The Shrinking Moving Mother

with my Best Beloved on the Sacramento RiverIn the time since Mom disappeared and reappeared, it has become obvious to her that she can’t live on her own anymore. This was obvious to us a year ago when we started discussing it (fruitlessly) with her.

A trip to the emergency room and two months in a convalescent home has her convinced. She’s excited about moving into a good-smelling (this is a big deal) food-oriented (another big deal) assisted living facility.

That means she needs to downsize. By about 75%.

It’s going to be a challenge for everyone involved. I’m thankful every day we’re here for Best Beloved and my baby sister who was able to join us.



this is not a post

the cold I’ve been running from has caught me

we leave tomorrow morning for northern Wisconsin

four day drive

we might be moving my mom out of her apartment after 22 years and into assisted living

I’ll leave you with this: https://joeldcanfield.com/test/anibg.html (you’ve read the story; watch the background)


The Famous Lateral Arabesque, Wherein I Step Straight Sideways

The cover of Love Runs Out composed of the opening chapters of the book.

“Oh, excuse me; I’m sorry.” Bending over for my dropped key I nearly stuffed my head into his grocery bag. “It’s okay. No harm done.” He paused, smiling. “Good.” Keeping my eyes glued to my apartment door, I tried to get the key in. Still wasn’t sure which way up it went; teeth up, like at home, or teeth down, like I expected? Why wasn’t anything easy? It’s just a key and a lock. His steps went around the corner. I felt rude but I just didn’t feel like talking. The key slipped into the lock and I leaned against the door and cried. The apartment was bigger than it looked in the photos online. Real estate must be cheaper in a small town than in the cities. I didn’t know; I’d never lived anywhere but one big city and apartments were even more expensive than renting a small house. Didn’t make any sense to me, but I guess if you’re willing to pay for the benefit of not having a lawn to mow, someone might as well take your money. I also wasn’t used to having the super live offsite. And she wasn’t the super, she was the apartment manager. She lived down the street in a nice little house by the lake. “Right up the road if pipes burst or you lock yourself out,” Mrs. Wright had said. Her husband was housebound, which is why they lived in a house. Easier to set up for his care than an apartment, I guess. “Now, there’s lots of young men for neighbors, Erin dear, but they’re polite and well-behaved or I wouldn’t have them. So you just make yourself at home.” “Thank you, Mrs. Wright. I’m not worried about them.” One eyebrow twitched, and she smiled. “No, I suppose you’re not. I’m off, then.” Maybe her intuition works better than mine. Maybe I was advertising more than I realized. No young man was getting anywhere near me until my heart grew back in the hole left by the young man I’d just left forever. Forty miles doesn’t seem that far. On the freeway you can make it in 40 minutes. Across the cities, it’s closer to an hour and a half, especially on the way to work. My work was only 10 miles from the apartment back in the city, but my new apartment was 40 miles from that one and I wasn’t making that crazy drive four days a week. It was just a job, anyway. I’d find something close to home, or maybe start something online. For now, my savings would easily buy me three months of transition; a little leap, and perhaps, a bigger one to follow. For now, I was just settling in. My furniture looked a little lost in all the space, but I’d seen two antique stores on Main Street so I knew I could fill the spaces if they had anything worthwhile. Otherwise— well, I could go back to the city if I had to. Keep a schedule, though, even without work. I’d long ago switched my morning run to an evening run. Clear my head after work. I ran because it felt good, not because I needed the exercise. I’m naturally athletic, and apparently my digestive system is nuclear powered, because I’ve never gained an ounce in my 32 years. I put the canvas bag of library books on the coffee table and went through the archway to the bedroom. Shoe rack in the walk-in closet seemed a bit posh, but when this place was built it was apparently the epitome of posh; at least, that’s what Mrs. Wright had said on the phone when I first saw the ad online. Tied my running shoes and stood up to look in the mirror. Hair back in a pony tail, loose top and baggy sweats, just like No. I don’t have to dress the way he wants any more. I kicked the closet door. It banged against the wall and bounced back and hit me. I banged it again with my wrist. Just because I’m