My creative spark, long dormant, is reaching toward the light. I am not sick, but rather I offer this to you as a celebration of life, of my life in particular, and in the joy and surprise each day gifts to us.

011 bb cover stump

Do not seek for me among the dead,

But, rather, among the living.

Do not trace your trembling finger along cold stone

And mourn for my warmth.


Look for me where redwoods weave roots and reach into the heavens,

Where homeless curl inside burnt stumps left by long-dead loggers,

And children pump their feet to the sky and lean back hard

Against their own joy.

Look for me in the blush of a Cecil Brunner,

the shine of a raven’s wing,

And the soft green of a spring fiddle head.

Look for me in the cow elk who lifts her head beside a fog-shrouded lagoon,

And in the glorious smells of wild fennel, and marijuana,

and the black stink of the bay at low tide.

And look for me always

in the salmon who batter themselves against all odds

to reach the clear waters of home.



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In Time of Loss


Winter wind shakes the gnarled fingers of barren trees at a gray sky.  In a few months, those same trees will bud and then burst into bloom, send forth new growth. In the depth of personal loss, we are often reminded by those who seek to provide comfort that joy does, in truth, cometh in the morning. Happiness, these good folks tell us, will return just as spring follows winter. But, this comparison, as it pertains to the losses that come with aging, is a false equivalency.

A more apt image of this particular loss is that of a wildfire that burns everything in its path. Of course, life does indeed return to the burned over forest. But that new life, that change, looks very little like the trees and underbrush, the layers of life that built upon itself for hundreds of years to reach the exquisite complexity which was reduced by flames to wet ash and destruction.

If we live long enough to feel the slowing down of our bodies, to watch friends leave us through death, or insanity, or addiction, or illness, we may come, then, to the understanding that our lives are rich in the ash of loss. Wildflowers flourish after a fire precisely because ash is such fertile soil for new, delicate growth. Our lives, like the burned over forest, looses complexity as we age. But when we have sufficiently mourned for our favorite shade tree, grieved for the den where the rabbits nested each year, cried for the loss of the sword ferns our grandmother always loved, then we may find pleasure in the feathery leaves of the poppy, the soft lavender of crocus, or the pale green of a fiddle head amongst the gray of loss.


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Stud Finder blues

My Pictures0056

I have become weighted down in my chosen role as the victim. Yes, I am in a somewhat difficult position. My husband is three hundred miles south of me slowly dying of a horrid, progressive disease which has messed up his cognition as well as devastated his body. Dementia is not easy. My job search, at 68 and with a quirky back due to childhood scoliosis and full-spinal fusion, has not led to a single offer of employment. Hell, I haven’t even made it to a second interview and there have been very few first interviews. My attempts to transform my old en suite into a rentable AirB&B room have resulted in disarray. Lately, when met with a challenge, mentally curling up in a fetal position has become part of moving forward at my own pace.

Allow me to give you an example.

My wanna-be AirB&B room needs window treatments. I found the drapes I wanted. I’ve become expert at browsing on-line for hours for every single item needed to renovate the room, until, usually sometime in the wee hours of the morning, indecision becomes impatience and I obsessively check the specifications of the item one last time and order whatever the damn thing is I’ve been waffling about purchasing for weeks. So, the drapes came the day after Christmas and they were perfect, even better than I dared imagine.  The soft material is still laid gently across the bed so as to prevent wrinkles.

I cannot get the curtain rod up.

I’ve drilled two tiny holes in my elegant gray, just-painted wall, made a trip to the hardware store to purchase a stud finder, endured the inevitable jokes that purchase entailed, charged my drill, collected the hardware, perched on a step ladder and failed miserable to locate a stud (no jokes. Seriously. I can’t take another stud joke), and ended up with a rather large hole in my pristine wall, and the rod and hardware now laid atop the curtains on the bed.

In addition, I cannot attach the shelf to the armoire which, hopefully, will hold the TV, and I broke off one of the glass knobs while trying to accomplish this task. (crazy glue to the rescue, but still!) The reading lamp, an arch floor lamp, came yesterday. I haven’t even opened the box to attempt to put it together. The bathroom mirror will be here soon and unless I can hang that with nothing more than a hammer and nails, I’m going to need help with that also.

I have dealt with these challenges by mentally going from the specific to the general. This is rarely a good journey. Three days ago, after failing, once again, to successfully attach the curtain rod to the now pincushion-like wall, I backed out of the room and, in approximately three seconds, mentally journeyed from,

“I failed once again to get the curtain rod hung,”


“I’m going to die alone in an unfinished room.”

