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Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

On Boston Streets: A Night on the Pine Street Inn Outreach Van November 29, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 9:38 pm

Saturday, November 29, 2014

On Boston Streets: A Night on the Pine Street Inn Outreach Van

by Karen Shafer

I had the privilege last month to ride along on the overnight Outreach Van for Pine Street Inn, the largest homeless shelter in New England.  On the van that night were a physician, Dr. James O’Connell, founder and President of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, and three Pine Street outreach workers.

The van goes out 365 days a year into the city of Boston to minister to those men and women who live on the street and who are either unable or unwilling to enter the shelter system on any particular night.  It carries food — soup, oatmeal, sandwiches, hot chocolate and bottled water —as well as blankets, coats, hats, gloves, underwear and socks.  The workers track each person’s progress and monitor their health conditions and concerns.  In an emergency, an individual can be transported into a shelter.  Perhaps the most important component of what the staff provides is personal contact and compassion.  And they are friends to those who often don’t have many.

The dedicated Pine Street staff, along with medical personnel from BHCHP on some nights, know by name most of the people “sleeping rough”, as well as their personal stories.  These service providers are so respectful of the privacy of each individual that if, on previous nights, the person has requested not to be awakened to receive the van’s services, they do not disturb them if they are sleeping. On this particular night, the temperature was in the forties — chilly, but not life-and-limb threatening.  All of the “regulars” — generally referred to as the “chronically homeless” — know the van staff well, and Dr. O’Connell, whom they call Jim, has in fact been friends to many of them for as long as thirty years.  It was a tremendous privilege to to follow Dr. O’Connell out onto the street as he approached each person, to have the opportunity to be introduced to them, and then to be trusted enough through the currency of his and Pine Street’s long-standing relationships with them to hear some of their stories.

There were people sleeping out who were struggling with serious head trauma, with mental illness, with chronic and acute health conditions, with addiction.  One of the people I remember most clearly and felt particularly drawn to was “Sam,” lying on a cold sidewalk, his wheelchair nearby and his girlfriend on hand to look out for him.  After many years on the street, last year he became afflicted by a permanent disability due to frostbite, but he still doesn’t want to go indoors.

On this night, he was dozing under the awning of a business with a security light shining overhead.  Dr. O’Connell first greeted him, checked on his condition, then returned to the van to secure a blanket and food.  I asked Sam if he could sleep with the brightness of the light overhead.  “Not really,” he said, “I wish I could shoot it out.”  “I’ll go back to the van and get my pea shooter and see if I can take it out for you,” I joked with him, and despite his evident discomfort, he smiled.  The radiance of his personality shone through even the bleakness of his situation.  He was so weak that, when Dr. O’Connell brought him hot soup and a sandwich, he couldn’t sit up to eat them, so the doctor leaned in close, unwrapped the sandwich, and put it in his hand.

I was surprised by the tolerant and even supportive attitude that some downtown Boston businesses have towards their homeless brothers and sisters.  At one of the van’s stops, there were freshly built cardboard shelters in which people were sleeping under the overhang in front of a mattress store.  Astonished that people were allowed by the city to sleep in this location, I was even more amazed when the Pine Street outreach workers informed me that the business owner or other nearby citizens bring fresh boxes each night which the people use to build their shelters in the business doorway. In the morning, a city recycling truck comes to pick them up.  If criminalization of the homeless is a part of street life in the city, I didn’t observe it.  This is The Boston Heart.

There are federal laws regulating the circumstances under which people can be involuntarily committed to care, and Massachusetts interprets those laws with an emphasis on personal liberty and respect for individual rights.  I count this as a very good thing, but sometimes it makes it particularly challenging for medical personnel and service providers to deliver the kind of care people “sleeping rough” need most — when that care involves being inside an institution.  Often, individuals will agree to be hospitalized long enough to deal with an acute health challenge, but will return to the street when the crisis has passed.

This is where Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program sets the standard nationally and internationally for the delivery of medical and support services to the homeless and those living in poverty.  The staff of more than three hundred physicians, dentists, nurses, social workers, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, case managers, dental hygienists, administrative staff, building maintenance, and food service workers brings health care to those who would not otherwise be able to access it — to the street, to domestic violence and emergency shelters, to hospital walk-in clinics, to temporary and permanent supportive housing units, and in their own respite care facility, Barbara McInnis House.  Their doctors are on the teaching faculty of Harvard University, Boston University and Tufts Medical Schools.  It is an extraordinary system and one that is well-coordinated with other service providers throughout the City of Boston and surrounding areas.

