Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Waiting for a time

I have lost hope in the future and it is a good thing.

The death of my business this month has shown me that I spend most of my time living in a elsewhere future world. In six years, it has never supported me, so why not?

But letting go of it, has complicated linkages to other deaths in my life.  The recent loss of my mother is loudly echoing inside my walls.  The future financial expectations of a Secretariat-like-coming-from-behind-photo-finish is also among the dearly departed but mostly it is the death-rattle of my intimate and chronic future tense thinking that is revelatory.

I did not see this before. It was my habit or an unintentional blindness.

Perhaps grief has done its job to unmoor me, so I am seeing what before I edited out.  By the omission of the vehicle of "when my ship comes in" or "when the business takes off," I have smacked, face down, in a Ram Dass chapter of "Be Here Now.' My lists for that future event, 'when it will get better" are significant:
  • buy a house
  • pay off the credit cards
  • save some money
  • go to Italy
When my mother was alive and I was caregiving, I had a list for her well being, too.  But she did not need any of it.  Dementia stripped her of the future-tense.  My Mother became in the course of her illness quite happily present tense or pleasantly 'time-traveling' the past.

It has been 10 months since my mother died and the heart of me can't DO business as usual. Normal is out of reach; grief is like a float trip on the river - no matter how I struggle to paddle faster and get through it to the 'better' future, I am still floating in it. But I can actually FEEL a current again; I am better. But I have been waiting for ...something.   My point in this post is that this feeling of waiting is future-tense chronic thinking.

What is waiting? 

It is a version of living in the future, saying now is not enough.  I am not here but transposing myself into the future. It is another form of my chorus of "not enough." i.e. right now is not good enough.

But it is.

Right now is amazing.  I am not 'Pollyanna" flat lining, the feeling is more like gratitude for ALL OF IT: the death and life everywhere.  It is  also a simple  assessment of my life, here in the S.F. Bay Area. There is a rose garden in my front yard lovingly tended by the mad gardner of chestnut street.  I have sunshine today and Lake Merritt to circumnavigate.  My 19 year old Siamese is in love our little panther she-kitty. Their affection is inspiring.  I have a community in the beautiful city of San Francisco, that I can go be in, traveling across the incredible new Bay Bridge being completed. My Brother and his family are soon to be on my coast, in Seattle.

2012 is a balancing act, to be sure, like a cat walking across the top of an uneven fence; we must be very, very careful.  But even if we fall, so what? The universe is a friendly place.

When my father died twenty years ago, the last thing he said was "Don't forget to smell the roses."  He saw me.  I am seeing myself more clearly too.  I prescribe a daily dose of Double Delights, Mr. Lincolns, and Fragrant Clouds up our noses.  But if you can only find Golden Celebrations, or Maria Callas you are still (way) blessed.

We all are.  AMEN.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

San Francisco Service & donations

Please join us in San Francisco to celebrate Elizabeth's awesome life.

Saturday November 5 - 2pm

Unity SF
2222 Bush (@ Fillmore)
San Francisco, CA

We will be having service in Tulsa too -
at the All Souls Unitarian Church - 10 am on Saturday December 3, 2011
For most current info go to: http://www.eehager.com/ESHmemorial.html

In memory donations ( in lieu of flowers):
Coming Home Hospice Foundation - in memory of Elizabeth S. Hager for the tender and cheerful care that Betty received for the last eight months:

Coming Home Hospice Foundation
FTID # 94-2728423
115 Diamond St,
San Francisco, CA 94114

Your cards are also appreciated:

Eleesa Hager 1032 Chestnut St., Oakland, CA 94607;
Ted Hager 4852 N. Farmstead, Wichita, KS 67220

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Betty Obit - Death on Sunday Oct 23, 2011

Elizabeth Stowell Hager
July 14, 1922 to October 23, 2011

Here is her tentative obit.


Elizabeth Stowell Hager, 89 a longtime Tulsa resident who retired (and ran off) to San Francisco died peacefully on Sunday October 23, 2011 in San Francisco from a decade of “the long goodbye” of dementia.

Born in 1922, two years after Women’s Sufferage, she did her best to be a better man in a man’s world. Elizabeth S. Hager married five times and outlived them all. She came into the world in a sod house on the Nebraska prairie of Scotts Bluff and left the world in San Francisco – having lived most of her life in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

She was the first born child to Fred and Annie Stowell and shouldered the aspirations of generations of beautiful and strong women in her line. In 1939 she left Tulsa at 17 with a full scholarship to USC and graduated with honors in Accounting. After the war, she came back to Tulsa to successfully pass her CPA exam and win the seat of Tulsa City Auditor 1954 to 1956.