This mental leap would be hilarious if it was not an absolutely accurate reflection of my mental state at that moment, AND I still have not ventured back into that room. In the interim, I have been having odd chest pains, and these have recently been joined by pain between my shoulder blades. In my younger days I read philosophy, minored in it in college, actually. Now I acquire all my inspiration from Facebook memes. You may have seen the one that says, Do you ever feel like your body’s check engine light has been on and you’re still driving, like, ‘nah, it’ll be fine?’

Deciding to take that meme as an omen, I got myself to the doctor who diagnosed me with costochondritis. A large Latin word which means, no worries, it’s a common condition in old people. As for the pain between my shoulder blades, which was just beginning its daily visit when I arrived for the exam, my upper back was in spasm. This is due to the scoliosis and, once again, there is nothing much to be done for it and I won’t die of it. So, all is good, though the doctor ordered a stress test just to be on the safe side.

I came home tired after a morning spent taking an exam with twenty-one significantly younger people for one open county job, and then racing to the doctor to find out that I am not dying. I spent the evening petting the dog and feeling sorry for myself, leaped, once again, from, ‘I’m tired and frustrated,’ directly and without passing go or collecting $200 fake dollars, to, ‘I’m going to die alone and crippled.’

This morning while sipping my Earle Gray, I came across this interview with my friend Alison Taylor-Brown on my Facebook feed. I really needed the inspiration this morning. Please, read it and do a comparison of her attitude and mine. I dare you. I did. Not in judgement, we all come to our goals at our own pace and with our own detours, but as an incentive to remember that we are strong women, who deserve to be happy, and who will be, if we just keep moving toward our goals.

In my case, I’m also working on asking for help when I need it without seeing that as failure. My son is coming over in an hour or two. Two friends offered to help with getting the rental room prepared and I turned them both down last week. This evening I will ask them to help with whatever my son doesn’t get done today. Life is good and there is much for which to be thankful, for instance, a son who will climb up on the ladder and attach a curtain rod securely to the wall, and friends who will volunteer their time and talents and tools to help me finish that damn AirB&B room. No more fetal position for me. At least not right this moment.

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Parallel Universe

pam pulling hair 002

A few days ago I stumbled upon a theory that the Hadron Collider has flung the universe into a parallel dimension. Which would explain so much.

Those little blackouts in my memory.

Driving, I cannot remember where I’m going. Jotting down a list of three necessities I forget the last two by the time I’ve written the first on the notepad. Asking a friend to meet me at the Banana Hut for a burger, and then waiting at the Surfside Burger Stand until the friend figures it out and joins me. Waking in the night and not knowing where I am, that particular sensation morphing into an old reoccurring dream of someone standing beside my bed.

These are a few of my least favorite things.

So, what is happening to me? Are these the first, terrifying symptoms of dementia. Which would really piss me off because at sixty-eight I couldn’t even call it early-onset dementia anymore, right? Just straight-up, run-of-the-mill dementia that comes with the natural aging process.

Fuck that!

Nobody in my family has ever had dementia. Don’t get me wrong, most of us are bat-shit crazy, and complete pains in the ass to deal with for more than an hour at a time. But we’re not prone to losing our memories.

This paradigm shift in my personal reality is the work of, well, life and of life’s eternal sidekick – stress. Or, even if it’s not, I can combat stress. Dementia? Not so much. So roll with me on this one.

When Jack went into skilled nursing, I thought my life would be less demanding. These expectations of mine as he and I travel the path of his illness so often leave me rubbing my forehead and asking myself, “Who’s delusional now, Pam?”

Most of you know we worked for months to get Jack into a skilled nursing facility in our area. This was not possible given the level and complexity of the care he needs, coupled with the fact that the VA is his health insurance provider. Eight months into the search, after a particularly bad fall, I refused to bring him home from the hospital. This put the VA on the hot-seat and he was admitted into the Community Living Center attached to the San Francisco VA hospital.

The CLC is a top-notch facility with an entire hospital of specialists literally right next door. It is also just under three hundred miles south of me, on a long and winding road which is occasionally impassable in the winter. I anticipated driving down to see Jack once a month or so, of being his partner on this final leg of his journey.

He’s been at the facility for eight months now. I’ve been down to see him twice.

I can give you the reason for this In a nutshell, pun absolutely intended. Jack’s delusion is that he is going back to Vietnam to be cared for 24/7 by lovely young women who will grant his every wish. This delusion, is, no doubt, partially fueled by his desire for redemption. He spent a few months of his youth, as Jack himself told the young women we encountered when we visited Vietnam in 2000, “Killing their grandfathers and grandmothers and burning their villages.”

