Tuesday, July 12, 2016

All Lives Matter

I feel so full of the Holy Spirit today since reading my scriptures this morning. Specifically I studied Alma Chapter 26 which is in the Book of Mormon. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Book of Mormon, it is not an addition to the Bible. It is the record of a portion of some Native American tribes who were looking forward to the coming of the Great Spirit. From the ancient oral and written traditions of their ancestors, they knew that one day a Savior, the son of God, would come to our world to tell all people about forgiveness, repentance and love.)

The words in Alma Chapter 26 are truly inspired for our day!  Whenever I came across the word “Lamanite,” I mentally inserted the words “ISIS” or “Al-Qaida”. Lamanites were a bloodthirsty, violent group in the Book of Mormon. Just as ISIS beheads Christian men, kidnaps innocent girls and crucifies Christian children in the streets, some of the Lamanites tossed families of the believers into smoldering pits to their deaths. Then, as now, it was the traditions and incorrect teachings of their leaders that made them feel justified in doing these acts. They did not have a written record as did their brothers. As recently as a few hundred years ago, some Native Americans (such as the Cherokee) had a written record. Other tribes only had oral traditions. The written word does not change, but oral histories, like a phrase in the telephone game, can change.

Because not everyone has the motivation to love their brothers, we must spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ! It is as important overseas at it is here! It is difficult, I know, just as it was in the days of Ammon in the Book of Mormon. We may face scorn just as he did, or even ridicule, by merely just suggesting that we pray for these perpetrators, let alone offer them the fruits of the Gospel of Jesus.  Deep down, this is what missionary work is all about. It is not to teach those that are already faithful, but to bring about change; to turn the hearts of all people to do good. Jesus said that if we love Him we must feed His sheep. (John 21:15-17)  Jesus also said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34) The Gospel is good news!  It will change the hearts of all people, because all lives matter.

Alma Chapter 26: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/26?lang=eng                                   (Specifically verses 23 – 35.)

To teach your young Sunday School students, diversity and love on the most basic level, please consider purchasing a copy of Liesa Swejkoski’s book “As I Have Loved You,” from Schuler books http://www.schulerbooks.com/chapbook-press/i-have-loved-you-liesa-swejkoski
 or via Kindle  https://www.amazon.com/As-I-Have-Loved-You-ebook/dp/B00KMKZQGG  . 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Independence Day

Independence Day is fast approaching. It is the time that we celebrate the declaration that the colonies would no longer be subject to the tyranny and rule of Great Britain. Many people are still under the impression that after that great statement was signed, in July 1776, there were no more battles, but that is not true. There were wars, skirmishes and burnings long before that day (and long after).

Too many people believe that history is boring. Not enough is done to teach this subject in our schools. Thankfully, there are some great dramatizations of history in a few select films. Every year, to commemorate Independence Day, I watch several motion pictures, in sequence (listed below). It helps me to remember that my freedom was well fought for and that America must always remain free for all people. The United States is a work in progress.  We have made mistakes and we’ve learned from them.

I hope that many of my audience will strive to learn more on their own than what is portrayed on screen. I would encourage my American readers to search the names of their ancestors and the places those individuals settled and lived in.

The dream of an independent, free society began thousands of years ago when great thinkers in Greece expounded the idea that all men should be free and not divided into the aristocracy and their slaves. Aristotle taught that if all men are men, then all are free and none are slaves. Hundreds of years ago in places like Germany, Ireland and Scotland, the countryside was blossoming with people who wanted to exist without the threat of kings and noblemen who would rob them of their flocks and fields, sons conscripted for armies and daughters taken by force. The New World was a land full of bounty, independence and fertile soil. It was a place of opportunity, a territory “battle born” even before the settlers arrived. Tribes killed one another for plentiful hunting grounds, fishing rights and a place to plant corn, beans and squash.

I learned that two of my women ancestors that remained in Germany during the time of one of the films (Alone Yet Not Alone, which takes place in 1755) lived in Germany under a nobleman’s rule. These ancestors are from my mother’s side of the family. At the beginning of the 1700s, these women were essentially serfs in the town of Heigenbrücken and their Burgomeister would not allow them to marry, but they still fell in love and had children, one by the town shepherd. Many of their counterparts sailed to America to worship freely and marry the men or women of their choice. These immigrants were allowed to keep the yield of their crops, not hand their hard-worked for gain to government. In another blog I might tell you more about my German ancestors’ story, but for the moment I want to continue about American history.

During the mid-1700s when the Native Americans were aligning themselves with either England or France, people were kidnapped by a variety of tribes to replenish the braves and children lost to battle, disease and famine. Parents were killed along with babies who could not make the journey to the Ohio from Pennsylvania.  Scalps were taken as far south as North Carolina. My ancestor John Wood, who was born In Ireland about 1700, was killed and scalped along the Yadkin River. He was most likely an indentured servant.  Some people came willingly to the New World, as North America was called then, and worked for several years until they earned their freedom. At the end of the agreed upon time, they could find a place to build a cabin and make a life for themselves.  There were many more that were taken by force from Scotland or Ireland; young men and women, sometimes children. Long before I learned of this history I had a very vivid dream. I will describe that dream another time, but I firmly believe it was what some scientists call a “cellular memory”. It was the horrific conquering of people wanting freedom from England, while attempting to make changes in their own lands. Sadly the rebellion was quelled and my people, like many, were shipped off to a life of servitude. There they were used, abused and sometimes bred to make more servants. Oft-times it was the leader of the plantations that fathered children, many times a strong black slave or a captured “Indian” or man from Scotland or Ireland. That was the fate of many Scots-Irish at the time. My dream took place just before the journey.  I learned the rest later.

The freed Scots and Irish began to settle and make families, establish churches and local governments. Eventually all of my father’s people made their way down the Shenandoah Valley. They farmed and married the Cherokee.

Another ancestor, Elizabeth Sibylla Scharrman Guntermann, was a child born in America of German parents: Franz Andreas Guntermann and Cornelia Keyser.  They were contemporaries of the people who came to America who are featured in the movie Alone Yet Not Alone. I wonder if the Scharrmans and Guntermanns were also under threat of having their cabins burned down to the ground during the French and Indian Wars. Later, as an old woman, Elizabeth and her daughter-in-law took water to our Patriot troops during the Battles of Cowpens and King’s Mountain. (The last military campaign featured in The Patriot is based upon the skirmish at Cowpens.)

