Three Things

Happiness is something I frequently contemplate. I think I’m always chasing it to some degree, yet recognizing that I don’t always succeed as much as I’d prefer. How many times have I written about trying to be happier, only to feel as if it is constantly slipping through my fingers?

I was listening to a sermon online a few weeks ago, as I sometimes do in the mornings while in front of the bathroom mirror getting ready for work. I’ve pretty much stopped attending church altogether, but over the past several years I’ve found a couple of churches to which I’ve become a frequent virtual attendee. I like the way they remind me that it’s normal to be imperfect. We all are. There’s no hope of ever being perfect, so I can just relax in my imperfection and be comfortable just doing the best I can. And I like the way they break down the bible and relate it to real life.

This particular sermon I recently heard was focused on … well, I don’t actually remember the specific Bible passages. But one portion of it addressed the world’s collective need for happiness. One point specifically struck a chord with me. And that was that happiness isn’t supposed to be a permanent state. Happiness is a feeling, an emotion, just like all of the other feelings and emotions. It’s not right or wrong. It’s just one of the many, although certainly much more pleasurable than some of the others. And that’s probably why we think we need and deserve more of it than the others.

The concept stuck with me because it helped me just to realize that it’s normal to feel less than happy. I often do. As I’ve so often written, I just can’t wrap my head around having to switch roles with my mom. I’ve become the one who worries, loses sleep, and constantly feels as if I’m juggling responsibilities and eternally falling short. It’s hard to feel consistently happy while being witness to the daily decline caused by a disease that robs Mom of the well-being we all expect to enjoy during our retirement years. That happy old-age thing is just not the way it is for so many, I know. I just hate having to be reminded all the time, simultaneously wondering how long I get to have her with me … and whether I’ll ever be able to relax again.

I try to remind myself that this is life. This is just life. After all, I once heard that we’re not here to live. We’re here to die. That’s our only certainty. And all we can do is make the most of the days between now and then. Most of us don’t know for certain how many days we get, so that’s the challenge. Make the most of each one while never knowing which one is the last.

So back to the sermon. It talked about a study that was done in which a group of people was surveyed about how happy they feel. The group was then divided in two. One half of the group was to go on doing nothing different from what they normally do, while the other half was instructed to keep a daily record for the next several weeks of three things for which they were grateful. Afterwards, both groups completed another survey to measure their levels of happiness. Not surprisingly, the group that kept a daily gratefulness record saw a significant increase in their level of happiness.

I listened to that sermon weeks ago and it occurred to me that I should do that again. I say “again” because I have periodically made a habit of keeping a record of the good stuff, and I have usually found it to be beneficial if only because it helps keep my focus a little more heavy on the right instead of the wrong. And yet, I have failed to pick up the habit again, probably because the only thing I’m doing consistently lately is being inconsistent.

But here I am this morning, with a little bit of time on my hands. And so with hope (but no promises) of making this a habit here or elsewhere, I will document three things for which I am grateful.

  1. A “day” job – For thirty-plus years, my husband has worked rotating shifts. Since before our kids were born, Jack might be gone days, afternoons, nights, or weekends. Sometimes he’s been able to join the family for holidays, birthdays and special occasions, sometimes not. Just over a month ago, an opportunity came his way. We evaluated the change in pay and our finances, and agreed we were ready to make the leap. No more working the weekends (unless he chooses to put in some overtime.) No more working on holidays. No more missing out on invitations because he has to work. YAY!
  2. Adult kids living at home – Since the start of this past summer, all three of my adult kids have been living at home, in various states of temporary. I knew from the get-go that this would pose its challenges, not the least of which include the daily juggling of shower time and the battle for laundry facilities. But overall, it has been a joy. I never felt ready for any of them to leave the nest when they did. This has been a nice reprieve, giving me a second chance to prepare myself for the quiet that is sure to fill this house again. And next time, I’ll feel more ready for it.
  3. Over-the-counter, non-habit-forming sleep aids – Several months ago, I stopped sleeping. It took its toll and I recognized that it was making me very angsty, frustrated and short-fused. While I was aware that there are several logical contributors to my lack of sleep at this stage of my life, it didn’t make things any easier. I’ve never been a fan of taking a pill to help me do something I should be able to accomplish on my own, but one day, I’d simply had enough. I broke down and bought something to help me stay asleep. I am thrilled to say that I am sleeping through the night again, even having pleasant dreams, and I’ve come down a few notches. I feel more relaxed, better focused, and able to just deal with stuff. Oh, sleep, how I love you!

