Bernie, His Truck and More

Bernie had a beautiful, red Chevrolet trunk. At some point he stopped driving. I don’t know when. I didn’t notice. I was more concerned with his falling. He seemed to be doing more of it. He’d fall and then the ambulance I called–I couldn’t get him up–would sometimes take him to the hospital but mostly not. He just needed someone to help him up off the floor. He’d get his walker and be fine. I thought. I didn’t quite realize he’d become housebound.

Sometimes he went to Pierce Nursing Home, the one associated Creamery Brook Village where we lived. He’d be there a week or so and then come home. I had helpers for him, hired from Day-Kimball Healthcare. They came in daily and another group came in for overnight. Only one for day and one for night.

One day he came to the doorway of the living room where I was sitting and said, “I just realized I’m not going to get better! You might as well sell the truck.”

“OK,” I said. I was glad he had realized that he wasn’t going to get better. And I was pleased I had permission to sell the truck.I took it to Sorel’s Garage and they took it over. It looked like a million dollars when they were through cleaning it. And it quickly sold. I banked the money and used it to pay our helpers. I thought it brave of him to relinquish his truck.

And it was brave of him to say to our daughter, Sara, one day, “I guess it’s time to go to Pierce.” But I think he forgot he said it. The worst days of my life, I believe, were the Monday I called Pierce and requested a bed, the Tuesday we were told we had to wait another day and the Wednesday we drove him to the nursing Home.

Maybe it was too soon. Maybe he could have waited some more. But Sara and her husband, Rob, told me it had become too stressful for me; it was bad for my health. I didn’t tell them I’d recently lost three pounds or that I lost two more, later on. When I saw my doctor she wanted to know why I’d lost all that weight and I wasn’t to lose any more. I agreed, but lost those two more pounds before I could put any weight back on.

Was it easy after that? Yes, I guess so as it was quiet at home, but no, in that I had to get used to going to see him every day. There were some problems I couldn’t solve. Sometimes he was almost cheerful and other times he was irritated at something and I couldn’t find a way to help him. In fact I could do very little to help him.

But I should have had someone build a ramp up the stairs from the garage into the house. With a ramp he could have come home. But–would he have left again and gone back to Pierce? Would he insist on staying home? I don’t know but, guilty as I felt about it, I didn’t bring him home.

So, here I sit, months after his death, still dealing with my guilt. And sorrow.


A Better Plan

I’ve got a better plan for my money. I’ll hire Vanguard Personal Financial Services. In fact, I’ve already had a one hour talk with someone at Vanguard. I explained my problem: that I needed money from my Vanguard funds to help me pay my bills every month. I forgot to tell him that I have money in my savings account for emergencies, in particular, if the funds go down a lot. That way, I won’t have to sell a fund when the price is down and lose money.
But I really need to work on a budget. So I’m keeping track of every cent I spend. It’s tiresome and easy to forget to record expenditures in my budget book, but I really need to see where my money goes. For example, we own two summer houses in Prince Edward Island, Canada. In order to have a phone and electricity in the summer, I have to partially pay for them all winter. Can I afford it? I’d better. As it is the expenses for our vacations are split between me and my son and daughter. I’m hoping my financial plan will relieve me of worrying about these bills.

Budgets, Large or Small?

I’m devising a sort-of budget for myself. It’s taken me awhile to realize I don’t have access to Bernie’s money anymore. His pension, social security and VA payment hasn’t been available to me for a couple of years. But I do have three annuities payable to my checking account from all our investments which I had to take out of Vanguard and other places and buy immediate payment annuities. I get them every month in my checking account but they are supposed to go to Vanguard. Instead, I’ve been spending some of them.

I must cut back. What do I cut? When do I start?

I saw the moon tonight. It was hanging over Creamery Brook–the building with the apartments in it. It’s a very thin crescent, slightly reclining. Where would it go? Will it go to the south or the north? Or will it just sink over the horizon? I’ve missed it for the last few weeks or so. There’s either been clouds or it was hidden in the Eastern part of the sky which I can’t see from my seat. Maybe it is the new moon, or the stage right after the new moon.

A little later: It’s setting behind the apartment house–almost gone. the people with apartments on the western side of the building will see it slide down the sky and go beneath the horizon, as it always does sooner or later. I feel better now that I’ve watched the moon. I needed that.

