Posted in Illness/life-threatening illness

The Spoon Theory

This one is dedicated to those many who continue to create in the face of sometimes dramatic  physical health issues and disabilities. Be as well as you can be. You are valued. 

There are two videos included here.  If you are reading this post from an email subscription, it’s likely that you’ll have to link through to the site to view the videos. They’re both worth the time and effort.

The Spoon Theory (see video above) is a clear and vivid way of explaining what it is like to live with any chronic, catastrophic and potentially life-threatening illness. I suspect that it also explains what life is like for those who have lived long enough to be described as “elderly.” Understanding The Spoon Theory gifts us with compassion for ourselves and patience with how long it takes to get even the smallest tasks done.

The first step in living successfully with catastrophic illness and advanced aging is to recognize (acknowledge/understand) the ramifications in terms of everyday life and its details. The Spoon Theory helps with that.

The second step is acceptance. That’s about letting go of your story. It’s about not being defined by the circumstances of your life. It’s about living with not struggling against. This requires something much more profound than positive thinking, which tends toward the superficial.

Letting go of our stories means letting go of judgement and attachment and a sense of victimization, which are the root causes of many of our very human pathologies. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote of this my-story mentality as “striving, disappointment, and boredom” or a life that is devoid of Spirit. Songwriters, who often make their living by stoking the “pain body” or the residue of emotional pain that stays with us [Eckhart Tolle], call this the IFD disease – idealization, frustration (the ideal cannot be achieved) and demoralization.

The third step in the journey is to adapt, a business of the heart. Adapting is not about giving up. It’s about finding our core of  joy and gratitude and no one reminds of joy and gratitude  better than the beloved Benedictine monk, Brother David Stendl-Rast (video below), who combines the wisdom of traditional Christianity with pragmatism of Buddhism.

No guilt. No judgement. Just joy. With understanding, self-compassion, patience and acceptance, we can still produce as so many of us do … and maybe, instead of beating ourselves up over what didn’t get done each day, we’ll be able to pat ourselves on the back for all we do accomplish. We cannot share The Spoon Theory with everyone. Many people will not understand our challenges. All that matters is that we do and that we support one another.

© 2020, Jamie Dedes

Posted in grief, Joseph Hesch, Mortality, poem, Poems/Poetry, poetry

Rules of the Game

The rules of the game
are set in stone.
You can read them
written on each slab
out there on the field.
The great game is summed up
in four numbers on one side,
and four on the other,
of a grooved hyphen.
Funny how those hyphens,
from end to end,
are the width of an N or M,
but a life may be wider
than a thousand thousand alphabets
or as narrow as an I.

You think of these things,
the unwritten,
the randomly ordered
string of letters,
of words, of stories,
of a life lived in
what seems like a hyphen,
a momentary there to here,
then to now,
once to once,
when you sit by a deathbed,
in front of a casket, or
at a graveside.
That’s where they post
the rules for all to see
and no one’s ever broken.

– Joseph Hesch
© 2014, All rights reserved

Hesch Profileproduct_thumbnail-3.phpJOSEPH HESCH (A Thing for Words) is a writer and poet from Albany, New York , an old friend of Bardo and a new core team member. Joe’s work is published in journals and anthologies coast-to-coast and worldwide. He posts poems and stories-in-progress on his blog, A Thing for Words.  An original staff member at dVerse Poets Pub website, Joe was named one of Writers Digest Editor Robert Lee Brewer’s “2011 Best Tweeps for Writers to Follow.” He is also a member of the Grass Roots Poetry Group and featured in their 2013 poetry anthology Petrichor Rising.

Posted in Disability, Essay, First Peoples, General Interest, grief, Michael Watson

PTSD and the Healing Journey

Evening-WoodsThe other night I had dinner with friends. After a traditional ceremonial meal, we watched Skins. I have read about the film, heard others talk about, and planned to watch it, for a long while. The film follows a few months in the life of a tribal police officer on a fictional reservation much like Pine Ridge, and weaves together myth and contemporary experience, violence and healing. Early in the story we are reminded that although humans like to think they are in charge, the spirits shape everything.

