Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Every Day

A Spontaneous Short Story by Susan Larison Danz
In the Time of the Pandemic

It was a bright and sunny morning.  Every day, he visited.  She needed him.  He needed her.  He always carried a rose.

Henry usually showed up early before Geraldine awakened.  He couldn’t care for her anymore at home, and the other options were few, but how this worked was working.  And they could live with it.

It was all so very logical, of course.  And it was working.

Gently, he suggested what she might wear for the day.  The attendants were relieved to have his help.  There was always so much to do, so much to do, and the best of them did their best.  Miriam had greeted Henry with a smile at the desk.  How incredibly beautiful, really, she thought, every day he visited.

He paid for his breakfast, and for his lunch and for his dinner.  He didn’t mind.  The food wasn’t all that bad, and he and Geraldine sat together.  Geraldine was starting to have trouble eating without assistance.  Henry loved to help.  It made him happy to have this purpose.  Sometimes they would go outside in the little courtyard, or enjoy the music in the common room.  They were always together.  It was everything he wanted to do and didn’t mind.  It made it all work.

Next to them at every meal and activity, was a daughter with her mother.  Henry had an awful time remembering names, but it was so sweet to watch the two of them.  Like Henry, she stayed all day, helping her loved one with simple tasks, taking her out in her wheelchair into the sunshine, ensuring her clothes were clean, double checking the soap and the toothpaste and the toilet paper, keeping an eye on the attendants bringing in medicine, and all the rest.  

Every day, it was this way.  Day after day after day after day.  It didn’t matter if it was a weekend.  Every day, this was the way of things.  And it was working.  It wasn't always easy on the more difficult days, but even so, it worked.

Henry happily greeted the other spouses, sons and daughters.  Some came almost every day as well, perhaps for an hour after work or 15 minutes before lunch.  Others arrived on Saturday or Sunday and stayed much longer.  The great-grandchildren laughed in the hallways.

And even when there were challenges, there was a knowing, person to person to person, and there was a feeling of sharing the heavy lifting.

It was particularly sad that some people at the center seemed to have no visitors at all.  But as time passed by, the wives and the husbands and the sons and the daughters reached out to some of them as well.  Over time, there was unspoken friendship - a feeling of family.  And the smiles that used to be so very elusive would appear unexpectedly.


One day.

Everything changed.

Some people saw it on the news or in their email.  Henry didn’t have a computer.  He had never really needed one.  

He arrived at the center, and outside a giant sign was on display:  NO VISITORS ALLOWED DUE TO COVID-19.  Henry hardly read it, not believing it applied and asked at the desk, a bit confused.  Miriam had expected and dreaded this, and tried her best to hold back her tears. She tried her best.  Not knowing really what to say, she directed him into an office so it could be explained by a “superior”.  The door slammed shut.  She couldn’t hear and really didn’t want to.  Henry wouldn’t understand.  Eventually, he emerged and didn’t stop again at the desk.  He shuffled away, dazed,  too astonished to be angry.  

It was all so very logical, they said.

He thought about her every minute.  What was she doing?  Was she OK?  They had been married 67 years and had rarely been apart. In the days that followed, he tried to call, but Geraldine’s faltering voice grew more distant.  He couldn’t be there to help her, to smile with her, to be with her in the way they’d always been.  It was almost too much for Henry to endure, as the days went on.  Fellow caregivers would try to offer help and empathy one to one another, when they could find a way to talk, but it didn't really ease the pain.

Geraldine had an interior room that had a window looking into the beautiful little courtyard.  How it had cheered them, to watch the birds and the flowers.  They had selected that room specifically, so much better than having a room facing cars and headlights.  The attendants were SO busy.  The best of them tried their best, but there was only so much they could do.  One day, they brought Geraldine to a window where Henry could see.  She stared at him through the faded glass, uncomprehending, aloof and bewildered.  Why wouldn't he come in?

And then a day eventually arrived when something they didn’t want to happen happened anyway.  The virus had somehow appeared inside the center.  It was in other centers as well.  They tried to clean and to clean and to clean and to test and to test.  The residents hated being poked and prodded.  The test was extremely uncomfortable.  Smiles were now invisible.  All the attendants were wearing masks.

It was the logical thing to do, of course.

The phone rang in the morning with the news.  Geraldine was sick.  She was already in the hospital, it had happened so very fast.  Henry wanted to see her at the hospital.  It was incredibly confusing!  What was happening these days???  But he wasn’t allowed in.  He tried to call Miriam at the desk in hopes that she could help him, not knowing where to ask, but he was told she was away, home sick.

Henry didn't really sleep at all that night, but dozed a bit into the morning, and then was startled by the phone.  It was an unfamiliar voice.  Geraldine was dead.  There was no funeral that could happen yet.  Henry didn’t really understand, but his son arrived from San Francisco and attempted to explain.  There would be, but not yet.  Someone called and asked if there was any way the family could accept the idea of cremation.  No.  They couldn’t.  

It had been so very logical, they said.

It was a bright and sunny morning.  Row upon row upon row upon row of rectangular waves of white lined the road, as Henry navigated his aging car.  A veteran, he’d be here too some day.  But Geraldine had arrived here first.

Every day, he visited.  He needed her.  He spoke to her.  He always carried a rose.

Note: This story is a fictional account based on what happens regularly in long term care environments, where dedicated family members are actively engaged in the care of their vulnerable loved ones every day (until the time of the pandemic).  It is a story that repeats itself regularly throughout the United States.  This particular story is based in a relatively functional care environment - not all care centers are like that - it is horrifying to contemplate what might occur in an abusive environment, for example, without visits from family, though such facilities should not technically exist in a more functional world.  