Many settlers soon realized that England would not leave them alone to be free citizens of their own land. They were still subjects to the King of England, so wanting to be free from the shackles of tyranny, they naturally rebelled. Several of my own ancestors served in the Revolutionary War. I am proud that my ancestors served in this great cause. We are a free country, in part, because of their bravery. Recently I had the honor to become a part of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Decades after the Revolutionary War, a few of my ancestors even fought during the Civil War.

That is a very brief, condensed history of America and why there was a Revolution. I wanted to show readers how they could put their ancestors into the time frame of many of these historic events, just as I did. History may become more exciting to you when you realize that these people were living, breathing individuals struggling during tumultuous events.

These are the movies that I watch, in sequence, beginning in June. None of them are family movies so you must decide if your loved ones are mature enough to watch the battle scenes and a few love scenes.  If you have any recommendations, please let me know!

  1. Braveheart (R)
  2. Rob Roy (R)
  3. Alone Yet Not Alone (PG-13). (This one is hard to watch. Let me tell you, children are kidnapped and there is a scene where a woman is burned at the stake. Being burned alive is not a quick process.)
  4. Last of the Mohicans (1992) (R)
  5. The Patriot (R)
  6. The Alamo (PG-13) (I usually watch the 2004 film, but I also enjoy the version with John Wayne.)
  7. Gettysburg - Gods and Generals (PG-13) (usually sold together in a package.)
  8. Glory (R)
  9. Cold Mountain (R) (I didn’t want to see this movie until a very distant relative explained that this film is loosely based on the tales of our people in post-Civil War North Carolina. I'm glad that I saw the film, but I often wonder, were our people the families waiting for the soldiers or were they the Watchmen? Maybe they were both.)
  10. Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee (TV-14)
  11. Far and Away (PG-13)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

King of the Nile

(The flip-side to my other post about dying with dignity)

I have a senior friend that I absolutely adore. “Jerrold” and I get along so well that it feels like he’s become a part of my family, and that’s the way it should be with friends that you love. We take walks together a couple times a week and talk about everything from politics, weather, senior care and our respective health challenges. Despite what we’ve been told about the outcomes of our long-term wellbeing we still push ourselves to walk, read, think and do the best we can to manage our symptoms.

Recently while we were hiking in the desert, Jerrold asked, “Other than a river in Egypt, what does denial mean to you?”

I had to laugh. I hadn’t heard that reference to the Nile River in at least a decade. I thought for a moment and answered, “Well, in a rational-thinking person, one that has all his or her faculties, it’s to have all the data and yet still believe in something impossible. I don’t mean believing in a miracle (miracles do happen and that’s what makes them unique) but counting on something despite all the facts, like thinking you can fly off a balcony when you don’t have wings, something like that.”

I took a few deep breaths as dull pains moved their way up my calves. We walked past a golf course and I asked, “What does denial mean to you?”

“People keep telling me that I can’t do some things, but I do them anyway. I know my disease will get worse, but I keep walking anyway. I try to get better.” Jerrold hadn’t really answered the question, but I understood what he meant.

After a while, I added, “People don’t always think rationally. Some, like patients that have dementia, live in their own reality. Little children have their own reality, also. To them, if they say they can fly, they jump off of a pile of dirt and give it a try. Then they fall and learn not to do it next time – but look at the Wright brothers, they kept trying to fly. They kept building a better flying machine and eventually got off the ground. If not for them we might not have airplanes. Rational thinking can save our lives but denial of reality and thinking beyond what is real makes us better individuals and more interesting, don’t you think?”

Jerrold pondered this. We were getting closer to the pool where we planned to rest. “But I’m told that I’m in denial. I will never get better. I could just sit and wait at home to die. I think about moving to Oregon or another state that has assisted suicide.”

“Robin Williams had the same prognosis that you have. The same one! He gave up too early and broke all our hearts.” I silently pondered the joy that Williams had given the world with his wit. Then I remembered the heart-ache I felt the moment I heard about his suicide. The world seemed to tip just a little off its axis and things just haven’t been the same. I pleaded, “You can’t do that, please, don’t give up. You need to keep moving and getting better day-by-day!” Of course, Jerrold knows this already and that’s why he walks until the very day that his legs will no longer carry him.

We passed a pond at the golf course. It was being drained. I decided to throw Jerrold a life-line. “Like any river, the water in the Nile flows higher in the rainy season. Sometimes it’s lower during a drought, but it always flows. Reality is, if you’re in the middle of that river, you could drown. It’s still the same river despite the weather, yet we all face the power of that water in our own way. Faith is like an inner-tube. Are you going to swim? Are you going to hold on to that flotation device or just give into reality, let go and drown? What a rational thinking person does is hold onto that ring as long as he can, despite reality, yet he knows that he’s going to die! It’s like that with so many things. It’s a balance between reality and faith and it’s a balance between our own reality and everyone else’s reality. Just keep pressing forward and don’t give up.”

Reaching the pool, Jerrold said, “I like the way you think.”

Sitting there we spoke not another word and watched bathers enjoying themselves. The sounds of the lapping water were soothing. I thought about Don Quixote riding a broken down horse, battling a windmill with his lance. We all have our monsters to fight: disease, poverty, PTSD and doctors who tire of us patients asking for cures and treatments that don’t yet exist.

Maybe denial isn’t rejecting reality. Maybe denial is giving in. We know that today’s truth was yester-year’s miracle! Tomorrow’s reality is what we dream and hope for now. We have jets, cell-phones, computers, treatments for stroke, life-saving operations and transplants that were just someone’s impossible dream mere decades ago.

My friend caught his breath, stood up and was ready to head back to his home.

“Jerrold,” I said, “you can be the King of Denial. You keep dreaming and, who knows, you might outlive all of us.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Getting Nowhere Fast

My father and mother raised me to be a lady. I’m not saying this in the modern sense of the word. I mean, someone delicate in thought and deed; one who knows the finer arts of painting, music and writing. They took me to museums and shelved all the best books in our home. This put me in an awkward position since I grew up in Taylor, Michigan. Even the locals said that there was more culture in one cup of yogurt than all of Taylor. (Note, I didn’t say it. I was told this from people at school and neighbors as well.)

