Archive for the ‘elder care’ Category

Winter Solstice Liberation: Mahasamadhi, The Last Asana

December 22, 2013

December 21, Winter Solstice 2013

Some of you may have read this story before. This week, I received a letter from a friend who had just read it for the first time.

He wrote: “You have no idea what a joy it was to stumble across your account of Ruth’s passing. As you may recall, my wife and I were best friends with Ruth for many years. We lived in her apartment; she took us in when times were tough, and later on we lived across the street from her. She wrote to us sporadically after we left Ojai. We found out about her death and its manner through a third party. So many memories of Ruth return with reading your account. She had told us years earlier that this was the way she’d probably die.”

Suzaji's Blog


Winter Solstice Liberation: Mahasamadhi, the Last Asana

December 1987

In the end—and it will end—your life will seem to have sped by like a fleeting dream.

—Doris “Granny D” Haddock

The Winter Solstice is upon us. It was at this time of year, many years ago, that I rode my bicycle over to Eucalyptus Street, as I often did, to see my old friend Ruth. It was a crisp, sunny day after a long rain, and I was not really in the mood to be stuck indoors, but Ruth had called to say she had something important to tell me.

The moment I stepped inside, I could sense that something was up. Shirley, the next-door neighbor who checked on Ruth twice a day, was in the kitchen dumping oatmeal into the garbage disposal. She didn’t waste any words telling me what was going on. 

Ruth says she’s going to…

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Are Seniors the Vanguard of American Yoga?

September 14, 2013

Picture 010A great review in CounterPunch Weekend Edition September 13-15, 2013

Wisdom of the Aged
Are Seniors the Vanguard of American Yoga?
It’s one of the paradoxes of today’s youth- and beauty-obsessed yoga culture that one of the oldest and most established yoga styles has become one of the least known: Iyengar Yoga, named for its legendary founder B.K.S. Iyengar, isn’t complicated or exotic. Its practitioners aren’t likely to burn incense or to chant Sanskrit prayers in class. Known for its heavy reliance on props, including ropes and blocks, to ease practitioners in and out of the more difficult yoga poses, the practice is decidedly non-competitive. It’s also distinctly unglamorous. You won’t see many Iyengar teachers featured in a Lululemon clothing ad, or asked to participate in a sexy magazine photo shoot. For one thing, the practitioner could well be in her 70s.

Which is why Suza Francina’s wonderful book, The New Yoga for Healthy Aging, is such a welcome addition to the sprawling American literature on yoga. Francina, author of three previous best-selling books and one of the original founders of the industry trade magazine Yoga Journal, isn’t a yoga pop celebrity like Tara Stiles or a Shiva Rea, and she’s far less well known than other prominent Iyengar teachers like Judith Lasater and John Schumacher. And she seems to like it that way. Now in her early 60s, she’s been practicing yoga since 1972, and almost from the start, as a fresh-faced 22-year old “hippie chick” living in California, she’s been drawn to working with seniors. It’s clearly given her a grounded humble insight into what yoga can do to heal and rejuvenate the human body and spirit, and has kept her focused on the practice’s simple unadorned truths, free of the esoteric jargon and new Age pop-philosophizing that can be off-putting to yoga outsiders and newbies.

To read the rest:

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“Everything else was a piece of cake”

September 10, 2013

Whenever my dad takes to his bed for several days, hardly eating, mostly sleeping, I think the end is near. “Naked we come, and naked we go, Suzanne,” he always likes to remind me during these deathbed talks, where I sit on the edge of his bed, one hand resting on the top of his skull, the other hand gently massaging his bony spine. “You have healing hands, Suzanne. The Lord gave you magnetic hands . . .”

While my mom sits in the living room, reading over and over again in the large print Reader’s Digest the same article about the assassination of JFK (last night she asked me, “Was this man shot in Ojai?”), my dad launches into another life review, often repeating things I’ve heard before, but almost always adding another precious detail, giving me new insight on how his life, and thus my life, was formed.