That felt good, just identifying three good things. It’s made me realize that I could easily keep listing good things, and maybe that’s just the motivation I need to pick up this habit again. But I’ll save it for another day. And if anyone is still stopping by here anymore, I’d love to read about your good things!

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A Visit

Thursday would have been my dad’s 77th birthday. The day also marked two other significant events in recent years. It had been two years and a day since Dad had surgery to repair a broken hip, and one year and nine months since the day he passed away.

The first summer after Dad’s passing, I made frequent visits to his grave site. The cemetery where he’s buried is a beautiful and peaceful place, and just happens to be a few short miles from where I work.

I haven’t gone to visit Dad at all this summer. If you asked me, I would probably tell you that road construction near the office keeps me from easily getting there. The reality is, it’s been a hard year, and for a while, I felt a sense of anger with my dad that I couldn’t really explain. I couldn’t bring myself to visit. The anger has finally passed, but believe me, I’ve felt horribly guilty for being angry with a man who is no longer here to defend himself.

Deep down, I know the anger was a normal part of the grieving process. I also realize it stemmed from a sense of helplessness. Dad’s gone, living the high life in a perfect place. I’m still here, in a place that often feels like a cesspool of human misery, having to witness my mom’s daily struggle with her health, loneliness, and sense of isolation. Mom took care of Dad through all of their years, helping keep him alive through issues with his diabetes, heart condition, and kidney failure. She saw to his needs until his dying day, even as her own health was failing significantly. On my worst days, I’ve wanted to know why Dad couldn’t have been stronger, healthier, and why he couldn’t have stuck around to support her through her pain and her fears.

Maybe I’ve been angry with God. But for the good part of this year, it’s been directed at Dad.

Fortunately, I’ve managed to surface from that awful phase. Many mornings lately, before I leave for work, and while my brain is still somewhat quiet, I talk to Dad and apologize for being mad at him. I breathe a sigh of relief that I’ve cleared another hurdle.

I’ve reached the point in life when funerals have become a more common occurrence. I’m getting older. My family’s older generation is aging. I’ve had to learn to face the fact that none of us gets to stay here forever. It helps that so many friends are in the same place in life. We support each other. We’ve learned to see funerals and memorial services as the celebration of life that they’re supposed to be. My faith has matured to the point that I believe the life after this one is where it’s at, and we’ll all be reunited one day.

Dad 2010So I’m grateful this sense of calm came over me before Dad’s birthday on September 7th. That morning, I posted his picture on FaceB00k and sent some birthday love up to him. As I knew would happen, many of my friends and relatives saw the post, liked the post, “hearted” the post, or left some words of love. Throughout the day, I checked on the activity and saw Dad’s picture again and again.

Maybe that’s why I had the dream. I’ve been wanting to have the dream.

Not long ago, I was out with a few girls. We’d gone to a concert at the local casino, and afterwards sat at the bar talking about the thing we all had in common. We’d all lost a parent.

Around the table, they all talked about the signs they’d seen. One dad leaves dimes in strange places where his wife or daughter will find them. One mom frequently comes to see her daughter. She swears she’s even physically hugged her mom during these visits. I’m a bit skeptical, but who am I to judge? Maybe if you want something bad enough, it can feel true.

One of them asked me, “Has your dad come to visit you in a dream?”

He hasn’t, really.  I may have seen him in a few dreams, but it never felt like a visit from him. Apparently, all of the other girls have had obvious visits with their parents. The realization made me sad. My dad probably didn’t want to visit me. I haven’t been very forgiving lately.

But the day of the FaceB00k birthday post, I thought about Dad a lot. I talked to him frequently, and apologized again. I looked at his picture over and over. And that night, there he was in my dream. Normally, if I even remember my dreams, they’re usually a bunch of nonsense. But this one was clear and felt real. I walked into a room, and there stood my dad. He looked just like he did during his better years, when his body was stronger.

I don’t remember that we said anything out loud to each other. I just walked into his arms and hugged him hard, at the same time, feeling completely pulled into his embrace. I wordlessly told him how much I love him and have missed him. He wordlessly told me that everything would be alright.

I woke up in the morning feeling a sense of relief that I haven’t felt in months. I have not been myself for a while, but suddenly, I felt as if I had finally come up for air.

