Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Patience, Please

When our younger grandson was in grades one and two, he had a teacher who was very creative and did lots of artwork with the kids.  Our boy loved his teacher, but did not love the art projects.  

One day, our grandson came home from school with randomly shaped pieces of painted paper taped all over his sweater and our daughter asked "What's with the paper, buddy?"

"WELL,"  he replied, "You know how Mrs. W. likes to have us make stuff?"


"Last week she gave us a BIG piece of paper and told us to paint the whole thing!  Not just some paint, but all over.  The WHOLE THING! With no white parts!  It took forever!"

"Yes?  But why are pieces of paper taped all over your sweater?"

"Well, you know that book "The Very Hungry Caterpillar?"


"Mrs. W. read it to us in class yesterday."


"Today she gave us plastic lids and made us trace circles all over the paper we'd painted."

"Okay...But what does this have to do with taping paper to your sweater?"

"Mrs. W. made us use our scissors to cut out ALL THOSE CIRCLES!"

"Mmm hmmm.  And then?"

"And then she gave us another piece of paper and made us glue the circles on to it to make our very own hungry caterpillars.  Mine is in my backpack.  Wanna see?"

"No! I want to know why you have pieces of paper taped all over your sweater!!"

At which point, our boy looked at his mother in complete exasperation and shouted "YOU DIDN'T THINK I WAS JUST GOING TO THROW THEM AWAY AFTER I SPENT ALL THAT TIME PAINTING THEM, DID YA?"

People often laugh when I tell them this story, and I do too, but it also taught me something really important.

There is great value in listening patiently.  

I'm very bad at waiting until the end of a long story.  I tend towards intuitive leaps, assumptions, and interruptions; in a hurry to get to the end of the tale, as I am with so much in my life.  And, just as slowing down to look around me and enjoy the here and now feeds my spirit, if I can just make myself wait patiently until the story draws to a close, I often hear something new, or entertaining, or touching, or surprising. 

That "something" at the end of the tale is a gift to me, given by a generous storyteller.

I'm working on patient listening.  It's an important skill.  I doubt I'll ever completely master it, but my grandson has taught me that it's worth making the effort.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst

photo by Shannon Woods McKenzie

I love this photo of my mom and step-dad.  My sister Shannon took it, and when she shared it she said "Young love's got nothing on old love." 

Exactly right.

My parents are in their late 70's now, and my my mom has advanced Alzheimers.  My step-dad cares for her with a degree of love, respect, and patience that is truly awe inspiring.  It's an exhausting job.

Mom is due to go into a care facility soon and, while my step-dad will be relieved to have the burden of care shared with others, he's going to miss her terribly.  The change will be a big adjustment for both of them.

Every life event brings with it its lessons, and my mom's illness is no exception.  It has me thinking a lot about preparing for the years to come.

We all hope that we will be robust in our old age, live a long and healthy life, and die peacefully in our sleep, but sadly that's not always the case.  Statistics here in Canada show that the majority of our elders spend the last ten years of their life in illness.

Illness or injury come with expenses and practicalities that can be prepared for in advance. So, while we can be proactive in maintaining our good health and hopeful about having a long and healthy life, we should also be practical and prepare for the possibility that we may some day suffer a long term illness or disability.

Here are some practical steps we can all take:

Buy accident/illness/disability insurance.  

Accident/illness/disability insurance is intended to provide income to cover things like mortgage and loan payments, medical expenses, and home assistance if you suffer an injury or long-term illness.  It can help guard against accruing debt that would otherwise have to be paid off upon your recovery or passed on to your family should you die.

Buy this insurance now, while you are in good health.  If you wait until you need the coverage, it's too late.

Make a power of attorney.  

Choose someone you trust implicitly enough to give them unlimited access to your financial and legal affairs because this is what a power of attorney does.  It allows someone to step in and make those decisions for you in the event that you are unable to do so yourself, but a power of attorney does not specify when it may be used.  If you are concerned about someone having access to your power of attorney while you are still in good health, you can either keep it in a safe place in your home and advise someone other than the power of attorney holder where it is, or you can leave it in care of your lawyer with specific instructions about releasing it.

Again, this is something you need to take care of while you're well.  If you wait and become too ill to manage your affairs, application for power of attorney must be made through the courts.  The process can take months and will cost thousands of dollars.

Make your wishes known.  

These are hard subjects but you do need to discuss them with your family. 

If you had a chronic illness or disability that required daily assistance would you prefer to remain at home or to go into a care facility? What are the costs associated with the care you would prefer to have?  What provisions have you made to provide for such an eventuality?

