All I can think of is how hard it was for my father to be left alone when my mother passed away. It was the thing she had been most worried about. What she couldn’t have known was that a pandemic would arrive which severely curtailed our ability to visit.
Since I had my cataract surgeries earlier this month, I’ve been asked many times if it is weird/strange not to be wearing glasses every waking moment – and it is.
I’ve worn glasses since I was six because I was near-sighted. As I got older, I also developed presbyopia, which meant I was also having trouble seeing close up. For the last couple of decades, my glasses have had progressive lenses, which means they have a zone for far, mid-range, and close vision. I also have astigmatism in one eye which was built into my prescription. As I developed cataracts in both eyes, I was also having a lot of difficulty with glare.
And, I also sometimes had trouble with dry eyes, so a lot going on.
I decided to have cataract surgery last year. It took several months to get an appointment with the doctor who had done spouse B’s cataract surgeries, and my parents and mother-in-law’s. He uses advanced laser techniques and gives options to use advanced lens that deal with multiple issues.
B had had good luck with his multifocal lens and only uses glasses for very fine print and low-lighting conditions. In the five years since his surgery, they have added astigmatism correction to multifocal lenses, so I chose those.
The timing of the surgeries was awkward, as they happened while the UK branch of our family was visiting for Easter, but I’m happy with the still-developing results. My distance visit was clear within a day of each surgery. (They were a week apart.) My mid- and near-vision are improving day by day. I’ve used supermarket/drugstore cheaters for a few tasks, although now even the weakest ones are too strong for my “new eyes.” I also have been adjusting the size of my text on screens, although I’m typing this at my prior screen settings, so improvement is definitely happening. It will probably continue for a few more weeks as my eyes heal and my brain adjusts to the new, clearer input.
As I am adjusting to life without glasses, people I know are adjusting, too. I’ve had people comment on it. A few have said I look younger without my glasses. I had thought I might look older – or, at least, more tired – because you can now see all the wrinkles around my eyes and I don’t use make-up so, if I have dark circles under my eyes, they are now easier to see. Of course, I don’t think anyone would tell me I look older without my glasses, even if that is what they thought.
At some point, I suppose I will have to replace the much-beloved headshot I use for Top of JC’s Mind, which B originally took to go with this poem for Silver Birch Press.
While I don’t usually use the prompts that Linda helpfully lists for Just Jot It January, I decided to use the prompt today from Sadje, reversal.
I immediately thought of role reversal in the context of family, specifically as it pertains to generational caregiving. As a child, my parents took care of me and my sisters. When I became an adult and especially a mother myself, I appreciated that my parents continued to care for us, although in a different and appropriate way than when I was a child.
As my parents aged and encountered health problems, though, our roles reversed and I became a caregiver to them. That being said, caring for an aging parent is different than caring for a child. My parents had chosen to enter a senior continuing care community, so household help and the ability to move between levels of care from independent to assisted to skilled nursing was available to them. I was able to concentrate on helping with medical needs, handling bills, chauffeuring, running errands, and emotional support.
Our roles reversed in terms of caregiving but not in personal terms. They were always my parents and I was always their daughter. Even though they have both passed away now, I’m still their daughter.
That will never change.
I’m thinking about this in a particular way right now as I’m preparing my chapbook Hearts for publication later this year by Kelsay Books. The poems center around my mother, particularly her last few years battling heart disease. There are several poems that deal with the generations of women surrounding her, her mother and me, her granddaughter, and great-granddaughter.
Earlier this week, I received a beautiful blurb that will go on the back cover. It referenced this generational element in the manuscript.
I’m pleased to announce that I have two new poems published in the Fall-Winter issue of Rat’s Ass Review! (In case you are wondering about the somewhat unusual name, read the longer version of their submission guidelines, which is one of the most informative, honest, and entertaining I’ve ever encountered.) Many thanks to current editor Roderick Bates for choosing my work for inclusion in this issue.
There are 61 contributing poets plus cover art, so there’s lots to enjoy! Contributors are arranged alphabetically, so you will find my poems listed under Joanne Corey. Clicking on any poet’s surname takes you to their bio in the last section.
The inspiration for my first poem “The Banned Bookmobile” is a project under development at WordPlace, the Southern Tier Literary Center at the Bundy Museum, Binghamton, NY. J. Barrett Wolf, director of Wordplace, is planning to assemble a collection of banned/challenged books in a bus that can travel about to present programs on the First Amendment, censorship, and other topics. (Editor Rick Bates helpfully made the title of the poem a link to the web page for the project.)
For those of you who may not be familiar, in rural/underserved communities, it was common to have a bookmobile visit several times a year, giving schoolchildren and adults the chance to borrow a wider range of books than were available in town. I remember the excitement in my rural New England town of 200 when the bookmobile visited. Although I loved our town library, it was very small and the bookmobile offered many more options.
