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 when she did. This had always been her most-feared 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 that doctor’s vis­it. The news didn’t come as much of a sur­prise to us fam­i­ly. I had been jok­ing for years that my mom seemed to have only twen­ty sto­ries that she kept on rota­tion. After she read a study that cross­word puz­zles keep your brain sharp as we age, she became an obses­sive cross­word puz­zler; when the Sudoku craze hit, she was right on top of it. She had brave­ly bought her first house in her late 60s. How proud she was. At the time she let us all know, repeat­ed­ly, that she would be leav­ing it “in a box.” Caulk­ing trim, replac­ing win­dows, and trou­bleshoot­ing a mud room leak that defied a dozen con­trac­tors became her occu­pa­tion, along with vol­un­teer­ing and watch­ing grand­kids. 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 at 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 but­tons and alarms 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 be a body rest­ing in a cas­ket. Only the slight rise of sheets as she breathed gave away the news that she was still with us, if bare­ly. I felt awk­ward just sit­ting there. Some peo­ple are good in these kinds of sit­u­a­tions, but I self-consciously strug­gle. With lit­tle chance of inter­ac­tion, I struck on the idea of read­ing from a favorite book of poems that she had read to me on count­less nights as a child.  “Up into the cher­ry tree, who should climb but lit­tle me?” I don’t know if she heard me or pic­tured the cher­ry tree in her haze, 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.

Scenes from a birthdays party: Theo (4) & Francis (2)

Scenes from a birthdays party: Theo (4) & Francis (2)


Photos clockwise: Theo blows out the birthday ice cream cake's “4” candle; kids huddle around when box opens to reveal Thomas the Tank Engine related toy; independent Francis surveys the scene; cousin M. plays pattycake with Poppop while her mom looks on.

Scenes from a birthdays party: Theo (4) & Francis (2)
Scenes from birthdays party

Pictures from Birthdays Party

Cindy Sheehan “resigns”: It’s up to us now

Poor Cindy Sheehan, the famous anti-war mom who camped outside Bush's Crawford Texas home following the death of her son in Iraq. News comes today that she's all but "resigned from the protest movement":http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070529/ap_on_re_us/cindy_sheehan. She posted the following "on her Daily Kos blog":http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/5/28/12530/1525
bq. The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a "tool" of the Democratic Party... However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the "left" started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of "right or left", but "right and wrong."
The sad truth is that she was used. Much of the power and money in the anti-war movement comes from Democratic Party connections. Her tragic story, soccer mom looks and articulate idealism made her a natural poster girl for an anti-Bush movement that has never really been as anti-war as it's claimed.
Congressional Democrats had all the information they needed in 2002 to expose President Bush's outlandish claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But they "authorized his war of aggression anyway":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_Resolution. More recently, Americans gave them a landslide vote of confidence in last November's elections but still they step back from insisting on an Iraq pull-out. The Nonviolence.org archives are full of denunciations of President Clinton's repeated missile attacks on places like the Sudan and Afghanistan; before reinventing himself as a earth-toned eco candidate, Al Gore positioned himself as the pro-war hawk of the Democratic Party.
Anti-war activists need to build alliances and real change will need to involve insiders of both major American political parties. But as long as the movement is fueled with political money it will be beholden to those interests and will ultimately defer to back-room Capital Hill deal-making.
I feel for Cindy. She's been on a publicity roller coaster these past few years. I hope she finds the rest she needs to re-ground herself. Defeating war is the work of a lifetime and it's the work of a movement. Sheehan's witness has touched people she'll never meet. It's made a difference. She's a woman of remarkable courage who's pointing out the puppet strings she's cutting as she steps off the stage. Hats off to you Cindy.


Nonviolence.org's fundraising campaign ends in a few hours. In four months we've raised $150 which doesn't even cover that period's server costs. This project celebrates its twelfth year this fall and accurately "exposed the weapons of mass destruction hoaxes":http://www.nonviolence.org/weapons_of_mass_destruction/ in real time as they were being thrust on a gullible Congress. Cindy signed off:
bq. Good-bye America ...you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it. It's up to you now.
Sometimes I really have to unite with that sentiment.