She was only the 2nd woman elected in Tulsa to public office and served in the L. C. Clark administration and brought an early version of computers to modernize Tulsa City Government finances. She was the 26th female CPA licensed in the state - certificate number #936, the first woman chapter President of the Tulsa OSCPA chapter 1981-1982 and an AICPA Honorary Member for more than 50 years of membership.

She had many accounting businesses and husbands. Jack P. Anderson was the father of her son John F. Anderson, now deceased. John W. Hager, an emeritus Tulsa University Law Professor, was her husband and father of her other two children – Ted and Eleesa. David Lowrey was her last husband. She loved them all and they loved her back.

She was a generous, and gifted woman that shared her sharp wit and largess with her family and friends. She was a longtime member of the All Souls Unitarian Church that she worked for diligently until she moved to San Francisco in 1996 to be the CFO of her daughter’s technology firm.

She is survived by 3 brothers: Jim Stowell of Texas, Fred Stowell of Tulsa, Dan Stowell of Connecticut, and 2 children: her daughter Eleesa Elizabeth Hager of San Francisco and her son John Theodore Hager of Wichita, KS. She has 4 granddaughters and 1 grandson in Kansas and in Florida.

In short she was awesome. An era has ended and she will be sorely missed.

Please go to http://www.eehager.com/ESHmemorial.html for information on memorial services in San Francisco and Tulsa and memorial fund. She will be interred in Tulsa at Memorial Park Cemetery Park.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dancing at the Cain's Ballroom

Yesterday, there were no smiles from Betty. She seems to be conserving energy.

There were kisses returned from me and blown across the room – albeit weakly - to her caregivers. They are a new family now of more than 8 months of exchanging care with Betty. She let them know - through touch, that universal language – that she was deeply grateful. A very civil exchange - no drama - that cut through a lot of human separation and isolation. Many mention "She rubbed my back when I leaned over to change her." Or "She patted my hand when I was helping her."

She just took permission. This remnant of who she was in the world, is still echoing for me and any others that knew her and are still here (e.g. alive and awake) to look.

We had two calls from ones that are still of this world: two brothers of her three. I have a favorite brother - but I have grown to accept and (sometimes) even appreciate the other two.

I appreciate Jim. A career Marine, and pilot now retired, " Jim is in the early stages of Alzheimers..." says Vianne, his wife introducing the call. Vianne is a Middle West woman that was put on this Earth - like a prairie Quan Yin Goddess or a Mother Teresa who is content with tending her own garden. She is sweet and appreciated like a remembering of your wonderful, cool swimming hole from a hot childhood summer.

"He won't talk much but probably just listen." She explained.

I put it on speaker phone and spoke to Betty. "Hey my darling, it is your brother Jim on the line." She looked hard at my face for clues as to what is happening.

She listened.


Jim listened too.


I resisted my 'good woman", (social lubricant) impulse to fill in the conversation. It was their - probably - last conversation they would ever have. I thought about my dead brother and wished for that sweet chance.

Jim reached out, " Betty? Are you there?

Betty nodded her head.


"Jim," I said " "She is absorbing your voice - keep talking."

"Betty, I am about 10 years behind you. I will see you then. We can be together again in 10 years. I love you."

I could see my mother trying to process this. Present time was very confusing already. She has two granddaughters in Wichita that are 5"9 and 6.0. That is confusing. She has a middle aged daughter - (me.) That is confusing. She has a body that is not working - that is confusing. Where are all her husbands and why are they not here? That is confusing. Did you say it was 2011? THAT IS CONFUSING. But her career Marine, brother talking about the afterlife...

She did what we humans do every day of our lives, she edited out what did not fit.

She recognized his voice.

"Jim?" Her expression changed; it softened; something very sweet was remembered.

"I love you, too."

...and all that really matters - they said it. It was complete.

My favorite Uncle called later in the afternoon from Tulsa. The conversation with Rick and Jessica painted a picture for Betty of a vibrant downtown Tulsa, where they were going dancing at the Cain's Ballroom - Rick even stepped into the Ballroom where the music was happily blaring - "Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys' were there - without Bob and with the Tulsa Playboys. She smiled.

They said that All Souls (our church in Tulsa, that I was born into) had grown to be too big for their Sanctuary on Peoria St. and they are looking to move downtown.

"You were so involved in All Souls when you were here, I knew you would be interested."

Betty said " We are interested, Thank you." It was the first full sentence from her today.

