Category Archives: Aging & dementia

“Ask me anything,” he said with a sigh.

Friday will be the 5th anniversary of my dad’s death.

Looking back, there are a couple of moments over the course of his nearly two years in the nursing home suffering from dementia, and going through the drawn out process of dying, that are now colored with regret, at least in my mind.

The first arose during one of my afternoon visits to his bedside on the fourth floor in the nursing home on Beretania and Artesian Street where he spent his final two years. This would have been in the final months of his life, as he was spending more time asleep and less time awake and functioning. I had to work to keep him connected with the moment.

I was also spending a lot of time sorting through the stacks of loose papers and boxes of photos retrieved from his small room at the home in Kahala where my parents lived together for nearly 70 years. My practice was to take a couple of pictures, or an old letter or clipping, when I visited, and ask him about it, trying to stimulate parts of his brain that could still yield important bits and pieces of his long life. Almost until the end, his memory of distant events and people remained incredibly sharp even while the present was lost in a swirl of confusion and short-term memory loss.

[text]On this afternoon, I asked him about several photos dating from his 1933 adventure hitchhiking across the country with a good friend to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, then on to visit other friends–especially a girlfriend, I believe–in Michigan.

On this afternoon, I raised the head of his bed so that he was almost in a sitting position. After placing his glasses on, somewhat awkwardly, I passed him photos, slowly, one at a time. He held up each of them, feeling the texture of the paper, looking to see if there were notes on the back, holding them up close to examine details, turning to them catch the afternoon light at different angles. After fixing the moment in his mind, he started talking. Slowly, in a soft, gravely voice, he told of getting lucky, catching a couple of long rides, then spending a day waiting beside a highway before getting their next lift. As he spoke, I had the impression that there might have been several different sets of memories that were mixed in his mind. But I wasn’t seeking historical accuracy. I was just using the pictures as a way to connect with that bit of himself and whatever history that was still intact. As he shared recollections, I tried to probe with simple questions. How did that feel? Were you worried? How long did it take? We parried back and forth in slow motion.

At some point, though, he surprised me. He had stopped, relaxed back onto his pillow, his hand, still holding one of the photos, dropped to his side on the bed. His eyes closed briefly, then looked ahead, not really looking at me.

“Ask me anything,” he said in that same tired voice. “Ask me anything. I’ll tell you.”

And I froze.

One one level, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

But we were never an “ask me anything” family. Far from it.

For us, it was more “ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies.”

There were, I came to realize over the years, huge black holes in our family’s life, dead areas that we learned to walk past, to talk around, or to just pretend weren’t there. Some were obvious things that we somehow normalized but never spoke of, others hidden but simmering sources of emotion, anger, that only welled up years later when my parents were in their waning years.

As a kid, I didn’t recognize or pay attention to such gaps in the family matrix, or about fuzzy areas in their relationship that should have been warning signs.

My awareness came later, as an adult. And, at that point, I had adopted a working rule. These were their choices, affecting most directly their lives. Don’t judge, because you are not responsible for their lives and their choices, I told myself repeatedly over the years. Don’t take sides, don’t be drawn in, maintain a safe distance.

So when my dad extended the invitation to ask about anything I wanted to know, I immediately thought of a long list of questions. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to start asking. I don’t know if I was protecting him, protecting my mother, or protecting myself. Probably some combination of all those.

And so I didn’t respond. I just let the silence flow over and around us. He slowly closed his eyes, and faded into sleep.

I stayed for a few minutes, thinking of the opportunity lost, the things, the people, and situations I’ll never have a chance to ask about. And then I picked up my computer bag, slung it over my shoulder, and made my way past the men in the other three beds, towards the hallway, and on to the elevator and the parking lot downstairs.

I didn’t look back.

HPD wrong on mandatory retirement for police officers

Like many others, I was surprised by last week’s news that one of the police officers indicted on federal charges stemming from a violent incident at a local game room last September was a 77-year old reserve police officer.