In 1968 Papa moved us south of Detroit to Taylor, a community situated in the Downriver part of Michigan. The fixer-upper house, situated on over an acre, was close to I-75 so my father could get to work quickly at General Motors’ Fisher Body-Fleetwood factory in Detroit.

Taylor, known as a bed-room community, was home to working class families. Parents relied on the factories to pay good wages and provide the means to put meat on the table. There was little time for art, travel, classic music or exotic food for most people. The most exciting part of the move for me was that huge yard. Living on over an acre meant that someday I could get a horse!

My mother always dreamed that I would one day marry a very rich man. Her own father was an artist; and a reluctant soldier. My grandmother wanted my dad to become a preacher. He joined the Navy. The early twentieth century was one of strife, war, depression and turmoil. It changed lives and destinies as battles, famine and epidemics have done throughout the ages. So once the world was relatively peaceful, post Korean War to be exact, my parents set their visions and hopes on me. It was a tall order.

I was a tom-boy kind of girl. We didn’t go to church. My parents didn’t believe in things like that. My father rebelled against his mother’s stern upbringing as did all of her offspring. So from the time school let out in June until after Labor Day, I ran around with no shoes. That’s right: three months of freedom for my toes! Every year I developed such hard calluses, that I’d walk over the sharp rocks in our driveway and barely notice the stones by July. When September rolled around, my dad would struggle to put my shoes back on. I hated the scratchy feeling of the socks and the constricting tightness of my footwear. This meant that my dad was always buying new shoes for me. Back then they were fitted to my feet. Everyone went to the shoe stores in those days, getting their feet measured. That didn’t help my situation. I despised shoes with a passion and if not for the cold Michigan winters, by choice, I would have gone barefoot all year ‘round.

Additionally, summers meant swimming. If I couldn’t get to the pool, I’d run the hose, get a lot of mud started and roll in the muck like a little piggy. My mother bought me some lovely purple culottes that I didn’t like. So after being forced to wear them a couple times, in desperation (or spite) I went outside and spent the next couple of hours cooling off in my mud-hole. Mommie was furious! She demanded to know why I didn’t wear my play clothes. She never did get the stains out of those culottes. I actually felt bad for her, but I was relieved. Eventually she dressed me like the other kids in my neighborhood: jeans and t-shirts. My cousin Greg handed me down a lot of his jeans and I was grateful. (He was always like my big brother, but that’s another story.)

My mother made sure I learned music. My piano teachers usually quit after a few lessons. One high school student, starved for cash, stuck it out. I learned a lot from the young man, but treated him pretty bad. My parents encouraged art and liked that I was taking some classes in junior high school. Eventually, I started paying attention in all my English classes, enjoying the study of words and grammar. Due to some mild dyslexia, spelling has always been a challenge, but my mother introduced me to the dictionary. My sister Margie actually made me crack open a text book and showed me what a noun was so that by the time Schoolhouse Rock debuted on ABC TV I was enthralled with the first song! “A noun is a person, place or thing!” blared from the television set in our living room.

Eventually, my dad bought me the horse that he promised and soon I began riding lessons. Nothing was too good for his baby girl. He wanted me cultured, educated and refined. (In reality I was smelly, sweaty and sporting snarled hair every evening.)

Years later, I went to John F. Kennedy High School. I wasn’t the best student but I rose to the challenge. Also, I left my tom-boy ways behind, looking forward to the day I could go to a university, which I did eventually. My parents were thrilled that I’d decided to break away from my life Downriver. They were working class just like everyone else, but wanted me to experience more and have a better life than they did.

Half way through college I met the love of my life, David. He is a mechanic, not the rich businessman my parents had hoped I’d marry. Family friends in Detroit insisted I should marry for money first and learn to love a man. I didn’t see it that way. I wanted to wed for love.

David and I began our married life in my hometown, Taylor. I tried teaching, day care, working as a bank teller, working at a museum and later writing. I even did a stint as a lunch lady and at the time, it was my highest paying job! There was no money in music, art nor writing. Believe me, I tried. I’d still like to be a sculptor. I’d even like to try singing lessons, but I’m not delusional. There is no money in any of those avocations-- unless I’m one of the lucky ones. Our bread and butter come from my husband’s hard work.

Which brings us to this decade. My son-in-law majored in theater. I was so proud of him when he graduated from my alma mater, Brigham Young University! Sadly, finding a job is another matter. The arts just aren’t appreciated and an artist is not loved in his own time, if at all. I know that John will go on to do great things in his life, but theater is a hobby, not a career unless you are willing to move to New York and schlep your tired body to every audition after working two jobs and paying high rent for a gawd-awful, rat infested apartment. But that young man has talent! He did a killer Ichabod Crane in a college production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He can do stunts and the splits. If there is ever a life story produced of Buster Keaton, he’s the man for the job. He is the right height, coloring and. . . who am I kidding? Even Buster Keaton, genius that he was, is not appreciated. I think we’re getting nowhere fast --but it’s a fun ride!

John in his role as Ichabod Crane.

Monday, January 18, 2016

My Confession

Let me begin this post by stating that this is not intended to be a spring-board for people who have a gripe against my religion. If they want to jump into a discussion somewhere else, good for them. I just don’t want this blog entry to be a catalyst for it. This is merely my personal trial, a situation so difficult that I’m not even sure Abby and Ann could help.

Here’s a little history:

I seem to be a magnet for accidents and catastrophes. I’ve had a history of splitting my head open, landing noggin first into a tree from my horse, diving off a sod-hill onto my neck resulting in snapping my collar bone. . .and that’s only the surface of the iceberg. My first car accident happened when I was only three years old, before mandatory car-seats for toddlers. I was jumping up and down in the backseat when the car my family was in got struck from behind in a low-speed fender bender.

In my grade-school years, I liked to plunge into everything, reckless and energetic like most kids. I rode hard, played hard, swam with fury and ran everywhere, usually in bare feet, all summer. Autumn-time, I’d bound through piles of red and gold leaves, rake them up and start all over again. . .and again. In the winter I’d scramble through the snow until dusk, reluctantly going home, red-faced, half frozen and exhausted.

As a teen, I’d go hiking or camping. Sometimes I’d be tick-bit.

