Monthly Archives: April 2015

Letting Go of Sentimentality

I spent much of today re-arranging the master bedroom to make room for a piece of exercise equipment.  I’m determined to use it since it will now be right under my nose each day!

Little did I realize I would take a sentimental journey while moving furniture. One of the walk-in High Chairclosets had become a repository for my childhood furniture that I also used with my now nearly-30-year-old son.   I am a self-professed sentimental fool;  even more so immediately after each of my parent’s deaths.  I clung to these treasures that held deep memories of a wonderful childhood.  Memories I did not want to lose with the loss of my parents.

As I am getting older, I am now more focused on lightening the load our home bears.  Not only for us to have fewer things to clean or maneuver around, but also so that my son isn’t burdened with sorting through things and organizing an estate for sale.  I carefully tucked these treasures away in a closet assuming that my son would one day want them for his children. But, he is a minimalist (and has no immediate plans for a family) and neither he nor my brother hold sentimentality for these things.  So, why should I continue to hold on to this “stuff?”

Material things are not where my memories exist.  They are merely the matter in which some memories were created.  And yet I believe it is common that we hold on to things to help us hold on to the people who mattered to us.

We hold on because the thought of letting go is just too painful to bear.

But we all must let go at some point.  To things we’ve collected and held dear as representative of our memories. To adult children who move across the country. To people who move in and out of our lives in pursuit of their own dreams.  To people we loved who have struggled with chronic disease (like my Mom).  And to people we loved who have had an acute health event that takes them abruptly from our lives (like my Dad and Uncle).

Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.  It doesn’t mean we stop loving these things or these people.  It just means that we are re-arranging our hearts to store more memories with people still present in our lives.  And I know my parents would want me to do that.

Caring Choices understands that letting go is hard to do.  Talking to your family about what you’re willing to live with or without can help them when it’s time for them to let go of you.

© 2015 Caring Choices


To see these two numbers together, brings to mind the saying “Hindsight is 20/20”.  To me, this means the understanding of a wish that “had we only known yesterday,” what we experienced and maybe could have been avoided today. I have been viewing old and new documentaries and reading about the tragic sinking of the luxury liner, Titanic. After striking an iceberg at 11:40 PM on April 14, 1912, the Titanic sunk a little after 2:00 AM on the 15th with over 1500 souls still aboard. Only 709 people were rescued that night. The anniversary of this fatal collision does not always warrant my attention but for some reason this year I had watched a new documentary on Netflix called “Titanic: The Final Mystery.” On April 15th this year, I awoke from a dream in the early morning (around 1:30 AM) and the image in the dream carried over into consciousness to the degree I had to turn on the bedroom light to ensure there was no pool of water at the foot of my bed. This was just my imagination, right? Over-active mind from all the movies and reading about the accident I suppose. I soon remembered there were several real life experiences I have had in the past with potential life threatening drowning.

The first was as a child of 10 or 11.  I had the good fortune of growing up within one block from the west branch of the mighty Susquehanna River. One afternoon on a hot summer day we swam over to “the island” from around 6th Street in Milton. After a few hours of exploration and rock throwing, we swam back to the point on the east bank where we started the day. The only difference, this time it was an against-current swim. My friend had waded out from the island’s northern tip enough that he had no problem making it across the 40 or 50 feet to the shore. I had not started from the same place, but rather more from the side which made the current much stronger. It was not long before I realized that between the cold water, hours of throwing heavy rocks, and the fast current, my usual swimming power immediately ebbed into cramping panic. In an instant I was in danger, and my friend’s hand was only feet away as he stretched from the shoreline to help me. The harder I swam the weaker I got until I had no strength left. Had it not been for some fishermen pushing off from a nearby dock I could possibly have drowned. “Better get over there and pull him out,” I heard the older man say as the boat sped to my rescue. Even when I realized I had only to swim with the current and land safely downriver from where I wanted to go, I had no strength to stay afloat.

