Author Archives: David Crumm

Silver Linings of a Caregiver: Real-life angels, hard-earned lessons and time with family

Our whole clan accompanied Burton (in the dark green shirt) and me (just above him to the right) to Detroit’s landmark American Coney Island.

When health and other crises strike, look for silver linings

My husband’s brain surgery last fall led to complications. But 50+ years ago, we said “I do” in sickness and in health.

Looking at married life from both sides now, I confess: the health part’s more fun. As my medical advocate 14+ years ago when I suffered stage 4 cancer, Burton agrees.

Other caregivers will understand this: We’ve physically adapted our home in many ways. But we all enjoy maintaining traditions and family customs. Here Burton and I are celebrating cousin Judie’s birthday.

I’ve been busy making/attending appointments, researching resources, preparing meals (okay, picking up meals), checking on details, buying supplies, enjoying visitors. Thankfully, our aides have been good to great. But I’ve rarely had the time or heart to write more than medical notes.

Being a caregiver has silver linings. A big one is the angels who show up on the journey. Like Roger, who comes over many afternoons to play checkers with his old buddy Burt. And Judie, Burton’s first cousin, who joins us for frequent dinners and entertains us with funny stories.

Another silver lining: the things you learn.

Joanne Cruz, a social worker sent by a health-care company, mentioned a term I hadn’t heard. It applies to our current situation: Radical Acceptance.

“It’s about accepting what you can’t change or control,” Joanne said. “Change pushes us in one direction. Our gut wants to pull back. We feel powerless. We grieve what was and fear the future. We make up bad stories about what’s ahead when the truth is none of us knows. We’re all vulnerable.”

Burton seems to have come to Radical Acceptance before I have. He works hard at PT every day just to pull himself to a standing position and get his feet to move an inch or two. His positive attitude and determination are remarkable.

Joanne asked how he feels about having his left side largely shut down. (He’s left handed.) And about challenges with speech, memory and logic.

This is a man who came back from our honeymoon with 13 cents in his pocket, built a company that’s afforded us more than comfortable lives, chaired well over a dozen boards of directors. A man who excelled at golf, was a crack shot with a rifle, flew airplanes, spent hours fly fishing and who, like many Detroit born boys, adored driving. This is a grandfather who took grandkids on frequent adventures, who planned a treasure hunt at our farm up north and financed two in-ground trampolines and a sport court.

This is a man who lost his father when he was 11 and became the father and grandfather he wished he’d had.

And yet…

In light of his current health issues, Joanne asked Burton how he was feeling. Given the same situation, I’d be crying and carrying on nonstop. My resilient husband said, “I’ve got work to do, but emotionally I’m pretty good with it.”

“How far in the future do you look?” Joanne asked.

“I’m not looking at the future at this point,” he said. “This Rehab is just something I have to do. When I finish, I’ll be better.”

Talk about Radical Acceptance. The traits with which Burton built his career and ran organizations are the traits he’s still applying. I’ve often said Burton has a vocabulary deficiency. He doesn’t understand the meaning of the word: No.

Another major silver lining: time with our sons.

David lives nearby but with a new baby, 3 more sons and a career that demands travel, we didn’t seem him often. Now he comes over more to visit his dad and check in with me. Andy flies in from Chicago and spends 2 days a week with us. Bonus: several times he’s taken me out to dinner. He researched wheelchair capable vans and accompanied me to rent one.

Andy, Amy and our granddaughters visited on a recent Sunday. Our grandkids love getting together. Thanks to our nifty van, we were able to accommodate Burton’s chair. Along with 2 more vehicles, we all drove downtown for Coney Islands.

50+ years ago, Burton and I often ended dates with hotdogs from Lafayette Coney Island. On this occasion, American Coney Island next door proved more accessible. They didn’t even object when our Chicago gang brought along their new Doodle Mac.

It was Burton’s first real outing in months (not counting trips to hospitals or doctors). Some of you know about our Thanksgiving Day Slide Ride (see blog post). Burton, who started the tradition, couldn’t make it last fall. Our family trip to Coney Island helped compensate. Thanks to my cell phone camera, we immortalized the memory.

Making memories can take effort. But they’re worth it. Wishing you and yours good health, silver linings and magical memories.

Even as we enjoy each day we have together, now, we love to recall fond family memories we’ve shared. Our sons surprised Burton for his 75th birthday by traveling down to Florida to see us—and, of course, they had to go fishing.

Love and loss and the price we pay for friendship

Having friends enriches our lives, but it comes with a cost

I’ve been thinking about love and loss and the price we pay for friendship. I try not to dwell, but sometimes my heart will catch on something the way a sleeve catches on a sliver of wood.

Marj Jackson Levin had a long career as a Detroit journalist, writer and activist for equal rights for women. Click on her photo to read her bio in the Jewish Women’s Archives.

It happened earlier this week. Driving home from the dentist, I turned down a side street, then found myself in front of the house where my late friend Marj lived. Marj was a journalist who also alienated a few subjects in her day. She wrote for the Free Detroit Free Press; I, for the competing Detroit News. We attended writers’ conferences together and toasted sunsets on Lake Michigan up north. Dying, she continued to host cocktail hours in her bedroom. In her memory, I still savor vodka with Clamato juice.

There’ve been so many more fabulous dames. Cancer took most of them down, way too soon.