not looking doesn’t mean I can’t look feminine. If they wanted to look they were welcome to. I could outrun any of them. Ten minutes later I was changed into spandex all around and taking the stairs down to the back door of the lobby. It opened onto a small sandy area by the lake. The local beach, I suppose. It disappeared in the grass a dozen yards in either direction, but to the south, it appeared flatter. Still wasn’t sure how big the lake was, so I had no idea how far for a 5-mile run. But I knew it took between 30 and 40 minutes depending on my mood. Thinking harder slowed me down. Running faster cleared my head. Today, I sprinted down the lake until I was breathing so hard I had to walk half the way back. By the time I was home and showered, I was almost happy to be there. “Excuse me.” Fumbling with the lock again. If I was going to avoid male attention I’d have to get faster at it. I turned my head just enough to let him know I saw him. Thin, wiry, even. Not an inch taller than me. Both items very different from the grocery-bag guy from yesterday. “Can I help you?” I wanted it to sound formal. It was less rude than “Go away and leave me alone.” “Yes. Twice this week the back door has been left unlocked at night. Everyone knows to lock it at night. Since you’re new, perhaps you don’t.” I waited for a request, a question, anything. He just stood there, waiting for my obsequious groveling. He wasn’t getting it. “Mrs. Wright didn’t tell me. Seems unnecessary, but if everyone— ” He cut me off. “The wind off the lake can be brisk at night. The door bangs, sometimes hard enough to break the window. It’s necessary.” Suddenly I felt rude again. I stopped pretending to fumble with my key and turned to face him properly. “I’m sorry. I assumed you were worried about security and after living in the city, this just seems so peaceful. I hadn’t thought of the wind.” He leaned back, as if I’d been speaking too loudly. Then, relaxing, he held out his hand. “I’m sorry, too. Welcome to the building. Skip. Skip Morrow.” His hand was that perfect balance of warm and dry and firm, the balance you never find in a man’s hands, whether they’re shaking yours or—stop it, Erin. “Erin Byrd.” He stopped shaking my hand at precisely the right moment. No lingering clutch or slithery sliding release. Just, shake firmly, done. “It is pretty quiet here, compared to a big city. Different set of problems here. Wind off the lake, lighting storms knocking out the WiFi at the coffee shop, and a couple weeks ago, a bear strolling past the bank.” His eyes were amused but he wasn’t kidding. “A bear. At the bank. You’re kidding.” Aww. Didn’t I just tell myself he wasn’t? “They come in from the woods once in a great while. Usually a cub.” “But still dangerous, right?” “Not much, on its own. But since Momma Bear is usually nearby, yeah, dangerous. I’ll take the adult bear I can see over the cub who seems alone any day of the week. “Anyway, I’ve got an afternoon class to get to. Nice chatting. And if you’ll just check that lobby door…” “Class? What are you taking?” He glanced at my shoes and wiped his hands on his jeans. “Teaching, actually.” He looked up and smiled when he heard the little gurgling noise my throat sometimes makes. “Oh, I’m sorry. I just” He laughed. “It’s all good. I’m not much older than most of my students, and some of them are much older than me. Musical theory for beginners. I once pretended I’d be a great composer, but I realized a long time ago this was way more fun.” Until that very moment I had never felt any interest in musical theory whatsoever. “Gotta run.” He flipped one hand in a sort of a wave and bounced down the stairs. And I felt less alone. I felt exposed, standing in the big claw foot tub in the middle of the room to shower. Nice brass rod all the way around held the curtain well enough, but still, it felt odd. The shower head was worth it, though. Big as a frying pan, it rained more than sprayed. Like being in nature. Even with my nuclear metabolism I still try to eat healthy. Tonight, I came close: pizza made with my homemade barbecue sauce instead of marinara, and a thin layer each of tomato, zucchini, and onion. Baked, then broiled, and the apartment smelled like onion rings. The balcony would have been too small for company, but I juggled my plate and put my glass of zin on the railing. I’ve started making up reasons I eat my pizza with a knife and fork. No one seems impressed by the truth, that it’s just neater, and I don’t like messes. Across the lake I could see the last of the sun on the windows of the cabins and houses. Odd mixture of brand new posh, funky old log, and travel trailers. Toto, we’re not in the city any more. The forbidden