Monday, November 8, 2010

The Nursing Home Experience

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Saturday, November 6, 2010.

By Bill Gouveia

Over the past few weeks my family has had the responsibility of placing a loved one into a nursing home facility. While an unavoidable part of life for many, it is also heartbreaking and patience-trying.

My step-dad is almost 82 years old, and his health has taken a turn for the worse recently. A widower, he simply could not continue to stay in the assisted living facility he called home for the last year. So my brother and I began the long journey into the federal and state bureaucratic mess most face when this life phase comes along.

The first step was locating a facility that had room for him and that we believed provided an appropriate level of care. Neither of us has much experience in such matters, and it certainly opened our eyes. I don’t care how good the nursing home you find is, it is still a nursing home. Unless you are independently wealthy and can afford expensive private care, you wind up settling in some way for less than you would have hoped.

When we found a good facility with an opening, we began to wade into the paperwork that can quickly overwhelm the average person. There are applications to fill out for various state and federal agencies, financial information to be gathered and submitted, and long and tedious phone calls to be made. Medicare and the related insurances are not among the easier things to understand in this world.

But that is nothing compared to what the poor person going into the facility must endure. I have come to the conclusion there simply is no way to explain to an elderly man or woman you love why you are leaving them in a place they do not want to be. You can have all the facts on your side, be secure in the knowledge you are making the only good decision available – and still feel as if you are betraying the trust placed in you.

Forget what it does to you, the guilt and the sorrow and heartache of leaving your family member with strangers for what will be the rest of his/her life. What it does to the elderly person himself/herself is what you worry about. The desperation and pain in their eyes the first time they beg you to “go home” is exceeded only by the same look the many subsequent times they ask.

You leave them knowing they will spend most of their hours alone with their thoughts. You leave them knowing the staff will treat them well, but that they cannot respond instantly every time they are summonsed. You pray they know you love them, and would not do this unless it was necessary.

You know in your head and in your heart you have done the best you can for him/her. Yet you constantly question yourself, your judgment, and whether or not you could have and should have done more. Your force yourself to channel the guilt that wracks you into energy that propels you. You remind yourself the person you love depends on your ability to do the job you have been entrusted with and accepted.

You also remember this does not have to be a totally negative experience. You think of the other families you have met who fondly attend to their loved one, and you look to the example of the sweet and independent residents you have met in the facility you chose.

At the same time, you remember the poor lost souls who have no one to visit, no one to bring them shakes and sandwiches, no one to advocate on their behalf and protect their interests. And you are glad you could be there for your family member and provide some assurance and protection. You realize in the end that is their greatest comfort in their darkest hours.

And you gaze into the future and see yourself. You know you should save more money. You worry about burdening your own children or family in the future. And the chill you feel running down your spine is because you see yourself in that bed someday, begging family to “take me home”.

And you pray you will handle it with dignity.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be reached at

Thursday, October 28, 2010

That's My Boy!

As a proud father, I have to pass along this video of my son Aaron at what I believe to be one of his very finest moments. If you read the post prior to this, you know about the situation. Here he confronts abortion protesters who yelled awful things at Aaron and his wife as they went into a medical facility for the worst day of their lives:

This has now received over one-half MILLION hits on Youtube!

I am very - VERY - proud of my son and his wife!

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Grandchild I Never Knew

Abortion – it’s an ugly term. It has a deservedly harsh connotation to it, conveying an untimely ending and something gone horribly wrong.

My son and daughter-in-law had to make a decision to terminate their pregnancy recently, a pregnancy nearly four months along. They chose to do it, although in reality there was no choice. But it was still incredibly difficult.

Their baby – my grandchild – had a rare and fatal congenital birth defect called Sirenomelia, otherwise known as Mermaid Syndrome. Due to a vascular malfunction, the baby’s legs were fused together. The baby had no bladder, no kidneys, and no chance of surviving. The defect occurs once in about every 100,000 births.

The pain this caused my son and his wife, who very much wanted this second child, is indescribable. You cannot possibly fathom the depths of their despair unless you have been in a similar position. And while nowhere near as bad, the pain of having to watch our children go through this is something my wife and I pray we never have to experience again.

Our kids handled their situation with all the class, dignity and responsibility human beings can be expected to muster. We are so proud, even as our hearts break for them. Their strength and devotion to one another and their two-year-old son is the stuff of legends.

But their ordeal was made even more unnecessarily awful by the politics and social controversy surrounding the abortion issue. On one of the worst days of their lives, they became victims again – this time at the hands of those trying to do God’s work while in fact doing just the opposite.

Although my daughter-in-law was treated at a major Boston hospital, the time-sensitive nature of the procedure necessitated it be done at an affiliated establishment. After she and my son mustered the necessary courage and emotional strength to get where they had to go, they were met by something they had not considered in their grief – abortion protestors.