Earlier that day I had sat in a local bakery with a couple of medicine women, discussing a Medicine Wheel ceremony we are to hold next month as part of a conference honoring aging. As we come from different traditions and teachings it seemed important to all get on the same page. It turned out we were already in agreement, so the planning went smoothly.

Later, as I thought about the film and my delightful hour at the bakery I decided PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) might well live in the North, the place of night and winter. Fortunately, the North is the home of the Ancestors and the place we seek vision; in winter there is little haze and one can see clearly for a long way. The North is often a place where the spirits seem more immediate and accessible.

As the police officer in Skins discovers, healing from PTSD takes patience and courage, and may involve the workings of mythic beings. When we seek a healing for PTSD, we can request guidance from both our unconscious and the spirit world, asking them to give us manageable amounts of information regarding our traumatic experiences, and to aid us find new, more life nurturing, meaning in those experiences. Healing PTSD may become a vision quest, very like going alone to ask the ancestors and spirits to aid us and our communities, to bring us a vision we may live by.

Of course, we are not truly alone. Whether we are challenging the domination of PTSD in our lives, or praying for a vision, there are others, human and spirit, supporting us. We are blessed by the knowledge and caring of those who walk with, and pray for, us, and we benefit from their experience and companionship. Still, they cannot  make the journey for us; we must each walk the healing road for ourselves.

As we walk sun-wise around the Medicine Wheel we discover that when we stand in the North the path before us faces East. East  is the place of birth and rebirth, the home of insight and understanding. It is also the place, in the view of many Indigenous cultures of the Northeastern U.S., where we pass into the spirit world. Sometimes facing long-held trauma brings us an intense fear of death; indeed, the  journey from the North to the East is fraught with both danger and promise.

When we go alone to seek  a vision, or begin the journey of healing from PTSD, we benefit from telling our families and friends, asking them to pray for us, help us prepare, and honor our return. For many, requesting support when healing from PTSD seems shaming; often asking for aid requires as much courage as does confronting PTSD itself. Yet healing seldom happens in a vacuum; we each need the support of others in our lives and on our healing journeys. Let us honor the courage of those who ask for our aid.

Healing PTSD, like any vision quest, is not for the faint of heart.  On the journey we need courage, perseverance, and compassion for ourselves and others. It is a good journey, holding the promise of healing, renewal, and vision, for Self, family, friends, and community.

– Michael Watson, Ph.D.

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes the one below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

Posted in Fiction, Illness/life-threatening illness, Victoria C. Slotto, Writing

Needed

The same question that had hounded her for years continued to pummel Irene: At the end of my life, what will I have to show for it?

The answer, she decided, wasn’t in this place—a box-like room full of white sheets, a white blanket, a white commode and the sickly smell of urine, feces and vomit.

She dragged her legs to the edge of the bed, grabbed the rubber handles of her walker encrusted with the grime of three weeks in the nursing home, and made her way to the apple red crash cart parked down the hall where she copped a vial of potassium chloride, a 22 gauge needle, a syringe and tourniquet from the drawer that should have been locked.

After signing herself out against medical advice, she took a taxi home—her happy yellow home with the flower boxes on the window sill that had just come into bloom—the place where she had chosen to die.

Purty, her calico cat greeted her at the door, purring and winding herself about the ankles of the old lady who suddenly realized that the medicine stashed inside her purse wasn’t what she really wanted, not when she had something that needed her..

In my nursing experience, people need someone or something to get better for–or at least the process of rehabilitation goes much better when there is a loved one waiting at home. Even, perhaps especially, if that “someone” depends upon them.

2940013445222_p0_v1_s260x42034ff816cd604d91d26b52d7daf7e8417VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~ is an accomplished writer and poet. Winter is Past, published by Lucky Bat Books in 2012, is Victoria’s first novel. A second novel is in process. On Amazon and hot-off-the-press nonfiction is Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria’s ebooks (poetry and nonfiction) are free to Amazon Prime Members. Link HERE for Victoria’s Amazon page.

Editorial note: Congratulations, Victoria, on that the long awaited publication of print copies of Jacaranda Rain, Collected Poems, 2012, Beautifully done.

Writers’ Fourth Wednesday is hosted by Victoria from January through October and will post from now on at 12:01 a.m. P.S.T., not at 7 p.m. P.S.T.

