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Friday, September 9, 2016

Alone or With a New Person? Is there Life After Caregiving?September 16, 2016

Facebook reminded me it's been 36 days since I've posted a new blog. Why?

I have been entertaining and being entertained by out of town guests whom I've invited to share my time in New York.I have been reading and thinking about freedom, consideration of others and about self-protection. I have been debating in my head the relative merits of being alone.

This is not the first time I have contemplated these weighty matters and it takes time to sort things out well enough to write about them, especially while I am having fun at the same time. When I was divorced, I had three children to rear by myself. They were then 12,9 and 4 years old. The stress was enormous as I became responsible for their economic welfare as well as all the parenting their varied ages and genders required. I always take every part of my life super seriously and in addition, I wanted a boyfriend to share my adult life with me. 

I could not do eveything I wanted to do, so I concentrated on continuing my education so I could provide for my children and for myself financially. My parents helped me by attending most of the fun part of parenting, going to school plays, taking the children out to eat. My mom sewed on all the buttons and name tapes, hemmed their pants and provided a backup for me from her home several miles away from mine. But I could not include a partner in my life then.

The children grew up and went off to live their lives and I was fortunate to meet the man I could have fun with. He made me laugh, we traveled, enjoyed the good life until he developed Alzheimer's disease and I became the responsible adult once more. The stress was enormous again as I felt the weight of caring for him and for providing as much independence and dignity and fun for both of us. My firstborn son rose to the occasion and provided much needed backup for me. I succeeded in this task as well until my dear husband passed away last year, but I did not have freedom or much fun.

Now that a year has passed, I have relaxed from the stress of caregiving, of being the sole responsible adult for others. I have time to devote myself to my friends and family who wish to share time with me and to enjoy my favorite city--and the Jersey shore. But is there room in my life for another partner?

All of us whose Alzheimer diseased spouses have passed now ponder this question. What is the cost/benefit ratio to venture into a new relationship, fully aware of what the future may hold?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Alzheimer Disease Memories August 3, 2016

As I was using the back of printer paper to write a shopping list, I found the following very short story  I wrote for a class. It is titled Rosh Hashonah 2010. 

Two tickets...too far to go to family this year. Dinner with closest friends. Niece Jeanie, newly remembered. Raisin challah and honey, wine, apples and candles.
Bob carries home the groceries. Adele will bring the fish. Chicken, noodle kugel and tzimmes. Bob peels and slices sweet potatoes, carrots, apples. Working together well as in days gone by. Bob  sharpens his knife on the stone.
In the morning, he's tired, wants to sleep. I go alone.
When guests arrive, he says "Who?" Groggily.
"Why are you here?"
"Aren't you glad to see me?" Jeanie is confused.
"Do you want us to go home?"

On the surface, I am doing so well, but the hurt is buried deep. A melody on Saturday mornings brings me to tears, as it was sung so sweetly at the funeral last year. The gravesite which felt like an open field where the Army Sargeant played taps on his cornet is now row on row of similar granite monuments.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Social Change at the Jersey Shore July 27, 2016

I am a first generation American Jewish woman, spending a few days at a middle class part of the Jersey Shore, where my parents took me and my sisters every summer to escape the heat and the threat of polio in the city. We stayed in rented rooms with kitchen privileges, the first one in 1940 in Asbury Park, where I remember clearly being delighted by pushing the wicker rocking chairs on the wide wraparound veranda. The expansive boardwalk was the tourist and
community center where families and teens walked, bought fudge and soft ice cream and screamed in joy on "the rides." We were probably a diverse group with many different origins and family histories, but very few were Black, Chinese, Indian or Hispanic.

After that initial summer, we rented rooms in the southern blocks of Bradley Beach which became known as the Jewish section. To the immediate north, Italian families congregated and further north Black families began to arrive after the war ended. There is a town between Asbury Park and Bradley Beach, which is the Methodist town of Ocean Grove which always welcomed anyone who wished to worship with them.

And that's the way I experienced segregated life at the shore until 1953 when my parents moved from the city to the suburbs and we no longer spent the whole summer at the beach.My grandparents continued to rent rooms however and I spent a week with them for the next few summers. 

