Thursday, November 24, 2016

Eulogy for Ken: "Here's the magic. Take it, and don't spill it."

One of the last things Kenneth said to Nanny and me was, " Here's the magic. Take it, and don't spill it." Yes, he had some confusion at that time, but this made sense to me, and he couldn't have said a more perfect thing because the way he touched my life and the lives of countless others can only be described as magical.
Kenneth was such a spiritual and calm person, a man who found peace within himself. There has never been a more devoted caregiver, son, father, and grandfather, and there is no doubt that he has impacted his loved ones, the patients he cared for, and their families in major ways. But he would also leave behind thoughtful and simple surprises that would deeply touch others.
Once I hosted a cookout at my house and after everyone had left, I found a glass with a single white hydrangea he left for me in his space. He was always slipping me books he wanted me to read. On one of our family camping trips to a state park, I commented on how much I liked the Native America flute music they were playing in the gift shop. Six months later for Christmas, he presented me with the CD.  He continues to surprise and comfort us, and after he passed away, we found a simple note he left for Nanny telling her what a blessing she was to him and how much he loved her.
Kenneth was a writer himself, and I enjoyed the unique way he phrased things. When I was excitedly telling him that I wanted to go to graduate school, he said to me, "You always drip with enthusiasm". At one of the recent visits to the nursing home, he looked at me and very clearly said, "The Lord's done all he can with you. Don't ya figure?"
I want to share with you some of the magic he's left behind. We can find him in the first spring violets, a summer fern, a fall pumpkin,  in an autumn walk through the woods, in the smell of wood smoke. For the grandkids, he will come back to them each time they reach for a single stick of gum. We can see him in Nanny's eyes, in Emily's eyes, in Cliff's facial structure, in Larry's calm voice and quiet strength. We can see him in Tracy's devotion to Nanny and in Toby's excitement when Nanny comes home from the store. We can see him in baby Bralen, whom he continued to call for even when he couldn't remember anyone else.
Kenneth was my birthday twin, and I'll always find him on that day and  in the books I think he'd enjoy, in windchimes I know he'd like, every time I walk through a greenhouse, and in the enjoyment I get from a cup of coffee. He will come to me when I'm out shopping and see a short sleeve plaid shirt in just the right shade of blue that would make his eyes sparkle. In so many ways, he's still with us and though we will spill tears, we all carry a little of the magic that will never go away.
I want to share what I feel is a message he left for us all. As we were going through some of his papers, we found a story he had been working on. It is called "Hill Teacher." There were many pages clipped together, but when I flipped them over, I found a passage from the story. It's part of the dialogue, but it's very fitting today, and out of all those pages, this is  part I just happened to stop and read:

"It is wonderfully comforting, though, to have blessed assurance that there is a family circle in heaven which can never be broken. In this time and world we live in, religion comes back to doing the best we can  for as long as we can. Part of the best we can do is to help others as you folks have helped me. We appreciate you. We love you. We will never forget you." 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Dear lil homies, make friends with firsts...

Dear lil homies,
Make friends with firsts. I know you're nervous and don't want the summer to end. You don't wanna go to that bus stop, don't wanna pack that backpack, don't wanna force your summer feet back into sneakers, but today is your first step toward next weekend. It's your first step toward next summer. The only way out is through. It's also your first step toward new friends and new experiences and toward figuring out what you want to do and who you are and who you want to be.

There will always be firsts. First days of school, first dances, first dates, first time one your own, first cars, apartments, jobs. Every week Monday gives us a new first, and every morning of every day gives us a new first to start over. A fresh start.

Firsts are not something to be dreaded or feared, but a place where once again we are all equal, a place to catch your breath and to know that you have just as much right and power as anyone else to make the most of your firsts. You come to your firsts with something no one else has: your own unique talents and abilities. Your tiny first steps may add up to something major that the whole world needs. So wipe the sleep out of your eyes, wash the summer off your face, and go rock your first day knowing that you're one step closer to next summer than you were yesterday.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Carry Me

Carry Me
by Trinny Sigler
Father's Day 2016

"Carry Me!" I'd say
and fling my spaghetti arms up.
Countless times my dad would carry me
across the fields to protect my feet from bees.
It was relief at the end of a day spent in the sun:
mountain climbing, bike riding, swimming, wading the creek,
to reach up and say, "Carry me,"
to rest my sunburned cheek
on his big shoulder.

