Up Into The Cherry Tree


Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Gar­den of Verses

My mother died a few days ago. While I’m over­whelmed with the mes­sages of prayers and con­do­lences, at least at some level it feels like cheat­ing to accept them too fully. This isn’t a new con­di­tion. This is just the final moment of a slow-motion death.

A lit­tle over five years ago my mother was for­mally diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s. It was quite brave of her to get the test­ing done. This had always been her worst-case sce­nario for aging. Grow­ing up, we had befriended an active elderly neigh­bor who had gen­tly died in her sleep after a minor slip on some ice. My mom thought that was the best exit ever. She swore Mrs. Gold­smith had come to her in a dream the next night to con­grat­u­late her­self, say­ing “See, I told you I was lucky!” For years after­wards, my mother con­vinced her­self that she would go in a sim­i­larly ele­gant way.

My mom, Liz, must have sensed that Alzheimer’s was a pos­si­bil­ity when she sched­uled her doctor’s visit. The news didn’t come as much of a sur­prise to us fam­ily. For years before, I remem­ber jok­ing that my mom had twenty sto­ries that she kept on rota­tion. After she read a study that cross­word puz­zles keep your brain sharp, she became an obses­sive cross­word puz­zler. She had bravely bought her first house in her late 60s. At the time she let us all know, repeat­edly, that she would be leav­ing it in a box. But by 2010, she must have known she wasn’t going to have Mrs. Goldsmith’s luck. It was time to adjust.

When she called to tell me the diag­no­sis, she couldn’t even use the A-word. She told me her “brain was dying” and that the doc­tor was putting her on Ari­cept. A quick Google search con­firmed this was an Alzheimer’s drug and a call with the doc­tor later that after­noon helped map out the road ahead.

Alzheimer’s is a slow-motion death. She’s been dis­ap­pear­ing from us for a long while. Reg­u­lar out­ings became less fre­quent till we couldn’t even take her out to a nearby restau­rant for her birth­day. As words dis­ap­peared and speech began fal­ter­ing, I’d show her recent kid pho­tos on my phone and tell sto­ries to fill the emp­ty­ing space. Even­tu­ally she stopped show­ing inter­est even in this. On my last reg­u­lar visit with her, I brought the kids and we had lots of fun tak­ing pic­tures. Mom kept point­ing out the phone’s dis­play as if it were a mir­ror. But con­ver­sa­tion was too dis­jointed and after a few min­utes, my kids started wan­der­ing in ever widen­ing cir­cles look­ing for inter­est­ing things to touch and pull and I had to round them up to leave.

In the past few weeks her for­get­ful­ness has extended to eat­ing and swal­low­ing. Inter­ven­tion would only buy a lit­tle more time until she for­got how to breathe. Alzheimer’s is a one way trip.

On my last few vis­its she was mostly sleep­ing. She’s was calm, preter­nat­u­rally calm. Lying on her back, pale and peace­ful, she looked as if she might already we rest­ing in a cas­ket. I felt awk­ward just sit­ting there.With lit­tle chance of inter­ac­tion. I struck on the idea of read­ing favorite kid poems she read to me as a child.  “Up into the cherry tree, who should climb but lit­tle me?” I don’t know if she heard any­thing, but it was a way for us to be together.

The slow-motion nature of Alzheimer’s means she slept a lot until she didn’t. For rea­sons that go deep into biog­ra­phy, she was a won­der­fully friendly per­son who didn’t have a lot of close friends any­more. It seems pecu­liar that one can walk upon the earth for so many decades and only have a dozen or so peo­ple notice your depar­ture. But then maybe that’s the norm for those who live deep into their eight­ies. Most of us will leave life with the same kind of quiet rip­ples with which we entered.

Liz (Betsy) Klein(top) aka Mom

My mom Liz just passed away tonight. It’s not unex­pected. And sadly, given her health, it’s per­haps not even so tragic; she’s been declin­ing for years from Alzheimer’s and all but stopped eat­ing in recent weeks. I’m sure I’ll find voice to tell some sto­ries in the months ahead, but for now I’ll share some pic­tures. She would have turned 85 next month.

A note about names: she was born in late sum­mer 1930 as Eliz­a­beth Ann Klein­top. In her adult life she went as Betsy and took the last names of her part­ners. In her late 60s she decided to take back a vari­a­tion of her last name and overnight Betsy Kel­ley became Liz Klein.

My privacy and your transparency

My pri­vacy and your trans­parency. A nice essay from Johan Mau­rer that weaves together Edward Snow­den, shaw­dowy gov­ern­ment offi­cials, protest move­ment, taxes, Chris­tian­ity… and the uses and abuses of transparency:

Daniel Web­ster asserted, and Jus­tice Mar­shall agreed, that the power to tax is the power to destroy. The power to vio­late pri­vacy is sim­i­larly coer­cive, which brings us back to the issue of trust. I want to live a trans­par­ent life, and I (usu­ally) don’t mind being observed to be doing so. But an unin­vited obser­va­tion that is ulti­mately for the pur­pose of com­pelling my obe­di­ence, or track­ing my rela­tion­ships with oth­ers, or enforc­ing polit­i­cal uni­for­mity, is com­pletely unacceptable.

Spiritual Nurture & Advancement

Spir­i­tual Nur­ture & Advance­ment. Steven Davi­son con­tin­ues is “Quaker-pocalpyse” series with a piece on nam­ing the spir­i­tual gifts of those in our meetings.

I fear, how­ever, that most of our meet­ings do not try to name our mem­bers’ spir­i­tual gifts or nur­ture them in any proac­tive way. Too often we are left to our own devices when it comes to matur­ing in the life of the spirit. As a result, the col­lec­tive life of the spirit, the spir­i­tual matu­rity of the meet­ing, suffers.

A Gathered People

A Gath­ered Peo­ple. Craig Bar­nett on com­mu­nity in the mod­ern world:

A gath­ered peo­ple is not just an asso­ci­a­tion of indi­vid­u­als who hap­pen to share over­lap­ping val­ues or inter­ests. It is formed by the rais­ing and quick­en­ing of a new spir­i­tual life and power within each person.

C. Wess Daniels and Remixing the Quaker Way

C. Wess Daniels and Remix­ing the Quaker Way. Brent Bill reviews Wess’s new book:

Here’s why I think Wess’ book bears read­ing. It’s an artic­u­late, acces­si­ble analy­sis of the cur­rent state of North Amer­i­can (pri­mar­ily) Quak­erism. He also pro­vides a cogent por­trayal of the par­tic­i­pa­tory and remix­ing nature of early Quak­erism and why it had an such an impact on cul­ture, faith, and life.