 

White Pine Memories

The white pine in our back yard was never a beautiful tree. It didn’t provide a nice blanket of shade, only spotty patches. In fact, I always thought it was more a nuisance than anything. It grew tall and disproportionately wide, and dropped hundreds upon hundreds of tiny little pine cones into the grass. The pine cones always seemed to burrow into the lawn, causing a hazard for anyone wandering around the yard barefoot, which I tend to do.

Jack bought two of these trees during the first year we were in our house. We were young, didn’t have a lot of money, and had a brand new baby. The trees were cheap, and he planted one in the front yard and one in the back. They were never pretty, but they helped reduce the vast expanse of nothingness until we could afford to improve the landscaping.

A beautiful maple as well as a flowering crab-apple tree were eventually added to the front yard. I always wished for a prettier, leaf-bearing tree in the back too. For many years, the kids swing set took up the only other available space. Later it was one of those things that was always on the list of home improvements, but forever low on the priority list … until disease struck the lone pine tree. It started showing signs last summer. By this spring, it was good and dead.

This long, Memorial Day weekend provided the opportunity to take the tree down. Jack sawed off as many of the branches as he could and hauled them away late last week. Then on Saturday, he managed the chain saw, cutting notches in just the right places low on the tree trunk. Chesney and I held a rope, guiding and pulling the old tree down into the yard where it wouldn’t fall on the shed, the deck or the house.

It’s never been a secret that I wasn’t a fan of that tree. When it was down, and the clean-up work was finished, Jack asked if I was happy. “Happy” wasn’t exactly what I was feeling. The removal of the tree left a slight emptiness both in the yard and surprisingly, in me.

The tree wasn’t merely a tree. Even though I always thought it was ugly, it had become a part of our days here in this home. It was a refuge to many birds over the years. It was second base for countless numbers of the kids’ wiffle ball games. Lucy circled that tree daily as the squirrels she chased sought refuge high above where she couldn’t reach them and they joyfully taunted her.

It feels strange to see the openness where the tree once stood. Before the summer is gone, I plan to design a fire pit in the place where the stump remains. I have visions of sitting around a bonfire with family and friends, sharing stories and roasting marshmallows. We’ll add new family memories to the wiffle ball memories.

A new tree will eventually be planted elsewhere in the yard. We’ll make a new place for the birds to rest and entertain us with their songs, a new squirrel-chasing track for Lucy, something that years down the road, promises to offer shade.

As so many other things in this life have taught me, the loss of the tree offers yet another example of the ways that life always goes on.

Full House

One of my immediate goals is to clean out some clutter around this house. With the building of the addition last summer, and all of the trickle-down projects that happened in the wake of it, there still always seems to be a task in process, and a pile of tools and supplies taking up residence somewhere in or around the house.

A lot of painting happened inside over the late winter months. Almost every room in the upper level needed to be touched up or fully repainted after the new ceilings were done. Most recently, Jack finished the trim work on the new windows in all of the bedrooms. The spare bedroom became the temporary storeroom for tools and supplies that would be put to use again soon.

The indoor projects are pretty much wrapped up now, and we need to start focusing on redoing the landscaping in the back yard. (And the privacy fence that needs to be rebuilt, and the tree that needs to come down, and a host of other little things.) And I want the inside of the house back in order, not only the areas impacted by our recent home improvements, but the closets and storage areas that have begun to overflow. (I think it’s just inevitable after twenty-nine years in the same house.)

So yesterday I began to tidy up the spare bedroom. And actually, there’s a more compelling reason for cleaning it up than the simple fact that I can’t stand the clutter anymore. We need the room for its actual purpose. So someone can sleep in there.

Oldest son Jaeger is moving back home! With his dog, Dacotah. YUP! We’re going to be one big, happy (or insane) family again.

Call me crazy, but I think we’re going in the wrong direction here. These kids of ours keep moving BACK home again. What’s wrong with this picture?

Okay, so Jaeger’s move back home is a temporary thing, and actually, I couldn’t be happier. He’s been living in Fargo, ND for almost ten years, since he started his freshman year at NDSU. After graduation, there was a job waiting for him and he stayed. He was only four hours away from home, but still … four hours! I can’t tell you how often I’ve wished he lived close enough to come by for a Sunday family dinner or to just hang out together on a weekend.

Late last year, Jaeger started feeling stuck in his job and decided to start looking for other opportunities. When he said he thought he’d look for something closer to home, I was thrilled! A few weeks ago, he interviewed with a company in downtown, Minneapolis. He was told that the next time they called, he would know if he made it through to the second round of interviews. The week before last, he got the call he’d been expecting. We all had our fingers crossed for that second interview, but even better, he received an immediate job offer!