And then that inevitable day
when the adults say,
"You are too big to be carried,"
when just yesterday I wasn't.
That day that starts the beginning
of never being carried again.

I know I'm too big now.
I know I'm grown,
but sometimes when I'm weary,
I still fling my arms up to the
and asked to be carried,
and sometimes there is

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

She says, "Your fudge is good,
but can  you make caramel?
My granny used to make caramel."
I ask, "Do you have the recipe?"
She says, "She didn't use one.
I didn't pay attention.
I can't get one.
She passed away.
I should've paid attention."

She says, "Mamaw used to make chicken and dumplins.
Mine aren't the same.
Can you make biscuits from scratch?
Mine turn out hard.
Biscuits and dumplins I can't do.
Not like Mamaw."

"Can you bring us banana split cake?
The old-timey kind?"
He stands up in church and asks:
"Can anybody make divinity?
I haven't had any since Mommy died.
Do any of you ladies know how to make it?"

I can make biscuits and blackberry cobbler.
I can make fudge—
not too hard,
and not too soft.
I memorized the hands and the faces
as I memorized the ingredients.
Invisible recipes written on my heart.
I think I knew even then to
preserve them for later,
to put them up for a future season,
pull them out in the bleakness of winter.

Nanny's biscuits, Mamaw's dumplins,
Granny's caramel fudge, Mommy's divinity.
What they are really asking is:
Can you take me back?
Can you give me back


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Autism Awareness: Cookies and ribbons aren't cutting it.

Autism Awareness: Cookies and ribbons aren't cutting it.

April is autism awareness month, and while it's wonderful that the blue and the puzzle piece ribbons and the cookies raise money for Autism Speaks, those of us who spend 12 months a year in Autismland need more than these things. While we appreciate everyone's awareness,  the cookies and ribbons aren't cutting it.
Everyone seems to be aware that autism is out there, but no one seems to be aware of what to do about it. Would you know what to do if a person with autism is alone and seems to be non-verbal and lost? Do you know the difference between an angry outburst and a tantrum? Do you know what to do for the person when the tantrum is happening? Have you ever heard of sensory issues and how they can impact a person?
Autism can manifest in many ways:  tantrums , poor impulse control, impaired speech or inability to speak,  inability to process what's being said, inability to plan or understand consequences of actions, aggression, sensory issues, inability to toilet train, elopement, and the list goes on. Elopement means that the person may  dash off in crowds, from the school classroom, from the home, or maybe they will open a car door in moving traffic. A person with sensory issues may not feel cold outside in the winter (and run off without wearing shoes in snow). They may love the feeling of deep pressure and head-butt you, thinking that it feels good to you too. They may bang their own heads on hard surfaces and maybe even bust out windows. Lukewarm water may feel scalding to them, and the feeling of clothes on their skin may be unbearable.
As you can see, autism is a developmental disorder that can impact every aspect of the person's life, and the institution that could help these kids the most is the educational system. Sadly, this seems to be the place of least preparedness and awareness. Currently,  some "autism classrooms" in Kanawha county  have exterior doors that these students, who have the tendency to elope, only have to push open, and sometimes they lead straight to busy streets and railroad tracks. School systems don't have enough capable aides and don't know how to manage tantrums and often put these students on homebound, even though research shows that children with autism need more intensive instruction and benefit best from one-to-one teaching. They need to be around others more so that they can learn social skills, not sent home with an hour of instruction four days a week. They have a right to a free and appropriate education, and homebound is inappropriate.
Enough about what's lacking, let's look at what could be. School systems could increase the pay for autism mentor aides and hire more people. This could be funded through Medicaid, which school systems often bill anyway. If every autistic child had his own aide, each aide could work one-on-one teaching each child with oversight by the child's classroom teacher and in partnership with a board certified behavioral analyst. Aides in the same school could rotate working with the children so that the child would adjust easier if his own aide is out for the day.
 Locally, we have the Autism Training Center in Huntington, the Applied Behavioral Learning Center in South Charleston, and Bright Futures in Huntington to name a few that the schools could partner with to get their staffs appropriately trained and to get academic programming in place that moves the child forward. Progress should be evaluated every few months, and if the child isn't making progress, academic programming need to be changed.  No child should be put  on  homebound due to lack of trained staff or lack of an aide.
Changes in school environment could also go along way toward integrating these children. Every school should  have a sensory room with ball pits, trampolines, crash pads (huge beanbags filled with foam that kids can safely jump into), weighted blankets, and a sensory swing. Additionally, there should be a quiet room with padded floors and walls, blankets, crash pads and other soft items where meltdowns can happen without injury. Staff could observe the child through a window in the door to make sure they are safe, and this would keep staff out of the line of the tantrum. The risk of elopement could be curtailed by not allowing autism rooms to have exterior doorways. It is a  huge safety risk if a child can push a bar, leave the building, and get on a busy street or railroad track. Finally, these children shouldn't be suspended for school for tantrums or elopement or any other manifestation of this disability. We can't continue to tuck these children away on homebound and pretend these issues don't exist.

