The case for a correction in the case of Rosemary Namubiru

May 24, 2014 - Leave a Response

namubiruI don’t know Rosemary Namubiru. I don’t know what it was to be her, at 64, a nurse in Uganda, a country where the incidence of HIV the virus that leads to AIDS is going up, instead of down, as in other African countries. I don’t know what it is to live in a country, as she does, where, for every 14 people you know, chances are one of them is living with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. I don’t know what it was like to be working that Sisyphean job of tending patients where the health need is never met, in spite of Uganda being one of the wealthier countries in Africa. I don’t know what it is like to have HIV, as she does.

Given all of that, I recognize at least some of what I don’t know about Rosemary Namubiru.

This is what I do know: In January, a two-year-old child with a fever was brought into the busy clinic where she worked, and she tried to give the child an intravenous injection. The child was struggling, and at one point, the needle pierced the nurse’s skin, instead of the child’s. The child’s mother reported that Ms. Namubiru didn’t change the needle as she went on, finally, to successfully administer the injection. The police were called and arrested Ms. Namubiru, at one point pulling her head back forcibly so news reporters, who also had been called, could get a picture of her face, and put it in the newspaper and on the internet. They called her “Baby Killer” and “Killer Nurse.” She was held without bail for her trial on a charge stemming from a colonial era law criminalizing exposing people to an infectious disease. During her trial, containers of the antiretroviral medicine that she takes, and that keeps her virus from being readily communicable was introduced as evidence against her. The child, also, was given antiretroviral medicine to keep him from acquiring the virus, a practice familiar in health settings known as “post exposure prophylaxis,” has been tested twice for HIV, and has been found not to have it. Her trial finally concluded this month when she was sentenced to three years in a Ugandan prison on a conviction of negligence. This much is a matter of record.

So why American news outlets picked up, and ran a story saying that she was found guilty of negligence for “attempting to spread HIV,” and for “spreading HIV,” is something else I don’t know. We share English as a common language, and negligence, you can look it up now, means inattention, failure, laxity, oversight, forgetfulness – not intention. “Spreading HIV” means giving it from one person to another, which did not happen in this case. I don’t know what it was to be Rosemary Namubiru that day in the clinic, or the parents of the child, who I can imagine were upset to see a needle that had pierced a nurses skin used on their child. I say “can imagine,” because I don’t know that either. I don’t know how often that happens in that overburdened health system.

I do know what it is to be a journalist, though. I knew, in the news writing 101 class I took that misspelling someone’s name would get you an F on an assignment. Doing what the Ugandan journalists have done would get you fired, and sued.

That is supposed to be what happens here, when you write things that aren’t backed by record here, and that accuse people of things a court hasn’t even charged them with. And yet, news outlets all over the country picked up a story that was not only riddled with inaccuracies, but observable inconsistencies. Many, including some that added embroideries of their own, remain as is, online. The story on continues to say that Uganda criminalizes intentional spread of HIV, a statement that, while irrelevant, also happens to be untrue. So, another thing I know is that it is past time to stop, examine how journalists, including editors, treat stories out of Africa, and correct them.


Give me shelter

January 31, 2014 - Leave a Response

When I moved to our nation’s capital a year and a half ago my friends took me apartment hunting and we wrote down at least 40 phone numbers of apartment building managers. I ended up moving into the first apartment building I called. My decision to call that one first was based on some chipped paint around the entry door, which led me to think I could afford to live there. I was right. At $1150 a month for a roughly 300 square foot room with a refrigerator in the middle of it, but a spacious bathroom and two small closets I never found a price near it. It’s on a street where you can come home at any hour of the night without looking over your shoulder. It’s across from the National Zoo. The next spring when I got tired of the uninterrupted sobbing of children in strollers leaving the zoo that began every weekend afternoon, I discovered that my apartment was not only the cheapest but the largest within a few hundred dollars. So when I came home one day last summer to find a flyer saying the building was up for sail I worried.

Fortunately, I learned tenants in Washington have the right to organize, make the first bid on their building if they wish, and if not, select a buyer from those who meet the asking price. Did we want a roof deck? Card operated machines in the laundry room? A gym? A swimming pool? All possibilities, all up to us, talk had it. More promising, we could require the landlord to promise not to raise the rent, and we also could get money to move out. “AH-ffensive” was the dismissal of an pre-emptive offer from one developer to give each one of us $5000.

