The Cat

The story that I wrote almost thirty years ago was chosen as a finalist from 200 submissions to Carolina Woman Writing Contest. Debra Simon, editor and publisher of Carolina Woman magazine, decided that this year she would include a list of finalists. Lucky for me.

Thank you, Debra Simon and Carolina Woman magazine, for selecting my story to be included in the list of finalists. I am honored.

Unfortunately, as of May 1, the print magazine was suspended due to COVID-19. You can read the prizewinning submissions on the Carolina Woman web site but there is only a list of the finalists by name and title of the work.

I have printed a copy of my story below.

 

 

 

THE CAT

I lounge on the back deck of my new home sipping a glass of Chardonnay. The October sun is still warm here in the South. No one is hassling me about drinking a good wine with taco chips. I’m not being hassled because I’m alone.

But I’m not really alone. The cat is here. She has wandered down to the brook and is sitting on her furry, black haunches staring at the bubbling stream. This commands her full attention. She doesn’t know brooks. Brooks weren’t common in Chicago where she lived all eleven years of her life. She knows alleys, cement sidewalks and chain link fences.

She was not totally citified, however. She ran around with a family of possums who ravaged the garbage cans in the alley behind our house and made their home under the steps of our old wooden porch. In the evenings’ blue haze, I would see the cat’s silhouette surrounded by pairs of red slits that darted away when I threw open the kitchen window to call her inside.

She hasn’t, as yet, met the beaver that lives in the brook since this is her second exploration outside. Like me, she has left familiar places and faces behind. She’s trying to make sense of this terrain with its newness and unpredictability.

IMG_3252Yesterday, on her first venture outside, I watched like an anxious mother while she delicately descended the steps off the back deck that lead to the grassy slope. Suddenly three, shiny black crows perched in the tulip trees began to make menacing, croaking calls. The crows swooped over the cat, one after the other. She crouched low and crept back to the deck, up the stairs and through the French doors I had opened.

No sooner had I shut the doors behind her, saving her life I am sure, she began to meow to go back outside. No way, I thought. I no longer need to experience that kind of the excitement: dealing with daily disasters, stretching my imagination while awaiting unmentionable accidents. Those worries I abandoned when my children, now grown and free spirited, decided to stay in Chicago when I moved to another state.

The cat rolls happily in the dry dirt by the brook sending up dust clouds. Back in Chicago, she often welcomed me from work by rolling about on the concrete path leading to the back door of our house. I would bend down and rub her soft belly until my work worries dissolved.

I wonder if the cat misses her familiar haunts: the chain link fence she scaled, the alley she explored, or the familiar wooden porch with its family of possums living underneath the steps. Does she miss the variety of laps she could choose to sit on, or the warm hands that reached down to scrub her black and white head, or the beds she shared? Does she miss her life companions, who like her, are testing their freedom?

The cat is gone from the side of the brook. I stay seated. I remind myself that I no longer need to be the mother-worrier.

I go back to my book and try to concentrate. Time passes. The wine and the taco chips are gone. The sun drops behind the tulip trees casting long shadows across the deck. I feel a warm, furry body rubbing against my leg.

The cat has come home.

 


Mindfulness: Julia Sarazine

I met Julia Sarazine this past June when I spoke to Rush University nurses in Chicago about my book: Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers. We agreed on the need for nurses to tell their stories.

When I discovered Julia’s background in teaching mindfulness techniques to nurses in order to reduce symptoms of stress (see How PTSD Is Hurting Nursing) I asked if she would share her expertise and experience about how mindfulness can help reduce Burnout syndrome/Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (BOS/PTSD).

I’m honored that Julia agreed.

 

You’ve said that some experts feel that Burnout syndrome among nurses is a public health crisis. BOS has been affecting nurses for as long as I can remember. Why do you think this problem has been so insidious and tenacious?

Burnout syndrome is now receiving attention as demonstrated by The World Health Organization including it in the Revision of the International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon.

