Reflections – August 2020

Sunflower from a Squirrel-planted seed

I’m scared

sometimes

of living in an

aging body that seems

unpredictably more fragile

when just one wrong move

cracks my back and sends me

to bed in agonizing pain for a week

It’s not the thought of dying that I fear

I’m terrified by the possibility of having to rely on others

for kind, compassionate care if I am not able to take care of myself

***

My thoughts today reminded me of a song by Laura Nyro, “and when I die.”

I also remembered the things I witnessed when I worked as a nurses’ aide in nursing homes and a university hospital, as an attendant in the infirmary of a state school for people with mental retardation, and as a home health care aide for people who were recovering from major illnesses or dying. I have written about some of those experiences in previous posts (Mickey, Clara, Rita, and Donald), including the motivation they provided for me to complete degrees that would enable me to try to humanize long-term care systems at a policy level.

My mother meeting her great grandson – March, 1999

I learned enough to be able to try to create more humane care for my mother for the last 16 years of her life, although it required tenacity, vigilance, and creativity. I don’t know if she was aware of her losses or where she was because of Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s not something I wish for my daughter to shoulder.

My mother, daughter, and grandson – March 1999

I don’t know what the future will bring, but I do know that I need to make major changes in where and how I live. Things that were easy for me to do, or at least manageable just a short while ago like landscaping and shoveling heavy snow, could mean serious injury and permanent disability the next time I don’t move just the right way.

That’s just how life is. Things change and old bodies wear out one way or another. So many others in the world right now are suffering far greater challenges and losses. I am grateful for the many blessings in my life and feel no need to mourn what was. I have courses to prepare for the fall semester that will be beginning in early September, a family to care for as long as I’m here, and dear blogging friends who hopefully know how much I care even though my presence on WordPress has been so infrequent this summer.

Sending my best wishes to all.

A Grateful Farewell to 2019

Carol A. Hand

Surveying the snowy, icy, windswept land
clearing a path yet again with the tools at hand
knowing it’s a task that will be repeated
before the long winter has retreated
with the spring of the coming new year

*

*

I wonder …
How many more paths will I have to clear
before I can finally rest away from here?
Some days the pain of life is so hard to bear
making me wish for the long sleep that will take me elsewhere
Branches broken in storms, youth who make poor choices
I feel their loss and anguish in these times of clueless angry voices

*

Spruce branches broken by 2-feet of heavy snow

*

All I ask is the strength to contribute something worthwhile
to raise awareness,
inspire curiosity,
touch a heart,
or bring a smile
to encourage others to clear a path toward peaceful possibilities…
*

December 21, 2019

*

Thank you so much for sharing the challenges and opportunities of 2019 with me. May the new year, 2020, be kinder and gentler for us all.

*

 

Reflections – August 21, 2019

Carol A. Hand

Dear Billie,
You are in my thoughts today
Perhaps it’s because the cup
you brought as a gift
on your visit to Montana
more than a decade ago
is holding the coffee I’m drinking
on this sunny August afternoon

*

*

I miss you
and I know your daughter,
my beloved granddaughter, does too
I’m not sure if you can see
how kind and beautiful she is now
I promise to remind her
what a thoughtful loving father you were

*

*

I send you thoughts of love and joy
May your spirit soar peacefully
like the eagle on the gift cup
that always reminds me of you
a kind and generous young man
who was deeply loved by all
who had the honor of knowing you
in the short time you were here

*

Revisiting “The Burden of the Sentinels”

Carol A. Hand

Reflecting about some of the places I have been where people were harmed reminded me of another one of my first posts. It seems fitting to share it again when I feel the need to remember how important it is for us all to listen to the voices of sentinels among us.

*

***

Throughout my career in academia, I was unable to move from the space between cultures. Like some of my students, I, too, carried the burden of the sentinels. Most of my fellow faculty defined their role as that of gatekeepers for the profession of social work. Many faculty felt the purpose of education was to inculcate and enforce student compliance with professional competencies and standards.

Of course, few questioned the origins of these standards and who really benefited from the resulting assimilation. Fewer still contemplated what was lost through the process of homogenization. In my work, I tried to create a space for students to find their own voice and develop the skills to overcome or buffer the forces of conformity. Yet I sometimes had to witness the painful and tragic costs of my colleagues’ oppressive approach to education. Sometimes, all I could do was write about my observations and insights, as in the following essay drawn from those years.

It is tragic and deeply troubling that three students have committed suicide in the past two years. The faculty who worked with the students were grieving and confused. In an effort to heal, the head of student counseling services came to discuss suicide during the faculty meeting yesterday. I did not know the students who died, so as a person on the margins, my reaction to the discussion was very different than that of my colleagues. In fact, the discussion left me deeply troubled. The focus was on a new university policy. In order to reduce liability for the university, faculty would be required to force suffering students to meet with the dean for possible expulsion. The head of counseling services explained that suicide was a form of violence perpetrated by imbalanced individuals on those around them. They needed to be stopped.

