Me, Mom, and AHCA

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A mural in Dublin, Ireland, last month reminded me of how we’re all interconnected, from tender roots and shoots to the last green leaf on the weakest limb.

Having spent a few months processing my grief both privately and out loud (here and here and over on The Mighty [and now Medium] ) and a few weeks trying to bite my tongue about healthcare legislation, I finally grabbed a rock, a slingshot, and took aim at a modern day Goliath: the American Health Care Act recently passed by the House of Representatives.

This was something that I promised to do some day, to take what Mom and I learned about eldercare and use those lessons for good. She said to wait until I was ready, when an opportunity presented itself.

It’s time.

Thus, from the Rivard Report, our city’s news-driven indie, comes today my first published op-ed in over a decade:

Mother’s Day looms now, my first without her. As I work through my grief and memories, I catch stories about what Republicans in Washington think we should do to care for elders and other people with disabilities. I also find myself revisiting my darkest hours with my mother and wondering: “Could it have been so much worse?”

Yes. It could be worse. Not for my mother and I, because our time together is over, but it could become worse for families like ours.

Early reports indicate that the bill that the House of Representatives passed this week puts a cap on long-term Medicaid spending. Over time, this will lead to a widening gap between costs and funding, leaving people like my mother potentially endangered. I’m not surprised this passed. Fresh from “walking my mother home,” to riff on the words of spiritual leader Ram Dass, I’m sensitive to what lies ahead for Americans and our financial resources, especially as Baby Boomers age. Medical technology and intensive daily personal care helped extend my mother’s life, and Medicare/Medicaid funded it.

But can we realistically do that for everyone? And if we cap or draw down spending, who is most impacted?

Everything I have to say–including some grim truths I’ve never shared publicly about my mother’s specific case–is summed up in the rest of the piece save for this: The sustainable solutions that living, breathing elders (and soon-to-be elders) like her need will require forward-thinking, post-partisan (or at least bipartisan) solutions that I have yet to encounter in my reading about the bill. As Jimmy Kimmel said in the wake of his newborn son’s healthcare crisis, “Let’s stop with the nonsense, this isn’t football there are no teams. We are the team, it’s the United States.”

Amen. There is no need for political theatrics, either.

Here’s hoping the Senate does better than Congress.* In fact, both of my Senators (Ted Cruz and John Cornyn – both Rs) are reportedly part of the core group of 13 men looking at the Senate’s forthcoming healthcare legislation.

Read the full op-ed on the Rivard Report.

* For the record, my congressman (Will Hurd-R) switched his stance at the last minute and voted against AHCA. This is what I and many others in his purple district asked him to do the morning of the vote. Small victories matter.

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Me, Mom, and AHCA

A Meditation on 2016 and Rings and Things

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Heaven help me, but I’m done with this year.

Yes, I realize that’s a full week and a half early.

The final straw? Watching one of my favorite rings go flying off my finger.

But let’s back up a second, for context.

2016 opened quietly here. Yet before it started–before the world lost Prince and David Bowie and America *cough* elected Donald Trump, I knew it was going to be rocky. I could feel something in my heart start to tug, a sensation that started when my mother said she’d not survive through the year.

Change was coming.

Throughout the spring, I kept finding myself acknowledging her time was running out and my life would change. At times it felt like grace. Other times it felt like a bad cold I couldn’t shake. The Gnawing Knowing–yes, let’s name it that–would come up in the oddest spots, at the oddest times. I’d be in the car or grabbing a sack of kitty litter and I’d just know she’d be gone soon.

Did I mention that my cat died in 2016, too? Disappeared, died–the specifics of her demise are unclear. Given that we’ve got coyotes in the area, it may be best that I never know. Let’s just say that my elderly cat split a few weeks before my mother. Like old cats do. In fact, at one point, my ailing mother wished aloud that she could do the same. That was a weird conversation, the kind of thing I miss about Mom.

By the end of summer I was mourning feline and mother alike and trying to deal with all that the grief brought with it–joy, pain, anger, love, panic attacks, bizarre childhood flashbacks, and the agonizing choice of what to do with the leftover cat kibble.

Autumn brought more fallout, sure, but also some teeny tiny glimmers of promise. In September we went to England and Ireland as a family. (The photo at the top of this post is from London’s famous Portobello Road.) After the vacation, I picked up some more freelance work, dug out and dusted off an old writing project that will likely make my third book, purged closets and drawers, and began the process of refining my identity after several years of eldercare.

Winter is supposed to arrive tomorrow, and, to my surprise, I’m stocked up and ready for Christmas. The tree is up, lights are out, presents are either wrapped, delivered, or en route to their final destination. The weather is cool, for South Central Texas, and for a few hours each day we have cause to bundle up.

Which is why I came to make homemade chicken soup from scratch-made bone broth. It’s cold and cozy enough to make the process genuinely worthwhile. Over two days I brewed, measured, and salted. It felt good, familiar. The house smelled good, familiar. As a person in charge of our home keeping and cooking food, I felt strong, confident in my rediscovered self-efficacy.

Then tonight I was warming up that concoction on the stove when the ring went flying. In a spectacular display, it slipped off my finger, flew across the kitchen tile, bounced up (straight up) into a corner near the sink, and used physics to hurl itself into the apparent black hole that hides in a corner of my kitchen.

The ring of silver is reachable now only if I rip apart my cabinets. Because that’s what I want to do next, right, with Santa on his way? Rip out cabinetry for a relatively inexpensive ring?

My first reaction was panic. I’m sooo good at that. Really good. It’s a standby, my go-to response whenever my fight/flight/freeze trigger is, you know, triggered.

But before the panic got rolling good, I forced myself to reconnect with a core belief, one burnished often in 2016: people matter more than things.

Silver rings are things.

If I can move through grieving Mom (and my cat), then I can move on from a lost ring. I can steer away from the panic and reframe the situation. I can work to find the silver lining, the takeaway. Thus, I find myself tonight hoping to embody the same surety that the physics-propelled chunk of silver displayed while aiming for the hollow space tucked a couple of feet under my knife block. At the same time, while bouncing out of 2016, I hope I won’t land in any black holes or kitchen cupboards.

Fingers crossed, anyway.

 

 

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A Meditation on 2016 and Rings and Things