Here's to you, Mom!

Here’s to you, Mom!

NOTE:  In memory of John McCain, who died yesterday in the place he wanted to be, surrounded by his family.  (Originally published July 20, 2015).

The four best things a doctor can say to a patient facing a health crisis, real or imagined:

One: “This isn’t serious.”
Two: “We can fix this.”
Three: “You will get better.”
Four: “If I had a magic wand, what is it you would wish for today?”

The first three “good things” are simple sentences that can do as much to alleviate pain and anxiety as any medication. They give patients hope and confidence that they will receive the care they need. The fourth “good thing” refers to a different medical situation, but it, too, provides similar comfort. Dawn M. Gross, MD uses that sentence—“If I had a magic wand, what is it you would wish for today?”– to illustrate what doctors can say when caring for terminally ill patients. You can read the entire New York Times Opionator, “The Error in ‘There’s Nothing More We Can Do’” here.

In my experience, very few doctors are comfortable telling patients that there’s nothing more to be done. Instead, because they are dedicated to fixing what’s wrong, they are reluctant to “give up” and so recommend more treatments, medications or procedures that often ruin the quality of a patient’s last days. I certainly understand how difficult it must be for a doctor to tell a patient there is nothing more to do. What Dr. Gross, a hospice and palliative care physician, knows is that there is always more to be done and that patients know exactly what more they want, if only they are asked.

When my mother’s treatment for lung cancer stopped working in the Autumn of 2012, my siblings and I needed to convince her that we didn’t think she was a “quitter” because she wanted hospice care. Once she was reassured that she wasn’t letting any of us down, she had a few wishes: to see Barack Obama re-elected (check!); to be at home with her family(check!); not be hospitalized (check!) and to die before Thanksgiving so as not to “ruin the holidays” (check!). She was efficient, my mother. As difficult it was to lose her, she got what she wanted because she was able to answer Dr. Gross’s question: “What is it you wish for today?” She had one other wish. Though Mom never much cared for alcohol, in her last years we convinced her that Cosmopolitans tasted pretty darn good and she asked that after she died, we toast her memory with a Cosmo (check!). We miss you, Mom.

Posted in Alexis Rankin Popik, Family, General | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


A Real Lady’s Workplace

When I was growing up in the 1950’s, there was a lot of emphasis on “how to be a lady.”  This behavioral guide was drummed into my girlfriends and me at home and in Catholic school. NOT being ladylike encompassed chewing gum, eating noisily, talking loudly, arguing with adults and being a show-off.  As best I could tell, being a lady meant being soft-spoken, obedient and demure.

It has taken a lifetime for me to negotiate the often-fine line between being a lady and being a doormat, to stand up for what I believe while keeping a firm grip on my temper. Enter Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “The Notorious RBG.”  I was taken aback a few minutes into this fine documentary to hear Justice Ginsburg say that her mother taught her that she should always be a lady. Ruth Bader Ginsburg—one of only nine women in her Harvard Law School class of 500+, champion of equal rights, role model for thousands of female attorneys?  How could she be all that and “a lady” as well?  I learned that her mother’s definition of being a lady included never allowing oneself to be overcome by useless emotions like anger and always to be independent and able to fend for yourself.

You can now see in theaters and by streaming video what RBG’s definition of being a lady encompasses:  tolerance, civility, dedication, hard work, and an unwavering commitment to fairness. And it doesn’t hurt that she obviously adored her husband. RBG’s life story will lift your spirits.


Photo by Claire Anderson via Unsplash

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


Not particularly worried.


Several years ago I heard one of my doctor friends refer to “The Worried Well” and I began to, well, worry that I was one of them. I asked my personal physician about it and she told me she “didn’t think of me that way.” There is definitely a benefit to having someone around who can tell you that you are fine—absolutely fine.  And if there are reasons for doubting the reassurance, that’s normal for The Worried Well, too.

Look up “The Worried Well” on the internet and you’ll find dozens of fun facts describing the phenomenon:  one in four physician appointments is taken by a healthy person. The Worried Well often suffer from depression and/or anxiety; social isolation may be a component of their hypochondria.  Certainly some of my friends who live alone tend to be more concerned about their health than those who live with other people.  I know from experience that if I go too long without talking (or, more correctly, “unloading” my concerns) to a friend, anxiety creeps in.

