Thelma and Louise: Not everyone picks when they go over the edge

thelmaandlouiseMy mom and her best friend (my Aunt Diana) were the old ladies most women hope to be: Fearless, funny, ferocious and kind.

They vowed for 20 years to go out of this world together like Thelma and Louise, ending the great adventure of their lives by plunging into the Grand Canyon.

Mom sometimes joked it would never work because Diana would grab hold of a tree branch on the way down, saving herself and waving goodbye as mom crashed into the abyss.

But today, mom was proved wrong. Diana died, leaving mom to dangle alone on the precipice, saved not by her own desire to live, but by a fate that has kept her here to watch almost all those she loves pass on.

Buddy Long Nose No. 1 and Buddy Long Nose No. 2 — mom and Diana’s code names for each other —  met as high school freshmen 70 years ago.

Mom was the youngest of seven children raised in a small town by a tough single mother who shunned marriage — but not necessarily men — after her first two husbands died.

And Diana, who was born in Poland, grew up isolated, an only child on a farm, adopted by a doting Polish family who never learned to speak English but always communicated warmth and generosity.

Alone, mom or Diana stuck to the rules. Together, they were trouble.

As girls in the 1940s, they once secretly stirred up an boozy broth they called Hiroshima.

It was a mixture of Polish white lightning and Dr. Gimozo’s Elixir, an over-the-counter  tonic Diana’s parents relied on to cure for everything from the sniffles to double pneumonia.

After the girls drank as much as they could — Hiroshima was their first taste of liquor — they put the leftover Hiroshima in a kitchen cupboard and went to bed.

The next morning, Diana’s mother discovered the Hiroshima when she saw the aftermath — the mix had somehow exploded and blown a cabinet door from its hinges. When she went to check on my mom and Diana — still passed out in bed — she panicked, certain they were dead.

Neither mom nor Diana drank anything with liquor again for years, but it didn’t matter.

Their misadventures continued. After a brief stint in the back of a police car — my uncle called a cop friend after he fell asleep on a beach and mom and Diana tied all the hairs on both of his legs into hundreds of tiny knots — mom and Diana headed to Kent State University, mom to study art and Diana to study journalism

They had big dreams, but they didn’t work out the way they planned.

Both women ran out of money after freshman year and dropped out of college.  Mom went to work at a department store downtown Cleveland and Diana joined the U.S. military.

When I was a in pre-school and the postman dropped off a box from Diana, it was better than Christmas. I was an only child isolated on a farm like Diana had been. And she sent me packages of wonder and adventure –exotic shells, a coconut turned into a purse that looked like a girl’s head with human hair braids, a feathery bird puppet on strings taller than I was,   hot pink silk pajamas with embroidered dragons.

Diana was in the Philippines then, her husband’s military post after she and her family survived the most powerful earthquake in U.S. history,  a 9.2 magnitude upheaval that gobbled up people and houses and cars all around them in Alaska.

I couldn’t imagine that kind of life.  I was hunkered down with mom in a farmhouse on the edge of town where she and Diana grew up. Mom was literally afraid to leave the house. A psychiatrist diagnosed her with agoraphobia, a severe anxiety disorder that causes people to avoid places where they might panic.

I don’t remember how old I was when Diana and her family finally moved home, but when I turned 7, Diana was at my birthday party and somehow ended up sprawled on the grass in our backyard with children trying to yank her apart by pulling her arms and legs in different directions.

Diana survived. She and her family built a house next to the farm where she grew up and brought a little magic into our lives.

Mom opened an art studio at our house. Diana opened a paperback book exchange at hers — first in her basement and then, with booming success, an addition onto her house — giving me free access to mountains of words and information.

As time passed, Diana and my mother would laugh, fight — sometimes not talking for months — and rescue each other during rocky times.

Diana also rescued me, once convincing my mom to change her plan about moving to Amish country to get me away from what she considered the bad influences of pop culture.

“If I know Amanda, she will get in a buggy and get herself the hell out of there,” Diana told my mom. Mom listened. She knew Diana was right.

When Diana’s husband died almost 20 years ago, mom stood by her side.

And in June, when my dad died, Diana — reeling from radiation treatments for the same cancer that killed my father — sat beside my mom’s wheelchair at the funeral home, refusing to leave mom even after an oncology nurse noticed Diana was having difficulty during the service.

Today, not even three months later, Diana died. The radiation didn’t work. It merely stole Diana’s ability to taste her favorite things — cheese, macademia nuts and a shaken Manhattan with a maraschino cherry.

When my husband and I took mom to see Diana at the home of one of her sons two days ago, I worried mom and her walker might not make it inside.

It is a split-level house with a flight of stairs lead up to the main floor. Mom conquered the extra-high stoop and then abandoned her walker and held onto a railings on either side of the indoor steps. I stood behind, my hands on her bum, both steadying and boosting her up with each step.

“I’m coming, Diana. I’m coming,” Mom said, stubbornly forcing herself to climb.

“I know you are, I knew you would,” Diana answered, sitting in a recliner at the top of the stairs.

“Thelma and Louise,” mom half-shouted,  a battle cry.

Upstairs, mom sat on the seat of her walker next to Diana, holding her hand — just as she had done with my father a few months before.

“You know the only phone number I know — other than mine — is yours,” mom told Diana, who was her devilishly funny self, only exhausted and nodding off from the morphine and the toxins her liver — the cancer had spread to her liver — could no longer filter.

It was like watching mom with my dying father all over again. I had to look away.

Today, when I asked one of Diana’s granddaughters on Facebook how Diana was doing, she asked me if I could go to mom’s care center and spend time with her because Diana’s son was going to call.

I knew why he was calling even though the granddaughter didn’t say.

When I got to mom’s care center, I found mom tilted back in my father’s recliner — a green leather beast she never once used until dad died.

She was drunk.

For years, mom enjoyed  a single glass of red wine with dinner each night or maybe a nip of brandy. But she gave it up a couple of years ago, saying it hurt her throat. Even in the moments before dad died, when my husband, our friend and I raised glasses of wine over his his bed in a toast to dad’s honor, mom declined. Not even a sip.

Today was different.

“I drank a whole glass of white wine,” she said through a slur. “I wanted the whole thing and I drank it all.”

A couple of minutes later, the phone rang. It was Diane’s oldest son with the news of Diana’s death.

