Thursday Book Feature: The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living

The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: A Daughter’s Memoir

By Mary Hiland

Copyright 2017.

 

In 2012, Mary Hiland, legally blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, was forced to move her 96-year-old  mother, blind, deaf, and suffering from dementia, to an assisted living facility. At the time, Mary was living in Columbus, Ohio, and her mother was miles away in Indiana.

After describing the circumstances necessitating this difficult decision, Mary explains how she, with the help of her son and daughter, orchestrated the move to a facility in Columbus, where Mary could more easily care for her mother. Although Mary wasn’t her mother’s personal caregiver, she was still responsible for her bank statements and laundry, making doctor and other appointments, and dealing with the facility staff.

She reminisces about her childhood and her relationship with her mother. She describes a trip they took through the British Isles years earlier when her mother was starting to go downhill.

Mary provides insight on what it’s like to be blind, answering many frequently asked questions by sighted people about how blind people do certain things. She tells several humorous anecdotes about mistakes she made as a result of her blindness, like the time she made chili with canned grapefruit instead of beans.

Mary describes the adjustment process her mother went through after leaving Indiana and all her friends and moving to the assisted living center in Ohio, where she lived for two and a half years before she passed. Her mother eventually made friends with other residents at the facility, even though she couldn’t remember their names. Mary describes the group activities in which she and her mother participated. She eventually started an unofficial red hat group there as an attempt to help her mother and other women at the facility become more socially involved.

Mary describes the healing power of music during this time. Her mother played the piano, and after moving to the assisted living facility, she often played for the residents. One gentleman even sang while she accompanied him. In the end, when her mother was in hospice care and could no longer play the piano, a music therapist brought a key board to her room and played and sang her favorite hymns.

Although I cared for my late husband Bill at home for six years before he passed, I could still relate to Mary’s emotions, especially her guilt. Throughout the book, she keeps saying she could have done things differently. Now that I think back on Bill’s life, I feel the same way. However, in the four years since his death, I’ve come to realize that thinking one could have done things differently doesn’t do any good now. I certainly hope Mary has come to realize this, too.

The scenes in the book where music played a role nearly moved me to tears. I was once a registered music therapist, working with nursing home residents. After Bill suffered his strokes, I couldn’t do for him, as a music therapist, what I could have done for other residents like Mary’s mother. I wish a music therapist could have been available to work with Bill on singing in order to improve his speech. During Bill’s last days, instead of me playing the guitar or holding his hand and singing his favorite songs, I wish a music therapist could have played a keyboard and sang songs while I held his hand and sang along.

This book is similar to my own memoir, My Ideal Partner, in which I explain how I met and married and then cared for Bill after he suffered his strokes until he passed away. We’ll all grow old eventually and may need to move to an assisted living facility or depend on someone to care for us in our last years. Therefore, I recommend reading both books for insights on life, aging, and disabilities.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Saturday Song: My Sweet Lord by George Harrison

While living in Tucson, Arizona, Dad and I spent the summer of 1971 with Grandma here in Sheridan, Wyoming, so Dad could help with the family business after Grandpa passed. I was ten years old, and my Uncle Jon was in high school. When he wasn’t at football practice or with friends, he and I spent time together listening to music on his cassette player.

Here’s a George Harrison classic that was on one of his tapes. Although I was too young at the time to understand the song’s meaning, the chord progression, electric kazoo solo, and repeated words and phrases resonated with me, and they still do today. Enjoy, and have a great Saturday.

 

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Amber’s Alert, (Fiction)

The following story appears in the spring/summer issue of Magnets and Ladders, which you can read at http://www.magnetsandladders.com. It started as something I hoped to enter into one of NPR’s 3-minute fiction contests, but as you’ll notice, it takes longer than that to read this.

***

Amber’s Alert

 

My stomach growled, and my mouth watered, as I looked in the cafe window. It had been a long time since I’d eaten anything but breakfast cereal, instant noodles, crackers with peanut butter, and canned soup. I wished I’d looked in Mom’s purse to see if there was any cash before I left the house.

On a nearby table was a newspaper. I couldn’t read the print because the paper lay upside down, but I recognized my school picture. I walked into the cafe and to the table and picked up the newspaper. The headline jumped out. “$50,000 Reward Offered for Return of Missing Girl” That was me.