In young married life, I had huge babies (nine and ten pounders) and postpartum depression bordering on psychosis. My body was overwhelmed. I didn’t have the opportunity to heal properly and still had to tend to my babies. At the time, my husband was going to tech school, also working full time, and my parents had retired to the sunny southwest.

Over the decades I’ve been in about a half dozen car accidents. Thankfully I was never the cause of those accidents. One was a multi-vehicular wreck in January of 1998. At a two way stop a man dialing his clunky cell phone ran into a large Chevrolet Suburban creating a domino effect. I had the good sense not to “ride” the bumper of the car in front of me, so when I was struck by the Suburban, I didn’t hit the vehicle in front, and she didn’t run into the auto in front of her.

Witnesses setting up a sign at the corner saw my head shatter the back window of the single cab pickup truck that I was operating. I thought my skull had been struck by a baseball bat. I remember the next moment going forward, full force. My safety belt caught me preventing my body from being flung through the windshield. One broken window was enough for one day.

Weeks later I still had an ‘L’ shaped burn mark across my chest and belly! My neck and back were bent but not broken. I was numb at first, sore later, in pain after that. For many weeks, I couldn’t remember my children’s names. I couldn’t lift my kids up. Instead I had to sit down and gather the youngsters into my arms.

Additionally, doctors said my brain had bounced back and forth like a bug in a jar the moment of the collision. I had to teach myself how to do division and math all over again. For a couple months I’d lost my grip on words. I had to learn how to spell some things over again, relearn the meaning of other terms. A simple thing like “hyena” had me stymied. “Stymie” had me stymied!

As a result of my jaws snapping together in the impact, occasionally shards and splinters of broken mandible would work their way to just above my teeth, protrude through my upper gums and descend between my cheeks, into my mouth. I lived with that for nearly two years after the collision. To this day I live with sensitive molars that disintegrate sometimes.

I won’t even go into the legal mess here, but a therapist had to work with me a couple years later to try to get me to not be so hyper-vigilant. Every time I was stopped in traffic, I thought I’d get bashed from behind. He had his work cut out for him; trying to convince me that it was unlikely that I’d be involved in a similar accident. I had a hard time believing him at first because a year after the multi-vehicular collision, a driver behind me kept going even though I’d stopped for traffic, bumping my fender. Another time, I was at a stop sign, when a woman ran into my automobile. If I hadn’t been stopped, she would have gone right into the cross traffic. She explained that she'd turned around to talk to her three-year-old and didn’t realize there was a stop sign. After all that, my psychotherapist tried to convince me that it was unlikely I’d get killed in a similar accident.

He was right. It’s been decades since my last vehicular collision, but if you look several posts down, you’ll read about my train wreck. My PTSD is so enormous it should have its very own zip code.

I still live with body aches every day and many I can tune out – except one. Since the train collision, I have a nerve in a place next to my spine, a part of my back that I cannot easily reach. Several times a day that nerve will go into an itching, fluttering, burning electrical frenzy. I try to ignore it, but just before I fall asleep, or while sitting down to watch a movie, or in church, the little lightning storm starts up again. If I don’t have a back scratcher close by, I do my little dance to try to reach the spot. I am just grateful there is no pain associated with that particular nerve.

Decades ago, I used to sleep soundly. Nothing would disturb or rouse me. Now, many times I awake in fear. Just three short weeks before the train accident, I’d had major surgery, a hysterectomy and a tummy tuck. (It was less a vanity issue and more of what to do with all that extra hide from carrying enormous babies. The doctor suggested the procedure and I gratefully accepted.) The skin over my belly was still raw. I think sitting in the Nevada desert, watching the train that my family had just been on go up in flames, burn and melt, imbedded a fear into my abdominal cells. Their receptors seem to be highly sensitive to adrenalin. I say this because when I have that fleeting terror that casts me out of my elusive slumber, I feel like I am at the top of a roller coaster, just beginning my descent. Maybe it’s a descent into madness. Only time will tell.

I'm narrating this not to gain sympathy but to set the scene for my present situation.

My problem today is that I am too fearful to sleep at night. Consequently I am so tired after a night of trying to escape my dreams that I’m too exhausted to get out of bed. Some family members also have issues and if they are visiting and we argue, it can take hours, sometimes days for me to settle down to some sort of normalcy. Many mornings I awake to music in my head. (The thrumming and drumming have been there most of the night, I know, because I wake up to it sometimes hours before my alarm blares.) I listen to Christian music or the golden-oldies during the day, then relaxation music just before I go to sleep, but sure enough the inner-march is there again with the sunrise. If it’s a day that I don’t have to go to work, I roll back over and cry, trying to catch a few more winks, but the song remains.

One evening, after an especially horrific argument, my skull was throbbing. No pain thankfully, but I thought I was going to have an aneurism. My cousin, who is not an active member of the “Mormons” as she calls the Church, has excruciating headaches when the barometric pressure drops, just before severe weather sets in. The spells are so bad, she cannot think or see. No matter what her family doctor recommends, it doesn’t work, so she takes a few sips of wine cooler and can sleep soundly. She and I have similar issues with thick blood and dehydration issues. I was given some pain pills about ten years ago and the darned things made me stop breathing. Some other ones designed to stop my heart from racing lowered my heart rate drastically, enough to cause me to come near to fainting. Some other anti-seizure samples that a doctor (a friend of my family) prescribed, made me loopy for three days afterwards. Reticent, I took a cue from my cousin. I was coughing anyway, so I purchased some Drambuie, my dad’s old stand-by for coughs and colds. I drank half a glass. The throbbing subsided and I slept better than I had in years! (Incidentally, the rest of my family had that cough for a whole week. I didn’t.)

I still don’t believe in social drinking, but medicinally, once every several weeks, a drink has helped me. I didn’t go to the temple during this period, but it was soon time to renew my temple recommend. One of the requirements is the observance of the Word of Wisdom, a tenet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Introduced in the 1830s, you could say the “W of W” was before its time. It cautioned against the use of tobacco when smoking was believed to be healthful for the lungs. Before caffeine was even identified, hot drinks such as coffee were proscribed. Hard liquor was also against church policy and specifically named in the W of W. Grains and plants in their time and season are recommended. (That verse sounds similar to the new-age thinking of grow your own or shop locally.) Yes, the Word of Wisdom was well before its time and just as much a blessing now as it was then. If you want more information, you may look it up online. It may be found in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 89.