My father always reminds me that he survived the worst of the worst life has to offer. “After what I saw, Suzanne . . . can you imagine, a civilized country like America dropping two atomic bombs, which are like firecrackers compared to what we have now? After what I saw, Suzanne, I compare the rest of my life to those horrible days and everything else was a piece of cake.”

My dad believes in God and the devil, that there will be a day of judgment, that we will have a great reunion with all our loved ones in heaven, and that God will intervene at the last minute, before the devil blows the Earth to smithereens.

As he reviews the course of his life, he says, “It really is like looking at a movie, Suzanne, a long movie that flashes by in the twinkling of an eye.”

He agrees with me that the Earth is a loony bin and that it doesn’t make sense.

For me, it’s revealing to hear my dad describe the ways he’s failed me. His exact words: “I’ve failed you, Suzanne. I was not there when you needed me. I was working. I was preoccupied.” He confesses again to the times he intervened behind my back, like the time my son’s biological father came to visit us and he took him aside and ordered him to leave town. Last night he told me, “He was dressed so neatly, Suzanne; maybe he had good intentions coming to see you. Maybe I shouldn’t have said what I said . . .”

Part of me is a detached writer, a witness anthropologist, when my dad reveals how he sees the past. Part of me is the rejected, fed-up, wounded oldest daughter who wishes that for once he would be fair and straighten things out, and do right by me while he still has a chance. But, alas, he won’t even let my dogs into the house, although that act alone would make my life so much easier.


“Mom, you’ve got one foot in the grave. Don’t worry about the water bill!”

August 23, 2013

The world is going to pot but I’m here in The Nest, living my life. I was born questioning everything, and it looks like I’ll be headed in that direction till I’m in the grave. We don’t like to admit it, but, speaking at least for myself, our core essence seems to change very little.

Even when I was only about four or five years old, I felt a sense of outrage about the cruelty around me. I still remember coming upon a group of boys, back in Holland, who were probably a bit older than me, and the little idiots had gathered up some worms that they were impaling on the ends of a barbed wire fence, yelling with sadistic delight as they watched the worms squirm. I’d like to think I was brave enough to throw a clod of dirt at them, although this I’m not sure about. But the feeling of pity and of wanting to save those worms was there.

My father would have a different view of those worms. He’s told me many times how eating worms and grubs gave him the protein to be one of the few survivors in a concentration camp. He assures me that when Jesus returns we will all be vegetarians and the lion will lie down with the lamb, but in the meantime the buffalo burgers from the Deer Lodge give him strength.

* * *

Today, while babysitting my 92-year-old mom, I saw how little she’s changed. While we were sitting outside enjoying the late afternoon sun, I decided it was a good time to wash my dogs on their nice convenient lawn, surrounded by cement sidewalks and away from any dirt. She enjoyed watching me shampoo little Chico with the natural dog shampoo I’d brought along. But when I was midway through wetting and shampooing Honey, she decided I’d “wasted enough water” and, hanging on to the nearby railing with one hand, she managed to stoop low enough, without falling, to reach down and turn off the faucet!

So there I was, a good distance away from the faucet, with a fully soaked and shampooed Aussie dog and a dry hose.

It was actually very amusing, watching my feisty old mom assert herself. But back when I was a teenager, and would be taking a morning shower before school, my mom would turn the water heater off when she decided I’d been in the shower long enough, and getting sprayed by cold water when I wasn’t done washing my hair made me livid. We had the worst fights, yelling and screaming as I asserted my independence. I even remember once standing in front of the washing machine and slapping her face before I ran off to catch the bus.

But now it’s fifty years later. I laughingly beg her to turn the water back on, and she shows mercy. She turns the water on and off intermittently—just to be sure I know she’s still in charge. There’s no use telling her, “Mom, you’ve got one foot in the grave. Don’t worry about the water bill!”