We had meetings. Four developers expressed interest in buying and sent spreadsheets showing their willingness to meet our demands. Their presentations were scheduled for two long meetings, which didn’t turn out to be as long as planned because two dropped out. So then there were two.

The first one was an experienced developer who had been filling our mailroom for the last year with glossy postcards showing how the company had renovated a pre-war building to make it look like someone in the outer boroughs of New York had just hit it big on a scratch off lottery card. The entire staff of the company turned out, filled our lobby with black wooden folding chairs, a dozen boxes of pizza, a screen, a projecter and themselves, all wearing buttons saying “Ask Me Anything.” A guy who introduced himself as “the Principal” of the company started with a laughing like noise and said: “It’s funny I’ve done so many of these, and I still get nervous.” I took notes, which included, as he began by telling us that he met his wife at George Washington University, that they now have three kids, and what each of his kids are doing:

. who cares about his wife, or what his kids are doing it is 7:13 p.m., or where he lives . . .
they are all saying I also wear many hats
first one just said he wears “hopefully one hat”
This one says “we’re the promise keepers . ..”
One of the employees is quite ill and is still standing there by the door looking miserable…
They all are standing behind a sign that says:
Top 10 things We love about your building
1. We love the residents
2. We love the residents who get up and go jogging
3. We love the residents who work from home
4. We love the residents who do the laundry
5. We love the residents who have cereal for dinner
6. We love the residents who go to Starbucks every day
7. We love the residents who come home every night
8. WE love the residents who take the elevator
9. We love the residents who take the stairs
10. We love the residents who read the paper

They described gutting the building in the months that would follow and then making it look like the ones on the postcards, pictures of which in before and after double screens in which After consistently looked exponentially uglier than before rotated on the screen. The screen also showed pictures of big greasy boxes of flourescent frosting donuts, which they promised to provide in the lobby on a monthly basis. And if all that didn’t tempt anyone to stay, they would provide, not the Ah-fensive compensation of $5,000 to move out — but $1,000. In other words, not enough to pay the moving costs if you didn’t want to live in a construction site for donuts.

The remaining developer was more promising. Only five staff members showed up, didn’t talk about their families or donuts, and started the compensation for moving out at a five digit figure. They won the election we held the next week by a landslide. Then they said they couldn’t make the down payment on the agreed schedule. Then our lawyer went back to the donut developer. I dreamed that I was following the ones who let us down through their office shouting at them. Then the donut developer said he didn’t really have the full asking price. The lawyer asked him how come, then, he offered to buy the place, and according to the lawyer, he responded, “I got horny.”

If you don’t count the psychic damage of having to hear that, everything finally worked out. The ones we chose got an extension to come up with the money. I learned that at a meeting last night after which I went down to meet a visiting friend at the Zoo bar. I was recounting all of that and my hopes that the 5-digit buyout payment can serve as a down payment somewhere, when we were distracted by the flashing lights of an ambulance pulling up in front of the bus stop across the street. They were coming to get the guy who lived there, a bar patron monitoring the situation from the doorway said. First the shelter bus had come around because its been about 10 degrees at night for the last week, but upon evaluation they called the ambulance.

Left all his stuff there. Didn’t offer him donuts, buyout money, nothing. Just a place to go out of the cold.

2013 in review

December 31, 2013 - Leave a Response

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 920 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 15 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Response to a reporter who finds herself shocked by the expected

October 16, 2013 - 4 Responses


A former Palm Beach Post colleague of mine treated the world of local journalism gossips to the sight of her biting the hand that has fed her for the last decade, when she was offered a buyout, and passed along this reproachful manifesto to Michael Koretzky’s SPJ Region 3 blog, Mouth of the South. My former colleague’s piece, which, to its credit, could be titled Revenge of the Geezer related how it felt to come back from a reporting assignment only to learn that she had missed being told in person that she, and everyone else her age and older, was no longer considered vital to the continued functioning of the newspaper. But she left out some information, while including assertions on behalf of others in her position that strained credulity.

I am sympathetic to all of us who have loved and lost newspapers, and as a member of the “protected” age group, I don’t even have to imagine the hurt and anger of learning your years of work and experience are being devalued precisely because of what made them possible – your age.  But there is a tone of disingenuousness and victimhood to this that I think belies the real issues of poor planning and bad management behind the collapse of print journalism, and the way its rank and file workers have been treated. One troubling aspect to this is the omission of what was offered to older workers that made them the target. I am told it was a deal with health insurance and pension – hard to offer a 25-year-old. Is that true? It would be good to know what was offered to better evaluate the management decision – was it inhumane? Or just stupid?