Life in the suburbs was no longer spent in the comfort of other Jewish families living in one section of the city; I was but one of five Jewish girls in my high school class. I was treated cordially by the other girls, but only one of the Jewish girls was invited to the Sweet Sixteen parties of the others. Her family had lived in town for a very long time. We were ostensibly newcomers whom the parents of our classmates had not met and never did. We had one Black family in town; their daughter who was my age was not invited either, to my knowledge. She was really alone.

Thirty years later, I returned to what I consider to be "my" part of the Jersey Shore for weekends alone or with girlfriends. When I remarried, my husband joined me each summer for my seashore "fix." This is my 33rd summer here, once again alone. But not in Bradley Beach or Asbury Park, which went through very difficult economic times and are only now recuperating as tourist spots. Every summer I "walk the boards" from Belmar to Asbury Park, a distance of about four miles and what I am seeing this year is surprising in a good way.

The beach and boardwalk are filled with beach goers of all ethnic groups, families of 10 or 12 Indian, Chinese, Black and Eastern European people and a few Muslim families, mixing with the local population, bringing coolers and picnic baskets, umbrellas and sand chairs, sand toys and blankets to spend the day at the beach in Belmar and Ocean Grove, where everyone was generally welcome, to Asbury Park and Bradley Beach and Avon-by-the-Sea. The middle class is alive and well; it is just no longer all-white.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Fifth Stage July 9, 2016

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross studied about death and dying. She concluded that we all travel through five stages when there is an impending death. We also expereince these same stages when we are waiting for a possible diagnosis, we wait before we are told whether we have gained access to our chosen university or college and whether we have been accepted for the great job for which we have applied.

When someone we love dies, we go through all the stages again, although we've been down this route, through the initial fear that our loved one may be ill, through the Alzheimer's diagnosis, which may take years for the doctors to categorize, through each step of our loved one losing connection with us and with their world.

The stages are expressed differently of course, each time we pass through them. When my father died, I was angry with him for dying young and depriving me and his wife, his daughters and his grandchildren of his presence. He made the choice to try an elective surgical procedure which was successful, except that his heart was not strong enough to endure the surgery. I denied how sick he had been and I expected him to cope with his illness for our sakes. When he died, I bargained for my own health, I began to exercise, to watch my weight, to stop using anything with aluminum, including underarm anti-perspirant. After a time, I accepted that I had to care for my mother and get on with my life without his support and help.
When my mother died of Alzheimer's disease, my anger turned toward the disease and my frustration that there is no cure and very little knowledge. I am still angry about that which is why I have written this blog for so many years and why I wrote my book Put That Knife Away. My bargain then was to try to enjoy life, to travel, to appreciate each day.

When my husband died one year ago, after losing his battle with Alzheimer's disease, I couldn't get in touch with angry feelings. I felt relief, at first, that his suffering was over. He had had so little quality of life for so long. I certainly was not in denial any longer and the bargaining I had thought about had worked--the medications we tried, the move to Arizona, his workshop and his backyard had kept my husband's life as active and full as we could provide. He had independence and dignity, plus kindness and caring surrounding him. I had my family around me.

Then I began to feel anger -at my loss. I began to miss the person he was before he became ill. I missed my lover, m y companion, my cook ( he loved working in the kitchen) and my travel partner. I tried to travel without him, denying the reality of my loss. I am strong. I can carry on, but it is certainly not the same.

In our tradition, after the year is over, it is time to leave the grief and mourning aside and get on with life. It is time for acceptance. The marker is on the gravesite, but I really don't feel my husband resides there. He is with me always, as I reminisce about our time together as well as when I experience new travels, when I see new stores opening where our old favorites have been, when I revisit places we have shared together. I experience short bouts of longing, of sadness which don't reach the level of depression any more. And I recognize how fortunate we both were to have had our time together, which no one can take from any of us who survive. On to a new year of promise, of learning, of new friends and old, enjoying our newly expanded family and perhaps I will begin a new book project.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

