Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Joan Boehm Varley Litel
August 21, 1926 – March 15, 2020

Sometime in January my 93-year-old mother was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. She spent ten days in the hospital and was so unhappy that she decided to return home and thus forego the treatments available only under a doctor’s care. She didn’t want to be hooked up to machines, nor to be monitored constantly. She received home hospice care, which meant nurses visited and did what needed. But when things took a turn for the worse, as they inevitably did … well, that would be that. We didn’t really know how long we would have her, days, weeks … probably not months, and certainly not a year. Each day she seemed to dwindle more, spent more time sleeping, eating little.

* * *

For many years she and my youngest sister, Kerry, have lived together, in places like Albuquerque, and Las Vegas when Kerry worked as an archaeologist scouting ancient Native American sites out in the tarantula-ridden (Kerry is terrified of even the smallest spider), 110-degree desert in and around the old atomic testing grounds, where helicopters full of armed-to-the-teeth soldiers sometimes surprised them. Then they moved to Portland, first in a too-big house with roots in my mother’s side of the family, and about year ago to a smaller double-wide manufactured home in a very nice 55-and-up gated retirement community in Beaverton.

As the years have gone by Kerry has had to shoulder an increasing burden as Mom slowly lost mobility. Lately it’s been much worse. Even with the nurses helping out, her work load in caring for Mom was almost 24/7. My oldest sister, Francine, and her husband Jerry recently drove cross-country from Savannah where they were visiting with their daughter Denice, leaving behind their mammoth RV where they have lived full-time for some years. (They had to spend three days in exciting Rawlins, Wyoming, pop. 9,289, when a 130-car-and-truck pileup in the deep snow closed I-80.) They’re staying in Beaverton now, and helping out. Lee and I did as much as we could, but I felt very inadequate since the trip from our house to Beaverton takes at least 45 minutes, up to 90 minutes during rush hour. Each way. So the day is gone, and I’ve gotten no work done.

Still, we managed to get out there twice a week, where there’s not a lot I could do except sit with her and keep her company. I brought over my old junior high and high school yearbooks, and she enjoyed looking at them. She remembered more about those days than I did.

She was not able to concentrate enough to watch movies on TV or read a book, so Lee suggested we read her stories, and that seemed to have gone over well. We bought a book with the complete works of O. Henry, who wrote a lot of stories short enough to not wear her out.

One of her worst complaints was that she couldn’t sleep well. The other bad one was that she was nauseous a lot. So, what to do …? Well, Lee is a pot smoker from way, way back. Back in the days when it was illegal in the whole country and pot was $10 a lid (ounce). Now they sell it by the gram.

(Myself, I can’t smoke it. I guess I’m allergic. The only cure I get from Mary Jane is a perfect remedy against feeling good, and for feeling like my head is not full of cotton. I throw up. I am about 99% pleased about this, as it has saved me a ton of money over the years. But 1% of the time I wish I could smoke it to alleviate this or that malady which weed is allegedly a good for.)

Lee used to get horrible headaches accompanied by nausea two or three times a month. She avoided smoking dope during those times, under the not unreasonable assumption that to smoke when you’re as sick as that would be a waste of a good high. Then a friend told her that he smoked weed for his migraine headaches, so she decided to try it … and the nausea went away as soon as the smoke hit her lungs. It just went away!

* * *

So one Sunday we were there for Jerry’s famous BBQ ribs (the best in the country, believe me). Mom was feeling terrible. The nausea was killing her. Lee suggested smoking some pot. (Lee always has some pot with her, believe me on this, too.) Mom was hesitant. I think that she smoked a cigarette once in her life, when she was a teen and everyone was smoking. She didn’t like it, and that was that. But she decided to try it. Lee was worried that the smoke would be too harsh for her if she smoked directly from her travel pipe. So she blew it into Mom’s mouth. (A terrible job, but somebody had to do it.) Instantly Mom was feeling great. We saw her wonderful smile for the first time in a long time. She sat down and dug into two ribs, baked beans, garlic bread, and a helping of Francine’s wonderful mandarin orange Jell-O. This was the equivalent of a huge feast for her, compared to what she had lately been able to get down.

When it was over, she looked around anxiously. She wondered aloud if it was going to wear off. Yes, Mom, it will wear off. It always does. But guess what? We’ve got more!

She was eagerly inhaling it regularly. The results weren’t quite as miraculous as the first time, but it was still good. Kerry (who was now getting higher than she has gotten for a long time) said she opened her mouth wide to take it all in as deep as she could.

And Mom? Was she getting high? Kerry reported that one time she asked Mom how she was feeling. Mom thought about it a moment, and then said:


Now, I ask you, is that a stoned thing to say?

Not only is marijuana legal in Oregon, if you get a prescription from a doctor for medical use—and I imagine just about any doctor will give you one—you might even find that your health insurance will pay for it. We’re not sure about that yet, but it never hurts to try.

Postscript: Kerry asked one of the nurses about the use of medical pot. She replied that because it is still illegal federally, they are not even allowed to mention it or talk about it in any way. I got the impression, though, that she (wink, wink) thoroughly approved. After all, she’s one of the people who has to clean up the vomit.

And it makes my blood boil. How many more years, oh Great And Powerful Assholes in Congress, will people be made to suffer or travel great distances to obtain something that they can be arrested for in the antediluvian states where even medical pot is illegal? How much more evidence do those morons need that this is a useful drug, very good at treating a whole host of things, with very few side effects? How long will it be classified as being equally as bad as heroin and cocaine? Now might be a good time to write your congress-asshole. There seems to actually be a movement under the big dome to do something about this insanity.

Vancouver, WA
March 26, 2020