Pushing Up Daisies

I’m sitting here thinking about putting a light spin on what is a dark part of every one of our lives. It’s something that no one wants to discuss. That unwelcome visitor that everyone knows is coming who makes us want to snatch the welcome mat from in front of our door. That one-way trip that we will all take eventually whether we want to go or not. That journey to the valley of death.

Since I’ve got more years behind me than before me, I’ve been giving the subject a lot of thought. Certainly, after I fall into the big sleep, I won’t have a say over anything concerning my former self, so I am herein expressing my last wishes for funeral and burial.

Before I continue with details, let me reiterate what I have often said – that I hate attending funerals and avoid them when I can. But as we all know there is one funeral that we won’t miss. Our own.

About funeral-goers. I put them into three categories. First, there are the truly bereaved mourners who have lost a loved one, relative, or friend. Second are the curious, casual acquaintances of the deceased whose ulterior motive for attending the funeral is to get a copy of the program, with the hope of learning things that they didn’t already know about the deceased. The third group attends funerals because it is a social gathering. During the hour or two, while they are attending the service and the repast, it breaks-up the monotony of their otherwise mundane life. I’m not judging. I’m just calling it as I see it.

Skepticism aside, we all have limited time on earth. Before my time comes to be the grim reaper’s reluctant guest of honor, I want to make my last wishes known to my family. And family, don’t feel guilty if you do not comply with these requests because as I’ve learned over the years not everyone’s last wish is granted. It is the living, not the dead who have the final say over the dead body. I’ll give you an example.

After mother died, a few days before her funeral service, my sister and I carried the outfit for her to be buried in to the funeral home. On the day of the funeral, I arrived shortly before the wake was scheduled to start. When I looked in the casket, I was beyond upset. Mother’s chemo-thinned, silvery hair had been nicely pressed, curled, and styled, BUT that was not the issue. She had worn a wig for years before she died, and while on her deathbed, when she was suggesting to my sister and me which outfits we could bury her in, she said, “And don’t forget my wig.”

We had placed the wig neatly on top of the clothing in the bag before carrying it to the funeral home. The undertaker’s grave mistake was that he or she inadvertently forgot to put mother’s wig on her head. That’s what I mean when I say that the dead don’t always get their last wish fulfilled, but there was a twist to this.

Mother’s wig was ultimately retrieved by the undertaker after the first service and was placed on her head before her body was transported over 200 miles away for a graveside ceremony and burial in her hometown. My cousin, who had attended the first service and then followed the hearse to the burial site, later told me that when the casket was opened for the graveside service, she was surprised to see mother was wearing her wig.

I repeat. I do not want an open casket funeral. I don’t want people walking up to my casket gawking over me and then later telling others how I looked. I know that people mean well, but during my lifetime, I have heard (and overheard) too many obtuse comments made about dead people.

“Ms. Estelle sure looked nice. She had on a hat and gloves, dressed like she was going to church. They even had her usher pin on her lapel.”

Or here’s another one, “LaQuita looked good in that white casket. Her weave was tight, and that purple eye shadow matching her lavender shirt was nice. Her boyfriend should not have did that to her.”

It is the female corpses that get scrutinized most, but occasionally comments are made about the males. “Why did they bury Mr. Johnson in his glasses? It’s not like he’ll be able to see where he’s going.”

Undertakers deserve credit for doing their best to make corpses presentable. Still, the thoughtless remarks that some people make after the services bothers me. The sad fact is that no matter how well they are laid out, the bodies of dead people look just like what they are – lifeless and dead. Nothing more. Nothing less. And I say that with much respect.

Like every other corpse, I will have no control over what I am wearing, how my hair is combed or whether my lips have been fixed to look like I am smiling on the way to eternity or pissed off because I am in the land of the dead. Therefore, I repeat, I do not want an open casket funeral. Sadly, I make that request knowing full well that I won’t have the last word about that. You, my family, will.

