Barb's Archive

Izzy and Barb (poem to follow later)

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Barb: Spot, a poem

Friday, August 1st, 2008

August 1, 2008 – Humid, warm. We went to see Barb today, up in the Adirondacks, always a beautiful and evocative drive. Barb said she missed us, and I remembered it had been a couple of weeks since we had made it up to see her. She is tired, and she wanted to sit with Izzy for a bit, and stroke him, as many people seem to want to do. We talked, and caught up, and I felt the responsibility of hospice, which is that you never feel comfortable postponing or delaying a visit, and struggle sometimes to keep up. I was glad that Barb missed us, and also felt badly about it.
  Barb is a sweet and unfailingly generous person, and I don’t want her missing anything she needs that we can provide. Izzy is much in demand now, a different reality than at first, when the idea of a hospice dog was strange.  And I know we can’t do everything and go everywhere. But when you see what Izzy does, you want to do it, as often as  you can. Something to watch out for.

I told Barb I was going to browbeat a poem, out of her, and I got one:

My husband Bill worked in a firehouse in Long Island,
and it was on an air force base, and people were always moving,
and leaving their dogs behind, and they all eventually
made their way to the firehouse.
And Bill really took to one, and we called him Spot, and he was a mutt,
and he hated garbagemen, because they used to throw things at  him,
and he would chase their trucks,
and one day he disappeared, and was gone for days
and we thought he was lost, and then 
a few weeks later, Bill called from the firehouse, 
and he said you’ll never guess, and I said what?
and he said Spot is here. He made it all the way.
And the firehouse was 45 miles from our house.

On the edge of life, with Izzy

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Barb, and quiet time

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

June 1, 2008 – Our visits are shorter, now and quieter. Barb is tired, but asks to see the “puppies.” She loves to have Izzy on her lap, and laughs at Lenore, who she calls the “slurpy one.” We stayed away for a week because Barb seemed so tired, but she asked for the dogs, and we are resuming more frequent visits.
I’ve noticed a curious thing about Hospice work and the dogs. Almost always, the patients say they think the dog doesn’t really want to be there, or would like to get off, or is uncomfortable. This happened with Glen and Helen and others, and it speaks, I think, to a sense among the critically ill and dying that nobody really wants to be with them, given a choice.
This is, I think, part of the isolation of the dying process, a sense of being shunned, avoided, because something horrible is happening. In truth, visits with Barb are always fun, always pleasant. I want to be there, and the dogs are attached to her.
She is sharp, courteous and has great stories to tell – we are planning a poem for later this week – and the dogs are happy to be with her, not at all restless. She keeps her own schedule in her head, and knows when family, nurses or social workers are coming. Monday she was getting a bath, she said, so Tuesday morning would be a good time to visit.
Izzy didn’t have to stay on her lap, she said, he was probably getting warm or restless. No, I said, he seemed quite content to me.

Barb and the Hound of Love
Barb and the Hound of Love

Izzy, Barb

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

May 7, 2008 – Barb is tiring, weaker than we have seen her before, and now, she simply wants to lie with Izzy, hold him and rest. She fell asleep this afternoon, and he lay with her for nearly an hour. It was a grueling day for Izzy – two Hospice visits and we and other Hospice officials gave a talk about Hospice and Izzy to the American Legion Post 83 in Whitehall, N.Y.
Barb tried to tell me the story of how she begged her mother for a “store-boughten” dress, as her mother made all of her clothes, and the other kids at school all had “store-boughten” clothes, and she finally got her mother to buy her a cotton dress from a store. She was not able to finish the story.


Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Barb and Izzy

April 26, 2008 – Izzy and I (and Lenore) visited Barb earlier this week in the Adirondacks. Izzy and Lenore took turns sitting in her lap and getting hugged. Barb is especially attached to Izzy but she gets a kick out of Lenore, who she describes as “sweet and slurply.” This is so.

