X years ago

Facebook often presents users with the opportunity to repost something from prior years. Today, it suggested this photo from two years ago:

a post-dinner four generation photo of me, Nana, daughter E, and granddaughter ABC

This was our last Thanksgiving with my mom, known here as Nana. She passed away from congestive heart failure the following May. Daughter E and granddaughter ABC moved to London, UK, that October when E’s spousal visa finally came through. ABC is now in nursery school and big sister to JG, whom we planned to meet this month until England went into a new pandemic lockdown phase.

It’s a lot in two years.

And it seems like it’s been longer than two years.

Three days ago, one of my poet-friends posted a photo from the Tupelo Press/Studios at MASS MoCA residency from which the Boiler House Poets Collective sprang five years ago. In the comment thread that followed, someone asked if anyone had written about it, which prompted me to re-read my blog posts from the residency. This post links to most of them. It was interesting to read my real-time take on what was happening, although I did temper the amount of anxiety I expressed somewhat. It was nice to see that I accomplished more than I remembered and good to be reminded of our various sessions with our poet-teachers and the bonding among our original nine poets-in-residence.

We have gone back to North Adams for a reunion residency every autumn, until being derailed this year by COVID. We have a reservation for both 2021 and 2022, though, which is tempering the sadness at missing this year a bit.

And, yes, those five years feel longer than they are, too.

in the middle of a nightmare

The pandemic has been more severe in the United States than globally for months – and now things are getting worse very, very quickly.

Yesterday, there were over 159,000 new cases diagnosed, which broke a record set the day before. There are entire states that are out of intensive care beds – or hospital beds in general. In some states, hospitals have to triage patients and turn some away who would benefit from care in favor of other patients who are sicker but have a higher chance of recovery.

Some places are so short-staffed that COVID-positive staff are continuing to work if their symptoms allow.

The hospitalization rate is also a lagging indicator. If the hospitals are this stressed now, what will the situation be in two weeks, given the huge numbers of new diagnoses this week?

I’ve reached a new level of dread.

New York State, where I live, still has one of the lowest infection rates in the country. Governor Cuomo is tightening restrictions on gyms, indoor dining and gatherings, as well as further ramping up testing and contact tracing in hot spots. Unfortunately, after all these months, there is an outbreak among residents in the skilled nursing unit of my father’s senior living community, as well as a number of staff members. The health center is in a separate building from where Paco lives in an apartment, so we are hoping the virus won’t spread, but it is very worrying for all of us.

And what, you may ask, is the Trump administration doing to address the explosion of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths?

Nothing.

Vice-president Pence, who chairs the coronavirus task force, finally held a meeting this week after several weeks without doing so during the campaign. There were no new actions or recommendations after the meeting.

Meanwhile, President-elect Biden has named a first-rate committee of physicians and public health experts to set up the plan against COVID for his administration, which will begin January 20th. Unfortunately, because the Trump administration refuses to acknowledge that Biden will be taking office, the Biden task force does not have access to the current plans in development for vaccine deployment, distribution of supplies, etc., which is an appalling and dangerous state of affairs.

What is even more appalling and dangerous is that, with the situation becoming more and more dire daily, the Trump administration is making no attempt at all to save people for illness, disability, and death.

I’m finding the level of stress and dismay crushing.

People desperately need help now.

January 20th is still a long way off.

SoCS: 60

Very soon, I will turn 60.

I’ll be saying good-bye to an old decade and beginning a new one.

I guess the bigger question is “is sixty old?”

Well, if not old, I think it’s at least getting there…

I’m not a big “numbers” person. We all get older one day at a time, so I don’t usually fret about my age, which is always one day older than the day before. I admit that I had established sixty as the date by which I hoped to have a book of poetry published, but that isn’t happening. A friend told me she thought I should give myself an additional year on my goal because I have been a chapbook contest finalist, so I guess I’ll go with that. I also have several poet-friends who didn’t publish a book until 60+ so I am in happy and comforting company if I do manage to publish my chapbook or something else in my 60s. Right now, my chapbook is still out in five places and I have three more prospects lined up for submission, so working on it…

Birthdays and anniversaries, especially milestone ones, do remind me to consider how blest I am to have gotten here. I think about my friend Angie who died when she was 54. We used to dream about our respective, then unborn, not-even-dreamt-of-by-our-children grandchildren meeting up at the lake for summer vacations. She does now have grandchildren, whom she never got to hold.

This will probably sound morbid, but, even in my twenties, I made big decisions in my life using the lens of “if I knew I were going to die soon/young, what would I want to have done?” In my case, this has often meant setting aside a personal ambition or accomplishment in favor of taking care of people and doing volunteer work. I’m privileged to have had a choice to make.

It has meant that there have been opportunities that I passed up and that were not able to be retrieved at a later time, especially when it came to my role as a church musician and liturgist. Much too long and complicated a story to stream of conscious-ness.

