Mother, Sisters and Princes

It won’t surprise you to learn I follow a lot of beekeepers on Instagram, and I’ve recently encountered some new beekeeping terminology I fully support.

It has to do with the three castes of bees, previously known as the queen, the workers, and the drones. But, no longer! Two of the beekeepers I follow (both women) have introduced new phrasing for these hive members.

Above is a picture that illustrates the three bee castes. (It also illustrates how poor my photo editing skills, but that’s beside the point.)

The photo above was taken of a poster we have hung in our downstairs bathroom. (There is no escape from bee education at our house.) And it was only after I took this picture that I realized that once again, the worker bees have gotten short shrift. They are at the bottom.

Not to be too opinated about it, but THIS IS COMPLETELY WRONG! They belong at the top.

Members of this caste of bees run the hive. Not only do they do all the foraging, make all the honey and propolis, clean the hive, care and feed the larvae (as well as the layabout drones), they also manufacture all the wax, guard the hive, and make all the cells.

Also, because they make the cells, these bees decide on the size of those cells, which is what tells the queen what type of egg to lay — fertilized for another female bee or unfertilized for a male.

Not only that, these girls are the ones who decide when and if the hive needs a new queen, and then they raise one.

Actually, they usually make several and let the new queens figure it out from there, but you get the gist.

Meanwhile, the drones wander around the hive begging food and fly to the drone congregation area to try to mate with a queen. Such a hard life.

While all this is going on around her, the queen is frantically laying eggs in the cells provided by her workers. Her entire life is summed up below. (Or you can read more here.)

1. Emerge from a queen cell.
2. Immediately locate all other queen cells and chew through the wax and kill the queen inside.
3. Rest and mature for a few days.
4. Fly to the drone congregation area to mate with multiple drones (who then die).
5. Repeat #4 a few times, sometimes many times. The more drones she mates with, the better the genetic diversity, which translates into a stronger hive. This is one time that promiscuity pays off, assuming she manages to return from all those flights.
6. Come back to the hive and spend her life laying eggs.
7. If she is very successful, the hive will get crowded. The workers will decide to swarm, and start making new queens in preparation.
8. Before those new queens hatch from the queen cells, the workers make the queen run to get her in shape to fly again. Or so I’ve heard.
9. The old queen then leaves the hive with half of the bees, and they find a new home.

There are other possibilities of how a queen’s life can end, but this is the happiest. Her life isn’t an easy one either.

All of this leads back to the topic of this post, the new names for the bee castes.

Ladies and gents, henceforth, I shall try to remember to refer to my bees as the sisters, the mother, and … wait for it, this is soooo accurate … the princes!

To be honest, I can go either way on worker vs sister bees because worker bee is 100% accurate, but mother and prince have to stay.

And that’s all I have to say on the matter.

Update on Mom: I come away sad every time I visit. She’s exhausted by therapy, but there’s no alternative. If she doesn’t do it, she’ll be bedridden for the rest of her life. If she does it, there’s a chance she may regain enough strength to have again some small control over her life. To even be able to go to the bathroom on her own again would be a huge win. But at this point, neither alternative is very attractive.

Also she’s still a little confused (although she’s not asked for my dad lately). She’s dependent on others for everything, when she’s always been independent, and is so grateful and happy to see me when I visit even though I boss her around. I know she feels she’s had a good life, a lot longer life than she expected, but she’s tired. It’s a lot to ask of a 92-year-old to learn to walk again, and I’m not sure she’ll have the physical strength and the emotional desire to succeed. Even though she has kept her good humor, I can see she’s tired of fighting and sometimes when she’s laying in bed, I can see her mind is very far away.

When she was in the hospital, I was telling the doctor how my grandmother died — doing as she pleased until one day she sat down in her chair and died — and how I was hoping that was how it would be for Mom.

He said, in the kindest way possible, “Most people don’t get what they want,” and something about it being very uncommon.

It makes me think that we need to get much better about death in our culture. There has to be a better way to ease my mother’s (and all of our) last days/months/years on this earth.

Sadly, I don’t know what that might be, or I would be seeking it out for her.

And now, I’ll end with something beautiful — two pictures of a Sweetgum tree leaf on rain-varnished blacktop that I took this morning. I know they are Sweetgum because I tried a new feature on my phone I didn’t know I had, which identified them.

Amazing! Honestly, sometimes technology makes me feel so old.

Update on Mom: Not Great, Not Horrible Either

I hoped the familiar surroundings of Mom’s room at her nursing home might jog her memory about when and where she is, but that has not proven to be the case.

Her personality has returned, but it somehow left behind many of her memories.

When I visited briefly yesterday, she was very annoyed not only by the fact that my brother hadn’t visited (due to being hospitalized and then quarantined for COVID — a fact she can’t seem to digest enough to remember), but also because “your father” couldn’t be bothered to come see her.

She was, of course referring to my dad, who died twenty years ago in December and whom she left in the late 1970s for the man who eventually became my stepdad.