I tell you what, let’s not have a funeral for me. Services and headstones are expensive. Use that life insurance money for something else. Cremate me. I don’t care. Cremation is cheaper, and think, in the future, you’ll be able to truthfully tell your friends that I had a smoking hot body.

And another thing. I’ve seen insensitive people take pictures of the deceased when they go to view the body. Not only do I think that is inappropriate, but it is downright disrespectful to the family and the deceased. The deceased deserve the dignity of going to their final resting place without a photo op.

If you have a service for me, please call it a funeral. Do not call it a homegoing. I know that term is popular and frequently used. But I never liked it. I understand the concept of homegoing to a heavenly home. But when I think of home going I envision myself taking out my key, unlocking the door, and walking into the place where I live, not transported in a hearse to a cemetery.

In the great scheme of things, we are all insignificant. When and how we are born into this world is the luck of the draw. We have no say in the matter. Who will be our birth parents? Was our birth planned and eagerly anticipated or a fluke? Will we be born a rich child, into a wealthy family, or a poor child in poverty? How we fare in life is a game of chance, and it is pretty much the same when we depart. We don’t know when or how we will leave here. Natural causes. Murder. Accident. Suicide. It’s paramount to live our best life and celebrate it now. When we come here, how long we stay, and when we leave is not a choice.

The Bible prophesizes, and people can speculate all they want, but who on earth can say for sure what happens to us after we die? Christians believe that depending on how we live; we will ultimately ascend to a heavenly home or spiral down into a hellish abyss. Who knows? The hereafter is as perplexing as the present day and time. The goal, oh yeah, and a song you can play at my service if you wish is Stayin’ Alive.

This composition began as a personal letter to my family, but while writing it, I decided to post an alternate version with the hope that it might make someone smile about a subject that is often taken deathly seriously.

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Cracking the Nickname Code, It’s Ludicrous

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliet)

Honey. Sugar Pie. Dork. Nicknames. That substitute moniker is sometimes assigned to people, places, or things instead of their given name. The habit of nicknaming people has been around for centuries, and those nicknames are popularly used. A nickname is acquired at any age, and often there is no code to crack. Some people get nicknames in childhood and retain them for life. Others eagerly shed them when they become adults.

My mother’s nickname for me was Lo. When I was in high school my best friend called me Retsie. Don’t ask, because I don’t know how my friend came up with that, but it was unique.

Do you have a nickname? What’s yours?

I’ve compiled a list of nicknames of some of my family members and friends. Some of them I easily recall. Others were reluctantly shared with me with the promise that I would not reveal their identity.  We have:  Andre, Bay-Bay, Big Bro, Boot, Bootsey, Buddy, Butch, Chico, Cookie, Crutches, Froggy, Jo-Jo, June Bug, Kip, Kippy, Little Bro, Min-gin, Moose, Nita, Peanut, Pickles, Po boy,  Pooche, Rai Rye, Sain, Skeet, Skip, Toot, and Whimpey. Initials as nicknames are also popular. AJ, CJ, DJ, JD, JJ, JR and RJ immediately come to mind. Raise your hand if you recognize your nickname. Don’t be shy; no one can see you through the screen.

Nicknames are so commonly used that sometimes a person’s given name is unknown. Even family members who have for a lifetime heard a relative called by a nickname might not know the person’s first name. For instance, when my son was born, I named him Kyle. I didn’t know until days later when my mother said to me, “You know that’s your cousin’s name.” “Which cousin?” I asked. “Your cousin, Kip’s name, is Kyle.” Who knew? I surely didn’t because throughout my life I had only know him as Kip.  One day, I was discussing my name blunder with Kip’s mother, my Aunt Ida. “I just liked the name,” I told her. “So do I,” she said before telling me that she was thrilled that I had chosen that name.

Nicknames are often given to denote familiarity, kindness, or to show affection. Take “Boo” for instance. It is usually a term of endearment that signifies love. It is also one of the most common nicknames bestowed on anyone from a loving companion, to a dear child, to a BFF (best friend forever).

