How many parents miss out on knowing their adult children well?

This is what I’ve been thinking about lately…

I see now that my own parents never bothered to get to know me as an adult. Perhaps they thought mistakenly that they knew me as their child, even though they barely knew me through adolescence. And the sad part is, now it is too late.

I know now that my Dad, who died this past March, did not know me at all. He thought I was not-so-smart, a very bad planner and certainly not ambitious. As it turns out his idea of ambition and mine were just quite different. Most unfortunately, my Dad, the well-known Colorado botanist, never appreciated my interest and skill with native plants. Mike overheard him comment in….

… my beginner garden back in March of 2018, “This is just going to be a bunch of weeds!”

He thought I had no idea what a native plant was, or how to grow them. Little did he know that I was already planning with Mike the terraced hardscaping of this slanted slope, and what would grow best here in terms of water needs, critters, etc. Yes, a few of my experiments have not worked out, but overall…

I am quite proud of the product of Mike, John Carter and my own burgeoning efforts! (June 2019)

And as far as my other ambitions go, I have always refused to see myself as a loser. My brother John and I are the first Carter generation of what I now call “spiritual seekers.” Making lots of money and receiving accolades from many was never in the plan.

Finding eventual spiritual peace with Self, others & nature was the plan.

Mom and me in 1985

This past Christmas with my mother was a revelation to me. As she slowly recedes into dementia, I now see she will never “know” me either. I am still her “little Laura Lee,” her youngest daughter. She loves to look at pictures of us together when I was a baby, her last one.

This leaves me wondering how often it is that parents invest the time to truly know how their kids turned out. Is it a fear that their children didn’t turn out so well, that keeps them from asking? Are they afraid it will seem too intrusive, like an invasion of privacy? Or do they just prefer not knowing.

Please don’t assume that you already know your child completely and stifle your impulse to truly know them on a deeper level while you are still around. Don’t assume you know them intimately. Ask them open ended questions like:

“What are you searching for in your life? What means the most to you right now?”

Brain changes: Are there connections between dementia and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

Every time I spend time with my mother now, I see increasing signs of her slipping away from me. Our conversations aren’t as friendly and light. Her affect seems flat. I feel no joy there. The mother I remember is absent. She refuses to wear her hearing aid, so it’s difficult to tell how much she is taking in of our conversations. She refuses to see a neurologist about these changes. I am left wondering how long she will be able to engage fully with us.

Alzheimer’s disease of course comes to mind. Five million Americans now suffer from Alzheimer’s. It is the most common form of dementia.

According to Alz.org, symptoms may include:

  • Increased memory loss and confusion.
  • Inability to learn new things.
  • Difficulty with language and problems with reading, writing, and working with numbers.
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts and thinking logically.
  • Shortened attention span.
  • Problems coping with new situations.

“The future ain’t what it used to be…” – Yogi Berra

These thoughts lead naturally into wondering about myself after one moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI) and a few concussions. Every brain injury is different depending on what part of the brain is damaged and how severely. In my case, I have had concussions before and after my TBI. The later one is probably a result of losses in coordination.

According to a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information:

“Traumatic brain injury remains a major problem in modern societies, primarily as a consequence of traffic crashes and falls. In the United States alone, an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a TBI annually, of which 275,000 require hospitalization and 52,000 die.”

Moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries

Moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries can include any of the signs and symptoms of mild injury, as well as these symptoms that may appear within the first hours to days after a head injury:

Physical symptoms

  • Loss of consciousness from several minutes to hours
  • Persistent headache or headache that worsens
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes
  • Clear fluids draining from the nose or ears
  • Inability to awaken from sleep
  • Weakness or numbness in fingers and toes
  • Loss of coordination

Cognitive or mental symptoms

  • Profound confusion
  • Agitation, combativeness or other unusual behavior
  • Slurred speech
  • Coma and other disorders of consciousness

Over the past 30 years, research has linked moderate and severe TBI to a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, years after the original head injury. According to recent studies,

“Individuals who have had a head injury of sufficient severity to result in loss of consciousness were at approximately 50% increased risk of dementia compared with others.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3716376/

Now you see why I continue to read, write, think, watch Jeopardy! and exercise as much as possible…

Winter Solstice 2020

Tomorrow, Monday the 21st will be the darkest day of our year. This is the day with the fewest hours of daylight, marking the start of astronomical winter. After this solstice, days will begin getting longer and nights shorter as spring approaches.