Posted in Essay, General Interest, John Anstie

When I’m Sixty-Four

Will you still need me, will you still feed me …

At the time of writing this, when the Beatles and the Stones were playing out yet another rock and roll battle at the Grammy‘s, I was reminded of this song, which, if not their greatest hit, is one of their most memorable because it passes the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test‘.

In the fifty years since their major ‘battles’ for supremacy in the charts, in which these two famous bands were engaged, our life expectancy has increased by almost ten years*. So, the perspective of a young man in the mid-1960’s of someone in the seventh decade of their life, would have been of an old grouch off the end of the scale of life. At sixty-four, however, I find myself with better prospects of success for carrying out my ambitions in retirement, than I would have had fifty years ago.

Life expectancy, the quantity of life, is, whichever way you look at it, merely a statistic and is of little value on its own; we need quality of life as well. I watch as my 95 year old step-mother soldiers on, despite the continual but manageable ailments, with which she has to cope. Her complaints are nothing if not a physical body that is slowly wearing out, but they remind me that old age is not for the faint-hearted. I am conscious of the aches and pains that I have to deal with already, but, in my more insightful moments, I am constantly grateful that they are occasional or, if regular, not chronic (and by ‘chronic’, I mean permanent, lifelong conditions).

Perhaps the most important point about this is the effect that living with illness or pain, be it arthritis or any one of several age related chronic conditions, can severely reduce the quality of our life. I know that I truly have little to complain about, but I am acutely aware that I still, sometimes, have a grumpy disposition, which leads me to appear rude and dissatisfied, even when I know I am not dissatisfied – setting aside a kind of world-weariness that comes from my daily observations of what the human race is up to – but sometimes I need some help not to allow myself to become a grouch, especially with my wife of nearly forty years, who doesn’t deserve it.

If there were a universal prayer that I’d like to say here, it would be: please grant me a greater equanimity and remind me that I should be grateful for the ability, I know I already have, to see and enjoy the beauty, both visible and invisible, which is in so many parts of our lives. Above all, let me not forget to afford the elderly my understanding for them.

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?”

Source: England and Wales, Total Population, Life Tables

John_in_Pose_Half_Face3JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British poet and writer, a contributing editor here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer. John participates in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union. He’s been blogging since the beginning of 2011. John is also an active member of The Poetry Society (UK).

*****

product_thumbnail-3.php51w-rH34dTL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_John has been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited their anthology, “Petrichor* Rising. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.

Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.

Posted in Uncategorized

As You Like It (Reflections Upon the Art of Aging)

“All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…”


My mother and her sister Loena were best friends.  Wherever Loena went, she would sing or hum quietly to herself.  My mother used to introduce her to friends saying, “This is my sister Loena.  Don’t mind her; she hums.”

Mom was the one who used to bust Aunt Loena out of Detroit for road trips.  Sometimes to Washington, D.C. to visit my sister Miriam, to Maine to see my sister Constance, or to see me and my siblings in Seattle, especially if the Tigers were scheduled to play the Mariners.

Driving cross country to attend my wedding, they made a late-night stop at a hamburger joint in Iowa. They were laughing so hard the young man behind the counter came to their table and said, “Ladies, I don’t know where you’re going, but I want to come with you.”

Less than a year after Mom died, my first baby was born.  It was a wonder-full time, if bittersweet.  Aunt Loena’s visit was the next best thing to seeing my mom holding my baby in her arms.  I felt my mother’s presence, watching, smiling, loving.

But it was hard for Aunt Loena to get away.  She spent two decades housebound while caring for her mother-in-law, and then her husband.  No one blamed him for his frustration, but he yelled at everyone who came to visit or offer aid, and fired everyone my aunt hired to help with housework and eldercare.  It was emotionally isolating and physically exhausting.  She never complained, and joked that at least her medical appointments for heart trouble, cataract surgery, and blood transfusions got her out of the house.  Like my mother, she knew how to look for the bright spots.