I sat at the table and read the article. It was all about how I’d been kidnapped by my mother a month ago. Dad was out of town, and Mrs. Miller, the housekeeper, thought I was spending the night with my best friend and didn’t report me missing until the next day when I didn’t come home.

When Mom left last year, she didn’t even say goodbye to me or Dad. She just took off in the night, leaving a note on the refrigerator for Mrs. Miller to find the next morning. Mom was an artist, and she told me she was forced to marry Dad because he got her pregnant with me.

I spent a lot of time in her studio, watching her paint. For my twelfth birthday, Mom gave me an easel and paints and a few lessons. After that, we worked side by side at our own easels. The day I turned thirteen, Mom was gone.

I kept painting. It made me feel closer to Mom, being in her studio. She didn’t take much when she left, so I had a feeling that someday, she would come back, and everything would be okay.

Dad was away most of the time. He worked in a bank just like the father in Mary Poppins. A few weeks after Mom left, he said she was probably dead and gave all her clothes to charity and sold her jewelry. I begged him to leave the studio alone. He did, but when I asked if we could sell Mom’s paintings, he said, “That rubbish isn’t worth the canvas it’s painted on.”

I didn’t dare offer to show him my paintings, and he didn’t ask to see them. I signed up for an art class at school, and my paintings were displayed on the classroom walls during open house. Dad never went to open house.

A year later, Mom showed up at school in a maroon Cadillac. She wore a pink linen suit and a lot of make-up. Her hair was dyed a dark brown. “Amber darling, there you are,” she said, as if it were the end of another ordinary school day.

“Mom, is that really you?”

“Of course, it is, silly. Who else would it be? Come on. Get in the car. Let’s go.”

I thought this was weird but told my best friend Susan I couldn’t spend the night and got in the car. “Mom, I’m glad you’re back,” I said, as she drove away. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I know, honey. I’ve missed you, too. You were the best thing that ever happened to me. Now, we’ll always be together.”

“Where are we going?” I asked a few minutes later when it didn’t look like we were driving home.

“We’re going to take a little trip,” said Mom, patting my knee. This was strange, but I would have gone anywhere with her, even to the moon.

She pulled into a McDonald’s outside of town, and my mouth watered at the thought of some fries or a shake, but instead of going to the drive-through window, she drove to the front door. A man in blue jeans, a white tee-shirt, and a black blazer came out. He didn’t look happy and climbed into the back passenger seat saying, “You sure took your sweet time, didn’t you?”

“Chuck, this is my daughter Amber,” said Mom. “Amber, this is Chuck. Are we ready?” Chuck grunted.

This wasn’t right, I thought, as we drove out of the McDonald’s parking lot, but what could I say? We drove for miles and miles and miles. Chuck said nothing while Mom and I talked. When I asked Mom why she left and where she went, she ruffled my hair and said, “Don’t worry your pretty head about that, sweetie. The important thing is we’re together, and I won’t leave you again.”

I told her about the art class I signed up for at school, about how the teacher put some of my paintings on the classroom wall for all the parents to see during open house. “Someday, you’ll have to show me those paintings,” she said. I wondered what she meant by “someday.” Weren’t we ever going home? It didn’t look like it.

When we finally stopped to eat at some sleazy diner, Chuck kept giving me weird looks across the table. He also kept putting his arm around Mom’s shoulders. I didn’t like this. If anybody should have been doing that, it was Dad. Mom didn’t seem to mind. In fact, I think she liked it.

When we got back in the car, Mom told me to sit in the back seat so Chuck could drive, and she could sit up front with him. I didn’t like the look of his back, either. He kept taking one hand off the wheel and putting an arm around Mom’s shoulders. It made me want to throw up. I finally fell asleep and woke up hours later in front of a run-down house in a strange town.

“This is our new home,” said Mom. I got out of the car and walked with her to the house. Chuck drove off before we even got in the door, which was fine with me.

The house had a small kitchen dining area combination, a large living room, and two small bedrooms: one for Mom and one for me. Mom’s easel was in the living room next to a window. There was no other furniture in the room.

Mom had several outfits of clothing for me. They weren’t as nice as the clothes I usually wore, but she said, “Someday when I have more money, I’ll buy you better clothes, and we can move to a bigger house in a better neighborhood where I can have a studio.”