I am so proud! This sounds like a really good company with lots of room for growth and opportunity. Months ago, Jaeger switched the lease on his apartment in Fargo to a month-to-month agreement. We knew that when the right job came along, he wanted to be available to start right away and we agreed to his moving back home if necessary. So now that has happened and in June, he’s going to come back for a while, just until he can get settled and find a place of his own.

I’m trying to see this as an adventure. There will be five adults in this house and I know that’s going to be a challenge at times, but all too soon, I know this nest is going to empty out again. So I’m going to enjoy this full house while I can!

 

Disconnected

Challenging.

That’s how everything feels lately. Like something that must be tackled. I don’t remember ever having felt so overwhelmed in life before. I don’t remember feeling this … uncertain, anxious… even when I had a house full of babies. If ever there was a time I would have expected to feel that everything was so precarious, it was then. But if I did, it wasn’t like this. At least then I remember there being a lot of space in my brain for possibility. Lately, there seems to be no space for possibility. Just a lot of have-tos and worries and a total sense that life is too frail, time is slipping away, and the world is passing by without me.

This is as good as it gets. And right now, that’s a depressing thought.

I blame my age. As a woman who turned fifty half a year ago, that shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. I blame this time of life. Plus caring for an aging parent. And also an extended family that is gradually and certainly breaking completely apart like a tree limb that’s been split from its trunk.

I have spent years practicing positivity and trying to deepen my faith. As someone raised in an environment that wasn’t always the happiest, I once felt I’d made leaps and bounds through those practices. They are still the things that keep me sane sometimes.

It feels rather defeating to so often feel so … defeated.

I was comparing notes with a friend last week, telling her how much I dislike where my head and heart are at these days. She’s a few years older, and she described her experiences. There were some relational challenges in her life at the time as well, and she referred to it as her dark ages.

“I felt so sad all the time.”

YES.

“And lonely.”

YES.

“Just … unhappy.”

YES. Me too.

I have worked hard to stop dwelling on negative things, and people I cannot change. But lately I can’t seem to help it. I once was a morning person, and though I still wake up at a ridiculously dark hour, I do not welcome the morning. I have to REALLY talk myself into it. Once I leave the bed and force myself to do some physical activity, I feel a little bit better. I just don’t like having to fight myself so hard for it.

Of course, there are reasons beyond the physical for my difficulties. It would be one thing if I was just a fifty year-old woman struggling with being a fifty year-old woman. But it’s more than that.

On top of this stage of life, I’ve never experienced such deep family hurts before. And as much as I’ve often thought I wouldn’t care that much if some of them just walked away… I do care. I don’t want to, but I do. I’ve written about it endlessly here, and there just seems to be no end in sight. There are moments of hope … just enough to make it hurt that much more when I realize nothing has really changed. My extended family is SO broken. And what’s to blame? My dad’s passing a year and a half ago? Mom’s failing health and need for care? Sheer selfishness? There have been so many words spoken in anger and hurt feelings, as well as an enormous lack of communication, empathy, and willingness to forgive one another.

It is all of the above and more. We’re supposed to love and support each other, but instead there is only resentment and apathy. I have to wonder if there’s ever any coming back from this, or if at some point when Mom is gone from our lives, we’ll all go our separate ways.

Me personally? I’m guilty of bitterness. Buckets and buckets of it. I feel like I’m losing myself sometimes amidst the cycle of life. And it all just makes me so sad.

I don’t understand the abandonment, not so much my own sense of it, but of our mom. I feel like I’ve been battling with this anger and hurt for ages, and lately I just feel a sense of hopelessness. I tell myself I’m going to let it go. And I might, for a while. And then it comes back and I can’t help myself. I wrap my arms around it and inevitably … darkness.

In my defense, the most recent bout of this was brought on when Mom cried, telling me how forgotten she sometimes feels by other family members. It killed me to see her cry. Something snapped inside of me. When they came around again recently, for what I’m sure will turn out to be one of their quarterly visits, she got all giddy about it. Inside, I worried that her expectations had been built up once again, only to be crushed when promises to come by and have dinner with her  “one day next week” fail to transpire again and again.

