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My Meditation on Birds and Healing

My meditation on birds and healing starts with two childhood memories: robins pulling worms from our backyard and my father shouting plays to the #Philadelphia Eagles as they ran across our TV screen.  I grew up in the hard core football territory of Pennsylvania. We lived halfway between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles, but were raised to love the #Birds.

My meditation on Birds and Healing

Through many seasons of heartache and disappointment, my father stayed loyal to his team. He made his daughters learn the rules of football so we could understand why his Birds were so good/bad/full of potential. Despite his coaching, I still loved real birds more than the ones on TV. Many seasons of football games with Dad never prepared me for the experience of seeing a live eagle. In fact, I never thought much about what his team’s name meant until I landed in the Poconos years later. Eagles nest in this region. You don’t see them often, but their magical visits stick to your memory like hair to duct tape.

Real eagles are majestic and predatory. If I were a squirrel in their path, I’d be running awfully fast. While I love the sight of these wild birds I’m more drawn to those that won’t eat you for dinner. I’m cheering for the Eagles during this weekend of #Super Bowl madness, but it’s a bittersweet bird season for me. Last week I lost my beloved cockatiel, Duda. The twitch of his wings is no longer part of my life’s soundtrack.

Pets and Healing

When Duda entered my house, he was a scrawny creature purchased from the pet department of Woolworth’s. I bought him to be a companion for a young boy from Mexico who was a guest in our house while he was learning English. He was far from his home and family. I thought the bird might be a healing antidote to the loneliness he felt.

My meditation on birds and healing


Like most love stories, this one had a strange twist. The bird who came to help our guest heal his homesickness ended up staying for 28 years! While I was a full-time caregiver for my mother, the cockatiel was a critical member of the household care team. Mom and Duda were keenly interested in each other, yet also rivals for the attention of the many helpers who visited us. Aides loved to whistle to the bird, but they also fawned over my mother. Each built a strong fan base using their own peculiar charms.

The bird’s cage sat in the kitchen right outside my mother’s bedroom door. He kept a watchful eye on her to make sure she was safe and not stealing his admirers. Mom liked the sound of his chirps and the way he imitated our laughter as if he understood the punchline of each joke. But sometimes Duda got testy or talkative at odd hours when Mom wanted to sleep. Suddenly the bird become her arch enemy. Despite these occasional temperamental differences, Mom and the bird bonded. They had a healing effect on each other.

Unfortunately, this winning team has dissolved over the past few months. My mother’s need for high level care forced us to move her to a skilled nursing facility. Then just last week, Duda left us to go to the Great Bird Spirit in the sky. His departure came three months after my mother’s — and twenty-eight years after his arrival!

Here’s to the #Underdogs!

Even as I reflect on their absence, I believe that we had something good going on in our home all these years. The estimated life span of a cockatiel is 16-25 years. Duda surpassed that by a good margin. People with my mother’s dementia diagnosis (cortico-basal degeneration), are given a life expectancy of 5-7 years. Mom is now ten years into her journey with this disease. The survival rate for good football teams is much less predictable. My father did not live to see his Eagles play in the 2004 Super Bowl (which they lost) and he’d probably be surprised to see these #underdogs playing in the national extravaganza tonight.

Naturally, I’ll be rooting for the #Philadelphia Eagles because Dad did — but also because I’m a lifetime lover of birds in any form. It’s strange how we get attached to these sports teams full of players whose lives are so different from our own. But they become powerful symbols of the strange loyalties that add meaning and excitement to our lives. Like Duda and my mother, the #Eagles are real underdogs who have exceeded all predictions and inspired lots of fan love along the way. I hope the many #Underdogs among us find strength to soar above the hardships of illness and caregiving. Long may our great birds fly!

Caregivers: Beware of Elder Fraud

Caregivers: beware of elder fraud. It can have a devastating impact on people with #dementia. Insurance, credit, and financial offers are often hard to assess even when your brain is sharp. When people start losing cognitive skills, they’re more vulnerable to accepting offers they don’t understand. While paying my mother’s bills, I discovered a very fishy insurance policy being billed to my mom’s bank account. My search for facts led to a painful conclusion.

Caregivers: Beware of Elder Fraud

My mom has had dementia for ten years. I took care of her in my home in the early years of her disease.  At some point in the first phase of her illness, someone sold her an insurance policy that had no relevance to her life. She never mentioned the policy to me and I never saw any mail or documents related to it. When I started paying her bills, I saw a recurring debit code on her account. But it didn’t mention the company name so I wasn’t sure where the money was going.  I assumed it was an automatic deduction that paid for something she valued or needed. She set up similar deductions for utilities and other bills.

Big companies, bad reputations

In 2009, Wells Fargo took over Mom’s Wachovia bank accounts. If you read the news, you probably know that a huge fine was levied on #WellsFargo for having 3.5 million fake bank accounts on its books. The fake accounts were opened between 2009 and 2016. According to the New York Times,”thousands of employees, trying to meet aggressive sales goals, had created accounts in customers’ names without their knowledge. Workers who met the bank’s sales targets received bonuses… those who did not risked losing their jobs.”

My research revealed that my mother’s useless insurance policy was part of another Wells Fargo bank initiative. After I issued a formal request for investigation, I found out that her automatic debit was paying the National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh. The policy was part of a partnership between Wells Fargo and that company. A little more study revealed that the National Fire Insurance Company is a subsidiary of AIG. Remember #AIG? It’s the company that nearly collapsed during the Bush Administration because “in the fourth quarter of 2008 [it] posted a loss of $61.7 billion, the greatest ever for any corporation.” President Bush said the nation had to bail out AIG because its collapse could create “a severe disruption in our financial markets and threatened other sectors of the economy.” Well, even after AIG received a $170 billion taxpayer funded bailout, the U. S. economy tanked on its own.

Figuring out the source of fraud

Fast forward to my mom’s useless insurance policy. Wells Fargo (=fake accounts) creates a relationship with National Union Fire Insurance/AIG (=corporate welfare gluttons) to sell insurance to Wells Fargo customers. A recurring debit to pay for the policy was set up using Mom’s account number, to which Wells Fargo had access. If Mom purchased the insurance herself, her birthdate and address would have been accurate on the policy. Even if she couldn’t remember this information, it would have been right there in her desk drawer. The address was on every piece of mail. Yet somehow these details were wrong when I received the policy documents. At the time the policy started, she was in my house 90% of the time. When and how did this thing begin?

My mom is finally free of the corporate leech that stole her resources. But this is just one incident among hoards of scams to con elders out of their money. I still get calls from credit card companies and people who want to buy Mom’s former home. It’s hard to believe the number of offers she receives for car insurance — even though she hasn’t driven in 11 years. #Caregivers are often the only gatekeepers who can monitor these scams. Please keep your eyes open! If you discover a problem you can document, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  An ounce of prevention can be so effective! It’s much better than pursuing justice for loved ones who can’t even remember who conned them.