Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Two More Memorable Women

The next two women I want to celebrate died this past summer, united not only by longevity but by the pioneering spirit which pervaded their lives. I had not known one of them long, but the other had been an honorary member of our family for four decades.

Ernie and Betty often shared their experiences teaching Latin
Betty first appeared in the pages of this blog two years ago when we were honored to be present at her one hundred and second birthday party. Just a year later we celebrated with her at her one hundred and third. Those two posts contain the details of an extraordinary life and of an extraordinary woman who was the granddaughter of a slave and who went on to attend Wellesley College, earn the honor of being elected to Phi Beta Kappa and have a distinguished career teaching in the Detroit Public School system.

She was always up-beat and positive, although I can’t think it had been easy being one of a handful of black students at a college attended by the elite daughters of the wealthy. She was gracious and in remarkably good physical shape. Although she was already in a wheel chair when I met her, her mind was sharp. She watched the television news avidly and loved to talk politics as well as literature. She and Ernie had some common links in the Detroit Classical world and he often went to visit her, taking along the bars of chocolate she loved. Betty was Wellesley College’s oldest living alumna the college and they did a splendid job of putting her life in it historical context.

A wonderful woman.  I just wish I had known her longer.

When my children asked how we made the acquaintance of the second memorable woman who died this summer, I found myself saying I just couldn’t remember. Somehow she seems always to have been there. I suspect it was through our church, where she often taught children’s classes, though she couldn’t bring herself to use the assigned text books, but preferred to use her own experiences and her expertise as a high school science teacher—an approach which wasn’t always appreciated! But so typical of Lynne, who marched through life doing it her way.

In her case too I marked two birthdays, her 85th and her 87th. I know that she appears tucked into various other posts, such as the New Year's Eve’s when she joined us for cut-throat scrabble games (mainly cut-throat on her part: she was a fierce competitor) or the post I wrote at the time she was getting ready to move and was having such a hard job with her possessions. The end of my entry describes it well.

I didn’t write about the time she found the perfect table and chairs for her dining nook and had us accompany her to Jacobsons to get it. They told her that she could take it from the store and avoid paying a delivery charge, so we lugged it all into the elevator and outside the store—where suddenly warning bells went off and we found ourselves the object of curiosity on the part of the store security guards. Then there was the time Lynne was appointed chair of the Symphony Show House gardens. Already in her 80’s, she sat gracefully outside the large house and organized a small army of helpers, of which I was one. I especially remember digging up beds of iris from some auxiliary flower beds, putting them in a wheelbarrow and transplanting them artfully under Lynne’s watchful eye.

Andrew, our friends Jerry and Sally, Lynne and Garth
She died a couple of months short of her 97th birthday. She did get to see my grandson Joe (she loved children and had only been blessed with one grandchild, so she liked to “borrow” ours) and here she is at Lucy’s wedding with Garth, who was a devoted companion to her in her last years. When she died the world lost a flamboyant personality (her hair still red) and an avid traveler, gardener, woman of faith and advocate for various causes. She had run for public office when men were the big players in politics.  Lynne kept the newspaper article where her rivals were described as "throwing their hats in the ring”, while she “threw her apron in the ring.”

Her daughter put together a slide show for a woman who was truly “Unforgettable.”  Our whole family will never forget her.

Footnote: I am delighted to say that in my post of November 30 where I started my series on remarkable women, I hazarded a guess for the cover of Time Magazine. I was pretty much right!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Year of the Woman

Until 1999 Time Magazine put out an annual edition titled Man/Woman of the Year, although only four women ever appeared on the cover, Wallis Simpson, Queen Elizabeth, Corazon Aquino and, as half its man/woman of the year, Soong Mi-Ling. In 1999 the edition was re-titled Person of the Year.

Who knows who Time Magazine will anoint when it puts out its “Year of” edition, but I would hope it is “The Year of the Woman.” It is hard to deny that women as a whole have played an enormous role in events this past year, in politics and in finally coming out of the closet of abuse.

I am going to honor six women who will never make the cover of a magazine, but women I have known who have made an impact on me and on others. Two are living, four are recently deceased.