When Mom was a younger woman, this kind of sadness would have knocked her to her knees sobbing and inconsolable. She may not have left home for days. I have witnessed this several times.

But mom was stoic. She was, for the most part, with my father’s passing, too.

When an aide came in to say the dining room was serving dinner, she looked at mom — still drunk — and wondered aloud if she might need help getting there.

I told the aide not to bother. I’d shepherd her.

I don’t know why mom chose to drink today — and lift the glass at the moment Diana was dying — but I’d like to think it was Diana at work on some higher plane, giving mom permission to live on as Thelma or Louise even after she was gone.

Before she went to eat, mom asked me to make to make her a cup of strong coffee while she stood with her walker and slathered on a layer of pink lipstick.

Then,  mom — without her husband, without her lifelong friend — toddled haphazardly away.

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Dad’s Final Chapter is Closed

IMG_0079My dad — after weeks of suffering — died June 9.

I’ve put off writing about his death because I’ve been searching for the larger meaning, the life lesson or even grace.

But six weeks have passed and I have bupkis.

I’ve gone through the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — and I’ve circled back to anger.

Not that my dad is dead, but that he didn’t die sooner — when he wanted, before the cancer and the morphine dragged him into a terrifying world of confusion, agitation and despair.

How can you comfort someone who believes nurses are stringing him up nightly in a nonexistent basement, whipping him, stuffing towels down his throat and frolicking in his pain?

Dad first tried to kill himself in Hospice with cigarettes.

Doctors for 60 years warned dad he would have a heart attack if he didn’t stop smoking. Esophageal cancer hit first, but dad wanted the heart attack, longed for it — or anything else — that would end his life quickly once he was near the end.

Every day at Hospice, he asked us to push him outside in a wheelchair for cigarettes. After a couple of puffs on his first Pall Mall, he would vomit into a blue air sickness bag because the smoke irritated the tumor in his throat and other tumors in his lungs.

Yet nausea didn’t dissuade him. When one cigarette was finished, he’d light another, inhaling deeper, deeper, trying to suck down all the poison.

My husband was the first to realize what dad was up to. I just assumed he was getting his nicotine fix. But after a few days of unusual chain smoking and the barfing routine, dad wondered aloud why he had such a strong heart.

Dad next tried to kill himself by refusing food and water.

Dehydration is a slow, ugly, painful way to die and he suffered four or five days until an insightful nurse realized dad no longer knew where he was or what was happening.

Dad again said he was cursed with a strong heart because he just wanted to die.

I was at his bedside when this happened. Dad forgot he was sick. It was up to me to bring him back to reality.

“This is sort of a weird thing to say, Dad, but I think today may be your lucky day,” I said. “You have cancer. You are dying.”

Dad was thrilled.

Five minutes later he was sipping water and asking for ice cream.

I will share the details of the Hospice experience and the final hours of dad’s life in another post, but his was a hard death.

There was no peaceful exit.

Only agony.

And that leaves me angry.

What follows is dad’s obituary. I wish I would have written it far in advance of his passing instead of typing it out in the hours before the newspaper deadline. But it gives a sense of my dad’s life. He was a quiet and usually kind man who remained curious about the world — particularly machines and technology — until the end.

HERMAN GARRETT – who watched Medina grow from a sleepy country hamlet into a booming suburb of both Cleveland and Akron – died Tuesday. He was 83.

During his final months – which included radiation and chemotherapy for esophageal cancer – Garrett never complained.

He feasted on crab legs and filet mignon, gobbled up books on his Kindle and happily sat on the front steps of his daughter’s house with his wife, savoring his Pall Malls and soaking in the warmth of the springtime sun.

Garrett was a banker by trade, but a musician, historian, fix-it man and computer nerd at heart. Garrett, an only child, was born in Ravenna and moved with his parents to Medina in 1939 when about 4,000 people lived there. He landed his first job-besides a newspaper route – during WWII at age 13, working as a soda jerk at Bachtell Drug on the corner of Court and Washington streets overlooking Medina’s town square.

With the money he earned, he bought a used Salsbury motor scooter and embarked on a series of high school road trips, traveling as far as Washington D.C., where then-Senator Robert A. Taft spied his Ohio license plate and let Garrett and his friend, Ron Morse, park their scooters in his spot at the U.S. Capital.

About the same time, Garrett fell in love with jazz, excelled at trombone and dreamed of being a musician. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school and when he was accepted to Baldwin Wallace, his father – who was forced to drop out of school in sixth grade to support his impoverished family – insisted he study business.

During college – Garrett was among the crowd when Dave Brubeck recorded at Finney Chapel at Oberlin College – he worked summers helping surveyors build a stretch of the Ohio Turnpike between Strongsville and I-77 and the company offered him a job in Libya after graduation.

Garrett declined, in part because he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. After he was discharged, returned to Medina – where the population had swelled to about 7,000 people – the president of Old Phoenix Bank (now, through mergers, part of FirstMerit) offered him a job.

After a few months, he was promoted and, like all tellers at the bank on Medina’s square, he was given a pearl-handled revolver. The bank had armed the tellers since the Great Depression, Garrett later recalled, after notorious bank robber John Dillinger was spotted nearby. Old Phoenix also kept three rifles on tripods pointed out its upstairs windows toward the town square as its first line of defense.

Garrett met his wife, Winifred Williams, at a friend’s party. When he saw her sitting on a couch, he walked over to her and, without saying a word, kissed her. They married in 1957 and moved to Daytona Beach, Fla., for a decade where Garrett continued to work as a banker.

After their only child, Amanda, was born, the leaders of Old Phoenix tracked down Garrett and asked him to come back to work. Garrett happily left Florida behind and moved his family back to Medina in 1968 when the population was approaching 10,000.

Garrett remained at Old Phoenix and the banks it has merged into. At work, he oversaw the installation of the first ATMS and computers at the bank. At home, he fed chickens, milked a goat and cared for a garden large enough to feed his family year round. He and his wife lovingly cared for their house, built in 1847, that they owned for more than three decades.

Through the years, Garrett was a member of the Lions Club, served on the board of the Akron Summit Community Action and, with his wife, ran the youth group at Poe United Methodist Church. After Garrett retired from banking, he also found joy and satisfaction delivering meals for the Medina County Office for Older Adults.