door opened and closed to my right. I leaned forward to see if I could sneak a peek at whoever it was. Whoever it was, they were worth peeking. Jeans can be baggy when you’re digging ditches or swinging a hammer, but for a walk by the lake, they should fit just like his did. Nice touch, the Hawaiian shirt instead of a snug tee showing off his muscles. Yeah, if what was under the shirt matched what stuck out of it, there were nice firm muscles. “Well, hello!” Wait; that wasn’t supposed to be out loud. Maybe that second glass of wine wasn’t strictly necessary. He turned around, looked left and right, then up. “Hello yourself. I must say, you’re better all relaxed like that.” He crossed his arms and smiled, waiting. “Was that you, this morning?” Oh, please say no. “I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable. You seemed tense. Better now?” He put his hands on his hips. “Oh, yeah. Homemade pizza and a nice zin. Perfect antidote to stress.” “I’ll say. Sounds delicious.” “Want some?” Excuse me? Have you lost your mind? No, you’re half drunk, that’s all. Hey, Mr. Total Stranger, why don’t I invite you into my apartment? Sheesh. “Thank you. I just ate, and don’t drink, but if you’re almost done I could show you the best view across the lake. That is, if you’re not afraid to walk in the fading dusk with a total stranger.” He bowed like a courtier in a Shakespeare play. It’s just a walk, Erin. And you’re not in the city any more. It’s not even a date, just a friendly neighbor showing you a spot of local interest. Baby steps, love, baby steps. Always time to change your mind before any big leaps. “Sure. I’ll be down in two minutes.” Two minutes wasn’t time to make myself look great without looking like I thought it was a date, so I put my hair up under my Red Sox cap, grabbed my thin kelly sweater, and headed down. He was facing the water again. Standing perfectly still, arms crossed. I know he heard me come out. Not sure what he was looking at. I walked around in front of him, and held my hand out. “Jade.” He shook, gently, and hung on for moment. “Patrick.” Yes, Patrick, you can let go now. Mindreader, I guess, because he did. “Sorry I was rude yesterday.” He shook his head. “Not at all. Moving’s stressful. Takes a while to get yourself settled and start meeting the neighbors.” “We’ll make up for it now. Where’s that great view?” “This way.” He waved toward the south, our left, and started walking. I stepped in place on his right, closer to the lake. “In winter it’s a completely different view with the trees bare. Leaves will start to turn in six weeks, and then it’ll be at its best. We can come back for a picnic or something.” The back of my neck prickled. “Let’s see if I like it first.” It didn’t sound as light and witty as I was trying for. Patrick stopped. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound familiar. I didn’t mean anything by it.” “No, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be so stand-offish.” “Yes, you do.” He smiled. It used all his teeth and parts of his eyes. “Don’t worry about it.” He started walking again. He was talking again before I caught up. “I’ve lived here so long I find myself thinking of it as mine. The lake, the trails, the apartment, the view. I was here before the Wrights bought the building.” He stopped abruptly and I had to turn to face him. “Not like I’m lord of the manor or anything, but I wanted you to feel welcome here, welcome to enjoy all this.” He stepped toward me. I stepped backward and my heel caught on a rock. Threw my hands out to balance and Patrick grabbed my left. “Watch it! Turn around. Watch where you’re walking or you’ll slide down the bank into the lake.” He let go quickly this time, and stepped past me, down the trail. Good thing his back was to me so he couldn’t see how hard I must be blushing. What was he going to do, attack you right here in full sight of the houses across the street? Trotting a bit to catch up, I felt the running rush. It was hard to slow back to a walk when I caught up. There’s a tipping point where I can’t dial it back, I have to run it out. If you can be addicted to running, I am. We were both quiet until Patrick stopped, stepped behind me and between two low shrubs toward the lake. The left side of the trail was something tall, blocking the view of the houses across a patch of grass and the narrow street they called Shoreline Drive. The rustling on my right stopped and I stepped a little too quickly off the trail. It was steeper than I’d expected and I started picking up speed, sliding, grabbing at branches. When I popped out of the bushes, plowing into Patrick was the only thing that kept me from winding up in the drink. “Oof.”