I‘d like to point out, the excessive use of meat is likewise cautioned against. The W of W says to eat meat sparingly, in thankfulness, because the lives of those animals that God has created are precious to Him. We are advised to consume meat in times of famine or winter when there is no harvest. Yet, many Mormons can down a steak so fast it will make your head spin.

The faithful also eat boundless amounts of candies, cookies and baked goods. They drink gallons of sweet beverages, enough to drown a moose. When my non-Mormon niece and her boyfriend visited Utah a few years ago, they were in awe of the large families they saw everywhere, eating ice-cream or hanging out at places like “Swigs” known for its syrupy confections. I explained that with the Word of Wisdom in place the only fun for us Mormons was sex and sugar. They got a chuckle out of that.

Recently my friend and old neighbor Devin* went back to college. His kids were grown and the down-turn in the economy led him to a place where finishing his degree was necessary. Aside from being tired, he also seemed more edgy than usual. His wife Marlow* confided that he was consuming several cans of caffeine-laden energy drinks a day! He was getting maybe three to four hours of sleep per night at this point. Here I was striving unsuccessfully for seven to eight hours of sleep and getting out of bed in the morning, feeling like a depressed slug. I was working two jobs, writing and managing several Facebook groups and pages.

One day, caving in to my weaknesses, I got an iced coffee so I wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel. My morning got better. In fact, I felt happy all day! The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. (No, to answer your thoughts, this is not a daily routine. I’ve only had one more since.)

So, as I said before, it was time for me to renew my temple recommend. I confessed all to my bishop, a requirement during the interview. At that meeting, I didn’t bring up my cousin and I didn’t bring up my friend, or even the countless others that I know who are members in good standing that drink coffee (for their slow-beating heart conditions) or alcohol that doctors have prescribed them. This was between me and my bishop. I told him everything I stated here. He asked me why I just didn’t take a prescription (because we all know big pharma isn’t named in the W of W so tranquilizing is okay. Massive amounts of energy drinks are not hot drinks -- so also okay.) I told him about the pills I’d been prescribed in the past decades and how they nearly killed me. I also told him that I awake refreshed after a small occasional drink at night of Drambuie or Irish cream. The man truly is kind and concerned, but never-the-less his face got a little red. I did not get my recommend that afternoon, but instead was prescribed counselling. That did not help. We even did a little family therapy so that my troublesome family members and I could get along, but that didn’t help with the anxiety and PTSD.

Still wanting to feel the peace that attending the temple brings, I met again with my bishop a couple months later. At that visit I told him I knew of people who have “prescriptions” from their doctors for over the counter remedies such as wine, coffee . . .and cannabis oil for their seizures. He wished me luck trying to get a doctor to write a script for me. (All but one of the doctors near my winter home in the west is Mormon.) Consequently, I am without a recommend and I still have my issues.

I live with guilt. It’s there riding my PTSD like a cowboy rides a wild bronco, digging its heels into my psyche with cold, sharp spurs.

There’s nobody I can talk to. If I speak to family, all but one of them gives me a shunning look of condemnation, no love, no compassion. If I talk to other members of my church, they may question their faith and I’m told questioning is dangerous for them. I’m also afraid that they may avoid me like I’m a porn star or a Democrat. Likewise it’s a reasonable concern that the value of my youngest daughter as a possible marriage partner for a good man will go down several notches. (Sorry, Honey, it’s out there now.) So until now I remained in silence – alone.

I did talk to some homosexual friends. I only see these guys once a year, so I really do not have a consistent sounding board. They wanted to know when the Church will lift its ban on gay marriage. I contended that I felt the Word of Wisdom is a bigger issue, explaining that many more church members are having problems with new substances that were not widely used centuries ago. Some didn’t even exist when the W of W was revealed to Church membership by Joseph Smith. The world now has marijuana, high-fructose corn syrup, GMOs and energy drinks to name a few. I asked my friends if they imbibed in coffee or alcohol. They said they did, agreeing that the Word of Wisdom, despite its healthful benefits was a greater issue for a greater number of individuals.

Despite the guilt and isolation, I will not go back to the insanity of sampling prescriptions. With my pharmaceutical history, it could be deadly. I think back to Betty* a Relief Society president from the next town over. One weekend, she made sure all the ladies under her watch were cared for. The mothers with newborns had meals set up for them for the next two weeks. Some neighborhood women whether at the hospital or home recuperating from surgery were also covered. Betty talked to her best friends, made sure their lives were going smoothly. She met with her counselors. That Sunday morning Betty was found cold and stiff, dead from prescription pills. The lady that told my group was the deceased’s best friend. She said her pal had not intentionally overdosed. There weren’t many missing capsules from the new Rx. Betty’s good heart was just so focused on the needs of others that she required something to calm her nerves. Those pills worked so well that she died in her sleep, calm. Serene.

I think I know what Abby and Ann would do. Maybe they’d suggest I sit down for more therapy. I will try more analysis. They’d suggest that I discuss my problems further with my “ecclesiastical” leader or even recommend another church. Well, I intend to stay in my church (and I will discuss why in a future entry).

Oh, Abby! Ann! Help!!!

*Names have been changed.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Thoroughly Mean-spirited Millie.

Originally written months ago, this is part of the Abby and Ann Series.

A few years back, Jacques and Vera asked me to watch their neighbor, sixty-one-year-old Millie, until she could get placed into her assisted living facility. She had been in a rehabilitation center after a mild stroke and reassured the nursing staff she had someone to care for her. Little did I know that person was me. I was to be the bridge between rehab and the old-folks’ home.

The day that I started work was they day she arrived home. I was searing in ninety-something degree heat at the end of April, ringing Millie's doorbell, when her daughter drove up the lane. After a struggle, my new "friend" got into her home and into bed. Millie’s insurance didn’t pay for twenty-four hour nursing care. Let me tell you, she needed it.

I stayed with Millie the first night, but reminded her I had to get up bright and early for my job. She gave me a mean look, but I figured it was the meds.