Garrett – a lifelong Republican and a Christian – believed everyone should have the power to determine when and how their lives end. His family and Hospice of Medina County cared for him as best they could with the tools available, but Garrett would have chosen an earlier departure if Ohioans had a legal right to die – something he and his family support.

Family suggests memorial contributions be made to United Church of Christ, Congregational, 217 E. Liberty St., Medina, OH 44256, Hospice of Medina County, 5075 Windfall Road, Medina, OH 44256 or the Medina County SPCA, 245 S. Medina St., Medina, OH 44256.

Morphine: No Cure for Pain

morphine

Just before 6 a.m., my dad’s voice floats through my dreams, a distant call echoing through a warm, nighttime fog.

“Amanda, I can’t breathe.”

My eyes open and before I hear the second syllable of my name a second time, my feet are on the carpet, running, running, down, down, down toward my father who is standing with his walker at the bottom of the stairs, his oxygen cord a tangle at his feet.

“I’m sorry,” he says,  but I can’t breathe.”

He isn’t gasping. He isn’t blue. But he is upset, confused.

I shepherd him through the darkness toward his saggy, lopsided recliner, a green leather monster that moved into our house a few years ago when mom and dad did.

In the kitchen, a few feet away, I reach for morphine, a tiny square bottle packaged like it’s a precious cologne, Chanel No. 5  for the dying. A high school health teacher warned us so many times about the dangers of morphine that even now, 30 years later, it’s counter-intuitive to give this drug to someone I love.

The morphine is the same pine green of NyQuil and no thicker than water. I insert a syringe thinner than a pencil into the bottle and fill it about 1/4 full, only a few drops, less than an 1/8 of a teaspoon, the prescribed dose dad can take once each hour.

When I turn on the light by dad’s recliner, I’m startled. My father is there, but he seems to have turned into my grandfather, his own father who died in 1990.

Until this moment, dad never resembled my grandfather, a self-righteous, blue-eyed Irishman, red hair gone to frost.

We, my father and I, have always been Schneebergers, taller versions of my German grandmother, with hazel eyes, a dimple in our right cheeks, almost always harder on ourselves than we are on others.

“Dad, I’ve got something that is going to help,” I say, holding the syringe where he can see it.

Until now, I’ve only given dad morphine twice a day — once at breakfast and once before bed. Hospice prescribed the opiate after his esophageal cancer and chemotherapy combined to cause weeks of diarrhea, leaving him so weak he couldn’t stand.

Morphine causes constipation, so the diarrhea ended. And I know it can also slow the respiratory system so dad, whose cancer has spread to his lungs, won’t feel like he’s gasping for air.

Dad tilts back his head and opens his mouth, his gums pink and wet, naked without his dentures. And like a mama bird feeding a hatchling, I insert the syringe and plunge the morphine down his throat.

This change, this sudden morphing from Schneeberger to Garrett unnerves me. So does this increasingly unfamiliar and traumatic family drama.

A room away, my mother sleeps, oblivious to her husband’s struggles. More and more she’s living in her own bizarre  dementialand.

Most days she insists she can’t go to the bathroom without eating cheesecake and smoking cigarettes. Other days she says she can’t stop going to the bathroom unless she eats cheesecake and smokes cigarettes.

The television remote control, for her, might as well be a martian spaceship.

She’s can’t figure it out.

Fifteen minutes after I give dad the morphine, he’s still having a tough time breathing.

I worry this is the first of many such episodes to come. No one from Hospice has yet told me what to do.

Maybe dad is having a panic attack, I wonder.

The day before, when I was taking a shower, my dad sobbed to the aide who visited for an hour to give him a bath. Stacie, who’s helped mom bathe for nearly four years and who took care of my aunt with Alzheimer’s before that, is part of our family now and dad trusts her.

He’s been unwaveringly brave in front of me, but he confided his deepest fear to Stacie — suffocation — and she wisely passed that on to me.

I go back to the kitchen and reach for dad’s other new prescription — a generic form of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.

For a moment, I think about popping one of the tiny yellow pills myself, but I have never taken anything like that and decide it’s too big of a risk. If I have some sort of weird reaction, my husband is saddled with this mess.

So I half-fill a glass — well, really a plastic tumbler with textured sides that old, feeble hands can easily grip — with water and carry the Xanax in to dad. He swallows it, thanks me and closes his eyes.

Eleven days before, dad entered Hospice, both the program and the facility. It happened on a Saturday after he wouldn’t get out of bed.

A nurse practitioner who had visited the day before as part of dad’s palliative care had noticed the decline in his health. She said it was best for him to decide whether he wanted to give up on chemo and opt for Hospice. But she changed her mind on that Saturday when I called and told her about the situation.

A Hospice intake nurse came to our house and, by then, dad was sitting in his recliner. I was ready, as his power of attorney, to  sign the Hospice forms. But dad rallied enough to do make this decision himself and, for this, I will be forever grateful.

Although Hospice would almost certainly argue otherwise, signing up for comfort care is surrendering to your disease. I didn’t want to wave the white flag for dad. It was good for him and for me that he made that choice.

My husband drove dad a mile away to the Hospice care center, a nearly new facility with several indoor fireplaces and rooms that overlook an equally new park where people jog with dogs and push strollers around a blacktop path.

I followed in a separate car with my mother, her wheelchair, three one-gallon Ziplock bags of dad’s medication, dad’s living will, my power of attorney and a pack of dad’s Pall Mall cigarettes, a red Bic lighter stuffed inside.

Three days later, after Hospice got his diarrhea under control, dad came back to our house to celebrate his 58th wedding anniversary with my mom and told me he never wanted to go back to Hospice.

I worry now, watching him in his recliner, that he will end up back in Hospice, that I might not be able to handle this.

It’s been almost an hour since he woke me and I give him another dose of morphine.

This squirt of green, in combination with the Xanax, works.

He nods off.

Later, when I call Hospice, a nurse named Ginger reassures me I did the right thing with the morphine and the Xanax.

She gets permission from a doctor to double dad’s morphine and his Trazadone, a pill he takes before bed that helps the mind relax.

Then she ask me if I know what do when someone dies.

My first thought is “run,” but I don’t say it. I don’t say anything.

Ginger fills the silence with a “What To Do When Someone Dies — For Dummies” talk.

The person will stop breathing. Their eyes may be closed or may still be open.

Don’t panic. Don’t call 9-1-1. Go slow. Take your time. Call Hospice immediately or whenever you’re ready.