On Traveling Solo June 14, 2016

I traveled by myself to Greece one year. It was in the mid eighties, when I was a divorced mother of three, administering a clinic for the evaluation of children and adolescents for mental health issues in a large city. I had planned the trip with an enthusiastic younger single woman who worked with me at the clinic. The itinerary was set, the airfare saved, the tickets purchased --when she met a man who changed her life. His birthdate was the same as hers. This was her destiny and therefore mine as well. I decided to travel solo. Athens, the Peloponnesian Islands, the Oracle of Delphi  and Corfu. I was intrigued at how I was perceived by others. All the waiters and other service help proposed that I meet them after their shift was completed. They spoke halting English with an accent that was adorable and I received excellent service. I rode the hop on hop off bus and saw the Acropolis, visited the museums and I enjoyed the Meridien Hotel's amenities. My guidebook kept me company at dinner time, but the weather was fine and I often dined outdoors at a cafe where I watched the coupled world go by. Dinner is the loneliest hour for me as a solo traveler.

When I climbed aboard the large bus for the Peloponnesian Island tour, I was among many Asian travelers, who spoke no English. Anyway no one spoke to me. We stopped at each site, hearing the description of the site through our earpieces which were available in several different languages. We visited the places where each of the discoveries I had seen in the museum originated. I bought a tatami mat and slippers and spent some quiet time on the rocky beaches, reading favorite mystery stories based in the Greek islands. I took the overnight ferry to Corfu and remained on deck all night. The below deck cabin was suffocating and the motion of the boat made me dizzy. I was looking forward to some comraderie at the pensione I had booked for the week. I was also anticipating speaking French or German to fellow travelers.

The reality was quite different. As a solo American woman traveler, no one except the staff spoke to me. When I asked if I could join folks at table for meals, they were polite, but turned to each other and continued whatever conversation they had been having. I asked to transfer to the HIlton Hotel where there were other American tourists where I felt more at home.

My subsequent travels over the next thirty years were with my husband until he died last summer after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. I am a solo traveler once again, but this time I decided to go with a group that caters to us. We went to Sicily; the group met for the first time at the airport in Palermo. I arrived by myself, after receiving lots of email and brochures with all kinds of advice about packing, the anticipated weather and portage services which would be provided.Three others arrived at the airport within a certain time period and we drove together with a company representative to the hotel. I was in a foreign country but I was with American tourists. What a huge difference immediately.

There were four recent widows in the group, one of whom is much younger and two who knew each other prior to the tour. The younger one aligned herself with a group of three, a mother and daughter and the partner of the daughter. The rest of the group included three couples and two sisters traveling together. We were busy, we had fun, the organized time and activities were enjoyable and I relished the free time for shopping by myself. I generally prefer to shop alone, except when I need encouragement to purchase a piece of jewelry I love, but hesitate to spend the  money to purchase.
Lunch and dinner "on own" as the guide described it, were the most difficult for me, as usual. Once, the two widows invited me to join them but the next time, they chose a cheese and sausage restaurant that was unacceptable to me and I joined the group of four women for a delicious cod ceviche lunch at a delightful spot nearby instead. I felt tolerated. There was interpersonal tension within the group that I felt, but no topic I introduced was accepted, even about the food we were eating.

One evening turned out to be a charm. We were in Catania. Our guide had suggested a restaurant near the hotel, but on the night he mentioned it, the restaurant was closed. On the following night I decided to try it, thinking perhaps I would meet others who were similarly intrigued by the name or by the young couple who had recently opened the space. Through the restaurant window, I saw an empty space at 8:40 PM. The door was open, but no greeter was present and no one was seated at either of the two long white-dressed tables in this white-painted room. I hesitated to enter alone and I walked away. At the corner I spied one of the two other widows. She was by herself. Her friend had claimed tiredness and wanted some alone time, so I invited her to join me at this restaurant. We were able to learn much about each other's lives in this one on one situation, we enjoyed the well prepared fresh local food and we drank Mount Etna white wine.

So, why travel solo? What is it I am really looking for? Adventure? Putting another red pushpin on my imaginary world map? I had fun in my young thirties traveling with a friend to a Club Med site and speaking French or German with other participants in Martinique. Is it fun I am after? On this trip the joy I found was mostly tempered by the pain involved. I visited the recently found Jewish ritual baths of Siracusa, Sicily. They hadn't been seen since Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Jews in 1493.I climbed Mount Etna--in the bus-- and rode on donkeys who walked on volcanic ash which came from volcanic explosions which happen as frequently as hail storms. I saw the twenty foot high piles of cooled and cooling lava that stretched twenty miles toward the sea in 2002. I admired the meticulous placement of gold mosaic pieces on a concave apse of a magnificent cathedral in Montreale, outside of Palermo.We ate wonderful bread and many fruits, apricots, strawberries, mulberries that have not been Monsantoed--read genetically modified. And we drank delicious, rich coffee imported from Brazil?? Why so far away? It seems that the coffee may be accompanied by cocaine on its trip from Brazil to Sicily.

