Guardianship: A Broken Trust

This was posted in:  THE PALM BEACH POST By John Pacenti – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer and Updated: 6:26 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016  

Because in all the years I’ve spent in Elder Care Management within Palm Beach County, this really article really got my interest. Interesting read for those in the field. 

Circuit Judge Martin Colin’s tenure as a probate judge is over in the wake of The Palm Beach Post’s investigation into the the veteran jurist and his wife in guardianships of incapacitated seniors.

But it remains to be seen whether he still has a role in guardianship through a mediation program he helps coordinate.  Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath, with little fanfare, posted Colin’s transfer on the judicial circuit’s website on Tuesday, moving him from the Probate & Guardianship Division in Delray Beach to the Civil Circuit division in the central courthouse in West Palm Beach.

He is also no longer hearing Family Division cases and will instead hear civil disputes and hold jury trials involving disputes in amounts of more than $15,000.   The move was buried on the circuit’s website and not readily seen without searching an announcement section that appeared blank on the home page.

Circuit Judge Jaimie Goodman will take Colin’s place, hearing guardianship, probate and family cases in the South County Courthouse.  Colin assumes Goodman’s docket as of Monday in the circuit civil division. Colin said he will not seek re-election following The Post’s series, Guardianship: A Broken Trust.

Colin’s transfer comes just as the Florida Senate approved legislation that would give Florida its first regulatory authority over professional guardians. The bill – along with one passed this past year – is in response to complaints of guardians bilking the savings of the elderly as appointed officers of the court.  Many of these elderly seniors — called wards — suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia.

Colbath did not respond to a request through his spokesperson to comment. He also would not answer repeated queries about whether Colin will continue in his role coordinating the court’s elder care program, a mediation program for guardianship disputes, where many former judges work. Chief Judge Colbath’s father, for example, former Chief Judge Walter N. Colbath Jr., is listed as a mediator for a local company.

Also, it appears that Colbath is not taking any direct action regarding Colin’s wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Savitt, a professional guardian who has taken tens of thousands of dollars from the life savings of incapacitated seniors prior to court approval in guardianships and in follow-up probate cases.

The couple’s finances improved substantially after Savitt became a guardian in 2011 after years of foreclosures, liens and unpaid loans to private individuals.  As a court-appointed professional guardian, Savitt takes over the lives of seniors and other adults who no longer can care for themselves, managing their finances, medical care and whether they can remain in their homes. She has access to hundreds of thousands of dollars. She was a tennis pro before she became a guardian.

The families of these seniors, backed by reams of court documents, say that besides taking fees without court approval, Savitt double-billed, funneled money to relatives of the ward who are suspected of financial — and even physical abuse. In numerous cases, she was accused by families of creating unnecessary litigation in order to generate more fees for herself and the cadre of attorneys who represent her.

Those attorneys regularly appeared in front of Colin, sometimes seeking his approval for generous fees in other cases. When The Post started investigating, Colin started shedding their cases: 115 recusals from July 1 to Dec. 31.

Colin’s colleagues on the bench presided over his wife’s cases. Currently, she has at least two guardianships but has also been involved in managing special-needs trusts and as a personal representative of estates.  Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan told The Post for its series that Savitt’s role as a professional guardian created an appearance of impropriety for Colin that put him in jeopardy of violating the state’s judicial canons.

Savitt and Colin have denied any wrongdoing. Colin didn’t hear Savitt’s cases, but his colleagues – particularly Circuit Judge David French, a friend who once planned a cruise vacation with the both of them.  French, for now, appears to be staying put in the Probate & Guardianship Division. Earlier this month, Colbath announced a five-point plan that directed all “current” south county judges to recuse themselves from Savitt’s cases so it is uncertain whether Judge Goodman will be hearing Savitt’s cases.

Colbath’s plan also includes training for probate judges and their staff, standardization of billing practices and a wheel system to provide random assignments of guardians to cases.  Dr. Sam Sugar, who has led the charge for legislative reform in Florida as head of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, said Colbath has not gone far enough.

“The response from Judge Colbath is an outrage and reinforces the widely held and growing perception that the Florida court system does not deserve the trust of the people,” he said.

“Years of blatant conflicts of interest, looting of innocent people’s entire estates, self serving protection of rapacious guardians and lawyers has resulted in no discipline, no consequences, but every indication that this egregious system will continue.”  For Skender Hoti, Colbath’s actions smack of a whitewash.

Hoti is the restaurateur who in February 2012 watched as Savitt – assisting a family guardian — tried to seize possessions from one of his homes using an order by Colin. Hoti claims he is still missing cash, jewelry and other possessions.  Hoti cared for Gwendolyn Batson for decades before the senior’s brother sought to find her incapacitated and seize her assets.

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While we have seen guardianship problems in the past, this is one from the wife of a Judge? Unbelievable…….What can we expect next?……

Olga Brunner, A Good Daughter Solutions.  Please feel free to comment below.  Thank you.