Sometimes nicknames substitute for traditional titles. Like grandmother. I know people whose grandchildren call them, Nana, Ditt, Gram, Grammy, and G-Mom. I’ve always preferred the standard “grandma” but grew used to my grands when they were toddlers calling me GeGe (pronounce as if you were saying GoGo, only substitute the o with an e). Occasionally, one of them still refers to me as GeGe. And I love it!

Many people are stuck with nicknames given by family, friends, or frenemies. Some people are fond of their nicknames. Other’s detest them. One of my childhood playmates was nicknamed Weegee (pronounced like Ouija Board). Her family and all of the neighbors called her that. Although she answered to it, I always felt that she didn’t like the handle. I never did learn her real name.

Colors are popular nicknames. Most of us have known people whose nicknames are Black, Blue, Red, Rose, Pink, and Whitey.

Famous and infamous people have strange and sometimes embarrassing nicknames. Caryn Elaine Johnson has an interesting story about how she flatulently gained the nickname, Whoopi. The man we call Tiger Wood’s birth name is Eldrick Tont Woods. And who doesn’t refer to Jennifer Lynn Lopez as J.Lo? Many Baby Boomers remember comedians John Elroy Sanford as Redd Foxx, Loretta Mary Aiken was Moms Mabley, and Durham, North Carolina native Dewey Markham whose fans affectionately remember him as Pigmeat Markham. Perhaps most prominent among this group of well-known people was the man whose birth name was Malcolm Little. He had several nicknames over his lifetime:  Red, Detroit Redd, El-Shabazz, El-Hajj Malik , but he was widely known as Malcolm X.

Back in the day, Al Capone’s moniker was ‘Scarface.’ Mobster Benny Siegel was called ‘Bugsy.’

Even presidents are not spared nicknames. Some of his activities as a young man, a circuit lawyer, and eventually president of the U.S. earned Abraham Lincoln the nickname Honest Abe. Richard Nixon, infamous for Watergate, carried Tricky Dick to his grave. Beloved President Barack Obama was bestowed the name Barry O’Bomber by his high school basketball teammates. I am prudently self-censoring the nicknames for the current president.

By the way, Ludicrous is the nickname and stage name of the rapper/actor whose real name is Christopher Brian Bridges.

Whether you hold on to and cherish a nickname or shed it, remember William Claude Dukenfied aka W.C. Fields said, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”

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Thank a Mother – Revisited Again

A message for women who have a good man. What many Boomers know and some Gen Xers and Millenials have yet to learn.

If you are in a relationship with — or married to — a man who you love because he respects you, provides for you, and treats you like his queen – thank his mother. Listen up women, while nothing is set in stone, there is much truth to the adage that the way a man treats his mother reflects on how he will treat you.

We’ve all heard conversations on TV talk shows and among women who we know personally, where the subject is mother bashing — not their mother, but his. I am talking about women who are filled with resentment or envy because they begrudge the relationship between their man and his mother.

I discount the myth that sons who are close to their mothers are mama’s boys, in every sense of the words, though in some cases it is true. I’ve known a couple of mama’s boys in my lifetime, who could not cut that apron string. Bye-bye baby. However, the closeness between a mother and her son could indicate that he is a loving man, who knows how to treat a woman because he learned from his mother how a good woman deserves to be treated. He’s the kind of man that most women want.

Whether a son is raised by a strong, determined mother in a wholesome, nuclear family unit, or in the home of a struggling, yet well-grounded, single mother, if he has the guidance and the mindset to do so — that boy will grow up to be a well-adjusted, independent man. And ask just about any woman what qualities she desires in a loving relationship with her man and many will tell you that – aside from the essentials like respect, love, trust, and accountability — affection is high on her list of desirable traits.

From the time my two children were born I constantly showered them with hugs and kisses. Such affection is the norm in our family. When divorce forced me to become a single working parent and to assume the roles of both father and mother, the bond between my children and I grew even stronger.

