Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Calling from a Place of Love: Sunday musings…9/17/2023

1 Books. I prefer to do my reading the old-fashioned way. It is so much more comfortable and enjoyable to pick up a book or a newspaper or a magazine and read. I have to admit that my reading printed material habit has exposed an essential problem, especially for those of us who live in small homes:

Unless you give away everything you’ve read it is necessary to own bookshelves.

2 Pajamboree. A festive occasion or party at which everyone wears pajamas. It comes from a line in a simply delightful song “Blue Pajamas” by Jonah Werner. Should be a word.

Do yourself a favor and give it a listen.

3 Scars. “Scars have the strange power to remind us that the past is real.” Cormac McCarthy.

Now Mr. McCarthy the writer is notable for the scars incurred by the majority of his characters, not to mention the scars on the souls of his readers. Seems to me that he has more experience with scars than most of us. Says here we should take him at his word on this one.

4 Boat. In the office many of my patients have been lamenting that the coming and going of Labor Day means that the summer is over. I, on the other hand, being an empty nester, declared that summer for me is over whenever I say it is!

I own a tiny little boat. A New England boy, still, it fills me with a silly, entirely unreasonable pleasure to be the owner (with Beth, of course) of a classic New England runabout, a working waterman’s boat. We have a 17′ 1971 Boston Whaler docked on our deck in back of our little cottage. Whereas most Whalers are some version of the classic Montauk, ours is a Sakonnet, a relatively rare Whaler made in small numbers and seemingly long out of production.

Why bring this up today? It’s been a lousy boating season here on Lake Erie, especially for us. Our boat only draws about 8″; it’s gotta be pretty smooth out for us to have a comfortable ride. Most hours of most days this summer haven’t fit our particular bill. Indeed, even the big boats haven’t been out and about all that much this year. To make things more challenging we missed some of the better water days for about a dozen really good reasons. My boat made precisely one voyage all summer.

Our Whaler comes out of the water today. Summer is over.

5 Phone. As I prepare to muse I typically review any notes that I’ve jotted down over the week, as well as any my prior missives that may have surfaced and caught my attention. You’ve no doubt noticed that a very significant percentage of my internal RAM has lately been taken up by my Mom and her move to Cleveland to be closer to one wing of her extended family (we have the highest and densest concentration of family members at the moment, a bit ahead of the growing South Carolina contingent).

I stumbled across an essay from 5 or 6 years ago about Mom’s need for a new phone. Pretty timely in that all of us who are in possession of iPhones more than 2 years old are now trying to determine if it’s time to upgrade to the newest version from Apple. Anyway, while Mom was still in Rhode Island a couple of months ago it became clear that our quest to obtain a better/best phone for Mom was futile. Where once her telephone was literally the string that held together all of her social ties, she was no longer talking on the phone.

Mom had lost the ability to make and receive phone calls.

Mom connected to everyone on the phone. Although she was once famous at Williams College (and presumably the alma maters of my siblings) for the daily postcard she wrote so that I wouldn’t have an empty mailbox, in retrospect it was the freedom that she (and my Dad) gave to the four of us to make long distance phone calls on the family’s dime in the days of exorbitant charges for those calls. Mom seems to have instinctively known that hearing our voices, and my parents in turn hearing ours, was crucial in maintaining our relationships.

The phone was also how Mom stayed in touch with everyone. Her parents and her sisters. Friends from college. All of her local friends. Mom loved talking on the phone. Remember, back in the day the phone was a handpiece literally wired to the wall. Even with the gift of a “mobile” phone from Dad she could still be found on a little stool in the kitchen, sitting at what was effectively the desk from which she managed the family. Over the last several years she has slowly gone from landline/mobile/iPad/FaceTime facile to a single hard-wired phone that she often needs help dialing.

This is not a lament over the sadness of watching the slow deterioration of a loved parent–well, not ONLY a lament–but rather another entreaty for all of us to understand how important it is almost everywhere in our lives to communicate with those around us in a way that allows them to participate. I’ve written before that learning the “new norms” will make it more likely that a middle-aged parent will continue to have interactions with their young adult children (e.g. text to ask if it’s a good time to call your kid/pick up the phone and call your Mom), and that failure to do so shows a certain lack of respect and, yes, love (insisting that your grandmother not only respond to your texts, but that she text at all).

There was once a time when I found it frustrating that I couldn’t just send my Mom a quick text when I was thinking of her, or thinking of something I knew she would appreciate. Totally guilty. I’m not sure when I realized that it wasn’t just a choice she was making, but sadly a sign of how she was aging. Phone calls we DO receive now are as often as not either false dials or panicked “urgencies” despite the fact that she now has round the clock nursing coverage.

What to do now? Same as always: meet Mom where she is now. Communicate with her the way she is most comfortable now, face to face, within hugging distance. She still slips back into a time in her past if someone calls and she makes it to the phone on time, or if one of us is with her and we dial up a friend or family member. It was really nice to see her face light up when I called my sister and handed the phone to Mom for a chat. As long as the journey has been it is apparent that she has come back full circle.

For all of her love for the phone her REAL desire was for friends and family to be right there with her for a chat. She is now here in town with us; one of us gets to do that almost every day. For those who are not right there with her we once again have a phone connected to the wall, set up right next to the chair from which she manages her life and can talk to everyone still a part of it. We, her family and friends, will all express our love by going where she is to chat, face to face or over the phone with just a little bit of help.

As it turns out, just the way we have, forever.

I’ll see you next week…

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