Monthly, a group of service providers in Boston — BHCHP medical staff, shelter directors and case workers, police, and others who interface with those living on the street — meet to assess the specific needs of around a hundred homeless individuals needing particular attention, and coordinate their plans on how to help them.  Equally impressive is the fact that at any point in time, Dr. O’Connell and his medical staff can access by email the number of their patients who are in the city’s emergency rooms or have been admitted to its hospitals.

As I rode along with the Pine Street van and observed first hand the functioning of a respectful, organized, efficient system of registering patients and delivering to them direct care on the street — seamlessly carried out in a milieu of kindness, love, generosity and respect — I was in awe.  It is a model of compassion, service and cooperation to which every city should aspire.

Boston Health Care For the Homeless Program:  http://www.bhchp.org  To request a copy of BHCHP’s newsletter or be added to their mailing list, please contact Carrie Eldridge-Dickson at <celdridge-dickson@bhchp.org>

Pine Street Inn:  http://www.pinestreetinn.org

Boston Globe:  https://theintermittentvolunteer.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/why-some-bostonians-refuse-shelter-in-the-dead-of-winter-and-how-they-survive/

 

From Gangs to Gardens September 18, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 8:39 pm

Click on the link to see how beautiful these gardens are!

From Gangs to Gardens: How Community Agriculture Transformed Quesada Avenue

Ten years ago, the residents of the crime-ridden neighborhood started planting gardens—and everything changed.

by Katherine Gustafson
posted May 30, 2012

Flowers bloom alongside Quesada Avenue.
Photo by Katherine Gustafson
In 2002, two neighbors armed with spades and seeds changed everything for crime-addled Quesada Avenue in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point area. The street had been ground zero for the area’s drug trade and its attendant violence. But when Annette Smith and Karl Paige began planting flowers on a small section of the trash-filled median strip, Quesada Gardens Initiative was born. Over the course of the next decade, the community-enrichment project profoundly altered the face of this once-blighted neighborhood.
Jeffrey Betcher is the Initiative’s unlikely spokesperson. A gay white man driven to the majority-black area by the high cost of housing elsewhere, he moved into a house on Quesada Avenue in 1998 to find drug dealers selling from his front stoop and addicts sleeping beneath his stairs. He told me about the day that he returned home from work to discover that his neighbor Annette had planted a little corner of his yard.
“Even though there was a throng of people—drug dealers who were carrying guns, pretty scary folks—she had planted flowers on this little strip of dirt by my driveway,” he told me. “I was so moved by that . . . I thought, that’s what life is about. That’s what community development is about. That’s what’s going to change this block faster than any public investment or outside strategy. And in fact it did.”
We too often fail to consider food a social good or to understand that growing, selling, and eating food is by its nature a meaningful social act.
A group of neighbors got together for a barbeque, and Jeffrey—who has a background in community organizing—started a conversation about the positive aspects of living in the neighborhood. What followed was a long-term, consensus-based process that resulted in the creation of a series of gardens on vacant land in the surrounding blocks. On Quesada Avenue, the median strip was transformed into a wonderland of Canary Island date palms, bright flowers, and leafy vegetation. Any neighbor who wants to can organize a new gardening effort, take responsibility for the existing gardens, or put together a public art project.
While Quesada Gardens Initiative is not specifically focused around growing food, it does incorporate a food garden used to teach local children about crops, as well as free-form community garden plots. And the way the project uses gardening as a powerful locus of community engagement and empowerment demonstrates an important truth about the social value of food that we seem to have largely forgotten in this country.

