For those who hurt today…

I take comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in today’s big feelings about loss. I’m exploring the depth of pain felt by those whose country celebrates gains that for them, meant unfathomable loss of culture, family and land. I’m stunned by where we are now as nation – each to their corners today so that more survive the month. This is the season our ancestors globe-wide celebrate light. What I take from this day is how gratitude resides in us, giving us hope. Allowing us to celebrate the subdued light of this harsh and beautiful season.

I have 4 who will spend the day alone; two single people, and two married in separate nursing facilities (mom and dad). It hurts. I see you hurting too. You’ve lost people you love. You have loved ones in ICU. You can only visit today at an assigned time, touching hands through a pane of glass. You, yourself are alone. The depth of collective loss is so deep we can’t reach the bottom in a day. We will be processing this for months to come. I don’t even know “you.” But I spend this Thanksgiving Day with you.

What does the end of #stayhomeMN and beginning of #StaysafeMN really mean?

I have a PSA as a public health professional, a mom, a daughter and a Minnesotan. I am hopeful most everyone is aware of this but I am feeling protective of you.  This applies in many other states opening across our country as well – please read.

I want to be fundamentally clear: the virus has not reached its peak. Our state is gradually opening because we now believe we have the ventilators, PPE and ICUs available to treat those who will become ill. Minnesota is not opening because it is now safe. Minnesota is not opening because the worst is behind us. No model shows this. We are opening because of the economic, political and social pressures to do so.

We are opening because the state conceded they cannot restrict the rights of residents to operate businesses once we reach health care capacity to manage the level of morbidity and mortality projected.

This is a public health concession to other competing and important pressures. Public health metrics alone would suggest we #stayathome longer.

So, please:

Don’t: behave like business as usual (pre-COVID style).

Do: wear your masks, wash your hands, stay home when sick, social distance, stay home as much as possible if you are immune compromised or over 70. Plan your family’s approach thoughtfully.

Peace,

Shawna

How are we feeling?

This week, I learned from a friend from the Tlinget Tribe that they do not have a word for “hello.” In fact, their greetings are questions: “‘Wa’a sa’ sh teedinook’ sounds a little like “Washesh tee teenook.’ ‘Wa’a s’as i yatee’ is more like ‘wasays ih-yatay.’ The first is ‘how are you feeling.’ The second is ‘how are you doing?’”

Tlingit Language

A window opened: no wonder she is an amazing therapist and friend. We talked about how it speaks mountains about Tlinget culture that their greeting translates into an expression of curiosity and caring.

In 2020, asking anyone “how are you?” can feel awkward. When asked, I often think to myself, “well, how are ‘we?’” I’m tempted not to say much.

In reference to a tragic loss, another friend shared with me this week, “We’re all swimming in this weird broth together already.” In other words, at baseline, things are hard in 2020. Then sometimes things get immeasurably harder.

A friend and colleague recently taught me the term, “stacked stress.” We were talking about intersectionality, historical grief and racialized trauma during a pandemic. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/magazine/wp/2019/09/11/feature/how-activist-rachel-cargle-built-a-business-by-calling-out-racial-injustices-within-feminism/

There’s simply no “2020 lite.”

A fourth friend and colleague, I recently had the honor of watching dance with his family. I’ve seen him perform many times. This time, Danza Azteca’s blessing was at @MinnesotaCommunityCare, our community health center at the epicenter of Minnesota’s COVID response. I cried big, engulfing tears straight into our weird broth, like garlic melting in soup.

I am so grateful for these spontaneous offerings in empathy, shared struggle, and individual loss.

I just called the results hotline for my son’s COVID test, and as she asked for his date of birth, a dog barked. I laughed. She apologized. I told her I liked it. She described her worksite to me: puppy on a pillow next to her watching a squirrel outside, hot coffee, her daughter making breakfast. She told me she’s been home since March and will be until at least December at least. She likes it. I told her I work from home now too. She was no longer a hotline. We started our ritual over with a completely new feeling. She asked me for the date on which my precious baby was born. I offered: April 11, 20xx. She said “no detection of disease.” I sighed. And there we were, strangers buoying each other in a global pandemic.

We have all witnessed so much grief and so much love in each another this year, I think we’re a bit stunned. The underlying coping reminds me of when babies are so tired, their playtime giggles devolve into gulping tears before they shut down and fall deeply asleep. Only we’re grown ups, so we keep swimming together in our weird broth.

The Tlinget’s linguistic legacy teaches us to greet one another with inquiry: how are you feeling? Today, I feel grateful to have learned that my capacity to hold your answers gets stronger with every story you share with me.