Once Hospice arrives, staff will verify the person’s dead. And then, whenever you’re ready — remember, there’s no rush — Hospice will call the funeral home.

As she’s explaining this, my mother hollers from somewhere in the house demanding a cigarette. I seek refuge in the pantry overlooking our wooded backyard and notice for the first time that spring green has started coloring the tips of the trees.

Once Hospice calls the funeral home, Ginger tells me, it usually takes about an hour for the staff to arrive.

The only decision to make then, she says, is whether you want the dead person’s face covered or uncovered as he’s taken from the home.

Who cares, covered or uncovered, I think to myself. Ginger’s already told me my dad’s going to by lying there for hours in my house dead, his eyes possibly open.

By the time I hang up the phone, my husband has taken my mother out for a cigarette and helped my father back to bed.

I reach for the tiny bottle of morphine again to soothe my father’s breathing and wish that Hospice offered something just as powerful to cure my pain.

This happened two days ago. My father is sleeping more, eating less and, for the first time since he was in the Army during the Korean War, passing up cigarettes. Although I  know his final chapter is closing, no one knows when that will be. For now, I stand guard with the morphine and Xanax, trying to make him comfortable. Morphine was one of my favorite bands of the 1990s and a half-dozen of their songs still occupy my favorites list, including “Cure for Pain.”morphine

American Greetings: Cleveland Greeting Card Maker’s Class Act and My Hunt for the Perfect Card

IMG_0849

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my failed quest to find appropriate greeting cards for the old, the sick, the dying and their caregivers.

Someone from American Greetings reached out to me a few days later on Twitter. I was hoping the card maker wanted my advice — I am a writer with insight into these topics, after all —  but alas, the company only wanted my mailing address.

This week, a box, shipped priority mail, arrived at my home with scores of greeting cards the company thought I might find useful, along with a card addressed to me with a hand-written note.

“We know the path you are traveling is difficult, but the work you are doing is so important,” someone at American Greetings penned to me in blue ink. “May you continue to find strength as you care for your parents, as well as many moments of love and peace.”

What a class act. Thank you American Greetings. Makes me proud to be a Clevelander (American Greetings is based in suburban Cleveland) and, I concede, your generosity makes me more likely to choose the American Greetings label.

Inside the box, there were a mix of greeting cards — birthday, encouragement, get well (designed for those who may never fully get well from whatever ails them) and sympathy.

All were appropriate. Most were generous and kind. But none was funny — something that many may appreciate, especially in not-so-happy times (not an easy card-writing assignment, to be sure).

My favorite cards inside the package — and I didn’t know American Greetings was behind this line of cards — were the Papyrus brand, the cards that use a hummingbird as their symbol.

The covers of Papyrus cards are usually tactile — with intricate beading or multiple layers of paper or other adornments. And each is wrapped in a clear, cellophane-type envelope, so there’s no danger of the card getting ruined on a grocery-store conveyor belt.

But the true beauty, to me, is that many Papyrus cards are blank inside, leaving you to be as sentimental, sardonic or supportive as you dare.

If only my handwriting — misshapen, haphazard and coded from years of newspaper reporting in the snow, on doorsteps and in front of unpleasant  crowds — was clear enough to read.

—————————-

Here’s a copy of my blog posting that led American Greetings to send me the cards: 

My mom’s cousin, Dorothy, turns 84 this month and I can’t find a birthday card.

Dorothy, like my mom, grew up poor.

(How poor? Dorothy likes to tell a story about coffee grounds: Her mom used them once for a fresh pot, then a second time for a not-so-fresh pot. Afterward, she carefully packed up the grounds and gave them to my grandmother, who squeezed out whatever caffeine was left for a third pot, thankful that her family had coffee at all.)

But like so many of that generation, Dorothy climbed into the middle class, working a good-paying factory job, marrying a man who did the same and frugally saving until they could buy a tidy ranch in a rural swath of Northeast Ohio where they lived for 50 years.

Life was good until last summer when Dorothy fell over picking strawberries in her garden and bonked her head on a stone.

She ended up in the hospital and shortly after, her husband, Lou, fell and broke his ankle.

Dorothy is home now, isolated, unable to drive because her fickle heart sometimes frolics causing her to faint. And Lou is in a nursing home 12 miles away, confused and calling daily, begging her to pick him up, unsure what he’s done to be sent away from his wife and the home he loves.

Happy Birthday? That, to me, implies Dorothy’s past year was swell and her next year — if there is a next year — will be better.

Nevertheless, a birthday card is necessary. If mom doesn’t send one, it’s more than a slight. It’s an invisible white flag conceding life has ended for both mom and Dorothy even though each continues to breathe.

So, as a pharmacist bagged up 28 prescription refills for mom and dad yesterday, I pawed through racks of birthday cards.

I first gravitated toward a slew of funny, acerbic old lady cards that mom and Dorothy would have happily picked for one another just a decade ago. But jokes about diapers or forgetting your name aren’t funny when they’re true.

Next I discovered a whole birthday genre dedicated to: “We’re both so busy, I never tell you how special you are.” Inappropriate when life turns into a series of medical appointments with naps and tv in between.

The rest were a hodge-podge encouraging the birthday girl to party, to swill wine until drunk or to do something special or naughty just for herself. No. No. And double no.

At least 80 cards into my card safari, I abandoned the hunt. I paid the pharmacy clerk $500-plus for drugs extending my own parents’ not-so-pleasant lives and hauled my mini-drugstore home, hundreds of pills in bottles rattling like tiny, sad maracas.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this card problem. Since my parents moved in, I have been their personal shopper for all cards and gifts they give to each other and anyone else (including me).

Anniversary, Christmas, Sweetest Day (an Ohio tradition concocted generations ago by a clever local chocolatier): Each holiday is filled with land mines and chasms of time that neither candy nor warm bathrobes can cross.

Even buying cards for them is impossible. Most cards grown children give their parents involve “thanks”– thank you for all that you do, thank you for supporting me, thank you for bringing joy to our lives.

I’ve given scores of these sorts of thank-you cards to mom and dad over the years. And I thank them now for being the parents they have been. But the sad truth is, they should be giving me and my husband these thank-you cards now.

And that’s impossible because I would have to buy them. And I wouldn’t, fearing that such a move would trigger a weird psychological echo chamber, maybe even a worm hole for unplanned traveling through time.