A major reason our food system is so damaged—so dominated by corporate interests, rife with unhealthy products, and unbalanced by unequal access—is that we too often fail to consider food a social good or to understand that growing, selling, and eating food is by its nature a meaningful social act. What we eat is far more than a pile of commodities. Not only is food’s essential job to nourish our bodies, but it can also serve as a creator of quality livelihoods, a locus of community engagement and cohesion, and an engine of citizen empowerment and education.
To improve our system, we must realize and act on this fundamental truth. Most of the industrial food corporations do not. Their central motivation is profit, and the highest profit apparently comes from treating food as a product like any other—a plate full of widgets that can be engineered, created, priced, marketed, and exploited.
Luckily, a growing number of people concerned with the origins and impacts of their food are rejecting this materialistic and one-dimensional view of what we eat. Projects and organizations all over the country are putting food back into the social context it has traditionally inhabited.
“The change that we’ve created is not about the garden, it’s about the gardeners.”
For example, companies and cooperatives that supply local food to an area’s population strongly demonstrate that food is central to community cohesion and to local economies. In school garden programs, students learn the complex processes and intense collaboration that go into making what they eat. Projects that help underserved populations like refugees and inner-city residents grow produce help make food once again a central concern of family and community life.
Quesada Gardens Initiative reflects the power of growing things to bring a local community together in a powerful way. Jeffrey made this point as he took me on a tour of the garden plots dotted amongst the houses and stores of the surrounding neighborhood.
Quesada Avenue, the block once known as the most dangerous in the area, has been transformed completely and now serves as a hub of community life. At the top of its hill, Jeffrey showed me the beautifully designed food garden for educating kids. Behind the chain-link fence, stalks of corn stood at attention beside a glowing patch of leafy greens.
At another garden a few blocks away—a patchwork of small plots that had previously been an improvised trash dump—a sandbox and rope swing indicated that the garden was for more than growing food. Kids, in fact, had painted the signs that ringed the garden’s perimeter with such slogans and quotes as “Don’t dump on my garden” and “If you want to change the world, start in your own neighborhood – Harvey Milk.”
Quesada Initiative’s success arises from the project’s appreciation of gardening as the means to an end more profound than a harvest of lettuce and peas. While the plants produced are of course a key motivation for any gardening enterprise, growing food can also—should also—serve other important social purposes, like cultivating a culture of civic engagement and an ethos of community participation.
“The change that we’ve created is not about the garden, it’s about the gardeners,” Jeffrey told me. He stopped to greet a neighbor as we rounded the corner back onto Quesada Avenue. As we continued on our way, he smiled at me with satisfaction.
“We realize we have done something right here,” he said.

Katherine Gustafson wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions for a just and sustainable world. Katherine is a freelance writer and editor based in the Washington, DC, area. Her first book, Change Comes to Dinner, about sustainable food, was published this month by St. Martin’s Press.http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/quesada-gardens-initiative

 

Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent September 12, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 7:42 pm

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/11/fashion/steve-jobs-apple-was-a-low-tech-parent.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

 

Boston’s Homeless: A Major Shift September 8, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 7:46 pm

Pine St. Inn’s bold move to end chronic homelessness

By Shirley Leung | GLOBE STAFF JULY 16, 2014

Last winter, the Pine Street Inn saw an overcrowding of homeless men trying to escape the extreme cold.

Five years ago, Lyndia Downie had a crazy idea. What if Pine Street Inn, a haven for Boston’s homeless, reinvented itself, turning from an emergency shelter provider to a landlord?

Downie, who runs Pine Street, warned her board it would be a hard-to-stomach decision, one that would involve closing some shelters and shifting those resources to instead buy homes. Today, that change is official: Pine Street Inn now manages more beds in homes than in shelters. Just a decade ago, the ratio was about 30 percent housing to 70 percent shelter beds.

It’s a bold strategy and one the city, which also runs shelters, is accelerating under the Walsh administration. Could Boston be on the verge of solving chronic homelessness?

“I am hoping within a handful of years,” said housing chief Sheila Dillon.

That’s amazing, given that we just went through a deep recession, and signs point to a widening gap between rich and poor in this city, where there will be two Four Seasons but hardly anywhere for the middle class to live.

What Downie saw years ago was buried in a trove of data she scoured: 5 percent of the homeless population took up more than half of the beds at Pine Street on any given night.

The truth is that most people who come through Pine Street are there because of a temporary crisis.

They often just need a place to stay for a few days. But Downie began to imagine what would happen if Pine Street focused on that 5 percent — the people who live on the street for months or years.

Few people thought her idea would work. These street people didn’t want help.

Not true. A year after moving into a Pine Street home — where they also receive counseling — 96 percent of the chronically homeless are still there.

Downie didn’t come up with the idea of “housing first” for the homeless. It actually came from New York. But while it will take more than one good idea to solve New York’s massive problem, Boston stands a fighting chance.

Our city has about 300 chronically homeless, down from about 570 in 2009.

“That’s solvable,” Downie said this week at a former Mission Hill hospice Pine Street has converted into a 18-unit house, one of three dozen the nonprofit owns in Boston and Brookline.