Barb told this story about meeting her husband Bill, who died in 1996. They met in 1939:

“My parents gave me a Ford with a rumble seat – three in front, two in back. One night the girls asked me if I would take them roller skating, so we went to the rink, on the county fairgrounds and they kept it open at night for kids. Bill’s wife had died a month earlier – he was 25 – and he had two children, but he didn’t tell me that for two months.
They used to block out time at the rink – they had a big organ there – singles, doubles and triples. I went out with the girls as triples, but Bill came up to me and asked me if I would skate with him, and I said, ‘but this is triples,’ so he got some strangers to skate with him. After the skating was over, we went off. Bill and I found out we were raised in the same village. He was a good looking guy, nice.  But he didn’t tell me about the two children at firsts. He asked if I was coming next week, and I said I didn’t know.
He said ‘I’m coming.’ And I knew I was. But I didn’t tell him. We were married two years later.”

Phoenicia, from Barb

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Barb and Izzy
Barb loves to talk and tell stories while Izzy keeps her company

April 17, 2008 – Working with Helen and Warren, we came up with the concept of the Living Poem for Hospice patients, poems woven from memory and experience, and recalled near the end of life. Powerful experience for me as a writer, and it seems also for the patients offering their stories. A powerful experience as well for the many people – thousands now – who have responded out in the world by offering their own poems and messages.
These poems have profoundly affected the lives of Helen and Warren, and hopefully Barb as well. She is in her 90′s, and living with family members in the Adirondacks. Her husband died some years ago, and she often and very fondly recalls her adventurous mother, an unusual woman for her time.
I love hearing the stories of Hospice patients, they are spare and honest, and speak much about a life. They have no reason to hide, nothing to fear and their memories are pure in spirit. These stories help them recall their own lives, and understand where they are in life.
When a writer hears stories like this, and then puts them down on paper, there is a bond that is as instantaneous as it is powerful. For me, it will last a lifetime.
Here is Barb’s first poem.


My mother used to pile all of us into the car.
Me, four siblings, six of us in all.
We would set out from Long Island
and go to New England, or upstate New York.
My father didn’t drive and never came.

In those days, it was so different.
Not many gas stations, or motels, or rest stops.
My mother was very strong, very dependable,
and we were never afraid,
Even though we were always going to strange places.

It was different then.
You really depended on people to help you.
Every night, when it started to get dark,
My mother would pick out a house
and ask if we could stay, or pay to stay.
She always packed dried fruit and cereal
In case we didn’t find a place -
And sometimes we didn’t.

We all loved those trips.
We went through all these little towns.
There were no big roads then, all small roads,
And no place to fix a car.

Once she said she was going to Mexico by herself.
We were all afraid and told her not to go.
She said she would talk to the family doctor about it,
And abide by what he said.
The doctor said well, they have undertakers in Mexico,
And they wouldn’t leave you lying in the street,
So you should go.
We were all right about it after that.
She drove herself all the way to Mexico,
And she had a wonderful time.

On one trip to upstate New York,
We drove through a small town called Phoenicia.
We couldn’t find a place to stay,
And it was getting dark.
My mother pulled up to an old farmhouse.

The woman there said she didn’t have any room,
But she owned another house.
An old house that was all “cobwebbed.”
If we wouldn’t mind cleaning it up a bit,
We could stay there.
So we did, and we had a great time,
Cleaning out the cobwebs,
Pulling out our sleeping bags,
Spending the night there.
In the morning, the woman, who was gracious,
Brought us fresh milk and cheese and eggs
To eat with our cereal,
And she wouldn’t ake any money from Mother.

She told us that the house was lonely,
And wanted some strangers to stay in it.

I didn’t follow in my mother’s footsteps.
She had a million hobbies, and she went hunting for rocks,
Even for diamonds at a mine upstate.
She sewed and tatted.
I could never quite get the hang of it, tatting.

I went to nursing school and got married and had a family.
But I often think about those trips,
About us children setting out with Mother
For all these strange places,
Always having fun and never once being afraid.