A different light

IMG_5905 (2)For a few years now, I’ve received a daily email meant to encourage and inspire me. At various times since my subscription began, I’ve not started my day before checking to see what “The Universe” has to tell me. Other times, weeks, or months go by and I don’t even bother to check.

The messages are kind of new-agey, but sometimes I’ll read one and think “God is really speaking to me,” even though I know there’s a rather quirky guy behind them, sitting at a keyboard, pulling words out of hat and raking in the dough because he’s found a way to capitalize on a great idea. Sometimes the messages make me smile. Or laugh. Or cry. Sometimes they elicit a huge eye roll. They can be really “out there” at times. But considering how much junk I’ve allowed to land in my inbox, and how often I delete emails without even opening them, these continue to keep my attention. The one pictured here is a perfect example why. They make me look deeper inside my own head.

I didn’t even realize the significance of this one at first. I opened it when I’d first arrived at work one day recently, while waiting for my computer to boot up. I read it quickly, and probably was immediately distracted by work before I could give it much thought. Later in the day, I felt compelled to go back to read it again. I saved a screen shot.

I’ve gone back to read the words a few more times since then. And it was only today that I stopped to really contemplate why I’ve been so drawn to this particular note.

The words hit home. Probably because I’ve often been “down” in the past few years, and I’ve sometimes been able to admit that it’s been my own doing.

Quite honestly, I can look all the way back to my childhood and see that this is somewhat a tendency of mine. It’s just a part of me that I’ve had to learn to deal with. Over the years of my life, I’ve recognized it, and  done a lot of work to combat it. I think I’ve made pretty good strides in understanding that happiness is an emotion, not necessarily a state of being. I’ve learned to appreciate how difficulties can build strength and resilience. I’ve come to realize how good joy can feel – whether simple or profound – when there are sorrowful memories to which it can be compared.

But sometimes I forget to – or how to – employ the coping mechanisms. Every year of my life brings new realizations, and the past few have hammered home the fragility of this world and our existence. If there’s one thing aging has helped me understand, it’s that we really need to appreciate what we have when we have it.

I think lately, I’ve let the complexities of the past few years steam-roll me. My dad experienced a years-long decline. And when he left, it wasn’t necessarily quietly or peacefully. Mom’s decline overlapped Dad’s. She needed her kids to help care for Dad in his last few years. I was the kid who lived a block away for twenty-six years. I was the one most often at their beck and call. I’m not gonna pretend it didn’t get old. When Dad died, it was us kids who managed the funeral arrangements because Mom was too weak and sick to tackle any of it on her own. And for a long time since Dad’s been gone, I’ve felt like I was holding my breath with Mom, waiting for the other shoe to drop. But I had a recent revelation, that she just might hold on for a long time … in her own very fragile and often depressed state. I spend time with and care for her every other day and often more. Our once-intact family has frayed at the edges and that weighs on both of us. It’s hard to maintain a sense of optimism while trying to hold both of us up.

On top of it all, it still hurts that my closest friend left this world too, much too soon. I sometimes wonder if a day will go by when I don’t think about and miss her. I know I have been blessed with really great friends in this life, but her passing has made me realize how lucky I was to have someone who wanted to be so close to me, who wanted to hear from me nearly daily, who knew all the ins and outs of my life, was so easy to laugh with and who didn’t make me worry much about what I looked like, or which words might spill out of my mouth. Maybe I don’t want the day to come when she doesn’t come to mind so often. I’d just like to hope that someday the ache will be replaced with a lighter feeling in my heart.

Anyway, I seem to be rehashing the very same things that have taken my writing hostage for such a long time … but this time in reference to the note … this particular note from “the universe.” I think it kept pulling me back to gently remind me that how I’m feeling is often a matter of which direction my eyes are looking. Up or down? Inside or out? Too often, I let myself surrender to the weight of my world. Self-pity has become my annoying little friend. I’ve allowed myself to become withdrawn, too often spending the days I don’t have charge of Mom simply collapsing on the couch and crawling into bed as soon as I can get away with it.

It’s fine to be tired and try to catch up on sleep. It’s probably okay to let myself disconnect a little bit too. But I think I need to shift some priorities around, remember all of the wonderful people in my life and carve out some time to recharge my batteries with them, leave the weight of my responsibilities in the background when I have the chance.

Was I super lucky to have a loyal friend who loved me deeply and reminded me often (reminds me still) how important I was to her? YES! Does that mean I can’t let other people step into her shoes now that she’s no longer physically here? No.

Is it really hard to have to take care of an aging parent and feel all of the sad realities that accompany such a role reversal? Yes. Do I want to allow it to continuously darken my mind and heart? NO!

I think that’s why this particular note resonates so deeply with me. It makes me admit that I’ve given up too often, for too long. It reminds me that it’s completely my choice to curl up in a ball and be angry at the world. But has it done me any good? Does it even make other people want to be close to me? Um… probably not. Sometimes I remind myself to just shut up about certain things, and then I hear myself talking about them again and I wonder how people even put up with me anymore. I mean seriously, dude. Look around the world. You don’t have it so bad!

I get so tired of myself sometimes. And I don’t want to do it anymore. Maybe I should take this note from the universe and blow it up to poster size, hang it on the bathroom mirror, tape it to the dashboard, until I’ve seen it so often I have it committed to memory and remember that life has always been … will always be … whatever I make it. Dark or light. I want more light. And apparently, I already have it. I just need to see it.

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.

– Henri Bergson

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Dinner with my Brother

So the dinner with my brother and his family happened yesterday. After months of not speaking to one another, I have to say that I think it went very well.