When we saw how the Phoenicians saved drinking water and how they buried their dead, we recognize again how much people knew so very long ago. The Greeks built their temples with perspective, the columns were indeed narrower at the top than at the bottom--to make them appear larger to potential invaders from the sea. The Christians built their cities around the cathedral, the Greeks surrounded their cities with temples.

In today's world when we use the categories of countries, we can't speak of a unified group of people. We are all fractured, diverse in our adherences, in our beliefs and in our practices. "We the People" does not seem to exist anymore,

So why do I travel? To make new connections. With history, with the Jewish People, with new friends in all walks of life, to connect over a cup of coffee in an airport, a dinner or a ride in a bus with someone I ordinarily would not have met in my daily life. The solo part is still hard for me and lonely, but this organized trip for solo travelers makes it so do- able it becomes fun.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Final Days of the Sicily Trip

We introduced ourselves and pointed to a map of the United States which is in a prominent place on the wall. Concetta began telling her story. She was chosen as a bride when she was 15 and very cosseted by her family. Salvatore came to visit on Wednesday and Friday evening plus on Sundays and they had to wait two years to get married. Nine months and one day after the wedding, their first child was born. They have four children, none of whom want to be farmers. He is now 69 she 58. They have never had a vacation since their honeymoon to visit relatives in Germany.
They manage 30 cows, a half dozen pigs plus a new litter, lots of chickens, Guinea hens, rabbits and dogs.

We watched as Concetta and a neighbor Graziella made sourdough bread dough. They used a paddle to help knead the dough and we helped form rolls and breadsticks which Concetta baked in a wood heated oven as we walked to the fields to feast on home made ricotta cheese-which we watched them prepare.

Salvatore grilled chicken and sausages which they served with the freshly baked bread and a salad for lunch. Desserts were rosy, ripe sweet apricots, pudding and coffee. We drank local red wine all afternoon and we all slept on the bus during the hour ride back to our hotel in Ragusa.

Connie's suitcase arrived this afternoon, ten days late!!! Louise and Felicia invited me to join them for dinner on our own. We met Ann and Lyn and we all ate together at an outdoor cafe. Susan and Dan arrived and then our leader, Mauro, who bought himself new clothing. He said he never has time to shop in Palermo, where he lives. We leave for Siracusa and Catania tomorrow. Only three days of our trip left with the Mount Etna highlight still to come.

Sircusa - we have a Syracuse in New York. Perhaps there are others. I never imagined I would someday be in Siracusa, Sicily, Italy. Before the trip, Mauro, our guide, wrote to each of us, asking us to describe ourselves and list our objectives for this trip. I told him about my lactose intolerance and that I am interested in any sign that is left of a Jewish presence in Sicily. Of course we know that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, when they became the rulers of Spain, decided that Spain should be a Catholic nation and everyone who was not Catholic would be asked(forced) to convert, be killed or leave the nation. Some Jewish people nominally became Christian and kept some behaviors and rituals of their faith, but most left or were killed. Italy was ruled by Spain for centuries, so all the Jewish people disappeared in 1493. Buildings that were synagogues were converted to churches; mosques were converted also. What signs are left?