Such happy news - I saw Betty, wanting to go home, to Tulsa and partake of the party that she started there. She had danced at the Cain's many times.

"We love you, Betty." said Rick for them both.

" I love you, too."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Letting go of a melody

Betty's eyes were set deeper than the night before. She is having trouble speaking (when she is motivated to do so.)

She spoke several times that night - the most memorable to me was when Joy the lovely hospice angel asked her "Betty, do you have any pain?" Betty is on morphine now to ease her anxiety - mostly.

Betty (of the wicked sense of humor and irony was back for a moment and) answered, "Only when Eleesa is here." She squeezed my hand.

It is not just me or us that have to let Betty go. She has to let us go - Of course. I just forgot that. It is easy to loose track of gravity in this quantum world between worlds.

Betty is trying to let go now - I think.

I saw it in the two "AWESOME" phone calls that I had planned for her.

I called my Aunt Mary - really a sister to me and to Betty. Mary Mary, as we call her for some reason known only to Betty, is usually an inspiration and rock in crisis. I have always counted on her for humor and perspective in the deepest valleys of thought.

"Hi, Betty. How are you?"

"I'm feel fine." It was more croak than voice.

"What are you doing?" Betty did not answer - which was the saddest of pauses because to break the pattern of rote intro was to admit she was beyond it - something - Beyone what ? trappings of civil discourse? structures of dailiness?

She was just husbanding her energy now - I think.

"Oh, Betty." Mary Mary was only human today. She had lost much of her superpower on her own massive grief that she was digesting. Her beloved sister, mother, best friend - Tata - died at almost 100 a few weeks ago. She has been caring for Tata in Las Vegas for years.

I did an small intervention. "Hey Mary Mary, I was calling for corroboration that Betty is awesome." Mary Mary found her mojo with my lifeline of joy. She got a massive smile from Betty before we hung up.

Our second call was to an old glamorous friend of Betty's - Carolyn in Tulsa. She is another lovely femme in the southern school with a strength that was never successfully disguised by her humor; like Betty, she was a party girl - now retired.

Betty started having breathing trouble - anxiety and lots of it.

"Honey." I asked "Do you want to hang up?" She started breathing even faster. She grabbed the iPhone in a way that I can only describe as hungrily - like someone starving.

We spoke more words. Betty listened to fun, playful, rowdy melody of her old life.

I think.

Joy came in with more oral morphine and Betty took it. I crawled into bed beside her.

Joy said "So Betty, you have a snuggle buddy tonight." Betty really likes all the caregivers - but Joy got an open smile that took over her entire face.

I stayed until she could settle.

Monday, October 17, 2011

We are all just One phone call from our knees

I forgot to say what made me 'come out' with this blog now. Betty has been in hospice 8 months (and 9 roomates.)

Maurice the 6'4 (cool-drink-of-water, lanky, funny and kind) hospice nurse confirmed what I knew. "It could be days but probably weeks now. Betty is changing."

Last evening I visited her. She was so afraid. Her skin was more alabaster than usual; her eyes had deepened and hollowed, she was holding on to the railing of her bed - even after an anti-anxiety and morphine oral syringe early that morning.

She would not talk to me.

"What is it?" I could see the world had shifted on her axis.

"I feel fine" was the matra. It was not working.

She held out her arm to me to show off her bracelets in a desperate (and feeble) attempt to distract me from noticing her dismay. (You know, like when you are broken up, sucking it up and a kind word starts you choking up?)
She was trying to hold it together with pieces that did not fit and no worldly glue in the cupboard.

I crawled into bed with her; I slid between the railing and the food tray to let my body, assure her body, which I came from, without words. I started feeding her spoonfuls, (and like my mother taught me,) I started with the ice cream.

"You know you are awesome. I remember."

"You had a kick-ass life. You are smart, generous, kind, courageous and gorgeous- all true. In short - awesome"

Even from the tight angle I was hugging her from, I could see the corners of her mouth turn up. She squeezed by hand.

"And is not just me that thinks so" I pulled out my iPhone and dialed Leanne. She was an adopted daughter of my mother's choosing. A girl in the office that turned into a mentored colleague, then friend, then deeper. I dialed her in Oklahoma and put it on speakerphone.

"Hello Eleesa, How are you?" She was one of those special people that shoved real authenticity and empathy into the commonest of greetings"

Betty's mouth started to talk but no words came out. "Betty and I are just laying around, in bed, eating good food with love all around us."