To A Special Young Lady

Happy Birthday To A Special Young Lady

What seems like yesterday is still fresh in my mind. On that night so long ago you entered my life as you left your cocoon of nine months, yelling loudly as your eyes made contact with those fluorescent hospital lights. When they placed you in my arms I smiled as I saw the mane of shiny black hair and I recognized you as the daughter I knew I’d be bringing into this world ever since I was 12 years of age. You have been a gem among gems and someone I respected and looked up to.  But on December 19th you sent me a terrible text stating that our relationship wasn’t a healthy one for you and felt you needed distance.  I cried and felt “isn’t living 3,000 miles away enough distance?”  You never called or contacted me again and somehow I found a place of solace where I found God and good friends who picked me out of the state I was in making sure I didn’t kill myself.  I probably won’t hear from you this Mother’s Day but that’s alright.  I accepted Christ as my savior and will be baptized next month.  If you ever find the strength to have a relationship with a mother who would sacrifice her life for you, I would be happy to hear from you again.  I keep your photos near me always and send you light and love daily.  Be well my love.

~ With love, from mom.

Whatever Happened to Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother?

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Detective Allen arrived promptly at my office to our 1:00 pm meeting as promised.  We exchanged cards sitting for an interview regarding allegations made by my client’s evening staff to Adult Protective Services and then to Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) concerning an adult family member’s exploitation and abuse.  Responding to Detective Allen’s questions as to when I began working with my clients, what my role was as a care manager, and questions about the care giving duties of the two caregivers in question, I politely responded to the answers he was looking for because it wasn’t a simple open and shut case.  The detective wanted to know about my client’s mental capacity and I smiled, remembering how each month when he was invoiced, he’d only pay the dollar amount (never paying the cents on the invoice) always rounding down to the lower dollar amount.  He always knew exactly what he was doing, thoroughly enjoying the game he played each month and it was always good for a laugh!  The detective laughed stating this was very telling as to his mental capacity. Although never a suspect, I was asked the last time I saw my clients and jumped at the opportunity to explain the circumstances that led to my resignation as a care manager to this lovely couple and why.  You must understand this was not meant to be a witch hunt.  I was only interested in telling the truth as documented in my company’s records.  As a former nursing home assistant administrator, I was trained to believe that “if you don’t write it, it didn’t occur” making me a stickler for keeping thorough notes during the 8 years I was in business.

There, I blurted it out, “I don’t believe the girls stole anything from my client” explaining what I personally witnessed on a visit to the bank with my client that same last day.  You see I was asked as a special favor to take his wife to a hairdresser appointment next door to the bank and to meet the client at the bank next door.  Because of the family member’s allegations he wanted me present while he spoke to the bank manager.  I was asked where the caregiver was at the time, to which I replied that the caregiver was seated in the bank’s waiting room while the client spoke with the bank manager in a cubicle.  Because the family member had recently been making allegations about forged checks, he included the branch manager on a telephone conversation in our presence causing the bank’s operation manager to interrupt the phone call due to his abrasiveness. While in the bank I observed how much money my client was disbursed in cash and witnessed a reimbursement he made to the caregiver in my presence for purchases she had made at the grocery store.  I witnessed the client put the rest of his money into two bank envelopes and in his pocket leaving to pick up his lovely spouse at the hairdresser.  The events of that night just put me in a state of shock as I revealed the rest of that night’s events to the detective.

That evening at approximately 6 pm I received a call from the client who had been receiving dialysis, asking me to pick him up and take him home because his son was “out of his mind firing his girls.”  I explained that the client used his cell phone as he was out of the house at an appointment and because both caregivers were let go he had no method of transportation home.  I picked him up, drove him home, encountering a locksmith in the midst of changing all the locks as the car was parked.  As written in my very detailed notes I went on to explain how the family member completely wiped out my client’s contact list from his cell phone and how they got into a very ugly match and the son’s nasty response to my own objection of disrespecting his father’s rights.  But the greatest voice coming from the living room at that point was my client’s wife who suffered with dementia and now in tears when she heard “her parents” had been removed from the home.  She cried, “I want my parents, please bring me my parents!”  Her repeated cries for her caregivers who had been quickly terminated without evidence, who had worked for this family for so many years, who were known to this regal lady as her parents was too much to bear.

Having told the detective of my refusal to leave until the family member left due to my own suspicion, I proceeded to relate that after the clients were put to bed I personally witnessed the son going through his dad’s locked desk drawer, removing all financial contents such as credit cards, checks, $7000 remaining cash from the earlier bank transaction, and keys to the car leaving him nothing of value.  I felt safe to leave for the night immediately afterwards, returning to my office to enter notes while it was all fresh in my mind.  To my relief Detective Allen assured me that the son would be investigated because he had accessed his parent’s property that night, explaining how some adult children with power of attorney mistakenly believe that they have complete control over their parent’s decision-making before declaring them incapacitated in a court of law.  I printed a copy of my notes for the detective and we stayed in touch by email until the end of the case.