If you were terminally ill or suffered an injury likely to cause death would you prefer that heroic measures be taken to keep you alive, or would you prefer that your family sign a "do not resuscitate" order?

When you die, what do you wish done with your remains?  Do you wish to be an organ donor? Or to donate your body for research or for use as a medical teaching cadaver?  If you are not donating your body, do you wish to be cremated or buried?

Do you have specific wishes regarding a funeral or memorial service? Have you arranged pre-payment for your funeral expenses or set money aside for that purpose?

Once you've had your discussion, put your wishes in writing.  Laws vary and your instructions may not be legally binding but most families feel morally obligated to honour their loved one's wishes regarding these matters.

Make a will.  

If probate registry is available in your area, register the location of your will so others will be able to find it.  Let your family know that you've made a will and tell them where it is stored.

Make a list.

List your bank accounts, debts, and computer passwords.  Store the list with your will.  Update it regularly.  Let your executor and the person who holds your power of attorney know it's there.

It's a lot to do, I know, and thinking about this stuff is not something any of us enjoy.  You'll be grateful for it, though, if you find yourself ill or injured.  Times like that are always stressful, and having these things in place will help to ease the stress for your loved ones.  

Make yourself and your family proud.  Look to the future with optimistic eyes, but plan for the worst so the tools are there if you need them. The time may come when you'll be very glad you did.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Forget Me Not

It's another gorgeous, blue sky morning in my world, with a brisk breeze that has the flags outside my office window crackling on their poles.

The riot of spring bulbs that bloom here every year are just about done now and, as they fade, our attention is drawn to the tiny, blue blossoms of forget-me-not that grow between them.  

I love these little flowers. Every time I see them, they remind me of my grandpa.

Grandpa was a big man, with craggy features and silver hair.  Looking at his photos as an adult I realize he was quite handsome in a black and white movie "hard man" kind of way, but as a child he was just Grandpa; ever-present, eternal, and comforting.  

My grandfather was partial to soft cotton shirts in glen plaid, and carried a pocket watch, on a chain.  The thumb and forefinger of his right hand were stained mahogany brown from the hand rolled cigarettes he smoked, and he always smelled of tobacco, Vicks mentholatum, and the Scotch mints he carried in his pocket.  

Grandpa was a railroad man, working for a great many years as a conductor on the CPR trains that ran between Vancouver and Kamloops. Until he retired, he was often away from home.

When he was home, my grandfather was an enthusiastic gardener.  He had a large, very productive vegetable garden in the back yard of my dad's childhood home, with neatly planted rows nestled into dark, loamy soil running all the way to the back fence.  He practiced excellent culture there, turning the soil by hand each spring, carefully screening out any roots and weeds, and then augmenting it with a mixture of compost and manure.  The garden, in its turn, rewarded him with tremenduous yields.  I grew up eating Grandpa's vegetables.

My grandma's perennial flowers didn't fare so well under my grandpa's care.  His habit of turning every inch of soil every single year did not favour their longevity.  Grandma continued to plant perennials in the hope they would flower a second year, but with the exception of her roses - which Grandpa cherished like babies - they rarely survived the spring purge.

Annuals, especially if they were self seeding, were another matter entirely:  They loved the rich soil and carefully guarded growing conditions my grandpa's garden provided, and shot up in a riot of colour every single year. Among them were always forget-me-nots and pansies, who actually benefited from having their seeds spread throughout the garden when Grandpa sifted the soil.

So it was that every spring my grandfather would arrive at our door, packets of newspaper wrapped plants in hand.  He would bring me a clump of forget-me-nots, nestled in their newspaper with a good quantity of rich black soil still clinging to their roots. We would venture out into the front garden of my childhood home and carefully choose a spot to plant them. 

I remember the planting ritual very distinctly:  The clearing away of any weeds, the snick of the trowel taking the first bite of soil, the careful digging of a planting hole and loosening of the soil around it, and finally the placement of the plant.  I can still see my grandpa's hands in my mind's eye - broad, with strong fingers and squared fingernails, the black of the soil worked into cracks in his skin - as they gently patted the soil back into place and I remember him saying, every single year in exactly the same way, "I'm giving you forget-me-nots so you'll remember me when I'm gone."  

I'd never experienced the loss of a loved one so I had no understanding of what Grandpa meant by "when I'm gone," but I did have a very clear understanding of the great love behind this annual gift of flowers and planting.

My grandfather passed away in 1978 - a long time ago now - but every single spring this precious gift of memory is returned to me.  I see a forget-me-not and he is with me again, immediate and true.  

I cannot imagine a better gift than that.