Levels of burnout are higher in professions that have high risk associated with them, such as a nurse administering medications and treatments that may have a significant impact on someone’s life. Also, nurses are usually the ones that hear and witness the patient and families suffering.  In most situations, nurses see people when they are worried about their health, in pain or being treated for a serious illness.  Over time, this constant exposure to suffering can take its toll on the ability to maintain our own health and wellness.

Moreover, the demands of the healthcare system continue to increase with technology and integration of electronic medical records.  As more patient care is being provided in the outpatient arena, patients are sicker and may require more care than in the past.

 

You left a hospital nursing position because you had symptoms of BOS, yet a few years later you returned to the same position you left. How did you find the fortitude to do that?

 Once a nurse, always a nurse definitely applies to my situation and decision to come back to the nursing profession.  I missed working with patients and the sense of accomplishment I received while helping others.  It is the same reason I was drawn to the nursing profession in the first place.  I know it has been over communicated, but being a nurse is truly a calling, not just a job. It was not an easy decision, but it felt right for me at the time as I changed how I handled stress and suffering.  I basically learned to take care of myself with mindfulness at work and how to transition to be fully present at home.

 

What advice would you give to other nurses who have left nursing?

To leave the nursing profession is a very individual decision.  I believe all nurses are caregivers.  Where nurses are providing care may change and whom they are providing care to may also change.  For example, nurses may be taking care of their children, parents, family, friends or community members.  It may look different, such as volunteering for the food depository, listening to a friend discuss her new cancer diagnosis or asking the cashier at the grocery store how they are doing today.  Nurses are usually empathetic people and naturally take care of others throughout their lives.

 

There are terrible statistics about how many new nurse graduates leave the practice after a couple of years because of BOS. Among all the other tools out there to deal with this issue, what does mindfulness contribute?

 Mindfulness is not the magical wand that can solve all our problems and prevent burnout.  But it is a tool we can use to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. I think all nursing students should be taught a few mindfulness skills when they begin nursing school.  If you can learn just a few simple skills to protect you while witnessing and feeling someone’s suffering, it can help prevent burnout and lower your stress levels.

 

What is your definition of mindfulness?

The mind naturally wanders from the present moment to the past or future. This is often referred to as autopilot.

  • Have you ever commuted to work and not remembered the drive or train ride?
  • Have you ever eaten something and not remembered tasting it?
  • Have you ever reacted to a situation and later regretted how you handled it?

These are all examples of mindlessness. In contrast, mindfulness focuses on being aware in the present.

There are multiple definitions of mindfulness, but the most commonly quoted is from Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non- judgmentally.

 

How did you first learn about mindfulness?

Right after I left nursing, I was struggling with trying to process all of the deaths I witnessed. A friend recommended The Power of Now by Elkhart Tolle.  I read it and then began to meditate each morning. I found I was able to focus more and notice moments of joy in simple things such as a warm breeze on my face, a smile from a stranger and the taste from the first sip of coffee in the morning.

I continued to develop my own practice by taking mindfulness courses, attending silent retreats and eventually becoming a mindfulness instructor.  Mindfulness is never complete; everyone who practices is always learning and evolving through increased awareness.

 

How has mindfulness changed you?

Mindfulness allowed me to process all of the suffering I witnessed and absorbed while working at Cook County Hospital as a palliative care nurse practitioner.  During one of the mindfulness retreats, the teacher said, “ You don’t have to jump into the deep in of the pool, just dip your toe into the water as far as you can at this time.”  This was very helpful for me at the time because I was resistant to processing the deaths for fear I would drown in grief.  From this simple instruction, I was able to process each patient’s death by allowing myself to feeling the sadness and grief; then the grief lessened and I was able to wish the patient and family well.  I realized I was frozen in time, but the family and friends had moved on with their lives the best they could.

When I returned to my nurse practitioner position five years later, I used mindfulness to keep myself grounded in the moment so I could think critically and also not absorb all of the patient’s and family’s emotion.