Overall, Pine Street manages nearly 900 permanent beds compared with about 670 emergency beds. And thanks to a recent $20 million capital campaign funded by private donors, it will be able to maintain those properties and buy more.

If not for the Mission Hill house, Paul Sullivan would be in and out of shelters.

He had a drinking problem that left him jobless and homeless. The former insurance administrator is now sober and has lived under the same roof for five years. Sullivan, 61, pays $238 a month in rent, or 30 percent of his Social Security disability income.

He has his own room, and shares a kitchen and bathroom. It feels like a home. “The camaraderie is terrific,” Sullivan said. He does volunteer work and hopes to some day get a part-time paying job.

That’s good for everyone.

The chronically homeless regularly end up in emergency rooms and tax public safety systems; keeping them in long-term housing adds up to an annual savings of $9,500 per person, according to advocacy group Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance.

That’s a big reason why the Patrick administration is also helping to fund Pine Street Inn’s “housing first” initiative, as well as similar efforts around the state, said Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary for housing and community development.

No one is saying that emergency shelters will disappear, certainly not at Pine Street. But we have a shot at making chronic homelessness a thing of the past.

Related coverage:

• Graduates of Pine Street Inn’s job training celebrate

• Bitter cold drives homeless to shelters

• More young adults call streets of Boston home

• Kevin Cullen: Moving story of a once-homeless veteran

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.

 

http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/07/15/pine-street-inn-goes-from-emergency-shelter-provider-landlord/4qmo0p7L3HGxQFB3zyHkrN/story.html

 

Half the Sky September 2, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 7:59 pm

A loving family…  what everyone needs!

 

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/one-familys-quest-unite-orphaned-chinese-girls-happy-home/

 

Homeless in Calais August 28, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 8:54 pm

Does this look familiar to anyone aware of the situation of homeless people in the U.S.?  How do you feel about the way they are being treated by authorities?

How would you feel about having these people as your neighbors?  Would you feel that they were taking your jobs and benefits?

Food for thought…

 

 

Intrepid Heart September 2, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 11:34 pm

Sunday, September 2, 2012

 

Intrepid Heart

 

My cousin Linda was born in 1946 with a serious heart murmur.   “She’ll be lucky to survive a month,’ her doctors told my Aunt Davida and Uncle Kent.  When she not only survived but thrived, the experts shook their heads.  “It will be a miracle if she makes it out of childhood, though,” they said, “and she will never be able live an active life.”

 

In middle school, she made cheerleader.   Of course she did — she was a gorgeous brunette with long, thick, lustrous hair, a beautiful face, luminous brown eyes, a curvaceous figure, and a calm personality with mischief underneath.  Her heart murmur was still there, but apparently it didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to cheer.

 

Once she got to high school (where she was cheerleader again), and the crop of pretty freshman girls were reviewed by the senior boys, the drum major and Big Man on Campus, Leonard, asked her for a date on a $5 bet from a buddy.  Leonard and Linda fell in love, but he went off to Germany with the Army, and she went off to college.

 

She was a cheerleader in college, too.  BaBum, BaBum, BaBum, said her heart — murmur and all — ticking along, as she herself broke boys’ hearts right, left and center.  The Big Man on That Campus fell for her hard, and she married him while Leonard was in Germany.

 

Time passed.  When Leonard returned from military service and learned that her marriage hadn’t worked out, he proposed, and they got married right away.

 

“She’ll never be able to have children because of her heart,” the doctors had said all along, so she went ahead then and had three beautiful kids by natural childbirth, a son, Perry, a daughter, Wendy, and second son, Eric.  All are superstars, just like her.  Their family lived the dream — all the kids in sports, good students, their beautiful home the center of action and activity in the neighborhood.  When my family and I came to town, we spent a lot of time at their house, and my daughters were in awe of their older cousins, who always included them in activities like driving out of town to procure fireworks on the Fourth of July and shooting them off in front of the house!

 

Years went on, and Linda’s mother, my Aunt Davida, developed breast cancer, had a radical mastectomy, and herself beat the odds, living without recurrence for over 30 years.   At some point after her mother’s surgery, Linda called me long distance.  “I’ve never had a mammogram, but I think I’d better have one, don’t you?”  “Yes, I think for sure you should, but I’m not worried at all.  I know they’re not going to find anything,” I said.  “I don’t think so either,” she said.