You can read it at the link above to see exactly what I am responding to, but if you don’t want to bother I have excerpted and bolded the parts that were the most troubling.

(on being offered a buyout . . .) “All of us earned the designation by passing what otherwise didn’t seem like an important milestone: our 55th birthdays. “

That, actually has long been an important milestone at the Post, as it is when, with 20 years there, you became eligible for retirement with continued health insurance and pension. If it is true that deal now is being offered to 55s-on-up with as little as 10 years, that, too, would be an important milestone – at least in the eyes of the 44 million Americans who have been living uninsured.

(on sticking around after the newspaper halved its staff five years ago) “. . . we believed if we worked hard enough to cover for the colleagues we lost in the last wave of buyouts, we might have a fighting chance  . . .”

Did the remaining staffers really believe they could work hard enough to replace 300 people? Some of the departed might have been dead weight, but then, some dead weight remained firmly ensconced, and according to well-placed sources, by invitation, behind their desks.

” . . . hoping the economy improves and someone in the brain trust comes up with a way to save the business we love  . . .”

The newspaper business was going downhill before the economy did, and in the years leading up to the Post’s 2008 collapse, there was no evidence on Dixie Highway, or for that matter, emanating from Atlanta, of a “brain trust” that was going to come up with, or was even looking for a way to save the business we loved.

 “. . .we wondered whether it could be done by posting videos of fender benders, dogs playing with babies and soft porn on our web site  . . .”

 Many of us love the relatively gentle sarcasm of this line. But, to be honest, many of us didn’t wonder. We knew it couldn’t be done that way. And we left.

” . . . .We learned from the last round of buy-out victims that quick cash doesn’t cover long-term losses. Many who reluctantly, but hopefully, took the buyout five years ago are now freelancing for pennies on the dollar with no health insurance or paid vacations.”

It is hard to consider any of us who left victims. We had a choice and we made one we felt suited our interests. I chose to leave a newspaper that seemed to be losing its sense of mission as well as its capacity to carry it out, in part so I wouldn’t be where Jane and others who remained are today – older, with little value added, and with fewer choices. The five years since have been the most rewarding of my career. Those who remained may have felt they didn’t have that choice, but they have had five years to assess the situation and search for other options. It is hard to believe the latest blow came as an out of the blue surprise for anyone with news gathering skills, so I prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt and not consider them victims, either.


Independent Media Production Professional

February 28, 2013 - Leave a Response

Independent Media Production Professional is how the person, who was called the editor, but who I don’t even know how to describe now, describes himself on the social media site through which he contacted me to ask a favor.

A friend of mine mentioned it made her sad to see that title. It sounded, she said, like something a laid off affiliate tv reporter with no skills would use.

Back when I knew him, he presided over the last stages of the descent of the newspaper I worked for  into something else. Before he came to our newspaper he already had presided over the demise of a literary style magazine section of another newspaper, but the credential he carried with him was the “literary style magazine section” rather than the demise part of what he had done there. This, at a newspaper that was always trying to win a Pulitzer for one heroic attempt or another to uncover the Truth about things.

He was seen as a prestigious character, having come from a bigger newspaper, never mind that he had brought it down, never mind that he had been fired. He had credentials. And he used them, to bullshit his way to his goal of keeping his knees under his desk out our newspaper, until his desk was the last thing standing there. He didn’t quite make it. They let him stay, doing nothing, months after he had stopped serving any even pretend function, until he was Medicare eligible, and then he was all but carried out the door.

Along with half the newspaper’s staff I was gone by then, having divined that he was lying when he said “when this stops being a newspaper, I’ll be gawun, cuz ah’m not interested in workin’ for anythin’ else.” He talked like that, the exaggerated accent his proud reminder that he got through Old Miss on a golf scholarship and was from the land of Faulkner. Or something like that.

I’m not even sure that was true; he never let the truth get in the way of a cliche. He was a bad writer, a bad editor and a bad manager. We all went along with it out of Stockholm syndrome, or because we thought we had no choice.

I found him so contemptible by the time I left that I didn’t even bother to hold a grudge against him for what he had done to our paper, to journalism and to many of our careers.