The first is Patrizia, seen here second from the right, who lives in the family home in Pisa, where Ernie and I had the pleasure of visiting her nineteen years ago. Since then she has visited us and we have spent time with her in our son and daughter-in-law’s house in Virginia. That’s Gody, our daughter-in-law in the middle. Patrizia met Gody in Rwanda when she was working for the United Nations in the early 1990s. Patrizia knew all of Gody’s family and recognizing what an exceptional person Gody was and how bleak the outlook was for Rwanda, she took her back to Italy to live with her and her renowned and revered husband Marco, who taught at the University of Pisa. Gody trained as a nurse and watched from afar as Patrizia’s predictions were fulfilled.

I have also had the pleasure of spending time with the other three women in the photograph. (They were all together this past summer in Pisa to celebrate Patrizia’s 70th birthday.) On the left is Beatrice, Gody’s cousin. Between her and Gody is Yvonne, Gody’s youngest sister and on the right is Apauline, Gody’s younger sister. Both Yvonne and Apauline have visited us in Michigan, and they are delightful young women.

Theirs is not my story to tell and although I have heard some of it, it is not a history I would ever feel comfortable inquiring about. I do know that without the hard work and persistence of Patrizia some of these women would not be living such fulfilling lives, or even alive at all. Patrizia was aided in her humanitarian efforts by being a politician and working with the European Court of Human rights. Born in Egypt, she has the mastery of English and French as well as Italian. She has remained close to the friends she made in Rwanda. Here she is with Gody at the wedding of Gody’s brother Jean-Baptiste in Kigali.

In spite of all her accomplishments in the political sphere, she is now content with  her life as a mother and grandmother. While Wikipedia is crammed with information of the committees she served on in the Italian and European parliaments, I honor for her selflessness and generosity and I remember her most clearly sitting on our patio at one of our outdoor movie events for our grandchildren, laughing uncontrollably at the antics of Mr. Bean.

She’s a woman to celebrate and admire.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

And For One Saint (or almost Saint) in Particular

Fr. Solanus Casey had been dead nine years before we came to Detroit, but we soon learned  his legend, not so much from the church, but from the secular press. This man of peace was written about at length during the Detroit riots, and his order, the Capuchin Order, was renowned for their soup kitchen, which served the needy back in the great depression and is doing yeoman work today.

We took him and his story for granted. We live only eight or so miles from St. Bonaventure, where he was stationed towards the end of his life. When the order erected a Fr. Solanus Center next to the church, we often took visitors there. You can see his few possessions, including his robes and the violin which he played extremely badly. He was born in Wisconsin, one of sixteen children. He held various menial jobs until he realized he had a calling. The seminary where he started to study for the priesthood politely asked him to leave. Latin was too hard for him and the German which was the secular language of the seminary did not come easily to his Irish tongue. The story was the same when he was transferred to the Capuchin Seminary. He was, however, ordained as a priest simplex, which meant he could not preach or hear confessions. He moved around the country and lived for a time in Yonkers. Eventually he came to Detroit and was given the most menial of tasks, that of porter. It fell to him to open the door of the monastery for those who visited, and it was here that he came into his own. You only need to Google his name to find the numerous stories of his kindness, humility and readiness to talk to people from all walks of life. His reputation made the monastery a magnet for people with illnesses, problems or needs. Over 8,000 people attended his funeral.

So it was no surprise that Pope John Paul II set Fr. Solanus on the road to sainthood, and the last but one step was celebrated in Detroit last Saturday. Not in a church or basilica, but in Ford Field, the home of the Detroit Lions football team. 60,000 people braved the horrendous weather to attend Fr. Solanus’ Beatification, the last step before Canonization.

We were among the 60,000 in the vast building. Not only did we procure tickets (and good ones thanks to the relationship between the Capuchins and our parish), but we also got to ride on a bus and to avoid the misery of parking. As we got as to the assigned parking, the heavens opened. We did not have far to walk, but there were enormous puddles on the street, and the line for security was outside and long. Thanks to the two delightful women who sheltered us under their umbrella and admiration for the Capuchin monks who came from all over the country and braved the rain in their long brown robes and sandals.