When the discussion of suicide ended, no one asked what we might do differently in the future. When we seamlessly moved on to mundane issues, I was angry and distressed. I have seen the way our actions as faculty create problems for the most gifted and sensitive of our students. So I asked what we might do differently. There was no response. The conversation shifted to how to use the corporate credit cards. My response was to get up and leave the meeting at that point, slamming the door as I exited the room.

I know my colleagues interpreted my behavior as strange and annoying rather than as the only way I could express the depth of my distress. So be it. This reflection is my attempt to make sense of the strength of my reactions. And typically, my reflections are based on stories and metaphors that may seem unrelated.

A while ago, my partner at the time shared a story he heard on public radio about the experiences of researchers who were conducting a study of a community of chimpanzees (Thom Hartmann, November 22, 2006, Transcript: Drugs, Depression & Chimpanzees). Early in the study, the researchers noted that about 5 percent of the community appeared to exhibit all of the characteristics of depression. They stayed on the periphery of the community, they rarely engaged in social activities, and they appeared lethargic. With the best of intentions, the researchers decided to treat this isolated group for depression, so they removed the “depressed” chimpanzees from the community and worked with them. The treatment seemed to work. But each time the researchers returned to the troop, they noted that new chimps had taken up posts on the periphery, and they too were removed. At the end of the year, when the researchers returned to the troop’s home again to reintroduce the “healthy” chimps, they discovered that the rest of the troop had perished from an undetermined cause.

The researchers hypothesized that the sentinel chimps played a crucial role on the boundaries, scanning the environment and warning the troop of danger. Without sentinels, the troop fell prey to external predators. This raises questions about the importance of the “boundary spanners,” those who remain on the periphery to scan for external threats while still relating to the community, albeit in a distant manner. I have pondered this story’s links with my own observations of the burdens carried by people who are on the margins of society because of their difference.

It has been said that those Native people who are the most sensitive and gifted are the ones who do not survive. It is only those who are the strongest physically and psychologically who survive. For me, it is no wonder that Native people who carry the gifts of vision appear most susceptible to addiction. They are the boundary spanners who can see what can be, perhaps what should be, and how far we have strayed from that possibility. To be surrounded by a global society that is focused on exploitation of resources rather than preservation for future generations, on gratifying the self-interested pleasures of the moment rather than the preservation of meaningful relationships, why would not the burden sometimes be too great to bear?

To listen to a discussion of suicide, then, to hear it described as a form of violence perpetrated by deficient individuals on others, is profoundly disturbing. Is it sane or reasonable for sensitive boundary spanners to settle for the insanity of war, the destructive exploitation of nature, the disparities that mean some individuals can buy gold-laced shower curtains while many people throughout the world die of starvation? Where does the violence originate that leads to despair for those who are most sensitive? Does it help give heart to boundary spanners when we label them as deviant? When we medicate them to see the world through a drug-induced haze of mediocrity? When we fail to understand the profound suffering of those on the boundaries who try to warn those in the center about the dangers that surround the community?

When people choose to end their suffering, is it their violence or ours as a society that is the cause? To take one’s own life is the most profound sacrifice. It may be the only way left to alert others of the dangers we face because we have created a world where the brightest and most sensitive among us find no hope, no comfort, no sense of a deeper meaning in life. And when they die, who will be left as sentinels to alert us to the dangers that surround us? Who will protect us from our self-destructive consumerism and exploitation of the environment and others’ labor? Who will alert us to the slow death this imbalance promises for those generations to follow?

The well-meaning among us who would remove the sentinels for their own good may only be hastening the death of that which makes us most human. We can try to convince those who see what we cannot that their visions are hallucinations. We can anaesthetize them and preserve them in a state of half-life because it makes us feel “moral” and it makes our life more comfortable. Yet, by doing so, we do not even serve our own self-interests. The lesson of the chimpanzees is that we need to understand what the sentinels are telling us.

We need to create a space to truly listen to what they are trying to tell us about a world that has become toxic to the most sensitive among us. It may be the world of our classrooms. It may be the world outside. How can we, as social work faculty, learn from the sentinels about our own practice as teachers and advisors? Are there things we need to change about how and what we teach to create a place where sentinels can preserve a sense of hope and possibility? I do not have the answers to these questions. I grieve the deaths of these students even though I did not know them as individuals. And I grieve the lost opportunity to explore this issue in a thoughtful way with my colleagues.

************

By sharing this essay penned years ago, it is my intention to honor the sentinels who remind us what it means to be truly human. It is my hope that we can learn to value them while they live so they no longer feel the need to sacrifice themselves.

***

***

 

2018 Goodbyes

Carol A. Hand

There are times when I just cannot write from the heart. I need to take a break and focus on physical or analytical tasks that help me find emotional detachment and balance. It’s one of the major reasons I have not posted or visited blogs during the holidays.

