Sunday, March 25, 2012

Choice Words

When the elated Mother-to-Be, Father-to-Be, and Grammy-to-Be let go from their embrace, they thought, almost simultaneously, Uncle-to-Be must be called. Uncle-to-Be as in Brother-of-the-Bride. Eloquent Toastmaster of rehearsed extemporaneous-ness.

Uncle-to-Be was one hundred miles away. What better opportunity to initiate a Face Time call? We’d get to hear and see his reaction, in iPhone video motion. I expected a single raised eyebrow – reminiscient of his Dad’s -- would punctuate his facial expression. A complement to well chosen words of congratulations.

We sent the Face-Time request, iPhone to iPhone. But BOTB was at work at a fitness center. Face-to-face group talk? Out of the question. BOTB could not talk at all.  He could only text a quick reply, a clandestine sweep of thumbs over keyboard, between one fitness-center-chore and another:

can’t talk now.

David Kilper/WUSTL Photo
We three were disappointed but not deterred. “Send him the picture,” I suggested. Father-to-Be switched his iPhone to camera application and focused in on the monochromatic photo on the table. The photo that had been the message in the baby bottle. If you stared at the picture long enough, it looked like Casper the Ghost, cradled in an infant rocker.

 Father-to-Be added a text to the photogram, “Hi Uncle,” and tapped Send.

The message took off with a swoosh. Within seconds the tri-tone of an incoming text bubbled. And Uncle-to-Be’s response lay before us.

A response to which I immediately thought  It'll  be a very  l o n g  time before the baby gets to hear that!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Message in a Bottle

Photo by Shutterstock

It’s been quite a ride for the Mommy of the Bride.

Almost six months ago, the wedding tick-tocked by with the precision of a fine Swiss clock. Around the same time, MOTB’s memoir was published; an event the Brother-of-the-Bride worked unabashedly into his toast .

It was all good.

Through the next month or two the bride and groom settled in as Mr. and Mrs. There followed a First Thanksgiving, split between two households. Then a First Christmas, also celebrated here and then there. As hard as they try, even newlyweds cannot be two places at once.
The memoir officially launched in the New Year - at a local reading packed with family, friends, and interested town folk.  The groom, unable to attend the reading, visited the MOTB with his bride a few days afterward – bearing a bright green gift bag.

 He was all congratulations and apologies.

MOTB was all understanding. She has often wished she could be here and there, simultaneously, too.

 But a gift?

“You didn’t have to. Unnecessary, “she insisted, about to add, “I don’t need anything,” as she separated sheets of pastel tissue paper from an oddly shaped object. Long. Cylindrical, Tapered at the top.

A bottle?  With a rolled up message!

“No.!” Additional words would not come.

The pair was all smiles.
The three were all hugs.
All good is getting better.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Writing it Forward

Article  by Laura B. Hayden first published as Prolonged Grief Increases Young Widows' Health Risks on Technorati  on March 11, 2012.

Thirteen years ago I read a letter to an editor urging young widows to go for annual physicals. The timing of the piece reminded me of when I first read about the Heimlich Maneuver in 1974, just days after my grandfather choked to death on a bite of meat.
My uncle had rushed to Grandpa’s aid, pounding on his back to dislodge the piece of meat – all to no avail. If he had known enough to wrap his arms just above Grandpa’s waist, and pull into his gut, the morsel would have popped out and my grandfather would have survived.

The letter in the newspaper that advocated regular physical exams for young widows jolted me once again, for my 49-year-old husband had died a few weeks earlier
One third of the 800,000 people widowed every year are under age 45. And when the death is sudden, as with my young husband's, the effects on the surviving spouse can be particularly severe and long lasting. Unlike older widows, young widows face the greater part of their lives before them. This puts the younger woman who has lost her husband at greater risk for long-term emotional and physical effects of grief.


A year ago, the medical community officially declared a broken heart can actually trigger a heart attack. “Emotional stress, conceptionally, is the same thing for cardiovascular risk as physical stress,” says Daniel J.Brotman MD of John Hopkins Hospital. “But a lot of doctors blow that off, because they think emotional stress is a psychological problem, not a physical one.”

When I lost my husband, twelve years ago, my doctor recognized I was in for the long haul. He immediately began monitoring my inevitable symptoms of grief: depression, exhaustion, nervousness, loss of appetite, insomnia, weakness, and aching. New evidence in the 1990s had indicated that grief and its related stress affect young widows more seriously than women who lose their husbands later in life. - because of the longer period of time the younger bereaved would likely experience elevated blood pressure, unhealthful eating habits, and weakened immune systems.

