We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Barely Legal

1968 or so, found by Mary Munchel

1968 or so, found by Mary Munchel

Woolly’s In the Rockies

Beltane                                                                               Woolly Mammoth Moon


Paul and Tom

Ode and All Hat and No Motel

Ode and All Hat and No Motel


Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House

Pensive Tom

Pensive Tom

The Trailhead, Buena Vista

The Trailhead, Buena Vista

Not At My Best

Spring                                                                   New Shoulder Moon

caregiverCare giving is tough. In just a week I’ve become a bit fragile emotionally. It’s a combination of Kate’s recovery, which focuses her, naturally, on herself, and the amount of physical labor (astonishing) and the amount of emotional labor on my part. None of this is a surprise. By that I mean things aren’t worse than I imagined, nor are they terrible.

But. I got to feeling underappreciated. And said so. I needed to say that for my own sanity, so that I wouldn’t let resentment build, but when I did say it I felt guilty immediately. How could I feel underappreciated when Kate had this recovery to deal with? Didn’t matter. It was how I felt and after I let it out, in a not very helpful way, I might add, things softened up. I was no longer carrying it and Kate had a chance to deal with what I was dealing with.

More intimacy as a result. Clumsy, yes. Poorly managed, yes. Important, yes.

I’m writing this because care giving is something we all do from time to time, and face more of in the third phase. It’s not a straight shot of empathy and compassion. It’s a muddled mess of self-congratulation, compassion, distraction, love, and sorrow.


I said, and meant, that I don’t mind the extra work. In fact, as I wrote earlier, it is exhilarating. Still is. I’m learning new skills, reinforcing old ones, and caring for Kate. Thing is, it’s a new, difficult role and requires learning, shuffling old priorities, picking up new ones. That kind of learning is fraught under the best circumstances, new job, new marriage, even vacation; but, well worth it.

Finding the tao of healing and caregiving is not impossible, but there are many ways it can go sideways. Trying to tap into that now.

09 11 10_Joseph_0264 (2)A very sweet part of it all. Joseph just called, wanted to know how bad it was, whether he and SeoAh should come up right now. No, it’s not that bad. Could SeoAh come up for a week? I’d come, he said, but I’m running an exercise right now. If it’s real bad, I’ll be there, help out with the daily ins and outs. Cue tears. I’d love for her to come, I said. It would be a real help.

Family. As it’s supposed to work. So the web of caring maybe is another curvature, like the one I talked about below.


Spring                                                               New Shoulder Moon

Still not home. I went over yesterday after lunch only to find Kate struggling to eat a bite of a bacon sandwich. She couldn’t keep that down, water either. Extremely unpleasant for her. Kate hates nausea.

ok, maybe not this quiet, but still...

ok, maybe not this quiet, but still…

When I went in yesterday, the busy M-F buzz of the hospitals had disappeared. There were fewer cars in the parking lot, a guard at the concierge desk, the Ortho small cafe closed. Nobody bustling about guiding patients, taking preop folks back, people with canes or walkers stayed at home. On the third floor, patient rooms, only a scattering of folks remained, three that I counted on Kate’s wing.

It’s disconcerting to have Kate in a place that feels emptied of its vitality, just when she’s having trouble. Being in a hospital over a weekend is not something you choose.

Meanwhile, after a full Sunday of lying around stoned, looking pretty damned unpleasant, Gertie’s tail wags furiously (normal) and she ate. Back to normal after a trip to the late ’60’s. Kep sniffs Kate’s side of the bed.

20180323_075536_001On Thursday, the day of Kate’s surgery, I left Rigel and Gertie outside while I was at Ortho Colorado. Staying outside that long, several hours, is unusual for them. When I let Rigel inside, she ran to the couch, jumped up on it, jumped in the air a couple of times, then flopped down into her usual position. Ah.

(Rigel yesterday hunting for voles.)

I hope Kate comes home today. Having her in the hospital, uncomfortable, makes this whole process feel suspended. When she’s home, I know her shoulder will be recovering, right now its her system adjusting to the insults of surgery. Not where we wanted to be right now, but what is.


Spring                                                                             New Shoulder Moon

Update. Just spoke to Kate. Feeling much better. Home after lunch sometime. I’m heading in around noon. Relieved.

Kate Still At Ortho Colorado

Spring                                                                            New Shoulder Moon

Kate, costumed for Purim

Kate, costumed for Purim

Kate had break through pain yesterday and nausea that they couldn’t control well. So, she’s still at Ortho Colorado. Plenty uncomfortable, but problems that seem, at least to me, manageable. Unpleasant sequelae from the meds and the cutting. I imagine she’ll come home today. Still convinced this was the right thing and that her care has been very good.

A strange sense of exhilaration with all the changes occasioned by Kate’s surgery. I find myself whistling on the way into the hospital, generally feeling good. It’s as if the additional load is something I needed. Weird, eh?

As also happens in these situations, often enough to be predictable, a lapse in the daily routine led to Gertie consuming a substantial number of Kate’s thc edibles. My fault. Gertie is, right now, pretty stoned. We had a similar incident with Kepler a couple of months ago and he slid down the stairs, looking confused. Apparently all mammals have a cannabinoid system and cannibis receptors. Gertie seems very unhappy, I imagine because her left leg makes her unsteady to begin with and the mary jane? Adds to it.