A case in point:  last week I was alone for several days, a period that coincided with a dear friend’s third anniversary surviving Pancreatic Cancer. As night fell, I began to notice a few abdominal pains. One thing led to another and I spent a few hours researching symptoms while my abdominal pain shifted here and there. I didn’t meet many of the criteria for Pancreatic Cancer, so I symptom-surfed Gall Bladder disease.  It was kind of plausible but the more is read, the more I came to realize that abdominal pain can be caused by just about anything.  When my husband returned days later, I greeted him with my grab bag of maladies and he told me that I was fine—absolutely fine. There wasn’t any medical evidence for his opinion but that didn’t matter.  I felt better immediately.  Which just goes to show, it’s good to have a friend to tell you exactly what you need to hear.

Posted in Alexis Rankin Popik, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


If only it worked.

If only it worked.

As I get older, I have much more to look back on and feel guilty about. Yes, yes there’s no point in feeling guilty.  I could go into what has made me like this, but who cares? When I can’t sleep, an army of misdeeds invades my consciousness: overtures of friendship I casually rejected, thoughtless criticisms, insensitivities.

A while back it occurred to me that I could right some of these wrongs. I decided to clear the decks of guilt. I began to call people I had offended in order to apologize. After the first three calls, I stopped. None of them remembered what I was so torn up about. They were baffled, incredulous and/or amused. Though that was a relief, I came to understand that I wasn’t so important after all. I might have been the hero (or villain) of my own life, but I sure wasn’t of anyone elses.

Guilt Gems” is a story by John Updike that has stuck with me over the years. It concerns a father named Ferris who thinks back to the many times he has been cruel to his children. He describes a softball game in which he felt forced to tag his ten-year-old daughter and recalled “…she looked at him with a smile, a smile preserved as in amber by a childish wild plea on her face. She was out.”

One of my guilt gems is the time I tried to prevent my four-year-old daughter from calling me into her bedroom in the middle of the night. The routine was that she would wet her bed, then call me and I would get up, change her pajamas and put a dry pad over the wet spot. I was a single working mother, tired all the time, and it seemed reasonable that Sara take care of this herself. As I was tucking her into bed, I put a fresh pair of PJs and a pad at the foot of her bed and stroked her head as I explained that when I was a little girl, my mommy had me change clothes and use a dry pad whenever I wet the bed. First she looked shocked, then frowned and asked in a quavery voice, “But did she just come in one night and tell you she was never going to come into your room again?”

Sara has a small daughter of her own now and she’s collecting her own treasure chest of guilt gems. Unfortunately, and contrary to my other experiences, she remembers the night I came into her room quite vividly.

Sleep well, dear readers.


*Back by popular demand!

Posted in Alexis Rankin Popik, General, Quotations | Tagged , | Leave a comment


Do your friends trust your judgment in books?  I am often asked what I have enjoyed reading lately.  The problem is, I haven’t been enjoying many prize-winning books. I feel sad saying what no one wants to hear: “I’m reading **** but I don’t think it’s very good.”

A couple examples: Little Fires Everywhere shot to the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list for Fiction and was named Amazon’s Best Novel of 2017.  The Sympathizer, which I am currently plodding through, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Surely it is sufficient to trust the judgement of the boards and readers who award these prizes.

When I attended the first meeting of a newly formed book group, I alienated the other four attendees by saying that Little Fires’ characters were stereotypes, there more to serve the plot than to be believable.  No one showed any trust in my judgement and eventually I decided it might be best to find a less-easily-offended group.  To my surprise, when later I looked up reviews for Little Fires,  I found that The Guardian’s review included:

“The plot hinges on a series of coincidences that
don’t stand up to scrutiny:they are too neat and too many…
it’s too clever, too complete, to be entirely plausible.” 

While the rest of the review was positive, at least part of my evaluation wasn’t off.