When I asked about school, she said, “I didn’t get past the eighth grade, and look where it got me.” She pointed at one of her paintings on the living room wall. “Besides, it’s April. The term’s nearly over. Maybe by next fall, I’ll have enough money to send you to an art school.” I was relieved not to have to start school right away in a strange town where I didn’t know anyone.

Mom told me not to leave the house, even during the day. “There are creeps in this neighborhood. Don’t open the door to anyone. If someone comes to the door, go to your room and stay there until you’re sure they’re gone. You just never know what could happen to you, honey,” she said, hugging me.

We never went out to eat. There was no telephone, computer, television, not even a radio. Unlike Dad, Mom never read newspapers. She promised we could have this stuff when her ship came in, but when that would be, she didn’t say.

Chuck helped her put an old bookshelf containing used books in my room, and they were even able to squeeze in a beat-up old armchair and lamp. Mom painted in the living room. She said she didn’t want me to watch her anymore because it distracted her. In fact, she wouldn’t let me come out into the living room until after dark when the blinds were pulled.

I liked to read. Although the chair was uncomfortable, I didn’t mind sitting there for hours reading the Judy Bloom books Mom gave me. I missed Susan and my other friends and even Dad, although he was away a lot and didn’t talk to me very much when he was home. I also missed painting and wondered why Mom didn’t get my easel and paints before we left home.

The only person who came to the door was Chuck, and I was glad to stay in my room while he was there. I didn’t like the way he kept looking at me. Luckily, my bedroom door had a lock that worked. Mom and Chuck drank. He often spent the night, and I heard sounds that I never heard from my folks’ bedroom at home. I buried my face in the torn covers of the old bed and tried to tune them out.

One sunny day in May, I couldn’t stand being in the house any longer. While Mom was in her room with a hangover, I quietly closed the front door and started walking. Now here I was, sitting in a cafe downtown, reading a newspaper article about me.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see a waitress smiling and holding a menu. She looked old enough to be my grandmother. I smiled and pointed at my picture and said, “How would you like fifty thousand dollars?”

The waitress stared at the photo, then at me, and her mouth opened wide. The cafe door opened, and in walked, of all people, Chuck. I shrank in my seat, hoping he didn’t see me, but he rushed to the table. “Amber, what the hell are you doing here?”

The waitress turned to the old man behind the counter grilling burgers. “Mel, call 911. That gal who went missing with the fifty thousand dollar reward is here, and the guy who kidnapped her is about to grab her again. Hurry!”

Chuck took off, as others sitting at nearby tables and the counter turned and stared. I felt weak. The waitress put her arm around me and said, “Don’t worry, honey. We won’t let him get you again. You’re safe now.”

Mel hollered from the grill. “Sally, tell that gal to order anything she wants. It’s on the house, and if that jerk comes back, I’ll butcher him, fry him extra crispy, and serve him with coleslaw.” He held up a knife. Other people laughed, and I couldn’t help giggling.

I didn’t even look at the menu. I ordered a hamburger, fries, and a shake. It was the best meal I had in a long time. When it was all gone, Sally talked me into eating a piece of chocolate pie.

Other customers went to the counter and offered to pay for my meal, but Mel waved them away with his knife. I could tell they knew him, and he knew them, so it was okay.

When the cops showed up, I told them what Chuck’s car looked like and how to get to Mom’s house. They found Mom right away and soon caught up with Chuck who was heading out of town. Mom and Chuck were wanted for other crimes, so they ended up doing a lot of jail time.

I flew home and was surprised when Dad, instead of Mrs. Miller, picked me up at the airport. He hugged me hard and said, “Oh Amber, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again, princess.” He hadn’t called me princess or anything else in a long time.

When we got home, I found out he’d taken everything out of Mom’s studio. Even my easel and paints were gone, but frankly, I didn’t care. “This is your studio now, honey,” he said.

I picked out new wallpaper and carpeting, and he hired professionals to put it in. He bought me a couch, an entertainment center with a television and stereo and big speakers, a corner desk, and a computer with everything I needed. He even got me my own phone with a private line plus a cell phone. My friends said I was lucky to have the best dad in the world, and they were right.

Dad was usually home by supper time, and I ate with him in the dining room instead of in the kitchen with Mrs. Miller. On weekends, he took me out to fancy restaurants. When the weather was warm, he often played golf at the club, and I went with him and swam in the pool and hung out with my friends. Before school started, he took me to an expensive clothing store and asked a sales lady to pick outfits she thought were appropriate.