When I reminded her of the above facts, she said somewhat plaintively that she’d like to see Dad again.

So would I, Mom, so would I.

Still it’s weird to hear this from her because the breakup of my mom and dad’s marriage changed all our lives forever. At the time, I blamed him, believing some of his actions caused the divorce, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to see Mom certainly bears a great deal of the responsibility.

For me, it’s like, “Now you feel this way? After completely changing everything for all of us, now you look back and wish you could see my dad again?”

It’s just seems odd that she’s dwelling on this.

Physically, she seemed to possibly, maybe be making some (excruciatingly slow) progress, but today she was, ahem, indisposed due to the effects of the antibiotic on her stomach and didn’t get out of bed.

And yes, she remains ticked off at Dad for not visiting.

However, she always seems glad to see me. For this reason, I am visiting every day, at least for now, despite –or possibly because — nothing much seems to be happening.

The possibility of this kind of outcome of her fall hadn’t occurrred to me. I imagined she’d either move forward with PT — maybe not to her previous level but close — or this would be the health crisis that her aged body could not overcome.

It sounds heartless, but when your parent reaches such an advanced age, you can’t ignore what will certainly be the outcome one day (and likely sooner rather than later).

Instead, we are in this sort of twilight zone, unsure how things will go.

And yet, personality-wise, she’s her old self. Except for some frustration with Dad (and with me and her brain when I explain why he’s not coming), she seems pretty happy. Also, she’s not in pain (at least she says she’s not).

So, even though her body and mind seem to be letting her down, her spirit remains indomitable.

I take heart in that.

Hello, My Name Is …

It seems appropriate to drop a quick update on the situation with Mom.

She had surgery for her hip on Thursday — a screw and rod rather than a replacement, and it went smoothly thanks to the care of the surgeon and anesthesiology team. However, by that time, the pain meds were having quite an adverse effect. She would rally from time to time, but was very confused and spend much of the time staring blankly at the wall.

Sunday morning I was convinced she’d had a small stroke. Her mouth was drooping, and she was having problems swallowing when I tried to feed her the applesauce and other soft foods she’d previously eaten for me (although not for the aides). A scan showed this wasn’t the case.

Obviously, she was unable to respond to any efforts at PT.

Yesterday, we seemed to have rounded a corner. When I came in, she was sitting up (with help from the therapists) and not only ate, but also fed herself.

More importantly, her feisty personality seemed to have reappeared.

Thankfully, that’s still true.

However, today when I walked in, she said conversationally, “My daughter has a bag just like that.”

When I responded I was her daughter, she was adamant that I wasn’t, although she was not quite sure who I was — someone who was supposed to come see her, maybe the therapist.

When I helped her take a drink and encouraged her not to drink too fast, she responded that she’d been drinking for sixty-two years.

“Ninety-two, you mean,” I said.

No, she was 62, and not a day older. And her oldest child was 24, her youngest almost 23, with the middle one being somewhere in the middle of the two.


She’s also sure as can be she never broke a hip in her life.

This is a little worrying. She’s been off pain meds for at least three days, and surgery was five days ago.

On a positive note, she did mention that “Everyone keeps telling me I need to co-op-er-ate with the therapists.”

“Or what?” I asked.

“Or I won’t improve.”

“And if you don’t?”

“Then I will be S. O. L!”

In some ways, it’s nice to have Mom back in spirit, if not dwelling in reality. And I’m sure glad she understands the importance of doing PT.

She also seems pretty chipper, happy to chat about anything I brought up.

I don’t even mind her not recognizing me because whoever “Kym” is to her, she clearly holds a place of great affection in my mother’s mind.

Also, my father had Alzheimer’s for many years before he died, and he had no idea who I (or anyone) was for at least a few of those years.

I just wonder if the thirty years Mom has misplaced will come back and what it will mean if they don’t. And like watching my father lose his own memories, it makes me ponder the essence of what we deem to be reality.

Resilience and Expectations

I’m sitting in my mom’s hospital room as she sleeps, waiting for time to pass and the doctor to make her rounds. 

The phone call came as we were preparing to work the bees yesterday,  to reorganize two hives and start to feed for winter. 

“Kym?” Mom’s voice was strained. “I fell. They think I broke my hip.” 

Sometimes plans change as quickly as that. 

Mom, as I’ve mentioned, is old, having turned 92 in August, and she’s had some health issues in the last fifteen years — a broken arm at 80, a crushed elbow plus surgery for vulvar cancer in the years following, and several hospital stays for pneumonia. She has a-fib and congestive heart failure, wears hearing aids (when she remembers), glasses, and dentures. Both knees have been replaced, and cataracts removed from both eyes. Recently, she had laser procedure to remove scar tissue left by the cataracts, and the doctor said her eyes have reached the middle stages of macular degeneration. Her kidneys don’t work so well either.

Also, in the last two years, she’s begun to lose her short-term memory, which means she sometimes calls multiple times to check in when we’ve spoken just hours (sometimes minutes) before and repeat the same questions in a conversation.