The next incident was in 1972. Having spent the entire week preparing the homes of many people along North Front Street, my father had made the choice to disregard the mandatory evacuation orders. The loud speakers bellowed the orders throughout the day. My family and I stole away in the house quietly and kept the lights dim to avoid detection. After all, my father assured us we were in no real danger and if the water came up too high we would just leave. We had placed every appliance and piece of furniture up on saw horses on the first floor. We enjoyed a dinner of hoagies and chips for supper and as early warning precaution, I slept on the bare hardwood floor of the living room that night. Throughout the day we had monitored the river, which was rising at a rate of 1-2 feet per hour. But again, we were the highest home on all of North Front Street sitting directly on the NE corner of 2nd and Front Streets; no one felt any real concern.

Somewhere near dawn I awoke with a cold chill. My sleeping bag was damp; water was bubbling up between the floorboards and flowing steadily into the kitchen from the gap between the bottom of the basement door and floor. In less than two hours with full daylight we were trapped on the stairs and the water was up to the 5th or 6th step. I often wish today we had the technology of cell phones to have recorded the events of the next hour. After the boat had come into our living room through the front door, we had to gather a few belongings and step into the small fishing boat. The outboard motor filled the living room with a pale light smoke and the air stung with the sharp rasp of gasoline, oil and natural gas. Everywhere you looked there were barrels, logs, lawn furniture, toys, and other debris floating by. We then had to go to the home just to the east of us on 2nd Street, to pick up an older lady who had also been lured into the illusion of safety, and stayed at home. The boatmen had to push against the ceiling and door jams to get into and out of the front door in order to retrieve the visibly distressed woman from her inner staircase. The water in her home was now almost 4 feet from the ceiling. We barely got out with everyone needing to duck down as flat as possible in the boat in order to get out the doorway. We rode toward the river and rounded the corner onto North Front Street. As we passed the street sign I could not help but notice that the top of the sign bearing the street names were only a few feet above water. This image will live with me forever. Our route took us all the way down Front Street until we got to Broadway where we turned East toward the safety of the hill just across the railroad tracks. Men were at the intersection of Arch and Broadway to safely direct us between giant banded bundles of lumber.  These bundles had floated down from Clinger Lumber around Locust Street and were slamming into the glass fronts of the buildings at the South end of the street. We were safely escorted between bundles and unloaded onto dry ground just past the Newsstand where the elevation started its gentle rise.

Hindsight tells me now that had I known at 10 or 11 years old that the combination of my sore muscles, cold water and faster current would have paralyzed my arms, I would never have crossed the river at that angle.  Likewise, had my father known that the water would rise continually all night and into the next several days, he would never have chosen for us and our neighbor to stay in our houses.  He didn’t anticipate the risk of fire from gasoline, oil and natural gas leaks nearby, or structural damage from the loosened renegade flood debris.

Caring Choices does not possess a special 20/20 hindsight vision that can warn others of impending tragedy. We can however, refer to the hundreds of experiences in both our private and professional lives where people have again and again called upon this elusive sense. The more prepared we are for inevitable situations and unexpected change, the less time and energy need be directed to things that could have easily been planned for and possibly avoided. This would allow more positive interaction to occur in the moments where the true focus of attention exists.

© 2015 Caring Choices


Harsh Your Mellow

I’ll admit to being far removed from pop culture and the “scene” of 20-somethings, which won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me well.  I’m not sure I was part of the 20-something scene when I WAS 20-something myself.  This week in the nursing home, I heard a 20-something nurse aide say the phrase “Harsh Your Mellow” and I admit I was intrigued by it!  I’ve found that there are a couple of different definitions of this phrase, but the one I latched onto was that you ruin someone’s happiness with sad news or drama.

In life, there will always be sad news and for many people, drama. I try to avoid drama at all costs.  That may be my 50-something maturity, but I find that drama is usually overrated and typically unnecessary.  I have noticed in my end-of-life work (hospice and long-term care) that there is often drama that could have been avoided or just lessened – if only people would have talked when they were healthy and able to do so.