Two women were picketing outside the establishment, carrying signs and “communicating” with women walking in the door. One carried a sign of religious symbolism. As my son and his wife tried to enter the building where they would lose the baby they already loved so much, they were approached by the women.

“You’re killing your unborn baby!’ was the remark they would remember most as they walked past. They were both furious and devastated, but held their tempers and concentrated on what needed to be done. But once my daughter-in-law was in surgery, my son decided to take on the protestors.

In a calm but firm tone, he told them of his wife’s condition. How they had accosted her at the most vulnerable point in her life. How they had hurled accusations when they had no idea of the circumstances. How they claimed to be protecting, yet seemed more intent on hurting. And better yet, he recorded the entire conversation on his cell phone and posted it on his internet blog.

These particular protestors care about the unborn, but apparently are not concerned with those who have already come into the world. They made no attempt to discover the circumstances and just assumed this was a couple ending an unwanted pregnancy. To them, my kids were simply collateral damage in an ongoing war – the price to be paid for later success.

This column is not about a woman’s right to choose, although I have my own opinions on that matter. It is about the culture of hatred and disrespect that people today foster when they single-mindedly focus on one goal to the exclusion of nearly all else. It is about allowing the end to justify the means.

I am so proud of my son, and perhaps even more proud of his wife. At a time of great personal turmoil, they did not just retreat inside their own grief – though no one would have blamed them.

Rather, they cared enough to take the time to explain to these people how their actions can destroy others. How their words can scar forever. How nothing is ever as clear or as simple as it seems.

I love them dearly, and I will never forget the lessons they have taught us all.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Senator Brown's bill is just wrong

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Saturday, May 14, 2010.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” – Benjamin Franklin.

This famous quotation leapt to mind recently when Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown announced his co-sponsorship of legislation entitled the “Terrorist Expatriation Act”. This bill would expand State Department powers to strip Americans of their citizenship under a 1940 law, if the government determines they have joined or supported a terrorist-type organization.

These Americans would not have to be convicted of any crime. They would have the right to appeal the government’s determination - after the fact - through the court system. The Senator’s bill was filed largely in response to the recent car bombing attempt in Times Square by an alleged naturalized US citizen from Pakistan.

“We continue to defend our nation against shadowy extremist enemies whose tactics are ever-changing and evolving, but their goal of destroying our way of life remains the same," explained Brown, the country’s newest senator. “It is critical to our homeland security that we adjust and adapt our defense measures to keep terrorism out of our country.”

The law Brown seeks to expand was created as America was about to enter the war in Europe and battle the Nazi government. When Senator Joseph McCarthy started hunting Communists in the 1950’s, the law was given more teeth in response to the fear gripping the nation.

But it has rarely been used or enforced because the Supreme Court has consistently ruled citizenship can only be given up voluntarily. And that is as it should be, because citizenship is the single most important protection Americans have against unfair persecution, particularly by those in positions of governmental power.

The idea a senator from Massachusetts, where American liberty was conceived, could sponsor a bill that would strip citizenship from those merely accused of crimes or associations is frightening and ridiculous. The fact many well-known politicians from both parties are hesitant to immediately oppose it speaks to the political climate which today has politicians pandering to prevailing public opinion, rather than standing up for the principles upon which this great nation was founded.

There are strong laws and penalties in place for those who would commit terrorism and/or treason. But citizens of this country have certain rights, even if alleged to have committed criminal acts. Those rights were fought for and secured with the blood of patriots over the last 234 years. They belong to the people of this country - not its government.

Yes, the rights of American citizens sometimes make it difficult to provide for our security. Democracy and freedom are not easy. Maintaining them means forever balancing the rights of the individual against the needs of society. It is what separates us from most of the rest of the world.

Thomas Jefferson – hardly known as a liberal zealot – said: “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

People have the right to be safe in their homes. Those who violate the laws of our land should face the appropriate punishments. And those convicted of plotting the violent overthrow of our government should be dealt with to the extreme, be they US citizens or not.

But proposals such as the one put forth by Senator Brown are as clearly political and self-serving as they are unconstitutional. Brown’s proposed law brings back sad memories of the way this country treated Japanese-Americans during World War II. It may well be popular in the current political climate, and it might earn him some votes. But it will also lose him a great deal of respect.

If we are willing to devalue American citizenship in order to protect ourselves, then the terrorists have already achieved their major goal – to begin the destruction of our way of life from within. We cannot allow that to happen.

Old Ben Franklin was absolutely right in what he said. And despite the best of intentions, Senator Brown is dead wrong in sponsoring this un-American piece of awful legislation.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist who – contrary to popular belief – did not know Ben Franklin personally. He can be reached at

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Under-Appreciated Father of the Groom

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Saturday, May 8, 2010.