* * *

buddy542212_685309024830274_335351423_n At the end of the day I do what I always do. I let it all go and rest in the Goddess Pose. Usually I cover my eyes with an eye bag, but the other day there was a surprise package in the mail from a far away friend. Inside was a sweet, soft brown bear—a lavender-scented cuddly buddy. The weight of the bear is perfect to rest across my eyes and forehead–to quiet the movement of my eyes so my mind can find stillness.

Thank you, Juanita Potwin and Hubiecat. The child in me loves my new buddy!

Photo Credit: Olivia Klein

“Vision isn’t in the eyes; it’s in the mind.”

July 14, 2013

As the sky grew dark, Honey started barking, running in circles, and practically pulling me out the door. I grabbed my knapsack, cell phone, and pen and notebook, and poured some Honeyrun elderberry wine into an empty bottle of Lori’s Lemonade. Honey was so wound up that she and Nubio rolled around in the dust, growling and nipping, pretend fighting, before charging out the gate.

We made our way down the trail into the dry river bed. Out in the open, the landscape was still gold—light enough for a good walk. But a few minutes later there was a single gunshot, or a firecracker explosion, and suddenly all the wild exuberance in Honey evaporated. She ran back to me and pressed her body against my leg like a frightened child.

It took a while for my brain to relax. After Honey calmed down, too, we continued walking the river bed. Before turning back, we sat on the warm stones. The ceremonial sips of wine heightened my senses. The dogs settled down, and together we sank into the pervasive silence that is always here at day’s end—a blessed break from the injustice and insanity in the world.

On the way back I caught sight of the bright, clear sliver of the moon and the white rim of the sky above the pitch-black mountains. Day slipped calmly into night, in a cosmic rhythm untouched by the day’s events.


This morning, after yoga, I went to see my parents. My mom was sitting alone in the front yard, wearing a pretty sun dress, a sun hat, a necklace. She was in high spirits. I know I inherited my love of nature from her. The atmosphere around the house felt extraordinarily tranquil. We sat together and watched the birds drinking from the bird bath. There were white clouds above the mountains. The temperature was just right. I heard myself say, “This feels like heaven on Earth.”

I let myself relax and sense into my mom’s world. She told me again how when she left Holland she had no idea she’d end up in a place this beautiful. I was only seven, but I recall the car ride from L.A. to Ojai. On the freeway I remember my mom shaking her head, complaining about all the cars, all the asphalt. This was 1957. It was a great relief when we arrived in rural Ojai.

After a while my mom wonders, “Where is that man that lives with me?” So I go check on my dad. He’s on the back porch, asleep on an old sofa, wrapped in a blanket. I watch to be sure he’s still breathing. The breeze ruffles his hair. I debate whether to wake him, so he knows I’m here in case he wants to go do an errand, and decide it’s better to let him sleep.

On the way back to the front yard I pick up the July issue of National Geographic to read to my mom. At first it goes well. There’s an amazing story about Daniel Kish, a man known as “Bat Man.” Blind from the age of 13 months, he explores the world—and even rides his bike—by clicking his tongue. Now, at 47, he navigates the world primarily by using echolocation, like a bat. He says, “Vision isn’t in the eyes; it’s in the mind.”

But then I turn the pages. After showing my mom a wonderful photo essay about farmers in Transylvania, I go back to look more closely at “Last Song,” a story about the slaughter of songbirds. It documents how some people eat these beautiful creatures in the same way that others eat chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. Three billion birds of some three hundred species—songbirds, waterbirds, raptors—migrate thousands of miles. They navigate by cues that the human mind can barely fathom: the sun, the stars, scents, landforms, the Earth’s magnetic field . . . And instead of standing in awe before these winged wonders guided by the cosmos, humans take advantage of their exhausted state after flying thousands of miles without food and use their merciless cunning to devise cruel traps to catch them.

Suddenly the world seems a very dark place. I want to cry. All at once I have to leave my parents’ tranquil cocoon. My work on the Earth plane is not yet done. And neither is yours.