Now I use mindfulness all day long to recognize when I am stressed and choose how to respond, enjoy pleasant moments more fully and to accept when I have feelings of sadness or grief while taking care of aging parents.

 

Please tell us about the success you have had in teaching mindfulness to the nurses at Rush University Medical Center.

 It is an amazing experience to be able to share the worst moments in my career and now teach how I processed the grief with mindfulness and continue to use it every day.

At Rush University Medical Center, we completed a study and determined that six months after nurses participated in a four-hour mindfulness and resilience workshop; they had reduced burnout and perceived levels of stress and increased mindfulness skills. We were thrilled with the results discovering that a short four-hour workshop can have an impact six months later.

 

 Please add anything else you think my Blog followers need to know about mindfulness.

 Here are some strategies and tips to incorporate into your daily life through informal practice, especially at work, where stress levels can be elevated. Just as a reminder, it is important also to practice informal mindfulness in times of minimal stress since it is easier to focus on being present and will make it more accessible during times of higher stress. Remember, it does not take any more time to be mindful.

 

Informal Mindfulness Practice:

STOP

STOP is a mindful technique that can be used in any situation to slow us down and reconnect with ourselves. It can be used before entering a patient’s room, sending an email, charting, speaking, or entering your home after work. The acronym STOP stands for:
• Stop whatever you are doing to pause for a moment
• Take a deep breath or two
• Observe any specific thoughts, emotions, or body sensations
• Proceed with more awareness

Two Feet, One Breath

This mindful technique can be used in times of stress to ground us and create a little space from the stressful situation being encountered.

With both feet firmly on the ground, while either standing or sitting:

  • Focus as much attention as possible on sensations in the sole of the left foot—perhaps pressure or sensations from contact with the sock or shoe.
  • Then shift attention to sensations in the sole of the right foot, with as much attention as possible.
  • Tune in to your breathing—just feeling the breath as it moves in and out.
  • Now, continue whatever you are doing in a more grounded and present manner.

Mindful Hand Washing

Use all the senses to bring awareness to the activity of washing the hands. Feel the temperature of the water and the sensations of the hands rubbing together, the smell of the soap, and the sound of the water running, and notice the bubbles forming from the soap. This awareness can be applied to any routine activity, such as brushing teeth, taking a shower, or typing an email.

 

Formal Mindfulness:

On-Line Mindfulness Workshop Opportunity:

TheMindfulness and Resilience 4- Hour Workshop has been shown to decrease stress and burnout symptoms and increase mindfulness skills 6 months after participating.

I am teaching it on Saturday, October 19thfrom 8 am – 12 pm CST.

For details:

https://www.sarazinemindfulness.com/corporate-mindfulness-programs

 

 

Julia Sarazine

Sarazine Mindfulness, LLC

www.sarazinemindfulness.com

Murder Building

I am reviewing posts that I will consider for inclusion in my second book, which focuses on home visits I have made in Chicago, Washington DC, and Durham, NC. I came upon Murder Building that was originally posted on February 19, 2012. It’s a keeper.

CT-BIZ-VACANT-BUILDINGS-B_CTMAIN0501SR-d55be438

When I visited a patient in my caseload that lived in an “unsafe” part of the city, I went in the morning. Right after the pimps and drug dealers had called it a night and before the shop keepers pulled up the bars over the store windows and the women came out to sweep the sidewalk litter into the streets.

One day Pearl, the social worker, asked to come with me to see a patient. She had a meeting in the morning so we left after lunch against my better judgment.  If I were going to go to an iffy part of the city, this was the last place I would want to visit. The Chicago Tribune ran a story a few weeks previously about the  “Murder Building.” I knew by the address it was next door to my patient’s apartment.

Everyone knows it simply as “the murder building.“

“They call it `the murder building` because people have been known to go into that building and not come out,“ said one young man standing on a nearby street. “You got to stay away from that place. Things go on in them halls you don`t want to see.“

What does that say about the neighborhood we drove through and the scattering of young men gathered on the stoops, some leaning against the parked cars, all seeming to be without a sense of purpose? I felt their eyes following us.

