Note: this post was originally scheduled for Mother's Day, but time got away from me (as it often does these days) and since there are plenty of folk who are fathering their father, I thought I'd publish it now...
Demean. Demeanor. Dement. Demented. Dementia. Demerit. Those were the surrounding words I found in my dictionary1 when looking up the term dementia. All neutral or negative, which isn't surprising given that the definition of dementia itself (Irreversible deterioration of intellectual faculties with concomitant emotional disturbance resulting from organic brain disorder.) isn't positive either.
This was the diagnosis given to my mother back in December. Also not too surprising given her age (90) and her obviously failing memory and occasional confusion. (Technically, Mom suffers from mild cognitive decline, which doesn't sound too bad, but can pack a wallop in terms of how it impacts daily functioning.)
Still, it was a bit of a shock to discover just how bad things had progressed. We had assumed, when she'd gotten a call for a room at the assisted living retirement residence where I work, that she would pass the required Mini-Mental State Exam. But just to be sure, we downloaded the test and administered it ourselves only to quickly find out that answering the question, "What is the year? Season? Date? Day? Month?" would be her undoing. No problem. Mom had two days to study and practice, and practice for hours she did.
(Sadly, time disorientation occurs fairly early in this illness, and many folk have told a story about a person with dementia practicing the day, month and year all the way to the doctor's office, only to forget when they are asked during the assessment.2)
The result? 3/5. For the question, "Where are we now? Province? Country? Town? Hospital? Floor?" the score was 2/5. Mom was kindly re-administered the test by the retirement home, only to score even lower than the first time at the doctor's office.
To this day Mom maintains that of course she couldn't remember the year because unlike everyone else, she doesn't have a daily newspaper informing her of the date. Never mind that we had recently installed a computer monitor with a permanent screen shot of the day, time and year. And never mind explaining to her that most people, newspaper or not, have no problem identifying the current year when asked.
To be honest though, as awful as getting a diagnosis of dementia sounds, it was also a relief. Finally, we could use the right term. Finally, family members could all be on the same page where Mom's memory was concerned, and not have to convince each other (convincing her is a different story altogether) that there was a problem.
Because if there was one thing our mom still excelled at was hiding her difficulty, especially with outsiders like doctors. Now at least it was in black and white that Mom's noggin wasn't quite what it used to be. That in short, her short-term memory is getting shot to hell.
Even though we may use the term memory often enough, and most people tend to think of memory as one function, there are in fact, many types of memory processes including immediate, short-term, long-term, emotional and procedural, with short-term memory often being the first affected in individuals with Alzheimer's disease. 3
What did we do next? We held a family meeting, discussed options, and decided that I would take a one-year leave of absence from work to be her personal caregiver. I had already taken over some tasks (like driving her to appointments, dispensing her pills, checking mail, vacuuming, and changing her bedding), but am quickly taking over more care. For starters, making hot meals and ensuring that she actually eats them. And as time progresses and Mom continues her slow decline (we now realize that symptoms started years ago and that her dementia is of the slow progressing kind), so will our assistance.
Is helping to look after Mom rewarding work? In a way. It has its satisfying moments, and certainly you know you're doing the right thing. But it can also be stressful, tiring, frustrating, annoying, aggravating and difficult. And that, of course, is for both parties.
Not always being able to come up with the right words means that you talk about things in a roundabout way. "The big store" now could mean either the grocery store or the drugstore, and only relying on the context will tell you which one she means. The name of one of her aunts is now often used instead of my sister's name, and "say hello to your dad" (my dad died three years ago), means I need to pass on her greetings to my brother. And because she can't remember, a lot of things get repeated, and repeated, and then repeated some more.
Numbers, especially, don't always make sense anymore, and the easy-enough-sounding question of what year it is, is tricky precisely because the number 2018 doesn't hold much meaning. It's also, unfortunately, the punch-in code for a number of doors at the building where she does a fair bit of visiting. So now that number is written on her purses and walker, because being told to punch in the current year for her is like being told to ride a bike. Except that in this case, the adage of 'it's like riding a bike' no longer holds.