Saying Goodbye to my Garden

I’m getting rid of my garden this Fall. I’m giving away the day lilies in my garden and maybe the daffodils and the other plant I have. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve forgotten what it’s called. I have some friends who want the flowers.

My raised garden is about ten feet by five feet. I’ve got a lot in it: seven day lilies and endless daffodils. And the pretty nameless flower.

I should be sad in finishing my career as a gardener. But I don’t know that I am. I was such a bad gardener this summer with its dry, hot spells. I didn’t water enough. And I didn’t weed enough. It was neglected. I put in some annuals to fill in the empty spaces. But they don’t look right. They don’t look cheerful and brimming over with life. I must have bought the wrong kind.

Nasturtiums — that’s what I needed. They are so strong and their color is bright and cheerful. How could I have forgotten them? Last year I had little bouquets of them in my cottage. I’ve given up my garden, but next year I can have small pots of nasturtiums on my windowsill. That’s what I’ll do.

I Need to get Back in Shape

I just discovered this afternoon that there’s a reason I’ve been low of energy. I spend part of every afternoon on my bed, resting.

I’m anemic; my hemocrits are low. Whew! There’s a reason I don’t get hardly anything done. I need some red meat. I’ll have a hamburger tonight at dinner. A few months ago I decided to eat more fish here at my retirement village. No pot roast or meatloaf or hamburger, all of which I could have eaten.

I’ve been wondering why I have no get up and go. I’ve just been doing what had to be done. Which didn’t get me to the gym, or to yoga class either here at Creamery Brook or at my former yoga place. I felt guilty yet unable to make a more. I keep remembering the words of one of the women who live in the Creamery Brook building, (I live in a separate cottage.) She said, “Elinor, you need to come over for exercise class and other things.” Yes, yes, I know it–maybe now I can do it.

P.S. Several days have passed since I wrote this. Sigh.

I Went to PEI…

two weeks ago and I came home today, Sunday, the 29th. PEI is Prince Edward Island, Canada. It’s an island off the northern shores of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It’s one of the provinces of Canada, and a beautiful place it is to visit in the summer or fall. My husband’s family were PEIslanders and he inherited acres and an old house. Now we also have a new cottage.

It all takes money and care to keep them clean and useful. My late husband used to like to come up to PEI as often in the summer as he could, and spend as much time there as possible.  I thought of him often these past two weeks, remembering how he liked to read.

In early days, years ago, he tried to write there. It seemed to him a simple idea–to  sit down and write somewhere where it was quiet. But two little kids, and their mother often thought otherwise. If I was stuck in the kitchen for too many days, I’d nag him to take  us out for dinner. There weren’t many places to eat as there are now. We’d often have to drive a considerable distance for a hot cooked meal. And Bernie would be thinking of his writing, left unfinished on his desk.

He finally did write a novel after he retired, but he made very little, if any, attempt to sell it. He seemed to be happy to have written it. At the time, we belonged to a writer’s group. I found them very helpful in shaping and strengthening my book about my parents, Going All the Way Round: The Diary of a Reluctant Caregiver. Bernie got plenty of advice, too, but he was more interested in reading than writing.

It’s very easy to read books instead of writing them. I do it myself these days. Reading is seductive; writing is work. It’s lonely and you can’t tell if it’s any good without some helpful friends. Writing a blog is all I do these days.

There’s Someone Else to Call

I wrote a brief letter to Kathy, an old friend of Bernie’s from Boston University days in the late forties, early fifties telling her that Bernie died. Then I went on a trip to New Jersey to see my daughter and her family. When I returned, I had mail from her husband, Bob. Bad development.

He wrote to say that Kathy was fine with “no apparent mental or physical decline until two months before she died of pancreatic cancer”  on May 23rd.

What a bummer. I liked her so much. She had a great sense of humor and was always fun. Now Bob wante to talk to me. I’ll call him.

I left a message on his machine and he called thirty minutes later. We spent a half hour discussing the past and reviewing Kathy’s and Bernie’s old friends: Ted Moynahan, Kenny Donahue, Julian Moynahan, Jack Grant. Ted had been married to Kathy and they had three kids. Julian who had taught at Princeton, was Ted’s brother. Ted spent a large part of his life marching in parades, the kind of parade protesting things. Kenny  Donahue had spent a lot of time in Ireland, part of it living in a cottage on the Guinness estate, thanks to one of the Guinness’s.