The 911 response team knew her by name, as she had to call whenever her husband fell out of the recliner where he slept.  It was time for a nursing home.  She visited him twice a day, until she caught meningitis.  Her doctors didn’t think she’d survive.  I flew to Detroit to say goodbye, but Aunt Loena is a two-time cancer survivor, who has come back from the brink so many times she makes Rasputin look like a weenie.  It was a wake-up call, however.  She checked out of the hospital with a bucket list.  My aunt is 86, anemic, subject to dizzy spells and shortness of breath.  Oh, yes, and always up for an adventure, so long as it is wheelchair accessible.

https://i2.wp.com/i1176.photobucket.com/albums/x334/nbaltuck/IMG_7262-2-1.jpg

Aunt Loena with my sister Lee and my son Elijah

Our first adventure was a trip to Seattle.  We knew she had a great time, because wherever we went, she hummed to herself like a purring kitten.  That trip was just a warm-up for her dream trip to New York City.

Aunt Loena in Central Park with Bea and me.

When it was time to leave New York and go our separate ways, it was too sad to say goodbye, so instead we said, “Where to next?”  She’d always wanted to go the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario.  So that’s what we did.  My son Eli flew in from college in Maine, I flew from Seattle, and my sister Lee joined us from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

 We went in October, to take in the fall colors as well as the plays.

I chose our motel for its name.

https://i0.wp.com/i1176.photobucket.com/albums/x334/nbaltuck/IMG_7280-1.jpg

In Stratford I discovered the secret to longevity–a nightly dose of Miss Vicky’s Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips!  Aunt Loena is a teetotaler, but she’s not afraid of a little salt and grease.  Got sugar?   Bring it on!

Each time we part, I fear another long drive or a cross country flight will prove too much.  We make a date and look forward to it, but  I always check before I make plane reservations.  “You’re sure?”  And she always says, “Oh, yes.  As long as I’m sitting down, it’s almost just the same as sitting at home.”

We promised to bring her to Seattle for fish and chips this summer, but Lee couldn’t make it.  I asked my friend Monica, also a Detroiter, if she’d consider escorting Aunt Loena.  The next morning I got her reply– she would be delighted!  What a gift to us all!  We couldn’t have pulled it off without her.  Monica and Aunt Loena had been hearing about each other for years, and felt like they already knew each other.  We kicked off a week-long PJ party by attending a performance of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.”   We also enjoyed Teatro Zinzanni’s very silly but impressive dinner theater show, “Gangsters of Love.”

Aunt Loena made her famous egg salad sandwiches.  Years ago, when we all drove to D.C. to visit our sister Miriam, we weren’t out of Detroit yet when Mom said, “Who’s ready for an egg salad sandwich?”  It was 10am, but so what?  We were ready for another one by lunchtime.

We picnicked at Green Lake–egg salad sandwiches, my brother Lew’s homemade cookies, and Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips.  We couldn’t get to a picnic table, because we didn’t have an all-terrain wheelchair, but from our park bench we had a gorgeous view of the lake.

I would love to take Aunt Loena to Hawaii or Europe; even she feels it might be too far.  But her eyes lit up when she said church friends had gone to a casino, and she thought it might be fun to try her luck just once–if there was a smoke-free one with wheelchair access.  I don’t know anything about casinos, but an internet search and a few phone calls was all it took to locate a smoke-free casino in Toledo, not far from their wonderful zoo.  I sent Aunt Loena home with a roll of quarters and a promise.  Guess where we’re going next spring!

Saying goodbye is hard.  Aunt Loena said Mom always told her, “Whatever happens, we won’t cry.  We’ll smile, kiss the kids goodbye, and stop the car around the corner to do our crying.”  And that’s what they always did, she said.  But this time we all had to cry, just a little.

Most people in my aunt’s situation prefer the security of a recliner, the proximity of their own doctors, and to be in control, even if that just means the remote to the television.  Who can blame them?  With advanced age, circumstances often change, especially where health, finances, and family support are concerned.  Aunt Loena lives her life as an adventure, and adjusts the size of her dreams as necessary.  But for her, everything is icing on the cake.  New York is as good as Hawaii, and Ohio is as good as New York.  But she would be just as happy humming quietly and playing cards with a friend while snacking on a bag of Miss VIcky’s Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips.

I want to grow old like Aunt Loena, to go out swinging or at least singing.  When I told her she was brave for coming all the way to Seattle, she laughed and said, “All I need is a wheelchair, and someone to push it.