Finding my balance in nature

Finding my balance in nature

“You’ll get your reward in heaven, Suzanne”

July 3, 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013
Today, as the atmosphere grew hotter, I totally forgot that everything is temporary. That nothing is permanent. I became irrational. In fact, I freaked out. Instead of hosing myself down with cold water and plopping on a yoga bolster, I fought to function. It’s the end of the month. Time for accounting, making statements. If I were rational I would do that job at 2 a.m., when the heat breaks, like in Indonesia. Even tonight my writing hovel is like an oven. But the temperature is dropping, whereas before I feared it would never stop rising.

So in the late afternoon, feeling desperate to escape the inferno, the dogs and I jumped in the tank my middle sister got me two weeks ago to better care for my old parents. We wasted gas and drove to Ventura. There the air was cold, and it felt like a foreign country. I did enjoy it. I could actually leave the dogs in the car for a few minutes and shop! So I went to Vons, got water for the dogs, cat food and cleaning supplies,  champagne and bubbly water, and stood in line with humanity. Stood behind a young couple buying a frozen banana creme pie, just like I once did. Read the headlines of People magazine. (Who cares about these people? We have our own troubles, our own escapades. Who decided to make these plain folk celebrities? And isn’t it fun when they fall?)

There was no parking at the beach, but I’m starting to get the hang of driving again. Honey was so excited to smell the ocean she hung out the window as far as she could without falling out. I promised her we’d be back during the week. So then we cruised home, turning on Creek Road. A lucky break—not a single car behind me, so we went slowly and enjoyed the green view. Stopped at Camp Comfort. I’d forgotten: No Dogs Allowed. One time we disobeyed the sign and got caught, so now we obey and leave.

Our little excursion out of hot Ojai is over. Time to check on my parents. My mom is wearing her bright pink-purple-red sundress from the 1950s and reading a book about Albert Einstein.

“Do you know Albert Einstein?” she asks when I walk in the door.

“Yes, I’ve heard of him,” I reply.

“His hair was messy –like mine.” Sure enough, she then tells me how messy my own hair is. “You must part it in the middle. You are still beautiful but you must do something about your hair.”

My old Indonesian dad sleeps in his easy chair. They’ve lived their whole life without air conditioning—just one slow overhead fan. I ask him if he’d like some cold water. After awhile he says, “You’ll get your reward in heaven, Suzanne. Don’t you worry . . . You’ll get your reward in heaven . . . not here on Earth.”

“That’s for sure,” I mumble to myself.HONEY HUG

Life is always changing —and yet some things never change!


If it were not for Honey

June 18, 2013

If it were not for Honey insisting we go for a walk every evening, I might get sucked into a vortex of earthly concerns. I might not be out here now at sunset, leaning against a warm boulder, and watching the gold light descend on the landscape. But here I am, writing in my new journal on top of a boulder desk.

There’s no room here for Honey, so she sits alone on a nearby rock, scanning the riverbed below like the wild animal she is. I keep one eye on little Chico, wandering nearby, sniffing the brush. I must remember to put some kind of deterrent around his neck, so I don’t have this constant background worry that a coyote will eat him. When he strays too far, I put him on a leash.

Day after day, the current of life sucks me in. These are the days of elder care for my parents, squeezed in between animal care, teaching yoga, and all the daily life chores one does to keep one’s ship afloat.

At the end of the day Honey lets me know that she’s had enough of waiting. There’s no escaping her begging and pleading. It’s no use resisting her psychic pull. I can hear her telepathically, saying, “Come on, Suza. The sun is setting. Let’s go!”

Honey’s life force is a thousand times stronger than mine. She’s the ultimate unrelenting personal trainer. She carries the exuberance of youth, and she demands her dose of freedom. Yet every day I resist. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have her. I just want to write, do yoga, clean house, or socialize, uninterrupted. But with rare exceptions, she always wears my resistance down. Thanks to Honey, I abandon everything . . . And that’s why it says in my journal: “There’s nothing you have to do that is so earth shaking that you should miss the last rays of sunlight . . .”