But picking out sympathy cards is the worst. And I buy a lot of sympathy cards. Being in your 80s — like my parents are — is not unlike being in your 20s. But you’re sending sympathy cards and attending funerals instead of buying shower gifts and toasting with bad wedding champagne.

Of course it’s sad when anyone loses someone they love. But what is the appropriate sentiment when someone’s body dies years after their brain withered, leaving them a shell? Or when a person, who has longed for the Grim Reaper’s visit, dies after years of suffering, pain and loneliness?

Those passings, I always think to myself, should be celebrated (even if bittersweet).

Unlike so many birthdays, which now seem better off mourned.

Poor Dorothy.

I don’t know what we’re going to drop in the mail this year.

Maybe a blank card, scrawled with words of love and an old photo of better times, a snapshot of her and Lou smiling alongside mom and dad, martinis raised in jubilation.

Please remember: © Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In — from 2015 until present: Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Feel free to re-blog on WordPress.

The Gap: Levi’s, church, Jeffrey Dahmer, rock-and-roll and me

thegapWhen I was on the verge of junior high — about to get my period, about to need a bra, about to have braces hammered onto each one of my teeth so a wire lasso could drag my bucktooth grin into a respectable smile — I fell into and out of the generation gap on a single afternoon.

It happened at the mall with my mom and inside, of all places, The Gap, a store whose very name is a sly marketer’s nod to the chasm that lies between parent and child.

But I didn’t know that then.

I knew hardly anything. It was 1977, before the Internet or cable TV,  when neither the Akron Beacon Journal nor the The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer would deliver daily papers to our far-flung home in rural Ohio. The arbiters of style in my town were K-mart and a Sears surplus store that opened in an old grocery that still smelled of burnt sugar cookies and rotten bananas.

Much of my information about the outside world came from Brenda, a pretty blonde girl who was in the same grade as me, but much savvier. Maybe it was because she already knew how to french kiss, or because she had older brothers or a younger mother than me.

Whatever the reason, I always paid attention to what she had to say, especially on the day she told me the one thing she needed before stepping foot into Howard Claggett Junior High, the only item on her school shopping list that would guarantee success and make her dreams come true —  a pair of Levi’s.

She broke this news to me during church, either in a whisper or a note. I can’t remember which because bombshells like this often fell quietly with muffled giggles during weekly Sunday sermons.

Our Methodist preacher was an angry old man in a blue leisure suit who liked to shake his shriveled fist — a worthless claw emaciated by some disease we didn’t know — at us from the pulpit. He never learned our names and called each of us “girl,” which might have been OK if the generic term was somehow an endearment or a necessity because he couldn’t remember everyone in a large congregation.

But it wasn’t. He didn’t like us and most Sundays only 40 or 50 people, mostly farmers, filled half the white-painted pews of our white clapboard church. So when his sermon invariably pivoted to corn or wheat or some far-flung Biblical place we never believed was real, Brenda and I passed the time kibitzing about the things that mattered to us.

On this Sunday, that was junior high happiness.

Where, I asked Brenda, could a girl like me get a pair of these magical Levi’s?

Four words: The Gap, Summit Mall.

I had no idea what The Gap was, but Summit Mall was only about 15 miles away in a suburb of Akron, a glittering palace of modernity worlds away from the barns and plowed fields that made up my life.

Getting there, for me, would be nearly impossible.

My dad was always working — in our barn at home or in his office at a bank.

And my mom had expanded her “Little House on the Prairie” philosophy — we should lead simple, self-sufficient lives, growing our own vegetables, our own livestock —  to include a “700 Club” overlay, embracing some of the bizarre beliefs of televangelist Pat Robertson and his unsavory ilk.

Shopping malls and consumerism in general, my mom believed, were dangerous. And, I would later learn, she was right, but not in the way she imagined.

That year, 1977, the devil lurked at Summit Mall.

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Future serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who was 6 years older than me, was a student at nearby Revere High  School. Dahmer  hung out at Summit Mall, often flopping onto the carpeting, pretending to have seizures, just to get a rise out of shoppers.

I don’t remember witnessing that. And it would be another year before Dahmer killed anyone, and a few more before he feasted on anyone’s flesh.

But even if I had known a serial killer was prowling around Spencer Gifts, lingering by the gurgling Orange Julius machine and convulsing in front of Piercing Pagoda, that wouldn’t have dissuaded me from my quest. Nothing would.

My mother, after listening to weeks of whining and sighs, must have realized this, too, and finally caved.

On a summer Saturday afternoon, not long before school was set to resume, we arrived at Summit Mall.

The Gap, we learned from a tired-looking woman smoking a cigarette and pushing a baby stroller, was a sliver of a store near the center of the mall that catered to teens, a thought which made me, at 11, walk on tip toes hoping the Gap clerks wouldn’t toss me out like a child too short to ride a roller coaster.

I heard The Gap before I saw it.

“Play that funky music, white boy,” the store called to us over speakers turned outward into the mall, rock-and-roll bait dangled to lure anyone under 30 toward its hook. “Play that funky music right.”

The Gap glowed in the distance like a bare lightbulb, harsh and bright. Girls with feathered hair like Brenda’s walked in and out joyfully swinging Gap bags filled with unknown treasure.

When mom and I walked in, a bit overwhelmed and confused, a Gap clerk — who was trying her best to look like Farrah Fawcett even though she looked more like Barbara Streisand — immediately approached to help.

We had never seen clothing stacked in store bins before. And instead of sizes — 6, 8, 10 — the jeans were labeled in inches by waist and inseam.

I told Farrah Streisand I wanted a pair of Levi’s and, without measuring me, she grabbed four pairs of jeans, shoved them into my arms and pointed toward three dressing rooms that could be used by either men or women.

Mom followed me and leaned against the outside of louvered dressing room door, telling me her latest spiritual concerns about rock music as Stevie Nicks crooned  “Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night and wouldn’t you love to love her.”

The rhythm of the human heart, mom explained, didn’t match the beat of rock-and-roll. And one of the preachers she listened  to, the one on the radio, said that rock music’s heavy bass could confuse a child’s heart and yank it out of rhythm, causing a heart attack.

I tried to ignore mom as I slid on my first pair of Levi’s. Too small.

As I peeled them off, mom yammered on about her life when she was my age in the 1940s and how it would be so much better for me if I listened to Glenn Miller, or maybe something more contemporary but harmless, like The Carpenters or John Denver.