That afternoon, I checked in on her. Nobody had been by and the nurse was running late. I am not trained in the medical field, yet Millie wanted me to put all her pills in their little Sunday through Saturday compartments in two huge boxes. I counted. There were twelve prescriptions. One was OxyContin, because, Millie had taken a fall during the stroke, fell down a rocky hill next to her house, slammed into a fire hydrant at the corner and then was run over by a golf cart. Her neighbor was driving the cart when he changed course to avoid running over Millie. Instead he struck her in the lower back. So the major issue wasn’t the stroke, it was her back that was messed up.

I told Millie I couldn’t manage her prescriptions. Thankfully the nurse showed up that evening just as I was leaving. The next morning, before I went to work, I checked on Millie. The pills were all sorted out. I made Millie her breakfast and went to work. She asked if I could give her a bath. I looked the situation over and realized I could never get all two-hundred plus pounds of her into the tub. She suggested I give her a sponge bath. I told her I’d never given an adult a sponge bath. No problem she insisted. Her guest bedroom was an ensuite with a shower. I looked at it and the shower had no barrier. I told her I would give it a try, but wasn’t the nurse supposed to do that? Again, she gave me a funny look and said, “That’s your job.”

I try to be kind and I’m told that I am tender-hearted, so I figured I would help her. We came to an agreement. I offered to sit with Millie while she bathed herself. That afternoon, I knocked on the door and let myself in. Millie told me where I could find a sturdy, white plastic chair for her to sit on during bathing. I put it in the shower, got her towels, wash rag, shampoo and soap ready. She requested I get the water to a comfortable temperature. I did, and then rested the shower hose onto the seat. She got her wheelchair to the shower and then I was supposed to help her into it. We struggled together and that’s when the hose swung away from the chair and gave us both a shower. She slipped (gently, for a woman of her size) to the floor. She sat there and bathed herself. As I stood outside the shower doors, she asked me questions like how long had I lived in the desert, what my children did for work and so on. This continued for a while until I asked her about her kids. She said it was none of my damn business and to stop being so nosey. I helped her towel off and luckily her daughter came by to help get her into bed.

A few days later, after another shower, Millie was leaning over me, gripping the shower rails. I’d just toweled her off. She wanted me to check the bed-sores on her bottom. Then Millie wanted me to pull her adult briefs onto her enormous body. Since she was incontinent and the shower was narrow, I had to get creative. She slipped and nearly fell on my back. After that, I told her she would have to let the nurse check on her sores and dress her. “I need help NOW and that damn nurse only checks in once a week for five damn minutes!”

Many days she would call me names and I chalked it up to loneliness or the medication. Some evenings Millie would have me take her on long walks, in the lingering heat, insisting that she was chilly. Then when she would reach the park, Millie would refuse to go home. I would call her daughter, but only got a laugh-out-loud text back. . .sometimes. . . if I was lucky. I’d remind Millie that I had a family to get home to and a job; Jacques, Vera and Sharleen were wondering why I wasn’t spending as much time with them. I hardly saw my family. I was falling asleep at work. I finally flat out refused to take her anywhere. She would get mad and yell at me. As always when I refused to help her place her pills from their bottles into their pill boxes she would curse me. I reminded her that a nurse would be by in a day or two to straighten them out. Then Millie would throw containers all across the room, scattering tablets and capsules. I’d hope and pray that there would not be a home invasion. We’d both be murdered for the OxyContin and other pills. Their street value could put a kid through college. . . or pay someone’s bail.

This went on for a couple weeks.

One evening, Millie offered to give me a tip and I declined. She insisted and her daughter handed me fifty dollars. The daughter only came by once a week and usually I was busy washing Millie or making her something to eat. I took the opportunity to ask Millie’s daughter when the big move was. (Nothing had been packed yet.) She said, “Oh, my mother is saving a ton having you come by every day.”

Millie chimed in, “Liesa is mine, I’m going to keep her!”

“You do realize I am going back to Michigan at the end of June, right?”

Millie’s daughter turned away to make a call in another room and Millie gave me dirty looks. “I want you to stay. I need you! You are a horrible person, leaving an old woman by herself all day!” At first I thought she was yelling at her thirty-nine-year-old baby girl, but then realized she was mad at me!

I’d had enough and as I was about to leave, a man showed up. He spoke to Millie and her daughter. He asked me who I was, and how I’d gotten this job. I explained that I was a friend of Jacques and Vera up the street; he knew them. I explained that I was doing this as a favor to them until his mother was put into a facility. I’d kept notes for the future nursing staff.

This man, her son I discovered, read my notes, spoke first to his sister, then Jacques and Vera who'd walked down a couple houses to Millie’s to check on the situation. He handed me a check for fifteen hundred dollars. The next week Millie was in a facility with her husband whom I never even knew existed.

I had enough money for gas to drive cross country, the ability to stay in a hotel along the way instead of sleeping in rest stops and cash left over for a couple massages. (OH! My aching back!)
. . .and I vowed to never be taken advantage of again.

Abby and Ann, Millie really had me convinced that I was some sort of ogre by not staying with her every night. Did I do the right thing in letting this go on for so long? Am I really uncaring of the elderly population? Should I have kept taking her outside in her wheelchair? She needed the fresh air. Why did I feel so good when handed all that money? What would you have done?


Names have been changed. Shared with permission, by Millie’s son. He’s a fitness coach and says, if anything, maybe this will encourage people, especially seniors, to eat healthy and lose weight. It’s more difficult for care givers to manage large patients who likewise have shorter life-spans.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

If I Can’t Put My Own Damn Bra On, Let Me Die

I hope to go out of this life like a Viking. Okay, maybe not the fighting and pillaging part, more like Brünhilde, her chest supported with a form-fitted breastplate, singing at the top of her lungs. I want to go out screaming and kicking, too, not lingering on, a burden to others.

My parents Dave and Ann thought the same way. They were lucky and blessed in that. Ann went quickly. She wasn’t feeling well, had a considerable amount of dizziness and went to the doctor. It was discovered that a small-cell cancer had spread throughout her tiny, elf-like body. She fought the pain bravely with steroids and morphine. Toward the end, she would take a prescribed pain pill, chase it with a couple cigarettes and nod off to sleep. It was only the last week of her life that she was bed-ridden. Ann only had to be bathed two times under hospice care. There was one bed-sore in its beginning stages. One morning, her small frame could not take it anymore. Those of us gathered bedside noticed that her bottle of morphine was low. She let out one last gasp. The attending nurse, my cousin, said Mother had passed. Papa took her remaining pills and flushed them down the commode before they could be counted. Pharma or nature? Either way, Ann was gone. If she suffered at all, it wasn’t long.