Podcaster Baker Traveler Coach

Mark DyckI first met Mark Dyck (he pronounces it “dick” so I was saying it wrong in my head lo these many years) in Seth Godin’s Triiibes network, closed long ago. He was in the process of quitting his job (something in tech? I don’t remember) to service his baking customers full time.

He had a mailing list of over 1,000 members, and spent his weekends baking bread as fast as he could in his backyard oven, trying to meet the demand for artisanal bread. The result was Orange Boot Bakery, and I’m sad I never made it there for a slice and a cup before Mark &co closed Orange Boot and moved on. Running a bakery is more work than most people see in a lifetime.

These days he calls himself a storyteller. Having just launched his 67th podcast episode I’d say he’s fairly well established in that arena. It’s called Rise Up! and focuses on baking, but with Mark, any subject is fair game; seems to go for his guests as well.

In his spare time (ha!) he’s also a traveler, professional community builder, business advisor, and speaker, all of which you can read about over at his
blog.

People as interesting and downright good as Mark don’t come along every day. Have a peek at his stuff. It’ll be fun.


The Amazing Disappearing Mother

We call my Mom, who lives in northern Wisconsin, a couple times a week. She’s essentially bedridden, but she has an excellent support network through her religious congregation.

She’s not tech savvy, as in, her TV remote sometimes gives her trouble. Deleting messages from her answering machine has eluded her for years. When we call and get the “Messages full” error, we assume she’ll call back when she’s back from the kitchen or whichever room of her apartment she’s been visiting.

Every once in a while, we don’t talk to her for a whole week.

When it hits 8 days, we call someone to go check. Like a week ago Saturday.

She wasn’t there.

On the rare occasions she makes her doctor appointments, it’s a weekday, so this was most unusual. A while later Best Beloved had the thought to check whether her wheelchair was there. No wheelchair, she’d taken it with her. Wheelchair, no Mom, she went out on a stretcher. That’s not being dramatic, it’s reality.

Our friend went by again. Wheelchair was there.

We called the hospital. No Mom. They suggested the hospitals in the nearest big town.

No joy.

Called another friend in the area, who said yes, it’s time to call the police.

It is marvelously comforting to have the calm, steady voice of a small town police officer take the pertinent details and promise to “send an officer to check it out.”

A while later, they called back and said she’d been picked up by an ambulance.

A week ago.

Before, I was puzzled. Now, I was concerned. Because if someone goes to the hospital, but they aren’t there anymore, and they didn’t go home . . .

We called the hospital again and gave them the new information. The person who answered the phone said, yes, she did come in by ambulance last Saturday.

So we asked, where is she now?

She was quiet for a bit, said “hmm, can you hang on?” and put us on hold.

I found a mindless online bubble shooter game to keep my brain quiet until she came back.

The call dropped.

I called another friend in the area, and while their phone was ringing, Best Beloved’s phone rang, and it was my mom.

She was unclear what happened, other than she’d been in an ambulance, went to the hospital, and was now in one of the care facilities we’ve been trying to convince her to move to because we don’t believe she can live on her own anymore.

She’d asked them to call, not one of her children, but a local friend. And somehow, that didn’t happen. (We’ve talked to a half-dozen people at this facility, and they are one and all professional caring people, so we’re not sure why the call didn’t happen.)

I asked Mom, perhaps in a loud voice, why she didn’t HAVE THEM CALL HER SON?

Her hearing is so bad and the connection so bad, I don’t think she even heard me.

She honestly thought her friend had been called, and that she would notify us (this is, in retrospect, a perfectly reasonable conclusion, though it doesn’t change the fact that I am family, and the other person is not.)

After more phone calls to the facility, we’ve learned that she’d had some medical visitor, or social worker, at her bedside, when suddenly she seemed confused, in a manner and to a degree that prompted a 911 call. She’d been treated for dehydration, but was still fuzzy mentally, and didn’t seem as ambulatory as they expected, so she went to the care facility instead of home.

When we arranged for her to have a working phone, and had a real conversation, she was coherent, cheerful, and pleased with the food where she was staying. Good food is a major driving force in her life. I inherited that, I guess.

She still doesn’t realize she’s there voluntarily, and we don’t plan to tell her. Though after yesterday, maybe it’s no longer voluntary.

Have you ever spoken to someone with expressive aphasia?

We called to check on her, and after the very nice nurse put Mom on the phone and went back to her station, Mom started saying sentences like “Meet when doctor sleep big down the hall eating flow.” About a minute of that, and I stopped her and said “We have no idea what you’re saying.” She continued in the same vein. I asked her if she knew who I was, and she said “Of course. You’re you!” I sort of felt that wasn’t good enough, so I asked “What’s my name?” and she said “Joel. Joel David Canfield.” (This is correct.)

Then she went off rambling again. I called the nurse on my phone while Best Beloved kept Mom talking. When Mom mentioned going to her mother’s house (her mother died 45 years ago) and that I was with her and had fallen down (um, no) our concern escalated.

The nurse came, listened to her conversation for a minute, then took her to her room to assess her. A while later they called and said she was on her way to the emergency room.