Keep asking, keep sharing and keep swimming, friends.

White Work

White people, we are capable of accepting the invitation this moment has given us. If we find ways to make our actions match our beliefs this time around, the country will be far better off, and so will we.” -Betsy Hodges

It is hard to see the resistance in 1) ourselves, and perhaps even harder in 2) people we trust, 3) friends, 4) co-workers, and 5) those with beliefs we share. We are not “progressive” unless we are listening with humility, doing hard work, inviting discomfort, insisting upon change.

Learning more and more about privilege has helped me to understand better who to lean into, who to lean on and who to just ignore. I’m a better ally for it, and better yet, it makes me more brave, hungry and humble in anti-racist work.

For those of you I’m leaning on, thank you. For those I’m leaning on who identify as QBIPOC, thank you even more. I humbly recognize your emotional labor and the toll my leaning and learning adds to your load. My gratitude is not enough. I am optimistic our work will be.

Please remember to apply for your absentee ballot today!

New York Times, As Mayor of Minneapolis, I Saw How White Liberals Block Change, Betsy Hodges

PSA: Social distancing at the length of a small gator

Hey friends: as a public health professional, I’d like to offer up a video that I thought did a great job of explaining the purpose of social distancing.

Thanks for all you are doing to protect our most vulnerable friends, family and neighbors.

If you’ve ever felt called to serve but never had time, this is the moment! All we’ve got to do is work at home, keep kids learning, chill out, do a puzzle, get a little bored, watch some movies, go for walks with our household members, ride bikes, give each other 6 feet (as my FLA husband knows, about the length of a small gator) and generally behave like there are no hospitals available to you for awhile.

As I recently heard Minnesota’s Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm say, #stayathome means social distancing is no longer a suggestion, it is a requirement. It is specifically required of those who do not work in “essential service” to our community. For those of you who do not, honor those of us who do: #stayathome.

Tweens and teens are especially vulnerable to isolation – it is practically developmentally inappropriate to ask them to stay home with their families for weeks with no social contact with peers. Yet, we’re doing it. This is hard. In public health, we plan for some weak links. Let’s make sure, as grown ups, we are not the weak links. In fact, if you’ve never considered yourself a role model, this is likely something you can absolutely nail for our kids and their grandparents!

Children and youth need time outdoors to play in order to grow and thrive. We all need to exercise in order to boost our immune systems and care for our chronic conditions and mental health. Please do. At the length of one small gator or more.

At the end of this, I invite each and every one of you over for a visit on our front porch. For now, I’d like to invite you all to break out your drums, bells, noise makers and voices, step out onto your stoops, and hoot and holler together each Monday evening at 5 PM from wherever you are.

Please share!

Need help?

Remember: It is ok to keep the bar low right now – the kids are all right. If things are not all right in your household, we have to learn to ask for help. Here are some resources: 

Minnesota crisis textline and suicide prevention: 741 741

Children’s mental health and crisis response in Minnesota

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is only a phone call away: 1-800-273-8255.

If you are in need of assistance with medical care or health insurance, Community Health Centers are a trusted resource across the U.S.

At Minnesota Community Care, we have completely transformed in order to meet the essential health care needs of our patients, offer screening for respiratory illness, and provide resources via social media to families and youth on managing anxiety, isolation, and school at home.

United Way supports 211 helps people across North America find local resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Here are some great home-learning resources from Common Sense Media: Wide Open School.

World-wide Free Forest School has published tips on how to get your kiddos outside and learning everyday! 

 

 

Thank you, Lesley Ryden

“To the Middle Season Mama in May” made me cry for an hour out of relief that it’s not just me…I think what I would add to the loneliness, worry and guilt Lesley describes is that working + parenting is a constant ebb between sail and fail. I’m doing well at parenting and work suffers, and vice versa, and there are lots of vice versas, including being present for my friends, noticing my spouse, caring for my Dad with Alzheimer’s, protesting destruction of the planet. Yet, I’m not about to give anything up. What I’m trying to do is get better at saying, “you did the best you could” and actually feeling accomplished. And sometimes, I really miss the pursuit of excellence. “Nailed it” refers to completely and utterly different standards than it once did. Also, I both read this and I am writing this behind the locked door of the bathroom, where I often hide to catch my breath on the auspices of something else…

Addendum: I perhaps maintain a little more empathy for the parents of tiny ones than the article may indicate. I somewhat believe the old adage our brains are pre-loaded to forget the pains of childbirth, recovery and the special kind of exhaustion reserved for those up all night with crying, damp, hungry bundles of sweetness. But oh, how I miss the naps.