So what does any of this have to do with veganism? Well, lots. Even though this is an experience that I'm currently going through (and I tell ya, learning to deal with dementia is one hell of a learning curve indeed), many people my age, women especially, are experiencing variations of exactly the same thing, as parents of boomers are booming at an exponential rate.
But there are a few parallels between being vegan and being a caregiver that I now see more clearly, with one of the major ones centering on grieving.
The insidious nature of dementia (although Alzheimer's is its most common form, we're not actually sure what type Mom has) means that it's often developing slowly enough that it doesn't get properly diagnosed until it directly effects functioning. It also has no cure, and you know that the process (never mind the ending) will not be pleasant.
In my mom's case, knowing how hard and tiring it already is in this comparatively "easy" stage, and knowing that you can't stop it from becoming even worse, engenders some of the same feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that I sometimes feel as a vegan. As much as I can do, I can't save many animals, if practically any, from a horrible fate that they don't deserve.
I can't protect the animals I see dead on the road, I can't protect the untold billions about to be slaughtered, and except for changing my own habits and hoping to influence others, I don't feel I have much power. As for our mom, the only thing we can do is provide as much personal care as we can, and hope for a speedy demise from anything but the dementia itself.
Imagine that! Wishing for someone's death (Mom, by the way, has expressed that she is more than ready to go, having a number of physical ailments that also interfere with her quality of life) because it's much kinder than what this disease will mete out if she doesn't.
It's a peculiar kind of grieving that you do when someone has dementia. A sudden unexpected death is hard to deal with no matter what, but a gradual dying away of a person right in front of you brings its own set of challenges, and a continual process of grieving before physical death even takes place.
You could call it anticipatory grieving because you know what's coming up, but with dementia you're grieving losses as you go. The first time they forget your birthday. The first time they forget your name. That one smarts a bit, but you already know that will pale in comparison to how it'll feel when they forget who you even are.
It's the protracted and compounding grief that's hard to take. And for a control freak like me, the constantly changing nature of what she can and cannot remember, can and cannot do, is enough to drive me around the bend. As soon as you think you have a handle on something, it's already morphing into something else. Plus the seemingly never-ending contradictions between what is said one day to the next (even something minutely small like, 'I love strawberries' vs. 'I hate strawberries' - which one is it?) and the ever-increasing gaps in language and memory making it hard at times to even figure out what she's talking about, is plain tiring. On the other hand, she can still talk. Because even that will eventually go away, if, God forbid, she lives long enough.
And maybe I'm wrong comparing the grieving process, but isn't constant grieving part of what vegans have to cope with? Death and suffering on an untold scale that isn't seen or mourned by most others. Isn't viewed as a legitimate cause of concern. Being vegan can be stressful when you focus on all those lives at stake, when what you do seems pitiful in comparison to the sweeping changes needed. Burnout is common for both vegans and caregivers, so what about those who are both?
It's a lot of stress. A lot of grief. And incredibly tiring. With my mom at least, there's a definite end in sight. With changing systems to make life better for those oppressed, that'll be a lifetime of work. In the meantime, most of my energy these days goes to trying to help the woman seen above. We weren't particularly close as I was growing up, and not wanting children of my own I certainly never foresaw mothering anyone, so this may be the closest I get to that role.
And while grieving takes many forms, it would be wise to remember that grief is not species-specific. Think of all the cows grieving when their calves are unfairly taken away, sows separated from nursing piglets, elephants remembering their deceased kin, and the grief recently shared by the residents and friends of HEEFS, just to name a few examples. Sharing your heart with another living being, regardless of species, means it'll get broken at some point. Opening your heart to the vast, systemic, and often brutal slaughter of billions to satisfy the needless wants of one species, means it'll break over and over.
So maybe instead of paying lip service and celebrating Mother's Day and Father's Day once a year, we could actually take the roles of mothering and fathering (whether that type of care is directed toward the young or old) a bit more seriously, and include in our consideration of those roles species other than our own. Parenting, and the inevitable grief that comes with it, should not be deemed important only for humans. And the emotions of beings of other species, even if they're not always exactly similar to our own, should not be discounted either. Grief is grief, love is love.