 

But they found stage 2 breast cancer that had spread to a few of her lymph nodes.   Her surgery was followed by chemotherapy and radiation, and she did a lot of research on alternative medicine.  She combined her medical treatment with about 45 vitamin and herb pills per day.  She walked three miles a day throughout her treatment, drank about a gallon of water daily, and did visualizations designed by medical intuitive and mystic, Caroline Myss.  She meditated.  She prayed, and so did I and a lot of other people.

 

Although the chemotherapy was strong and toxic enough to require a port implant in her chest, she never had a day of fatigue or sickness during her treatment and credited the holistic medicines she took alongside her chemo for her strength and resilience.  One day I drove into our hometown in East Tennessee from Dallas and went looking for her.  She was at the local park, in a pretty bold blonde wig, hoofing it around the track in the heat of the day.  Later she told me that on another day which was supposed to be her worst after a chemo drip, she planted flowers in her yard for eight hours and never felt tired.  She had to be doing something right, because the blood count that usually drops during chemo stayed up and strong to the point that her oncologist, Dr. G., said, “Hmmm, I don’t think I’m poisoning you enough.  Your blood looks too good.”  “Very funny,” she replied.  “Well, I don’t really believe in all this vitamin and herb stuff,” he said, “but whatever you’re doing, keep on doing it.  Another patient on exactly the same regimen as yours is very ill and her numbers are dangerously low.”

 

Then came the deadly infection.  She went in for a chemotherapy drip, and a nurse administering it failed to wash her hands after touching a bathroom door knob.  A hard-to-identify and treatment-resistant bacterium entered Linda’s  bloodstream.  She was hospitalized, and, to keep from going crazy, continued her walking program in the hospital halls, repeatedly making a loop that she measured out to give her the mileage she needed.  Finally the hospital lab identified the germ:  it was rare — only nineteen people had ever contracted it…  none had ever survived.  To that point, it was 100% fatal.

 

Undaunted and unafraid, she kept walking the hospital halls and made the hospital her home, decorating her room and settling in, as staff in the hospital lab fought against the ‘bug’ in a petri dish, trying every combination of antibiotics they could think of to kill it.  Five weeks passed:  the germ didn’t die.  But neither did my cousin.  Befriended by a lab technician who visited her in her room, he said, “I’m not giving up until I find something that works.”  He did.  She lived, the first survivor of that germ.

 

She sailed past her five-year mark cancer free, and her ten-year anniversary was approaching.

 

One summer we had a business together in a beach mall in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, which was the place on earth that she loved most.  Just as my daughters and I got onto the island, one from college and one from high school, and moved into her condominium with her for the summer, she made a trip to Knoxville for her annual visit to her oncologist Dr. G.  She called me from there.  “Bad news,” she said, “my tumor marker is up, and there are lesions on my femur and ribs.”

 

She came back to the island, and we discussed it.  “I’m not taking the chemo drugs right now,” she said.  “Dr. G. has given me some time to make up my mind.  I may take them later, but I’m going to try alternatives first.”

 

She found a kinesiologist in North Carolina, set up an appointment to see him, and drove up there the next week while my girls and I ran the business.  He put her on a strict diet, took her off some of her vitamins and put her on others.  “Ugh,” she said, when she got back, “I have to give up coffee, sugar, and alcohol.”  “I’ll be happy to consume your share of those things for you, especially desserts,” I said helpfully.

 

When  she went for her check back with Dr. G. in a few weeks, he couldn’t figure it out.  “I don’t get it,” he said, “your tumor marker is down.”  She went in for a bone biopsy, and the radiologist turned out to be an old boyfriend.  “Would you have this biopsy if you were me?” she asked, and added, “off the record.”  “It could cause a fracture,” he said, “and, if you see a horse, you call it a horse.”  “Meaning?” she asked.  “I think it’s malignancy,” he said.  She left without the biopsy.

 

She was strict about the diet, and went back to the North Carolina kinesiologist for homeopathic injections, which she said were painful.  Her tumor marker stayed down, and later, on the next scan, many of the bone lesions seemed inexplicably to have receded.

 

After that summer, our communication was scattered but consistent.  Letters, pictures, phone calls, visits to Knoxville when my father and stepmother died and for her mother’s funeral.