My patient lived on the second floor with his common law wife and various other relatives. The front door was locked and since there wasn’t a bell, I had to stand under the window and yell the patient’s name. The patient’s wife would come to the window before she sent one of the grandchildren down to let me in. This was before cell phones.

I dreaded leaving the safety of the car. Did any of the men think we carried drugs? I scooted out and quickly grabbed my nursing bag from the trunk along with a white bathroom scale. The patient was on tube feedings. It remained unclear if his wife was able to manage the procedure and give the feedings on schedule. I was monitoring his weight as evidence of success.

When Pearl and I completed our visit, we took quick, long steps to the car, avoiding eye contact with anyone near-by. As I stuffed my bag and scale into the trunk, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. I waited for the command to hand over my nursing bag. Instead a soft voice asked, “Before you put that scale away, would you weigh me?”

I turned to see an older man with short gray whiskers on his chin and a pleasant smile. He moved aside as I slammed the trunk closed and carried the scale to the sidewalk. He took his shoes off and stepped on the scale. “I can’t see the numbers,” he said. I read them off to him, he stepped down, retrieved his shoes and said, “thank you.” Behind him stood a young man with dreadlocks. “Can I get weighed too?” He slipped out of his high tops. I called out his weight and he left with a “thank you.”

Behind him a line of men snaked along the sidewalk. Pearl emerged from the car and began joking with the men, young and old, as they waited their turn at the scale.

Back in the car, the scale packed away in the trunk, Pearl and I drove to the corner. As we pasted the Murder Building, ominous and frightening with smashed windows and debris scattered around its foundation, I realized a building doesn’t define a neighborhood.

 

Book tour in Chicago

Saturday, June 1, 2019

I am scheduling this post to publish on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. That day, I will be in Chicago talking about my book to the Advanced Practice Nurses at Rush University. I have three other venues scheduled before I head home on Monday. In between events, I will spend time with old friends. I’m having lunch with one woman that I haven’t seen in over 20 years!

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Oak Park, Illinois

On Sunday, I will be reading at the Oak Park Library, Oak Park, Illinois. My daughter and 15-year-old grandson will have flown from Raleigh to join me. Afterwards, my daughter will show her son where she grew up. Maybe we’ll visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio where, to get a change from nursing, I volunteered in the gift shop. I learned so much about Frank in particular and architecture in general. I always wondered if my involvement with the FLW Foundation had any influence on my daughter’s choice of a career—architecture.

So, think of me in the Windy City as you read this.

 

A Long Overdue Thank You

I had finally decided to clean out my office closet. I started with the stuffed cardboard Unknownfile box. The first thing I reached for was a frayed manila envelope. The stack of typed pages spilled out onto the floor. After I read the first two sheets—an early attempt at documenting my nursing life—I knew I was doomed to sit on that floor by the open closet door until I had scrutinized every page. One story especially held a surprise.

In the early 70s, after my husband completed his degree at the University of Chicago, we moved to the far south suburbs where housing costs fit our tight budget. My first job was at a community hospital. Soon after I started, I found out that my salary was the same as a new graduate nurse who had never even done a simple urinary catherization. I, on the other hand, was an experienced ICU nurse. I wrote a letter of complaint and while the Director of Nursing of the hospital commiserated with me, I wasn’t offered a raise. I quit.

I decided to apply for a job at a close-by nursing home in spite of the fact that I thought I was overqualified and working at a nursing home felt demeaning to my young arrogant self. I eventually learned differently.

I wrote about this experience in my memoir:

 

. . .I had worked in a nursing home—a well-run home

with low staff turnover—for a short period of time, but long enough

to savor the slow pace after being an intensive-care nurse for years

before. The residents bestowed many hugs and an occasional slobbery

kiss as I passed out medications on the evening shift.