Of The Sympathizer, the Washington Post reviewer has virtually nothing negative to say about it. Though I avoid reading reviews prior to reading a book, maybe I should have with this one.   Because I feel guilty (a subject for a different blog) reading fiction during the day, I save it for bedtime, not the best hour to decipher sentences like this one:

“Killing the extras was either a reenactment of what
had happened to us natives or a dress rehearsal for
the next such episode, with the Movie the local
anesthetic applied to the American mind, preparing it
for any minor irritation before or after such a deed.”  

I can barely get through that sentence in the morning after two cups of coffee.

Maybe if I overcome the guilt problem, I will be able to recommend some novels in the future.  Up next:  My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley.  I trust I will enjoy it.


Photo courtesy of Kyle Glenn via Unsplash.com

Posted in Alexis Rankin Popik | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Some days it just isn’t possible to concentrate long enough to write a 350-word blog.  Sunday was one of those days.  However, a lot of wonderful things have been happening on the South Coast of Massachusetts and beyond that caught my attention.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that my father’s family came from Croatia (yes, they were immigrants!).  Croatia’s performance in the 2018 World Cup has been thrilling for Mekjavichs on three continents, so it was sad today to see our team lose, even though they played well.  I am consoled by a reminder from my Croatian cousin Victor, who was born and raised in Argentina: “The really important thing is not winning.  Croatia is an example of work and sacrifice on and off the field of play.”

My friend Christina Bascom and several other women got together and developed Lighting the Way, an educational program that explores the historical impact of women from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds who shaped their South Coast communities, the nation and the world.  The launch of the Lighting the Way Walking Trail was on July 12 at the New Bedford Whaling Museum and included a bus tour of the residences of those women as well as a Lighting the Way Trail Map, a Mobile App and the introduction of the program’s website. In 2019-2020 the program will provide participating local schools with new ways to engage students in a more inclusive (women’s roles!) telling of history.

This past week brought the 22nd Annual Buzzards Bay MusicFest to our small town of Marion, Massachusetts.  A total of five concerts, free to the public, were held at Tabor Academy’s Fireman Performing Arts Center.  Concerts included classical pieces by a full orchestra, chamber music and an evening devoted to “The Great American Songbook” performed by a swing band.  Local families have the opportunity to host musicians in their homes, a system that makes for a community-wide experience for musicians and residents alike.



Photo credits, all via Unsplash:Soccer ball:  slava-keyzman; Lantern: conner-carruthers; Musicians:  kale-bloom

Posted in Alexis Rankin Popik, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment


Our friends, Larry and Joy Thon

Larry and Joy having a good time.

July 7 was the anniversary of the unexpected death of a good friend.  Larry was killed in his bed by an enormous tree that fell on his cottage during a severe storm.  Some will say “it was his time.”  I’ve never much cared for that sentiment.  I bet if Larry had had anything to say about it, he would have wanted more time.  Time is a gift that is always with us and yet is one we seldom notice.

Last week I had the good fortune to see Hamilton in New York.  I prepared for the experience by listening to the music, reading the libretto and Lin Manuel Miranda’s comments on what inspired him, how long each passage took to write, and how it changed over time.  It took six years for him to write Hamilton but Miranda is a young guy and he had plenty of time.  Would Larry have had six more years?

The press of time and what remains after our time has come are recurring themes in Hamilton.  I hear the songs in my head all the time now:  “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”  “And when you’re gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame?”

I remember my great aunts telling family stories at our annual camping trips when I was a kid. I sat with my mother and her cousins, listening to Aunt Isabelle and Aunt Frances tell stories about their brother—my grandfather–and bits and pieces of family trivia, all designed to make us laugh.

The hole in Larry’s house has been repaired; the hole in the hearts of his family and friends has not and never will be.  When they are together, as they are this weekend,  they are sad that he isn’t with them and also able to remember his assorted foibles and have a good laugh.  They are telling his story.



Posted in Alexis Rankin Popik | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


News overload

Photo by @rawpixel via Unsplash.com

I am a news junkie, married to a news junkie. Every morning each of us reads our favorite newspapers online, then we turn on television news for as long as we can stand it and later in the day repeat as needed—which is often.  In the past month we have been traveling and often out of the reach of the internet, television and sometimes cell phone service.  Though at times I felt as if I were going through withdrawal, for the most part I enjoyed detoxifying.