Now, I’ve been married to a combat Marine for thirty years, I’m fully aware that this particular delusion is also fueled by the desire for healing, in the belief that the special talents of these young, nubile young women will restore him to his former potency and return to him the control he desperately craves. See there, how clever I am with prose? I explained the reasoning behind Jack’s entire delusion and never once used a term that rhymes with DJ.

It’s a bit more than that, of course. It’s also about an eighteen year old Marine who, fifty-three years ago, died on the jungle floor and has been pissed ever since at the medic who brought him back.

In the end, the reasons for the delusion, while compelling, are beside the point. It takes two people to help Jack move from wheelchair to bed. He cannot feed or dress himself. His vision is very nearly gone. His speech fluctuates between difficult to understand and incomprehensible. His tremors are becoming increasingly violent. He’s still Jack. Under all those challenges, his courage is as extraordinary as ever. He gets up every day, interacts with the staff and the other veterans, attends activities from bocce ball to volley ball to yoga. He does what he can to participate in life. But he cannot return to Asia.

Currently, he calls me a half-dozen or so times a day. At least one of these calls is to demand that I sell the house, send him enough money for a first class plane ticket,and  get him to Asia. I do my best to distract him, but he’s as determined – as stubborn– as ever. If I do not do these things he will divorce me, force the sale of the house, change his power-of-attorney so that I am no longer his executor. He’s met with an attorney who comes to the facility to assist veterans with legal matters and he has already removed me as his first point of contact with the VA.

He has made it clear that he will not see me until I have met his demands and can show him proof of such. My presence and my inability to participate in this particular delusion are a trigger for his anger. I’ve been down to see him only twice since April. Both visits were heavily punctuated with these demands and plenty of anger when I could not comply. Both times I returned home with a weird sort of stress flu, spent a few days in bed with my belly in an uproar. Worse, each time I left Jack refusing to speak with me and more determined than ever to get to Asia. Right now he takes my calls. This was not the case a couple of weeks ago and it may not be the case tomorrow. But I spoke with him this morning and he did not yell, “She’s dead,” when the nurse told him his wife was on the line. He did demand that I sell the house.

So, you’re all caught up. More or less. Subject to change on an hourly basis.

I am grieving for my husband at the same time that I am attempting to continue to do my best for him. I am also trying to keep my own head above water, searching for employment.  It turns out that employers are not lining up to hire a sixty-eight year old who’s spend the past decade as a care provider. But more than looking for work, I am remaking my life. Building new friendships, making new plans that do not include Jack. That cannot include him. I struggle daily to convince myself that my happiness does not harm Jack.

So, in an effort to combat a slide into my very own parallel universe, I embarked on a mission of self-care. I downloaded an app and am meditating twenty minutes morning and night. Which, two weeks into the program, might actually be helping. I walked all the way across the kitchen this morning and managed to write down all three items I need to pick up later today at Costco.

So, you know. Progress.

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Death by a Thousand Cuts

gray medical equipment lot

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With Jack safe and well-cared for in the San Francisco VA community living center (skilled nursing), I should be relaxing into a less chaotic and demanding life.

But, somehow, despite my attempts to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, my center swirls, shifts with each day’s small challenges. Losing a partner of over twenty-five years is tough.  And when that spouse is still alive and swings wildly between loving you and hating you, often within the same day, the grieving process is complicated beyond comprehension.

My financial situation is safe now, but at the time of Jack’s death, that will change radically. Jack has a terminal disease whose progress I cannot stop. So, in addition to the emotional grief of losing him, there is the worry that at the time of his death, I will be forced to sell my home.

So, while Jack struggles to adjust to his new circumstances, I too try to create a new life for myself and wonder daily if I will be able to do so. I’m sixty-eight. I need a job I can do and do well until I am at least eighty.

Nothing daunting about that challenge.

Still, it’s not the big hits that hurt,  it’s the tiny cuts.

For example:

For the last eighteen months Jack was home, he had an Alert One medical alert system. A little button that hung around his neck on a lanyard. It went off automatically if he fell, and he could push the button to get help if I was not home. This allowed me to go to the store or run short errands while knowing he could call for help if he fell. And he did fall. A lot. If you’re considering getting one of these medical alerts you should know that, if the company calls in a request for help to get you or your loved one up from a fall, you will be charged about $200 by the emergency team. If, however, you call 911 yourself, there is no charge when the EMT comes to get you back on your feet and access the damage of the latest fall.

I do not know why this is. No one at either Alert One or the billing unit has ever been able to explain it.