Happy mothering and/or fathering to everyone, and a special Happy Father's Day to the two awesome dads of the pups and pig above! :)
Okay, that isn't his real name (it's just Cornelius -- or Corno/Corny for short), but I'm hoping he'll prove to be as wonderful an ambassador for turkeys as Esther the Wonder Pig has been for pigs. Because it's that time of year when turkeys, though slaughtered and consumed by millions, are essentially rendered invisible. Sentient and smart and social as they are, they're horrifically reduced to single body parts and not given a second thought.
That is, until folk get to know a turkey personally or virtually (as they have come to know pigs through Esther), and realize they don't want to eat someone as classy and sassy as Cornelius. And that gives me hope. Statistics rarely sway, and numbers that are too big to fathom, too big to relate to, are easily dismissed. But the power of one is almost always more effective in changing hearts and minds. When people start seeing an animal of another species as having a personality, as having their own quirks, and having social connections much the same as we do, then it's harder not to recognize that they have feelings and would prefer not to be eaten. Or be deprived of the ability to live their natural lives with their own unique behaviours.
So go, Corny, go! Show people worldwide how fabulous turkeys really are. Show us your true essence, and help educate people in ways that we mere human mortals too often fail to do. Be the Wonder Turkey that so many of us know you to be. :)
p.s. gosh, I haven't written regularly in a long time -- hope to remedy that soon!
If you enjoyed this post, please share. And until next time, Keep Calm and Vegan On.
Came across a passage in a book recently (I read daily no matter what else is going on in my life) lamenting how we don't have a real word for men who kill women, whereas the term "man-hater" is used so often you would think actual harm is caused by those accused of being one. And even though not new, this observation still strikes me every time I see it. They also rightly asserted that while we do have "misogynist", this too clinical and too academic-sounding word doesn't do the concept justice.
It's ironic that man-hater is usually directed at those who don't actually hate men, but who do object to hateful actions that hurt everyone. Man-hater is especially lobbed against those who question the status quo, and who fight to eradicate gender inequality. Actually, no, you just have to look like you're not living up to outdated gender expectations and you can expect to have this word spat out at you. Feminist is another term that when not used by like-minded peers, is more apt to be hissed, snarled, or accompanied by spittle than merely said. Just like the term "man-hater", these words are often hurled in anger or contempt. Fear too, because how dare people, women especially, assert their right not to be subservient. An interesting word, subservient, as you can practically see the words serve, servile and servant floating within it.
Man-hater. But if you think about it, how many acts of physical violence resulting in bodily harm or death are caused by these so-called man-haters? How many injuries, rapes, other sexual assaults, or murders? Leaving verbal and other forms of violence aside for now, how much physical damage do victims of man-hating actually endure?
Then think about the instances of physical assault, sexual assault, rape and death experienced by women. Without even looking up statistics, I know the numbers are staggering and frightening, but woman-hater isn't a term that's regularly used to describe the perpetrators of these acts. One could argue however, that evidence indicates we live in a rape culture, which is part of a larger woman-hating culture. So why is the more accurate term woman-hater rarely used?
Another word that I almost never see used relates to dehumanization. Loosely defined, to dehumanize refers to an act or process of depriving a person or group of human qualities. A terrible thing, obviously. A synonym for this is animalize, meaning to cause to be or act like an animal. Leaving aside the inherent anthropocentric bias (we've all heard phrases like, they're no better than animals!), why (and this is more of a rhetorical question) do we not use the term deanimalize to describe a similar process against animals?
A paltry 2,540 results when Googled, it seems to me that this lack of acknowledgement of the horrendous injustice done to individual beings and groups on a daily and worldwide basis deserves greater use of the term. We routinely strip animals of their animalhood (personhood some would even say), that is, the essential qualities that make them a sentient being and not an object, and don't give it a second thought. It begins with the use of the word "it" to describe most animals instead of he or she, words like pork instead of pig, beef instead of cow, television commercials about eggs that don't even show or mention chickens, and of course the routine farming practices we all abhor. Language is twisted and doesn't include the appropriate naming of what would be considered theft, kidnapping, rape and murder if the victims were human.