Just after my husband's death the doctor found my blood pressure elevated and he was concerned about my ten-pound weight loss – an outcome friends actually complimented me on – since the short time my husband had died. My doctor also wasn’t surprised I cried during the appointment.

Like most people, I did not feel a rise in my blood pressure. My weight loss certainly didn’t bother me, and I expected I’d be sad for a very long time. Yet, if these symptoms of grief went untreated for an extended period of time – which could be four or five decades for a young widow – unnoticed and insidious damage could escalate. Ultimately it would reveal itself in a critical episode, like a heart attack or a late-stage cancer.
None of my early symptoms of grief called for drastic measures. Yet, my doctor scheduled me for regular blood pressure checks and recommended the children and I see a grief counselor. I followed doctor’s orders through the next annual physical. My weight and blood pressured stabilized. I still grieved, but my physical reactions to my grief were being monitored. The same went for the next year and the one after that.


Five years after my husband died I still grieved but I felt fine, physically. I expected to go to my annual exam and not have to see the doctor again for a year. Instead, I got a phone call the day after my appointment.
“There’s blood in your urine and your liver function is off,” he told me on the phone. “We’ve got to find out why.”

I soon learned my "feeling fine" had been deceptive. The next day a tumor the size of my fist appeared atop my right kidney on an ultrasound screen. There had been no pain, no bleeding perceptible to the eye (just microscopic blood cells in my urine sample on the day of my physical), and no palpable lump.

An MRI followed. Then a diagnosis: Late Stage Two kidney cancer. Since I had no risk factors for kidney cancer, my doctor said the high stress I had experienced through five years of grieving could have had a connection to my cancer diagnosis."Possible but not provable," was the way he put it.Yet, I was fortunate. Within weeks, major surgery removed the tumor and kidney - before the cancer had spread. My lymph nodes were clean.


Every year, at my annual physical, I still tell my doctor how thankful I am to have found the letter to an editor advocating regular physicals for widows – especially young widows.

“Early detection,” my doctor replies. “Prevention is the way to go.” He doesn’t stop there. “Any loss can have negative cardiac consequences or weaken resistance.” I understand what he is saying. Dealing with a death, a divorce, a loss of a job –all of these create the added stress that can weaken the body and its defense against disease.

Even as a widow I have been lucky in a number of ways. Thirteen years ago, a piece in the morning paper got me to see a doctor in the first place. Then that doctor treated me for silent precursors of heart disease. Five years later, a routine exam detected cancer in an early, curable stage.

I wonder what would have happened if I didn't start seeing a doctor regularly after my husband's death. I am grateful I came across that letter to an editor. I'd like to write it forward.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

How Milwaukee Best -ed the Champagne.

Why did the Brother of the Bride forego the fine champagne for a Milwaukee's Best toast?
The answer goes back a couple of generations.
Gramps Hayden always had a supply of Milwaukee’s Best (Miller’s economy brew) in the fridge of his tiny 1960s ranch-styled home. A home he reconfigured a bit through the ten years of his five children’s births - and the next decade march to the sons' and daughter's adulthoods.
The fridge squeezed into a tight corner on one side of a narrrow kitchen aisle. Two doors faced each other at the kitchen’s entrance. One of those doors led out to the spacious family-room (an add-on built from the left-over lumber of a relative’s disassembled garage). On Red-Letter Days, three, sometimes four, generations of Haydens could fit in the addition, cans of Milwaukee’s Best dispersed among the adult men.
Just across the  kitchen’s single-step threshold another door led downstairs to the sons’ Boy-Cave-ish bedroom. Four twin bunks outlined DIY- paneled walls on one end of the cellar. A washer and dryer, an array of usual basement stuff, and an old piano cluttered the other. This arrangement secured the upstairs bedroom across from the master bedroom: Baby Sis’s haunt.
Twenty-five years later Mr. and Mrs. upscaled to a big and boxy, four-bedroom cape. But the cape’s large fridge (that still appears almost small in its roomy eat-in kitchen) remained stocked with the low budget Milwaukee’s Best.
Since Conor’s grandfather and father passed in 1998, within six months of each other, Larry’s brothers and sister have raised a red, white, and blue Milwaukee’s Best can  to their memory every Father’s Day. And left one at their gravesites too.
(I can just picture the teen boy or two scouting the cemetery on a cool June night, happening upon one can, and then the other -  a cemetery row or two away - popping the tabs open,  convinced there really is a God.)
Thanks to Conor, at least four generations of Haydens and Mullens, male and female alike, raised their cans of Milwaukee's Best - to the bride and groom  - and the Best who could not be among them.