The old saying goes: Laughter is the best medicine. In addition, sometimes the strangest things can help one make, or accept, important, even life-altering, decisions. So we found out a few weeks ago. As a result, a new expression has become significant in our lives.
First a bit of back-story. I (Gayle) grew up in an American-English speaking environment. To me the term “get stuffed” meant that one was preparing to overeat. Only after moving to Canada in my forties did I learn that “get stuffed” is a British colloquialism meaning, in the politer sense, “go away” or “get lost” or, in the cruder sense, “piss off” or worse. I became aware of the term while enjoying the satirical rants of Scotsman Jock McBile of CBC TV’s Royal Air Farce fame. Jock McBile, one of the most beloved alter egos of the late comedian John Morgan, was a mutton-chopped, kilt-and-sporran-clad curmudgeon, leaning on a cromach and using a thick burr to sarcastically and comically comment on current political and cultural happenings. His frequent climax to any dismissal of the antics of those whose actions met his disapproval was to tell them to “get stuffed!” as he marched off stage, menacingly brandishing his cromach. After marrying my own feisty Scotsman some 14 years ago, there were times when I wondered if Jock McBile’s cousin had come to live with me!
Now, what in the world does that have to do with me making or accepting life-altering decisions? If you have followed my blog, you will know that I started it to publicize the writings of my Scottish-born husband Ian and the books that he and I have produced over the past years. Recently, progress on future publications has slowed as Ian’s health has deteriorated. I’m struggling to continue with editing future books since care giving is taking up most of my time. As things settle down a bit with the provincial palliative care that has recently begun, I’m looking forward to finding more time to get back to editing our next book, Came to Canada, Eh? Continuing a Scottish Immigrant’s Story and, hopefully, progressing to other of our unpublished writings. But first, let me relate our most recent adventure.
Ian had a check-up with his GP to assess if his breathing distress (that had increased after his inoperable rectal cancer diagnosis in September) was being helped by a month’s dosage of morphine and whether it was time to curtail some of the other medications he has taken for other serious long-term medical problems like heart disease, a history of small strokes, peripheral neuropathy, GERD, hypertension and dementia. As the cancer would eventually be terminal, did he need to keep on all the other medications to prevent serious complications from other diseases? In other words, has all the medication become overkill? Ian is content to leave these decisions to me. (A daunting task indeed.) However, I already have lost my late husband to early onset Alzheimer disease and multiple small strokes, so have a bit of perspective to aid me. At the moment I’d prefer Ian not have a stroke that could cause paralysis so I could no longer care for him at home with palliative care until or near the end (which we would both prefer). So we opted for him to stay on Warfarin to aid in preventing a stroke, even though it adds to the bleeding from the incurable rectal cancer.
Next it was time for the clinic’s nurse to administer an annual cognitive test to decide whether Ian should keep on the dementia-slowing drug that he has been on for the last three years. His memory continues to worsen but the regression has slowed on the medication – a luxury that my late husband didn’t have as the drug wasn’t yet on the market when he needed it. Our nurse started the familiar test and I could see that Ian’s awareness of time had deteriorated since last year – “What year is it?” (“Well, it’s later than 1932.” – Smart Aleck – that is his birth year!) “Do you know what month we are in?” – (“Spring?” – hardly!) He could follow sequential verbal directions to take a piece of paper, fold it and place it on the ground, but only remembered one of the three words he had been given and then later asked to recall. “Truck,” readily came to mind but he had no recollection of “velvet” and “church” which he had repeated multiple times just minutes before. He correctly answered a few questions involving numbers and did not do too poorly in copying two geometric figures on a second paper. Then came the last assignment: “Write down a sentence, please.” I smiled thinking of what Ian had written last year. “I love my wife.” This time he readily jotted down a two-word sentence, handing it to the nurse with a smirk. She let out a hoot when she read: “Get stuffed!” There was a twinkle in his eye, though, so we saw it as a touch of sarcastic humour and not a nasty protest at the process.