I groomed my daughter and son to be responsible, compassionate, and affectionate adults. Both of them are now grown and married with families of their own. And I proudly boast to anyone in earshot – that in spite of the many challenges our young family faced years ago in our single-parent household — my daughter now writes poetry and my son is a successful entrepreneur. But this post is intended to be about sons more than daughters, so let me get back to the point.

According to William Pollack, Ph.D., “Far from making boys weaker, the love of a mother can and does actually make boys stronger, emotionally and psychologically. Far from making boys dependent, the base of safety a loving mother can create – a connection that her son can rely on all of his life – provides a boy with the courage to explore the outside world . . . a loving mother actually plays an integral role in helping a boy develop his masculinity.”

There is always an exception to every rule, but more often than not a good man was molded by his mother.

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Blame Your Doctor’s Time Crunch on Insurance Companies

Do you spend more of your doctor’s appointment time in the waiting room instead of the exam room? Blame the insurance companies and insurance reimbursement. Insurance reimbursement is the payment that your doctor, hospital, or other health service providers receive for providing you with a medical service. The insurers’ service comes with restrictions, and many tend to pay health service providers only enough for 15-minute appointments.

In addition to imposing time limits on patient visits, insurance providers are increasingly refusing to cover prescribed treatments for numerous patients, including those with chronic illnesses, even though many cannot afford the out-of-pocket costs. While astute patients know that their doctor is not solely to blame when necessary treatment is denied, less informed patients may be unaware that insurance companies are sometimes instrumental in limiting access to care. Both patients and their health care providers are at the mercy of the insurers.

A few years ago, I asked my Ophthalmologist for a prescription so that I could buy an additional pair of reading glasses. I had purchased a pair a few months earlier, but no longer had that prescription. She said that she couldn’t write it because my insurance would not approve another pair of glasses so soon after my previous purchase. I said that I – not the insurance company – would pay for the glasses myself, (just as I did with the original pair). She said that it didn’t matter; she still could not write another prescription so soon. What kind of jacked-up rule is that? I thought. It made no sense to me, but I didn’t press the matter. Insurance companies certainly have an arm lock on medical service professionals.

The days of private practices where doctors have the authority to make autonomous decisions for their patients without interference from insurers are becoming a thing of the past.

The shift from the time needed – for an exam and treatment – to 15-minute sessions occurred as a result of changes in how insurance companies and the government pay physicians for medical care.

In 1992, Medicare decided to adopt the RVU (relative value unit) formula as a standard way to calculate doctor’s fees. Then in 2010 came the Affordable Care Act.  In conjunction with other significant changes, increasingly, doctors were required to document their patients’ information on a computer causing them to spend more time with their laptops than with their patients. I witnessed the angst this causes first-hand while visiting my primary care physician shortly after her manila folder files became digital. Dr. Kaye (name changed to protect her privacy) has been my doctor for 35 years.

The first few times, when she used a computer to check data pertinent to my history or previous visits I could see that she was agitated. On one occasion, she called her assistant in to help her. On my follow-up visit, she struggled to do it alone.

“I have to get used to documenting information this way,” she said, almost apologetically while I sat patiently in the chair beside her desk.

“Don’t like computers?” I asked curiously.

“Never used one until recently,” she replied. “So many changes in recent years. Okay, I’ve got your chart now. Let’s go over this.”

The time-limit/payment procedure is unknown to numerous patients who often don’t understand why they feel like they are being rushed through appointments and exams, whether they visit their primary doctor, hospitals, or clinics. Physicians feel the time crunch too as they hurry through appointments to see more patients. Some perform additional tests and procedures to make up for flat or declining reimbursements. In addition to time restraints, other factors tied to regulations instituted a few years ago, takes a toll on the doctor/patient relationship, and is forcing many physicians to give up their solo practice and join group practices.

I’ve had personal experience with this also. Two doctors’ who I’ve been with for nearly half of my life have abandoned their private practices and joined a group facility. Two years ago, my eye doctor gave up her solo practice, and then last year my primary care physician, Dr. Kaye, did the same thing.