Animals, male and female, old and young, sick and healthy, are instead treated as inanimate objects, products of consumption and cogs of a vast and vile agricultural machine. In short, living beings with their own interests are rendered invisible, and the very act of invisibling is made invisible for most people as well. So another word almost completely missing from our vocabulary is animal-hater, and really, what word better describes a person who kidnaps and kills without fear of punishment because of a victim's species? Animal-hating (even though it isn't defined as such) is very much a part of our culture and that of others, so it seems absurd to have many who condone animal cruelty refer to themselves as animal-lover simply because they favour a couple of specific species. Love isn't even necessary; animal-respecter would be nice enough.
Man-hater, animal-lover. Woman-hater, animal-hater. So much hate, but not enough words to identify accurately where the real hatred is coming from, and whom it's actually aimed at. A lot of fakery in other words, and sadly, in today's political climate, even the word "fake" is now failing. The difference between fake and genuine was once more easily discerned, but nowadays fake seems to be applied by some to anything they don't want to hear. In some ways even topsy-turvy is now better thought of as turvy-topsy, as if things weren't bad enough before.
Words fail when they mean the exact opposite, when they conceal what's really going on, and when we don't even have proper names to describe what's happening. Words in this post fail too, of course, because of what I've left out. While I've talked (the words briefly outlined would perhaps be more accurate) about some of the words that fail women and animals, I haven't even touched upon words that fail humans who, for example, aren't white. And I haven't mentioned the most important word, the word that's at the heart of misnaming or not naming at all, and the word at the root of harm to different groups of beings whether based on categories like class, race, gender, ability, orientation or even species.
I love words, but even I often fail to do them, and you the reader, any real justice.
If you enjoyed this post, please share. And until next time, Keep Calm and Vegan On.
Hello peeps! Just wanted to let you know that this blog will continue to be inactive for a while as I'm likely moving* this spring. It's a daunting prospect, but exciting too. See you when I get back! Oh, here's a quote I bet many vegans can relate to, snort.
Everyone who makes a joke about a dwarf's height thinks he's the only person to ever make a joke about a dwarf's height.
TYRION LANNISTER (character in the TV series Game of Thrones)
*I'm moving for a variety of reasons; one of them being the discovery that our new landlords are the same folk who tore down a beautifully-treed lot next door 3 years ago to put up an office building. They've now decided that the gorgeous wild garden in the back of our century-plus-old house (and huge shed) need to make way (cue Joni Mitchell music here) for a 25-spot paved parking lot to accommodate commercial clients next door. Ugh, no thanks.
If you enjoyed this post, please share. And until next time, Keep Calm and Vegan On.
What we do to animals is an extension of what we do to other humans. This includes colonizing their lands, wrongfully incarcerating them, stealing their reproductive autonomy, commodifying them and killing them. Animal exploitation is the bedrock of imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-heteropatriarchy. You want to abolish oppression, you gotta include other species. Sorry, not sorry. -- Christopher-Sebastian McJetters
Jan 1: spouse of sibling leaves sibling without notice and asks for separation Jan 2: back to work to an outbreak that lasted for more than three weeks Jan 3: the mom of an old friend passes away Jan 11: without any notice our house is put up for sale by landlord Jan 19: group of SIX inspectors, realtor, buyers inspect tenant units Jan 20: world somehow continues to spin on axis as man-made disaster enters WH Jan 21: a solid bright spot as millions protest this ridiculous man-made disaster Jan 23: house gets sold, tenant futures up in the air Jan 25: Trump issues executive order to build his damn wall Jan 25: Mary Tyler Moore, who gave us the iconic Mary Richards, passes away Jan 20-?: possible futures of all earth's inhabitants up in the air as celebrity con man continues to demonstrate how supremely unqualified he is for the Oval Office Jan 26-31: ?
Note: this post was first drafted Jan 25 and obviously, a lot has happened since then. Who knew that it would take less than two weeks for a power-hungry, profit-worshipping asinine asshat to unleash so much destruction? It makes "supremely unqualified" sound supremely understated. Let's continue the list:
Jan 27: Trump signs "Protecting the Nation from..." well, let's call it what it is, Muslim ban Jan 28-30: thousands protest Muslim ban at various airports Jan 28: Trump adds alt-right Stephen Bannon to National Security Council Jan 29: white Trump-admiring nationalist kills 6 Muslims in terror attack in Quebec Jan 30: Trump fires acting Attorney General Sally Yates for doing her job properly
While I haven't included every action Trump has undertaken on the above lists (a record number of executive orders, memoranda and proclamations to begin with), let's just say that we can safely summarize his administration so far as a threat to free speech, a threat to accurate information, a threat to women's reproductive rights, a threat to freedom from discrimination, a threat to the environment, and essentially, a real threat to democracy. Sobering, huh?