We cannot productively or compassionately address anything health-related in our society without considering seriously the difficult questions related to how psychological well-being has a very real impact on life & death. Just because an idea is "logical" or on the surface "safer" doesn't make it viable, compassionate or wise.  One would hope future societies will plan for a better approach, as difficult as that may be to envision. It may also lead to innovation and change the resources we provide so that seniors in vulnerable situations can more safely and productively remain at home, with enhanced, affordable or subsidized support.  ~ SLD

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Park is Open

 A Spontaneous Short Story by Susan Larison Danz
In the Time of the Pandemic
More to come... 
It wasn’t quite summer yet in the mountains.  In fact, it wasn’t quite spring.  Calendars have never dictated the weather in the Rockies.  Even so, it felt much like summer to Summer.  Her mother had named her after a moment in Moraine Park, she’d been told, on a beautiful day she’d met a handsome ranger there.  It had always been about feeling, the name.  Feeling and Beauty.

How surprising in this unusual spring could it be that Summer found herself in the very place that had inspired everything that she was and chose to be.  They were old timers in Estes Park, year round residents.  The town had asked that the Park be closed down, earlier than the rest, because of the virus.  Estes Park, you see, like many small, vacation towns, was filled with elderly residents year-round.  Summer’s parents were no longer on the planet, and in a way, she was relieved. 
This was a spring like no other.

Still, there was freedom.  And a very rare gift.  Summer usually worked at the Visitor’s Center for the National Park Service.  She knew everything about the Park there was to share, and she loved her job.  It was open year-round, though quieter in the winter.  And as much as she missed sharing her intricate knowledge with those passing by, her role now was astonishing.

Through a series of surreal coincidences, Summer found herself this day in Moraine Park.  She was needed there, and she happily accepted.  She knew every bit of its nuances and trails.  She’d worked at that visitor’s center for a time as well and was often on loan, but she rather liked the main center at the Fall River Road entrance.  Her knowledge of the Park started very early, and her father had taught her many subtleties.

She already knew what might unfold right in front of her, though she didn’t quite know how or what to expect.  Humanity was all but gone, you see.  And spring was gradually arriving.  The bull elk would be shedding their antlers soon.  Summer learned at a very young age to respect the elk.  They would show up everywhere, even in Estes Park, particularly in the Fall during their rut, and would astonish visitors without fail every year as they wandered into the roadways.  Elk were always to be given the widest of berths, no matter how tempting it was to approach them, as they could charge a person on a whim.  Wildlife is to be respected.  She told the visitors how, often.  Often they didn’t listen.  But she’d made the attempt, regularly.

The bears were coming out of hibernation soon.  The eagles were quite regularly soaring overhead.  Summer knew and loved the eagles, and what many people didn’t generally realize, is the eagles could know a person in their midst, astonishingly well. They spoke to her, this year more than ever she could recall.  The deer were wandering ever more near.  Soon more birds would arrive.  It was a bit early yet.  

When would the Park reopen?  Nobody knew.  What a glorious thing, truly, despite everything, everything else.  It was as open as ever.

Eagles at play in the Western U.S. (Photo by Susan Larison Danz)

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Music of Angels

"Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart." 
~ Pablo Casals

No more words can convey it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Compassion for the Struggling on April 1, 2020

“Extreme poverty anywhere is a threat to human security everywhere.” 
~ Kofi Annan

Anyone who has experienced or witnessed a jarring total loss of resources, whether over time or suddenly, no matter how it has occurred, knows just how challenging this is for the human spirit.  It impacts everything, including a person's health, particularly if it persists.  It impacts families.  It impacts neighborhoods.   It impacts civilizations.  It impacts the entire world.

My heart is with those today who find themselves suddenly without the ability to pay their basic bills, including those who have managed to do so all of their lives, and jarringly find themselves in a truly horrendous situation. Even with a little help, once people are placed in this situation, it can be astonishingly difficult to catch up.  It does not diminish our compassion for those who are ill or whose health is vulnerable to be expanding our consideration to everyone whose health and well-being are in jeopardy.  This is what it means to be balanced, thoughtful and wise.  And nobody is saying the entirety of the situation we face is easy to address.
Migrant Mother, 1936 (Public Domain)
If you haven't lived it, if you think your bank or credit card accounts have more than enough to cover your needs, if you feel you securely have a roof over your heads and are staying in place in relative comfort, perhaps it is difficult to conceive just how jarring this feels to your neighbors.  I have repeated that word "jarring" three times so far, and there's a reason.  It can shake a person down to one's foundations, like an earthquake.  A spiritual path is helpful, for sure, in these times, but please let's not forget the people who are genuinely and very suddenly struggling, or those who have struggled for a long time, and now things are far worse.

And as to our path forward, sociologists and historians know just how important it is to be balanced in what comes next.  Unfortunately, they haven't apparently been consulted already in the decisions being made.  It is not lacking compassion to be seriously thinking about all of the devastating impacts of what is happening, both short and long term. 

Where will expansive compassion, far-seeing wisdom and true courage lead?  We have much to be reflecting upon, and the answers aren't simple.  Fear can push and it can prod, but it rarely holds the answers we really need to see.  Strictly "clinical" or isolated quantitative observation may tell us a few things, but tunnel vision is blind.  We need balance and deeply thoughtful direction and we need it soon.