There was of course much ceremony and gorgeous singing. The huge jumbotron which usually shows images of touchdowns allowed us to follow the events and see close-ups of friends who were singing in the choir. A great day, and affirmation that saints can be the most humble of people.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

For All the Saints . . .

Yesterday was All Saints Day, and as has become a custom in our church, we commemorated those people who had been buried from the parish in the last year.  In past years we may not have been familiar with any of them, sometimes we knew one or two. This year in addition to the few whose names we recognized or whose faces we knew, there were five close friends and family members whose funerals we attended here at St. Ambrose. The families of the deceased were invited to light candles from the Easter candle and place them on the altar. We were also invited to place candles for those others who were buried in other parts of the city or country. As we added them up, we realized we had lost five other relatives and friends in the last twelve months.

I suppose this is a pattern that will only increase as we age and one of these days there will be candles placed on the altar for us. But in the meantime, farewell to our friends and relatives Dan, Bob, Barbara, Beverly, Leona, Lynne, Betty, Earl, Jim and Vickie.

"Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come."

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Frugalness. The quality of being economical with money or food.

A while ago I came across an English blog with the word “Frugal” in it. I found it interesting and inspiring and linked from it to several others, all touting frugality. The writers practice frugality for varying reasons: some because they are hard up for money in varying degrees, some because they live frugally in some aspects of their lives while saving up for cars or vacations, some because of the principle of not spending excessively on themselves or their possessions. I learned a lot about contemporary British life (boot sales,  charity shops, yellow stickers) and found some cost saving recipes to try.  I note in passing that I linked to one of these blogs earlier today and found a whole entry on the quality of frugality, differentiating it from being cheap and explaining why paying more to get good quality is actually frugality. Naturally I can’t find it now.

Reading such blogs has given me cause to sit back and examine my spending habits. I have a long way to go before I could consider myself frugal.  I do not plan a weeks worth of errands in such a way that I will save gas by tackling the places visited in order of proximity one to the next. I do not avoid cooking with meat as much as I could. I use way too much paper towel— but I justify it in that I consider it a huge help in cleaning. I remember that after my son lived in Chad for two years he told us of the delight of the villagers in his part of the country with the discovery of a plastic coffee can and all the uses they had for it. I throw them away. Most of us do.

We spend way more on books, paper and things like ink cartridges than any elderly couple should. On the plus side we neither spend much on clothes and I try to watch the on-line sites for sales and fluctuations in price. The fact is that for so many years we had to watch pennies very carefully and now the pressure is off, it is often confusing to adapt practices of economy suitable for us in our present situation. I recently read a brief article about Eleven Madison Park, a Michelin starred dining spot in New York, that just began offering a $24 cup of joe. Actually that’s if two people share the 10 ounces of Wush Wush coffee they sell for $48. At least is not kopi luwak. Remember that?

Your (usually) diligent shopper is pleased to bring you an example of what not to sacrifice (money) in the interests of saving time. These two photographs were taken on the same day at my local grocery store. It is like a question on the exam they usually give to high school students: “Which is the better buy—2 hard boiled (and peeled) eggs for 99¢ or 18 large eggs for $1.19?”

Give some of the frugal blogs a try (and forget the Wush Wush.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It Shouldn’t Be . . .But It Is

Nothing short of a miracle. After weeks and months dealing with the company we wanted to put an iron railing round the front porch—they still didn’t come out to look at it. And the electrician who wandered all over our house looking at all the work which needed to be done—he never sent a quote. There’s the guy who claims there is not a hole in our roof, but we know there is because of water collected in a tub in the attic and the peeling of the ceiling in one of our bedrooms, well he said he would return with his crew, but so far no sign of him.