I think there are only a few who really know how much I’m struggling and I’m grateful for their support and willingness to share their own experiences. I was relieved when one friend supportively said that she still sees me as a person with goals and a sense of humor. When I said that I just so often feel that I’ve left myself behind, that I don’t do so many of the things that used to be important to me, she suggested I start writing again.

“I don’t have time,” I said.

“Wrong,” she replied. “You don’t MAKE time.”

“No, but I …”

“Just make it a goal to write down some goals each week, even privately. You don’t have to write for others or spend hours doing it. Just make some goals and hold yourself to them.”

“I suppose you’re right,” I agreed. “I used to write weekly, but couldn’t help typing out paragraph after paragraph. Maybe I can’t create an extra hour in my days for writing, but a few minutes here and there … maybe.”

She made me realize that part of my sadness is that I’ve become so disconnected from everyone and everything that fuels me. For a good reason, maybe, but disconnected nonetheless. I need to reconnect in healthy ways.  (Cuz let me tell ya, scrolling through the FaceB00k highlight reel isn’t cuttin’ it.)

So maybe I’ll try to get back here more often, make a few minutes here and there to speak words of encouragement to myself and others instead of wallowing in self-pity. I need to reconnect.

On relationships … and forgiveness

A couple of years ago, I wrote on a few occasions about a work associate who simply rubbed me the wrong way. She is someone I’ve worked with since I started my career with our company more than twelve years ago. I may have referred to her as “Babs” at one point.

Babs is a woman with a strong personality. She rarely exhibits any lack of confidence, and she loves to be in charge, whether or not her role formally requires it, and whether or not her knowledge and experience warrant it. A couple of years ago, I was working closely with Babs. We were peers … equals … and yet she seemed to always be hovering over me, checking my work, trying to boss me around. And she was putting me over the edge.

People sometimes tell me I’m “too nice.” I sometimes think, “If you could only hear some of the thoughts in my head…” And deep down, I recognize that my reluctance to engage in confrontation may contribute to the label of nice. My feelings toward Babs sometimes bordered on hatred, but I would never let it show. And I don’t regret that. I’ve never wanted to be that person. A coworker actually voiced similar feelings to someone who matters, and it didn’t do her any favors.

I remember writing about my frustrations with Babs. It was the only way I could find to relieve the pressure. I’m sure I wrote some things that were not very kind or fair. And while even at the time, I may have recognized that Babs’ behavior likely resulted from a sense of insecurity, I seemed unwilling to admit that my own reaction to her probably came from a similar place.

Fast-forward a couple of years. I got my wish. There was a reorganization in our division, and Babs was the only member of our small team to find herself in unfamiliar territory. The rest of us were quietly thrilled. Her physical location barely changed. Her desk was still located just a few feet and one cubicle wall away. But it was enough to take the pressure off. She may have still been “right there,” but she no longer had any stake in what we did or how we did it.

I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that inside, I felt a sense of pure GLEE over the relocation of Babs. She was in a new department, one composed of people who had valuable skills, but whom management wasn’t quite sure how to use just yet. I was fairly certain that Babs’ inability to “play nice” with others contributed to her move. She is smart and savvy, but she had created noticeable divisions in our department.

This new department seemed at first, a placeholder. The insecurity that I’d previously suspected in Babs visibly surfaced. She stopped by my desk on many occasions to lament her situation, saying she felt like she’d been outcast. She expressed that she was no longer sure of herself or how she fit in. She worried about her new role, and the fact that she had no idea what she was doing. She half-joked many times that she was sure someone would catch on and she would soon be fired. Any sense of pity I may have felt for her was quickly overshadowed by the idea that she somehow had this coming.

It’s been some time now since that reorganization. New business has found its way to Babs’ department, and the team is moving full steam ahead. Babs seems to have found her footing and she’s busy. So busy that days go by without a single word from her. I have a much greater sense of peace in my role ever since, and I know that I have flourished in the change.

Yesterday, Babs stopped by, not for business reasons, but to show me a photo she’d had printed on canvas. We both have an interest in photography and she knew I’d appreciate it. The canvas print was beautiful, and we marveled over it together. And a realization hit me like a frying pan to the head.

I was actually enjoying my conversation with Babs. I realized that although we may not mix well when working closely together, I might actually be able to  like her. Had our relationship started on another foot, who knows how different things might be today?

The whole thing taught me a bit about myself. That maybe people can change. Or that maybe I have to be willing to look at someone from another angle to appreciate who they really are and why they behave the way they do. I was so certain of who Babs was, but maybe she only looked the way she did to me, because of where I was standing. I considered that the things that bother me most about a person might just be a small reflection of the flaws I don’t want to admit to in my own self.