If you see me hanging around looking useless, you might assume that’s just the natural state for newspaper columnists. But no, I am merely readying myself for the final performance of a role I have played once thus far in my life.

My youngest son is getting married early next year to a wonderful young lady (I get in trouble when I call her “The Doctor”, but I’m very proud of her). So next March 12th I will don whatever finery I am instructed to wear, go where I am told, and pretty much stay out of the way. Such is life for the least important, nearly invisible participant in many weddings – the Father of the Groom (or FOG).

Each wedding participant usually has a clearly defined role. The Mother of the Bride is escorted down the aisle at the beginning of the ceremony. The Mother of the Groom gets to have that emotional dance with her son at the reception. And who among us has not shed a tear watching the Father of the Bride dance with his newly-wed daughter before the cheering crowd?

The Maid of Honor stands next to the bride as she is wed. The Best Man is entrusted with holding the wedding rings and gives the much-anticipated toast. The bridesmaids and groomsmen escort each other down the aisle to take their place of honor.

But the Father of the Groom does nothing. He stays in the background, guards his wife’s purse, and maybe occasionally gives guests directions to the restroom. If your attention is called to the FOG in a wedding, it is usually because something has gone horribly wrong.

In fact, he is not even considered capable of escorting his own wife down the aisle. Instead, he trails behind as though he came in late and has to catch up. His only responsibility is to remain upright and not step on his spouse’s dress from behind.

Since my son is marrying a doctor, let me put it in a medical perspective. The FOG is the appendix of the wedding party. Should he become inflamed he can be removed with virtually no damage to the wedding itself.

Sure, in some ceremonies the FOG is tossed a bone. Maybe he gets to light a candle before the service actually starts. Perhaps he can do a reading of some obscure scripture. Or in some cases, he might get to tell the caterer the final count of how many vegetarian dinners are actually necessary. But there seems to be no traditional role for this under-appreciated, under-utilized parental unit.

Of course, wedding days are not about other people. They are about the happy couple and giving them a day to remember as they start down the path to marital bliss. It is about their commitment and love, not about making sure their loved ones have played an important role in their day.

I don’t know who said that, but obviously it was not a Father of the Groom.

My oldest son was married just over four years ago, and his ceremony and celebration were amazing and wonderful. I played my role as FOG as well as could be expected. I wore the proper clothing, made the lonesome walk behind my wife as she was escorted to her seat by my other son, and made sure she did not trip coming off the altar when we jointly went up and lit a candle. Obviously, I could not be trusted alone with an open flame.

And it was one of the happiest days of my life, as March 12, 2011 will be also. I can’t wait to watch my youngest child exchange vows and officially join the ranks of the married. His spouse-to-be is specializing in geriatrics, and frankly I’m figuring the timing is just about right for me.

But as I sit watching it happen, I think I’ll keep an invitation in my pocket in case I have to prove I’m supposed to be there. Remember, it’s all about me.

If any of you faithful readers have suggestions for this anxious FOG, I’d be more than happy to listen. After all, what else do I have to do?

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a soon-to-be two-time FOG. You may send suggestions to him at

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Don't Pity the Pope

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on April 17, 2010
It is generally unwise to write an opinion column on religion. So I won’t. But I am going to offer an opinion on the recent political and legal actions – or inactions – of the Catholic Church.

It has been a rough few weeks for the Church worldwide. The difficult and emotional issue of child abuse allegedly perpetrated by priests and ignored or covered up by Church officials has once again raised its ugly head. But this time accusations of a cover-up have not only reached the Vatican, but extended to the religious leader and Vatican head of state – His Holiness Pope Benedict.

Files recently made public as a result of a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee show Vatican officials were made aware of alleged abuse committed by a priest at a school for deaf children in Wisconsin. The case in question was handled by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led from 1981-2005 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict.

The priest in question, the late Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, was never dismissed by the church. Nor was he ever prosecuted by civilian legal authorities. He was transferred by church officials to a diocese in northern Wisconsin where he served his final 24 years of life working freely with children and parishioners.

Vatican and church officials have quickly rallied to defend Pope Benedict, strongly denying he ever had personal knowledge of the abuse situation. Many have denounced the accusations against the then-Cardinal as an attack on the Catholic Church, with one high-ranking official comparing it to anti-Semitism. Lawyers for the Vatican have also indicated the Pope has status as a secular Head-of-State, and therefore would have immunity from being forced to testify in any legal proceedings.

It is unfair and wrong to associate these horrible acts by criminal clerics with the core beliefs and faith of the Catholic Church. If that is indeed what some critics are doing, they should be ashamed of themselves.

But the actions of individual men and women – even in the name of religion – are indeed open to not only criticisms but legal action. You cannot and should not be allowed to abuse children nor hide the actions of any abuser without becoming liable for the consequences.