Yes, the changes I'm suggesting would be costly to school systems, but what is going to be more costly is a generation of children who haven't been educated, who are being socially  isolated, and who aren't learning the functional skills they need.  One in 68 children has autism now. It's time we truly learn how to care for  them and meet their needs. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Boat Ghosts

Boat Ghosts

They are lined up
side by side
in the marina,
boat ghosts.
Come Easter, they will shed their shrouds,
rise again,
walk on water,
part the seas.
Some will pass over
the watery graves
of their sunken ancestors,
once full of treasures and men.

They are lined up
side by side
in the marina
 in  prophylactics.
Practice safe boating,
buoy awareness.
Careful not to smash your...dock.
No DUIs,
you party barges.
He crashed
one summer night
after the wedding. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Book Review: "Free Verse" by Sarah Dooley

Below is a book review for Sarah Dooley's new one, "Free Verse." It's will be available in March, but I'm lucky enough to know Sarah, and she was kind enough to give me a signed galley to read early :D. I will share this review on Amazon as soon as the book comes out, and it's definitely a five-star read.

Sarah Dooley's newest book Free Verse chronicles the life of  young Sasha, who was abandoned by her birth mother and lost her birth father in a mining accident. Her older brother, Michael, assumes parenting responsibilities, but Sasha soon loses him as well. A ward of the state, she is handed over to her kind foster mother, Phyllis, but Sasha frequently runs from Phyllis's care in search of her own roots and her own place in an Appalachian world she's uncertain she wants to remain a part of. Sasha begins  to find bright spots in her life by locating extended family, making a friend, and participating in poetry club. However, another tragedy strikes that throws her back into jeopardy.
Dooley so accurately brings to life a traumatized child, a concerned but disappointed foster mother, a burly coal miner who can spend hours doing hard manual labor but is helpless when it comes to dealing with emotions, and modern-day Appalachia where drug abuse, poverty, and mining accidents are every day realities. There is beauty in this grit, and Dooley displays that too. 
This book is a beautiful marriage of poetry and prose. The concerned foster mother's "empty hands hang like wilted flowers". "Trailers climb hills like mountain goats." Forms of poetry are described and examples are given, making this a perfect book for tweens and young teens who are learning the writing craft.
As an adoptive mother,  social worker, former teacher, and children's therapist I know these characters. I have been several of them. This would be a wonderful book for tweens and teens and should be incorporated into the school setting. Countless children are silently dealing with trauma, blended families, poverty, loss. This book would speak to them, and what it would say is: You are not alone. There is always some place you belong. It's just a matter of finding it.