Jack has been in skilled nursing since April. I don’t think it is much of an exaggeration to say that I was a hot mess for a good long time after he left. However, for each and every one of the seven months since he’s been gone, Alert One has hit my checking account  for $60. Each month I called and told them Jack was no longer in the home and we no longer needed the service. Each month they informed me that they could not cancel the service unless I returned the unit – a small button on a lanyard and a charger. Without the return of the unit, the only way to stop the service was to pay Alert One the replacement cost – $559.95.

Each month I paid the $60 for a service I did not need, because I simply could not afford the larger $559.65 charge.

I know.

I’m not proud of the way I handled any of this, but honestly, there was so much going on with getting Jack settled in the VA facility, with trying to figure out my new financial situation, that I just paid the $60 and continued to search for the unit. It was all the energy I had to deal with the situation at the time.

In an attempt to bring in a little money, I am turning what used to be my en suite bedroom into an AirB&B rental. While cleaning Jack’s old room, in which I am now settled, I found the Alert One unit. At the back of a desk drawer, in a blue hospital sock/slipper, under a pile of Jack’s medical records. No idea why Jack put it there, but at this point, who cares? I found the thing.

So, I called Alert One, spoke with supervisor, Tiffany, got detailed instructions on how to return the unit to them, and paid $23.75 to send it on its way.

That was on October 11th.

Three days ago, I went on-line to check my bank account and Alert One had hit my account for $559.95.

I called them.  Gave them the name of the person who signed for the unit at their end.

The unit had a broken prong and therefore I must pay the full price for its replacement. So sorry and please thank your husband for his service to our country.

$60 for seven months is $420. Plus $559.95 is $979.95.

For a service I informed them I was not using and asked them to cancel.

This particular cut is deep, and while it is about the money. Of course it is. That’s a lot for me to just throw away, or more accurately, have stolen from me. But, it’s also about the rudeness, the greed of a company whose business is supposed to be helping the elderly and instead preys upon the very people they purport to serve. A company who actually had ethics would, it seems to me, have allowed me to make arrangements, when I first called and cancelled the service, to pay off the cost of the unit on a monthly basis. They might even have charged a more believable replacement fee for the unit.

This cut feels deep. So, I’m bleeding on Alert One a bit here. Advising against using their service and frankly, my recommendation if you use any of these medical alert services is to set up a special checking account for the sole purpose of paying them. That way, when your loved one no longer needs the service, you can simply close that account. And, yes, I am aware that if you have a loved one who is falling frequently, the last thing you need is to spend additional time and energy to set up a special account in order to stop the crooks from stealing your money. But that appears to be the best option.

As for me, this too shall pass. Life is good regardless of greedy companies or worries about money. Jack taught me that best revenge is to live a good life. Well, I paraphrase.

Jack’s exact words were to live a good life and bury the bodies deep.


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Moving On


It’s difficult for me to write about Jack these days. As his wife of almost thirty years and as an author who’s written three books about this scarred and glorious warrior, that’s an odd statement, an unsettling realization, a bit of a shock. Nonetheless, to write without hitting as close to the truth as I am able, is a waste of time – both mine and the readers – so today, with this post, I expose to you a difficult personal truth.

I have moved on from Jack emotionally, begun the journey of reinventing, or perhaps rediscovering, myself as an individual rather than as half of a partnership.

Over three months ago, Jack was transported by ambulance from our local hospital, three hundred miles down the coast, to the San Francisco VA medical center. Progressive Supranuclear Palsy is a bitch of disease, one that attacks the body, mind, and personality of the afflicted. For Jack’s safety and for mine, it was time for him to be provided more care than I could give in our home. Because of the level of care he needed, and due to the cruel way that skilled nursing placements are accomplished, a bed could not be found for him while he was in the home. The VA social worker and I tried this route for over six months, as Jack fell more and more frequently, as both his health and mine declined, as our relationship split apart with the demands being made upon it – no facility would accept him.  We went further and further afield. Again and again his application was denied because the nursing home could not provide the level of care he needed.

And, no, the irony of that was not lost on me – the person attempting to care for him.

In the end, he fell eight times in seven days. The final fall was a dozy. His lower back and ankle both battered and bruised to match his previously injured side, shoulders, right thigh, and the back of his head. When the EMTs came to get him up, I insisted they take him to the hospital. At the hospital, I refused to bring him home.

That felt like a betrayal of unfathomable proportions. And yet, it was necessary for his safety, and for mine. Love is tough, as is the will to survive. I stuck to my decision. That placed Jack in an entirely new category for the VA. Suddenly, he was their problem. Fifteen days later, the community living center attached to the San Francisco VA agreed to accept him as a resident. It’s where I had been trying to get him for six months, it’s the only place he will get the continuing care that he needs.

I was relieved.

Jack was angry.