Thus far it appears the Catholic Church hierarchy is utilizing the “They’re Picking On Us” defense in battling the most current scandal. They are circling the wagons and attempting to portray those critical of them as anti-Catholic. And indeed, it is likely some of them actually are.

But it is not the faith or beliefs of the Catholic Church that are being questioned and tested here. Rather, it is how the flesh-and-blood people who run the multi-billion dollar entity that is the business end of the Church have conducted themselves and that business.

That should not be cloaked in religious terms. Just as the accusers should not indict an entire religion for these alleged horrific acts, the church organization itself should not seek to deflect attention from its own mistakes by questioning the integrity of victims and others unfairly.

Catholics in this area are many and devout. In Norton, a new St. Mary’s Church will open this month with a joyous celebration involving the entire community at a time when some churches are closing or consolidating. Throughout the area, Catholics remain firm in their faith and secure in their beliefs.

But it is hard to imagine they do not question the actions of some Catholic officials. It is hard to believe they approve of Cardinal Law remaining protected in Rome rather than facing investigation here. It is certain they are appalled by a priest who allegedly molested deaf children being transferred rather than disciplined by the Church or prosecuted with the Church’s help.

Can we clearly differentiate between the faith of a religion and the system created by the human beings who run it? I believe we can, I believe we should, and I believe we must.

This is dangerous ground, and those who believe their church leaders to be the infallible continuation of God on Earth will no doubt take issue. But on the list of those being treated unfairly right now, the Catholic Church doesn’t even make the top 10.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist who can be reached at

Grandson Will Turns Two!

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on April 3, 2010.
My grandson (did I mention his name is William?) turns two today. So yes, I’m writing about him again. Deal with it.

His birthday falls one week after my own and one day before his mothers’, which effectively renders both those birthdays meaningless. So Happy Birthday also to my beautiful daughter-in-law, now forever burdened with being the mother of the world’s most perfect child.

There is nothing more boring than a grandparent bragging about their grandchild. The simplest accomplishments become landmark achievements. We forget our own kids did this stuff, and that we laughed mightily when our parents created a fuss over the most mundane events.

But of course, that was THEIR grandchild. When it is YOUR grandchild, the rules are completely different.

We have already had a party for Will, complete with all the toys his parents politely asked us not to get. He got clothes from Grandma, but she also helped me pick out the motorized toy forklift he loves, like the real one Grandpa lets him sit on at his work. Needless to stay, that noisy toy is living at Grandpa’s house.

Two is a wonderful though certainly challenging age. Will is much more verbal now, which is both good and bad. While hearing “I wuv you Poppa” just makes my day, the constant requests for “outside” and “go car” can sometimes be a bit much. And as you might imagine, when visiting Grandma and Grandpa he tends to get what he asks for.

We get the fun stuff, leaving the more serious and difficult tasks to his parents. That’s the true joy of grand-parenting. It is a loophole I complained about constantly when it came to my own kids and their grandparents, but one I am fully enjoying these days.

But a few weeks ago something happened to put things in perspective. A couple we know encountered a situation that made me stop and appreciate just how fortunate I am, and how quickly that can change in ways simply unthinkable.

These folks have grandchildren, and one of those precious youngsters recently had a sudden and serious medical situation requiring both risky surgery and ongoing difficult treatments. This is complicated by the fact the kids and their parents live a considerable distance away.

As our friends rushed to the side of their stricken grandchild (who right now is doing fine, thank goodness) I was overwhelmed with concern and worry for this small child I have never met. While any seriously sick kid is something that concerns me, knowing the child’s grandparents put the whole thing in a new and different light.

The thought of anything serious happening to my grandson is absolutely paralyzing. I know as he grows there will be the inevitable cuts and scrapes, broken bones, and other injuries that are just a part of growing up. But the idea any type of serious disease could be lurking out there waiting to attack this little person I adore is almost enough to make me look for one of those plastic bubbles you read about in the science fiction stories.

Of course, I can’t do that – and I really wouldn’t want to. I want my grandson to grow up, deal with the serious issues in his life, get over the first time someone breaks his heart, and enjoy the balance that makes life worth living.

I’m so lucky to be able to enjoy him. I am sure in the future I will have the pleasure of experiencing more grandchildren, and I will love them all just as much (even when their names aren’t William).

But I pray I have never have to face that moment of fear our friends have, the fear that must be all-consuming and life-altering. With great love comes great risk. I know I signed on for all of it, the good and the bad. It is worth it in the end, but forgive me for selfishly hoping I can skip the really hard parts.

Happy Birthday to my grandson (his name is William, in case you were wondering). I know you are the birthday boy here, but you are also one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and has a grandson named William – in case you hadn’t heard. He can be reached at