I had forgotten that experience the day my academic advisor and

I talked about a master’s thesis. In 1979, like most of my classmates, I

wanted to study women—women of child-bearing age. Why did she

think she had to ask me again: “What group do you REALLY enjoy

caring for?” That’s when I remembered the hugs in the nursing home.

At the end of the version of the story about working in a nursing home that had sat in the manila envelope for over 15 years, there was an added comment about Eva Harrison that I hadn’t remembered writing.

Eva Harrison, the nursing home DON, had offered me a salary higher than the one I received from the hospital. She ran a warm and caring facility, valuing her staff and residents alike. I know she felt sad when I left after only six months but a new clinic opened. At the time, I believed that this new job was more prestigious than that of pill pusher in a nursing home.

What I had written was that I wished I had gone back to tell Eva Harrison that my time at her nursing home had so influenced me that when I graduated as a nurse practitioner a few years later, I had declared geriatrics my specialty. Working in a nursing home, Eva Harrison’s nursing home, set me on a career path that would both challenge and reward me.

Thanks, Eva.

Back to where it started: Chicago

I flew into cold, snowy Chicago last week to discuss my book at the main facility of Erie Family Health Centers. This felt like a dream as I stood behind the lectern gazing at the audience that, believe it or not, included a few familiar faces from some thirty years ago. I had been invited to read from my book: Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers.I was discussing EFHC’s humble beginnings to this group of employees seated in the conference room on the third floor of an impressively designed modern building.

The main clinic that I remember was housed in a community center. Children’s laughter in the after-school program and the sound of the ball dribbling on an indoor basketball court easily penetrated the partitioned walls of the exam rooms. The dedicated staff experienced delayed pay days when revenue came up short. The clinic where I worked, a short walk from the main center, had mismatched chairs in the waiting area, second hand medical equipment, and roaches in the cabinets. In spite of the physical shortcomings, EFHC cared about the patients, the community, and its staff.

EFHC not only survived its humble roots but thrived and expanded. The non-profit organization now has 14 health centers, and more Advanced Practice Nurses (nurse practitioners and midwives) than doctors and is recognized as providing the highest quality of care by the US Department of Health and Human Services. The Chicago Tribune named EFHC as one of the top workplaces in 2018.

I am honored to be part of EFHC’s history.

 

Retired Nurse Practitioner & Author Marianna Crane presents her memoir,
Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic
On February 20, Marianna Crane, retired Erie nurse and author, met with our nursing staff to discuss her memoir, “Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic,” which movingly recounts her experiences as a nurse caring for the underserved elderly at Erie in the 1980’s.
We had a full room, a great discussion about the nursing profession, and over $300 were raised for Erie’s patients through the sale of her book!
Please join us in continuing to support Crane’s work! Keep up with her on her blog and website, Nursing Stories.
Buy the Book!
Proceeds from the sale of Crane’s memoir go towards providing quality care for Erie’s patients.
Crane with Dawn Sanks, Director of Health Center Operations at Erie West Town
Crane with Dr. Lee Francis, President and CEO
A full room!
Erie Family Health Center | 312.666.3494 (city) | 847.666.3494 (suburbs) | www.eriefamilyhealth.org

The Building as Character

 

Countdown to Publication Date: One Week

I have three readings scheduled at local books stores in the next few weeks. I will send out an e-vite tomorrow. It’s both a stressful and exciting time. I have to remind myself to “have fun.”

The latest review of my book: Chicago Writers Association, Windy City Reviews:

Stories From The Tenth Floor Clinic. Marianna Crane. Berkeley, CA: She Writes Press, November 6, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 212 pages. 

Reviewed by Deb Lecos. 

Marianna Crane has written an important memoir detailing the complex needs of an aging population and how a humane society should shift its thinking about what is “conscious-care” when people reach a certain level of fragility. The reader journeys along with Marianna while her beliefs change as a nurse practitioner, running a senior clinic within a Chicago-based, subsidized-housing building. 