A week later I again heard from the detective who wanted to inform me that the son had accused another caregiver of having taken the $7000 (after I witnessed him remove the cash from his father’s desk drawer that night).  The detective asked me to remain in contact with PBSO  if there was something that later came to mind related to the case which I assured I would do.

Having had some actual guardianship experience some years after this occurred, I see the value now of having a court appointed guardian assigned under similar circumstances.  Some time after the unfortunate event discussed here, the client called from a hospital asked for my help but since I was no longer on the case, recommended an elder law attorney visit him in the hospital. The following day I presented with the attorney who worked out the best solution, appointing a guardian to the case under voluntary guardianship.  Unfortunately, the client passed away soon after, the regal wife suffering with dementia was placed in a nursing home, and the PBSO case was closed.  All in a day’s work of the geriatric care manager and one that I will never forget.  

Of interest is the fact that this seems to be a very common occurrence not only in South Florida but throughout the country.  Why is it that at the end of our lives seniors become subjected to hurtful behavior from those we raised, educated, and loved?  I have also been recently subjected to this and it just boggles the mind. What is causing our youth such hatred in this day and age?  I’d love to hear your comments.

 

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Posted 7th Feb 2016 by Olga Brunner

Food and Your Health

“Food and Your Health”   A wonderful article I came across on Lori LaBey’s blog this morning written by Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa……. Glad I’m not alone in the reason why I eat the way I do.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine once said, “Let food be thy medicine.”Can food help prevent memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses? I believe it can.
In fact, I believe that food is the original and best medicine and one of the best ways for to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. Today this idea has become one of the guiding principles of healthy living. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Every schoolchild knows that one. Beyond that, there are certain foods that activate our body’s natural healing force. When this takes place-when we eat specific foods in a carefully chosen way–we are able to prevent and heal scores of ailments safely and effectively.
Ancient wisdom, mixed with modern medical science, shows us exactly how nutrition can be used to fight disease and foster well-being. Further examples utilizing this concept include using salmon as medicine, because of its rich content of the salubrious fat DHA, important for optimal cardiovascular and brain function. Soy, known for its isoflavones, which are anticancer, and the ancient yogic food combination of mung beans and basmati rice for healing chronic illness, especially in the elderly are other examples.
My intense interest in this topic led me to attend one of the most enlightening medical conferences I have ever been to.
The theme was “Food as Medicine: Integrating Nutrition into Clinical Practice and Medical Education” and was sponsored by The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington DC., in association with the University of Minnesota and, Georgetown University School of Medicine. The conference was underwritten by a grant from the H.P. Wallace Foundation.
The meals served at the conference were organized to exemplify what we were learning: to take better care of ourselves and guide our patients. The food was absolutely delicious and gave all the participants the experience of knowing that if you eat well, you feel well and can have great energy and enthusiasm for life. Moreover, each day the conference began with yoga class which was so well attended that a second room had to be opened to accommodate all the people who wanted to start their day in a very positive way.
Like most physicians, I received very little nutritional education in medical school and as an anesthesiologist, healthful eating was nor part of my training. I’ve been studying holistic health and nutrition on my own, however, for over 20 years. Plus, as a clinician treating patients with short term memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other conditions, I have a rich and varied experience in prescribing dietary changes to help my patients heal. But I wanted to learn even more, because I had heard about most of it, although I had not studied it completely.
I fully understood the impact this material is going to have upon the lives of so many people. Upon delving deeper into this subject however, I realized just how profound this work is and I can tell you without hesitation that this is the future of medicine.
Let’s take the concept of food and nutrients as information-rich biochemical messenger molecules. This is far-reaching. As a board certified anesthesiologist, medical acupuncturist and author of seven books incorporating integrative concepts including yoga and meditation, I believe I understand the theory behind messenger molecules.
Food can send a positive or negative signal to your body. In fact, in a manner not unlike acupuncture, this message can affect your genes and the proteins they synthesize. Some foods are very stimulating and present a signal reflecting the frenetically-paced microsecond world in which we live. These are acid-forming foods or what Dr. Bland refers to as yang foods. Yang is a Chinese medical term meaning hot, or stimulating. When your body is too yang this imbalance can lead to pain from inflammation or may also lead to hypertension.
Red meat is a prime example of a yang food. It is digested to form amino acids which are themselves further broken down as they enter the bloodstream. Once in your blood, amino acids may relay a stress signal to the receptors on cellular membranes. This harmful cellular stress effect, especially when it occurs over and over again, may cause the genetic machinery to produce prostaglandins that can lead to the production of an inflammatory response. Over time this chronic condition of cellular “over stress” may lead to illnesses such as arthritis and autoimmune disorders such as lupus and cancer.
If the yang energy foods in your diet are balanced with some nice alkaline foods such as fresh organic fruits and vegetables, including asparagus, kiwi fruit and perhaps some watermelon, we are countering that negative signal which may lead to illness. This is referred to in Chinese medicine as yin or something that has a relaxed, soft or calming effect. In this way, food can either serve to cause serious illness over time, or food can be the best healing medicine.
We also learned about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids such as the DHA I mentioned was found in salmon. It is also important to provide adequate amounts of this good fat for optimal health and healing by using vegetarian sources such as flax and hemp.
In conclusion, learning to eat as medicine is an ongoing process and one that we would all be wise to pursue for Alzheimer’s prevention and to retain brain longevity®.
Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.
President and Medical Director