***

I took this photo in the morning
before I learned that a dear friend died

*

November 28, 2018

*

It portrays what days of loss
sometimes feel like to me
My grandson’s other grandmother died
just before Christmas, and this morning,
my granddaughter’s father passed away
2018 was a year of so many losses and changes
It’s the third year I have faced my own mortality
Despite a heavy heart, though,
I still awake each morning
knowing that what I do for others now
in the time I have left matters even more

 

I have snowy sidewalks to shovel
in the north country I love

*

December 31, 2018

*

There are courses to plan for students
I will learn to care about this year,
and dear family to care for while I’m here

*

My daughter’s birthday dinner, October 18, 2018

*

Despite losses I will continue to rise and greet each day
to do what I can to stay healthy and balanced,
to contribute to the light in simple humble ways
and to remain grateful for the wonder and blessings of life

***

Please know that I am grateful to all of you for being part of my life, too. I send my best wishes to all. May you have a peaceful and wonder-filled new year.

Reflections about Loss

Reflections about Loss
Carol A. Hand

When you change
what remains
of the friends who used to be?
*
Slipping away like shifting sand
you’ll simply need to understand
learning graciously to set them free

***

July 20, 2012 – Cookie’s first summer in her new and last home (~2000 – 2013)

***

Things are not the same
but there’s no one to blame
so there’s no need for an apology
*
Although each loss brings sorrow
may you rise again tomorrow
open to new adventures yet to be

***

Memories of My Father

Carol A. Hand

My father was 76 when he died on April 26, 1994. He was surrounded by strangers on the psychiatric ward of a veterans’ hospital when he passed away. I have a haunting photo of him during his last days. (Even if I could find the photo that I’ve misplaced, it’s not how I would want my father to be remembered.)

I was the only one in my family who could have visited him at that point, but I didn’t feel it would be appropriate. As a responsible daughter who could see no other options, I was the one who had to initiate an involuntary placement in the hospital with an order of protection. He was threatening to kill my mother before he planned to commit suicide. He would hold a loaded gun and point it at her. My mother, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, was terrified he would kill her. My younger brother was threatening to kill my father to protect her.

So the responsibility fell to me. Someone needed to intervene in a reasonable and compassionate way. My father’s threats needed to be taken seriously. I had survived his physical and emotional abuse during my childhood and witnessed his violent emotional instability and attempted suicide.

Paradoxically, though, I came to understand his emotional volatility. His bipolar disorder and the deep insecurities he carried given the traumas he experienced during his own childhood made his life so difficult.

***

My Father – 10 years old

***

His years as a Marine during the Korean Conflict added new dimensions to his trauma. I remember times when he cried but couldn’t give voice to the experiences that brought him so much pain.

***

My Father in the early 1940s

My Father – somewhere in the South Pacific

***

I had forgiven him decades before I had to act to protect my family, perhaps because I had educational opportunities that he never had. Or perhaps it was due to the fact that I had embraced my mother’s Ojibwe culture as I eschewed the cold, dour nature of my father’s Anglo-American heritage. He could rarely bait me any more with racist, angry tirades. I had learned how to respond with gentle humor. “Well, Dad, this is an enlightening conversation,” I would say as I smiled. “I think I’ll go see how Mother is doing.”

As I think of him today, I am grateful for the many things I learned from him. Most importantly, I learned how to understand someone who was suffering with compassion and forgiveness. That’s what I remember on this father’s day, along with sadness for people whose suffering may not be healed during this lifetime. I hope his death brought him peace and I hope that wherever he may be he knows that I am grateful to him for doing the best he could with what he was given in life.

***

My Father – 1986

***

May you finally know peace, dear Father.

A Drizzly Dawn

Carol A. Hand

The day dawns drizzly
as     the     weeping     willow     waits
welcoming        the        end        of        struggle
living         too         long         alone      –      her         fate
the    tree    surgeons    soon    arriving
finally  she’ll  join  her  mate

***

Greeting a Drizzly Morning – May 8, 2018

***

Her passing will
leave a void
in the
neighborhood
she graced
standing strong
but supple
despite the many
storms she faced
Birds sing as her
budding branches sway
kissed by warm
gentle breezes
on her final day

***

May 8, 2018 – A Different View

***

Chi miigwetch for your presence, beloved willow

***

Simple Moments

Carol A. Hand

 

Sometimes, I can’t resist photographing the night sky.

***

May 2, 2018

***

The moon highlighting the church steeple

***

May 2, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

Perhaps I post too many photos of

the moon and everyday landscapes

exposing the limits of my old hand-held cameras

 

Still, I prefer to believe that

capturing the beauty of a simple life

is an act of gratitude –

and a special kind of art

***

May 3, 2018

***

Like the view from across the street

of the long-lived willow tree

***

May 3, 2018

***

a solitary sentinel gracing an urban neighborhood

greeting her final spring

***

May 3, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

The winds and weight of her branches

finally proved more than she could bear

Photos will help me preserve poignant memories

of her beauty and my enduring gratitude

for her comforting presence in my life

***

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