Senator Will Espero reacted to the officer’s age, as Civil Beat reported (“How Old Is Too Old for a Cop?“).

According to Civil Beat:

Assistant Police Chief Dave Kajihiro responded to Espero’s email Thursday, saying that the Americans With Disability Act prevented the department from implementing a mandatory retirement age for officers.

So are we stuck with aging law enforcement officers at all levels due to the federal law?

The quick answer is a simple “no”.

HPD’s claim that it’s stymied by the legal requirements of the Americans With Disability Act apparently isn’t true.

Here’s an excerpt from a publication of the International Association of Firefighters.

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) permanently exempts fire fighters, emergency medical personnel, and police officers from the federal ban on age limits and employment.

The new law authorizes state and local governments to establish mandatory retirement ages of at least 55, as well as maximum hiring ages. It is also retroactive to January 1, 1994, to cover municipalities whose age limits became illegal when the ADEA took affect for public safety personnel.

And here’s the relevant section from the law itself.

It shall not be unlawful for an employer which is a State, a political subdivision of a State, an agency or instrumentality of a State or a political subdivision of a State, or an interstate agency to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual because of such individual’s age if such action is taken-

(1) with respect to the employment of an individual as a firefighter or as a law enforcement officer, the employer has complied with section 3(d)(2) of the Age Discrimination in Employment Amendments of 1996 if the individual was discharged after the date described in such section, and the individual has attained-

(A) the age of hiring or retirement, respectively, in effect under applicable State or local law on March 3, 1983; or

(B) (i) if the individual was not hired, the age of hiring in effect on the date of such failure or refusal to hire under applicable State or local law enacted after September 30, 1996; or

(ii) if applicable State or local law was enacted after September 30, 1996, and the individual was discharged, the higher of-

(I) the age of retirement in effect on the date of such discharge under such law; and

(II) age 55; and

(2) pursuant to a bona fide hiring or retirement plan that is not a subterfuge to evade the purposes of this chapter.

So why did HPD misunderstand the law? That’s one important unanswered question.

And what is the deal with the reserve officer program?

It doesn’t get in the news much.

My dad was a reserve HPD officer back in the 1950s. At one time, he was president of the “Keys & Whistles” organization, which I think was made up of reserve officers and supporters.

I found a Star-Bulletin story dated April 11, 2000 about the program (“Lawyer by day, Cop by night“).

Charlie Dang is one of the few Honolulu police officers who is not concerned with pay. That’s because he gets no pay.

Dang is one of 68 Honolulu Police Department reserve officers who volunteer at least one night a week to serve the community.

Faced with a shortage and retirements, HPD is looking for at least 32 more reserves. For the first time since 1992, HPD is hoping to bolster its reserve force, with the newest group of recruits to be assigned to the Kaneohe/Kailua areas.

A 2002 opinion by the Honolulu Ethics Commission provided this summary:

A reserve police officer serves for no pay, but receives reimbursement for a automobile fuel expended in the service of HPD and is covered under the city’s workers compensation and disabilities programs. The job description for a reserve officer is similar to that of a regular officer. Like a regular officer, a reserve officer must follow HPD’s Standards of Conduct, is issued and carries a firearm, carries a badge, wears the standard HPD uniform, possesses and uses all the authority of a police officer and receives supervision from HPD. A reserve officer is limited in the number of hours available to work and there is no promotion available. There are about 75 reserve officers at HPD.

Here’s a paragraph from the city’s 2006-2007 annual report.

The Reserve Officer program enlists the services of qualified citizens to perform emergency police duties. Reserve officers provide additional police protection to the public with emphasis on supplementing the patrol divisions. The Reserve Officer program has 100 authorized positions, 78 of which are currently filled. The reserve officers work without compensation or financial obligation from the City and County of Honolulu. The reserve officers are assigned to a specific division where they work five hours a week. In addition to their regular assignments, they assist the CAS with various special events such as Police Week, Drug Abuse Resistance Education Day, Troy Barboza Torch Run, Memorial Day, Explorers’ Conference, Honolulu City Lights Electric Light Parade and the annual city employees’ Christmas party. At year’s end, reserve officers provided the city with a total of 16,623 hours of police service.