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HELP! I ATE LAMB THIS WEEK AND FELT JUST AWFUL!

roeTwo years ago I was given a book written by Alicia Silverstone, titled the Kind Diet which put me on the path of flirting with vegetarianism again.  In the 80’s, I spent a weekend in the Catskills eating organically produced foods and doing yoga three times a day.  When I returned home I became a pure Vegan cooking this way and except for brussel sprouts, my daughter didn’t seem to mind too much.  I lived this way until I passed out one day while working as a medical assistant for an orthopedic surgeon.  This did not happen because of the diet – it happened because I took an evening job waitressing to get through college.  While it was a very high-end private literary club in Manhattan with a gourmet chef, it just wasn’t the same as preparing meals in my own kitchen, so I gave up vegetarianism because I needed the job more. 

To quote Dr. Neal Barnard, founder of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “I have always maintained the belief that food can and should be the first line of defense against disease.”  Another physician responsible for the change to a vegetarian diet for President Bill Clinton researched this as well.   Findings show that the results of an improved diet can be dramatic, even life-changing such as reversing heart disease.  For more go to  http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/08/18/bill.clinton.diet.vegan

The NIH research team showed that following a low-fat vegan diet helps persons with diabetes lower their blood sugars and reduce or even eliminate their need for medications.  The secret is that these foods rebalance hormones are kind to skin, cause headaches and joint pains to melt away.  “It’s like changing diesel fuel for unleaded gas — Acceleration improves, the ride evens out, and exhaust cleans up,” to quote Alicia Silverstone. 

Eating the wrong foods slows you down, interferes with digestion, blood circulation, energy, etc.  With the right food, the whole body works better.  Getting older doesn’t have to be synonymous with “falling apart”. 

So, we are going to go down this road together for several reasons, I need to lose weight, lower cholesterol, and  feel better.  Now that I don’t have that very stressful job which almost took my life, I am ready to revisit a change of lifestyle.  Secondly, due to the recent GI upset  attributed to the recent lamb episode, I went to see a doctor.  She pulled laboratory work taken almost a year ago and found my cholesterol count was high.  Of course, no one ever called me and copies of this lab work was never sent to me….. oh well!  So it’s time to start preventing heart disease, diabetes, and yes, even Cancer by following a vegan diet.  I have also joined a gym, working out with a trainer twice a week.  In the first three days of diet and exercise I am proud to say I have lost 3 pounds and have cleared up my GI tract issues without taking medications.

Eating as many whole grains and vegetables as I like, chewing food extremely well to distribute their enzymes, eliminating white sugar, using salt, shoyu, miso in moderation will help me achieve these goals.  I now start each day with a satisfying breakfast (still drink caffeine which I need to work on), I am not eating anything 3 hours before bedtime, and I have fun exercising 3-4 times a week at the gym.  Btw, following a Louise Hay’s tradition, I also tell myself how cute I am every day in the mirror! 

 Hippocrates was known for having said, “Let they food be thy medicine and thy medicine be food.”

Did you know that heart disease (not breast cancer) is the number one killer of women in the U.S.? Saturated fat increases cholesterol, causing plaque in the arteries, increases blood pressure, leads to stroke, and heart attack.  Eggs contain 250 mg cholesterol.  64% of egg calories are fat.  Chicken, beef, trout contain the same amount of cholesterol.  No meat is LO FAT food.  Following a low-fat plant based diet decreases a person’s risk of having a heart attack by 85%!!!!!  So, going around boasting about being a vegetarian for two years.  All this meant was I was simply flirting with it.  By eliminating red meat, I was not a vegetarian and it makes complete sense that my cholesterol count became high and I wasn’t even aware of it.  What makes it worse is that after two years, I broke down and broiled 2 lamb chops which I craved and wound up in a doctor’s office because of Gastro-intestinal side effects.

 Eating red meat produces something called Neu5Gc, causing inflammation and helping tumors grow.  93% exposure to dioxin comes from eating beef, lamb, pork, chicken, dairy, eggs, and fish.  Oh no!!!!  For more read:  http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/dioxins/

Dioxin settles and accumulates in fat.  Increasing the animal food we eat, increases dioxin.  When we become vegans this decreases dioxin levels…..Makes sense to me.    

