Monday, May 28, 2012


"Compassion" was one of the Angel Cards I picked out of the pack this morning (as is my habit - once a week). How appropriate, since I've been almost overwhelmed by compassion for my Mom this past week.
Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it. (The Free Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)
Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. (
Both of these are good definitions, and awfully similar to each other, but I like the first one more. Mom has not been stricken by any immediate bad luck falling her way, unless you consider moving through her 89th year of life qualifies as a misfortune. Don't we all wish for a long life for ourselves and those we love? Mom has what we all are hoping for; no sadness in that.

The circumstances of Mom's life in general are fairly enviable. She is healthy, by all her doctors' reports, lives in her own home, and has a part time aide and two devoted adult children looking after her well-being. And yet compassion wells up when I hear the sad sound wavering through her voice during our daily phone conversations. And I feel frustrated and helpless, as does my brother who lives right there with her. There's nothing we can do to alleviate the kind of pain Mom is experiencing. It's not based on being "stricken by misfortune",  it's "only" what's missing that is pulling her down.

What's missing from Mom's life no one can replace. Her youth. Her vigor. My Dad, her partner of sixty-five years, who died in January 2011, and whose 91st birthday would be celebrated June 13. He was her best friend and confidante, her right hand man, the being that filled the house with presence, even on days when they sat in separate rooms doing their own things. No son downstairs or daughter calling every day can keep her from falling into the void on the other side of her bed at night.

Mom's two sisters and brothers-in-law have been laid to rest. Many of her friends are in the ground as well, or too incapacitated to be social anymore. Mom's biggest accomplishment is her biggest challenge: she's the last one standing. Neither the crossword puzzles nor the novels she reads voraciously can provide sufficient diversion from that gnawing solitude.

I'm a "get into action and fix it" person, and so I encourage her to talk about her feelings; I do the research on senior centers and push her to take baby steps in those directions. But, while my logical mind realizes there's nothing more I can do, my "sympathetic consciousness" remains an eerily similar gnawing - not guilt, but none the less a nagging desire to instantly drain the sadness from my mother's life.

I never had a daughter, but this clearly qualifies as "payback". There's no doubt in my mind that Mom suffered the same compassion when I failed my first driver's test or my teenage heart was broken. What goes around, comes around. That's life, that's family, that's the love that evokes compassion.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I've Been Bugged

Two weeks ago I went to my internist for an annual physical. A med tech, who looked like she might be graduating from high school really soon, led me to an exam room, peeked at the orders in my chart, and announced cheerily, "Well, today we'll be adding a few additional screenings and tests since this is your first annual physical since you joined Medicare. It's your 'Welcome to Medicare' physical."

The good news coming out of this physical - I aced all the tests: eyesight-check, basic balance test-steady as ever, early dementia screening-I've still got it going on, EKG-strong and regular, cholesterol, thyroid, blood panels-fantastically normal or better than average. I'm a hardy specimen. 

The bad news coming home with me from this physical - a virus that took a week to blossom and has held my upper respiratory system in its grip for another week. Swollen sinuses, sneezy, runny nose, chest congestion and coughing, and a throat so sore that I returned to their office for a swab to rule out strep. No strep, but still hardly any energy after noon each day. Not the worst illness I've ever had, but this bug is a cling-on that doesn't want to let go. Don't get this bug.

After six (luckily for me, rainy) days of cancelling wonderful local events for which I had pre-registered, on Saturday I felt well enough to attend a three hour vermiculture workshop offered by the Environmental and Conservation Organization (ECO) of Hendersonville. Quite an informative program, presented by Brian Rosa fom the NC Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance.  

In accordance with their effort to divert tons of organic matter from the landfills by encouraging home composting, I got bugged a second time. OK, worms are invertebrates, technically not bugs, but I came away from the workshop with a worm bin and a half pound of red wigglers (turns out the ordinary burrowing and tunneling worms, like nightcrawlers, that you find in the garden will not magically turn paper and food scraps into nutritious planting soil the same way; who knew?)

I  have lined the bin with with torn scraps of discarded junk mail and newspaper that would otherwise go out in the recycling bin on Wednesday morning, and made this "worm bedding" suitably soggy. The final step was to bury a handful of banana skin/apple core/coffee ground mix and oila, a dirt factory in the making.

What I learned is that worms consume their weight in 24 hours. They don't like light, so they won't crawl out of the bin - besides, we're feeding them and keeping them comfortable (between 60 and 85 degrees), so why even think of escaping? Worms mature in 6 days, becoming able to reproduce, with or without a partner - they're hermaphrodites (probably illegal according to the North Carolina constitution, but that's another story). Their cocoons hatch in 6 days, so within a short time, the half pound community of worms should multiply and then stabilize into 2000 hungry mouths and cranking backends. My waste is their food; their waste feeds my food. Now that's being bugged in the best way possible; I highly recommend it.

Happy little worm bin

side view - see the size and the split lid? Easy.