Six months later, I was looking at this story I wrote for a creative writing class I elected to take instead of art, wondering how it could end. I thought of Mel and Sally at the cafe. Mel would have gotten the reward since he was the one who called the cops. Of course he would have split it with Sally. They were probably already married. They could have done a lot with fifty thousand dollars.

***

Now it’s your turn. Here’s the original prompt from NPR’s 3-minute fiction contest. You’re looking in a window, and you see a newspaper lying upside down on a table. What happens after that?

Please feel free to share your story in the comments field or post it on your blog and link to it here. If you prefer, you can just tell me what you think of my story. In any case, I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Memoir Portrays Unconditional Love Between Human and Wild Bird

Wesley the Owl: A Remarkable Love Story Between an Owl and His Girl

by Stacy O’Brien

Copyright 2008

This is a true story of how a California wildlife biologist adopted a baby barn owl she called Wesley and raised him for nineteen years during the 1980’s and 90’s. Most rescued owls are sent to rehabilitation facilities and eventually released back into the wild. However, Wesley had an injured wing and probably wouldn’t have survived if he were released.

Stacy O’Brien, who’s grandfather was a traveling musician, became a child actress, singing in commercials, movies, and television as well as with John Denver, The Carpenters, and other artists. As a child, she screamed when her mother swept a spider off the wall and flushed it down the toilet. Because of this and her overall interest in and love of animals, it was only fitting that, after her career in show business, she receive a biology degree and a job at a California lab.

She explains how she made a nest for Wesley from blankets and other materials and placed it next to her in bed at night so she could train him to sleep when she did. He spent most of his days on perches she adapted for him. She describes how she killed mice and fed them to him and explains why mice are an important part of an owl’s diet. After Wesley turned a year old, she tried encouraging him to kill his own mice, but it never worked out.

She describes how, as a toddler, Wesley took an interest in water while watching her brush her teeth and wash her face at night before going to bed. He enjoyed washing his own face under the faucet while she did this. When he grew older, he liked taking baths in the tub, even though owls aren’t usually water birds.

She explains that since day care and baby-sitters were out of the question during Wesley’s infancy and toddler stages, she took him to work and everywhere else she went, including on a date, which was a disaster. There were several men in Stacy’s life, but relationships didn’t last long once they found out she was raising a barn owl.

She describes how Wesley taught himself to fly, his embarrassment when he crash landed, and his pride when he finally mastered the skill. She describes what are called owl no nos, when an owl turns his head from side to side to indicate that he’s about to attack something or someone. She explains that because birds of prey perceive aggression as a threat, Wesley could never be disciplined like a child because he would never trust her, even if she only raised her voice to him.

She explains how Wesley developed mating instincts, even though he wasn’t in the wild with other owls. One night when a female owl appeared at her window, Stacy was tempted to either let Wesley out or the other owl in so they could do their business. She realized though, that she would never have been able to tame the female owl, and Wesley couldn’t have survived in the wild, even with a mate.

Because of a criminal movement to free animals in captivity and leave them to fend for themselves, resulting in these animals’ deaths, Stacy felt she couldn’t tell anyone about Wesley except her close family and the men with whom she developed relationships. She learned later, after her grandmother’s passing, that she, too, raised a barn owl.

She explains how she changed jobs and locations and how Wesley adapted to these moves. She describes how she discovered a family of barn owls on a roof and tracked their movements and recorded their vocalizations. She discusses how she battled a serious illness as a result of an inoperable brain tumor, how Wesley sustained her, and how she recovered, though not completely. In the end, she explains how Wesley, like any other species, aged and eventually passed. She then discusses her process of writing this book, which includes photographs of Wesley.

I loved her description of how the father owl feeds his family. When baby owls are older, he hovers over the nest, dumps his payload of dead mice, and zooms off, just like a fighter plane. I also chuckled at her explanations of Wesley’s bodily fluids. When she explained that owls aren’t water birds, I remembered a stuffed owl I had as a kid when I was hospitalized for pneumonia and how it fell off my bed and into a pale of water that was part of my oxygen apparatus. At least Oliver, my owl, was easier to dry off.