And maybe a whole lot of this is simply a willingness to set aside judgment and forgive a little.

This gives me hope for other relationships in my life that are less than what I’d like them to be. Maybe nothing changes today. Probably not tomorrow either. But someday. There is always hope.

I just need to talk about things

I miss this … coming here and talking out the things that are going on in life. I’d like to say I’ve figured out how to come back and do this more regularly, but somehow I know that’s a promise I can’t keep for the forseeable future. But for today …

Life in a Nutshell

Mom: Mom is doing well with her home care services. I think it’s been almost two months now. Barb comes Monday through Thursday, and Amanda on Fridays. Mom has come to know quite a bit about both of them and looks forward to their time together each day. There were a couple of conversations in which she mentioned to me that she’ll miss them when she no longer has their company. When I asked what she meant, she said she didn’t feel right spending the kind of money it costs to keep their services.  A few weeks later, she stated that she didn’t feel right spending as much as it costs for these services  when sometimes she doesn’t have much for her helpers to do.

I told her that it’s part of their job to simply provide companionship and they don’t always have to be doing some kind of heavy project. I reminded her how much better she’s been (in body and spirit) since she began having some daily assistance. Not to mention, this is exactly why, when she was working, she saved and invested some of her money the way she did. She should NOT be thinking she needs to save her retirement funds to leave as an inheritance to her children. I suggested she start by cutting back the daily hours from four to three before making any drastic changes in her services. I refrained from adding that I, for one, am happy that these services mean I’m not running to Target, the grocery store, and the pharmacy every time Mom remembers something she needs immediately. Which seemed like it was every other day.

I’m still having dinner with Mom many evenings each week, and that’s just fine with me. I just don’t want to have to do all of her chores in addition. Since she’s had her home care services, I feel like I’ve gained back a small sliver of my life again.

Vacation: On February 17th, Jack and I took off for eight days in Mazatlan, Mexico. Two days prior, I started feeling the inkling of a head cold. I wasn’t worried. I figured a couple of days under the Mexican sun would have me feeling good again.

Wrong. I haven’t been what I would describe as truly sick in years. But this little head cold turned out to be a whopper of a sinus infection. I spent most of my vacation feeling pretty miserable as the virus traveled from my sinuses, to my throat, and finally to my chest. I sucked it up as much as possible, but sometimes it was an effort to play along. About mid-week, I spent the better part of a day in bed in our hotel room, watching movies on HBO, sleeping, and feeling sorry for myself. I missed seeing Jack go boogie boarding that day!

Around Friday that week, I started feeling somewhat human again and enjoyed a fantastic day on the beach with our travel friends. Saturday we returned home. The silver lining is that while everyone else was lamenting that the week had been too short and they wanted more time, I really was looking forward to getting back home to my own bed. Home never felt so good!

Kids: The kids are all in good places. Jaeger is still living in Fargo, but working furiously on securing a job back here in Minnesota so he can be closer to family again. He has a new romantic interest. She happens to live in this area, so I’m sure that adds some extra fire to his efforts to get back here. I’m not complaining! 🙂

Ryker also has a new girlfriend. We have met her, and she’s lovely! He seems happier, and I like the effect she’s having on him. He’s doing a bit of maturing , and also seems more interested in spending time with the family, something he hasn’t done much of in recent years.

Chesney is just steady as always. She held down the fort at home while we were in Mexico, spending time with and making meals for my mom, as well as handling an unexpected visit to the vet when poor Lucy ended up with a pretty major bladder infection. Before we came home from Mexico, she made sure to clean the house (to my standards) and picked up some groceries so I wouldn’t have to do those things immediately upon our return. Once again, I wonder how I got so lucky to have a daughter like her. She and her boyfriend continue to be serious, and I’ve started hearing him make little comments about how and when he might propose. YEEEEE! 🙂

Jack: Hubby was diagnosed with a herniated disc several months ago and he has been battling the pain and discomfort ever since. All of the little touch up projects around the house that needed to be done after the addition was finished last fall have gone untouched. Now that life has slowed down a bit, I’m taking over where I can. I’ll do the touch-up painting. I’ll get someone to install the new light fixtures. Oh… and I guess I’d better figure out how to take down a couple of dying trees in the yard this spring. If Jack doesn’t improve enough to tackle it, my boys should be able to help.