You got it, Aunt Loena.  And you don’t even need to ask.

All words and images copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Posted in Spiritual Practice, Victoria C Slotto

The Web of Illusion

Photo: wikipedia commons
Photo: wikipedia commons

For the Summer Solstice—the longest day of the year, the first day of summer–I  turned my meditation corner around, facing my chair looking out the window instead of looking at the eerie but beautiful reflections of the leaves of our ornamental pear tree fluttering on the blank wall of my room. While the images were hypnotic, I couldn’t help but think of Plato in his cave and the thought haunted me that this was illusory beauty.

Photo Credit: Sara Loverling
Photo Credit: Sara Loverling

Looking directly at the trees, deep into our yard and yards beyond our own allowed me to see the play of light and shadow, and only a slight flutter of leaves. For the moment, stillness was able to come in…until illusion reappeared in the form of a bird that land on our roof and projected its shadow onto the side of our neighbor’s house. The shadow appeared long and skinny, almost like a sand piper or a heron, but since we don’t have either of those birds here in Reno, I realized I was once again facing illusion.

As I age, I’m aware of the imperative to dispel the illusions I’ve so carefully fashioned to carry me through life. A few months ago, I began digging through old journals, over forty of them—reviewing life, tearing up pages, letting go of secrets, negative emotions, anger and hurt, unfulfilled dreams, dusting off the mysterious web of illusion and, yes, celebrating growth, insight and success.

Photo: themanagementninja.com
Photo: themanagementninja.com

It’s interesting to see how the same old issues that cropped up back in 1988 are no different than those of today. I had to chuckle at my observations on then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s (Benedict XVI) ultraconservative stance that I found alienating to so many. If I’d only known.

And then there was/is my need to control—my perfectionism. I complained that I was only getting 6 hours of sleep because, when I awakened, I thought of how much I had to do and couldn’t go back to sleep. The morning  of the Super-moon I was up at 4 AM (couldn’t find it) and, of course, stayed awake thinking of how much I wanted to get done that day. It’s like that most every day.

And thus: illusion. Here I am—approaching the end of another decade of my life, still believing that so much, everything, depends on me. In another ten years, if I’m still playing this wonderful game of life, will it still be the same?

A few questions to reflect upon: What are your illusions? What purpose do they serve? Is it time to do something about them? You can comment if you like, but my intent is just to get you thinking.

Have a blessed day.

(Reblogged from Victoria C. Slotto, Author)

Victoria and Dave Slotto
Victoria and Dave Slotto

2940013445222_p0_v1_s260x420VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~  a Contributing Writer to Into the Bardo ,attributes her writing influences to her spirituality, her dealings with grief and loss, and nature. Having spent twenty-eight years as a nun, Victoria left the convent but continued to work as a nurse in the fields of death and dying, Victoria has seen and experienced much. A result of Victoria’s life experience is the ability to connect with readers on an intimate level. She resides in Reno, Nevada, with her husband and two dogs and spends several months of the year in Palm Desert, California.

Winter is Past is her first novel. It was published in 2012 by Lucky Bat Books. She has a second novel in process and also a poetry chapbook. Victoria is also an accomplished blogger and poet who has assumed a leadership role in d’Verse Poet’s Pub. You can read more ofher fine poetry HERE.

Posted in Charles W Martin, Photography/Photographer, Poems/Poetry

traveling with blinders…

traveling with blinders

the first years
of the journey
to death
can be long
and
quite boring
its slow pace
lulls the traveler
into a false sense
of immortality
and
a lack of appreciation
of the small miracles
along the way
the first kiss
a lover’s long embrace
a kind word
offered
when only tears paint
what the heart feels
or
a gentle touch
after a nightmare
to comfort
the soul’s fears
all these things
seem unimportant
during the trek
from one life milestone
to the next
routine milestones
that occupy
the mind
as it travels
but
all too soon
the journey
is over
and
all that is left
are
some old photos
fading
as quickly
as the memory
of those moments
of
true
love

