Sunday, November 17, 2013

National Day of Listening: Nov. 29

You thought Thanksgiving was over on by midnight on Thursday?

No, you have a job on Friday, and it's not Christmas shopping.  It's a continuation of the family- and heritage-centered day of giving thanks.

National Day of Listening is November 29.  StoryCorps has designated this day for us all to honor a loved one through listening.    

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Terry tells the story of his friendship with Tony Stevens and their adventures in Madrid and Harlem in 1976.
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  • What makes us such good friends?
  • The National Day of Listening is a day to honor a loved one through listening. It's the least expensive but most meaningful gift you can give this holiday season. You can choose to record a story with anyone you know. Learn more.

    You can sit with someone who was at your Thanksgiving table and ask him or her questions about the life he or she has had.  StoryCorps offers a list of great questions.

    You could even record the conversation using a cell phone, computer, or microphone and upload it to the StoryCorps Wall of Listening.

    Stop stressing over the turkey and make your plans for a gift that will last.

    Friday, November 08, 2013

    Do Your StoryCorps Tribute!

    StoryCorps is celebrating ten years of giving average Americans the chance to make an oral recording of memories or experiences that will literally go down in history. 
    with facilitator Mayra Sierra at the StoryCorps mobile booth

    After two people talk in a mobile recording booth, the recording is sent to the Library of Congress, and the pair are given a CD of their conversation.

    My friend Sandy convinced me to go with her to downtown Los Angeles to record a tribute to my mother, Evelyn Frances Gustafson Eggebroten, who died in 2008.

    StoryCorps seeks to record voices from many walks of life, including:
    • Military voices
    • Public school teachers, both urban and rural
    • People facing serious illnesses
    • People with memory loss
    • People affected by the September 11 tragedies
    • African-Americans
    • Latino-Americans
    • Alaskans
    Because my mother suffered from Alzheimer's Disease, I checked "Memory Loss Initiative" as the type of recording I wanted to make. 

    Sandy is a big fan of StoryCorps, which she listens to on National Public Radio, as do I.  

    David Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, was signing his new book Ties That Bind at a local bookstore earlier this week, so Sandy went and had the opportunity to speak with him.  Then she checked the online waitlist and noticed that there was an open hour in the appointments for Friday; she called a friend of ours who couldn't take time off from work, and then she invited me.

    Thus we showed up at 10:30 am near the Science Museum and the African-American Museum at Jefferson and Figueroa for our interview.

    Our facilitator was Mayra Sierra, who earned an MA in Museum Studies at JFK University in Berkeley, CA.  Her thesis was titled "The Use of Oral History in Engaging Underserved Communities in Museums," and her focus was the Japanese-American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles.

    Mayra said that so far there have been 80,000 participants in StoryCorps recording 50,000 stories.

    There are permanent recording booths in Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco, as well as a few mobile booths that traverse the nation recording local populations.

    The booth we recorded in had previously been in Rapid City, South Dakota, and will move to Thousand Oaks, California, and then to Tampa, Florida.  

    The most heart-stirring recordings (about 1%) are broadcast via NPR and other media, but the purpose is simply to record lives and to improve listening and group listening skills.

    Mayra had recorded an interview with her own mother here in Los Angeles earlier this summer.  She worked at StoryCorps headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, before starting road trips.  She spent two months in Yakima, Washington.

    Sandy asked wonderful questions, and I did my best to answer them.  It's hard to remember the important things you want to say in the allotted time of 40 minutes.  
    Left to right: Anne, Sandy, and Mayra

    I want to encourage everyone to contribute your own story to the Library of Congress by visiting the StoryCorps mobile booth when it comes near you.  Or travel to one of the three permanent locations.  

    You can ask a family member to interview you, or you can interview a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or friend.  

    If you can't get to one of the locations, you can still interview an elder and record it yourself, or get someone to record you asking questions from your mother or father.

    You can interview an older family member and write down all his or her answers.  You can make a timeline of your own life or of major events in the life together of your family.

    You can start a blog focused on your senior relative, or you can outline his or her life.

    And yes, you can put together a book about your parents or grandparents.