How many are there today? Don’t know. The reserve program isn’t mentioned in the department’s most recent annual report, except that several reserve officers are listed among retirees or award recipients.

The reserve officer indicted in the Honolulu case (and who entered a guilty plea last week), Joseph A. Becera, was listed among the 2014 retirees, with 37 years of service. And Becera was a four-time winner of “reserve officer of the year” honors.

I wonder what perks reserve officers enjoy, if any? Can they take special duty assignments for pay by third parties? Do their badges get them special treatment that no one talks about? I recall back a few decades when key legislators were awarded honorary deputy sheriff’s badges that could be used to get free parking and other benefits.

In any case, it seems like some follow-up is in order on the whole reserve officer program.

Greece crisis points back to our own bank regulation issues

With the financial crisis in Greece so much in the headlines, I’ve been watching the news more closely and trying to figure out what’s going on. And the answer is pretty nasty. It’s the U.S. financial crisis all over again, with policy geared to protect the interests of the big banks, which themselves propelled the increased risk for all through their lending practices. When things go south, it’s the regular people who pay the price through enforced austerity, slashed pensions, and high unemployment in order to keep those big banks from failing, or even paying their share of the cleanup.

Start with a good syndicated column yesterday by economic Joseph Stieglitz (“How I would vote in the Greek referendum“).

We should be clear: almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there. It has gone to pay out private-sector creditors – including German and French banks. Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve these countries’ banking systems. The IMF and the other “official” creditors do not need the money that is being demanded. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the money received would most likely just be lent out again to Greece.

Paul Krugman’s column this week in the New York Times took a similar tack (“Greece over the brink“).

Yes, the Greek government was spending beyond its means in the late 2000s. But since then it has repeatedly slashed spending and raised taxes. Government employment has fallen more than 25 percent, and pensions (which were indeed much too generous) have been cut sharply. If you add up all the austerity measures, they have been more than enough to eliminate the original deficit and turn it into a large surplus.

So why didn’t this happen? Because the Greek economy collapsed, largely as a result of those very austerity measures, dragging revenues down with it.

But there’s another layer here.

Just as the U.S. housing depression was caused by negligent lending and the leveraging power of derivatives pushed on clients by the big banks and investment firms, Greece was also taken in by promises made by financial giant Goldman Sachs.

Several years ago, the Goldman deals with Greece were already drawing criticism.

The NY Times reported on this back in 2010 (“Wall St. Helped to Mask Debt Fueling Europe’s Crisis“).

As in the American subprime crisis and the implosion of the American International Group, financial derivatives played a role in the run-up of Greek debt. Instruments developed by Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and a wide range of other banks enabled politicians to mask additional borrowing in Greece, Italy and possibly elsewhere.

In dozens of deals across the Continent, banks provided cash upfront in return for government payments in the future, with those liabilities then left off the books. Greece, for example, traded away the rights to airport fees and lottery proceeds in years to come.

Critics say that such deals, because they are not recorded as loans, mislead investors and regulators about the depth of a country’s liabilities.

Here’s Bloomberg Business in 2012 (“Goldman Secret Greece Loan Shows Two Sinners as Client Unravels“).

Greece’s secret loan from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was a costly mistake from the start.
On the day the 2001 deal was struck, the government owed the bank about 600 million euros ($793 million) more than the 2.8 billion euros it borrowed, said Spyros Papanicolaou, who took over the country’s debt-management agency in 2005. By then, the price of the transaction, a derivative that disguised the loan and that Goldman Sachs persuaded Greece not to test with competitors, had almost doubled to 5.1 billion euros, he said.