There was Jackie, a sculptor who gave up her practice to open a gallery in the Fisher Building because she thought artists working around the Cass Corridor area of Wayne State U. deserved decent representation. That led to the blockbuster Kick Out the Jams exhibition at the DIA and to greater recognition of talented Detroit creators. Jackie was determined to attend my 40th birthday party, and she did. Her last outing.

There was Bobbye, my first friend, who had an impeccable sense of design, and whose husband, David, I spotted on the same day she did. Bobbye brought me an eyebrow color compact while I was in treatment. Thankfully, my eyebrows returned but I still use the compact. I thank Bobbye whenever I do.

Suzy with Gertrude Kasle. Click the photo to read Suzy’s earlier column about her friend Gertrude.

And Gertrude, a visionary who brought to Detroit artists who became international stars. She lured them to flyover country with a promise to sell at least one painting per show. Often, she sold that one painting to herself. From Gertrude I learned to buy art for love, not investment—an attitude that runs contrary to much of today’s art market.

And Marji, a fashion editor for the Detroit Free Press. When I returned to the D to live, I had trouble finding a job. Marji heard Fairchild Publications was looking for “a man with experience.” She recommended me anyway. I got the position.

And Tavy, wildly creative fashion editor for the Detroit News. She wrote one of my all time favorite bits of fashion commentary on the 1970s fashion trend called “Hot Pants.”

She penned a poem that concluded:
“Unless your legs are perfect joys
Short little pants are for short little boys.”

And Marilyn, a wisecracking, wise friend for all seasons. We watched foreign movies together and, after, shared lettuce cups at the bar of PF Chang. Marilyn and sister Sharon celebrated one New Year’s Eve with us on a snowy hay ride to the new pavilion at our farm.

And another Marjie, hostess and storyteller without peer. She told me the legendary Robert Frost and Ogden Nash joke and patiently went through it with me again while I wrote it down. It remains my best routine.

And Julie—upbeat, farsighted. She saw and fostered Detroit’s cool factor and helped found MOCAD. Her hard work and enthusiasm influenced artists to move to the D.

And Claire and Virginia, brilliant retailers who mentored me when I started writing about fashion.

And, and, and. By myself on a ski slope several years ago, I dedicated each run to a different girlfriend. I ran out of legs before I ran out of friends. As soon as I send this column, a dozen more names will occur. Each time I lose a friend, another hole opens in my heart, which feels like a hunk of Jarlsberg.

Still, considering the laughs and insight, the support, fun and memories—the joy my girlfriends bring me, I’m willing to pay the price.

The Mi Shebeirach, or Jewish prayer of healing, includes this line: “Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.” My girlfriends have been and are a blessing to me. I’m honored to know, and have known, them.

Alfred Lord Tennyson was right. Better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.

I just wish it didn’t hurt so much.

Friendship is a current beneath the surface of our lives

Having written this column for more than 3 years, I looked back at the columns I’ve published.  While I haven’t blogged directly about friendship, it’s a theme that runs through many of my stories.

Friendship is a current beneath the surface of our lives that buoys us and keeps us moving forward.

Here are just a few of my subjects who were saved or propped up by friendship…

Natalie Myerson and her overflowing community of friends.

Natalie Meyerson, 97 and ½, who has 45 “courtesy daughters,” friends really, who help her run errands, take walks and keep her independent and vital.

Tony Acosta, a tennis pro who happened to be hitting balls with some doctor friends.  When Tony mentioned he couldn’t catch his breath, they sat him down, took his pulse, and drove him to the hospital where he had multiple bypass open heart surgery.  They’re all back on the courts.

Doug Leith, a personal friend and fine golfer with a devoted group of golf buddies.  After Doug died prematurely of pulmonary cystic fibrosis and was cremated, his friends scattered his ashes on his favorite golf holes around the world.  They still carry some of his ashes in their golf bags.

Ellen Kahn, in her 90s.  She fled Berlin as a child on the Kinder Train.  She went on to lose both her daughters over the years.  She credits her friends for pulling her through.

Photographer Monni Must

Photographer Monni Must, who was inconsolable after losing her daughter Miya.  Monni’s friend Linda  Schlesinger-Wagner accompanied her to Europe several times, assisting in photo shoots that turned into a landmark series of books about Holocaust survivors.

I’m blessed with many good friends.  One is my husband, Burt.  The stage 4 cancer diagnosis I received 13 years ago was so frightening I knew I couldn’t make intelligent decisions.  I asked Burton to take over.  He was relentless in tracking down doctors, calling and re-calling, keeping notes, taking me to every appointment.   He saved my life.

Another dear friend of more than 50 years is Brenda Rosenberg.  Throughout my complicated diagnosis, Brenda also came to every doctor’s appointment.  She designed a card printed with the Misha Beirach (Jewish prayer for healing) on one side and a meaningful photo she’d taken on the other.  She cried with me when my head was shaved, designed my wig, talked me through many meltdowns.  This same Brenda Rosenberg is one of the guiding lights behind this book and the Women of Wisdom.

The Torah commands Jewish people to fulfill the concept of tikkun olam, or making the world a better place.  Brenda, I’m so proud of how hard you work and how much you accomplish in helping to heal the world.  On a personal and global level, thank you, dear friend.