The next pair of Levi’s nailed it. Even the length was right.

When I emerged from the dressing room, before I even looked in the mirror, I knew I was no longer 11, or at least the 11 I was when I walked into The Gap.

The childhood spell was broken.

My mother was no longer a needed help, but an obstacle, an adversary trying to lock me in a different world, another time.

I was Brenda now.

I was Rhiannon.

I was Amanda, alive like a bird in flight.

 Note: Even caregivers — maybe especially caregivers — need a break. Today, I reached into a different part of my life for momanddadmovein. I’ll be doing this once in awhile to give myself some room to breathe. Thanks for reading. And please remember that my blog is copyrighted. If you’d like to use any portion, please contact me. WordPress users feel free to re-blog. Thanks.

American Greetings/Hallmark: Cards for nearly everyone and everything — even dogs and divorces — but not for the old

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My mom’s cousin, Dorothy, turns 84 this month and I can’t find a birthday card.

Dorothy, like my mom, grew up poor.

(How poor? Dorothy likes to tell a story about coffee grounds: Her mom used them once for a fresh pot, then a second time for a not-so-fresh pot. Afterward, she carefully packed up the grounds and gave them to my grandmother, who squeezed out whatever caffeine was left for a third pot, thankful that her family had coffee at all.)

But like so many of that generation, Dorothy climbed into the middle class, working a good-paying factory job, marrying a man who did the same and frugally saving until they could buy a tidy ranch in a rural swath of Northeast Ohio where they lived for 50 years.

Life was good until last summer when Dorothy fell over picking strawberries in her garden and bonked her head on a stone.

She ended up in the hospital and shortly after, her husband, Lou, fell and broke his ankle.

Dorothy is home now, isolated, unable to drive because her fickle heart sometimes frolics causing her to faint. And Lou is in a nursing home 12 miles away, confused and calling daily, begging her to pick him up, unsure what he’s done to be sent away from his wife and the home he loves.

Happy Birthday? That, to me, implies Dorothy’s past year was swell and her next year — if there is a next year — will be better.

Nevertheless, a birthday card is necessary. If mom doesn’t send one, it’s more than a slight. It’s an invisible white flag conceding life has ended for both mom and Dorothy even though each continues to breathe.

So, as a pharmacist bagged up 28 prescription refills for mom and dad yesterday, I pawed through racks of birthday cards.

I first gravitated toward a slew of funny, acerbic old lady cards that mom and Dorothy would have happily picked for one another just a decade ago. But jokes about diapers or forgetting your name aren’t funny when they’re true.

Next I discovered a whole birthday genre dedicated to: “We’re both so busy, I never tell you how special you are.” Inappropriate when life turns into a series of medical appointments with naps and tv in between.

The rest were a hodge-podge encouraging the birthday girl to party, to swill wine until drunk or to do something special or naughty just for herself. No. No. And double no.

At least 80 cards into my card safari, I abandoned the hunt. I paid the pharmacy clerk $500-plus for drugs extending my own parents’ not-so-pleasant lives and hauled my mini-drugstore home, hundreds of pills in bottles rattling like tiny, sad maracas.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this card problem. Since my parents moved in, I have been their personal shopper for all cards and gifts they give to each other and anyone else (including me).

Anniversary, Christmas, Sweetest Day (an Ohio tradition concocted generations ago by a clever local chocolatier): Each holiday is filled with land mines and chasms of time that neither candy nor warm bathrobes can cross.

Even buying cards for them is impossible. Most cards grown children give their parents involve “thanks”– thank you for all that you do, thank you for supporting me, thank you for bringing joy to our lives.

I’ve given scores of these sorts of thank-you cards to mom and dad over the years. And I thank them now for being the parents they have been. But the sad truth is, they should be giving me and my husband these thank-you cards now.

And that’s impossible because I would have to buy them. And I wouldn’t, fearing that such a move would trigger a weird psychological echo chamber, maybe even a worm hole for unplanned traveling through time.

But picking out sympathy cards is the worst. And I buy a lot of sympathy cards. Being in your 80s — like my parents are — is not unlike being in your 20s. But you’re sending sympathy cards and attending funerals instead of buying shower gifts and toasting with bad wedding champagne.

Of course it’s sad when anyone loses someone they love. But what is the appropriate sentiment when someone’s body dies years after their brain withered, leaving them a shell? Or when a person, who has longed for the Grim Reaper’s visit, dies after years of suffering, pain and loneliness?

Those passings, I always think to myself, should be celebrated (even if bittersweet).

Unlike so many birthdays, which now seem better off mourned.

Poor Dorothy.

I don’t know what we’re going to drop in the mail this year.

Maybe a blank card, scrawled with words of love and an old photo of better times, a snapshot of her and Lou smiling alongside mom and dad, martinis raised in jubilation.

Please remember: © Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In — from 2015 until present: Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Feel free to re-blog on WordPress.

Life can be ugly and unpredictable: Pick a husband who will last — and laugh with you — a lifetime

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The first time I introduced Skip to my parents, I knew I wanted to marry him.

It was October 1998 and my future husband was not in peak form.

He — like his mother and most everyone on her Hungarian side of the family — had developed a painful cyst at the base of his spine. A few days earlier, a doctor carved a 4-inch zig-zag incision, scooped out the culprit and sewed Skip back up with what looked like an embroidered lightning bolt emerging from the top of his butt crack.

It wasn’t pretty.

And Skip was in pain. By the time we pulled into my parents’ driveway, he was ashen and sitting side-saddle because leaning against the driver’s seat hurt too much.

My mom, I had warned Skip, had no social boundaries. None. She was nosy, touchy and, at times, a wee bit raunchy. But she could also be witty and disarmingly charming.

When mom saw Skip limping up the back stairs, she greeted him with a smile and an innocuous question: “What’s the matter?”

Skip explained about the cyst.

And before Skip could shake my father’s hand, mom walloped him with round two — the inappropriate question, the one I was certain would come even though I couldn’t predict the circumstances or the timing — “Can I see it?”

Skip, without hesitation, unbuckled his belt, dropped his jeans and let mom peel down the dressing so she could marvel at his wounded anatomy.

“Herm,” mom said to my father, “come here, you have to see this.”

My dad, politely averting his eyes, declined and asked Skip — in manly solidarity — if he wanted a beer.