I’ve had the same primary care physician for 38 years. When I began visiting her she was the sole doctor in her privately owned practice. She rarely seemed hurried and took time to thoroughly answer any questions I might ask. Sometimes during my exam, we even chatted briefly about non-health related issues like how my then infant twin grandsons were doing – learning to crawl or being potty-trained – or how her daughter was progressing with her singing career.

Then, a few years ago, things changed. I noticed that although she willingly answered any questions, our unnecessary dialog had practically stopped. She was still the smiling, personable person that she has always been, but she often seemed to be rushing. It wasn’t long before her assistant, who takes blood and handles other incidentals, was notably absent, and we patients were sent elsewhere for lab work.

One day I mentioned that her waiting room was more crowded than it normally is and asked Dr. Kaye if she was seeing more patients than usual. Without going into lengthy details, she said that insurance company policies and restrictions were causing doctors’ to change some of their previous methods of operation.

According to studies, more doctors who, like Dr. Kaye, once had private practices, are joining group practice facilities where two or more physicians all provide medical care within the same facility. Doctors working in a group practice experience the advantage of shorter work hours, more flexibility in scheduling, and increased financial security. The larger number of physicians and increased patient base makes it easier for doctors to manage financial risks than private practices. Group facilities also usually have the resources to better manage the administrative tasks associated with running a practice. The disadvantage is that group practices tend to be more bureaucratic. Doctors have less independence, lack of the ability to develop close, personal relationships with their patients and staff, and often require a consensus on business decisions; while the private practitioner has autonomy and the advantage of more personal freedom to develop his or her practice as they would like.

According to the American College of Physicians, “Solo practices are often at substantial financial risk due to the costs of doing business (such as hiring staff and maintaining malpractice coverage)… [There is also] the small patient base, shifting patient allegiances because of insurance issues, and lost income caused by illness or vacation.”

Occasionally, when am in the waiting room, I get into a conversation with another patient who, like me, followed our doctors from private practice to a group facility or hospital. There seems to be a consensus that most “transplanted patients” are dissatisfied with the new arrangement. The wait time is often much longer than before, and the personal attention and the quality of care have changed.

Most frustrating are the times when I’ve called to make an appointment or ask my doctor a question, and the phone goes unanswered even though I make the call during the doctor’s regular business hours. The next worse thing to the unanswered phone is the voice mail that requires callers to navigate an agitating phone tree that asks that we press what seems like 101 buttons only to ultimately be told to (1) leave a message. (My experience has been that the call never gets returned and I wonder if anyone even bothers to check the messages) or (2) that the voice mailbox is full.

Studies show that the number of physicians who own private practices is dwindling, mainly due to transformational changes, and group facilities that are actively looking to purchase the remaining practices.

In a July 2015 report, Accenture predicted that a growing number of U.S. doctors would leave private practice for group or hospital employment by the end of 2016.

Family physician Dr. Linda Girgis explains it this way, “As self-employed doctors, we are not only responsible for all the patients in our practice, we are also responsible for the business. Tax laws and accounting principles are foreign languages to many doctors. And new regulations are aimed at decimating those remaining at the reins of their own medical practice.”

This fantastic video will reveal, in a nutshell, how some doctors feel about insurance restrictions and what they are doing about it.

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Coffee — If Loving You Is Wrong

As soon as I get up in the morning I turn on my mister. (Not that mister. Get your mind right.) My Mr. Coffee automatic drip coffee machine.

Experts suggest that upon rising after a night’s sleep we should drink water; at least 2 cups or one 16oz bottle. Water rehydrates the body. It also fires up the metabolism and helps the body flush out toxins. They further recommend that coffee lovers like me delay that cup of joe until an hour after we awake.

If you – like me – wake up thinking about coffee, you’ve got a serious case of coffee on the brain. We are bonafide coffeeholics. The good and bad of that is this. We may crave caffeine, but unlike addictive drugs, caffeine doesn’t threaten our physical, social, or economic health. And as you may already know coffee has health benefits. (An hour is an excruciatingly long time to wait for that first sip).