Papa had been living by himself in a sleepy little retirement area in the Southwest when he took ill. At the age of sixty-nine it was discovered that he had a blockage near his heart. During a life flight to the hospital, he nearly died. Papa decided then to see the world and toured Asia, enjoying every moment. Years later, he too succumbed to lung cancer. It was quick but not merciful.

I remember Papa’s brother Ed used to say, “Getting old is Hell.” Uncle Ed would kick his walker out of spite. This was before the stroke. After it happened, my uncle held on for a few more years, a shadow of the man he was. After work, about three days a week, my cousin went to the care center to massage my uncle’s legs, yet Ed still got pressure sores. The first evening I went to see him, I learned that when he said, “Nurse, GO!” those words meant he needed a nurse or an aid so he could get assistance in having a bowel movement. On my visits I watched many other seniors and disabled people, lingering, crying for death. This was nothing like the AARP commercials I’d see on television, the ones with elderly couples dancing and hiking. This was HELL.

Another beloved elderly relative died slowly over a matter of weeks, hooked to a respirator, watching family members come and go, argue over what would happen to her house, talk as if she wasn’t in the same hospital room. She saw everything happening and had a desperate look on her face. All the nourishment that went into her was liquid, pumped right through a port in her neck and into her stomach. Everything that exited her body came out of a tube. Yellow, almost orange, urine into a bag; brown sludge into another receptacle that hung bedside, sealed from the air but not from the eyes of visitors, friends and grandchildren. One day she made the motions of writing. My husband handed her a pencil and notebook. I think she wrote that she just wanted us to let go and say our goodbyes, but nobody was certain. A family member brought some of her legal papers to the hospital that week. A day or two later, she was sent home, unhooked from her tethers, dying peacefully that weekend.

I tend to a couple, Jacques and Vera. They’re from Canada and were old friends of my family. They knew my parents Dave and Ann since before I was born. A couple times a year our family would meet up with their family at a lakeside resort outside of the Detroit Metro area. They always had some little dogs that delighted us kids. My papa would just scowl. Dogs were farm animals to him, not family. Jacques, an athletic, old meathead even then, would bench press all the kids, one at a time and then invite us all to roller skate while Papa relaxed and told stories. Jacques’ wife Vera and her in-laws would sit around the campfire with my mother Ann listening to my father’s tales. On rainy nights, they’d opt for the clubhouse. We’d go hiking, swimming, fishing and boating.

I lost track of Jacques and Vera for about ten years. Then one day, I answered an ad to do light housekeeping and driving for an older couple. Imagine my surprise when I saw Jacques and Vera! They were “snowbirding” near my desert community where I live half the year. They’d arrive from Canada in October, cockapoos in tow, and leave at the end of April. A couple years later, Vera’s best friend from high-school, Sharleen, joined them. A widow, Sharleen lives in the casita adjoining Jacques’ winter home.

Since I’d last seen them, Jacques and Vera were also converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons or LDS). Sharleen, not a Mormon, was always a hell-raiser, as they say, but Vera loves her best friend none-the-less. They were like sisters. Sharleen, having no living family in Canada, opted to live in the desert Southwest year ‘round.

Three days a week, I’d clean Vera’s home until she and Jacques left in April or May. I’d also tend to Sharleen’s casita for another several weeks, then at the end of Spring, I’d shut off all the toilets, pipes and electrical switches at the main house, head back to Michigan for several months until my return in Autumn when I’d freshen the big house. With my husband’s instructions, I turned all their water and electricity on. This became a routine until last year. Jacques and Vera didn’t show up at their usual time. Weeks went by. I didn’t hear from my elderly friends, not a letter nor a post card. My phone calls went unanswered. Sharleen, who now has dementia, was no help. She has in-home care givers, and does quite well for now. If she'd heard from Jacques and Vera, Sharleen didn't remember and didn't tell me.

Finally I got a call one day in January just before Jacques and Vera came rolling in. Their son J. C. was driving this time. He got them settled in. A day or two later, he flew back to Canada. Turns out, Vera had a stroke in early October of 2014 and it spun their lives around. Additionally, Jacques was in a wheelchair with degenerative disc disease. That wonderful, sweet, crazy couple believed that I could assist in their bathing and toileting. Lord knows I tried, but after Vera slipped and landed on me while I was getting her out of the shower, I asked if they could get a nurse. I’d noticed that morning that Vera had sores on her buttocks. Maybe they developed during the drive south? Anyway, the Canadian government is reluctant to pay a nurse outside of their country for long-term care. (Sharleen pays for her own assistant.) Jacques and Vera begged me to keep trying.

Getting Vera dressed is a game of “Please don’t fall while I’m pulling up your pants,” followed by, “I hope your heavy right arm doesn’t land on my head, knocking me out!” As she bends over me, her large breasts usually box my ears, leaving me with ringing in my head. Her feet are swollen, but she insists on wearing the same size five shoes that she danced in as a young woman. I want to get her some Caitlyn Jenner sized slippers for her tender tootsies to wear instead.

Also, some of you readers may know that Mormons wear sacred garments to promote modesty. Putting a bra of any kind on Vera, even a sports bra, one that won’t eventually roll or pop-up, is impossible. Decades ago, I asked the ladies that sell garments at the store outside the temple if I could make a suggestion that bras, or at the very least, cups, could be a part of the garment tops. You would have thought that I’d asked for pink lacy negligées! I got scowls that would have made Don Rickels wither, speechless. Here I was, years later, in the early winter of 2015 wanting to march right over to Beehive Clothing and demand answers! I wanted something that would fit my buxom old friend and I wanted it now! I have heard that I’m not the only care-giver, patient, child or friend with these concerns. (What can we do but pray?)

Transportation is another challenge to put it mildly. Thankfully, Jacques and Vera live down the street from a clinic and have a great relationship with the staff there. They ride their electric wheelchairs to their appointments. (The bills are paid, I assume, out of pocket. They don’t tell me.) The worst experience was driving Vera to the store, at her request. I only did that once. I could barely get her into my compact car from her electric scooter. Also, I had no way to transport the machine. No problem according to Vera. We could use one from the store. Once there, I couldn’t get her into the one provided. We asked for assistance but the employees at the mart cannot legally assist shoppers. Two guys named Alan and Jose who were walking through the parking lot on the way to the store heard Vera’s pleas for help and assisted her into the electric wheelchair. Bless those angels!