The word solstice is derived from the Latin word sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”), because at the solstices, the Sun appears to stand still. The seasonal movement of the Sun’s daily path (as seen from Earth) pauses at a northern or southern limit before reversing direction.

The Winter Solstice in Human History

The winter solstice was a special moment in the annual cycle for most ancient cultures back to the neolithic. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities, such as the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter food reserves. Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this.

This is attested to by physical remains in the layouts of some ancient archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and ceremonial structures in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. The primary axis of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset at Stonehenge.

In the midst of gathering darkness, light becomes ever more valued…

The winter solstice was immensely important, because the Ancient ones were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months.” In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast, before deep winter began. Most domestic animals were slaughtered because they could not be fed during the winter, so it was the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready to drink at this time.

For me, this Winter Solstice has even more meaning, following one of the worst years in American history. This Solstice gives me hope that next year will be so much better in so many important ways! 🙂

A Lifetime of Christmases!

Yesterday, at the end of our annual viewing of “Polar Express” I was unexpectedly overwhelmed with memories, both recent and long ago. What is it about Christmas?

In our family, I was always the one who insisted that we do it up right, while my Dad protested. We weren’t religious, so why celebrate Christmas? To this day, I don’t know why I insisted, but I’m still glad I did. I believe we all need rituals in our lives, a special way of marking and recognizing the ways we grow and change through the years and decades.

This year I especially feel my history from childhood on up, and I miss my Dad very much. Even though he could be an old stick-in-the-mud at Christmas, he was always there.

Soon we will put up our tree and I will probably cry when I look through my special decorations which mark and celebrate the many years of my life. So many memories, some harsh, some jubilant. Such is life!

Feel Gratitude While You Can!

Today I feel like I am seeing my world with new eyes. I am so glad to wake up this morning in such a beautiful place. In fact, I’m grateful to wake up at all! In a world full of death and grief, I do not find it at all difficult to isolate and wait for better days.

I have a warm, safe home with astounding mountains and cloudscapes outside my door!

On television I hear how difficult these times are for others, how different their lives have become. But when I look at my own life I see bright sun in the morning pouring through my windows, warming my home and my heart. I have plenty of time to enjoy the lovely silence, my avocations and my relationships with my family and friends.

When I see clearly, which is much more often since I got rid of my cataracts, I feel so much gratitude for it all!

Glow with gratitude and see how awe and joy make their home in you.

“Writers & Lovers” by Lily King, a review

Reading a novel is so personal, rather like watching a movie. We all relate to the story in different ways, depending on the various parallels between ourselves, the author’s life and the main character. My new favorite author is Lily King. Her life, her stories and my own life experiences coalesce in many interesting ways.

I already told you about her novel “Euphoria” ten days ago. This week I was lucky enough to be the first one to check out her new book from 2020: “Writers & Lovers” from the La Veta Public Library.

For me, this book is about the complexity and confusion of being an independent woman with goals and a dream, in a world where most are giving up their dreams as unrealistic. The main character, Casey, is a 31 year old writer who is as afraid of risking her dream of being a writer, as she is of falling in love. Along the way she provides what seems like casual, but enduring insights into counseling, dealing with the sudden death of her mother, and the mysteries of love.

Much like myself, Casey’s 31st year is particularly challenging, with the theme of “What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” If a woman does not follow the traditional path of marriage and children, what then? What if you are determined to follow your own unique path wherever that leads you?

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go…”  -T.S. Eliot

My 31st year was one of my most difficult. Like a dream, I still remember particularly well one afternoon driving through Denver on I-25, certain that my life had absolutely no meaning, but also certain that I would eventually find out why I was here. I had always dreamt of becoming a writer and yet I did not have the confidence or courage to pursue that dream yet.

Lily King on becoming a writer:

“Then I understood how hard it is to re-create in words what you see and feel in your head.” pg. 270, “Writers & Lovers”

Lily King on counseling:

“You don’t realize how much effort you’ve put into covering things up until you try to dig them out.” pg. 168

Lily King on breaking up:

“I don’t normally have to break up with anyone. Usually they do it for me, or I leave the state or the country. I don’t have to spell it out very often.” (pg. 291)

These quotes all reminded me of my turbulent 30s, and in turn showed me how grateful I am to be past all of that chaos. I am now ensconsed in such a beautiful, comfortable, safe place. Lucky me! Those turbulent times resulted in enduring love & happiness.