My poem references several books/series that have been banned from various schools or libraries in the United States, including And Tango Makes Three, the Harry Potter series, The Bluest Eye, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
“Video Chat with our 95-year-old Father” was written in early 2021, shortly after Paco had moved into the assisted living unit of his senior community. Due to pandemic restrictions, my sisters and I weren’t allowed to visit his place, even though I lived nearby. The staff would set up a video session with their iPad and then leave to attend to other duties. Unfortunately, Paco had difficulty grasping the situation and the technology involved.
In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.
I hate exercising.
I can almost hear people saying that I haven’t found the right activity or I will feel better once I’m doing it or it will give me more energy or some other positive thing about exercise that I’ve heard before, but no.
While I do enjoying walking with someone in pleasant surroundings, I do it for the conversation or the setting, not because walking is good for me or inherently pleasurable. I don’t find that I feel accomplished or energized after exercising, just more tired, although that doesn’t translate into sleeping better. I am not a very kinesthetic person. I’m more cerebral and am happiest in quiet, calm places.
There have been long periods of my life where I have made myself exercise nearly every day, so it’s not that I can’t do. I just have never been able to get above the “barely tolerable” feeling about it.
I admit that, since my father’s passing last September, I’ve been less active. I’m a bit out of condition, as I could tell by how difficult it was for me to keep up with everyone else on our recent trip to the UK. I’m not sure how much I could improve through a concerted attempt to exercise more or how much is that, at 61, I can’t expect to be as strong as I was two or three decades ago. I have an appointment with my doctor next week and will ask what she thinks.
Meanwhile, I am back in physical therapy for a recurring health problem. I’m trying to be good about doing my at-home exercises, but that may actually compromise any attempts to try to do even more exercise, as there are limits to how many things I can make myself do, as I confessed here.
I don’t expect, though, that, somehow, I’m going to suddenly find joy in exercise, which, in a culture obsessed with sports and fitness, is something close to a sin.
While I did manage one post in line with my new mode, a complication has arisen with Paco’s health. I’ve had very little sleep and no real idea of what today will bring.
This is where I would usually say something like “stay tuned” but I have no idea if it will be a few hours or a few days or longer before I have an opportunity to post again – about Paco or anything else.
I’ll be heading over to the nursing home as soon as we get to a reasonable hour – unless the phone rings before a reasonable hour arrives…
I have been posting less than usual over the last couple of months as we have been dealing with health difficulties with my father, known here as Paco. He had a couple of falls in June, resulting in some cracked bones, which have been healing well while he has been in a rehab program. Unfortunately, he also suffers from dementia, which has worsened, and from a number of other health conditions, which are not unexpected in a 96-year-old but which have necessitated remaining in a nursing home rather than being able to move back to the assisted living floor where he lived previously.
It has taken a lot of time with in-person visiting and inordinate amounts of time dealing with paperwork and red tape. My sisters have been coming into town to help, but I am still not finding time to write as much as I would like.
On Monday, I’m happy to report that the UK contingent of our family – our daughter E, her spouse L, and their two children 4-year-old ABC and just turned 1-year-old JG – arrived from London for a two week visit. It is our first opportunity to meet JG in person. She is adjusting to our actually being flesh-and-blood people rather than images on a screen. It’s amazing that she is able to deal with being a different place with different people after being in lockdown so much of her life, especially when you consider it took two large airports, a plane, and the longest car ride of her life to get here. Also, five hours worth of jetlag. It’s also amazing how much ABC remembers from when she lived with us, given that this is her first time back here since she moved to the UK in October 2019.
Because of the delta variant’s prevalence, we haven’t ventured much from the house over these last days and probably won’t be taking the children to many indoor spaces, given that they are too young to have been vaccinated. We do plan a visit to Paco later this week. When the weather is better, we will also be able to go to the parks and take rides on the carousels for which Broome County is known.
My younger sister is here visiting and helping with Paco and my older sister and her spouse will arrive next week for a few days. My plan is to carve out a bit of time for some posts which will update topics about which I frequently post; I’m hoping to be brief, which is always a challenge for me!
Let’s see if I manage to follow through with this plan…
Or maybe I only believe in luck, given that no amount of thought, planning, and preparation seems adequate?
Hard to say…
Was it lucky that Paco, after literally months of not being able to even remember how to even answer his phone, suddenly remembered how yesterday?
I thought that maybe he was recovering some brain function that we thought had been permanently lost in his falls in June.
Or was it unlucky because he called me at 12:45 AM to ask about a dental appointment that was on his calendar that he didn’t remember going to?