https://awordthatmatters.com/to-the-middle-season-mamma-in-may/#.XOAM3pOXPy8.facebook

The Doctor is in…

Dr. Doug Hedlund is now a resident of the Veteran’s Home in Minneapolis. We invested heavily in paper and red tape over two years to get him there. He was proud to end his life, he said, in a home for Veterans. It will save mom from financial dependency, he said, if he moved there when he lost his sense of place and time. Today it is 1991, he said upon arrival, and we are at “the hospital” in Baltimore. No, but it is winter, however fair a question that is beside a floor to ceiling window after the snowiest February ever in Minnesota. On the way over he grumbled that I was “dumping him” with no warning. I attempted the truth and did not change his thinking. Nothing changes his mind but himself and his disease these days. So I asked instead, “can you be a little nicer right now?” No.”

Old midwestern men raised by dark Swedish homesteaders married to effervescent Norwegian ladies that arrived in North Dakota via the St. Lawrence Seaway do not get sad. They get all-the-angry-Fargo-can-muster-at-0-degrees-and-nothing-to-see-for-miles. This is a bone chilling cold. That was him today.

My mom asked “what’s wrong” with genuine curiosity when I was tearful afterward. She is back-from-the-grave-many-times tough. You’ve asked “how is she?” She is fine. She will be until she’s oddly aggressive about her lost hat or she is laughing so hard she gets to cry.  Sad and vulnerable aren’t options.

I was utterly impressed by his highly orchestrated welcome. I immediately liked his nurses and neighbors. Everyone we met today was either an immigrant or Veteran, a fascinatingly American combination. I like his view and his room. He was deeply sad and confused when we left (again, this looks angry). But I think he will eventually be ok.

He is available for visitors at any time. You could be one of his first visitors since his diagnosis five years ago. Alzheimer’s, we have found, scares the best of people away. Yet is does not scare children like other disease that we can see. He is not hooked up to machines. He looks and sounds the same, albeit thin. He’s a little grumpy, but he is also funnier than I ever remember him in his health. He does not mind at all if you speak of legos, dragons and your troubles at school within the same sentence. He still remembers faces. He still recognizes love and warmth. He might not know your name, but if you knew him, you understand executive functioning, lightness and small talk were not his gifts at the best of times.

After 53 years of providing therapy, Dr. Hedlund is at the office most of the time these days. His pitch is entirely legitimate: what brings you in, how you are sleeping, are getting exercise? Worst case scenario upon your visit, you are likely to get some free therapy and perhaps even a diagnosis. At first this was troublesome to the staff at Brookdale Home’s Memory Care Center where he lived the last nine months. They were distraught when he diagnosed residents with “schizoaffective disorder” or “psychotic symptoms” or simply “depressed.” The lead nurse saw only benefit: he was often tailed by residents who knew they could bend his ear. Women, in particular, followed him. My mom’s explanation? “He still has hair and his eyes are twinkly.”

Please visit. It’s a nice place to hang out and walk on campus, look at the river, play pool or do a puzzle with a view of the falls. You can shake hands of everyone there and say “thank you for your service.” You need not fear saying the wrong thing–he will not remember.

My dad led his life in service to others. He is the most insightful listener I have ever witnessed. He stared down dark holes of depression and anxiety his entire life without ever losing sight of his kids, wife and patients.

His last chapter appears to be a maddening disease, family and friends that love him, ice cream available all day, and a nice view. He is out of home, money, sense and time. So be it. 

Aside: you were terrible company today, Dad. Terrible. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for raising me not to take it personally and not to fear your pain. Thank you for being a very real, honest, fiercely brave and brilliant dad.

The doctor is in. Please go see him. 

If you don’t ask, you may never know if he remembers you or not. This does not matter to him. Very likely, he will be curious, he will be oddly mindful for a man losing his mind, he will attempt some jokes and he will share his free ice cream. 

Floor 2, Building 21. Minneapolis Veteran’s Home. Appointments daily.

A Big 7

IMG_5118I have few photos and lots of blurs of Wesley because he never stops moving. “Moving” is actually an oversimplification. We once mistook seven men with crow bars stripping the roof off our house for Wesley. We awoke to the noise at 7 am and laid there thinking it was Wesley’s normal Saturday morning routine until he leapt upon our shins and announced “the roofers are here!” Wesley bounces.