So yes, it's been a sucker-punch of a beginning. And the end result? I'm pissed. Pissed off at some of the things happening in my private life, and things happening in the public sphere. Work I can deal with, solutions to personal problems will be found, but the world at large continues to astound. Alternative facts? Ha! Feels more like an alternative universe, and my emotions bounce back and forth between anger, confusion, betrayal, shock, outrage, sadness, worry, fear, and back to anger again.
Clearly, my feeble plan as mentioned in my new year, old battle post of shutting Trump out of my sphere of attention ain't gonna work. Nor should it. He's proving to be too dangerous, and chillingly so, not only to America, but to every other country too.
How could we have gotten into this colossal mess? One of my favourite signs carried at one of the many worldwide women's marches on Jan 21 (it's not just Americans who are angry) was held by a woman who looked to be in her seventies or eighties, and it read I can't believe I still have to protest this fucking shit.
Indeed. She's my hero (along with numerous others including the future hero shown below), and I hope to still be actively fighting when I reach her age in a couple of decades or so, but yeah, frustrated that issues fought for long ago are resurfacing. I mean, really? We still have to convince folk that women's rights are human rights? And what especially annoys the crap out of me and saddens me to my core is that we're still needing to convince other WOMEN (young women to boot!) of this fact. It's nothing but shameful. Note: many people took to the streets in shows of solidarity after the Muslim ban to demonstrate that, unbelievably, we still have to convince those in power that you can't discriminate based on things like religion or ethnic group. Unreal.
So at the moment I'm angry at my landlord, disappointed in my sibling's spouse whom I got along with so well, angry at everyone who didn't vote in the election, angry at anyone who decided to vote for doofus Donald (I'll never call him the P word, petty as that may be) despite his showing his true awful colours, angry at the Electoral College system, angry at all the horrible members of Cabinet who now have power and who'll use it for worse, angry that the whole election cycle has unleashed and legitimized sexist and racist bullshit that at least people sensed was wrong before, angry that monumental effort will now have to go towards fighting what should have been resolved eons ago, angry that this legitimization of nasty attitudes and behaviours has spilled over onto other countries, and angry that as a resident of Canada I feel drawn into this political circus.
But drawn in I am, and for good reason. The spillover effect I mentioned earlier has the potential to morph into global ramifications. Other countries are poised this Spring to vote in more leaders with alt-right views, and even here in Canada we have the spectre of a celebrity (of sorts) running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party without any political experience, and someone who does have experience but also unabashed Trump-like ideals and goals (we should be screening immigrants for Canadian values, she says, for example). Sickening. Note: a specific example of the spillover effect occurred on Jan 29 when a white Trump-admiring nationalist killed six Muslims peacefully at prayer in a Quebec mosque. So, what do we call a person who inspires terrorism in others? A terrorist? An accessory, at the very least?
Where has some of my anger taken me to? Social media of course. Because what better place to express one's raw, unbridled, and unfiltered anger? What better place to advocate when you're angry and feel too many people are immature stupid clods? Exactly, sigh. So the title of my next post will be How NOT To Be An Effective Advocate. Let's hope I learn a few things from it myself.
Finally, I'm disappointed by the relative silence of otherwise-vocal vegans on social media when it comes to the current political turmoil. Yes, continue to advocate for other animals, but don't ignore human ones. Being vegan isn't about eliminating animal oppression only; it's about eliminating oppression, period. It's not a matter of picking which group of oppressed beings to focus on, but trying to dismantle oppression itself: the root cause of ALL isms.
Can you believe 2017's here? At the beginning of each new year I like to start with an encouraging/optimistic post, and my favourite of that kind is one I sometimes feel could be reused every year. This year, however, no such post is bubbling up.