    The main thing is to create a gift to future family members and to historians.  

    Don't let a life slip away leaving no trace of the person's thoughts and experiences.

    I never met two of my grandparents (except as a toddler), and I would dearly love to have a few pages of their words written down or ten minutes of their voices recorded.  My great-grandparents are even more distant from my reach, and I regret that.

    For more photos of our StoryCorps experience, see:

    Sunday, April 21, 2013

    Walking for Parkinson's

     Today the beach at Ocean Park Avenue is filled with tables and banners for the Beach Brigade Walk-a-thon sponsored by APDA Los Angeles.

    I'd never heard of it but learned that is is the LA chapter of the American Parkinson's Disease Association.

    I need to pay attention: my grandfather died of Parkinson's disease, and that could be my fate too.

    His mother and his cousin Walter also died of some combination of either Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.  

    If this illness is in your family tree too, get in touch with this group.

    There's also the Parkinson's Action Network, which educates and lobbies government leaders for "better politices for research and an improved quality of life for people living with Parkinson's."

    The second annual Pasadena Parkinson's Disease Symposium will take place on May 4 at San Marino Community Church with exhibits, presentations, and workshops.

    Michael Gross of the television series Family Ties will be there.  His co-star Michael J. Fox is the most prominent spokesperson for this illness.

    Tuesday, April 09, 2013

    Of Rats and Men and Women

    Mice don't develop Alzheimer's Disease, so they are of only limited use in research on AD.

    Rats, however, are a few million years closer to humans in the evolutionary journey, and they do develop the illness.

    This discovery means that rats can be used to test various treatments to prevent the build-up of amyloid plaques, according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience today.

    Apparently the development of these plaques is the result of one or more mutations of genes.

    President Obama's allocation of funds for brain research is important in relation to the prevention of Alzheimer's Disease.  If the right preventive medication can be found, our economy will save billions of dollars by not having to provide care for aging citizens.

    Maybe those meds will be available in time to help me--but meanwhile I will continue to exercise three times per week, try to avoid gaining weight, and stretch my brain by studying Hebrew.

    One Woman's Life in the 20th C.

    Evelyn on one of her last Christmases
    Evelyn Frances Gustafson Eggebroten died on April 9, 2008.

    She fought the good fight--many of them.  

    When she was born on March 12, 1919, women did not yet have the right to vote in most of the United States of America.

    When she died, a woman was a serious candidate for the presidency.

    Less than a year after she was born, the 18th Amendment prohibited the sale and distribution of intoxicating beverages.

    She grew up under Prohibition, saw it end when she was 14 years old, and eventually married a man who turned out to be addicted to alcohol.

    Though her parents only had high school diplomas, she attended college during the Depression years, eventually earning a B.S. and an M.S. at the University of Colorado.  Her undergraduate years were interrupted first to earn money in a grocery store in Telluride and later to serve in World War II.  

    She entered one of the few professions open to women, nursing.  It became her passion as well as her means of surviving economically and having the means to send her four children to private colleges.  She taught nursing for 14 years at the University of Maryland.

    Like her three brothers, she enlisted in the Armed Services after the War began, and all four survived the war.

    Being a "working mother" in the 1950s meant facing disapproval, but she transmitted her dreams to her sons as well as her daughters.  

    She loved being a Navy nurse in California during World War II, and her son Jim became a naval officer.  Her son Bill became a doctor and surgeon.  

    Her daughter Emily became a physical therapist and later a Presbyterian pastor, a profession just opened to women in 1956.

    Her daughter Anne inherited the feminist bug, perhaps from all Evelyn's tales about egotistic and bumbling doctors.  "He thought he was God's gift to woman," she sometimes said about one doctor or another.

    She loved babies and lived to see four grandchildren from Bill, five from Emily, three from Anne. and two from Jim.  

    She stayed in a difficult marriage and became a widow at the age of 74.  She suffered from Alzheimer's in her last 9-10 years and survived six years in various levels of care: independent living, assisted living, and memory care. 

    She resented being impaired and decided to push her walker into a busy street to end her life, but the plot was foiled.  Four years later she died gracefully, saying accurately "I won't be here tomorrow."