After we wander the riverbed, I bring Honey and Chico back to the house and leave, guilt-free, to check on my parents.

IMG_2635My mom is alone in the front yard without her walker. She’s making her way by hanging on to the front porch railing and then bracing herself against an outdoor chair. I can see that she’s wondering why part of the yard is dug up and why there’s a new stack of bricks near by.

“Where’s your walker?” I ask.

“It walked away,” she says, laughing. And then she orders me to move the rake and other tools because, “someone might trip and fall.”

I escort her up the steps and into the house. As usual, my dad is dozing in his easy chair. He’s not hungry, but he wants to make sure my mom has her dinner. My mom insists she has no appetite either, but I know that if I get her to sit down with me she’ll eat if I’m eating.

I warm up the dinner my youngest sister made earlier in the day. Potatoes, carrots, peas, sauteed onions, all mixed together with a pat of organic butter, the Dutch way. Sure enough, Mom eats a hearty bowl full.

During every visit, and usually while we eat, my mom asks me the same thing as if for the first time. “How much do you weigh?”

“Too much,” I always reply. And each time we find this terribly funny!

Tonight, looking across the room at my dad, she asks, “Who is that man over there?”

“I don’t know,” I joke, “Who do you think it is?”

“Oh, that’s my husband,” she replies, catching this momentary lapse in memory.

While we eat, my mom and I dig deep into our memory banks. I can remember every detail of childhood happiness—mostly centered around food. She likes it when I describe how well I remember the delicious things she fed me in Holland. I would be in my soft flannel nightgown or pajamas, and she would bring my middle sister and me, each a bowl containing a “Holland Rusk,” a unique round, crunchy toast-like biscuit. The Holland Rusk would be submerged in hot milk, to which would be added a pat of butter, melting in the hot milk, and a sprinkling of brown sugar. The hot milk would soften the crisp biscuit so that you could slowly savor the warm buttery sweetness and then slurp it all down.

This was our special Dutch childhood treat, usually served after supper, before we went to bed.

My mom and I find it hilarious to speak only in Dutch, exaggerating all the unique Dutch pronunciations. Tonight I asked her to tell me again the story of when I was born. At first she looked at me, very amused. “Oh, that was so long ago, I can’t remember. How old are you now?” But then somehow it all comes back and she remembers being in labor, making her way down a flight of stairs, catching a taxi, spreading her raincoat on the seat of the taxi so it wouldn’t get it wet, and arriving at the hospital, where she was told to wait to push, to hold me back till they could get her into the delivery room . . . It’s uncanny how she remembers almost everything from long ago.

But she can’t remember things from moment to moment. Yesterday I noticed her partial was missing again. We looked everywhere, and she couldn’t remember what we were looking for, let alone where she’d left her top teeth. I swear we went through every purse, pocket, dresser drawer, medicine cabinet, windowsill, under the bed, in the fridge, trash, cereal boxes. . . Later in the day, after I gave up, my youngest sister told me that she prayed and then found them safe inside a small purse.

After dinner it’s time for a foot bath. This takes place in the kitchen, where it’s easy to fill the plastic tub with warm water. I take off my mom’s shoes, and for the thousandth time tell her she must go barefoot–she must air out her feet and expose them to the sunlight. My barefoot Indonesian dad agrees and echoes my sentiments. While Mom soaks her feet, I wash her shoes.

While I dry her feet, she reminds me for the thousandth time not to waste water. “Pour the water in a bucket, and save it to flush the toilet.” Whenever she goes on about not wasting water, I remember how, as a teenager, if I was in the shower too long she would simply turn the hot water heater dial to “Off” so that a blast of cold water would flush me out of the bathroom. . .

And now I’m back in my writing hut, happy to be in my own sweet home.

Elder Care in Ojai: “We Are In Our Own Cocoon”

April 25, 2013

IMG_0922I’m starting to think that the closest I’m gonna get to enlightenment is to get along with my old parents.