I'm still struggling with the disappointment of the US election and the reality of the Donald being in power, and I resent the fact that December 19 (the anniversary of my cat's death) will now always be linked to his official election by the Electoral College. My antipathy towards this doofus was made clear in prior posts, and while you may wonder why the election of an American president would bother this Canadian resident so much, it's because I fear that social justice for all creatures will take a huge step backwards. His cabinet picks so far bear this out.
I will outline why the election was a bad one for animals, and then hope to be done discussing this despicable man once and for all. It's the only way I can cope I'm afraid, and as childish as this outlandish man is himself, I may have to resort to shutting my eyes and ears whenever I hear his name on any kind of media. I know, that means I won't be hearing or seeing much over the next four (two?) years, snort.
Stress and sadness over other non-political issues have also been key this past year, and while I posted earlier about burnout, acknowledging and addressing it are two different things. I hope to recover a bit more joy and enthusiasm before year's end, write the posts I've been meaning to, and focus on how to be a better advocate, because sometimes I feel that my having been vegan for the past eight years has accomplished diddly squat for those I'm fighting for.
So, who has Donald picked so far and why is that bad for animals, human and non-human alike? Well, in a nutshell, and with few exceptions, Trump has surrounded himself with old, ultra-rich white men who have shown no interest in protecting the environment, animals, or humans who don't fit their own demographic. Far from draining any kind of swamp, Trump is simply making it swampier and more dangerous for those who don't look like him.
Flooding the swamp he promised to drain with people who are anti environment, pro oil, pro gas, climate-change skeptics, pro big business, pro animal agriculture, pro factory farming, anti animal-rights, and anti public health care folk who tend to see everything in black and white, they wouldn't recognize a nuance if it bonked them on the head. The only regard they seem to have is for dollar signs. To people, sentient beings of all kind, and the planet itself, they're saying a big FU.
Trump's own two sons show complete disregard for wildlife by participating in the "sport" of trophy hunting, something that Donald is actually proud of. And given that the elder Trump is babysat by his own kids, their influence on his stance where animals are concerned can only be suspect. No, I'm afraid that the trumpnoxious (Trump-style brand of obnoxniousness) President-elect, his silly trumptirades (usually conducted on Twitter), and his downright scary-as-hell cabinet picks are filling me with nothing but trumpidation (the specific trepidation felt by almost everything the Trumpster says and does). The only silver lining is that perhaps things really do have to hit a rock bottom we didn't even envision before the world wakes up to the nightmare that the human species has created.
The stakes have NEVER been higher. And if we thought it was a battle before to have the rights of sentient beings recognized and respected, to have veganism be more than a scoffed-at movement consisting of a few, than I would say it's looking more like a war. As I said, I don't feel particularly encouraged or optimistic right now, and that's something I hope will change over the course of this year. In the meantime, let's all soldier on, because every single living being is counting on us.
Not a great way to begin the year and end this post I know, so please reread my way-better-way-to-begin welcome of a few years ago. :)
If you enjoyed this post, please share. And until next time, Keep Calm and Vegan On.
Obviously, most readers (all, one would hope) of this blog are already down with not killing turkeys or geese or ducks or chickens or any other sentient being in the perverse tradition (yay, we're so thankful, let's go kill something!) that this holiday is usually celebrated in, but this year it may be a tad more difficult to get through the occasion without harbouring thoughts of perhaps doing in your table-mates. Well, it would be for me if I lived in a particular country right now. I don't, and luckily in Canada Thanks-taking is already behind us, but if the situation were different...
I'm referring, of course, to the polarizing US election in which a certain doofus was deigned to be fit for the most important position of the land by about half of its voters. Clearly, I believe their vision and decision was murky at best and catastrophic at worst, and am still upset by what happened. So I can well imagine how folk who actually have to live with the wannabe autocrat in their midst, and the voters who put him into this seat of power, feel.
Now, I'm NOT advocating for violence (cuz that wouldn't be the vegan thing to do), but given that I'm probably more short-tempered and less forgiving than most, I thought I'd let you read a post that made me laugh, and may just help American compatriots who aren't looking forward to supping with certain others tomorrow. :)