Just a Season

I need to shake the habit of thinking that things are supposed to be a certain way. It’s just not true. I don’t know where I got that idea. Maybe I’ve just had it that good in life. Maybe I didn’t have role models to show me how to handle certain challenges. Maybe I’ve simply been wearing blinders.

There are no guarantees that life will go well or that there will always be a simple solution for all of its problems. And it occurs to me that I’m probably more that a bit spoiled if I’m waking up every morning wondering if this is the day things will iron out and I can get on with my comfortable life again.

A few miles down the highway, my mom continues to live on her own. I purposely refrain from saying that she lives independently, because her life is far from independent. The past few months brought an onslaught of worry, not that I wasn’t already forfeiting a large percentage of my energy to that particular habit.

Mom’s already fragile state took a noticeable turn sometime before Christmas. Something wasn’t quite right. Numerous doctor visits resulted in the professionals merely shrugging their shoulders, making best guesses and sending her home again. They said it was probably just the progression of her autoimmune disease.

The real problem revealed itself two weeks ago in a most painful manner. Mom spent most of a week in the hospital and I couldn’t help but wonder if the coming days would find her children planning another funeral for a parent.

Thankfully, the cause was found and the issue was somewhat resolved, but the entire episode left mom sapped of what little physical strength she’d had previously. And unfortunately, an important conversation with the hospital doctor occurred without any of Mom’s family around. It was strongly recommended that she spend some time recuperating after her hospital stay in a transitional care facility. Mom declined. She didn’t want to go to “one of those places.” She needed to be cared for after her hospital stay. And if it wasn’t from the professionals, someone else would have to provide it. I was already providing a lot of support to Mom beforehand. Now she needed even more.

Mom’s barely been alone since her return home over a week ago. She’s just not been capable of managing on her own at all. She hasn’t been able to take care of herself or her dog without constant assistance. She walks minimal distances around the house with her walker. Worried eyes follow her every move. My sister and I were already taking turns spending nights with Mom during the week before the hospital stay. And since she refused to spend time in transitional care, our rotating “slumber parties” have continued in the wake of her return. I’m eternally grateful for Mom’s longtime friend who provided relief during the week, spending nights and most of the days so my sis and I could go to work. But evenings and weekends are still our responsibility.

We just can’t continue the pattern this way. Something’s gotta give. Though it’s probably the best option, Mom won’t consider assisted living right now, due to reasons I can understand. (She won’t leave her dog. And even if dogs are allowed, she feels she can’t manage him in an apartment.) I don’t agree that we should be putting the dog ahead of Mom, but I get that some decisions are just not easy to make. Especially when you’re sick and lonely. But I’m afraid even if and when the dog is no longer a factor, she won’t be willing to improve her living situation. I’ve begun to understand the senior mind these past few years. While the body may be weak, the mind grows ever more set in its ways.

We hired a home care agency last week. Starting tomorrow, someone will come take care of Mom in the mornings, Monday through Friday. That still leaves her alone in the afternoons, at night and on weekends. It’s probably not enough. And it still means that someone has to be there every evening to make sure she has dinner and something to heat up for her lunch the next day. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Mom views the home care service as a necessary evil. She clearly thinks the help is something she only needs temporarily. While she was on the phone yesterday, I heard her say to someone that she’s going to try it for a month or so. And I know her well enough to know that the first time something doesn’t sit well, she’ll be wanting to cancel the service.

I don’t argue with her when she says she just needs to gain her strength back so she can be on her own again. She hasn’t really been on her own for a couple of years. Her disease means it’s nearly impossible she’ll regain enough strength to live normally and independently. But I’m certainly not going to be the one forcing her to accept defeat. Having her live with me would help ease my stress, and it’s doable, but I know it’s not ideal. It would bring on a whole host of other problems. Still, I would do it if she’d agree. For the same reasons she won’t go to transitional care, she won’t come live here. That damn dog. I love him. And I hate him sometimes.

I love her dearly, but it makes me crazy that she doesn’t seem able to consider that without some sort of professional assistance, my sister and I have to put our lives and families on hold to manage hers. Having Mom to care for in addition to working full-time is exhausting at times…. God, that sounds so selfish! But when I think about all the unfinished projects around my house, the chores that have gone undone, the friendships that feel like they’re fading away, I can’t help but feel sorry for myself sometimes. I run errands for her every whim, while my Target and grocery lists grow to unmanageable proportions. And quite honestly, my sister’s life is in no shape to be put on the back burner. Yet she does it, if for no other reason than she won’t leave me alone in this.