My hope is that, when I am old, if that grace is to be mine, I will be able to look back with equanimity and not regret.

If I can, that will be a grace, too.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “new and/or old.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/10/02/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-3-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

200,000

The number of known COVID-19 deaths in the United States is over 200,000.

It’s hard for me to grasp the total, knowing that each of these was someone’s child, parent, sibling, co-worker, neighbor, friend.

A few days ago when I was working on this post, I needed to look up the population of Broome County, New York, where I live.

It’s about 190,000.

I am imagining the city of Binghamton empty, the University and all the other schools without students and staff, all the towns and villages without people, just the wild creatures and birds alive.

It’s sobering.

In reality, Broome County has lost 85 residents to COVID, each person a loss to their family and community. Somehow, though, my thought experiment in concentrating the loss to our country as the obliteration of our entire county has given me a sense of scale and of grief that the statistics alone did not elicit.

What does 200,000 deaths mean to you?

SoCS: penny box

Like many people, we have a coin jar at home. When our daughters were young, when the coin jar was full, I would roll the coins and bring them to our credit union for deposit to the girls’ accounts.

That was a long time ago now, but I still have a coin jar. I didn’t fill it very fast in recent years because I would only take coins out of my wallet when it got over-full. I used to do a lot of my everyday shopping in cash, so I would spend my coins. Since the pandemic, though, I seldom use cash, so I’m not accumulating coins.

I was concerned this spring because there was a coin shortage caused by lack of commerce and I was anxious to find a couple of 2020 pennies. Two of my long-time friends have penny boxes that I gave them for their birthdays. The idea came from a book for children titled “The Hundred Penny Box” which had a centenarian who had a penny from each year of her life. Each year, on my friends’ birthdays, I would send them a penny for that year.

My friend with a May birthday had to take an IOU, but I was pleased to pay cash at the grocery store self-checkout one day in late June and receive three shiny 2020 pennies in change. I sent a (very belated) birthday card to my first friend and had a penny to send to my friend with an August birthday on time.

I used to supply pennies to two other boxes. One was a birthday box for my friend Angie, who passed away in 2005. (If you search her name, posts will come up about her here at TJCM.) The other was an anniversary box for my parents, known here as Nana and Paco. We added the last penny to it last year, a few weeks before Nana passed away.

Someday, I may make a penny box for B and my anniversary. Maybe in two years for our 40th. That was when I gave my parents theirs and they wound up making to their 65th.

May we be so blessed.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was to write about something of which we had more than a hundred in our home right now. Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/08/28/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-29-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

a May flower

This spring has been slower to warm than usual. Most years, we have lilies of the valley by Mother’s Day or by Nana’s birthday on May 16th at the latest. Lilies of the valley are the birth flower for May and we always picked bud vases for her while they were flowering.

Years ago, B and I transplanted a few pips from our childhood yards in New England to our home in New York. Lilies of the valley “spread aggressively” as horticulturists say and we now have a patch at least 25 square feet (2.3 square meters).

I’ve written previously about some of the hidden blessings of not having to deal with the complications of 2020 last year as we spent our final months with Nana. We were able to bring her beautiful, fragrant bouquets of lilies of the valley for her last birthday, which would not have been possible with the later spring blossoming this year and the restrictions on visiting skilled nursing facilities.

Lily of the valley, with Paco’s card to Nana and birthday card made by artist-friend Jim

Nana’s ashes are in an indoor niche at a memorial park in our town where fresh flowers are not allowed. I’m hoping someday to find some beautiful artificial lilies of the valley to leave there for her, so there will always be a bit of spring and her favorite May flower nearby.

Overwhelming news

The pandemic has highlighted inequities in the society of the United States around race, ethnicity, national origin, and socioeconomic status, problems that have existed in our country since before its founding and that have insidiously endured through the centuries.

A few days ago, white police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man, while horrified onlookers tried to intervene and recorded Mr. Floyd’s final minutes and death.

Our nation, already mired in grief and denial from COVID-19, is now grappling again with deadly racism. George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers is appalling but, sadly, not unusual.

There are protests against racism and violence/death by law enforcement in cities around the country, remembering George Floyd and calling for justice while adding the names of other black men, women, and children who have been killed or injured by police. Depending on the location, there are different victims who are commemorated, as many cities have seen this type of violence.

The demonstrations have been peaceful during the day and have even seen protesters wearing masks and leaving space between them so as not to spread the coronavirus. In the evening, though, the anger sometimes gets out of control and results in looting and arson from the protesters and flashbang grenades, teargas, and pepper bullets from the police.

All racist incidents are bad and should be universally condemned, but they aren’t and racism continues and mutates and injures and kills.

Again and again.

I wish I had some helpful insight to offer that could make a difference.

All I can do is reiterate the universal message to treat others with respect, recognizing their inherent dignity.

Now and in the future.