Mauro showed me some street signs in Palermo, I saw indications of a Jewish residential zone in Mazara del Vallo and I had heard of a mikveh, a Jewish ritual bath that was still in existence in Siracusa.
Mauro was not sure we would be able to visit; there is flooding underground, so he was not optimistic.
However, when he approached Valerie, our city guide, she walked through the artisan section of town and through the Jewish section which existed from the ninth century until 1493. Although there was an attempt made to change the street names, several names remain. There are two synagogues, one was 100% known Jewish and they found a mikveh underneath the sanctuary. Valerie told us all the history and purpose of the ritual baths and we were permitted to descend and to see the three pools in one room and two small rooms with one bath each. There was a Greek well in one room which feeds the clear water from a below ground stream. Hence the flooding today. Amazing!
About the second synagogue we visited. Valerie grew up in Siracusa and she knows the building was abandoned during her youth. She attended outdoor movies in the space which no longer had a roof. A few years ago a rabbi moved with his family to Siracusa. He lives with 6 other Jewish families in the modern pat of Siracusa, where they worship in a room in a small building. Valerie believes the local priest was afraid the rabbi would claim this synagogue, so he applied for permission to rebuild the space as a church and claims the Vatican has proof it was built as a church.

On the altar, on the eastern wall there are Hebrew words inscribed. They are in fact upside down. What is the truth? I don't know. But I was delighted the whole group chose to participate in this activity. Then we had lunch by the seaside and took a boat ride to see the grottoes. The sea was calm, the weather was pleasant, the day was super. 

Wednesday was our day to visit Catania, the second largest city in Sicily, with 400,000 inhabitants which we did in the morning with Caterina as our guide. In the afternoon we visited Taormina, the shopping Mecca for tourists. Many visitors including a cruise ship joined us today. The architectural highlight is a Roam era Greek established theater. The views of the sea are gorgeous. The view of Mount Etna was cloudy today. We visit Mount Etna tomorrow, our last day in Sicily.

I didn't know what to expect on Mount Etna. Certainly Mount Vesuvius with the ruins of the destruction of Pompeii was amazing, when my husband and I were there on our honeymoon in 1990. This volcano is an active volcano, with steam and gas emanating all the time and craters forming often. Sicilians call it the "fat" volcano because the shape has crater bulges all along the thirty mile stretch of the volcano. We drive up and up around hairpin curves. The bus driver honks the horn as we approach to warn cars, trucks or buses on the way down. There is no room for the bus and another vehicle on the turns, which are marked 2, 3, or 4 degree turns. Our boisterous guide joins us and points out the changes in vegetation, from the brightly yellow blooming "broom" trees, whose stems are so supple they were used to hold up grape vines,
to the 5000 acre stand of pine trees. For  a June religious festival the streets were lined with these blossoms which are said to last 19 days after being cut.
We stop for a coffee and a baker's kitchen. He shows us how to prepare hazelnut cookies, from the multiply ground nuts, sifted confectioner's sugar, egg whites and salt. We taste and meet Serafina, the wife of our guide (whose name I have already forgotten) who will prepare our lunch later.

Further along we stop and meet Salvo, our guide's son who has several donkeys we ride to learn more about the volcano. The donkeys are used with special needs children for whom our guide runs a camp. Today we take turns riding the donkeys as two, month old mares frolic among us. The volcano has explosions which spew volcanic ash and create craters and eruptions, the last one was in 2002 that created 21 craters and dumped 20 feet high of lava for 20 miles, covering everything in its path. The lava couldn't be touched for several years as it was still too hot.
We were told to be prepared for rain and cold, but the sun came out! We were guided in a short meditation to enjoy and experience nature. It was an emotional moment with all of us holding hands in a circle, with the vast amount of lava, the donkeys, the vegetation that was beginning to grow and our enthusiastic, upbeat local guides.

We drove to their restaurant which they built on the site of their wine preparation center. Now done "with the push of a button" the old way of stomping the wine and using a hand turned press was explained to us after we tasted his home grown wine, his home pressed olive oil, his wife's home baked bread and the lunch she prepared of "Polpettes" which are meatballs, salad and home made sausages. Serafina then sang Volare and O Solo Mio for us and invited us to dance and sing with her. Good fun!
We said goodbye to our bus driver as he delivered us to the hotel in a sudden downpour. Tonight we have a farewell dinner and I leave for the airport at 4:45 AM.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Trip Continues