At least it’s not dementia, for which I am profoundly grateful.

Despite all this, she gets up every day and dresses (most days), reads her library books, and strolls the halls of her nursing home with her walker looking for trouble. 

The staff love her because she is feisty, and many say they want to be her when they grow up.

In short, she is — and she would tell you this herself — a tough old broad. But she will also tell you getting old is not for sissies.

Being the daughter of a tough old broad is also not for sissies. I am becoming a tough old broad by default as we face these unwanted developments together.

Each time a health crisis springs up, I mentally prepare myself for the possibility that this one might be that finally pushes her body past its capability to survive.

I know it will happen, just as I know no matter how hard I try, I will never be prepared for the loss that is surely, surely coming my way.

And yet, each time so far, this resilient, tough old lady has managed to recover.

Still, every bout with illness, every fall, and every injury leaves her just a little below her previous level of wellness. 

It’s like that expression (and gosh, I’m just full of quotes today, aren’t I?), “Fall down seven times, get up eight,” except I know someday — no matter how tough and resilient she is — someday, my mother’s body won’t be able to get back up.

I know genetics have a lot to do with her longevity. Her mother lived to 86, her father to 84, and many of her aunts and uncles died in the eighties and nineties. 

But she’s one of seven siblings. Five are now gone, and two of them were younger than Mom.

So, it’s not just genetics.

If you ask me — and I know you didn’t, but this is my blog so I’m telling you anyway — I believe Mom has survived partly because of her resilience. The ability to roll with the punches, without worrying overmuch about the future has surely been a factor.

I don’t mean she’s spent her life not thinking ahead, or that she was impetuous and foolhardy (although leaving my father after 27 years of marriage sould imply a certain level of impetuousness).

But Mom’s always seemed to trust things would work out okay, while at the same time not hinging her future happiness on any one set of expectations. 

Photo by Ann H on

Here’s what I mean: When I was younger (so much younger than today), I would get super excited about future events, thinking, “When that day gets here, I’m going to be so happy.”

Of course, that day would come and go, and although I might have enjoyed it, my life remained basically the same … a normal ordinary life. 

Eventually, I came to understand John Lennon (and/or whoever may have said it before him) was right. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. 

Sometimes those happenings are wonderful — an unexpectedly fun time with friends, the sight of a beautiful sunset, an opportunity you never thought you’d have. 

And sometimes, they are not wonderful — finding a lump in your breast, falling and breaking a hip, losing a loved one. 

It follows that happiness also happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. 

If we are very lucky and/or particularly insightful, we’ll recognize this contentment/happiness as it’s happening in our normal every day life. If we aren’t so lucky and/or insightful, we may realize it later, which will hopefully help us to  learn to notice — and be grateful — when we are in a life phase where things are uneventul, unexciting, just, well … normal.

There’s a meditation that goes: 

“A normal day! Holding it in my hand this one last moment, I have come to see it as more than an ordinary rock, it is a gem, a jewel. In time of war, in peril of death, people have dug their hands and faces into the earth and remembered this. In time of sickness and pain, people have buried their faces in pillows and wept for this. In time of loneliness and separation, people have stretched themselves taut and waited for this. In time of hunger, homelessness, and wants, people have raised bony hands to the skies and stayed alive for this.

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, savor you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky, and want more than all the world your return. And then I will know what now I am guessing: that you are, indeed, a common rock and not a jewel, but that a common rock made of the very mass substance of the earth in all its strength and plenty puts a gem to shame.”

It is normal days that are the true treasures of our lives. We would be better served to recognize that fact instead than searching for happiness in future events that may or may not live up to our hopes, events that may or may not even happen.

How much better it would be if we could keep in mind that none of us know how many long those normal days will last. (For that matter, none of us have any idea how many days we have left, normal or not.)

A long time ago, I read a poem comparing the cycle of ocean waves to the cycles of life. I wish I could find it again because there was a phrase that’s stuck with me, something about “When nothing is happening, something is building up to happen.”

I have found this to be true. When things are at their most normal, and we are settling into a routine — perhaps even growing a little complacent — currents are growing. Hidden and beneath the surface, they will eventually reach the shores of our lives, and no one can know how much they will wash away.

I won’t say I don’t sometimes get caught up in planning for the future — I’m a control freak, after all! Nor do I claim to be a particularly evolved human being. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know this because not only am I controlling, I’m also selfish, judgmental, and sometimes inflexible, occasionally unfocused, and yes, even neurotic. 

But I have at least learned to not tie my happiness/contentment/self-worth to outside events and other people, and to understand that sometimes life just doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes things happen, and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it. “What’s for you won’t pass by you,” “Que, sera’, sera,'”, and all that.

I learned from my mom. 🙂

Actually, life taught me, and I count myself lucky it did.

I’ll end with another quote, this one familiar to many, and the words are worth pondering, no matter what your faith.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Umm, isn’t that the whole hospital?