And although it may sound like I do now, I’m madder at a system, a profession whose job it was to tell the truth, for letting an Ole Miss golf scholarship recipient, or someone who at least said he was, who never met a meaningless word he didn’t take as his own take a town’s newspaper of record down. I am at a loss to see how independent media professionals can help us now.

When I was growing up

January 22, 2013 - Leave a Response

I’ve always been surprised by people who say they don’t like being old, who don’t want to admit their age, who act as if it’s a defeat rather than a victory to be on the right side of 50. I’ve never understood shame over longevity, because while the future is uncertain, the past is the fabric of history.

When I was growing up, I couldn’t believe my good luck. Everything was changing for the better, all the time. Living in the 1960s was like being on a train heading for paradise, in my view. Yes, horrible things were happening. We watched the wars in Birmingham and Southeast Asia on television, so you couldn’t pretend. But apparently bad things always had happened. Our babysitter had memories of Nazi Germany, my father was arrested protesting a Nazi rally in our own comfortable neighborhood. But like the insipid fare, that we knew was insipid, served up on television, everything turned out all right, always in the end. Our father not only got off, and made good friends with the cop who arrested him, but never had to serve jury duty again, because he had been arrested. On a larger scale we saw the arrestees of the civil rights struggle become heroes and examples. And through all of that our world got better. I remember when the newspapers suddenly stopped listing Help Wanted under separate male and female columns because of the Civil Rights Act, when acting on sexism, as well as racism, became legally wrong. It’s sad now that those things had to happen, but it was momentous to watch that, at least, and at last, they did. The Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was cruel and unusual, and that women had the right to decide if they saw a pregnancy to term. It was a wonderful thing to grow up and see our world growing up with us.

Then the 70s came, and I’m still not sure I would wish continuing to grow up during the backlash they brought on anyone. The death penalty came back, racism and sexism found new languages and stages to legitimize themselves, the war on drugs began and continues to leave carnage on the battlefields of our towns and cities still. The disillusionment, for a child of the 60s was a train wreck.

But while that was happening, children of the 60s were getting ready to make the world what it should be, instead of what it was. And today we saw the outcome of that, as Barack Hussein Obama, our president, began his second term, praising the heros of Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, and making me proud and happy, again, to be here, now and to see where the years have taken us.

The guy with a rat on his shoulder

January 9, 2013 - Leave a Response

LAKE WORTH, FL — About 15 years ago, when I first moved to this part of South Florida, I used to drive down the two lane stretch of Federal Highway between Lantana’s north end and downtown Lake Worth and have the modest aspiration of one day owning a little cottage there. At the time it would have been a small investment that seemed clever to me, because, surely with its quaint combination of old motels and little winter houses, of working class and bohemian dwelling, it would be discovered, and would be a comfortable and, yes, even enviable spot to make a cozy home.

Other people had the same idea, perhaps; in any case it was quickly gathered up in the real estate boom that swept the area, and little houses were torn down to make room for little faux meditarranean, faux Key West “town home” developments with names like “The Cloisters,” and “The Villas.” In no time — a few years, at most, it became a place I couldn’t imagine being able to afford, or wanting to. Then a few years more, came the crash, and the old remaining places were boarded up, the new ones became “luxury rental communities” that were largely unoccupied, people who looked like they had nothing to do roamed aimlessly along the street, and it became a desolate landscape. It remains that way now, a sad, desolate strip that bore the brunt of unrealized, unrealistic hopes.

I drove down it the other day, and passed two men striding along, laughing. They looked like they were having a good time, except one of them had, riding on his shoulder a big — exceptionally big, about the size of a small rabbit — rat with a long oily bare tail. The rat moved restlessly, and laughing the guy stroked it affectionately.

“How would you feel,” I asked the main squeeze later, “if you were the owner of a “villa,” and you looked out your window, to see that?”

“I would probably be gleeful,” the main squeeze replied, “because it would be the pleasantest sight I had seen all day.”

The anti-Semitic acupuncturist

January 3, 2013 - Leave a Response

When half my face stopped working suddenly, the morning after the worst headache I had ever had, my first stop was to my periodontist, who had recently extracted a tooth on that side, and with whom I had an appointment with anyway that day, as a hurricane headed for our town. He said I should see a neurologist, and got me a name but when I called, the neurologist’s receptionist, unmoved when I told her that half my face was sagging like a tragedy mask, said if I wasn’t already a patient, tough luck. I told her out the side of my mouth, talking like a gangster by then, that they should be ashamed, and called my regular doctor.