Extended family: Continues to crumble. I’m beginning to accept it and am learning not to dwell on it. Bitterness doesn’t look good on anyone. I’m done trying to save our family. Moving forward with my own little family pod. They and my mom are what’s most important.

Work: Work is my saving grace right now. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and purpose, something I feel like I can do just for me. Things are going beyond well. There are some new initiatives happening and a particular VP has taken a liking to me. I’m being pulled up in several ways and being offered opportunities that take me out of my comfort zone, yet seem to always prove I’m capable of so much more than I tend to give myself credit for. Since I went back to the workforce after my years of running a home daycare, I’ve often recognized that I like to work. I like to challenge my brain and contribute to any kind of growth. And once again, I realize how blessed I am to work in a company and in a position that offer fulfillment and opportunities to keep advancing.

Faith: Is my other saving grace right now. I’m continuing to feed my head and heart with all the encouragement I can find. I’m retraining my brain to think positively (and forgivingly) as much as possible, in spite of how easy it is to just … sink. To do otherwise just makes me crazy and miserable, and I’m just not interested in being that person.

Until next time… whenever that may be!

So Much Better

My sense of well-being these days depends heavily on how my mom is doing. These past couple of weeks, she’s continued to steadily improve, and I am feeling hopeful again.

During her stay in the hospital last month, and in the days following, things looked bad. Really bad. Mom was SO weak and still feeling so very sick. I honestly thought the end was coming. I couldn’t help but worry at her insistence at staying at home all alone. I disaster-fantasized about all of the worrisome things that might happen while I was at work and too far away to help if something happened. I moved through my days with an ache like a vice around my chest. My sleep was restless and I felt a heavy depression that was impossible to shake. Nothing else in my world felt good.

Fast forward to today. Week two of Mom’s home-care services is under our belts, and I’m marking it a success. She’s on a consistent schedule now, with Barb, who is about my age, coming to care for Mom Monday through Thursday, and young Amanda on Fridays. Every day, I’m amazed at how good Mom looks and sounds. In fact, her spirit shines brighter now than it seemingly has in years. I continue to be amazed at the positive impact resulting from a few hours of compassionate care and peaceful companionship each day. Best decision we ever made, and worth every penny! I am so grateful to these women who dedicate their time to making Mom’s life more comfortable and happy.

And so life has begun to feel more manageable and steady again. I’ve needed to make a few adjustments myself, finally realizing that I have to focus only on what I can do myself to care for Mom, and dropping any expectations I have of others. Expectations often lead to disappointment, and the only person hurt by that disappointment is me.

My level of responsibility at work has increased significantly of late, and it feels good to be able to focus on it. I’m feeling strong and confident about where my work life is going. I’m enjoying my work again!

I’ve been able to carve out a little time again for myself, my own family, and enjoyed a Friday night dinner with some old friends.

I’m starting to realize that life is a series of little journeys, all woven together into the path of my life. This most recent one has been a real test, though I’m grateful the really difficult part was relatively short-lived. I’ve begun to see that surviving in life is largely a matter of believing you can. But believing is sometimes the hardest battle. Every day, I lean more heavily on my faith, which I continue to marvel at when I think how much I shunned it just a few short years ago. I’m learning the importance of being thankful both for the things that I recognize as good, and even those that are not. I’m learning to consider that even the tough things sometimes hold a larger purpose. Every day I see that my struggles often pale in comparison to those of others, and that fact alone gives me the resolve I need to keep striving for a positive attitude. It takes work but it is so worth it. This is what life is all about! I don’t like the person I am when self-pity takes over, and I’m proud to say that more often, I’m leaving her behind. Lately, I’m beginning to feel a sense of peace. I know it’s what will encourage me through the best and the worst days to come.

Godsend

Mom’s home care services started last Monday and I could not be more pleased.

There are so many agencies offering services for seniors out there. I really didn’t know where to begin. I’d seen a television commercial for a particular agency, and the ad appealed to me, so I started there. A representative came out to Mom’s town home for our consultation, and we were both so impressed, Mom signed up on the spot.

Our only other experience with home care was an agency that we’d hired for Dad after he’d broken his hip. Dad’s caregiver was a very nice man, but he wasn’t great at his job. He wasn’t self motivated, and if my parents didn’t specifically ask him to do something, he would sit at the dining room table and play with his cell phone or watch whatever happened to be on the television. He had a thick accent and there was a significant language barrier. He couldn’t carry on a casual conversation with my parents, and once when asked to get a box of cereal out of a cupboard, he returned with saltine crackers.