As a nurse practitioner specializing in gerontology at the Veteran’s Administration, Marianna is governed by strict parameters. When a job change takes her to a senior clinic within a CHA building, she faces an environment quite different from where she trained, and is forced to adapt so she can help those under her care. Many of her patients are alone, disconnected from family, and easy prey for those intent on stealing their meager incomes. Continuing to live independently can be difficult when a patient’s health moves swiftly downhill and there are no friends or relatives to assist in decision-making. Residents of the building have come to rely on the clinic and its support staff to ensure they have social interaction, food in the refrigerator, and a fan when the heat becomes dangerously high. 

After work, Marianna’s home life is fraught with similar issues, as a complicated relationship with her mother has reached an unsustainable level of dysfunction. Her mother has become increasingly combative, and her disinclination to engage therapeutically requires Marianna to devise a solution that is respectful to her husband and two teenage children, while ensuring her mother has a safe place to land. Utilizing the new approach that she’s been reluctantly taking with her patients affords Marianna necessary skills to handle this emotionally-challenging situation. 

With chapters unfolding in story form, the reader glimpses the lives of vulnerable people. We learn what happens when the frail are shuttled into the corners of society without enough support. Filling that gap in care are Mattie and Mary, who work under the direction of Ms. Crane and are devoted to building humane over-sight relationships with the residents. Mattie and Mary compel Marianna to redefine her role in the clinic community by introducing her to Angelika, a woman choosing to die in her apartment instead of going to a hospital. Angelika has refused a diagnosis of the ailment ending her life. After losing the battle of Angelika’s resistance to leave her home, Marianna allows herself to adjust to the 

needs of those she is intent on helping. She comes to understand that sometimes care means respecting the wishes of a dying woman and not requiring her to take a final breath in the hospital, even if doing so breaks a dozen rules in the process. 

The stories Ms. Crane starkly and, at times, graphically illustrates occurred in the 1980’s. Similar events are continuing to unfold today in subsidized housing and homes all across the country. Difficulties the aging and poor experience in navigating ill-health and death within a system built for the well-off and healthy have worsened in the time since the author encountered these experiences. The VA, health clinics, and senior care programs are still underfunded and mismanaged, exacerbating the condition of buildings and staffing needs. 

There are no concrete solutions to the problems we face in determining how to care for a growing low-income, aging population. It is my fervent wish as a reader of this memoir that we do so with an ability to change our thinking, much as Marianna Crane convinced herself to do. Convenient, easily-enacted answers to the complex struggles of the elderly, many of whom are not connected to functional families, will not be successful. As Marianna came to her own epiphanies on how to be of assistance, so must our national community. This is a relational issue and it deserves a relationally-creative response, one that is centered on humane and caring treatment for all ill, infirmed, and end-stage-aged people. 

COUNTDOWN TO PUBLICATION DATE: THREE WEEKS

This past week I promoted my book.

Monday, after a class I attended on public speaking, I collared a woman who had also attended the lecture as she exited the ladies room. “How will you use the information?” I asked. She told me she had planned to start a class for widows on ways to rebuild their lives. Then in the course of our conversation, she told me she belonged to one of the oldest book clubs—meeting over 100 years. Maybe, I said, you would want to discuss my book and I handed her one of my business cards.

Tuesday, I spent the day at a retreat for my hospital volunteer group. The facilitator was a nurse whose office was located in Chicago. Didn’t I write my book about a clinic I ran in Chicago? And am I not scheduled to give a talk at that clinic early next year? And don’t I need to schedule some more speaking engagements to make that trip worthwhile? So I approached her during a break and asked if she would she be amenable to helping me figure out what venues in Chicago that might be possible?

Wednesday, I spoke with a nurse who organizes the Jersey City Medical Center Alumni Association. Jersey City is my hometown and my first job after graduation was at the JCMC. I accepted an invitation to speak at their 2019 spring luncheon.