They were boarding up their windows against the oncoming storm by then, but said I could come — one of the major moments of my life, along with finding out I got jobs and fellowships I wanted. My doctor took one look at me, which is all he ever takes, whisked out his prescription pad, wrote me a prescription for the antiviral drug acyclovir, told me I had Bell’s Palsy, that it would be all better in a couple of months, and sent me off. If there wasn’t a hurricane coming, he added I could go get a brain scan, “just to play it safe” — but there was a hurricane coming and the brain scan place was closed.

So the next day I went to work, which people in my business were then required to do when there was a hurricane, and everyone winced when they saw me, and when I told them what I had they inevitably told me who else had it — the Crazy (with a capital C) boss’s noncrazy wife, the cross-eyed, high-strung photographer who, if he were an inch shorter would be a midget, the really nice, calm, pretty woman who got it when her father was dying. The common denominator amongst all my fellow victims seemed to be stress. The last was the one who told me she got acupuncture for it, and she thought it helped.

So two months later when I still couldn’t open and close my right eye without using my hand, I looked up an acupuncturist. He offered an introductory set of four sessions as a package that was cheaper than two, or something like that, which made it hard to do any other way.

He was a stocky little guy with black hair swept back with a little height, had a broad purple satin tie, a white shirt and creased black trousers that looked like they were part of a suit, all of which stood in contrast to the faux Asian — rattan screens, bamboo — windchime-driven decor. He took a medical autobiography, that had a police interrogation feel to it. I told him about my succession of petty ailments: tonsilititis, headaches, menstrual cramps, one succeeding the other, and now this. “Good, you get it then,” he said at one point, in one of the last remarks indicating approval of my mental status that I heard from him.

I hastened to assure him that sometimes I do very well — walked on the beach daily, am limber at yoga, and that when the job made extra demands — 12-hour days, travel with multiple 12-hour days, spending months staring at a screen for a database project — that I met those demands. He looked at me with pitying disgust.

“You give it away,” he said.

Well no, I like succeeding at the  . . . I tried to tell him.

This didn’t translate well. In fact, later it was returned to me in the course of discovering that my outer thighs were sensitive to having needles stuck in them to a connection to an over-active adrenal gland common amongst the original hunter-gatherer types, whose mission was to “go out, kill it, bring it back . . .” Something like that.

“What’s your favorite color?” he asked early in our initial interview. I told him I didn’t have one — I like all of them. He didn’t believe me, it became clear, in our two remaining appointments, when he would ask suddenly, while sticking needles in my back, ” What’s your favorite color?” like if he caught me off guard I would confess that it was  — God Knows .. . the color of sandpaper? sharp metal? Perhaps something to do with one of my chakras, in retrospect.

At the same time, he taught me a few things, that perhaps equally connected to new age psychobabble as the rest of his leanings, were things I latched onto, and that helped.

He told me about the Eat Right For Your Blood Type book, which has some potentially silly things in it, but also coincided with my dietary leanings, and when I followed it, I became stronger and lost some weight I had been wanting to lose for a while. He mentioned that it did me no good to stare at a computer screen all day long, and I should take breaks frequently when working on a project that required that. He told me to pay attention to how I felt, and instead of trying to over-ride exhaustion and pain, stop and rest. He taught me, in those few sessions, things that you probably shouldn’t have to teach anyone, but I’ll guess I’m not entirely alone in ignoring in pursuit of some greater attainment than health and peace of mind. For all of those reasons, in spite of the new-age psychobabble, adversarial, and, to some extent just plain old snake-oil salesman bullshit quality of some of our time together, I remain the better for having seen him.

During our last session — our third of the paid-for four — he suggested I get one of those bead-filled microwavable shawls to warm the neck and shoulder area in the event I overdid. I asked, as I left, where to get one.

“You can get them online,” he said. “or at the mall.”

“Thanks,” I waved, as I walked toward my car.

“If you get one at the mall,” he called out, across the parking lot, “you can Jew them down on the price . . .”

I never returned for the fourth session. When I called to cancel it, the receptionist asked me why. I said if he couldn’t figure it out, he could call himself and ask. He didn’t, so he never got to learn that, in my family, when we talked about negotiating for a lower price we called it “gentiling down.”