How I miss getting together with others to grieve the death of my father, much like Covid deaths

From time immemorial, we humans have been joining together to mourn or memorialize our dead. This is a tradition we seem to need, to get together and recognize the death of a loved one. In the past this would be called a funeral. Today it can be any kind of ceremony to gather together and grieve the passing of someone special to us.

My father died on March 10th of this year, right before “the virus” began to run and ruin our lives. We had hoped to have a special ceremony for Dad at the Denver Botanic Gardens, a place where he often lectured and was well known as one of our state’s foremost botanists. That could not happen. And now, six months later, we still wish we could do something to get together and commemorate his life and his passing. Then I realized, hundreds of thousands of Americans are feeling the exact same way. Because of this horrible pandemic, so many of us cannot even grieve in the usual ways. At least my Dad did not have to die alone, but we were then left with no way to get together and mourn him. I’m so glad we did at least have a fantastic 90th birthday party for him. That was a wonderful coming together of those who loved my father and knew his was a life worth celebrating!

I am struck again by how fundamentally social we are as a species. From New Orleans jazz funerals to Tibetan sky burials, we always find our own ways to deal with love and loss. We need that time to fully embrace our return to the earth from which we came. What could be more natural than dying, and yet it always seems so sudden and unexpected…

One of my favorite aspects of moving here has been that I finally feel good about my future after death. I now know I wish to have my ashes spread over this peaceful and quiet place, the land below our home here in rural southern Colorado. Perhaps my Dad would like that too, since we live in one of his favorite ecosystems, the Pinon-Juniper woodland.

“Yes, it’s beautiful to exhale after you inhale. At the right time, when the chest is full, breathe out and let go.” – Norman Fischer, “Suffering Opens the Real Path”

How Careful Observation, Writing, and Gardening Create New Meaning

One week ends another begins, but both seem the same. It’s that sameness that wears on us. The near term is the same, and the future seems clearly uncertain. It’s impossible to make travel plans, not just for now but for the fall and winter. Some people have started referring to 2020 as the “Lost Year.” Imagine how those in my family feel, having lost my Dad right before “the virus” took over our lives.

I am saddened to learn that COVID-19 may be taking a toll on Americans’ heart health even if we’re not infected with the virus. According to new research, cases of ‘broken heart syndrome’ are on the rise among those without any specific illness. This occurs when part of the heart becomes enlarged and is unable to pump blood effectively, preceded by intense emotional or physical stress.

Everybody deals with this kind of stress differently. I think it’s easier for us gardeners. We have something in our lives that brings us daily joy. We can go outside each morning and enjoy the summer blooms! The fact that our plants need us, even marginally, also helps. Let’s face it, we all need to feel needed. This is why we all need to find positive distractions from this sad time in all of our lives.

I relate to these issues more than most. I sometimes pass out from lack of oxygen and am not certain if I will take my next breathe. I struggle daily to find the good in everything, like the 4th of July celebrations on TV last week. I want to feel good about my country again and positive about our future, but it isn’t easy if I watch the news too much.

So I go outside and walk around my garden. I hang out with the birds and bees, literally! I watch the birds taking a carousel ride on Mike’s great purple wind sculpture.

I sit quietly and observe the end to another glorious day, as the sun sets over Mount Mestas to our West.

Sometimes I take photos of the sunny still life developing on my bedroom wall as the sun comes up each morning. My appreciation of my eye sight is increased one hundred-fold as it diminishes with worsening cataracts.

These are the moments that sustain me… What are yours?

My Salute to Caregivers Everywhere!

One thing I have learned from first caring for my husband when we first met, is that providing care for those who need extra help almost always involves guilt of some kind.

So many of us understand the importance of this work…

Back when Mike and I first met, he suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) regularly. This meant trying to find doctors who understood this generally misunderstood and mistreated illness. The worst of the docs always blamed the victim by saying that CFS was caused my mental illness and had no biological basis. Thankfully the CDC eventually showed these MDs to be quite wrong. (Description of CFS at the CDC)

But in the meantime Mike had to go on regular short-term disability from his jobs. I had no previous experience with caring for others. I found that he generally felt guilty of having this terrible illness, and I felt guilty that I was not a more patient and compassionate caregiver.