That leads to the question: which is better—keeping up with the news or avoiding it.  And the answer, as is true for most things, is that moderation is likely the best approach. As human beings, our survival depends on finding rewards and avoiding harm, according to Loretta Breuning, author of Habits of a Happy Brain.  Therefore, our brains are predisposed to detect threats and thus either avoid or be prepared to deal with potential harm.  Beyond that, there are individual differences:  some people can take in distressing news and maintain their equilibrium; others become upset to the point of illness.

Since returning from time away from the news, I have read and watched less of it.  I am still well informed but  feel better for making the change.  My passage from a lot to not-so-much news has been eased by the World Cup Soccer Games, which have been a wonderful diversion and explain, in part, why love of sports brings people together.  It was thrilling to see Croatia win today and to see the players hugging their Danish opponents afterwards.  And now:  Go Mexico!!!

Posted in Alexis Rankin Popik, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


Mexican baby

Guanajato baby and mother

I have not posted this blog for the past two weeks, at first because I was on a photo trip to Mexico and then because I couldn’t bring myself to write about the vagaries of daily life while children are being wrenched away from their parents at the United States border.  It is impossible to imagine how people who have children of their own—that would be the president and presumably most of his defenders—can be so cruel and un-American. I remember well how, after I gave birth to my first child, I was shocked at how much I loved her.  I hadn’t known I was capable of loving someone that much. Now I imagine how those mothers and fathers must feel when they are told their children are being taken way “for baths” and they have not seen or heard from them since.  For many, I am afraid, they may never be reunited.  How can we do this to other human beings?  This is not making America great. This is making America vicious and shameful.

Funny Face in Guanajuato

Little boy making a funny face for the camera.

I am including three photos I have taken in the past two weeks.  Two are of children in Mexico—not vermin, not infesters but children of loving, hard-working parents much like most Americans.  The third photo I took from a BART commuter train.  If you look carefully, you can see an Asian woman, an African-American woman and several men, one of whom—Hispanic—is studying a book that prepares people for taking the Graduate Record Exam.  This mix is what I love about America, not the dehumanization we are seeing at the border.

Mix of races on BART.

BART train passengers–immigrants all.

Posted in Alexis Rankin Popik, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment



“Our” ospreys.

Returning to the Marion house is always a pleasure. I have loved this place for more than a decade, painting each room, moving furniture around, planting a garden, bringing to it bits and pieces of things that appeal to me. Walking in the door is like reuniting with an old friend:  when I’m not here, I think of it often and wonder how it’s doing; when I return it’s as if I’ve never been away.

The first thing I did yesterday was check on the osprey nest outside our windows. The ospreys winter in the southern United States like most of the summer residents of Marion, and they return to the same nest every year, also like their human counterparts. The nest platform we built is only three years old and was unoccupied when I arrived, though there seemed to be more sticks and moss than last year.  I stood at the window for a while, wondering if the pair who had been here before had found better digs someplace else. And then they showed up.  They stood facing each other on the nest, swiveling their heads back and forth as if they were checking out the Woman at the Window (a book I am currently reading).  I swear they were discussing me.

This morning one of the pair has been building up the nest, bringing sticks, grass and  shiny things she fancied in trip after trip and then rearranging the chosen materials each time.  It’s a painstaking task to move furniture when your only tool is a beak. Meanwhile, the other bird is sitting atop a nearby post eating a large fish.  In the hour I have been spying on them, the pattern has been the same:  fix up the house, eat a snack.  Based on personal experience, I decided the nest decorator must be the female and the snacker the male. He likely also brought in the food. I know this is anthropomorphizing, but it was too easy to ignore.  Alas, I was wrong.  According to Cornell ornithologists, the male usually gathers the nesting materials and the female arranges them later.  Apologies to my spouse.

I hope the ospreys will come to love their house as I love mine.

Posted in Alexis Rankin Popik | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment