Wednesday, May 23, 2012


That's the service elevator.

(1) Poor Communication

It is dangerous, telling people that you moved.  They think you moved out of the country and stop referring new patients, even if you've only moved a mile away.

What I didn't tell you is that I moved in with my mother-in-law. She makes a mean tomato bisque.

(2) It's Like a Dorm!

I like living in a big, bustling building that reminds me of a college residence hall.  Even my bedroom feels a little small, but larger than anything I slept in at University of Illinois (although maybe that's changed, it's been awhile). And that's okay. 

It's worth it to meet new people every day, mostly while waiting for elevators, especially since the median age in the building is near sixty-two, not nineteen.  I find I like the look of older people.  May, it seems, is National Older People's month.

FD relayed that news bite and asked, "Is that us?"

I look it up. It isn't an American thing, but a British initiative. The Full of Life campaign is a celebration of the opportunities, achievements, and aspirations of older people and their contribution to society and economy.

The flash banner reads: Full of Vitality, Full of Knowledge, Full of Wisdom, Full of Energy, Full of Talent.

Most people here are happy to say hello to a new person.  But today, waiting for the elevator, a woman about my age isn't looking up.  No biggie.  I'm in a hurry and press the Down button for the service elevator, increasing my odds that one or the other lift will come soon.   

The other comes, and as I step in, my new friend looks at me.  "Why did you press the button for the service elevator and then take this one?"  The tone is accusatory.

"This one came first."

"You're not supposed to do that, press for the service elevator unless you're going to take it."

That makes sense, but now I'm concerned.  For her, of course.  Because you have to wonder.  Is there a difference between people who admonish you about rules and people who don't? Everyone is different, and we all have our issues, but maybe admonishers worry more in general.  Maybe we'll discuss this one day, she and I.

(3) Something Close to the Original Score

I’m at a hospital, visiting my aunt, who is lying in a coma.  I learn that coma is a short word for non-responsive, and the doctors like the word non-responsive much more. The doctors admitted my aunt for pneumonia, maybe other infections, too, and she perked up with treatment.  Then, the next morning, she didn’t wake up.  But she didn’t pass away, either.

So we visited; my mother in her walker, gasping for breath every thirty feet through the long hospital hallways, refusing the wheelchair; and me, patiently beside her.  This is a very private family, so our visits with my cousins aren't interrupted with visits from their friends.  It is intimate, being a part of this small group.  None of us have shared this particular type of time together, coaxing a sleeping woman in her nineties to life, or  the alternative, waiting for her to move on.

My mother sings to her sister in Yiddish, songs of their youth, songs older than time. I ask her, "Did you sing these songs to us?" She has no idea, doesn't think so.  Her crowd only spoke Yiddish when they didn't want their children to understand what they said.  

Someone recognizes one of the melodies as the theme to Shindler’s List.  Here's the link to that, and below it, my mother singing.  It's only a video because I don't know how to upload audio.  I need an older person to teach me how.  But follow the link to Schindler first.

(4)  PTSD

Supposedly resolves after about a year, two at most.

We're leaving the hospital, pacing slowly to the garage.  Our habit has been to keep our visits short, my call, for better or worse.  My mother, who you would think has all the time in the world in her mid-eighties, is at her best in the afternoon, when I have to be at work.  It is me who must squeeze in these late morning visits, and they never feel long enough.

The day before my mother had mentioned that my sister-in-law spent two hours visiting, the implication, I think, that we're not doing our part.  I take it as a direct hit-- I'm not being a good enough niece, not a good enough daughter.

Surely in response to that, the next time we visit with my cousins and my aunt we stay a little over an hour.  Afterwards, on the way to the car my mother is clearly out of sorts.  She tells me she's upset, that she's been upset for the two weeks my aunt has been non-responsive.  She doesn't know if her sister is in pain; she has no idea how horrible it is for her beloved older sister, not really.  The two have had difficulty communicating this past year, a loss of hearing on both ends of the line having much to do with that.  It has bothered her.  Now this.

It can't be good, lying in a bed, barely breathing, on the way to something.  My mother tells me that she is hurting because she feels my aunt is hurting; her bad mood is all about that.  And here I had thought it was about the length of our visits.

In the dark hospital garage, hunched over her walker, looking at the grey cement floor, she tells me she has had a sadness all of her life.  She qualifies that: since my brother died she has had a sadness.  We're talking 42 years.  Sometimes it's more conscious than others, she tells me.  This is one of those times.

(5) You Can't Go Home Again

I visit a friend on a Saturday and we read from a book together, then we visit another friend.  On the shaded porch over iced tea, yet another friend tells us that she visited Poland last week.

She visited the cemeteries, the Jewish shrines, the concentration camps.  She found her father's home, where the Nazi's executed their entire family on the spot except for him.  The Nazis executed the family either outside the house, or in the woods near by.

The house that exists now is new; the family homestead, razed.

The story continues.  On this tour, a holy woman from Israel sprinkles holy soil in places like this homestead to properly bury fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles.  Wrongly buried people are everywhere in Poland.

It reminds me, I tell my literate friends, of that Jonathan Safron Foer book.

(5) Catching Things

Used to be I caught planes, remember?  That's my grandson catching a butterfly.

FD says to me, "Let's go to ____ (a city in the south).  There's a kindergarten graduation I promised to attend!  Those are the only ones worth going to!"

Ordinarily I jump at such a suggestion, but the price of oil is high and the airfares reflect this and I don't like enabling the industry.

"But it's her graduation," he whines.

"And ten years from now, even five years from now, when you ask her what she remembers about her kindergarten graduation, it won't be that her grandparents spent $500.00 to fly there."

"She might.  And you won't feel that pinch.  Not in ten years."

"No.  But that house we just left?  It needed a new roof, if you recall."

I tell him that there's one graduation I wouldn't miss for the world, and that's my daughter-in-law's.  She's getting a doctorate, and those take years of hard work, change your brain, your life forever. Not to take away from our kindergarten graduate.  It is a big deal, if mostly for rather little people.  We'll see.

(6) Being Closer to Reality

It's a beautiful day, a little chilly, but I finished work early and approach my new building from the back. The bike rack is in the basement and to get to the storage room I have to take the service elevator.

Still outside, however, I can hear shouting from a window not all that high up above, a woman's voice, "Stop it. (Pause) Stop it. (Pause)"

Then louder, "Stop it." And louder still, "STOP IT!!"

I wait a moment because it is so familiar, this whole gestalt, being in an apartment building, not a house, hearing a desperate voice. Over thirty years ago, on the holiest day of the year, I'm living in a third floor walk up, ready to go off to the synagogue and I hear, "Stop it. HELP! Someone help!! He's killing me, he's killing me!"

The voice doesn't stop.  I call 911.   Moments later the police arrive.

That's the whole story.

I'm pretty sure that this time, Stop it was about a toddler making noise.

Happy to be here?  My friends keep asking that.  You bet I am.



porcini66 said...

Like putting on a pair of super comfortable shoes or laying down on the bed after an exhausting day...your words are always so thought provoking yet somehow soothing at the same time. Thanks for sharing about your mom and your family. It's strange, isn't it? The truths that come out, the roles that reverse? I always get the feeling that I never really knew my parents, even after living with them for so many years and them having such an impact on me. Anyway, thanks so much for writing from your heart.

therapydoc said...

Thank you, Porcini. I never know how it will be received.

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts