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Posts Tagged ‘LGBT Caretakers’

Like many LGBT Americans, I was profoundly moved by President Obama’s recognition of gays and lesbians in his inaugural speech. Even my straight-talking retired postal worker partner who usually has something to say about everything (when it comes to gay rights, her usual comment is “it’s about time”) sat quietly in front of the television taking it all in. It is about time and it is still amazing.

There were quite a few historic firsts at the inaugural ceremony, but the highlight for me was the inaugural poem by Richard Blanco, the first Hispanic and the first openly gay poet to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. For me a poem is a slowing down of time, an opening, and a good poem always presents a teaching moment, that is once in a while life-altering, and leaves you experiencing the world differently.

There were two such moments within Blanco’s poem, “One Today,” and with the help of thecamera panning the immediate crowd, we can see the immediacy of those moments on the listeners. The first was when, Blanco recited the words “…. on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives– to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did for twenty years, so I could write this poem.”

The camera panned to Michelle Obama who looked up from her poetic reverie and opened her eyes when Blanco mentioned his mother. The look in her eyes was solemn, one that appeared to be based in compassion and identification.

The second teaching moment occurred closer to the end of the poem when Blanco was reading the words, “Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom, buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días in the language my mother taught me…” And then the camera panned to Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor. Shortly after the phrase “buenos dias,” he twitched. In all fairness, Cantor may have been twitching all day — it was cold and he couldn’t simply sit in his warm home and turn off the television like so many other Republicans undoubtedly did. And it could have been worse. If Blanco had read a poem with explicitly gay content, Rep. Cantor might have done more than twitch.

I had been wondering, how Cantor and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) could stand there and listen to Blanco’s poem and not be moved by it. I was profoundly moved. I was the first in my family to go to college and I was close to my mother. When I began to write my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books 2012), I was primarily a poet. And even though I haven’t written poetry in years, I still have poetic sensibilities.

I wrote Tea Leaves to make some sense of losing my mother to cancer and being, along with my father, one of her primary caretakers. I also explore my working class background in this book, in particular writing about grandmother’s life who was a spinner in a textile mill in Philadelphia.

It is because of my class consciousness that Blanco’s poem resonated so strongly with me. Many immigrants have taken jobs that others would not do and whether it was picking fruit, packing meat, bagging groceries, or taking care of other people’s children they provide the services that this country could not do without. Then if they are “illegal,” they are deported or at least must always live in fear of deportation. Don’t we owe it to them to provide them with citizenship?

This week, both parties plan to introduce overhauled immigration legislation and they have the opportunity to do the right thing. Cantor, predictably, is solidly against immigration reform. His record speaks for itself. In 2007, he voted to declare English as the official language of the United States. In 2006, he voted yes on building a fence along the Mexican border.

More recently, Cantor was consistent in his conservative views in voting against enforcing anti-gay hate crimes in 2009, and in 2012 stated that taxpayer money should never be used to “kill innocent life” and in 2011 he voted in favor of banning federal health coverage that includes abortion.

There has been much talk about how Republicans lost the Hispanic and female vote in the Presidential election — and how they have to appeal to these groups of voters if they want to have a future as a viable party. While I have found these discussions interesting, I am not personally invested in the Republicans improving their lot.

But I do think that Republicans should do the right thing on immigration reform.

And if they do, then maybe some credit can be given Richard Blanco’s poetic moment.

In short, we are more alike than different. And if you doubt that, remember Blanco’s one word sentence,

Breathe.

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The Obama administration has declared that November is National Family Caregivers Month. The proclamation declares that family member, friends and neighbors dedicate countless hours providing care to their relatives and loved ones.

When my mother was diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer, I put aside everything that I could and went to take care of her. I was 34 at the time and my mother was 74. She died a little more than 17 years ago. I chronicled my experience in Tea Leaves, a Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012).

My personal journey of caretaking my mother in her final months coincided with my curiosity of learning more about my working-class background. Despite my belief (rooted in strong denial) that she would somehow, miraculously, get better, I knew I was hearing her stories for the last time.

Being the first person in my family to graduate from college put a wedge between me and my background. I was only marginally in touch with my best friend who I had grown up with. We had grown apart. She had married young and was in an extremely conventional marriage to a man (think 1950s). A few short years later, I came out as a lesbian (very 1970s, but this was actually in the early 80s).

I was okay with the fact that I had nothing left in common with the friends I grew up with. But I had a yearning to understand more about my own history. So I read up on the labor movement and asked my mother questions about my grandmother, who as an adult had been a spinner in a textile mill in the Kensington section of Philadelphia:

“When your grandmother was a girl, she worked in a candy factory,” my mother said, slowly and carefully.   I remembered that this was not the first time she had told me this.

“What did she want to do?”

My mother looked at me as if I were insane.

“No one asked her what she wanted to do. She just went out and worked.”

As a result of taking care of my mother in her final months, I learned more about myself. In coming to accept my mother’s mortality, I came to an acceptance that my own life was finite, also, giving me greater insight into the things in life that were important to me. My mother had a keen sense of humor, which undoubtedly got us through:

Increasingly, my mother’s moods changed from minute to minute. On my last visit, she was laughing, telling me that she almost put her straw in the urinal which was sitting next to her water bottle on her nightstand. Then, less than ten minutes later, when the HMO nurse came, my mother told her she wanted a black pill. I was sitting in the room with my mother when the nurse turned to me with an exaggerated expression of shocked concern on her face, and said, “Did your mother tell you she felt like this?” I shrugged. My mother, in moments of excruciating pain, had told me she wanted to end her life. But there was no legal way to do it. A black pill, or suicide pill, was illegal in Pennsylvania and almost in every other state. When my mother suggested that I could put a plastic bag over her head, all I could do was suck in my breath.

click here to read the entire article in The Huffington Post — including practical caregiving advice

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Recently, I went on a tour through Vermont with Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012).  There were Tea Leaves event in Burlington, Vermont — in the Women’s Center at the University of Vermont, the Peace and Justice Center, and at Phoenix Books; at the Woodknot Bookshop and Turner’s Cafe in Newport, Vermont; and at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont. We enjoyed the rolling hills, the Vermont fall foliage, and seeing old friends and meeting new ones.  Vermont is beautiful and relaxing.  In many ways, it felt like home.  We were very close to the Canadian border and were careful not to get lost.  I learned, from friends in the area, that it is very easy to get out of the U.S. but not so easy (without a passport) to get back in. In this post, I am bringing you some highlighs in the form of photos from our trip. We’ll be back.

Fall leaves in Hardwick, Vermont

Tea Leaves, a memoir -- Janet Mason standing behind sign outside of Galaxy Books in Hardwick, Vermont

Author Janet Mason in the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont

Pam in the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont -- wearing her crown

on the road in Northeastern Vermont -- green mountains in background

Standing next to the sign at the Women's Center -- the University of Vermont

Janet Mason reading from Tea Leaves (Bella Books) at the Women's Center, the University of Vermont in Burlington

Barbara with her new friend, the goat

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Rooster in Vermont

Sky just before the rise of sunset in Northeastern Vermont

Janet and Wendy at the Peace and Justice Center in Burlington, Vermont

In the hallway behind the Peace and Justice Center. Barbara petting a whale.Janet and Janice -- connecting with new friends

on the road with Tea Leaves -- Vermont fall foliage

Janet and Nat -- seeing old friends, like family

Connecting with old friends -- Barbara, Anne and Pam

feminist graffiti at UVM -- new meaning for The Women's Room

Farmhouse on the road in Vermont -- we'll be back soon!

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read the entire piece in The Huff Post

It was 2008 and I heard a buzzing all around me. I had gone to the doctor and was misdiagnosed as having dementia but I discovered later that I had had a nervous breakdown. I said to my grown daughter, ‘What is this thing called Obama?’ and she replied, ‘Obama is a black man and he is running for president, Mama.’ ‘Oh my Lord,’ I said. ‘My mama had told me this day was coming and now it was happening.’ Then I realized that I had to pull myself together. I had to watch this historic moment take place. -Jean, 77

Jean, a 77-year-old black woman, uttered those words in a room full of about 20 white people at a senior center in a predominantly white working class neighborhood in Philadelphia. I was there to do a reading from my book Tea Leaves, A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012), and then to lead a discussion and conduct a writing exercise. I looked at Jean. My mother’s name was Jane. She was 74 when she died and she had been misdiagnosed as having arthritis by an HMO doctor who prescribed Extra Strength Tylenol. My mother found a new doctor but it was too late. She was correctly diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer of unknown origin and six months later, she was dead.

It has occurred to me, as I go around reading from Tea Leaves and listening to people’s stories, that in writing about my mother, I have not only written her story and my story and my grandmother’s story. I have touched into a deep, mostly untapped vein of writing the story of many women — and men — whose lives are often overlooked not only in literature, but by society in general and by the medical system in particular.

Another woman in the group talked about being misdiagnosed and, as a result of her untreated illness and the wrong medicine that the doctors in the hospital had given her, she went down to 87 pounds and nearly died several times. She got better and then felt she had wasted her life up until that point — in pettiness, in pursuing things that didn’t matter.

The group met in a 55-plus senior center, but most of the people in this group were in their mid-seventies. I have taught creative writing through the years to children, teenagers and adults of all ages, but have always recognized that my older students are the ones with the best stories to tell. Everyone in the room was brimming with stories — one man wrote about being placed in an orphanage at age 4 because both of his parents died of tuberculosis. He then went on to serve in the military but afterwards was denied entrance to college based on low math scores. An extremely fit woman in the group — who works out every morning in the center’s gym — wrote how her husband became frail and ill and how one day she came home to find that he had not been able to get out of his chair all day. She gradually became his caretaker. The hardest part was learning how to be the strong one and not let her grown children know how terrified she was.

read more…..

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The Lovett Library Memorial GardenMy friend Maria Fama and I were recently talking about libraries.  Both us are writers and long-time friends.  Of all of our accomplishments through the years, we are both really proud of the fact that our books can be found in The Free Libary of Philadelphia.  There are presently five copies of my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012) in the library system.  One copy is at the Lovett Memorial Branch, and others are at Central, the Walnut Street and Indendence branches and the Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Branch (in Germantown).  One of these copies of Tea Leaves is being transferred between libraries and the last time that I checked a copy was on reserve.

author Janet Mason standing outside Lovett Library

When Maria and I talked about the fact that libraries are so important to us because when we were working class kids on our way to growing up and becoming writers, the library was a sanctuary for us.  I don’t have to tell you about the budget cuts affecting libraries in Philadelphia (and elsewhere) and the signs about limited hours on the doorways.

Without libraries, there would be fewer readers and most definitely fewer writers.  There would be more violence in the streets and less learning.  Can we afford that?

Janet Mason talking about Tea Leaves at Lovett Library

Recently, I did a reading from Tea Leaves at the Lovett Memorial Branch (my local library) of the Free Library of Philadelphia.  I invite you to see the pictures and also to read the article that was written in NewsWorks about the reading.  We had a lively discussion after the reading about our mothers, grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers, and the people’s history of Philadelphia. I credited the city as being a partner in my writing process.  The library is  a partner, too.  It has been there with me through all the years.  Let’s make sure it stays with us.

The Lovett Library sign

Madeleine and Barbara at the Lovett Library in Philadelphia

from NewsWorks article by Jane Shea

How does one process a mother’s mortality and honor her life, her history and her influence? Author, Janet Mason, found the answer in her writing. The resulting book, Tea Leaves: A memoir of mothers and daughters, documents that journey. Mason shared readings from Tea Leaves in her Mt. Airy neighborhood twice this past week at the Lovett Memorial Library last Tuesday and at the Big Blue Marble bookstore on Friday.

Mason’s mother, Jane, was diagnosed with late stage cancer in 1993, after being initially misdiagnosed. Mason did what comes naturally to an only child – she assumed the role of primary caregiver. She had six months left with her mother. In that time, Mason not only handled the “immense responsibility” of caring for a terminally ill parent, but also recorded those experiences, family stories, memories, history and learned how they shaped three generations of women.

Mason who describes her mother as a atheist, feminist, hopeless realist and an amazing storyteller always encouraged Mason’s writing. “I got a lot of validation,” she said. Through her published poetry and literary commentary on This Way Out radio program, Mason has pursued her creative dreams in a way her foremothers never could, making good on the advice of an early therapist who once told her, “You’re the only one who can write the story about your life.”
read the entire article

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How Caring for My Mother Brought Me Into the LGBT Caretaker Club: A SAGE Experience

read the entire piece in The Huffington Post

When my mother became terminally ill, I went home to take care of her without a second thought. I worked as a freelancer at the time, so my work life was portable. As an only child I had no siblings to turn to (or to fight with or resent later). The fact that I am a lesbian was never an issue with my parents.

If anything, having to “come out” only made us closer. In my early 20s I was suddenly in a situation where my parents and I had to work through my declarations of being a lesbian and everything that meant in the early 1980s. I come from a background — working-class (no complaints) and British (stiff upper lip) — where we rarely expressed our feelings. In many ways my coming out as a lesbian was an extension of my mother’s feminist politics. (When I told them I had something to tell them, her guess was that I was either gay or pregnant.) My father did struggle temporarily with the fact that I am a lesbian, but after I came out to my parents, he told me for the first time that he loved me.

However, as a lesbian caretaker of my terminally ill and elderly mother, I became part of a trend that I came to consider after writing Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters, recently published by Bella Books.

Out and Aging,” a 2006 report, found that 36 percent of LGBT boomers are caring for aging parents. One significant reason that a higher percentage of us care for aging parents than heterosexuals is that we are less likely to have children to care for. Even when we are partnered, we are often perceived as “not having families.” This was not the case with me — both of my parents loved and accepted my partner. My mother left a letter to be read after her death, entitled, “A letter to my unexpected daughter-in-law, Barbara.”

It could very well be that people in the LGBT community (which crosses the spectrum of ethnicity, culture, and class) inhabit the role of caregiver in a spiritual sense (much as gays, lesbians, and transgender people inhabited the role of the two-spirit or “berdache” in many Native-American cultures).

It is true that there is a youth culture in the LGBT community (reflected in the gay media and consumer culture), but at the same time we inhabit the role of the “outsider” in society and may perceive the wisdom of elders — both family members and our friends who have become family — as important.

read the entire piece in The Huffington Post

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