Beloved community dr-martin-luther-king-jr-quote-beloved-community-09.16.15-v2-1800Beth Evergreen has reached out to us in several ways. Individual members have offered to bring food or otherwise help. Leah, the executive director, called, wanting to know if we needed anything. Several folks from our mussar group responded to my e-mail on Thursday with love and concern. For both of us. A thought that keeps going through my mind: beloved community. Christian churches aspire to this, Beth Evergreen achieves it. I’m proud to be a member of the congregation.

One other thing I noticed. Both Kate and I were worried about her dying during surgery. Why? Well, it happens. Rarely, but it happens. Jeff Glantz, a member of Beth Evergreen, had a successful operation to remove a malignant brain tumor, then four days after surgery, he died. This was a couple of weeks ago. Jeff’s situation was on our minds, too.

I mention this because neither of us owned up to this concern until the surgery was over. By not talking about it before, by letting the death taboo keep it hidden, we lost a chance to console each other, to go a little deeper into our relationship.



Rituals of the Medical Kind

Spring                                                                               New Shoulder Moon

No Kate in the bed last night. Kep was there, though. Medical procedures upend regular life in so many ways. Kate had to stop most of her meds, use special cleansing soaps, sleep on clean sheets (yes, that was a requirement), stop eating. Then we have to leave our home, drive in to the hospital early, always early. Once there the ritual of checking in and paying, followed by pre-op disrobement, placing of iv’s, lots of conversation about medical history, warm blankets, lying in hospital bed on your back connected to various machines with many different numbers: O2, blood pressure, heart rate among others.

This is a gradual relinquishing of control that culminates in anesthesia and allowing someone, paying someone, to violate one of the most persistent taboos in our culture, the literal integrity of your body should not be disturbed by another. The surgeon cuts into the skin, goes inside where we never see, into the most private and intimate of spaces. And, in this case, takes out bone and cartilage, sets aside nerves, and installs titanium in a location known before only to flesh and blood.

Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic) Thomas Eakins

Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic) Thomas Eakins

The process begins to reverse in the recovery room as questions about nausea and pain depend on your answers for treatment. Modest control returning. Once in your room you begin to eat again, determine your pain medications, walk, use the bathroom. Finally, if no complications arise, the wheel chair ride to transportation home. Even at home the post-op plan governs a lot of your life. How much and how long of course depends on the procedure. Not sure quite what this looks like in Kate’s case yet, we’ll learn that today.

We agree to all this because we trust, more or less, the institution of medical care and the people who make it work. Of, if we don’t exactly trust, then we realize our options are few if we want the painful right shoulder to stop hurting, become useful again.


As a physician and a former nurse anesthetist, Kate knows the parts of surgery usually invisible to a patient due to anesthesia. This is, as the Bible says, a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that there are fewer unknowns to give anxiety, but a curse in that surgery does not always go well and she knows that from personal experience.

I look forward to picking her up today, bringing her home and helping her through recovery. As Schneider’s interviewee said, then she can live on and give on.


Spring                                                                    New Shoulder Moon

stephen-hawking-albert-einsAs one of Dr. Agronin’s youngest informants said, even when physical decline and losses restrict one’s options, there remains the capacity to appreciate and approach each day with a sense of purpose. “It’s all about how you frame what you have,” she told him.

He cites the concept of “positive aging” developed by Robert D. Hill, a psychologist in Salt Lake City, that is “affected by disease and disability, but not contingent upon avoiding it.” Rather, it is “a state of mind that is positive, optimistic, courageous, and able to adapt and cope in flexible ways with life’s changes.”  Finding Meaning and Happiness in Old Age, NYT, March 20, 2018

The third phase of our lives, the one that we enter when career and creating a family have faded in importance, or ended, has a mental image for most of us past 65 of decline, of a gradual decrease of abilities and agency. This image comes from our childhood when retirement was predominantly of the finish line sort, work was over, now we wait. That waiting often wasn’t long with heart disease or stroke or a bad fall ending it.

resilenceHopefully, our children, the millennials among them, will look at us and come to that phase of their lives with a different image. My hope is that they will see that aging is the accumulation of years, not a time of diminished hope and diffuse fear, but life continuing. If that image can become dominant, it will look like the diverse approaches people have to their first and second phases. In other words the third phase will have as many distinct trajectories as there are people who enter it. It will not be dormancy, or a pause before dying, but life itself.

Is the third phase the same, then, as the first two phases, just creakier? No. Like the first two, when education dominates, when building a career and raising a family dominates, it has its distinctiveness. Perhaps its most salient characteristic is open endedness. In the third phase there is, at least now, no culturally limned outline; perhaps that will change, I don’t know, but right now, thanks to the old finish line model of retirement, the third phase has no particular flavor. Or, perhaps, it has a negative flavor as I indicated above, of decline and loss of agency. Even that negative flavor though leaves the third phase open.