Thank you, Ms. Dooley, for a fabulous read.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Smoker Un-friendly

Every time I hear a smoker-shaming commercial on the radio, it makes me wanna fire up a Marlboro, which takes me back to the phrase my mother used to always say to me, "You make my ass want a cigar." I don't know what the fuck that even means, but I'm assuming it meant  I was annoying her so I guess these commercials make my ass want a cigar too, which brings me to my next point...
This latest commercial has this guy who is talking about smoking giving him colorectal cancer. He talks about the surgery to remove the tumor and chemo and having a colostomy bag and how every time he has a bowel movement, it comes out in the bag. Okay, yeah. We know how a colostomy works. They conclude by saying, "So if all this sounds good to you, keep smoking."
The logic in these commercials is so flawed. I get that they are trying to scare smokers into quitting, but they are shaming ALL people who have colostomy bags. There are a  lot of people who have colostomies and never smoked. That bag is keeping a lot of folks alive, and there's no shame in needing one.
The commercial prior to this shamed people with stomas in their throats. The speaker offered tips to those who were getting a stoma (Don't bend over quickly after eating or drinking. Don't cut your stoma when you're shaving.) Basically it was a full 30 seconds of stoma-shaming followed by some witticism about smoking.
And who can forget the little lady from North Carolina  plastered all over TV ads and billboards everywhere? The ad likes to point out that smoking turned her from a cheerleader into a cancer patient. It's great that she tried to get kids to not smoke, but lots of conditions can cause people to need trachs, and other conditions can cause people to have jaw bones to be removed too (some skin cancers, if they tunnel deep enough can get in the bone, leading to removal and disfigurement.) It's not okay to shame these folks. It's equivalent to kicking someone who is already down. 
It's not okay to shame cancer patients, or any other person who is ill, no matter what led to the condition. And one's health condition and decision to smoke is no one else's business. Circumstances can't be assumed, and no one has the right to judge.
The folks in these commercials  don't magically have a right to shame others for something they themselves have done all their lives. It's like a hooker getting religion, and then having the ability to condemn everyone else to hell. (You all know someone like this, one of those people that as the old saying goes, "I knew her before she was a virgin.") It's like being wild as buck until two days before you're about to drop dead and then finding Jesus.  (You know somebody like this too. Bubba searched through many-a bar before he found Jesus.)
The other thing to think about is: are these ads hitting their mark? I think not. I lived in the gang-infested poor part of Carolina for two years. Tobacco is their coal. RJ Reynolds and all the others are royalty. Kids learn to smoke before they learn to breastfeed. A 50 year old with a raspy voice is not going to deter them. Everybody in Carolina had a Mamaw who talks like that, and parents are happy if tobacco is the ONLY substance the kids are using. (The town I lived in was the halfway point between New York and Florida, had a steady drug trade, and supplied all the drugs to the beach towns.)
The guys in the other commercials don't make an impact because they come across as self-righteous jerks.  They are treating us all as rebellious teens, and they are that parent that's saying "Well if you want XYZ to happen to you just keep on doing what you're doing!" It's condescending to adults, and the rebellious teen replies, "Ok! I will!"
Another thing that bothers me about these commercials is: I don't think you should ever go back and curse what once sustained you. Be that a prior relationship, food, smoking, etc. They are maybe not good coping skills but are coping skills nonetheless that sometimes sustain folks until they can develop better coping skills.
 I know that waitresses take smoke breaks to keep from being homicidal. Maybe a cigarette is all that keeps Bubba from getting pissed off and shooting up the local Piggly Wiggly or beating Junior with a tire iron (pronounced: tar arn). Maybe the only reason Margie didn't pop you off when you cut her off in traffic was because she didn't want to put her cigarette down to pick up her shotgun. When you think of it this way, we don't know how many lives smoking may have saved. And I'm not trying to be funny here, this is serious. Years ago I had a friend who was struggling with mental illness, and he said to me:
"I was out of cigarettes, and stopped at the gas station to get them after work. There was a long line, and my first thought was 'I ought to go out the truck, get my rifle, and pop these motherfuckers off. Then I'd be first in line to get my cigarettes.' But I didn't. I waited for my cigarettes." A guy like that needs his cigarettes.
So many people are just trying to get through the day. Sometimes the struggles are hard, and we all have our ways of self-soothing. Let's not pass judgment or shame someone else just because their pacifier may look different from our own. 

*I didn't touch on the "Truth" commercials because they are so head-trippy that I think whoever created them had to be smoking something and that to understand them, I would need to smoke something too.