If my dad could fire me, he would, but I’m all he has for the night shift. Everything I do is wrong. “You wouldn’t last one day on a job,” he’s fond of saying, as he shows me how to cook and wash dishes. I tried to dissuade him from eating the salmon my middle sister fixed for his dinner four days ago but he polished it off with sliced cucumbers and dandelion greens, dismissing my concerns with war stories about rations of spoiled rice and maggots.

“You are too soft, Suzanne,” he reminds me at least once every visit.

When I arrive this evening at around 6:30, the house is peaceful. I like to spy on my mom and dad through the window before announcing my arrival. My mom is making her way to the kitchen with her walker. When I tap softly on the window for her to open the door, she immediately turns around; that’s how I know her hearing is still good. My dad is dozing in his easy chair. My mom unlocks the door—very happy to see me. She admires the warm cape I’m wearing on this dark, drizzly evening, and notices that for once I’ve combed my hair.

My dad wakes up as soon as I step inside. “I’m a dreamer, Suzanne. I’m dreaming about rambutan and durian [Indonesian fruits]. You remember the durian, Suzanne? At least you got to taste the real fruit . . . ”

He stretches back in his easy chair. “We got it made, Suzanne . . . Can you imagine your mother and me in a rest home? A retirement community? I get these fancy offers in the mail: ‘Meet interesting people,’ ‘golf courses,’ ‘swimming pools,’ ‘all the amenities’ . . .” he quotes with laughing disdain.

Then he recounts yet another tale about visiting his friends in a nursing home.

“You remember Flodeen? She told me, ‘I didn’t know what was happening. They lifted me up out of bed and put me in the washroom . . .’

“Can you imagine?”

“Your mom and I, we do what we like. We sleep til 8 or 9. Every morning your mom stands in front of the window and looks at the mountains. She asks, ‘How did I get here?’ She loves it here. We make a nice breakfast. We sit in the sun. We are in our own cocoon. We got it made.”

On almost every visit, he suddenly says, “I wish I could turn back the clock and take better care of you. But I was preoccupied. I worked all the time. I was in a better position with your youngest sister. I had vacation pay . . .”

My almost 90-year-old dad is processing his whole life. On all these recent visits he’s been telling me more about his childhood in Indonesia. I hadn’t realized till tonight that his family was part of the ruling class. He pulls out a book about Dutch- Indonesians. It has photographs of all the scenes he remembers from his youth. An Indonesian kitchen. “We had a full-time cook, Suzanne. She arrived early in the morning and left late in the evening. That’s just how it was. We had a maidservant who went with us the first time we went to Holland in 1933 or ’34. The boat trip took a month . . . two months back and forth.”

The photographs clearly show that the Dutch were the ruling class in Indonesia and the Indonesians, the indigenous people, were second class. “My father had a good position,” my Dad comments. “We were privileged. But the Japanese beat all the pride out of me . . . ”

On every visit, my dad recounts new war stories. His being one of two or three hundred prisoners moved from the docks to high up in the mountains to work in the coal mines, just a few weeks before the atomic bomb flattened Nagasaki, was a defining moment of his life. He remembers every detail of the horrors from ages 17 to 20. “I was young, Suzanne. I will never forget the sound of that prison gate closing behind us. But I knew that the gate that closes will one day be open again . . .”

It’s now close to 9 p.m., and my mom insists she’s not hungry. I know that the only thing that appeals to her fading 92-year-old appetite is a grilled cheese sandwich with the Dutch cheese she’s eaten almost every day of her life and a cup of warm organic milk. I put my vegan philosophy aside and make her the most delicious greasy buttery sandwich in a frying pan. “Oh, that tastes good,” she says.

Suddenly, with a look of genuine alarm, she sticks out her arm. “What’s that? What a sight is this!” She examines the blue veins bulging out of her thin arms as if seeing them for the first time.

It’s as if she suddenly realizes how very old her body is. I’ve had a taste of that same feeling. All day long, if we don’t look in the mirror, we feel ageless—twenty, thirty—so long as we keep aches, pains, and fatigue at bay.