Sadness is unavoidable in this life; drama, though, can sometimes be kept at bay.  I’ve watched families wrestle with making decisions for a loved one who can no longer speak for themselves.  I’ve seen adult siblings separated by hundreds of miles and a childhood of drama come together around a bedside to try to make decisions for a parent who was indifferent all their lives.  Sometimes adult children gather to try to make amends as a last-chance effort to find togetherness.  Others appear from a far distance (in time, miles and emotions) to make sure they get “their share” of whatever Mom or Dad may have left in worldly goods.

I’ve sat with patients as they received sad (bad) news from their oncologist.  I’ve listened to long-married spouses ask us to help their partner “get stronger” even though their last station is on the near horizon.  I’ve witnessed the caring of my Uncle Warren who visited his wife every day in the nursing home where she resided for 7 years even though she could no longer speak or acknowledge his presence.  These situations could have been full of negative drama; they were certainly full of sadness.

When I speak with people facing their own illness or death or that of someone they love, I tend to be forthright in providing education and information.  I can sometimes be blunt but I am always compassionate.  Because of the reality of the subject, I may even “harsh your mellow.”

Caring Choices recognizes that by avoiding discussions about the harshness that chronic illness, terminal diagnosis or advanced aging brings, we may escape the sadness, but the drama may increase – both for us and for our families.  We may need to be more willing to “harsh the mellow” when we’re healthy and able to rationally discuss healthcare options.  Better to harsh our own mellow than the mellow of those we love.

© 2015 Caring Choices

Easter Egg Hunt

Few people I know can imagine, or remember an Easter without one. Wobbling, giggling, and squealing with delight at each find, children and adults, inside or out, search high and low for prizes and treats. Secreted away in not-so-hard to find spots, these brightly colored eggs and surprises are to help celebrate the joy and generosity of love and life for all. No one is excluded if you want to participate.

But what if no one could find them? What if the objects of our search were hidden too well? What if they were there, but just beyond reach? Maybe someone could help. What if they were completely out of sight? Someone would surely give us hints like, “You’re getting warmer or “Nope! You’re getting colder”.  What if there were never anything hidden at all? But somehow you didn’t know that.  You went on the hunt all the same. And you would be hopeful that you would find what you expected to be hidden, willing to take the time to look and help others who may be looking as well.

As I thought about the conversations that Caring Choices promotes today, I realized how easily we also may believe things will be found quickly and effortlessly once we need to search for them. And I thought of all the countless conversations I have witnessed while working Hospice once a search did not produce the desired answers. And there are so many questions that can, and do come up. Questions about providing 24 hour care, medication refills and administration, location of legal documents, planning services, about distribution or settlement of finances, about property, about distant family and friends. The list is almost endless.

My sister Linda died unexpectedly in her sleep. The impact of that day is permanently ingrained in my daily life now. I am fortunate to know she passed in her sleep. I am lucky to have been able to share in the grief with my family afterwards. I am grateful for the comfort of knowing she did not suffer. My mother and father both had the advantages of Hospice care for their final months of life. They were both able to choose the opportunity to find peace and had time to recognize that life was coming to an end and were able to make changes and plans accordingly. Their loss is felt by me in varying degrees some way every day. I honor the memory of their love. I have dedicated my life to trying to ease the suffering of those around me, even if it is only possible to just make them smile.

Caring Choices also celebrates life and love. We share in our own traditions and personal “hunts” with open dialog and respect. We consider the rights of everyone involved in the care and planning of the future. And for the people who do not want to be left with an empty basket of ideas, we have the discussion guide: Cindy and I have experienced the loss of loved ones both suddenly, unexpectedly and over prolonged slow decline. It is from the empathy and understanding of the traumatic and chronic effects of change that make us want to share with others the importance of discussions before the search for answers suddenly begins.

©2015 Caring Choices