I got one of the shawls, and for the fun of it, since I am equal parts gentile and non, asked if the price was negotiable. It was not. I got the thing anyway, and use it whenever I feel a twinge. I think it helps, and I think of the acupuncturist, and all I learned from him, every time I use it.

2012 in review

December 31, 2012 - Leave a Response

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Life and death in God’s Little Waiting Room

December 26, 2012 - Leave a Response

My neighbor, who I’ll call Trudy, has a plan for what she will do in the event she ever gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

‘I’ve told Rick,’ (which I will call her husband here), she told me poolside, last summer. ‘You can still train people who have it.’ (She bases this on what she has seen; she has worked as a nurse’s aide). ‘So just put the gun on the bed table, and train me, when you hear the door shut, pick up the gun,’ (she gestures putting it up to her temple), ‘and go bang. When the door shuts, pick up the gun and go bang.’

She repeated this with a laughing exasperation through which she makes it clear she believes she, with Alzheimer’s, some day, will be easier to train than Rick right now. Rick was lying on his back, next to the pool, next to her, splayed in an unconscious manner, the sun bathing his bald head and his broad belly, that protrudes even when he is lying down, and is lined down the middle with a foot-and-a-half-long scar he wears, evidently as a badge of honor (shirtless unless a frost alert has the oranges covered and the homeless shelters open) of having survived open-heart surgery. He also has diabetes, and at the last community get-together piled his plate so defiantly high with a mountain of colorful desserts to give the impression that he has his own plan for dodging any long-term wages of old age.

But barring the central flaw in Trudy’s plan that it is dependent on his attention and survival, I liked it, although it also probably will fall short of her two major goals: that nobody go to jail, and that she not be dependent on anyone. (If I think about it, I’m picturing an easy case for negligent homicide, or attempted homicide, for leaving the gun at the bedside of an Alzheimer patient, and also the consequences of the patient missing just enough to produce injuries that would make Alzheimer’s look like golden years in contrast.)

For all its shortfalls, it is a plan, and I reminded her of it last night, when she was saying that she can’t imagine anyone wanting to take his or her own life. The conversation was careening around, as it does here, at the annual Christmas party in God’s Little Waiting Room, like a pinball bouncing off walls of hope, philosophy and reality.

Two of our neighbors had lost their husbands before last year’s Christmas party and were adjusting to the idea that their widowhood wasn’t new anymore, that this is the way it will be from now on, until they, too, die.

Another, who I’ll call Doris here, had just finished telling me that she, having been widowed twice, has no interest in sharing her life again; she is at peace — enjoys, even, her solitude. She was married to the first for more than 30 years, the second for a dozen years. The second was an old friend, and by the time they were in a position to join in matrimony, had this in common: they had been, but no longer were, parents.

She had lost her only son to a virus that made its way brushfire-like through San Francisco during the 1980s. You figure it out — apparently she eventually did. Her second husband had had two daughers who, she said, asphyxiated. Doris has never finished a sentence in front of me since I’ve known her — about 15 years — so you have to listen over several tellings to put the parts interrupted by left parentheses together before you understand what happened. This was the first telling, so all I can offer is that it had something to do with  Japan, no central heating, and they were both dead in the morning.

The part I could follow is that while she keeps pictures of her deceased son prominently displayed, and greets him when she comes home, her second husband had taken the opposite tack, and hidden all traces of his girls. And that during their marriage she had put out pictures of the girls, and she believes, although it was never discussed in so many words, that he appreciated that.

So now Trudy was telling me that she, too, can deal with loss, because it is part of life.The one loss she can’t understand is the death of her grandson, who killed himself last summer. But she believes in an afterlife, and looks forward to getting a chance to ask him why he did what he did someday.

Because, she said, it is the one desire she can’t understand at all — wanting to take your own life.

So I reminded her of my friend, for whom this blog is named, who got a vicious degenerative disease, and said that once it got bad enough that she didn’t want to live that way anymore, she wouldn’t. A friend who owned a nursing home had told her that she probably wouldn’t — that the will to live would assert itself. Before she could find out if that was true, she had a stroke, and it was too late after that to make any decisions anymore.

Yes, Trudy said, then there’s Alzheimer’s . . . So we talked about her solution, and laughed, while her husband walked past us looking vacant, as usual, and everyone around laughed and talked while the ice tinkled in our glasses. It was, after all, a Christmas Eve party, here in God’s Little Waiting Room.