"Hi, Betty - That's what I would expect from you, girl: living the good life." She really meant it- strength and joy was in her voice. She is a connector a living matrix or maybe a circus safety net - but it is of love. I did not see it until I was well into 5 years of caring for my mother.

"I need corroboration to the fact that Betty is AWESOME" I was able to say this with no catch in my voice. I connected with Leanne over the digital connection - the waves and particles were strengthening me now.

"Well, that's an easy one - she IS AWESOME - her whole life was awesome - all her husbands agreed, she was beautiful and awesome"

My mothers mouth was in full smile. She relaxed. She squeezed my hand.

We hung up and I did he same thing with my younger brother Ted. He answered and Betty was smiling before he ever to the word awesome.

After we hung up, Leanne sent photos and a video. We watched the the video of a sunset on a lake in Oklahoma from our San Francisco hospice bed - there was the sound of wind on the video.

" Listen, honey, it is the sound of the Oklahoma wind during the sunset and she said the first full sentence of the night.

" I miss that"

She fell deeply asleep

The Petals are falling.

"I think we should go back home" was my mother's response.

"You mean to Oklahoma?"

"Yes." And then she was gone again. This was last week. I could see her changing. I could see the fear creeping into her - from the mitochondria ... out.

I have decided to write her story - or our story of the last 11 years. The working title is called Girl Quantum. I am not sure I am that or she is but we are time-traveling - we are both wave and particle - at the same time.

It can get confusing if you are only a physical being - happy in the furry, warm mammalian world of Newton and WYSIWYG.

I am no longer of that world only. I have been chasing Betty for years now - since she fell ill of a broken heart (or CHF) after my brother, her first born died in May 2001. You see he failed to sprout wings - he had a parachute but he always wanted wings.

She did not cry that I saw. She just gathered ER doctors to her like flies to rotting meat. She would recover and test out some new paramedics and their rides. It was my initiation to time traveling - trying like a good daughter to fix her house of cards.

You see I am in Earth girl. I like to control things - or did. Now I chase particles - or was that a wave. You can never be sure even when you have it in your hands.

I am coming out with this blog to my friends and family. I want you all to time travel with me; I want you all to see this journey because we are connected and this is all the practice we get for death and for living life.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The beginning of the end...hospice

We had such a lovely visit yesterday - just being. We watched "the Ghost Whisperer" and muted the commercials. During which, I told her how much I (and the whole array of framed pictures) loved her. I read her a few favorite Hafiz poems.

It is all I know to do.

It has been 10 years of caring for my mother in various capacities. She has been what I say - time traveling - while I stay "here" in time-space. She has no memory of the last decade. That is nature of (her) dementia.

Elizabeth Sr is in hospice now. But she has been there 4 months and is on her 4th roommate; it is a wonderful place with angel-like caretakers all around. I used to volunteer at Coming Home Hospice so I know a few people but they would be this kind even if I was a total stranger.

It is lightening to see my mother get such care.

She is responding to that love too. Volunteer choirs sing to her, they feed her well. Other volunteers read her poetry. She has her own TV that she can watch even when she is not watching.

There is a chaplain too that reminds her of her living son Ted too. This is also the nature of her dementia, she transposes the people she misses to the living beings in front of her - caring for her.

Pretty smart way to live...

Lessons everywhere - "Everyone is God Talking. Let's be polite and listen to Him." - Hafiz translated by Ladinsky.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Saying an incremental goodbye

Being 'with" my mother as she fades into dementia is a journey. Resisting any part of it just increases my own suffering.

I have learned this by resisting.

The beautiful moments come now when I visit and try to meet her where she is which could be any place in her life. She time-travels these days but still knows my face and name. It is a daily victory this naming of me. It is a small joy that I take in.

Yesterday, in saying goodbye, varied our salutation routine from "Be careful" to "Take care of things". This was startling in our confined world where a good day is measured on the spoon between the bowl and her mouth.

She is saying goodbye.

And the miracle is I am ok with it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Santa was a Old Woman

Milan, Italy - Holiday 2002/2003

Even for tough, entrepreneurial, prairie women, our previous year had been a pestilence.

My mother and I were both mourning losses of decade-long companions – my husband of eleven years and her beloved Burmese cat of seventeen. Then my older brother, her first born, tragically died. After mourning him in a series of catastrophic illnesses, my take-no-prisoners, femme-fatal, businesswoman mother tumbled into my care. At 80, fearfully large pieces of her memory and life had fallen away. For the first time, she needed my strength and I needed a vacation.

I wanted to see beauty again. We journeyed to Italy in mid winter and post holidays. But we found the Italians were not finished celebrating. Leave it to them to extend the art of festival to early January.