Thursday, I happened to be a hospital gift shop. I approached the woman who buys the merchandise and offered my book. I’m still working on that connection.

Friday, I attended the NC State Fair with my longtime friend, Carol.  We met in the second grade at Saint Aedans School in Jersey City, and reconnected when she moved to North Carolina 15 years ago. Carol is in my book. The day before, postcard-size cards advertising my book had arrived in the mail, so I gave her a handful to distribute to her Bunko friends and dropped off the rest at strategic places at the Fair.

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Saturday, again laden with my postcards, I handed some of them over to a friend at lunch. She, too, is a writer and supportive of my book selling efforts.

After lunch, I drove to my monthly writing workshop. I passed the cards out to the women who have heard many versions of my stories over the years.

It is not lost on me that I am fortunate to have a group of friends that encourage, support and believe in me and my story.

On Sunday, I rested.

Marv Roelofs and Apple Sauce

Making applesauce sort of represents living life to the fullest. I think prayer is sometimes about asking God to let us do what we can and enjoy ourselves. Picking apples and making applesauce has made me do that.

—Marv Roelofs

 

I called Marv soon after he received the diagnosis of Stage IV Small Cell Lung Cancer this past January. I don’t recall if I have ever called him in all the 40 plus years his wife, Lois, and I have been friends. Now in the past few months, I had called him twice.

 

After his diagnosis there was a sense of urgency. The doctors had told him the cancer was very aggressive so when Marv declined treatment, I figured I better talk to him right away. How long would he be around? I needed to tell him how I appreciated his encouragement and support of my friendship with Lois.

 

Lois and I met in Chicago. Two nurses with two young children each: a boy and a girl, and both ready to break out of the stay-at-home-mom mode. Together, in the late 70s and early 80s, we completed undergraduate and graduate nursing degrees. In 1992 I moved from Chicago.

 

We didn’t need to get permission from our husbands to spend time away from home or to spend money on plane tickets when we rendezvoused over the years. But it was Marv’s encouragement and support of our long-distance friendship and warm reception and hospitality during my visits that I wanted to acknowledge. Since Lois didn’t cook, or wash dishes for that matter, it was Marv who made the dinners, baked the banana bread, and served Lois and I as we continued deep into our conversation—as women are inclined to do.

 

That phone call melted into tears for both of us. Maybe the rawness of Marv’s diagnosis and the awareness of impending death were too close to the surface. I was glad I had called to say thank you.

 

After that first phone call and when Marv didn’t die in a matter of days or weeks as the doctors had suggested, I called him a second time. It was about six months after the first phone call. He had written a book of his life and made fifty-five copies to pass along to family and friends. I read it almost all in one evening. I knew some of Marv’s stories already, but his life on the farm and the details of his self-started business was new to me. I was especially taken with the way he wrote—as if we were sitting in his living room in Sioux Falls, or back in Chicago, just sharing his recollections.

 

That second phone call was more uplifting. We laughed more. Cried less. I told him how much I liked the book, especially the story about him making applesauce.

The first Fall after Marv and Lois moved from Chicago to Sioux Falls, he noticed that many people didn’t pick the apples from their trees. The apples just fell and rotted on the ground. He knocked on doors asking to harvest the apples, not for profit, but to donate them to the homeless and churches, and to make applesauce.

 

It was right around apple picking season that I visited Lois and Marv in Sioux Falls. With a refrigerator and freezer stuffed with applesauce in zip-lock bags, Marv sent Lois and me into the neighborhood to give away the first samplings of his culinary concoction to neighbors that Marv and Lois had barely met. The friendly neighbors graciously accepted our offering.

 

Marv was a successful business person, a loving husband, dad, and grandfather. Like all of us he was also a complicated human. But it was Marv, the person who picked the apples and made applesauce, whose memory is the warmest in my heart.

 

Marv died at 4:10 a.m. on July 25.

 

Lois’ Blog “Write along with me” chronicles their journey with a terminal illness.