 

Several years ago, she reported that her tumor marker was up again and she was taking a mild chemotherapy drug for a sort of maintenance but it was not making her ill.  Then she stopped reporting on her health, and for some reason I stopped asking.  In my mind, things had just stayed right there — a mild maintenance treatment was keeping her illness at bay.  I made an alliance with denial and silence, and she did not intrude upon it with bad news.

 

Last week I was in Knoxville and called her as soon as I got to town.  I had family business to transact and went about it for a few days, then called again and left a message several days before I was to leave.  “Let’s have lunch or dinner and catch up,” I said on the voice mail.  When she didn’t respond, I told my out-of-state daughters by phone, “I hope she just didn’t get the message and it’s not that she’s sick or something.”

 

Every day that week I ate lunch at restaurants where she and I had always eaten together.   They were close to my hotel and were in the neighborhood where Linda, Leonard and the kids had always lived.  One of the restaurants is owned by a chef who went to culinary school  and had roomed with their son, Perry, also a chef.  I spoke with him about the family.  “Tell the whole crew hello,” he said.   I drove by the houses where my family and I had visited Linda’s family so many times and thought a lot about what good times we’d had there.

 

Finally, I hadn’t heard from her and had to leave town without seeing her.  As I pulled out of Knoxville, I felt somehow unfinished, but it was time to get on the road, and I thought, “When you grow up somewhere, you are never finished with that place.”  I drove back toward Dallas, stopping in Memphis to stay with a friend.

 

At bedtime my first night in Memphis, I got a message from Wendy.  “Karen, I received the message you left for mom.  Sorry to inform you that Mom passed away this evening at home surrounded by family.  I’ll let you know funeral arrangements once they’re made.  The cancer had spread all over her body, and it was finally in her liver.  Call me tomorrow, and I can give you more details.  We love you, Wendy”

 

~~~

 

Who of us hasn’t had loved ones die of this illness?  Both my mother and stepmother died of it, and I sat with them during their passing.  But here are some particular things Wendy and Leonard shared with me by phone over the past two days:

 

A month ago, Wendy tells me, Dr. G., Linda’s oncologist of 22 years, came into the room where she waited for test results.  He was wiping tears from his eyes.  “The chemotherapy isn’t working on the disease in your liver,” he told her.  “The treatment is going to kill you before the cancer does, and we should stop it.”  They did.

 

“There were a couple of funny things,” Leonard said.  “During the past two weeks when she wasn’t able to get up, I’d go in to check on her while she was sleeping.  One day she woke up, looked up at me and said, ‘Every time I open my eyes, you’re standing there staring at me.  Why is that?’”

 

“Then, a few days before she died, she woke up and asked me pointedly, ‘Am I dead yet?’”

 

Her wicked humor didn’t abate.

 

“Over the years,” Wendy said, “they’ve written mom off so many times and said, ‘OK, this is it.’  ‘Go to hell,’ she’d tell them.’”  Wendy and I laughed at this, because there’s no anecdote more typical of Linda’s fighting spirit.

 

~~~

 

I find that I am angry alongside my tremendous sadness.  I know anger is a stage of grief, but it feels more personal than something that is merely part of a predictable pattern — these things always do.  I’m looking for the victory in this outcome, and I’m having difficulty finding it.  Victory is something we’ve all come to expect of Linda, and, though her battle is victorious beyond measure, I so wanted her not to suffer as she did and to be well.

 

But Grace… there is Grace all through it…  in the fact that I took this trip to Knoxville unexpectedly early, and it was a trip I’d been putting off for a while.  Circumstances beyond my control compelled the timing of the trip —  I’d been planning to go two weeks later.  My older daughter said to me on the phone after we got the news of Linda’s death, “The timing is just very strange.  I’ve got to figure it out.  But one thing we know for sure:  a lesson in this is ‘If not now, when?

 

All last week, after calling Linda and not getting a reply, while I spent part of every day in the suburb where we’d gone to high school, where her family had lived, in places we’d always gone together…  she was in my thoughts almost all the time.  I kept wondering if she was in town and thought, “Well, maybe she’s in Hilton Head,” but in fact, all week long, I was five minutes from where she lay dying.  If I had known, I would have been by her side.  Leonard said to me after, “Karen, I think it’s good for your own sake that you weren’t.”

 

Then last night, I got a note from a good friend here in Dallas, and there was something in it, esoteric and inexplicable as it sounds, that I hadn’t been able to put together, but that pierced my heart as the truth:  the note said,  “maybe somehow she wanted you nearby even if the words were unspoken between you.”

 

KS