Ian’s score was only a point below last year’s so I thought he should keep on the drug rather than taking a chance of his memory and abilities getting worse at a faster rate, even though this could also add to his bleeding. The medical staff thought differently, though, and recommended a trial period of 10 days off the drug to see if its absence made a difference. Those 10 days did not go well, however, as Ian had a growing number of disturbing hallucinations and worsening memory. As I still had about a month’s worth of the medication on hand, I started him back on it and will be monitoring him before we see the doctor again to assess whether to continue it. After only a few days, I’m encouraged that the hallucinations have lessened, though I’m not sure about the memory.
As irascible as he gets at times, I’d like to keep my old sassy Scotsman around awhile longer if possible. I’ve also started to tell him to “get stuffed” a few times when he gets carried away. That usually brings a chuckle, followed by a cuddle, which helps to alleviate the grumbling. Here Ian is a few years ago, all decked out to sing at the Okanagan Military Tattoo when he was still able to walk with the help of a cane (instead of a cromach).
Ian summed up his “get stuffed” afternoon with: “If you have a choice, it’s better to laugh than to cry.” The day following his medical exams he was so exhausted after our outing that he hardly got out of bed. At least it gave me some time to do some creative writing and fuel another blog post.
As difficult as care giving is, I’m determined to help Ian in these last years (or months) to make life as positive as possible and try to keep myself healthy and productive at the same time. Thank God for palliative care that offers growing support, as it becomes needed, and for the love and concern of family and friends.
What encouragement old friends can bring, even those who live far away. A recent letter came from Friedemann, a dear friend from my days living in Germany in the 1960s and ‘70s. He had recently lost his wife, Maria (another beloved friend) to cancer and was writing to comfort me after hearing of Ian’s cancer diagnosis. His profound words bear repeating:
“I am really grateful to you for keeping in touch with me and now with the follow-up news on Ian’s health crisis which will no doubt continue to occupy you both. I was sorry to hear that surgery is no safe option for Ian and do hope and pray that he remains without pain and comfortable and that you can both continue to live your interesting lives together.
“I seem to detect a note of optimism in your account–but then you always had what is basically a positive attitude to life, and although I have never met Ian, from your letters I have the impression that he is a person who prefers to see the bright side of life, too–a very healthy attitude (that I sometimes wish I had more of). Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Maria and you always got along so well, way back in the Heidelberg days. You both might have had good reasons for complaint in your lives, but you always managed to see the silver lining: a result of being embedded in your faith?
“Anyway, I do hope you can both find something to look forward to and enjoy each day. I often think of the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, i.e. give us today what we need just for today (and tomorrow we will ask again).
“A month or so before Maria died she wrote an article for a magazine in which she quoted a poem by a German cabaret artist, writer, author of children’s stories and actor who died in 2005, Hans Dieter Hüsch. The poem apparently appealed to her way of thinking–I imagine also to yours and Ian’s—(In German–which you presumably still read? ):
Psalm Ich bin vergnügt, erlöst, befreit. Gott nahm in seine Hände meine Zeit, mein Fühlen, Denken, Hören, Sagen, mein Triumphieren und Verzagen, das Elend und die Zärtlichkeit. Was macht, dass ich so fröhlich bin im meinem kleinen Reich? Ich sing und tanze her und hin vom Kindbett bis zur Leich. Was macht dass ich so furchtlos bin an vielen dunklen Tagen? Es kommt ein Geist in meinen Sinn, will mich durchs Leben tragen. Was macht, dass ich so unbeschwert und mich kein Trübsinn hält? Weil mich mein Gott das Lachen lehrt wohl über alle Welt. Hanns Dieter Hüsch
“In English (roughly!):
I’m cheerful, redeemed, set free.
God took my time in his hands,
my feeling, thinking, hearing, speaking,
my triumphs and despondencies,
the anguish and the tenderness.
How come that I’m so cheerful
in my own small domain?