There there is this. A couple of months ago this bath-room sink was running slowly and the amateur plumber of the household took out the trap and removed a huge mess of black greasy gunk. But he could tell there was more gunk adhering to the pipe going straight down. We couldn’t figure what it was. There was certainly hair, but I denied washing my hair in the sink—it is just not big enough. The sink was working adequately until a day or so ago when it totally refused to drain. So this morning I phoned the plumber who has worked for us before. We always looked forward to his visits, because he brings along his father, a fine old Italian workman who carefully “supervises” his son’s work, all the while telling the corniest of jokes. But not today: at the age of ninety he has finally decided to retire. I called the son just before ten and he said he would be out either late this afternoon or early tomorrow. Miracle dictu, he turned up a couple of hours later and used his magic machine to clear out our pipe. Again it was hair.

It can’t be. . .  but it was.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

October 7, Again.

Today is Trigeminal Neuralgia Awareness Day and once again I want to join in raising awareness of this condition. Even if you are familiar with the medical aspects of TN, please read this article which was taken from the Living with Facial Pain website. It is long, but it puts a human face on the suffering. The book referred to in the article was written by my own neurosurgeon.

"Caring for someone with Trigeminal Neuralgia

This article is written for the benefit of those people who are caring for a sufferer of TN. It describes the very worst circumstances because it is at those times that your help and understanding are most needed. Fear not, it is by no means all doom and gloom! Thankfully, there should be long periods of remission, new drugs are coming onto the market with fewer side effects, and many TN sufferers obtain complete and long-lasting or permanent relief from surgery. But if your partner or loved one is having a rough time just now, we hope the following may be of help.

It is sometimes very difficult to be sympathetic or understanding when a person has a long-standing illness or pain, particularly - as the case of a TN sufferer - they may look perfectly well and healthy. A vicious wound or a broken or disjointed limb has a visual impact and elicits more sympathy than does a hidden pain, but the suffering can be as bad, if not worse. At least with a severe cut or a broken arm, the sufferer (and the carer) knows that, given time and the right treatment, the injury will heal and life will get back to normal again. TN is an invisible disability and, sadly, the prognosis for TN is not so good. Often the outlook is that it will get worse, not better.

TN is unpredictable. It can sometimes be triggered, for example, by a facial movement, such as smiling or chewing, or by the lightest touch or even a cold wind or a draught. On other occasions, though, the same “trigger” will have no affect at all. It’s therefore easy to believe the sufferer is “putting it on”, making a fuss or deliberately avoiding a situation. This is not the case.

There may be times of complete remission, possibly even for years, but these are likely to lessen with time. TN is a progressive disease that requires surgical intervention or treatment with powerful drugs. The drugs can have unpleasant side effects and often the dosage needs to be increased. The surgical procedures can be a frightening prospect. This adds another spectrum to the illness – that of fear and very often of depression.

It is hard enough coping with someone in pain, but even more difficult if that person is fearful and possibly depressed. You may think the sufferer is becoming “paranoid” that the pain might return. The pain is quite literally unbearable and debilitating – like a jolt of lightening – and can be quite terrifying. As you have probably heard or read, it is described as possibly the world’s worst pain. It can be fleeting and so sudden that it’s almost over before it’s begun, leaving the person momentarily frozen with shock. But the jolts can be “zapzapzap” continuously, which is totally incapacitating. The aftermath of what feels like several thousand volts jazzing through your face or head can leave you weak and petrified to move for fear of triggering another attack. Yes, the sufferer is quite likely to be paranoid that the pain might return. TN does that to you!

The person you care for may have difficulty in talking, eating, smiling and laughing. They may suffer facial twitching and/or involuntary head jerks. Additionally, high doses of medication may make them mentally slow, forgetful and confused. They may be exhausted and depressed. Not good company all round really!

You might find you have to sacrifice activities that you both once enjoyed together. If the TN sufferer is badly affected by movement of the mouth, they may not be able to talk and can often be unwilling to join in a social occasion. (They are even seemingly unresponsive to their nearest and dearest, but not through choice.) If they have difficulty eating and drinking, they will be reluctant to go out for a drink or a meal. If their TN is triggered by cold or wind on the face, they may avoid going outside, and so become reclusive.

This makes life harder for all concerned and it is important that the carer does not also become isolated and uncommunicative. Both of you need the friendship and company of others. Unlike, for example, migraines or MS, TN is a little-known disease and will require explanations. You will need to make sure your wider family and friends are aware of the situation and ensure they are supportive too.