A few hours later the hospital called and said it was a urinary tract infection, which we knew could cause disorientation; it’s apparently common in older women. They said a dose of IV antibiotics and a course of oral antibiotics when she got back to the care facility would put her right. The nurse from the care facility called when Mom got back there late that night with the same news.

And that’s how I spent my summer vacation.

My mom has been widowed twice. She’s in very poor health. Her car sat in storage for 15 years after she stopped driving. She has steadfastly refused to move somewhere she can get the care she needs, despite falling multiple times. We were on the verge of initiating a more aggressive approach when this happened. It appears that she may end up staying at this place permanently, which is another adventure, but knowing she’s being monitored is a huge relief.

Since my father died at 52, Best Beloved’s at 58, and her mother is still in pretty good health, this is our first experience with this aspect of caring for an elderly parent. It has been a mite stressful, it has.


A New Kind of Dream

My dreams have been changing the past months. Less anxious struggle, more epic adventure, including one about my father, the first dream I’ve ever had about him. This is not that. This is last night’s offering; in the dream, years pass, and in my head, the dream itself felt like it lasted a number of hours, though of course the way our minds play with time, it could have been an instant.

The dream opened with a young man meeting his father for the first time. The young man was bitter, his father, amused.

Followed much rambling between and about the father and son, which I don’t remember, then it switches from third person to first, and jumps back in time twenty years.

Joel D CanfieldThe three of us were hiding out in a park somewhere. She was blonde, he was dark; nothing more than that, just dark. She was with me, and he was with us.

We went back to town and realized the authorities knew, and they were after us.

We ran separately. I went back toward the park. I left my little white breakfast plate with leftovers and a fork under a white plastic chair. Or maybe it was a bush. Went through the gate, around the lake, to a house.

Later, she joined me. I don’t think I was me, so she wasn’t Sue. The old folks and grandkids living there acted as if we belonged.

We knew they’d find my plate and follow the trail here. “We had no choice.” Our 3-year-old didn’t cry when we left him there. They were good people. The look on the old man’s face told me our son was in better hands than ours.

Later, the other guy and I were at the hotel. It’s hazy at this point, but later when she and I went back, the young girl was dead, probably because of the other guy.

She wouldn’t talk to me, just arranged the clothing in the dresser drawer.

In the kitchen, I looked past him to the road. At first I thought the sound was the motorcycle I could see, but then the helicopter noise separated from the big two-cylinder motorcycle engine and I ran out the side door and around the hotel. Up over the ridge; had no idea what would be there.

Below was a vast network of raised paths through a lake, with mountains on the other side. As I ran down the hill, a horseman came toward me out of the labyrinth. We passed each other, him going uphill, me going down.

I kept running.


Forcing a Poem

I’m going to paste a list of words that rhyme with “tired”, then fill in words ahead of each to make the worst poem you’ve read today. It probably helps to read it aloud, getting faster and louder with each line.

attitude hardwired
bedraggled and perspired
bit of peace acquired
can anguish be retired
can brains be rewired
each tower neatly spired
efforts all backfired
how my brain is wired
I am so very tired
little thought required
much to be desired
my synapses misfired
my two minds conspired
no success admired
pretend to be inspired
quietly inquired
whatever transpired
unwilling uninspired

Bells

His mother picked up his sister from our house. She said he’s not answering his phone we have to go.

His mother, young enough to be my daughter, cut him down.

His sister ran to the neighbor, my friend: he’s dead he’s dead.

My friend knelt over him in the hallway for two hours doing CPR until the paramedics came. Two hours.

The paramedics worked for two hours before they gave up.

My friend texted me. He just didn’t have the strength for the phone call.

I told my wife. She cried.

We talked. We told our daughter. She cried. Her first death.

My wife said I have to be there. We went over.

We hugged everybody. Everybody hugged everybody.

There was no crying left.


Three months later I wrote this song.

I finally cried.

Bells

I really don’t blame him he chose not to call
he’d been there for hours crouched in the hall
he sent me the message my heart tore in two
said someone was dead he said it was you

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go

Why didn’t I see you were so lost?
Would have done anything, paid any cost
But I never asked, and you never said
And some days I wish, it was me instead

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go

no matter how black there’s always hope
but it’s hard to see at the end of your rope
in the middle of love now there’s a hole
silence so loud taking its toll

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go