I’ve lost track of the article which speculated that one reason why debt relief by the European Union isn’t considered a viable option is that the secret terms of the billions in derivatives marketed by Goldman and others would treat that as a default and send the huge derivatives market into a tailspin like the 2007-2008 banking crisis.

An article in Bloomberg yesterday minimizes that risk but doesn’t mention the Goldman derivatives, leaving the total outlook a bit murky (“Default Seen Averted in Swaps by Greek Failure to Pay IMF“).

Anyway, the point here is that squeezing the people of Greece further doesn’t get at the roots of this crisis, which may lead right back here to our own banking industry.

A repost in memory of my dad

It’s the first day of summer, and also Father’s Day 2015.

My dad’s been gone for nearly five years. It just doesn’t seem that long, though.

Today I did a random jump or two into the pool of memories, aided by my blogging through his long decline and eventual death.

My second try yielded this entry which I first posted almost exactly a year before he died. I’m reprinting here in full.

You’ve got to read until the end to get the heart of it.

It’s one of those small moments when my dad surprised and amazed me, and continues to amaze me with his unexpected grace under dismal circumstances.

Happy Father’s Day.

Another visit: The third floor chorus. October 16, 2009.

Last weekend, I realized that I had been finding excuses to avoid visiting my dad. No time today, I think to myself. Of course I want to stop by, but this or that thing just popped up that “needs” to be done instead.

Visiting isn’t joyful, although there are, I suppose, small moments to be treasured. Walking into the nursing home is a reminder that this is a one-way trip we’re all on, each patient now only a fragment of a life lived, a family raised and scattered, hopes, whether fulfilled or not, now only fading memories, if memory by chance remains. Walking down the hall towards his room requires negotiating passage past men and women in wheel chairs, leaning on walkers, moving slowly, sometimes painfully, or sitting, some alert, some blank, past nurses managing medications or special care, past nursing assistants providing the nitty gritty hands-on support needed for so many simple tasks, getting up, sitting down, getting to the bathroom, getting out of bed, greeting a son or daughter. It’s an inescapable reminder of our own mortality, and I find myself mentally fidgeting, subtracting my age from his and wondering about how long it’s possible to avoid this collision path with aging.

One patient dies, another takes his place. That happened again recently in my dad’s room, and so there’s someone new in the next bed. He’s hooked up to a medley of electronics and tubes delivering oxygen, monitoring responses, dripping solutions or medications. There’s a curtain separating their beds most of the time, but some times of day it’s apparently pulled back and my dad can turn his head and see what’s going on over there.

The first day I visited after the new patient’s arrival, my dad pointed to the curtain, and whispered: “That man sleeps with his mouth open.” He imitates, opening his mouth, exaggerating the act of breathing. It bothers him, the open mouth in the next bed, although I’m not sure why he fixates on this among all the things he hears and sees each day.

Then there are the sounds. When I arrive, my dad again points to the curtain, asks me what’s going on. He can hear can hear one of the CNA’s at work, tries to hear what she’s saying.

“What’s going on out there,” he sometimes asks me, pointing generally towards the rest of the room and out to the hallway. “It sounds like they’re doing a lot of work in the hotel today,” he’ll say, his mind trying to make sense of the sounds beyond his own sheltered bed next to the window over looking the bus stop on Beretania Street and City Feed Store.

He listens to the beeping machines, sounds of heavy breathing. Then there are the occasional human sounds. Moans, shouted, seemingly requiring more accumulated energy than the wired-up man in the next bed could possibly muster. He groans loudly. Repeats. Once. Twice. Again. No real rhythm, no language. A strangled sound of frustration. The nursing assistant tries to shush him.

“Don’t make noise, Mister,” she calls. “Oh, don’t make noise.”

I can’t tell whether these are involuntary visceral outbursts or attempts to communicate. If it’s communication, I admit that I’m trying not to listen, as if ignoring the disturbance it will somehow shield my dad from it as well.