Meat contributes to Osteoporosis.  When you eat meat, your blood becomes acidic.  In order to balance acidity, bones release minerals, leaving the blood balanced but your bones weak.  As the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition points out, “When people go from an American diet to a vegetarian diet they have over 50 percent less bone loss.”  So why are women taking so many pills to ward off bone loss?

Meat is hard to digest. Meat has no fiber.  High meat consumption leads to colitis, diverticulitis, colon cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney stones, etc. 

Meat and farmed fish are full of antibiotics.  We already knew that didn’t we?

Meat carries pathogens: Approximately 89% of beef ground into patties contain traces of E. coli according to the USDA report published in 2000. Why are Americans still feeding ourselves and their children fast food hamburgers?  At least I haven’t had a burger in 2 years.  Actually just the smell makes me sick. 

Another bug called campylobacter is the leading cause of food-borne illness, arriving via chicken flesh, infecting greater than 2.4 million Americans a year.  It is estimated that 70% of American chickens and 90% of our turkeys are contaminated with campylobacter which result from the birds being housed in ridiculously crowed conditions then treating them with increased dosing of antibiotics.  Why was I still eating chicken and turkey? 

 Meat as well as dairy is full of hormones.  Eggs are full of hormones as well as farmed fish.  We humans have our own hormones, and the body is constantly working to keep them in balance – we don’t need more.  Cattle, pigs, and chickens are routinely pumped full of hormones to promote muscle mass and these hormones are passed directly on to you and me.  So why was I calling myself vegetarian and still not careful about eating chickens, farmed raised fish, and eggs?

Fish and Mercury:  Coal burning power plants release mercury into the air.  It then falls into the ocean.  Bacteria eats mercury then it is consumed by small fish which continues up the food chain.  Salmon, cod, shrimp, trout have fewer levels of mercury.  Swordfish, tile fish, mackerel, and tuna have highest levels of mercury.  They all contain mercury which has been shown to damage the brain, kidneys, and lungs, particularly dangerous to pregnant women and growing babies.  So stay away from farmed salmon which contains levels of the toxin PCB (16 times higher than wild Salmon).  And I continued to believe eating fish was ok?

Did you think now that Humans are just not built for this?

If 650 thousand Americans die of heart disease and a half million Americans die of Cancer why are we slaying our population like a modern plague when all this is completely preventable and often reversible through diet and lifestyle change? Want to know more?  Carnivore intestines are only 6’ long while human intestines are 20’ long.  When we eat meat it takes 72 hours to pass through us.  Meat just isn’t meant to hang out in the gut forever.  You may not feel the process right now, but try to abstain from red meat like I did for two years and then eat some meat.  You will feel how heavy and dense, and miserable it feels in your gut. 

 Ok, did I get your attention?  …….stay tuned for more.

 

 

Healing My Life

Woman practicing yoga at sunriseIn 2008, while my care management business was in full swing, my marriage fell apart. In fact, it happened on Valentine’s day.  That year I suffered shingles five times and if it weren’t for a dear friend and nurse, who took over the business so I could facilitate healing, we would have closed our doors permanently.  I did as the doctors suggested but something in me just died and nothing was able to heal the hurt. While at home, I sat down on the computer discovering social media which greatly helped the business rebound but my soul no longer felt warm and fuzzy.  Of course, I blamed myself for a failed marriage and depression quickly set in.  My daughter flew in from California adding much comfort.  Our time together was very helpful which was truly a wonderful gift.  Soon I was back at work and nothing had changed.  Being the abrupt individual that I am, one day I went online and sought a roommate, called Faith Farm, donated everything I owned, and moved in with a deeply spiritual lady and good friend who belonged to Siddha Yoga.  Following her advice, I read everything I could about spirituality, listened to the wonderful mantras of Deva Premal, attended Saturday night at the Meditation Center attempting to meditate (more off than on) and read wonderfully healing books by Louise Hay.  Shubhra’s house was truly a temple.  Soon, business kept me at work often till 9 pm, and my headaches increased in intensity because of the many complex cases we were handling in our geriatric care management business.  Along with all this came increasing weight gain, increased blood pressure, and a persistent cough.  One day a colleague who was also working late observed that I had been coughing for 4 months.  Rodney advised participating in a weekend meditation intensive taught to the nurses of a local Hospice which I attended.  I learned the tools I would need to regain a sense of balance and good health.  I would probably not be as stable as I feel now had it not been for my spiritually minded friends and guides from whom I learned healthy eating habits, the importance of forgiveness, a daily meditation practice, and the need to begin every day in a spirit of gratitude.  Today, no matter what has occurred the previous day, I awake fresh and grateful for the new day, look at myself in the mirror and say “I love you Olga”, and spend at least 15 minutes in meditation, listening to wonderful mantras. I wouldn’t trade this feeling of serenity for anything.  Every night I enjoy a night of blissful sleep. What could be better? 