Memorial Day 2020

Today, the United States observes Memorial Day. It originated as a day to honor Union soldiers who died during the Civil War, but expanded over time to include service members who died in any armed conflict.

I am also thinking today of all the civilians who lose their lives in wars. Perhaps, this is because I just finished watching World on Fire on Masterpiece, which is about people from various countries in World War II Europe.

As the country continues its struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, we often hear politicians and media describe it as a war. The medical personnel, first responders, and caregivers are called the front line, a term that is sometimes also applied to other essential workers, such as transit, delivery, and grocery workers. I am confused, though, by the use of the term “warrior.” Sometimes, it seems that the general public are considered warriors, serving others by staying at home to avoid spreading the virus further. Others are using the term warriors to describe those who are giving up on stay-at-home orders and going back to “normal” whether or not the public health officials say it is wise.

I am extraordinarily grateful to be living in New York State, where our governor and other leaders are methodically working to expand economic activity while safeguarding public health. National news reports have shared data that twenty-four states are re-opening their economies with the rate of infection still increasing, even though the national guideline is that at least two weeks of declining infections is required first.

While I remain unsure of who the “warriors” are, I am painfully aware of who the casualties are in this war. As I write this, there are 98,000+ confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the United States. The number will surely reach 100,000 within the next two days. Over these last few months, the United States has lost more lives to coronavirus that it has service personnel in all the wars since the end of World War II combined.

Today, I am commemorating all the service members and civilians who died in war and all the pandemic victims. May their memories strengthen us to serve others.

a year ago today

Today is the first anniversary of my mom’s death. She was known as Nana here at TJCM and she appears in many posts from the past years.

Her death followed a long period of decline from congestive heart failure. In some ways, it seems that I lost her much longer ago because, as her illness progressed, she was not the same mom, the confidante with whom I spoke nearly every day of my life. She also wasn’t able to keep up her active social life in the senior community where she and Paco had lived since its opening ten years ago. She had a special gift for conversation, for listening attentively, and remembering each person’s stories. She also kept up with current events, so our conversations were often wide-ranging.

With so much changed in the world these last few months, I’ve often felt thankful that it was last year rather than this that we were dealing with Nana’s final months. Nana spent her last months in the skilled nursing unit of their senior community. Paco and I were able to visit as often as we wanted and my sisters came into town frequently for a few days at a time. Because our adult daughters E and T and our granddaughter ABC were in residence with us, they were able to visit often, too. This is one of my favorite four generations photos – Nana, me, E, and ABC at Thanksgiving in November, 2018.

Thanksgiving four generations

This spring, though, the skilled unit has been in full lockdown for weeks due to COVID-19. Visitors are only allowed when there is imminent danger of death. As difficult as the last few months of Nana’s life were, it would have been so much more difficult if we had not been able to be there to talk when she was awake, help with her meals, put in calls for staff when needed, and just be present. My heart goes out to all those who are residents of long-term care facilities and to their families as they continue to contend with being separated at this critical time.

I’m also grateful that Nana did not have to experience the permanent move of E and ABC to the UK. Being able to see her only great-grandchild regularly was a joy and it would have been so hard for her to lose that in-person connection. Nana was also spared the worry when the London contingent of the family were ill with probable COVID-19.

It’s hard to say if a year is a long time or a short time in these circumstances. Mourning follows its own path and this year has submerged us in a sea of societal grief and loss, as well. I only hope that I am able to be a testament to Nana’s love and care for her family and friends in these troubled times.

bad timing

The United States government authorized direct cash payments to adults in order to help people face the challenges of the pandemic economic impacts.

The implementation has been dicey, though.

Most of the payments were based on 2018 or 2019 income tax returns and were made by direct deposit, if banking information was on file with the Internal Revenue Service, or by check.

Unfortunately, the IRS didn’t cross-reference with the Social Security system, which meant that some payments were issued to people who were deceased. That is what happened with my parents, known here as Nana and Paco, who received a payment by direct deposit last month, even though Nana’s date of death was on file at Social Security.

Many others were similarly affected and, at first, it seemed that surviving spouses would be allowed to keep the full payment as had happened in a similar economic stimulus program a number of years ago.

However, a few days ago, the government issued instructions that required people to mail them a check for any payment sent on behalf of someone who had died.

I am not arguing against the principle of payments to only those who are living, but I wish that the program had been implemented with accuracy. It’s been painful dealing with the hassles and uncertainty of the situation.

I couldn’t make myself write the check and required note to the IRS on Mother’s Day, my first without my mom. I did put it in the mail today. Later this week will be Nana’s birthday and the following week the first anniversary of her death. I didn’t need another reminder of her absence from the government in the midst of it.

I feel badly for those whose loss is more recent, who may need the money to help pay funeral bills or to support surviving family. I would hope in those instances that the government would not demand that the money be returned, but I doubt that the current administration will act with compassion and competence.

It’s sad.