On mornings when I go to the gym, water is my first drink of the day. I usually finish a bottle of it during my pre-dawn workout. Sip by boring sip. But on days when I don’t exercise, all bets are off. Coffee is my go-to beverage. I like it freshly brewed and strong every morning. Sometimes I drink it black, or occasionally with a little cream, but never, ever do I add sugar. Confession – decades ago when I began drinking coffee, I could only tolerate it with 4-6 heaping spoonsful of sugar. Yucky! I know. I can’t tell you how many times back then someone would flippantly say to me, “I see you take coffee in your sugar.” I stopped that. Now, when I need a sugar fix with my coffee, I have a blueberry muffin on the side.

Coffee is one of the world’s most consumed beverages, third place behind water and tea. Studies show that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of some serious diseases likely due to the high levels of antioxidants and beneficial nutrients in the beverage. Coffee improves various aspects of brain function and the body— including memory, mood, and energy levels. It increases fat burning and physical performance which is why some fitness enthusiasts drink coffee before working out. On the rare occasions when I drink coffee before exercising, I do notice that my energy level increases.

Studies also show that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer diseases.

Black coffee is calorie-free. Anyone trying to lose weight should avoid the cream (or milk) and sugar (and probably the muffin, too).

Excluding bacon frying in a skillet, coffee is the next best thing to smell in the morning.

Cars need gas to run, and I need coffee. I prefer it hot, strong, and fresh. I occasionally drink java after it has cooled to room temperature, but hours-old or microwave reheated coffee not only diminishes the taste it’s downright nasty.

I’m a frugal hometown girl so I rarely buy gourmet coffee, but I hear that some brands are so good they will make you jump up, click your heels together and spin in circles. Among the top five gourmet brands, you’ll find La Colombe Corsica Blend, Peet’s Coffee Big Bang Medium Roast and Death Wish Whole Bean Coffee. Billed as the world’s strongest coffee, Death Wish is highly rated and highly caffeinated. It has double the caffeine of your average cup. One bag will cost you around $20.00.  You’ll recognize the brand by the skull and crossbones on the package.

I have no taste for instant coffee so I’ll skip it. I prefer to brew one of my favorite regular brands each morning from any one of two or three 12oz packages of ground that I keep on hand. Each cost around $7 or $8.

There are over 100 brands of coffee. Over the years, I have tasted many brands though probably less than half. Among those that I’ve sampled are Maxwell House, Folgers, and Gevalia, but my favorites are Dunkin Donuts (Hazelnut), Starbucks (Breakfast Blend Medium Roast) and Seattle’s Best. Seattle’s Best is currently my go-to brand. It’s mild and delicious.

Let me share with you a mugful of more tips about coffee strength and coffee roast. Coffeeholics don’t particularly care about stuff like this, but I’ll tell you anyway. The ratio of coffee grinds to water during the brewing process determines the strength – the actual caffeine content – in a  particular amount of coffee. There are three main stages in roasting: drying stage, browning stage, and development or roasting stage. Light roast coffee is mild. Dark roast is bold. Many dark roasts are used for espresso brands. Medium roast and medium-dark – medium brands are not too light, not too bold. Breakfast blends can include different types of coffee beans and different sorts of roast levels. Like medium brands, blends are not too strong and not too weak.

Decaffeinated coffee – forget it, drink water instead. I mean without the caffeine, what’s the point? Coffee minus caffeine is like Christmas without carols, a beach without an ocean, a popsicle without the stick. Clearly, I dislike decaf coffee and that’s that.

Take note coffee lovers. To maintain freshness and flavor, packaged coffee must be kept away from moisture, heat, light, and strong odors. Refrigerating it is not a good idea because moisture will quickly deteriorate its quality. Instead store your package (especially after opening) in an airtight ceramic, metal or plastic container until needed.

As I see it, coffee tastes better when drinking it from a ceramic mug instead of a Styrofoam or paper cup.

That’s my spiel on the brown beverage. Stay grounded and take time to smell the coffee.

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