I share this because along with being a vegetarian and practicing daily meditation, I am deeply grateful to all those lessons in life, those good and those not so good which have occurred throughout  the past six years – Lord knows there have been many!  These lessons have brought me to a state of good health and general contentment needed to start each new day.  Try it!  What do you have to lose?

The Woman Who Shaped Me

DELL PC PIX2 039Maria Luisa Arriaga raised and educated three children in one of the toughest areas of the Bronx without losing them to drugs, death, or prostitution.  She maintained her faith in God through adversity and was proud of having a strong Catholic faith.  She felt blessed to present in marriage, two of her children and reveled in the delight of her three grandchildren.  Suddenly at 83 years of age she was unable to speak clearly, repeated sentences, and constantly misplaced pocketbook and keys, invariably found in the washing machine.  Although I, the eldest child, was now working in yacht brokerage for a well-known American yacht builder from Seattle, I would manage to take mother to doctor appointments, complied with accu-checks for diabetes, and lab work as ordered finding it difficult to convince the HMO primary care physician of the cognitive loss I was noticing at home.  When he finally referred mom to a neurologist and vascular dementia was confirmed, I learned about Adult Day Centers, mom was enrolled, which led to the happiest time in Maria’s life while having cognitive impairment.  She was picked up each morning for the ride to the center where she had lunch, took medications, participated in stimulating activities, supervision, and friendship.  She would often return home proudly exhibiting new artwork which was immediately framed and hung in her bedroom.  I observed how the stimulation was reducing some of the agitation and found her infinitely more peaceful. 

We lived in a community where many French Canadian families would winter.  Because I had a love of everything French after studying abroad for two semesters, mom and I were invited to weekends shopping tours, cooking and spontaneous dinner parties with our new Canadian friends.  In fact, for Maria’s 85th birthday, she was surprised with a lovely cookout party, complete with gifts, barbque, and a home made birthday cake.  To her delight, Happy Birthday was even sung to her in three different languages!  All of this stimulation led to a much better quality of life.  A neighbor gave mom a Shitzu named Jimmy whom mom adored!  Maria, who never concerned herself with fancy clothing, now suddenly started dressing up for clubhouse parties and reveled in the attention and camaraderie she had found. 

The problems began however, when she started walking Jimmy before I arrived from work each night and was unable to find her way home.  I could see that wandering might become an issue.  I was unable to concentrate at work.  Often times, I couldn’t reach lovely Maria by phone.  My anxiety level at work was high.  I thought I was alone with this problem and one morning after taking her for fasting blood work, doctor’s exam, and driving to Denny’s for breakfast before taking her to the center, I made a right at the red and was soon pursued by Florida’s finest into the Denny’s parking lot.  The ticket was issued and I remained calm, suppressing an inner frustration that life was now spiraling out of control.  When breakfast was done and we arrived at the day center, a simple hello from the receptionist quickly sent me into a river of tears that wouldn’t stop.  At that point, the social worker escorted me into her office offering a support system meant to prevent my complete meltdown.  In fact, Stephanie, called my employer explaining why I would not be at work that day.  She suggested I join a caregiver support group meeting once a week and provided a night time caregiver who would arrive after dinner so that I could attend the support group, visit neighbors, go for a walk, watch TV, or simply go to a movie now and then. 

Beginning to take over management of your parent’s care can become one of the most distressing experiences of a lifetime if you are not prepared.  It is much more difficult because they are our parents; we are the children.  We are not supposed to be our parent’s parents.

Caring for elderly parents also can threaten the emotional health of caregivers and their families.  Being the “parent of your parent” can unlock your family’s hidden dysfunctions and can reopen old sibling rivalries and conflicts.  If you never really got along with your siblings, it can be even more stressful.  If you do get along with them, rivalries erupt just out of feelings of guilt when one is a long distance caregiver. 

Being a perfectionist, I was diligent about our daily morning ritual consisting of bathing, dressing, breakfast, medications and getting her ready for the center’s bus trip each morning.  After pickup, somehow I’d manage to put a chicken in the crock pot and tidy up the house before driving to work.  But I lacked concentration at work and just wasn’t able to put the brokerage deals together at the contract table, constantly worrying about mom walking the dog, getting lost, unable to find her way home.  She no longer answered telephone calls when I’d call at 4pm and I was a nervous wreck at work.  Neighbors were considerate escorting her back to our home when she seemed lost but she was wandering more and more often.  Coworkers would say, when I was unable to get a telephone response after 4, “Olga she’s fine…..instead of driving right home tonight, just go to the beach and take a couple of deep breaths.  She’ll be there when you get in.”

One night, she wasn’t home when I got there.  I scoured the neighborhood looking for Maria.  Although I knew she had her wanderer’s bracelet and I could call the police, I felt so guilty about having to work, unable to meet her bus at 4pm.  I decided not to call and waited and waited.  Finally a neighbor brought her home from her latest adventure with little Jimmy.  Next morning, it happened to me as the Universe listened…..I was finally let go of my position with the yacht brokerage company, enabling me to apply for unemployment, enroll in a master’s degree program at Lynn University, and was finally home to meet the 4pm bus allowing us to walk Jimmy without the fear of having mom get lost at night.  Maria would have been 99 years old today. 