My mom again stares at her veins. Then she looks up and says, laughing, “I better wear long sleeves.”

I laugh too. “Would you like dessert?” I ask.

“No, I’d rather desert!”

My mom never misses a beat!

“I hope they cover me up when I go!”

April 15, 2013

IMG_0963 When I moseyed over to my parents’ house tonight, I found my dad in turmoil. “Mam lost her partials,” he said. “She had all her teeth in at breakfast. We’ve looked for them all day, in all the obvious places: her pockets, underneath everything. . . I brought the trash barrels back from the end of the driveway. In the morning I’m going through both cans.”

I got on my hands and knees and looked all around my mom’s easy chair. I remembered how other elders I used to care for would lose their teeth, glasses, and hearing aids, and how they would turn up in the bottom of an old bathrobe pocket, their purse, or wrapped in a Kleenex and tucked somewhere hidden from view.

My mom thought all the fuss was very funny. She joked that she could eat just fine with half her teeth missing, and that she couldn’t understand why my dad was so agitated. While I was looking behind photographs and other odd places, I suddenly heard her shout from her bedroom, “I found them!” I went to the bedroom, where she was holding a first aid kit. And, sure enough, there were the partials, wrapped in a napkin and tucked away amidst the bandaids. She promptly put them in her mouth and went back to the living room to show my dad.

Well, you never saw my dad so happy. All evening long he praised me, saying over and over, “Something you said triggered her memory.” He was so relieved not to have to go through the trash first thing in the morning.

We had one of the best evenings ever, talking about everything under the sun, including plans for their 65th wedding anniversary in August. My dad has been living with prostate cancer for five years now; he feels the side effects of the various drugs he’s taking, such as the rash on his upper body. We talked about some of the younger men we both know who’ve died from the same disease, including his neighbor. So he’s extra grateful to enjoy his walks, his naps in the sun. . . and he speculates that perhaps taking care of “Mam” is what keeps him going.

During most of the visit, I’m also doing my yoga practice. First seated poses, so I could give my mom my full attention. But then I couldn’t resist lying backwards over one of their cushy chairs. At first my mom threatened to kick me out if I didn’t get back up. So I said, “You better call 911! I can’t get back up!” “It serves you right,” she responded with a laugh. The padded chair felt fantastic and allowed me to stretch and relax and listen to my mom’s Sunday night guitar concert till the very end of the program. She really likes it when I hang out and listen to music with her. After awhile she resigned herself to my strange positions.

When I finally got out of the chair backbend, I did a couple of chair twists. Then I warned her that I was going to do something dangerous, which she found very humorous. I walked up the side of the door frame and kicked up into a handstand. “Make her stop!” She begged my dad, half joking and half serious.

While this was going on, my dad was talking about heaven and how he’s looking forward to seeing his mother. He reminded me that he never got to see her after the Americans freed him from the Japanese prison camp. “We bypassed Indonesia. From Japan we went to Australia and then to Holland. My mother died in 1957—the same year that we came to Ojai and were living on Thacher Road.”

“Yes, Suzan,” he reminded me,”life goes by so fast. Even if I live to be a hundred, it’s just the twinkling of an eye. . . and maybe it’s a good thing you are not burdened by material things . . . Naked we come, and naked we go.”

To which my mom added, with a laugh, “I hope they cover me up when I go!”


Saturday night with Ojai Ranch House date nut bread (If you think you’ve changed, go visit your parents)