Skip and I were in our early 30s then. My parents were in their late 60s. None of us could have imagined what the future held. But that moment — and the hours that followed — set the tone for all the years that followed, including the past three since my parents moved in with us.

Many readers of this blog have left messages and sent emails of encouragement to me. They say I am brave to help my parents and that my parents are lucky to have me.

But the truth is, my parents are lucky to have my husband.

If Skip didn’t support me — financially and emotionally — I couldn’t help my parents. He also pitches in daily to get things done. Today, on his day off, he took mom on a field trip to the library and listened patiently as she yammered on with two people she knew — even after those people seemed to lose interest.

How many books and movies — both comic and tragic – have been penned about Romeo and Juliet relationships doomed by quarreling or misfit Meet the Focker families? There’s a reason.

Even if you find a soul mate, a lover, a best friend, you’re destined for trouble if your match doesn’t fit with your family. Yes, couples can muddle through. And, for some, family isn’t as important. But I knew, particularly as an only child, that my husband would need both the right mindset and sense of humor to not only cope with my family, but to be happy with me.

I was already in love with Skip before I took him home to meet my parents. But as that day wore on — without tension, only laughter — I knew I would be his wife.

After mom re-bandaged his incision and Skip hoisted up his jeans, mom, who has no science or medical training, told Skip that his cyst wasn’t hereditary.

It was, she declared, his unborn twin.

Mom, now with dad on her side, told the story of a man they knew in Florida who had the same sort of cyst. When doctors operated, they found hair, tiny teeth and bones. Doctors concluded that the man’s body formed the cyst to expel the remains of a twin he had unknowingly carried with him for decades since birth.

Skip didn’t argue. He didn’t talk about all of his family members with the same issue. Or that, thankfully, his doctors did not report finding any teeth lodged above his butt crack.

Only later, when we were alone, did we laugh, not realizing at the time that his lightning-bolt scar would forever be known in our family as “twin.”

#TheDress: The battle over reality — white/gold vs. blue/black — is a free ticket to tour life in dementia-land

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Everywhere I went today — the waiting room for my dad’s radiation appointment, the line at the pharmacy, the coffee stand at the grocery — everyone was arguing about “the dress.”

I don’t know what causes people to see the colors differently. I’ve read a couple of different theories. And dueling, over-educated baristas each presented me compelling, but opposing, scientific arguments while making my soy latte.

But I do know is this: The battle over whether the dress is white with gold stripes or blue with black is a free ticket to tour life in dementia-land — where perception and reality are frequently at odds.

My husband is a jukebox of bad jokes and cheesy puns and one of his standard oldies goes something like this: 

Q: Why is it so easy to have an Easter egg hunt for Alzheimer’s patients?

A: Because they can hide their own eggs. 

My mom — who has Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia — has always been my husband’s biggest fan and still prods him once in a while to tell the one about the Easter eggs.

But memory — misplacing things or forgetting someone’s name, even your own — is only part of the horror of dementia.

Just as bad, at least for my mom, is how dementia changes the way people view the world around them.

My mom studied art for a couple of years after high school and she has always considered her easel and paints more essential household furnishings than either a bed or a table and chairs.

She never tried earning steady money from her artwork until she thought I needed braces to close a gap between my front teeth. 

Dental wasn’t covered by my dad’s health insurance and my parents couldn’t afford the braces, so mom placed an ad in “Yankee” magazine offering to paint people’s homes on one of the hundreds of pieces of slate roofing someone had abandoned in our barn years before.

She did well. Word spread and it led to real estate agents and landscaping companies contracting with mom to paint watercolors and acrylics for their clients.  

Decades later, when mom and dad moved in with us, there was no room for her easel, but I’ve kept mom well stocked in art supplies. She has spent many afternoons on the couch sketching something from memory or painting a flower I snapped fresh from the garden.

But as her dementia advanced, her artwork has changed. 

It’s unrecognizable, gloomy now.

Part of it, mom insists, is because she can’t control her hands. She doesn’t have a good grip. And that appears to be true. The faces she draws are now generic, the veins in the leaves of her trees are missing or haphazard squiggles. 

Everything exists in a washed-out fog.

But worse, I think, are her color choices.

In mom’s dementia-land, the sky in no longer blue. Or, if it is, mom can’t recognize the blue pastel crayon or the blue paint to reflect that in her art. 

Her work is now dominated by darker shades of orange, purple and green — no matter the subject matter. 

I never mention this to her. Just the opposite, I try to oooh and ahhh over every piece because she needs to paint as much as I need to write this blog — these life-long passions of ours are keeping us each grounded during this time of upheaval. 

But mom is embarrassed. She gives up painting or drawing for weeks at time. She recognizes her sketches and paintings don’t represent her and she’s not even sure why. 

For a couple of years, I have avoided attaching the word “dementia” to mom in front of her or dad, as if that truth would somehow accelerate the disease. My head knows this is ridiculous, but my heart tells me otherwise.

Now, though, mom has started talking to me about it, trying to explain this mysterious phenomenon that has changed her perception of reality.

“It’s like floating above your body,” she told me yesterday, raising her arm and swirling it above her head. 

“I know I’m here with you and sitting on the couch, but I’m thinking about the past, living in the past,” she said. “What’s going on around me feels like it isn’t happening, like I’m watching a TV show.”

This, she said, has been particularly difficult since dad was diagnosed with cancer. She knows what is happening — dad’s prognosis is grim — but it doesn’t seem real to her.

She confided this after overhearing a phone conversation between me and a childhood friend, Brenda, who is dad’s oncology nurse. We were discussing some of dad’s symptoms and what would happen now that cancer has spread into his lungs. 

When mom first heard us talking, she thought Brenda and I were upstairs, young girls again playing a game in my childhood bedroom, something she had heard hundreds of times before.

Eventually though, with all the talk of cancer, mom said she figured out she was lost in the past and came crashing back to the reality of here and now.

Time traveling like this won’t always be possible for mom. And even now, it’s painful. 

I think of all of this during the great dress debate of 2015 and how passionately people are defending reality as they see it, even in something so meaningless — an ugly white dress with gold stripes vs. a just-as-ugly blue dress with black stripes.

Imagine being trapped in dementia-land, not even knowing for certain whether the sky is blue.

The Great White Hurricane: Following the yellow rope to make it home safely

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I remember my dad leaning out the door — one boot on linoleum, the other on a snow-covered step — knotting a thick yellow rope around a lantern attached to the back of our house.