Wesley the Owl is similar to my own memoir, which was published last year. My Ideal Partner is about how I met, married, and cared for my late husband Bill until he passed. It describes the trials and tribulations of being a caregiver, as does Stacy’s book. At the end of Wesley the Owl, Stacy describes the guilt she felt, thinking she could have done more for Wesley when he went downhill, and I felt the same way when Bill passed. Stacy and I have one other thing in common. My grandfather was also a traveling musician. If you enjoy heartwarming stories of unconditional love, you should read both books.

 

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

Saturday Song: I Feel the Earth Move by Carole King

In the summer of 1971 when I was ten years old, my father and I traveled from our home in Tucson, Arizona, to Sheridan, Wyoming. Grandpa Johnson passed away the winter before, and Grandma needed Dad to help her with the family business, at least for the summer. Johnson Novelty sold coin-operated machines such as jukeboxes, pool tables, vending machines, and video games to businesses in Sheridan and the surrounding area. We ended up moving to Sheridan a couple of years later.
That summer though, memorable events included a rodeo parade and a picnic in the mountains where an adult family friend and I discovered a cave. There were also numerous trips to bars and other establishments where Dad repaired and serviced machines. Of course I was too young to go into the bars.
I also spent many happy hours in the shop with a couple of girls down the street who were my age. We listened to music on a jukebox and played games. Pinball and bowling were two games where I had marginal success despite my limited vision.
The song below was one of many we played on the jukebox. Although I couldn’t understand what it was saying, I loved the beat. This version has a cool drum rift at the end that my younger brother Andy would have loved playing along with on his drum set when he was a kid. Enjoy, and have a great Saturday.

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

My Late Husband in Summer (Poetry)

Summer arrived sometime last week, so here’s a poem that appears in the current issue of Magnets and Ladders. You can click the title to hear me read it. Enjoy and stay cool.

 

MY LATE HUSBAND IN SUMMER

 

He sits outside in the sun

at the picnic table in his wheelchair.

Sometimes he wears a hat—

often he does not.

 

With headphones, he listens

either to a recorded book or ball game.

His favorite books are westerns, mysteries.

The more blood and guts the better,

as far as he’s concerned.

 

His favorite baseball team, the Colorado Rockies,

don’t often play well.

Nevertheless, he’s ever faithful to the end.

 

He asks me to bring watermelon in a bowl,

already sliced, the seeds gone,

so all he has to do is enjoy their taste.

Like a little boy with a sweet tooth,

he asks for cookies, candy

with Pepsi, Mountain Dew, or Propel.

 

In late afternoon or early evening,

picnic table shaded, I join him,

check email on my lap top,

listen to an audiobook of my own.

With the two of us side by side,

I feel a sense of peace

despite the work involved

in getting us here.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

 

Lessons Learned from Dad Re-Visited

Note: I’m re-blogging this post from June 2013. Dad passed away two months after this went live. Enjoy, and happy Father’s Day.

***

My fondest childhood memories are of Dad and me listening to music together. Dad loved to play the old standards on those scratchy long-playing records by such artists as Fats Waller and Nat King Cole. These songs taught me lessons that I’m pretty sure Dad wanted me to learn.

If “The Joint is Jumpin,” you’re going to get in trouble. No man will like you if “Your Feet’s Too Big.” You’d better “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” I also learned to appreciate “Seafood, Mama” but not until I was an adult.

Dad also tried to teach me the value of money. He thought he’d succeeded until I sold my wheelchair accessible van last month because Bill was gone, and I no longer needed it. George, who responded to my ad, asked if I could take a thousand dollars off the asking price because the switch on the back of the vehicle that automatically opened the doors to the lift didn’t work, and the lift needed to be re-sized to fit his electric wheelchair. Because he appeared to be in desperate need of this vehicle, I agreed. Dad was livid. He claimed that it wouldn’t have cost a thousand dollars to fix these problems, but what he didn’t understand was a lesson I didn’t learn from him.

Although money is important, being helped and passing on that good deed to another is more valuable. Several years ago, Bill and I really wanted a van we could use to go places at night and on weekends when the local paratransit service wasn’t running. We were lucky to find someone willing to sell us such a vehicle at a price we could afford. When George came to my home in response to my ad, I could tell right away he was in the position we were in several years ago. I didn’t really need that extra thousand dollars, and he needed the van.

I leave you now with another lesson I did learn from Dad via Louis Armstrong. Despite the hateful things going on around us, we live in a “Wonderful World.” To my dad and others reading this, I hope you have a special Father’s Day.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.