Jack was a friend of Bernie’s from Harvard. I’d given up finding his address until I ran across it today on my Rolodex while looking for someone else, I forget who. He was the best man at our wedding. And the only man I knew who was smarter than Bernie.

I must call him.

Jurassic Park

Bernie’s papers, so many files and file holders and boxes with papers in them that I have to get rid of. And so many need shredding. My daughter is right: I have to get a bigger shredder. Loads of papers, some of them mine.

But instead of shredding papers, I sit in my living room with the window open and feel the soft breeze come in. The birds–robins, young Cardinals and Catbirds–flit  past. They get bird seed at my neighbor’s feeder and come eat the seed in my dogwood. Well, not mine exactly. It is just in front of my cottage. The twitsy birds jump around the branches of the tree. I believe they knocked off all the buds of the dogwood. There were no blossoms. I doubt if they ate the buds–no nourishment there.

Behind my house is a swamp. I can’t see it any more because the vines have taken over. Some grasses and wild roses support the vines. They have stopped growing upward and lean over. A day later I saw new fronds of the vine go out sideways, always reaching for something to climb. Jurassic Park. I don’t like it.

It’s due to all the rain we got in the Spring. Too many leaves on the trees. The charming country roads we have, shaded by the trees are now all but closed over with massive amounts of leaves on all the branches. When I notice them, I perceive them as somewhat threatening.

Rain is falling softly now. I won’t have to water my garden tomorrow! But more vines will grow and wave in tomorrow’s breezes.

I think I’ll take my papers to Staples and let them shred them.


Thinking of Bernie tonight. He died last week. It’s already last week and not tonight, or yesterday or Wednesday night. Soon it will be two weeks. Then on July 13, I go to Prince Edward Island, Canada. I’ll be thinking of him all the while I’m there. It’s his home, his place that he and his late brother inherited from their mother, Sara, who got it from her brother, Pius, who inherited it from their father, Angie Ban Mac Donald. Light-haired Angus.

Bernie missed going the last two years. Last year I decided to go with our son and daughter-in-law. I had to tell him I was going. He said, “When do I go?” It broke my heart. I had to tell him he couldn’t go: he was in a wheelchair, there was no way to get him into the house, etc, etc. It broke my heart and I felt it broke his. No wonder I didn’t enjoy myself. This year there is no one to tell. Is that better?

I talk about his death as though I had something to do with it, as though was in charge. All ego.

No, he died because he was ready for it. He’d stopped eating or drinking. Whether he chose to stop or not didn’t matter. It happened.

The night he died, he quietly  bid his aide good night, gave him a slight wave of his hand, closed his eyes and was gone. Peaceful and simple. When I arrived thirty minutes later, he was there but had left us. Cold hands, face silent. Released into peace


“The Upside of Stress”

I’ve got a new book, The Upside of Stress, by Kelly McGonigal. She conceives of stress as a source of energy that I can use to solve the problem that caused the stress. Instead of saying, “I’m too stressed to go online to get our airplane tickets”, I talk to myself. Do I want to go to Florida? Yes, I really do. And besides, my friend Mollie expects me to make the reservations for our trip.

So not only do I have a strong desire to get away from the bad weather in January, but my friend is expecting me to do it. So my values are involved. Not only does Florida have a high value for me in January, But so does my friendship. I can’t call her up and say, “I’m too scared to make these reservations.”

All of this, plus memories of past plane reservations I arranged for Bernie and me,  got me to the computer and in a few moments I was was on familiar ground: the Southwest site for buying plane tickets. It was only a matter of minutes before I had to tickets. Fearlessly, I went ahead and rented a car. Whoopee! Now we were really going.

If people take time to write out their values, it alerts them the next time they are stressed. They remember their values and turn the stress into energy to solve their problem. Tend-and-befriend is another mindset that helps. If you put your worry aside to help others, your stress will disappear.

So the next time you feel stressed, and you will, turn it into pure energy and work out a way to solve your problem. Your body will thank you.