That very undefined nature daunts a lot of people. If your life counted on work for self-definition, if your family, with children or not, made your life worthwhile, the thought of years, maybe as many as 25 or thirty, with no such hooks for meaning can make the future look bleak, as if you were entering a time when life flows on around you, in spite of you, even without you.

positive-agingI like Robert Hill’s definition of positive aging: (It’s) “affected by disease and disability, but not contingent upon avoiding it.” Rather, it is “a state of mind that is positive, optimistic, courageous, and able to adapt and cope in flexible ways with life’s changes.”

The idea of resilience has gotten a lot of play recently. My sense is that is key to positive aging.

A telling article on resilience in childhood from the Harvard Center for the Developing Child has some hints for us third phase folk. For instance, here are some factors that enhance resilience in children:

  1. facilitating supportive adult-child relationships;
  2. building a sense of self-efficacy and perceived control;
  3. providing opportunities to strengthen adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities; and
  4. mobilizing sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions.

ResilienceNot only in children, I think. Resilience can allow us to accept the changes of the aging body without losing hold of the power of our own lives. With a resilient personality even ALS will not cause us to stop growing. Just look at Stephen Hawking.

As we enter the third phase, or as we cope with its vague demands, focusing on enhancing our resilience will help us adapt, remain flexible. Perhaps resilience is nothing more than following the tao, finding the energy and flow of the universe no matter what externalities are present in life. I’d like to think so.

Regress to advance

Imbolc                                                                             New Shoulder Moon

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”
– Anatole France

melancholyThe last letters of the Hebrew alphabet now have renderings in sumi-e, lying on my table ready for quotes and the chop. A member of Beth Evergreen last night referred to me as an artist. Oh. I thought he said audience. Artist is not a word I’ve ever associated with myself so my brain heard something else. A revealing moment. How others see us is not always, perhaps often, not the way we see ourselves.

An obituary on Terry Brazelton had this summary of a major finding of his research: “Development does not occur on a linear path, with each skill building on earlier ones. Rather, it unfolds in a series of major reorganizations in which children temporarily regress before mastering a new developmental milestone.” NYT

Well. That explains melancholy, at least as I’ve experienced it. There’s a plateau effect, then a hesitation, a pause while the psyche incorporates a new way of being, one probably not available to consciousness at the time of the pause. Since it’s inchoate, the reorganization seems like a regression, a stutter. The mind and the body both slow down, awaiting something they don’t understand. Result: melancholy.

 Van-Leyden St. Jerome in his Study by Candlelight (1520)

Van-Leyden St. Jerome in his Study by Candlelight (1520)

If you’ve read my posts over the last month or so, I think you’ll see what I’m talking about. My psyche had moved on, already aware that I needed more tactile moments in my daily life, already aware that it was time to resort my priorities based on a new constellation of possibilities made real by our move.

Last night at the shabbat service a rabbi friend of Jamie’s gave a short reflection. She had us consider an unusual moment in the Torah when the former Hebrew slaves remembered fondly the foods they had in Egypt. Using this seemingly inscrutable nostalgia for a time of bondage, she suggested that during transitions, a time of instability, wandering in the dessert for example, we often want to return to the stable state we know to ease the anxieties and uncertainties of a transition. Thus, when faced with a period of eating manna during an often frustrating movement toward the land promised, but not yet reached, even slavery seemed to have its charms.

That nostalgia, I think, is the root of melancholy, a hope that the past can ease the upset of the present. The psyche knows that’s a false hope, a trap, but is unable to articulate why. So, stasis, moving neither forward nor backward, which the ego interprets as negative without knowing why. Really, the moment is gestational, a new way awaits its birth. Not back to Egypt, but on to the promised land. Not back to the life of forty years in Minnesota, but on to the new life developing in Colorado.




Friend and Family

Imbolc                                                                New Life Moon


Remember that deep muscle ache I got during my session for a new workout? Well, it’s not gone. If I didn’t have a collection of good pain meds, it would be interfering with my sleep. On my second visit to On the Move Fitness, their usual pattern to ensure I have the new exercises down, Debbie told me to go easier on my leg work for a couple of weeks. I have, and it’s getting better. But slowly.

Nothing like the pain Kate has in her right shoulder. We’re coming up on her shoulder replacement surgery on the 22nd. What I’ve learned, relearned really, from my leg pain is that pain doesn’t have to be searing, 8 or 9 pain, to screw up sleep. And that lost sleep can exacerbate both physical and psychic pain. Kate’s dealt with this for months, years in the case of her bursa. Yet she persists. I admire that in her. Tough lady.

joy friends (2)

Saw Scott Simpson yesterday at Brook’s Tavern. He spent a week in Carbondale visiting Corey and Todd and was on his way to Pagosa Springs in the southern part of the state to see Heather. Hwy 285 goes almost the whole way, so his route took him through Conifer.

Scott’s a Woolly and a friend of many years. He’s also recently retired, a year in May. We got caught up on family, discussed the unbelievable DJT. Scott’s tinkering with songs, creating them. He’s a first class drummer, but wants to add writing music. He’s in that retirement stage called figuring out what the hell I’m gonna do now. A long process and often with changing results. Fun, though. At least for the most part.




June 2018
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