He screamed down the halls, “Help, I’m being held naked against my will. Call the police.”

The mere sound of my voice sent him into a rage that required he be medicated. He wanted to come home. He threw whatever he could lay his hands on at the nurses, ranted at friends, instructed every visitor to go to our house and retrieve his passport. His plan was to fly to Danang where he still believes he can lead a life of luxury cared for by a half-dozen young Vietnamese women. The hospital handled this by overmedicating him, which made the situation worse.

I continued to refuse to bring to him home. I learned to visit when his combat vet buddies were also visiting. These guys provided him the grounding he needed to allow me into the room with him without screaming. Still, his fifteen days in the hospital were rough, on both of us. On the day he left he asked the discharge nurse for a kiss.

She said, “Now Mr. Jones, your wife is right here, she’ll give you a kiss.”

“Fuck her. Don’t let her touch me.”

And that was our goodbye.

Once at the San Francisco VA hospital for evaluation before being moved next door to the skilled nursing facility, he refused to speak with me on the phone. Screamed obscenities when I left the message that I loved him. I comforted myself with humor. At least he remembered who I was.

A week later he was transferred to the Community Living Center. He promptly escaped. Three times. Police were called. Mental health professionals were alerted. He was returned to the CLC. The third time the doctor told me if he escaped again, he would be sent back to the hospital for further evaluation and sent to a locked ward.

I asked the social worker to explain to Jack the consequences of his next attempted escape. I insisted on talking to him and explained to him how the system would handle him if he continued to sneak out the door in an attempt to get to Danang and his harem of young caregivers.

He settled down. Settled into life at the CLC.

He called and hung up several times. I called him.

He said, “Why are you calling me. I don’t want to talk to you. I’m mad.”

“So am I,”I said. “But I love you.”

He hung up.

But, over the next few weeks, he called more often. At first, he just barked orders. Send me this, or box up that and get it to me today. But slowly he began to tell me about his days. What he was eating. That he won at bocce ball, or balloon volley ball, or black jack. Or that he lost because the other guy cheated. He called the afternoon he got back from AT&T park and a Giants game, the day he made pies in occupational therapy,  the morning he had grits with his eggs.

He asked for me to come and visit. The social worker and psychiatrist agreed that I could come down. I made reservations and told him the date. He called every hour with a list of places I was going to take him. Each time I explained that I was coming to spend time with him, to visit him, that we were not going to be going into the city. He called and asked if we were going to have sex when I came down. I said no, we would not be having sex. He hung up. Called back.

“There’s no reason for you to come. It’s too much money. Don’t waste your time.” Hung up.

I waited, figured I’d see how things went between then and the time I was schedule to visit. The social worker called to say he demanded to see an attorney so he could file for a divorce. Of course, I knew he could not go through with the threat, and that he was truly not in his right mind. Nonetheless, I canceled the reservations.

That was several weeks ago.

He has given up the idea of divorce, or at least has topped mentioning it to me or the social worker. He calls six to ten times a day, says he is looking forward to seeing me the first week in September when I am now scheduled to drive down and spend the day with him. He still thinks he is going to Danang, everyone involved in his care is wary that he is playing all of us, biding his time, and waiting for his chance to make his big escape. In his situation, I think a plan B of escape is not a terrible coping tool, as long as he doesn’t follow through and end up harming himself or getting himself moved to a locked ward.

As for me, I make whatever arrangements I can to give him the highest quality of life available– set up a laundry service, get him a new phone and have his contact list transferred, speak with doctors and social workers and other care providers. But, I have moved on. And by that I mean I have accepted that I am no longer responsible for his every need, the tone of my day is no longer dictated by his mood, I am beginning to see what the remainder of my life might look like.

At the time of Jack’s death I will need to find a fulltime job if I am to keep my house. While I have both a bachelor’s degree and a two year high school teaching credential, it has been twenty years since I held a job. At sixty-seven I need training if I am to remain in pricey Humboldt County. So, I am taking a summer-long class in medical billing and coding. The class is horrendously complex, tedious, and demanding, but I am doing well in it, learning what I need to know to find a full time job at its conclusion. I hope. I am also turning my en suite bedroom and bath into a privately accessed AirB&B room.

I am cultivating friendships with individuals who are not combat veterans or their significant others. That sounds peculiar, I know, but for thirty years, every friend I’ve had, other than my writing buddies, has fit that narrow description. Of course, I still love combat vets, but, honestly, I am so done with the challenges PTSD. I need a break. I want some friends whose challenges are not related to something that happened in a steamy jungle fifty years ago.

Hell, I want challenges that don’t originate in a freaking war zone.

I’m moving on.

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