And I find myself not wanting to know what’s really going on. It’s hard enough dealing with my dad’s condition, and I draw a mental curtain around us. I know that I should extend my empathy to the others here in the room and on the floor, but I haven’t gotten into the space to do that. So I pretend not to pay attention to what’s going on behind the curtain. I know it’s distressing for me, and I’m only there for short periods. I worry about the toll it may be taking on my dad, who is there essentially 24 hours a day, all the while struggling to make sense of what’s happening in the next bed. Or, as he says, the next room. Next door. I want to pretend all is well, but the sounds of labored breathing, interrupted by urgent moaning, give the lie to my efforts.

When I arrived to visit one day earlier this week, made my way down the hall, stopping first for a squirt or two of hand sanitizer, into the room, past the other beds, past moaning man, then around the curtain, and found my sister, Bonnie, already sitting at the bedside. My father is on his back, sheet pulled up just above his waist, foot moving restlessly under the sheet. He’s awake, lucid. Bonnie finds the button to move the head of the bed higher so that he’s almost in a sitting position.

I look to sit down. The nearest empty seat was the portable hospital commode sitting in front of his bed, next to the closet. On the wall, two photos, one of my nephew’s daughters, one of my dad on his boat after a successful fishing trip. On a not so good day, Bonnie says that he looks at those photos and asks who the people are. On a good day, I point to the boat and he smiles gamely, not letting on whether or not he is remembering.

In any case, I select his walker, which has a built-in seat, move it over near the foot of the bed, sit down. We make conversation for a while, Bonnie’s good at that. After a while, the man behind the curtain started the loud groaning again. There’s nothing we can do about it. I flinch. It’s jarring, uncomfortable. I want to get away but can’t.

I watch for my dad’s reaction.

He looks to his right, then gestures at the curtain and beyond.

“Would you call that ‘disturbing’?”

We nod, yes, of course. The groaning from behind the curtain continues. I’m worried about my dad’s reaction.

Then he slowly raises his right hand off the bed, holding it out in front, palm down. The hand moves, slowly, up and down, left and right, and suddenly I see the twinkle in his eye and realize that his hand is moving with the sound from beyond the curtain. He’s no longer just enduring a disturbing sound, he’s directing it, leading the choir. Taking control of events, even in this small way, a big victory.

Live and learn.

It’s the anniversary of the first protest landing on Kahoolawe on January 4, 1976

Today marks the 39th anniversary of the 1976 landing on Kahoolawe to protest the use of the island as a naval bombing range and to highlight Hawaiian issues more generally. I was fortunate to have ended up among the nine people who made it to shore that day, only to be arrested by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Eggers several hours later, escorted to a waiting Coast Guard cutter, and dropped off at Maalaea Harbor.

Kawaipuna Prejean had phoned me the week before and asked if I wanted to head to Maui with him to join in the protest. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

This protest came at the right time, and became a tipping point in the resurgence of Hawaiian cultural and political activism.

Kekoa Enomoto wrote an excellent story for the Maui News soon after the 30th anniversary back in 2006 that provides a good background.

For the record, I’m linking to some of my photo collections from that first landing on Kahoolawe, and some of the protests that followed over the following year or so.

Each photo below links to a set of other pictures, so click on any of these photos to seem more. And have fun browsing. I hope the old links are working.

The first landing, January 4, 1976. Seven of us gathered on the beach to give thanks.

The First Landing

April 1976. Walter Ritte and supporters before his trial for trespassing on Kahoolawe, held in the old Honolulu Federal Building, Judge Sam King presiding.

Walter Ritte trial

February 1976. Emmett Aluli outside federal court in Honolulu, and a public meeting at Maui Community College. In this photo, George Helm and Walter Ritte flank the door of the room at MCC.


January 1977. Rally at Iolani Palace. A new song by Liko Martin was performed publicly for the first time (“All Hawaii Stand Together). In this photo, Steve Morse and Emmett Aluli are posting a large sign with the lyrics to the song.

All Hawaii Stand Together