– Charles W. Martin

© 2013, poem and illustration, Charles W. Martin, All rights reserved

product_thumbnail.php678ad505453d5a3ff2fcb744f13dedc7-1CHARLES MARTIN (Reading Between the Minds) — earned his Ph.D. in Speech and Language Pathology with an emphasis in statistics. Throughout Charlie’s career, he maintained a devotion to the arts (literature/poetry, the theater, music and photography). Since his retirement in 2010, he has turned his full attention to poetry and photography. He publishes a poem and a photographic art piece each day at Read Between the Minds, Poetry, Photograph and Random Thoughts of Life. He is noted as a poet of social conscience. Charlie has been blogging since January 31, 2010. He has self-published a book of poetry entitled The Hawk Chronicles and will soon publish another book called A Bea in Your Bonnet: First Sting, featuring the renown Aunt Bea. In The Hawk Chronicles, Charlie provides a personification of his resident hawk with poems and photos taken over a two-year period.

Posted in Fiction, Guest Writer

PERSPECTIVES ON CANCER #4: Boxes

BOXES

a short story

by

Victoria Ceretto-Slotto

At the end of your life, what will you have to show for it?

The question hurtled across the dark room and caught a ray of light as it passed the door that someone had left ajar. Institutional light.

What’ll you make of yourself? The words howled down the corridors of a time past when she had allowed other people to define her life.

She pulled the ratty shawl she’d knitted tight about bony shoulders covered by a layer of crepe-like skin and rued the dropped stitch she hadn’t bothered to catch as it slipped yet another row towards the mustard-stained fringe.

At the end of your life, when death draws near . . .

The question bounced around in her skull like ping-pong balls in a Lucite box smeared with little kids fingerprints. It was powered by air, she recalled—a project at a science fair that demonstrated random molecular movement? Yes, that was it.

The box was broken now. Molecules split to atoms to neutrons, protons and electrons. And more recently, quarks—whatever the hell they are.

The shattered box of her beliefs, strewn about and discarded like clothes too tight and out-of-style. Like toe-crushing shoes.

She fingered the blanket, threading her fingers in and out of woven sterile cotton: institutional warmth, or lack thereof.

The conundrum chased her around the corners of decades. It unfurled and breathed heavily on the nape of her neck–raspy, persistent. Or was that her roommate once again in respiratory distress?

Her hands lay before her. They were still now—old, used hands with see-through skin. Gnarly knuckles that appeared warped and disfigured like twigs from the oak tree in her backyard. (At home, not in this place).

Hands that had touched, caressed, soothed. Healed even. And sometimes caused pain.

Her distended veins bulged: rivulets crossing the map of her life. She pushed back her skin, stopped the flow, released, and watched dark corpuscles stream back in, carrying life-giving oxygen to her cells. One more day of life—or at least a part of one.

Good-looking veins, she thought, but deceptive like her life had been. Stick a needle in that fat one and it’ll blow or roll.

That’s what fifty plus years of nursing did for her. The knowledge of veins, arteries and blood. And shit, piss and vomit. And worse—much worse. At the end of her life, what would she have to show? That she could read blood vessels?

Service can pass for love, she knew.

If she were her own patient, what would be her diagnosis of herself. Her mind clicked into scientific mode and she began to reflect.

Subjective:

There was the hard, hard heart she carried in a steel box inside her hollow, hallow chest. This woman can’t afford to feel in the face of so much loss: dead babies, dead everyone. Nope, too dangerous look at the subjective. Think it’s better to pass on that one.
A cool breeze blew in from nowhere, walked down the juts of her vertebrae and settled at the base of her spine. Fanning out, the chill expanded and squeezed about her body to embrace the emptiness.

Objective:

Well, these were the facts. Two dead husbands; one dead daughter; a son gone missing; a divorce. Six dead dogs, one cat still alive. Not much money in the bank; a vacant, paid-for house, watched over by a neighbor (along with the cat, of course). A 12’ X 7’ cubicle in a room of three old ladies, surrounded by beige curtains—a hiding place, a box. 13K plus change in credit card debt and no one to leave it to. Ha-ha. A mind that bounces from here to there, imprisoned in a withered body; layers of skin that hang like empty sacks; lost promises.

A memory tossed her into the past: the day they’d painted their house a bright yellow with white trim: the happiness of the color and the joy of standing hand-in-hand with her second husband—the one she really loved because he loved her, too.