Don’t get me wrong. My mom is always very gracious. She often states that she shouldn’t be asking us for so much help, but she’s so grateful for it. She tells me daily how much she loves and appreciates me. It helps to hear it, and her words make it a bit easier to face another day of the same.

I am fighting so hard lately to keep my thoughts focused on that which I can control, to keep them in a positive realm. I have succumbed to worry, sadness, anger and bitterness for far too long and I don’t like myself much when I’m in those places. I’m tired of thinking about it. I’m tired of talking about it. I wish so often that I had something else to contribute to the conversation. I just want to feel normal again, but I’m not sure normal can or will ever be the same. My thoughts are consumed with issues of the aging, with thoughts of death and funerals and sadness. My dreams are filled with scenes of me failing at my caregiver role.

I’ve learned lately that it’s a mind-game at times. You can teach yourself to partition your thoughts into those that you’re willing to see, and those which stay hidden behind a wall. And I’m finally beginning to grasp what it means to forgive. I don’t have to forgive others for keeping their heads in the sand and feeling no obligation to help care for the same person who gave you life. I don’t have to make them think that it’s okay what they’re doing. Or more accurately, not doing. But I can put those people behind that same wall as the self-pity and darkness. I have to remember that my anger and frustration poisons no one but myself.

But Lord, it takes practice, and I’m not always successful. I broke down sobbing Friday morning, during a quiet moment when it seemed safe to do so. I prayed for strength to keep going, and realized a good cry sometimes helps. Sometimes I’m just sad that the rug has been pulled out from beneath my mom’s feet. Afterwards, I reminded myself that this time in life is just a season.

Just a season. Seems like I’m always telling myself that. Someday, when Mom is gone, I don’t want to remember only that I was scared and bitter. This is just a season in which I need to fight extra hard. Years down the road, I want to look back and know that I did everything I could to give back to my mom all that she gave to me.

So I’m extra grateful for simple things lately, things like sleeping in my own bed, a free afternoon to wander around a furniture store, an understanding boss who says, “family first,” or coming home to find my husband and daughter making dinner so I don’t have to. I’m practicing hard to keep my thoughts on the here and now. Tomorrow is out of my hands. No good can come from imagining all that might go wrong after this moment. Besides, something … anything could go right. Right?

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6 thoughts on “Just a Season

  1. Terri dearest, no you are not wrong to feel sad, angry and upset but this. We as a society have totally failed in our collective inability to accept aging and dying for what it is. Attitudes like your Dad, my Dad, your Mom come because all our lives we’ve been taught to deny how life ends and no one teaches us or gives us a role model for how one deals with aging and dying gracefully.

    You and your sister should be upset that your life is completely put on hold. There is no reason for any of us as we start going to be in complete denial. We have an obligation to make our passing NOT a burden. But no, instead there is the constant denial of reality and the decisions that make our passing a pain on those helping us pass. I wish I could give you the biggest hug. It will end. And you will heal and go on.

    As I sit here knowing I am really only a few years younger than your parents and that the end will be coming at some not terribly distant time from now, I think of the preparations I’ve made and I think of what I have learned from my own parents’ deaths and from watching your experience and others. We owe it to our children to break the mold, to show that aging and death can be accepted. To do things in a way minimize the negative impact on those we love.

    Many, many hugs Terri.

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  2. I’m right there with ya, sis! You’ve put into coherent words the conflicting emotions and frustrations I hardly dare feel about taking care of my own mom. Yes, she, too, is grateful; yes, she, too, can do some things (but not nearly as much as she used to, or wants to); yes, she, too, would probably be better off with professional care (but she only wants/trusts me, and that’s hard). She’d like to be able to trust my sister, but she’s hundreds of miles away and has little interest (or intent) to care for Mom. When the inevitable happens eventually, I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and assure myself I did as Mom wanted. But, I assure you, I won’t pass a similar burden to my son!! As de-intimidator so beautifully put it, it’s up to us to prepare better, to mold for our kids behavior that’s accepting of the dying process (because really, nobody gets out of here alive!). Hang in there, my friend; it WILL get better!