I sing and dance to and fro
from the cradle to the grave.
How come that I’m so fearless
on many gloomy days?
A spirit comes into my mind
that seeks to carry me through life.
How come I’m so light-hearted
and no gloom has hold on me?
Because God teaches me to laugh
at the whole world no doubt.
“So I hope God continues to give you both your daily bread and brighten your life for as long as God sees fit.
“Cheers and the very best of wishes.
(nicer in Latin: Pax et gaudium–et fortitudo = peace and joy–and strength!)”
Well, we surely are editing our life’s stories at present. Cancer has reared its dreaded head and we are in the first stages of finding out how Ian’s life story is being edited.
Ian has just spent 3 days in the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre emergency room, having gone in with severe bloody diarrhea, had a colonoscopy and CT scan and is now home. The medical team found a rectal tumour which is the source of the bleeding. That means cancer, of course, but we are happy to hear that it is localized and not expected to metastasize elsewhere. We are now awaiting a consultation with a surgical oncologist to see where to proceed from here. Thank God, he is not in any pain, just really exhausted. We’re sure the surgeon will have difficulty in deciding whether or not to operate since Ian is 85 and in poor health otherwise, so it might not be possible. Time will tell. Prayers are being sent up!
Gayle is anxiously trying to master the art of injecting Ian twice a day with an anti-coagulant that is necessary to prevent a stroke, since he is highly susceptible to them and has been on Warfarin for several years. That has been discontinued and a twice-a-day injectable anti-coagulant that is easier to counter-act if necessary has been prescribed. To say the least, nursing was never a career choice for Gayle, but she seems to have been forced into a non-professional form of it now and earlier in the care of her late husband. Again, prayers are being sent up for guidance, patience and endurance.
Present circumstances have sent us in search of some inspiration and these quotes have helped.
Though no longer writing, when he can stay awake and alert, Ian takes great pleasure in reading one of his published books. Right now he is concentrating on our children’s book, Jake, Little Jimmy & Big Louie, chuckling from time to time and marveling that he ever managed to write it. The latest chuckle came when he pointed out a section where he had brought in a Scottish reflection to his fictional story. It reminded Gayle how, as the past editor of a thematic magazine, her life often seemed to reflect whatever theme was being worked on at the moment. Quoted below is the passage Ian read aloud:
“Some months later, the week after Jake’s twelfth birthday, another problem appeared. And Jake was sure a certain kid was the cause of everything getting all messed up again. As far as Jake was concerned, he didn’t want to go through any more troubles. But that little kid appeared at his door and sure screwed things up for Jake in a BIG way!
“Now Jake’s Grandpa was an old Scotsman who loved the poetry of the even-older Scotsman, named Robert Burns. Even Dad had started quoting some old sayings of Burns’, so it wasn’t surprising that a phrase from Burns’ poem “To a Mouse” came into Jake’s mind. He had often heard both Grandpa and Dad say something like, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”– meaning that you can make really good plans but they can often go wrong. However it was stated, Jake thought, the saying must apply to 12-year-old boys too, for things certainly did go wrong for Jake—well, for a little while anyway.”
We rejoice that Ian has these writings to fall back on. They help to jog his failing memory and keep his spirits up. It’s good to always look for the silver lining in the inevitable clouds. Peace be with us all.
Gayle has intended to post this story in the past but couldn’t readily find where she had squirreled it away in her numerous storage tubs of memorabilia. Now, after a hiatus of 67 years, it is finally getting published on this blog! As far as she knows this was her first attempt to write down a story and she is pretty proud of her first efforts, despite the extremely slanted lines, childish but rather cute errors in grammar and spelling, yellowed cellophane tape “binding” and less-than-awesome artistry. Even then, however, she made a good attempt at sharing an engaging autobiographical story and finding a suitable, descriptive opening and closing.
The story was written in 1950, probably around November since Gayle would have turned eight on the 11th (and Doreen and Barbara would have been six and five until the next spring) and hunting season for ducks would have been in full swing. The setting is a house on Central Avenue in the small town of New Rockford, North Dakota.