We returned  to Mazara del Vallo for a rest, a shower, then a drive into town for dinner in a local pizza parlor. We were served swordfish roll ups, which to me tasted wonderful just like French quenelles. I miss my husband on this trip. Comparing foods we had shared was a big part of our life together. Once again I was served an alternate dessert with small amaretto cookies and sweetened sheep milk ricotta cheese which I find easy to digest.
 We left the next day to  drive to Agricento and we visited the temples of the Greeks which were consequently destroyed by the Romans. This is described as the first of two devastating civilian events in Sicilian history, the second being the expulsion of the Jews by Ferdinand and Isabella, the first Spanish Catholic rulers who wanted Italy to be wholly Catholic.The Jews were in Agricento  from the 12th to the 15th centuries, had their own section of the city, their own butchers and were the business community of Agricento.
Then we drove along the southern coast of Sicliy past the place where the Allies landed in 1943, the site of Sicily's oil refinery and on to an agritourisme where we watched a wedding reception, had a lovely dinner and we will leave early in the morning to beat the Germans and the Japanese to see the mosaics at the Roman villa which was recently uncovered having been covered for millennia by a landslide.

The mosaics were wonderful. We were the first group to enter which was great, but Katya rushed us through as other groups were encroaching on 'our' space. The mosaics were wonderful but not as racy as we saw in Pompeii when the old man opened the locked doors with his keys.
We drove to Ragusa, learned about Ragusa superiore and Ibla below , the earthquake in 1692, the reunification of the 2 Ragusas by Mussolini and the competition between Ragusa and Modica. Walked to the cathedral in upper Ragusa, ate dinner together --snacks, pizzas, veggies for me, ice cream for everyone else. I was exhausted from riding on the bus so I did not go to see the parade,concert and fireworks celebrating St George's feast day, but went back to the hotel for an early night. But Carolyn and Sam's room opens to a patio with seating, so we joined them and Susan and Dan joined us with a bottle of Marsala wine which we drank before we retired.

That was Saturday. Sunday we left at 9:15 and walked 350 steps down to Ibla with Graziella as our guide. It was rainy and I used the poncho Phyllis leant me in Cuba(thanks Phyllis) We stopped under an overpass, then in a museum to get out of the rain. The city is lovely with narrow streets, wrought iron balconies and pastel-colored painted houses all attached to prevent more damage from an earthquake. We met Salvatore, an old man without teeth who lives in a house with so many antiques my grandparents would have felt very much at home, but spread out in many more rooms. He played the piano for Maria Callas in 1962 and for us. On our own for lunch I joined Ruth, Dana, Adreinne and Mary. I  had  cod ceviche with a Sicilian sauce made of capers, olives and tomatoes, not cooked. 
Free time was used up by waiting for the bus that never came.

 Dana, Adrienne and I finally took a taxi back to the hotel, just a half hour before we had to meet the group. We traveled to Modica by bus, then transferred to 6 Fiat 500 cars from 1957. Tiny, they drove us up and down the narrow streets, with hairpin turns, that looked like dead end streets until we drove right in front of a wall and suddenly turned right or left. San Francisco looks tame by comparison. Then we visited the highlight, well another highlight of the trip for me. Chocolate made without cocoa butter or milk. I tasted lots of different favors and bought out the store. Not really. Then we had a delicious dinner with fava bean soup, bruschetta, they had several cheeses and goulash. I ate orange and fennel and black olive salad. And plenty of white wine! On our way back to Ragusa, we parked the bus and watched more fireworks in Ibla,again celebrating the Feast of St. George. Made me less sad that I had missed out on the party the night before.
Tomorrow we visit a farm for the day.

A day in the life was the title of Monday's adventure into the countryside of southeastern Sicily. After an hour's pleasant ride among hills, olive trees, almond trees and wheat fields we arrive by very narrow road to a farm. All of the properties are divided by low stone walls created without the use of mortar or even mud to hold them up. On this property we first see six cows, under the shade of a few trees.Then we arrive to the hearty welcome of Ture, short for Salvatore, the farmer. Concetta, his wife awaits in the spacious courtyard where the many plants remind me of Arizona. There are succulents, palm trees as well as flowering plants and lots of birds flying around. Ann says they're swifts.
We are invited into a sitting room lined with chairs and sofas. They expect OAT travelers whenever they are in town, everyday for the past ten days and from today, a three day break! No tours in July and August. It is just too hot.

We are served  coffee and cookies made just like my mother made when I was a child, with a screw top machine that gets loaded with cookie dough and gets spit out of the front. This machine also made cookies, depending on the shape of the disc.