Since moving down south six years ago, Mike’s health has improved dramatically. He rarely suffers days of CFS. And it’s a good thing because my health has gone downhill quickly. My main problems now are extreme hypoxia, defined as: “deprivation of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level,” difficulties with consciousness and balance from a previous traumatic brain injury, and quickly failing eyesight (cataracts). And, I would like to add, DEPRESSION:

because I never had any major health problems before age 60. My how quickly things can and DO change! Luckily Mike is a marvelous caregiver! No guilt involved.

In addition to all of this, my Dad recently died from a short illness right before the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown in mid-March. This meant that my Mom, who had never lived alone in her 86 years of life, was suddenly quite alone and grieving terribly. Thankfully, my sister and her husband live nearby and provide every kind of loving care for her everyday. But with my health tenuous at best, (we have 3 known cases of Covid-19 in our county and over 20,000 in the Denver metro area where my Mom lives), I haven’t been able to go help out with my Mom’s care.

This means my sister is absolutely EXHAUSTED both physically and emotionally from helping Mom out day-to-day while I sit down south feeling breathless and guilty. I’m sure you can imagine how all this feels for both of us…

She does not blame me or anyone else, she and her husband are just completely worn out! There must be so many of you who are living through similar circumstances right now, with no easy answers, but lots of difficult circumstances to deal with everyday.

That is why I feel the need to salute all of you who have put your own life on hold while you care for the millions of friends and family members who desperately need your help. I love every single one of you for your bravery and dedication!

What we did not learn from the Native American traditions

“Doctor my eyes, I cannot see the sky. Is this the price for having learned how not to cry?” -Jackson Browne

Losing my father has brought up so many new thoughts about my upbringing. Strange how I feel freer to question all this after his death. Lately I feel like I may have been raised in the wrong family at the wrong time in history. What has stimulated this thought? Watching a new series called “Native America” on PBS. I can highly recommend it!

When I started watching this program I got lost in it immediately. Everything they were saying rang true and captured my imagination. Did I mention the first stories I ever enjoyed reading, writing or drawing were about Native Americans and their ponies?

Native American creation stories are wonderful. So much imagination, something I was not allowed as a child...

Most importantly, the concept our European-American culture has so completely missed is that we should all see ourselves as ‘Caretakers of the Earth.’

How can we honor our true Mother? By taking good care of her.

I also so related to the first episode: “From Caves to Cosmos.” It is about how the ancient Amazon Peoples slowly migrated up through the Americas, always seeking the right place, or what they called “the center place.” This is the place where we feel most centered with the landscape, the weather and the cosmos. I never completely understood this concept until I found my ‘center place’ here in southern Colorado. This is a spiritual concept, not to be understood until you feel it viscerally. I felt I had to write down this phrase immediately:

“When you enter a new landscape, you become a new kind of person.”

This best describes how different I felt after settling into our high desert perch. I felt at home in a way I could not even have fathomed before. The silence, the direct connection with nature, the overwhelming sense of belonging, were instantly clear to me.

The other concept our culture has so woefully forgotten or ignored is a strong and positive sense of community. When we confronted those ‘savage’ Native Americans, we were well into the “ruggedly independent” American phase, especially out West, the Manifest Destiny and all that crap. We saw ourselves as stronger and smarter so we should certainly defeat these weaker Native peoples. Of course we weren’t the only country who massacred or subjugated indigenous tribes. It happened all over the world with colonialism. That does not, however, make it a good thing!

In fact, I see so many of our cultures’ worst problems being caused by no sense of community or belonging. The epidemic of loneliness, drug addiction and now high levels of suicide reflect how alone so many of us feel in a culture that encourages independence instead of interdependence. I was raise to be super independent and it took many decades and a lot of counseling for me to realize that this strong sense of independence and lack of trust was not serving me. I found my life far too lonely so I changed.

We have lost and continue to lose so much wisdom by ignoring the teachings of the Native Americans who are left on this earth. This PBS series is proof of that. See it and expand your mind. While you’re at it, send PBS some money so we can continue to enjoy these alternative viewpoints.