The call of a distant Whip-poor-will echoed across the field—I had not heard that haunting voice since a camp-out many years ago on the Buffalo River in Arkansas. My friend and I were snuggled in our sleeping bags one night and were able to count the number of calls until we fell asleep. It was beautiful, haunting and lulling. I believe we counted around 200, before we succumbed to the sursurration of the river. The hills of the Cascades beyond this field, sported their tan suede winter attire and the cool moist air held a possibility of much needed rain—bushes and trees waiting patiently for the spring awakening, like bears in hibernation. I was grateful and breathed deeply the cool air, in between Whippoorwill verses. I am richer for partaking of this feast of nature. My canine companion explored the scents and leavings on the ground—knowing in one sniff more than I can even imagine. I was taking in what I could with my own senses and perceiving the world around me in my own way.
I turn the key slowly and quietly, knock a couple of times and say, “Yoo hoo, Barbara” so as not to startle her—she doesn’t know that I am there to caretake her. As far as she knows, I am a friend who is there to visit. Once she asked cheerily, “Well, what are YOU doing here?” and I replied, of course, “I’m here to visit with you”, to which she replied, “Ohhh, that’s nice!” She never calls me by name, because she can’t remember. However, there appears to be a sense of familiarity, no matter how slight, that she feels with me. What matters is helping to make her day as cheerful and comfortable, moment to moment, as I can, to make sure she eats and that she doesn’t get scared. I ask her if she wants to eat, she tells me she’s not hungry, so I just make it and serve it, calling her Madame and Queen— she says, cheerfully, “I could get used to this!”
She has started being awake when I am there. She used to be asleep until late in the morning, but now when I “visit” she is up and doesn’t sleep all afternoon as soon as she has breakfast. She even got out of her nightgown and robe and put on street clothes, lipstick and a little mascara, to go for a walk outside, even though it took her forty minutes to get it done! I teased her that we weren’t going to the opera, and she laughed and said, “Well, you never know whom you might run into!”
There are several days when I don’t see her, so the next time I am there could very well be different. There is another caregiver there when I am not, so it could be a drastic change, and I will again have to adjust and start over with the stimulation and the relating to her. We have had some good girlfriend-like conversations and laughter, and I can see a very slight, but noticeable, difference. And I am aware of the possibility of a change in her mood, or her cognizance that might happen from visit to visit.
I cannot imagine being without the ability to be aware of nature, to hear with a knowing, the haunting calls of the Whip-poor-will, in the field, with the backdrop of mountains. So my empathy for someone with memory issues is part of my relating to her. I would love to provide her with some sense of her world, as well as some sense of security. However, with my caregivees who have memory issues, the old adage holds true, “every day is a new day” and it may not matter to her, anyway. Who knows, but I carry on as if it does matter…
I have to distance myself, to a certain extent, from my work, because just like when I go to a movie I take on the characters and the movie, which sticks with me for a few hours. So, it is with the elderly clients I have with physical problems or memory issues. I worry about my own physical or mental status, which in reality is great. I love taking care of these “grandmothers”, but I have to shake the fears out of my mind. I’ve become more aware of getting older, with the sometimes concomitant frailty and swear that I will take care of myself in order to avoid the so-called aging things that can happen. I have become more aware of the number of years that may be left for me. I know it is short for most of them, but I sometimes worry and want to yell “Noooo!” in hopes it will keep “those things” at bay. I work very hard on staying in the moment, each and every moment, because I do know I am not immune to the inevitable transition that every life has to make. So, I just work on my “now’s,” for now, and attempt to bring momentary laughter and love to my “clients.”
I’ve tried to save a tree this last couple of weeks—a Western Red Cedar tree whose only fault is to be leaning less than 10% towards my neighbor’s house, but fear seems to take over our lives so easily, and I’m afraid the tree will be cut down, as much as my neighbor’s fear of it falling. There is nothing wrong with the tree—no disease or root rot—it just leans. You know how many trees lean in this beautiful town of trees? It doesn’t matter. The fear that is already rampant in the world about almost everything else, has taken over even down to the simplest fear—“it leans, it might fall on the house”. The tree has probably been there for at least 50 years, so far, and has self-corrected. Nature always seeks balance, like water its own level, and this tree certainly has given it a good effort. I told him, “I am speaking as a tree person” and he replied with “so am I…” Huh? Not really, man, or you wouldn’t be so quick to want it down! Just as we are related to other animals on this planet, so too are we related to plants, and to the biggest of plants—trees. The book by Rutherford Platt, entitled, “The Great American Forest”, written in 1965 was the most incredible book about trees and forests and all that goes on with the lives of both every day. My mother, who was a definite tree person, also, lent me this book, which I never gave back because it was so good! In the chapter “River of Sap” a very startling statement gave me a clue to our relationship with trees. “Chemistry, probing the wonder of chlorophyll, stumbled over a fascinating fact that may reveal an evolutionary kinship between trees and human beings. If the single atom of magnesium is detached from the chlorophyll molecule and an atom of iron is put in its place, the same numbers of atoms and their arrangement become a molecule of red blood.” It would be like cutting down a human relative, because they aren’t perfect…
I have help in this very small tussle with the council who decides, after facts are presented, the fate of this tree. A former Tree commissioner and a current one both very much tree people, have been encouraging me and guiding me, as well as doing their own things for the tree.
I am remembering the time I was actually able to save a life, after years of working in hospitals, trying to save lives ad rarely succeeding. I had finished working a night shift at a hospital in Colorado and was cruising along through the canyon along the Arkansas River, when up ahead I noticed a car going really slow and some women out on the road. So I pulled over onto the side of the road and got out to ask the women what was going on. They pointed to a small dog (Chihuahua mix) up ahead running along the road and said they couldn’t catch it and were afraid it’d get hurt. Something happened and my adrenaline kicked in— I knew exactly what to do. I immediately ran back to my truck, grabbed a towel from the back seat, then ran after the dog who growled, trying to snap at me, so I threw the towel over it (a perfect shot!) and then was able to grab it and hold it. I took it to the car of women and a couple of kids, and handed the scared little dog to them. They were very grateful, and the dog looked like she was feeling safe. I went back to my truck after saying goodbye and sat for a moment to catch my breath—then I cried. All the way home I was high on the adrenaline, crying intermittently and awed by the experience—the one and only time I felt I had ever truly been able to save a life.
This beautiful, tall, Red Cedar tree across the street, however, can only be saved by the owner. No matter what I say or do I’ve done what I could, but his fear has taken over–and I’m no Dot Fisher-Smith chaining myself to the logging truck in order to save the tree!
I cannot bring back memory to someone with memory issues, nor life back to stiff and worn out human limbs. The limbs of this tree hold nests and food supplies and shelter for our feathered companions, not to mention shade and cooling for the human in the house. I so wish I had more pull, more authority— a towel I could throw over the head of the scared, who would cut down a beautiful tree, or the elderly patients with problems in their memory and with those who are considered at risk for “falling…”