March 10, 2013
Last night I felt the edge of solitude turn into Saturday night loneliness. The room that looks so bright and inviting when the sunlight pours in looked dim and dismal. The motivation to write seemed sucked out of me. I decided I needed human company and a change of scenery, so I went to visit my parents.
My good intentions ended up in my revisiting an old fight with my father.
When I arrived, the living room curtains were closed but the lights were on, so I knew they were up. I went around back and stood on a chair so I could look through the kitchen window into the rest of the house and spy on them. I could see my mom dozing in her easy chair. A wave of nostalgia rose up in me. Someday, maybe soon, I’ll look at that chair that she practically lives in and she won’t be there. And by then my dad, too, will likely be gone.
So I go back around to the front of the house and knock loudly on the window, right by where she’s sitting. “Who is it?” my mother exclaims, pulling back the curtain. “Oh, it’s Suzan! Do you need a place to spend the night?” she asks, laughing. She leans into her walker, hoists herself upright, and opens the door.
The scene is always the same. My dark-brown Indonesian dad, wearing his faded checkered robe, is lying back in his easy chair at the far end of the room, reading a Louis L’Amour Western novel or a book about Armageddon or heaven. My pale-white Dutch mom sits in her chair near the front door reading one of her Spanish books or the same pages of a National Geographic magazine over and over again. They are both so thin—each probably under a hundred pounds. And the more skeletal they turn, the more they delight in joking that I’m gaining weight again.
All goes well for the first half hour. I sit on the floor in front of my mom’s chair in various yoga poses and entertain her with excerpts from National Geographic and jokes about life. My dad loves it when I amuse her so he can read uninterrupted.Then he puts down his book and asks if I know what’s happening with the Golden State Water buyout. His water bill on his Pauline Street property is over $200. This innocent conversation about the water bill slowly trickles into dangerous political ground. My old Republican dad starts going on and on about how Ojai doesn’t need any more low-income housing, how people on HUD are taking advantage of the system, how the Hispanic population is taking over because they don’t use birth control, how his property taxes just keep going up and up because of government aid to all these lazy people, and “Why should I pay more taxes when I no longer have children going to school?”
And suddenly the adolescent in me that ran away from home at age sixteen can’t take it any more. I point out that my dad’s youngest daughter, the apple of his eye, the one who can do no wrong, has five children. She didn’t use birth control, so why is he pointing the finger at others who have more children than they can afford? I also point out that his grandchildren and great grandchildren go to public school, and that the government is helping to support the baby born to my youngest sister’s teenage daughter.Raising my voice, I say, “But Dad, what if you hadn’t helped Paula build a house? What if you didn’t subsidize her rent? What if you hadn’t supported her for all these years? Not everyone has parents to help them . . . “It’s like talking to a rock. All my arguments that it benefits  society as a whole to make sure everyone has adequate housing and food fall on deaf ears.
He says, “Suzan, I want you to promise that when you go to those city meetings you won’t be sentimental. You need to keep an open mind and think rationally. When I came to this country I never asked the government for any help. I worked hard and took care of my own.”We’ve had this same fight a thousand times. I know it’s a hopeless altercation, but it’s all so unfair and infuriating the way my dad supports my youngest sister, all the while raging against government handouts and blatantly insisting, “I love all my daughters equally.”

1956. A Diets-Vermeer family photo taken in Den Haag, Holland, a few months before destiny brought us to Ojai, California,  the land of sunshine and orange orchards

1956. A Diets-Vermeer family photo taken in Den Haag, Holland, a few months before destiny brought us to Ojai, California, the land of sunshine and orange orchards

We yell back and forth for a few more minutes, just like old times. As Ram Dass or some other hip spiritual teacher has said, “If you think you’ve changed, go visit your parents.”Finally I regain my wits and lean over to kiss my father on his forehead. “Dad,” I say, “I love you. Let’s just agree to disagree.”
Then I go to the kitchen, open the fridge, and cut myself three thick slices of Ranch House date nut bread. I swipe three slices of Havarti cheese for my dogs, who are waiting in my borrowed car because my dictator dad doesn’t allow them in the house. I rummage in the cupboard and swipe a can of Trader Joe’s unsalted tuna for my cats. I wrap it all up and stuff everything in my coat pocket. I hug my mom goodbye and bolt into the night. When I open the car door, the dogs are overjoyed about the cheese. Before driving off, I unwrap one of the slices of date nut bread, and laugh as I see how pathetic I am and how little it takes to console me.


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