    Today marks five years since she "laid down her sword and shield."  

    Mother, your achievements over nearly a century sustained this country, marked progress for women, and live on in your children and grandchildren.

    Friday, March 22, 2013

    Memories of Memory Care

    I visited Sunrise Assisted Living of Santa Monica today, for days of auld lang syne (for days of old long since gone).  

    My mother lived there from 2004 through April, 2008.  I visited her often and knew all the caregivers and all the residents of the third floor, which is "Memory Care..."  for those who have lost their memory but are otherwise fairly healthy.

    All the caregivers I knew have moved on.  Only Angela, whom I met in October 2011 at the Memory Walk for Alzheimer's Disease, was there today.   Marnie, J.R., and others aren't there any more, but I'm still in touch with them through Facebook.

    All the residents I knew so well have moved on too--to greener pastures.

    Regina died a month ago--gentle, dignified soul from Latvia or Lithuania, who could speak several languages.

    Betty White died a few years ago.  Her daughter and I visited our mothers and talked occasionally.

    Verma, from Claremont, another sweet person with dignity and a gentle spirit, African-American, is gone.  I remember her two daughters.

    I felt sad to be in that building where my mother lived her last four years and died... I looked in her room, now occupied by someone else.

    Being there is a reminder that my own years are numbered.

    Teach us so to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. --Psalm 90:12  

    Tuesday, March 12, 2013

    My Mother's Birthday

    Evelyn with Roz's chihuahua, Irie
    March 12 will always be my mother's birthday.  

    I went to dinner with my daughter and mentioned this anniversary.

    It has been almost five years since she died in April 2008.  In the normal course of my life, I don't think about her often, but on holidays and on her birthday, the full force of those last years of caring for her returns to me.  

    Her humor and her strong desire to be with us is still vivid in my mind.  She would not want to return to Sunrise after spending Christmas or Easter with us.  

    Once when I told her I was driving to Colorado, her home, she demanded to know: "Is there any good reason why I can't go with you?"

    Well, yes, several good reasons: the wheelchair, the incontinence, the need for oxygen at the high altitude, the constant care (probably too much for me).  Of course, she didn't remember those things--she just remembered that she belonged in Colorado.

    She would have turned 94 this year--but she would not have wanted to live with limited capacity and with caregivers bathing her, feeding her, and changing her Depends.  

    Thus it is well that she is gone, but the mystery of someone being fully involved in life and then suddenly absent still haunts me.  

    This is the human condition: we have a limit... our lives have a beginning and an end.

    So I'll continue to continue to pretend
    My life will never end
    And flowers never bend
    In the rainfall...

    Monday, January 28, 2013

    Five Years Later

    Five years ago at the end of January, I was pushing my mother in her wheelchair toward the elevator of her residence.  

    "The Christmas decorations are gone!" she cried with alarm.

    "Oh yes," I said, noticing that indeed the small tree and other cheer had been removed from the lobby.  "They just put them in boxes to save for next year."

    "I wish they hadn't put them away," she continued.  

    She was genuinely sad, though it didn't seem like such a big deal to me.

    In retrospect, it was her last Christmas.  She knew it.  

    For her, the Christmas decorations would not emerge again next year.  There would be no next year.

    The vanishing of Christmas was yet another step toward total loss:  home, health, shopping, walking, eating, life.  

    Now it is the end of January five years later, 2013.  I've packed and stored the Christmas decorations once again, but I always think of her and how sad she was to part with the bright joy of Christmas.

    Earlier this month I visited the place where her ashes are scattered.  It lies under two feet of snow.  

    Rest in peace, they say.  

    Certainly she rests--perhaps she feels the joy of Christmas.  I do not know.

    Anyway, Mother, know that I am thinking of you.

    Saturday, January 12, 2013

    Resting in Peace

    Here lie my mother's ashes, resting in peace beneath the snow in her beloved Colorado mountains near blue spruce trees.

    During her last five years, when she lived near her daughters in California, she was impatient to get to this resting place.

    I agree with her choice--a good place to have one's molecules return to earth.