I called the aide station and asked for them to remove the receivers from his room. I also hoped that he would go to sleep. It was odd that he was awake at that hour because he hadn’t slept much during the day, either, and lately he has been napping extensively and sleeping all night.
At 1:45 AM, my phone rang again. It was Paco, calling to tell me that his phone wasn’t working. The aide hadn’t realized that there were two wireless handsets and Paco had found the second one, most likely the one on the homebase that was hidden behind his television.
I called the aide station to ask them to get the second handset out of there, which they presumably did, but I, who had only slept maybe an hour before the first call came in and not since, still couldn’t go back to sleep so I got up and did a bit of correspondence and finally went to sleep sometime after 3:30.
Of course, I was awake by 7.
On Saturday morning, the nursing home has a singalong at 10:00. Singalongs are by far Paco’s favorite activity, so I had planned to stay at home this morning and spend a few hours finishing touch-ups and a cover letter to submit my poetry collection to a press for consideration, but I don’t know if I have enough brain to do it.
Stream of consciousness blogging is one thing; editing poetry and following detailed submission instructions is another. I’m not sure my brain can handle the second.
It’s too bad I don’t drink coffee.
Or anything with caffeine.
Or that my body doesn’t seem to have the same effects from caffeine that most people do.
So, if I’m lucky, at some point this weekend, I’ll have enough brainpower to get the manuscript sent out.
If I’m really lucky, Paco will retain his phone calling ability while regaining his sense of night and day, which seemed to have failed him yesterday even as his phone skills reappeared.
But, yeah, it’s not really about luck, is it?
It’s about dementia and its progression and my worry and the taxing of my coping skills after so many years of caregiving for a succession of people with myriad needs.
Since I was a child, my favorite color has been blue.
The color of my eyes and my mom’s and dad’s and sisters’.
The color of the sky at midday.
The color of some of my favorite clothes, although not jeans, which I never learned to like wearing.
I still like blue. I’m wearing it today.
But today, thinking of blue makes me think of how I’m feeling.
Most of my #SoCS posts in recent weeks have been giving updates about my father, who is struggling to recover from falls, broken bones, infections, and we aren’t totally sure what else, while dealing with dementia and the wear and tear of ninety-six years.
I am doing everything I can to keep him as comfortable and content as possible and he is doing much better than he was ten days ago. We finally have the rest of his things in his skilled nursing/rehab room.
His Irish-themed banner and plaque are on his door, which makes it easier for him to find his room in the hall of similar-looking doorways. We finally got a temporary phone number working, although he needs help to answer calls and we aren’t sure if he can re-learn how to dial.
It’s just hard for me not to feel blue. As much as I understand that this is just the journey we have been given in this last period of his life and that we are doing everything we can for him, I can’t help but feel sad.
All the time.
It’s hardest when I am with him, although I have a really good game face and manage to be cheerful – or seem cheerful – when I am interacting with Paco. He is sleeping quite a bit, which is probably good. Most of the time, he isn’t really aware of how much he has forgotten, so he is not blue, which is a blessing.
The day after I wrote the post linked above, Paco’s condition deteriorated and I made the decision to send him to the emergency room. After the initial check-in, I was allowed to be with him. The ER team was very thorough and found that he was dehydrated and had three new fractures in his lumbar vertebrae. After some IV fluids, he went back to the rehab facility by ambulance at 3 AM.
I caught a nap and was very grateful to learn that my older sister had moved up a planned visit and would arrive that afternoon. She spent a lot of time with Paco on compassionate care visits while I worked out a lot of logistics. It turned out that a rehab room opened up within his senior community; the place where he currently was in rehab was a sister facility in a nearby city. Paco was set to move back on Friday and I spent a lot of time packing up things in his assisted living unit, some to send up to his rehab room there and some to bring back to our house as we had decided to give up his place in assisted, as we know he won’t be well enough to return there any time soon – and may never recover to that point.
The plan on Friday had been that our family would finish clearing out his place in assisted and help Paco to get settled into rehab, but we arrived to find that someone in the assisted wing had tested positive for COVID, so it had to go into lockdown. Fortunately, this didn’t affect Paco’s move and he arrived safely via medivan. I signed yet another cache of documents and was allowed a short visit to help him get settled.
Unfortunately, our hard-won rights to expanded compassionate care visits got lost in the bureaucracy with the impending holiday weekend adding another layer of complications with so many staff away on vacation. I was able to get permission for some extra visiting time over the weekend but face another round of changing personnel, location, rules, etc. this coming week.
Meanwhile, Paco is confused and exhausted. The silver lining is that his pain level is generally low.
The big question mark remains how much recovery is possible in regards to daily living functions. I don’t know if the rehab team will be able to make a valid prediction or not.
It may be a situation of wait and watch and work and hope and pray and see where we end up.