Once inside the store, Vera was quickly falling asleep at the wheel. She had just taken her prescribed pills before we left her home. My dear elderly friend would nod off repeatedly, wake up, select a box of treats and ask if I’d like some. I would decline.

“Oh, Honey, as a child you ate sweets! Let me buy you these!” and she’d grab some cheese Danishes with her good hand.

Frequently I tried to persuade her to go to the check out, but she’d motor on, slow down, sleep five minutes, awake with a startled look on her face and then see something else, sugary, shiny or pretty in another aisle.

After three hours I said, “You’re so tired. Let’s get you home and get you fed.”

She’d smile and show me the hot-pockets in her basket. “I’ll heat these up when you take me home!”

“Okay, then. Let’s go!” I’d say, smiling.

“Not yet!” She pulled away, kids staring at her wide-eyed. You’d think ten-year-olds would have the good sense to run out of the way. They didn’t. Neither did their mother. Vera stopped the electric menace mere inches from them. I honked the horn for Vera. It made a cute little squeak. Pitiful!

I said, “I bet Jacques wonders where we are!” She called him on her smart phone. Well, she tried to. She dozed off, I am not joking, FIVE times before she dialed all the numbers. She left a message. I wasn’t even sure she had the right number. I texted him. Jacques said that I was grown-up and needed to tell her to leave. That didn’t work. I wanted to cry.

By now, I was sweating like a hog and it was only the end of January. Noticing that something else was dripping, I said, “Your ice cream is melting, we really should go.” It was oozing out of the carton. She relented and we went to the cashier.

As we left the store, Vera took my hand and said, “This is the best day I’ve had since my stroke! Thank you, THANK YOU for taking me out of the house today!” We got to the handicapped parking space and I helped her from the scooter to my passenger seat which was lower. My back felt like it was going to give out. Then it happened--thank you Mr. Murphy for your dumb laws--an insect flew down my blouse.

I reached into my cleavage to retrieve the errant creature, but then thought to myself, what if it was a killer bee? Then just as quickly, I had visions of its five hundred hive mates attacking me. Stomping my feet and crying, I unbuttoned my shirt, exposing my bra and garments to the bag boys, shoppers and homeless people on the curb. I was finally becoming unglued. All the time, Vera howled with laughter repeating that this was “The best day ever”. By now, she was having brassier issues of her own. Her sports bra that I had labored to get over her body, the one that I had pulled down past her sternum and rested upon her ribs, had noticeably rolled up and was above her breasts. She peeled in laughter some more. I saw her dentures coming loose, the fixative goo clinging to her lips. In desperation, I reached into my bra and pulled out a little, yellow beetle with black spots. Flinging it, I got into the car, sat down and buttoned my shirt. Reaching into her handbag, Vera handed me her pocket blood pressure gauge, giggling that I wasn’t being very lady-like.

Reporting the results, (my pressure was 172 over 149 -- if that’s possible) I started to weep. “I’ve always had good blood pressure, usually 110 over 60!”

She said, “Oh, Honey, it doesn’t work for me either.” (To be on the safe side I went to the clinic down the street after I dropped Vera off. It was 120 over 78.)

Hours after we left, I got Vera to her home. Jacques was seething. I could see it. I’d only seen him mad one other time and that was at the resort in Michigan when the model airplane that he’d labored on since before I was born defied his commands and kept flying, hitting a delivery truck. All those decades ago he kept calm in front of us kids, and then he went behind the clubhouse letting out a stream of foul language that would make a sailor blush!

He met us at the door, wearing the same scathing look while I explained the situation. I carried in three sacks of candy, cupcakes, éclairs and melting ice cream. To Jacques' credit, he calmly said, “Vera has impulse issues now.” (Well, thanks for telling me AFTER the shopping trip.) Their aging cockapoo Peppy was making a yellow puddle in the kitchen corner. I put everything away, cleaned up and made a hasty retreat.

On the bright side, I will never take Vera shopping again. She won’t buy all those treats. On the bright side, I wasn’t stung by a horde of killer bees. On the bright side, my back didn’t give out and we can buy Vera bigger shoes. On the bright side, Jacques never again brought up our lovely trip to the giant-Wally-world-of-food-bargain-store.

My husband said I needed to have a back bone and just leave. Leave? Leave her in the store? He said that I should have forcibly taken her out. She is twice my size and was driving a small but heavy vehicle. What could I do? What would Papa’s favorite columnists advise? Abby, Ann, are you listening?

Despite trying to think positively, I was left with two major issues that still trouble me: The first, is the idea that ladies’ LDS temple garments should be made with brassieres as part of the top. They could be sold in chest and cup sizes like bras are. God, our Father, made breasts. I don’t see why we can’t accommodate them, large or small. At the very least, provide the option of padded, supportive garment tops to disabled women. My second thought is, when I die, I want it to be quick--after a game of cards like my Auntie Lynn Marie. She won everything, fairly. Nobody let her win. She walked away from the table, grasped her walker and without warning, collapsed, a grin on her face.

I want to go out like that, conquering the world, or at least a board game. I don’t want to live a half-life, lingering, harming other peoples’ backs, spoiling their health. I’ve told my kids, “If I die suddenly, throw a party. Cheer that I went out a winner. Be happy that I wasn’t using up money that could be better spent on my grandchildren’s college educations. Be comforted that I didn’t have to suffer with bed sores, cracking lips, bruises from blood draws, tubes hanging from my body. I don’t want to live in a mortal prison."

Sharleen says that I should let my loved ones tend to me in my old age, that I cared for my kids and that they can meet my needs when I am old and worn out. Our mutual friend Yvette says Sharleen is nuts. I say that it is my decision and despite what the Church says, I hope that I can be put to sleep if it comes to that.

Abby and Ann what would you say? What would you do?

Are you listening?

This is part of my series “If Abby and Ann were Listening” which was originally penned for another blog months ago. I’ll be importing stories from it every couple weeks. Please note also: Jacques and Vera have a sense of humor and support my creative efforts. There are no confidences broken here as actual names have been changed.

A Sideshow Journey by Liesa Swejkoski

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