Wes is silly and stubborn and sweet. He is industrious, precocious and smart. Aside: his older brother is sitting on him right now saying, “I bet you can’t sit still for 30 seconds!” Easy win. Wes makes us laugh and run and leap with him and we barely keep up. Sometimes just for fun, we set a timer and all three of us attempt to follow every move Wes makes, like those early brain development research projects, for as long we can. Not one of us has made it past five minutes. Luckily, Wes also enjoys hard work. By the time he was three, it was Wes I requested when I needed help lifting a bench up the stairs to the front door. Wood to haul? Snow to shovel? Truck to unload? Call Wes.

Wes is also my child who hates his dad’s tomato joke because he feels bad for the one told to “ketchup.” He sleeps with a family of “not stuffed” foxes. He plays with my hair. He dresses “fancy” in bow ties and sport coats to special occasions, like weddings, school picture day and breakfast with his grandparents.

Aside: he just “tapped” my shoulder for attention and I am pretty sure I will have a bruise. 

You’re killing me, Smalls.

Before Wesley was born, I was walking down a trail when he kicked so hard it knocked me off my path. That metaphor is not lost on me.

Today, Wes woke up and said “I am no longer a small six. I am a big seven!” This also means I am no longer the parent of small children. When did that happen?

I just overheard Wes say to his dad, “because, Jason, I am the Pig King!” 

I have no idea.

Though he is bigger, I will still “pickle” Wesley IMG_4018up if he asks me that way. I will read to him as long as he is willing to listen. 3.5 minutes, on average. I will always hope he comes to snuggle in the early morning, even though he snores like a bulldog and always manages to head butt my nose. I only find it pleasant because he will grow out of it someday. I will wake him up by singing “I love you” until he has roomies other than his brothers. Then I will text it. I will have very low expectations on his adulting until he is 30 because that is what third children are for in a family of five. Wesley is a big 7 today, but he will always be our “Smalls.”

 

What it means to be men

I’ve been working hard to raise emotionally intelligent boys who share, care and hug. We practice consent. We do not use gender as a qualifier. We avoid gender binaries and stereotypes and heterosexual language. And now I realize, after a decade’s effort of addressing them as people, we have to talk about what it means to be men.DSCN7535

You will die with Alzheimer’s

He was pale. His brow was damp. His blue eyes looked more blue for the tightening of his pupils. The Tardive Dyskenesia made his jaw cock side to side and his fingers drum rapidly. I could barely stand the sound of his dry tongue in his mouth, a response to heavy anti-depressants. For many, many months doctors and therapists had claimed, “severe depression,” but today someone finally said, “your dad has Alzheimer’s.”

The neurologist also said, “you won’t die of Alzheimer’s, you will die with Alzheimer’s. Our patients generally die of pneumonia when they become too sick to get out of bed.” He said “here is some literature,” and “come see me in two months.” He did not say, “I am sorry,” or “I know this is hard to hear.” He left the room. The silent neurology resident followed him like a strange lamb observing how flocks are slaughtered.

We drove home listening to the Beatles. I asked him if he recalled hearing them for the first time. He did. “Did they sound like something new?” He said they sounded “happy.” The first time he heard them was after returning from Japan. He was stationed in Okinawa as a Navy doc during the Vietnam War. “Will you write down your other stories for me?” Sure. “The Harry the Hat stories, and the one about canned peaches at your aunt’s house?” Sure. “And that bully you punched?” Yes. We laughed. He put his hand on my arm. He said, “I am sorry; I know this is hard for you.” He always said the right thing at the right time. I have never known another human who finds such ease in others’ feelings.

I took him home. He told mom. She did not cry. He reached out his hand to her. She sat, teacup in one hand and his hand in the other, disappearing into her oversized floral chair. He bent to hug her. I took the teacup. Her long, lean arms slung around him. I crept away. More tea.

I peeked in from the kitchen many minutes, but not a word, later. They had moved to the couch where he could lean on her. She was in the sun. He was in the dark, split into slats by thin bands of light creeping through the wooden shudders. I brought toast with too much butter like he liked it, like she complained about, and three fresh cups of tea. We said nothing I can recall. I haven’t decided yet if memory means more, or less, as of that day.

Then he got up to call his son. A credit to what the disease had not yet touched, he made up an excuse to get off the phone within minutes of delivering the news. He paused in the hall. When he returned to us, the room was dark.

“I need somewhere to collapse.” My mom and I stood, sweeping books and laundry from the couch, making way for him. “No; I don’t want to lay down.” He leaned toward me. I recalled suffocating my tears into his shoulder the first time he took me to hear the orchestra. His shoulders now slumped and subtly shook. Crying overtly would be a disservice to our forty-year history of just gently holding on.

He sat down, finally, like a child with both arms hanging between his knees. He put into words what most of us say with tears. He said, “I feel heavy things falling down on me.”