She shooed that thought away. Can’t afford to feel, remember?

Assessment:

The box is smashed and fragments of a life that could have been poured out. The diagnosis is clear: Altered reality; meaning deprivation related to . . .” To Nothing.

She’d read an obituary that morning about a woman who had it all wrapped up and tied with a bow, it claimed. Died in profound peace, it said. This mother, wife, friend knew where she wanted to go and went there, or something to that effect. They outlined it for the obituary readers: died surrounded by loved ones who would attend the funeral in the church, it promised. Neatly placed in her box. Amen.

Plan:

That’s what she needed: the answer to the question, she decided, wasn’t in this place. She knew it wasn’t this—not a box-room filled with white sheets, white blankets and a white commode chair. Not the sickly smell of urine and dirty dentures and not a hand-knitted shawl with a dropped stitch and a mustard stain on gray yarn.

She needed a plan with color.

Dragging her legs, numb with cold, to the edge of the bed, she reached for her walker and grasped the rubber handles encrusted with grime—particles of food and feces—and hauled her ass into a standing position. She shuffled slowly into the open corridor with its fluorescent white sheen. Her droopy butt lay bare for all the world to see beneath the open back gown of flimsy gray and pink cross-hatched fabric bleached almost white.

She crept along the hall, stopping briefly at the crash cart that reminded her of OPI “Big Apple Red” nail polish. She palmed the vial of potassium chloride from the unlocked drawer of the cart, concealing it along with a 22 gauge, 1” needle and 5cc syringe. A scarf would do for a tourniquet, she figured and alcohol was academic, wasn’t it?

Approached by the evening shift nurse she requested an AMA. The LPN called the social worker but patient rights won out. As she signed the papers discharging her Against Medical Advice, the team called a taxi and the MD then helped her box her few belongings.

The plan was coming together.

At the end of your life, what will you have to show for it? The phrase rattled in her tin box heart as she slipped the key into the lock of her front door.

Musty odors of cat litter and un-lived-in, unclean linens overwhelmed her.

Purty, her cat mewled with excitement, threaded between her legs, stroking her back to life. Exhausted, she plopped into the overstuffed chair in the front room. A burst of dust enveloped her, but she was home.

She sat there till the early morning sky allowed light to slither around the edges of the curtains.

Purty curled up in her lap and purred and purred. Reaching over she pulled the blinds allowing sunlight to fill the room. Yellow sunlight bounced off yellow walls in her yellow house. It was still there, the yellow she remembered. Joy slipped in.

She thought about the drug stashed in her purse with the syringe, but let it be for the moment. Stretching out her weary limbs, she stood as Purty leaped to the floor.

I need another day she thought and decided in that moment it might be wise to reevaluate her plan. Instead, she wandered through her house in search of color and meaning. Purty, her calico cat, followed her everywhere.

At least have time to find something to show, she told herself, smiling that the last words on her chart were AMA, not RHC. Respirations Have Ceased. Smiling that she was, indeed, OOB.

No, not Out Of BedOut of the box.

As a nurse, I spent much of my time working with the elderly. This fictional account imagines how a retired nurse could feel about her life…if she didn’t have something to turn to–like writing! A bit of an explanation: in nursing, we applied the scientific method to patient assessment using a method called S.O.A.P–that’s what the Subjective (How are you?) Objective (What the nurse can notice) Assessment (Making a nursing diagnosis) and Plan (What to do about it) refer to. Don’t know if this is how it’s done right now…but it’s a good way to problem solve in any life situation. Try it with a problem you’re facing!

Victoria Ceretto-Slotto ~ A former nurse, Victoria is a novelist, poet, artist, and a docent at Nevada Museum of Art. Currently she is hard at work with final edits on her novel, Winter Is Past, recently accepted for publication. A second novel is in progress. Victoria finds inspiration in the mysteries of life, death, art and spirituality. She lives and writes in Reno, Nevada and Palm Desert, California with her photographer husband and two canine kids. Victoria shares some of her poetry on liv2write2day’s blog, where she also provides writing prompts and offers coaching with Wordsmith Wednesday. (Currently she is on hiatus from the blog while she completes the final edits of her book.)