Difficult Events Occur In Order That You Can Grow And Give Back To Others

It was midnight when we dropped anchor and tumbled into our individual berths ready for a well deserved night’s sleep.  After battling 15 foot seas for what seemed like 24 hours, I was glad to find a dry spot in the forward berth of my 30′ sloop where I could just shut my eyes for a moment.  It was already midnight and there was a 36′ power boat anchored at Cedros Island next to us.  I was so looking forward to shutting my eyes and resting my weary bones and broken spirit.  Like most of the trip thus far, it just wasn’t going to be. 

Winds and currents play large roles in determining whether or not an anchor sets, but an exhausted seaman can also ignore the noise an anchor makes while testing it, casting the boat adrift away from an island’s shelf.  The result was that we spent another 7 hours attempting to winch that anchor loose when all 250 feet of anchor chain payed-out straight to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, refusing to be pulled up.  There was no way to predict how far my vessel had drifted and I was just too tired to care any longer.  I did realize at this point however, we probably had drifted off the shelf and were in deep water. When the winds finally died down I remembered, I’m in Mexico and I speak Spanish!  I got on the VHF radio and summoned “ayuda” giving our coordinates in Spanish.  There is a God after all!  Before we knew it, a “panga” with about 5 Mexican fisherman arrived with double 250 hp Mercruisers.  They finally popped the anchor and towed “The Loon” back to the desired Southern end of Cedros Island off the Baja Coast.  It was now 7:00 am and I was just so relieved at being saved I didn’t mention anything about the dangling cocaine vials around the fishermen’s necks.  All I cared about was the fact that it was daylight, the sun was now beaming, and we were safely at anchor at the best end of the island listening to the cries of harbor seals sun themselves on the rocks. 

It was there, after 48 hours and just two-days  from Ensenada Bay that I should have ended the journey had I known what lay ahead.  That journey ended seven months later with a hasty American Airlines flight back to Ft. Lauderdale on July 19, 1997 when telephone calls to my mother just kept getting stranger. 

After an 8 year healthcare administration career I burned out, leaving a position at Grossmont Hospital to sell marine diesel engines on Shelter Island in San Diego Bay.  Following all the activity on the island after the 1990 America’s Cup International sailing competition, I fell in love with sailboats and their keels.  But through weekly long distance phone calls I remember mom asking “When are you coming home?”  How could I tell her that I was home?  I was on a new career path, enjoying weekend sailboat races, selling engines and services to happy boat owners rather than dealing with sick patients, and loved my busy life at sea.  On Labor Day 1993, I purchased The Loon and moved onboard.  Below see photo of daughter, Lena, on what is said to be one of the two happiest days in a sailor’s life. 

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By December 2, 1996 I was ready to pull up the dock lines and head down the Baja California coast to begin my new adventure.  A captain friend and I shoved off down the not-so pacific, Pacific Ocean.  At 7:00 am we tacked towards the island of Todos Santos (All Saints) out of Ensenada Bay to pick up a good wind.  We sailed with the famous Baja ha-ha, a race taking place each December when cruisers leave for Cabo San Lucas, some eventually making their way to the islands of Polynesia and Micronesia.  Our camaraderie was shared daily via VHF radio.  It would take The Loon 3 weeks to make the trip south to Cabo but the people we shared dinners with at anchor while visiting different ports on our journey south will never be forgotten.  At 6:00 am on Christmas Eve we made our Cabo San Lucas destination, listening to Latin music coming from the beach as workers arrived at the hotels.  After checking in on VHF as the latest arrivals organized by the “Broken Surfboard Restaurant”  for Latitude 22 Magazine, and catching up with sailors who had become dismasted  at sea, we secured The Loon and jumped in the dinghy for a shower at the marina and a pancake breakfast with friends. 

Following a rare January storm at anchor where I nearly beached the boat, a two-week trip to La Paz was in order as Mardi-Gras was about to begin.  On the way back to Cabo, a friend used my boat to assist in a rescue at sea, breaking the The Loon’s bowsprit, leaving me shipwrecked in Mexico!  The Loon’s bowsprit could not be repaired and she could not be sailed north to San Diego because the engine was underpowered to make it back to the “barn” (a term that describes the trip north from Cabo because of constant strong headwinds).  For 7 months, I worked with some of the yacht captains I knew from San Diego, helping deliver their owner’s yachts down the Mexican Riviera until I could come up with Plan B for securing the bowsprit.  For 7 months I would call mom and her voice told me her memory was failing.  Finally, in July 1997, I received a phone call from Manny, a yacht captain I knew in San Diego who had just delivered his owner’s 105′ yacht to Ft. Lauderdale.  Due to crew theft he dismissed them all, offering me a job on the “Carla Elena” in Ft. Lauderdale.  This offer could not have been made at a better time.  Earlier that day I had called mom and found she had inadvertently left the stove on and walked away and the place had filled with smoke just as I called.  I was on the next plane east.  The Cabo San Lucas marina was now the proud owner of “The Loon”  and I was on my way to learn life’s lessons.