Note that Lady has a docked tail and Spotie’s tail is normal. A lot of waterfowl hunting dogs at that time had their tails docked to prevent wagging tails giving away the hunter’s hideouts in the reeds to birds as they approached a wetland site. Odd that Spotie has no spots and that the three girls look more like dressmaker’s forms than little girls! The spelling of the puppy’s name is also unique. “Spotty” or even “Spottie” would probably have been better choices.
But for the existence of this little story, the incident of the new puppy would probably have been lost as their parents have been dead for years and Gayle’s younger sisters, who were 5 1/2 and 6 1/2 at the time, have little recollection of what happened. None of the three can remember what eventually happened to the new puppy either. Only Gayle (who was a “grown-up” eight year old at the time) remembers that they later discovered that Spotie was deaf. He only reacted to touch and not to sound.
Spotie’s mother Lady was the same age as Gayle, so eight years of age when she gave birth to Spotie, who was her only offspring. Gayle also recalls that Lady had been hit by a car some months before Spotie’s birth, though she hadn’t seemed to be injured. Mom Mildred and Dad George had later surmised that the hearing of the puppy fetus had not developed properly as a result of the car accident. We know that Spotie did not grow to maturity and Gayle has a vague recollection that she was hit by a car and killed, probably in her first year of life. (The trauma of that death most likely contributed to the girls’ poor memories.) No photos of Spotie seem to have been taken, surprising when recalling how many photos and 60-mm films their daddy took over the years. There are numerous photos of Lady, however, and Gayle is sharing one of those, as well as photos of the girls from around 1950.
The three girls were very close in age. Gayle was 16 months older than Doreen who was a year and three days older than Barbara. Lady and Spotie were American Water Spaniels, a breed begun in Wisconsin in the early 1800s who were bred as hunting dogs. George Moore, their daddy, was an avid hunter who brought home many wild fowl and deer over the years. The Moores’ freezer was always full of wild duck, wild goose, partidge, prairie chicken, grouse, pheasant and lots of venison. They lived in central North Dakota, in the Central Flyway, a haven for hunters of migratory waterfowl. The surrounding prairies were also teeming with other game birds, Whitetail deer and elk.
Although no photo of the new puppy exists, Gayle has chosen the above photo from winter 1948/49 of Lady, the mother water spaniel, and herself. About a year and a half later she wrote the story about Lady’s new puppy.
Because of his name, the new puppy “Spotie” was obviously spotted, as was Lady. Included herewith is a closeup of a vintage online photo of an American water spaniel puppy.
In the photo below the three little Moore girls pose on their parents’ bed in their “clown pajamas” for what became the Moore family’s Christmas card of 1949. They are from left to right, Barbara Ann, 4; Doreen Joyce, 5; and Gayle Irene, 7 .
The only photo from 1950 that Gayle could find is the below shot of Gayle reading the “funny papers” to Doreen, who would have just started school and probably wasn’t yet able to read them for herself.
NOTE: AN UPDATED VERSION OF THIS BOOK HAS BEEN PREPARED IN E-BOOK FORMAT AND, HOPEFULLY, WILL EVENTUALLY ALSO APPEAR IN SOFT COVER FORMAT , AVAILABLE FOR ORDER THROUGH AMAZON AS WELL AS FROM THE PUBLISHER, WRITER’S EXCHANGE E-PUBLISHING.
About this book: This is the “Must Have” book for anyone wishing to learn the basics of metal machining right up to precision machining, or for everyone with an interest in any type of metalworking. Metal Machining Made Easy is loaded with illustrations, showing how-to with simple, yet practical information. Rules, formulas, and mystifying tables have been simplified to allow beginners and hobbyists an introduction to this interesting trade.
The book cover originally listed the author’s former name, Ian Morrans. The updated version, as seen above, lists his current name, Ian Moore-Morrans.