Some of the items leave a few questions in my mind that will most likely remain unanswered.  At the bottom of one of the boxes was a child's pencil sketch she had saved.  Maybe it was one of the grandchildren's picture of what Grandma Lucy looked like?

Some other ephemera have emerged from this days of search for my car title.  Photographs I have forgotten about of pets, family, and friends, a booklet titled, "Relapse Road," that a spiritual mentor needed a copy of because she has given all of her own copies away, and some newspaper clippings of my own I've saved to refer to at some later point in time.

I spent time this afternoon reading one of my journals written in 1982 to 1983, a particularly difficult time when I was  hospitalized and withdrew from  a college I was attending due to the illness.  Times have changed in a lot of ways, and not so much.  I eventually recovered and was able to return to work after taking a technical course in clerical work.  There are many sweet and bittersweet memories revealed in my journal of that era, written much more neatly than I write now and with painstaking descriptions of what I was feeling and how I related to the world.  Loss was a major theme due to the disappointment of not being able to complete my college course work.  A boss I don't remember that kindly, told me to let me know when the IBM systems engineer harassed me and he would take care of it.  I was surprised to read this.  Another boss gave me a tip of $5.00 for a story time I conducted and suggested I buy a plant with it.  Sweet memory.  My father made the comment that my nose was red probably due to me drinking too much.  I wrote once that I enjoyed Sunday morning when my mother read the Bible to me. 

The elusive fire and flameproof pouch where I think my car title is safely kept has not appeared as of yet, and tomorrow I must go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a replacement.  It has been worth the unsuccessful search for it, to have experienced this journey of my past and others.  Yes, I am still here 30 years later and I've survived many more losses since 1982 when it seemed insurmountable to keep moving forward.  I have kept moving forward and beyond the losses which all experience.  When I have my history, I have much.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Speaking of crows: Watertown, NY

There has been much in our local Northern NY news lately about the problem of too many crows in Watertown, NY.  A city councilman, Joe Butler, has proposed a lethal means to rid the city of this scourge.  Other methods have been tried.  It has been termed "crow hazing," not to be confused with the fraternity type of hazing.  They have been a true scourge and I don't mean to find humor in the fact that large amounts of crow feces have been deposited on their local museum and other older Watertown landmarks.

My deceased father would probably agree with Mr. Butler on his proposed methods of getting rid of the crows.  Dad waged war with the starlings from the kitchen window with his rifle at times, so the less predatory birds would have access to the bird feeders.  I'm doubful this was legal, nor did he clear it with the Department of Conservation.  It was his way of protecting the cardinals, nut hatches, and other birds that he loved to watch at the feeder.

I am an admirer of crows and respect their innate street smarts and will to survive.  But we all know the saying about too much of a good thing.  Short of finding a combination crow whisperer Pied Piper type  to mesmerize the Watertown crow population, maybe Joe Butler's suggestion has merit. 

In my ideal world, someone would arrive on the scene who really understands crows, who can get inside their heads and know why they have chosen Watertown to multiply and roost and be a general nuisance.  I'm not that person.  Joe Butler isn't that person.  The person that could do that probably doesn't exist.  Crows, I send you a warning:  wise up and use your street smarts.  Someone may soon have you in their sights.  It won't be me.  You'll find me at a fast food place, throwing a few fries at the seagulls.