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Destiny

I was born in New York in 1949, a fact I blame on my parents.  They moved to New York in 1948 from the enchanted island of Puerto Rico, seeking their fortune.  My dad was a cook, later became a seafood chef at one of New York’s finest restaurants and we lived in the heart of the Bronx where he had an easy 5:00 am commute to Manhattan each day. 

As a young child, I remember being my mother’s champion, advocating for her because she only spoke Spanish.  I was taught to interpret the English language newspaper for her every day and was quite bilingual by the time I went to kindergarten. 

When I tell my daughter that we never locked our doors back then she laughs.  She only knows New York City as it is today.  But while I was growing up, it was a different place.  We (our neighbors) were mostly related to one another and had apartments on the second floor of a 5 story walk-up.  Mom cooked for the neighbors and I baby sat, so there was never a need to lock our doors.  We simply went back and forth from each other’s homes at will which instilled a sense of having an extended family.

My dad loved Friday nights as this was his “domino night” with the men.  It meant drinking too much rum and having some time away from the wife and kids.  He adored seafood, fishing, cooking, and swimming at the beach.  Mom on the other hand was entirely allergic to seafood, swimming, or anything to do with the sea. She was however, a nurturing mother and a good friend.  Her claim to fame was that she had never tasted liquor, never smoked a cigarette, and never danced but Maria was blessed with the gift of gab.  She knew everybody in our neighborhood and what they were up to.  My two brothers and I grew up surrounded by our parent’s friends, watching the “novellas” (Spanish soap operas) at night and debating the foibles of men. 

I attended St. Anselm’s Parochial Elementary in the Bronx, graduated from St. Pius V High School, and led the sheltered life of a first generation Latina in the South Bronx.  I used to point out my black elbows to friends explaining they were black from propping my head with both hands, watching life go by from my second story window.  This protective existence actually led to a love of reading maps of far-away places in our World Book Encyclopedia, eventually helping me get a grasp of chart-reading and navigation at sea later in life while instilling a sense of wanderlust in my heart forever.

After graduation I got a position as an executive secretary, and began commuting to the city during the time of the Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations.  This was the era of “burning bras” on Fifth Avenue, the Broadway musical, “Hair”, and the Woodstock Festival.  New York City was truly electrifying in the ’70s.  My boundaries were expanding and I was no longer the sheltered little Catholic school girl that mom brought me up to be.  I didn’t smoke or drink, but did I ever dance!

In a way, I’ve considered myself a world traveler — a citizen of the world.  I say this because my mother’s boundaries were so limited that when I ended a marriage of seven years to my daughter’s father and decided to venture out in to the real world, contrary to what was expected, mom became my biggest fan and enabler.  She made my costumes when I decided to teach middle eastern dance to the nurses at Bronx Lebanon Hospital where I worked for many years, later cared for my daughter while in college so that I could run off to France as a student,  enabling me to experience another culture quite different from my own.  Most of all she was a loving, caring grandmother to my daughter, forever establishing a truly unique bond as they were both Pisces and very similar in nature.   

I could have missed the pain but I’d have had to miss the dance

In the period of seven months after leaving TAO I moved seven times.  I stuffed belongings into ragged suitcases, left over boxes, pillow cases, and black lawn and leaf bags.  Whatever my friend and tax advisor and I couldn’t fit into our cars, was left behind.  I learned not to attach value to these possessions.  After all, my real possessions were still in storage and every move was only temporary and meant to get me through the next magical find on Craigslist.  I left TAO, a beautiful resort-like condo in Broward County, determined to return to Palm Beach County where I planned to restart my care management business before “snowbirds” arrived from up north for the season.  I left Tracy’s, a friend who let me crash at her place, to renting a home in Boca Raton from a woman I met on Craigslist and quickly swindled me, taking all the money I had left, quickly starting my descent to gypsy-hood, moving in with a fortune teller, sharing a bathroom with a tone deaf crazy woman who watched TV all night, keeping me from sleeping, to sharing the home of a 91 year old mother of a friend with dementia who wouldn’t allow me to turn on the A/C, to a townhouse with Chinese Firewall syndrome making me ill, and finally to a quiet, safe, and lovely community where I finally emptied 2 storage units and vowed to die before ever moving again.  The six o’clock news discussed how the economy had changed American’s lives.  People often spoke about the 2008 depression, but whatever it was called, this period took me from owning a Broward condo to living as a gypsy in Palm Beach, losing my home, business, sense of self, yet never – never, losing my mind. 

 

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