When interviewing the agency we hired for Mom, I mentioned that based on past experience, it was important to us that any caregiver working with Mom be confident and self motivated. We were assured this would not be a problem. I wasn’t sure whether it was cool to also specify that her caregiver be a woman, one with strong English skills, and  preferably a bit more on the mature side. We were told the only thing that couldn’t be specified in writing was the age preference. But it would be kept in mind when her schedule was created.

We were told that since the caregivers were already scheduled for most of the month, the first week would probably involve several different caregivers, ones with some availability in their existing schedules. But by the following week, there would be a consistent schedule of just two people, and an occasional substitute if ever one of the regulars couldn’t be there.

On Monday morning, a fresh face by the name of Amanda showed up at Mom’s house and she was all of twenty years old. And despite her preference not to have someone so young, Mom loved her from the start. She already joked that my middle kid, Ryker should stop by and meet Amanda. (My mom, the matchmaker! This is quite the kick!) Mom said Amanda was confident, motivated, and could carry on a conversation with her easily. She doesn’t come from a background of ease, and this seems to contribute to her drive and sense of compassion. At the end of their time together, Amanda asked Mom if she could request to be on her schedule every Friday and Mom happily agreed.

I was very encouraged when I called Monday afternoon to get Mom’s status report.

On Tuesday, Karla came, and on Wednesday, Anna. Both of these ladies were in their sixties. Karla had retired from her full-time job and said she was now working as a caregiver because she enjoyed it and couldn’t stand the thought of being retired and doing nothing in particular. Anna used to live in Michigan. When her husband passed away, she moved here to be closer to family. She particularly loved Mom’s dog, which happens to be a Pekingese. Anna said she used to have Pekingese dogs herself. Mom thoroughly enjoyed both Karla and Anna. Both of them told Mom that they’d love to come back when she’s got an opening in her schedule and she said she would welcome each of them anytime.

On Thursday, another woman came. She was quieter and less confident than the others, but she provided nice company for Mom. She didn’t do many of the everyday chores. She had told Mom she’d slipped and fallen on the ice the day before and was sore. Mom said she didn’t want to ask her to do much if she was hurt. I gently told Mom that if her caregiver wasn’t well enough to do a few simple chores, she probably shouldn’t have come to work that day. But I figured this was a one time deal with this person. She won’t be a regular on Mom’s schedule so I dropped it.

On Friday, Amanda returned and Mom had another good day.

Next week, there will be one more new face, Mom’s most regular caregiver, Barbara. I’m praying Barbara will be as good a fit as the women Mom met last week, if not better. Amanda will return each week on Friday, and I already know that’s a good thing.

I was nervous at the beginning of last week. Because of the poor experience with Dad’s home care services, my sister and I had to work hard to convince Mom to agree to some services for herself. Each day last week, I would call Mom after lunch when I knew her caregiver would have gone for the day. Each day, I heard a positive spirit in Mom’s voice such as I haven’t heard in months. I was looking forward to the fact that these caregivers would take over some of the chores that my sister and I normally have to do. I was hoping my mom would tolerate having someone in her house daily, hovering over her for a few hours. What I didn’t really expect is how much Mom would truly enjoy the companionship her caregivers provided.

A few days into her first week of services, I realized how much my mom’s loneliness had probably impacted her physical health. And going forward, even if her caregivers do nothing but provide friendly companionship, it will be okay with me if that’s what makes Mom happy and healthier. (But I really hope they manage the chores. I’m tired of trying to keep up with two households!)

Throughout the week, Mom’s spirits seemed brighter and her physical health appeared to improve by the day. She and I had new things to talk about, and I knew just what a good thing we’d done when she mentioned something one of the caregivers had told her. I was confused about which one had said it after hearing all of those new names and asked, “That’s the young girl, right?”

Mom said, “No, you’re thinking of Amanda. She’s the granddaughter one. I’m talking about Anna.”

The granddaughter one! My mom already thinks of Amanda like one of her grandchildren!

If there’d been any doubt in my mind as to whether Mom would be able to get comfortable with her home care, it was now erased.

Seeing my mother through this past year since my dad’s passing, seeing her decline in many ways … it’s been such a hard journey. Staying positive has been a serious challenge and I often feel such a heavy weight on my heart.

But this. This past week. These caregivers. They have been a true Godsend. And I am grateful beyond words.

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?