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  3. I am also right there with you, or at least pretty close, as I am nearing one month away from my own home, having spent that time in my childhood home, 2/3 of the way across the country, with my mom. Of course I found myself shaking my head in agreement with many of the thoughts and feelings you have expressed here, including what you have overheard and learned from and about your mom and her attitude about her present state. I’m sure there is so much more that you haven’t written about here, as I know I am also sensing and experiencing those things.

    My mom also thanks me for being here and doing for her, and she also tells me she hopes she’s not being too big a burden, which is how she remembers her time as a caregiver for her mother. I tell her that this sort of thing is what families are supposed to do for each other, and I have told my children that I hope and expect they will do the same for me when the time comes.

    I guess this is another one of those situations where actions speak louder than words. Even my sister, whose past behavior has been similarly uncaring re family as that of some of your siblings, has taken on a bit of this same attitude, esp since she is now older herself and suffering from some physical ailments and really has no one but me and my kids to be there for her when she needs help. She also has a damn dog that she insists must be considered in anything she does!

    We are both part of “the sandwich generation” which means we are not in this alone. I don’t know if that’s much consolation to you while you are in the thick of the disruption that goes along with doing your daughterly, as opposed to your motherly, duty, but I take some encouragement from the fact that others have survived these trying times and have probably emerged stronger on the other side. If you think about it, I know you already have and will again. Hang in there, girlfriend!

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  4. I think any of us would feel this way in your shoes. I can only imagine how exhausted you must be. It’s so admirable what you and your sister are doing, and yes, when this season is over, you’ll look back and be so glad you spent this time with her. But the truth is, while you’re going through it, it’s exhausting.
    Hang in there Tee. Keep relishing the times you have to yourself, and the times you can spend with your family. And be grateful you have a husband and daughter who’ll chip in to make things easier for you, and a boss who lets you put your family first. I’m not sure everyone would be so understanding.
    Sending warm blog hugs your way….

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  5. Terri, I hope you realize that all caregivers have these thoughts and feelings. Caregivers have the most difficult job in the world, even harder than being a parent. Some caregivers are even trying to parent WHILE caregiving. You have your own life while also living someone else’s life for them. Yes, you’re living her daily life for her, because you’re doing all the things for her that you also have to do for yourself (and your family). What I’m trying to say is, don’t be hard on yourself, and please be sure to take care of you. If you get sick, then what?

    I so wish your mom would see how much strain it’s putting on your life. I know that she is grateful, but to not consider help elsewhere is just not seeing what she’s doing to you.

    My mom has severe emphysema and COPD. She also has bladder cancer that is being kept at bay (all 3 due to smoking). She uses oxygen 24/7 now. When that happened, she was having difficulty climbing the stairs in her townhouse. She refused to believe that she needed assisted living for 2 reasons. 1) She didn’t want to be with all those “old people.” 2) She didn’t think she could afford it. Long story short, one day she called me and told me she was moving in one week!! I didn’t even know she was going to do it. She called a realtor who actually helps the elderly transition by hiring a mover to pack everything, get them moved into assisted living and then unpacking for them. My mom had set it all up on her own!

    The week between Christmas and New Year’s, she moved onto the independent living floor at senior apartment complex (just a month ago). Her house is now up for sale. She doesn’t get care because she really doesn’t need too much. But, she no longer has stairs because she has an apartment. The place offers breakfast every morning and 30 dinners each month. So, she really doesn’t even have to cook for herself anymore. She can’t walk to her car due to her breathing issue, so they have someone that will get her car for her. But, they also have a bus that takes them to the grocery store and other places. Dogs are ALLOWED in this complex, and they offer dog walkers for $7 per walk. That is SUPER cheap, since I’ve paid $18 to have Max walked on occasion. My mom doesn’t have a dog, but I can bring Max when I visit her (she also moved from 30 miles away from me to 15 miles away, so she’s closer).

    Okay, sorry this is so long, but guess what? She LOVES it! She is making all kinds of friends. She is no longer afraid because there is help for her if she needs it 24/7. They have a nurse on call. She said she feels like she’s living at a resort and spa and is getting spoiled! And, btw, my mom is one of the youngest ones there, but due to her health issues, she needs it. She will be 77 next week.

    I’m so sorry your mom won’t consider it, but maybe you can look into something like what my mom did just to have it ready.

    Hugs and love to you my dear.

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