If you are looking after or even just visiting someone who is affected in this way, remember that your care and attention is invaluable. They may not be able to express their gratitude, but it will be immense, you can be sure of that. At times when their pain is severe, try not to engage them in long conversations (you may only get a grunt by way of a response!), but just your presence and kind words will do much to alleviate their distress. Try not to make them feel as if they are a burden (even if they are!). Little acts of kindness and words of encouragement mean so much.

Try to accept the fact that they will have good and bad days, and do your utmost to be there for them on the bad days as well, even if it isn’t much fun! It also helps if you can learn as much as possible about their problems so that you can explain the situation to others, hopefully eliciting their sympathy and help – thereby lightening your own load. Also, the interest you have shown by taking the trouble to broaden your knowledge will be greatly appreciated.

To be in the company of a fellow sufferer is comforting beyond belief, but better still is to be with a loved one who has done everything possible to really understand the problem and is patient and sympathetic.

The more you read up on the subject, the better will be your understanding of what the sufferer is going through and the more you will be able to help and advise them. The best starting point would be the book, Striking Back – The Trigeminal Neuralgia and Face Pain Handbook, written by an American neurosurgeon and a journalist and former sufferer, which is available direct from the TNA-UK at £16.50 including p&p.

The pain may strike when talking, so be aware that conversation may be halting or may cease altogether for a while. If it strikes during mealtimes, eating may be slow or hesitant. If you are in company when this happens, you should be aware that your partner may have “seized up” and it would be helpful if you could take over the conversation until he/she recovers or explain to friends why your nearest and dearest has stopped “mid chew”, so to speak. Eye contact messages between you, or hand gestures, will become more important. You may even spot the flinch or hear the intake of breath. Try to pick up on these signals quickly and take appropriate steps to prevent your partner having to suffer embarrassment or further unnecessary pain in trying to explain why they cannot talk or why they are taking so long over their meals.

The sufferer may find it almost unbearable to wash their face or clean their teeth properly. You might have to put up with someone who has bad breath and whose personal hygiene leaves something to be desired. It isn’t their fault and this situation will be temporary!

In the case of couples, the disease may also have an affect on the intimate side of the relationship since the sufferer will not want to kiss or be kissed, have their face or head stroked or, sometimes, risk a hug. This loss of intimacy may appear to be a form of rejection. Please don’t misconstrue it as such. The sufferer may yearn for physical or intimate contact but be frightened that it may trigger a jolt of intense pain. It can almost seem like a form of aversion therapy to have an electric shock when partaking of a pleasurable pastime!

Because the anti-epileptic drugs are designed to suppress electrical impulses firing in the brain, they also have the same deadening effect on other brain functions, such as memory and thought processes. If the TN sufferer is on high doses of medication, their memory could be badly affected. They may have trouble with word recall, they may repeat themselves, forget important dates or arrangements, appear confused or muddled. To some this is a great source of embarrassment and it can make them very self-conscious, as well as being unimaginably frustrating! You may need to be their memory, their prompt and their organiser. Try not to take over the organisation of their lives, but if you are able to “catch them when they fall” and not get irritated at their forgetfulness or temporary stupidity, it would be a great help. The medication may also make them extremely tired and sleepy. The more sleep they are able to get, the better, so try to be understanding about this, too. They may be struggling to achieve simple daily needs while experiencing overwhelming fatigue.

In an emergency, it is possible to get immediate (but, of course, temporary) relief from a “nerve block”. It is always a good idea to write or type out notes about the patient’s TN medical history to take along to a hospital or pain clinic because this is invaluable and even the best carer cannot be expected to remember it all.

The sufferer may have visited several practitioners over many years, been disbelieved and patronised, they may have tried dozens of treatments and therapies, been nauseated and debilitated by the medication, they may have lost their quality of life, suffered desperation and disillusionment.

As a carer, you will need to be protective and supportive. You will need a positive attitude and perseverance. You will need compassion, patience and sensitivity. Doctors, neurologists, neurosurgeons and fellow sufferers are all looking for ways to find a cure."