My mom, sobbing, clung to his belt as a screeching gust of wind unfurled a curtain of snow over our kitchen, swirling, swirling until it wrapped around him like icy fingers trying to lift him up and into the storm.

“It’s not safe,” mom cried. “You’re going to die if you go out there.”

It was January 26, 1978 and I was 12-years-old.

Local TV weathermen had predicted snow, but nothing like this.

The barometric pressure plummeted to 958 millibars, the lowest ever recorded in the United States outside a tropical region.

And we were trapped in what would become known as The Great White Hurricane.

Our rural Ohio home, built in 1843, sat in the middle of flat, open farm fields at the highest point in Medina County, a stair-step plot of 270,000 acres about 30 miles south of Cleveland.

The one-bathroom house was a humble man’s project. The beams and boards were held together by hand-hammered square nails, the walls insulated with nothing but ground-up corn cobs.

Unaccustomed to 100 mph gusts, the house snapped and popped in the whipping winds, but dad was certain it would hold.

His worry was the animals in the barn.

Our goat, Nanny, needed milked and my hand-me-down pony, Star — who had already been brushed, fed and ridden for 25 years by a dozen of my older cousins before arriving at our stable — needed fed. And both animals needed water because the troughs were almost certainly frozen solid by wind chills of -50 degrees.

The barn — three stories high and painted red — was only 90 yards from our back door, yet through the falling and blowing snow, we couldn’t spy a clue of its existence.

Dad had a plan: Tie one end of the yellow rope — the same rope he used to hang my swing from a black walnut tree the summer before — to the lantern on the back of the house and tie the other around his waist.

If he made it to the barn, he’d remove the rope from his waist and knot it around a beam, creating a sort of rope life line he could hold onto and safely journey back and forth in the blinding snow. If he couldn’t find the barn, he could at least follow the rope back home.

It seemed reasonable.

But dad wasn’t a farmer. He was a banker.

He had indulged my mother’s “Little House on the Prairie” phase during this time of their lives and agreed, more or less, that our family of three — mom, dad and me — should live off the land. He worked outside every morning and every evening. And in between, he wore uncomfortable suits and sat behind a behind a desk he never liked at the local bank.

His white-collar colleagues would hardly recognize him — the yellow rope wrapped around his barn coat, a ski mask over his face, a cigarette between his lips.

Mom and I watched from the window over the kitchen sink as dad disappeared into the whiteout after only a few steps.

It was the first time I considered life without dad.

And now, 36 years later, during the coldest February in local history, I am facing it.

You’d think a 48-year-old woman would be ready for such a passing.

Dad — who survived his trip to the barn that day and later watched, along with me and my mother, the National Guard in a full-size war tank smash through the 8- and 10-foot snow drifts that blocked our road for a week — is 83 now. He is a life-long smoker who spent decades consuming my mother’s not-so-haute cuisine, a witch’s brew of processed food she’d mix together on a whim, inspired by recipes she proudly never followed.

But I find myself ill-prepared for his death.

Dad was diagnosed a couple of weeks ago with esophageal cancer and yesterday we learned it is in his lungs.

I can hear him downstairs coughing now — a tight, unfamiliar hack — even as I type this at 2:26 a.m., a time when both of us should be sleeping.

He’s in week three of radiation now, daily treatments not aimed at slowing his disease, but at stemming the bleeding from his tumor, which robbed him of half his blood supply earlier this month.

The radiation has made it painful for him to swallow. Even soft food — like eating mashed potatoes — hurts.

Oncologists initially planned daily radiation treatments to last four weeks, but changed course when dad complained he was short of breath. A CAT scan revealed spots on his lungs and swollen lymph nodes in his chest. The esophageal cancer is spreading.

Next week, dad switches to chemotherapy in pill form. The drug, Xeloda, will attack the cancer wherever it is in dad’s body, doctors say. But the chemo won’t prolong dad’s life. It will merely help doctors manage his cancer symptoms.

Dad never complains

Today, my husband took dad to radiation and afterward, they went out for beers. Tomorrow, they plan to do the same.

When I was a girl, I thought dad was brave the day he blindly headed into the snowstorm with nothing to guide him back but a yellow rope.

Now I’m witnessing a different kind of bravery and wondering if I have inherited it like I have my father’s hazel eyes and hammer toes.

The key to coping with his death, I think, is finding my own yellow rope — an imaginary tether I can knot around the memory of my father, the love of my husband and myself, allowing me to wander bravely and blindly into the future knowing that I can forever find my way safely home again, if only in my mind.

Please remember: © Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In — from 2015 until present: Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Feel free to re-blog on WordPress.

Would grandma and grandpa trade their driving privileges for private car service to the grocery, the doc?

Snow scenes on campus

Almost every day I take my dad to radiation, I spy an old person behind the wheel of a car or SUV who I suspect shouldn’t be driving.

I see men and women in their 80s and 90s emerge slowly from their driver-side doors, unfolding themselves and their walkers for agonizing and unsteady walks inside. Other older drivers unknowingly block the entrance to the medical building, parking at weird angles while waiting for another old person — usually even more feeble — to crawl into the passenger side.

I’ve also witnessed elderly drivers cut off semi-trucks when they pull out of the medical center onto the road. And I once saw an old man with wrap-around, goggle-type sunglasses turn left onto the highway like he was in London, staying on the wrong side of the road until a blaring horn prompted him to steer right.

Many old people have no options to get where they’re going. Others shun the options they do have (my parents, for instance, would rather independently ride a pogo stick through the snow than take a prescheduled public transport bus with strangers).

Today, Cleveland’s newspaper and Plain Dealer reporter Karen Farkas offer a different option that could work for some (here’s a link to the story: http://tinyurl.com/mjuqdjl).

The University of Cincinnati has partnered with a nonprofit group to pair its students with older people who don’t drive.

The students can bank credits for driving the oldsters to doctors’ appointments and groceries and anywhere else they need to go. And the old people get private, door-to-door transport by paying dues to a nonprofit for the service — dues that can often be paid in full when the old person sells his/her car.

The program, Driving Community Connections, is supported by the Ohio Department of Aging and the Ohio Board of Regents.

It’s only a pilot program at one university.

And the story doesn’t answer some important questions — like whether the student drivers are vetted or insured.

But it does raise the possibility of a new way of caring for the aged when people get creative.