Italy in winter was our prescription for healing. Italian New Year is a panoply of perfect distractions, all edible either by mouth or eye: the pasta, the prosciutto, the panicotta and the lights were everywhere. People watching, strolling around the central square, and cafĂ© sitting are Italian-perfected pastimes and all-season confections. The Italian holiday broth is a reduced and savory stock of the most delicious that humanity has in it – an intoxicating blend of lights, fires, and feasts that shines only that much brighter for the season’s early darkness.

Surprising things happened. The first lovely strangeness was that no one suspected we were Americans. Why is having a beautiful, ancient woman on your arm such great camouflage against being tagged as an American tourist? Vacationing with your mother is admittedly not idolized in travel magazines, but apparently it is viewed as rather un-American. Perhaps our cultural insistence on freezing time and denying death tags us rather than celebrating them both with zest. One Italian couple even came up and asked us for directions - in Italian. It was delicious mischief to pretend Italian lineage; it made us happy all afternoon.

The second revelation was that Italians seem to have a high appreciation for old ladies – their own and the imported ones like my beautiful mother. They love watching them. There were even little old lady dolls – everywhere in Italy. In America, we do not love our old women. We deny them. We hide them under winched-up cosmetic surgeries, achieved only elsewhere in a skydiving freefall. But in Italy, we saw appreciation everywhere. The native old crones, dressed in black, sitting and talking wildly on the edges of their town’s square, paused to watch us pass with silent smiles. It is a great gift to live enough, and long enough to reconcile. All mothers and daughters are on a journey in dramatic topography, but suffice to say, that my mother and I are friends and have an easy affection for each other. We would walk arm in arm even if her fragile bones and titanium-reconstructed joints did not need the support. That sight of us walking together consistently touched people. Reactions moved across their faces like some silent tide invoking memories of their own dead. Together, we were a matched set in living time-lapse; I look at her and my own death affectionately looks back at me.

If you can love that face the world changes.

The third and most astounding epiphany was “Santa Claus” was a grandmother. The little old lady dolls were of the beloved La Befana. It is the type of twist in temporal geography that I have come to associate with traveling: that needed pinch of salt in the sauce that allows you to recognize and savor the flavors of who you are, by where you are.

The kind, corrugated crone, La Befana, is an ancient wise woman with rosy cheeks, headscarf, big nose and – a broom. La Befana is written letters by children, posted in the chimney. La Befana brings presents for their stockings which are hung on the fireplace according to their annual behavior index: coal or sweets? She comes on broomstick through the window or down the chimney. The legend has it that La Befana was invited to accompany the three wise men on their journey to see the Christ child but she insisted on finishing her housework; she promised to meet up with them later. Apparently, she has been racing after them ever since with gifts and the help of her improved transport. The holiday season ends on January 6 when the La Befana dolls are burned in effigy. Their burning is an e-ticket to send La Befana on her journey back to their ancestors; She takes with her the negative things of the old year and leaves behind both gifts for the new of their line – the children – and economic prosperity for all. La Befana’s intention is to reaffirm that bond between the family and ancestors through an exchange of gifts. She stands for the continuity of family, hope, and magic at a time of year that has always asked us to renew ourselves or die.

When you travel, the outer landscape you see reflects the inner landscape where you are. In spite of your efforts to the contrary, the answers are all right there in front of you to the questions you couldn’t ask. Italy is a perfect place to mourn losses by celebrating the loveliness of our days and memories, now. La Befana comes back every year to teach Italians about loss, about burning up the old and igniting the new.

On our last dawn in Italy, I left my mother sleeping and took an early walk to Milan’s Duomo and the square. With the sound of my new Italian boots echoing off buildings, I found a peaceful spot to await Italy’s magnificent pink light to illuminate the filigree of their restored Cathedral. Like a pressed rose in a favorite book, this remains with me - as well as the next moment for its utter and stunning contrast. Suddenly, the square began to populate. People of all ages were smiling and laughing. The air started to buzz with the unmistakable energy and noise of hundreds of Italian motorcycles – all joyously circling the square: Italian style parade. It was the annual La Befana Road Rally for hungry children. La Befana had traded her broom for a Ducatti and had hundreds of consorts (Bufanos) roaring to celebrate the gift of her prosperity.

La Befana sat astride the biggest of the motorcycles painted with orange flames. That wise old woman was surrounded by handsome Italian men and being honored for who she was and the wisdom that she brought.

La Befana is smiling because she has let go and embraced the new – and, of course, because she lives in Italy.