I spent the majority of the day doing the necessary tidying around the house, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming (futilely) the eternal abundance of dog fur. I wasn’t TOO worried about whether the house was spotless. My brother and his family have two very sheddy dogs themselves. They wouldn’t judge.

I also made a big, BIG (too big) pot of chicken chili. There was shredded cheese, and tortilla chips and Chili Cheese Fritos to sprinkle on top, plus a couple dozen cornbread muffins. Three extra people and Mom came for dinner. I made enough food for two dozen. Better too much than not enough, I always say.

So they came. They gave the dogs much attention and pampering. The guys watched some football and contemplated the possibility of the Vikings making it to the Super Bowl in their hometown. And then warned each other not to jinx it by getting their hopes up. I gabbed with my sister-in-law, Mom and my nephew. We ate the chili and the cornbread muffins and sang the praises of Chili Cheese Fritos. We were almost too full – but not quite – to enjoy my sister-in-law’s mini Bailey’s Irish Cream – chocolate cheesecakes. They were aMAYzing!

Brother and I didn’t talk about what’s been bothering us all these past months. We didn’t hash out the hurts or discuss forgiveness, or hug, or cry. We just hung out like we always used to do. Anyway, Mom was here, and since she’s at the center of what’s gone wrong between my brothers and me, that might have been weird and unfair. Besides, texting seems to be the medium for he and I to say what’s in our hearts. Works for me. I think I’ll text him this morning and tell him how glad I am that he came.

 

Cliché

A new year has begun and I can’t help myself. My thoughts keep turning to how I might make this next trip around the sun better than the last. 2017 left a bitter taste in my mouth, and I’ve come to realize this is largely no one’s fault but my own.

The few words I wrote last year (and the many that I did not,) focused heavily on the stuff that has weighed on me for some time now – my aging mother, the silent war that wages on between her children, and the stifling sense of defeat, depression and sadness that has draped over my soul as a result.

The last quarter of the year really did me in. I had latched on to my anger and bitterness so tightly that I could hardly stand myself. I hadn’t spoken to either of my brothers in months, and every day, my stomach churned with resentment over their continued absence and lack of any sort of support in the daily care of my mom.

I used to be so close to one of my brothers, the one who is two years younger than me. He and his family used to be such a big part of our life. He and his wife used to spend so much time with us years ago. They came over to decorate Easter eggs with us, or carve pumpkins for Halloween, or just to hang out on a long, dreary winter day. He was my kids’ favorite uncle, hands down. And I realized one day in recent weeks, that in spite of all the reasons I’ve had to be mad at him … I missed him. I just missed him.

Why I’ve continued to remain connected to him on Facebook, I don’t know. I suppose it was just some twisted need to know what was going on in his life, and allow myself to feed my resentment every time I saw evidence that he had any opportunity to enjoy life without having to stop and worry about our mom. I could remind myself once again how unfair it was that my brothers seemed to have abandoned her, and left me and my sister to do all of the worrying and care-giving. But I realized maybe it was a good thing after all when I saw that he posted a Facebook status after Christmas, saying how he used to look forward to the holidays, but now he’s just glad they are over. It sunk in that for months, I have failed to think for a moment what it might be like to be in his shoes, and that maybe there was more to his absence than sheer selfishness.

Before I could talk myself out of it, before I could make a list of reasons that I might regret it, I sent him a text, telling him I felt the same way. I said I hated how divided our family had become, that Christmas just wasn’t the same joyful holiday I used to see it as, and that I knew I bore some of the responsibility for the huge mess that is now our family.

My mind was riddled with thoughts about how hurt I was going to be if he fired back at me in anger, or worse, didn’t respond at all. I tried to hang on to the hope that even if nothing changed as far as his involvement with Mom, I could work together with him to repair our relationship. And to my surprise, he responded immediately. My phone dinged over and over as he sent buckets of words back to me, expressing his sorrow over being at odds with me and my family. Words of regret and explanation poured back and forth between us, and tears were shed on both sides of the conversation. We finally made plans for his family to come spend an evening at my house in the near future.

I cannot begin to describe, or even really understand the relief I’m feeling. We are a long ways from repairing all of the damage that has been done, and it’s quite likely that some of the family divisions may never be healed. But I’m trying not to focus on the what-ifs. I just know that I’m only beginning to understand the real meaning of forgiveness, and hoping that I can keep myself from falling back into old habits. I don’t know what it all means, especially because I still feel a lot of resentment toward my youngest brother and can’t see taking any first steps with him at this point. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure my sister is going to be hurt and angry with me, since it has been “us against them” for such a long time.

I guess I’m just allowing myself to be okay with baby steps at this point, and trying not to feel pressured to figure it all out right away. I only know that I haven’t liked myself very much lately. I’m reminded again that “they” are right when they say that withholding forgiveness hurts no one but myself. I’m tired of opening my eyes every morning and my first thoughts being dark. I just think there’s a lot that needs to change inside of me before I can find the sense of peace that I seem to forever be chasing.

So here I am, at the beginning of another year, setting goals and hoping hopes that I can get something right in whatever number of days I have ahead of me. I wish my resolutions could be as simple as improving my diet, exercising more, or getting more organized. I still need to work on those things, but I have to dig a little deeper than that this year. And maybe one of these days I’ll find that the world has become just a little bit better place.

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.

 

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.

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?

It is what it is

I can’t believe it’s autumn already.

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(I just decided to write autumn instead of fall. Does anyone say autumn anymore? Where has that word gone? … Anyway …)

It seems impossible that 2016 is nearly three-quarters of the way gone. The days come and go like a sneeze. This is a sure sign that a) I have WAY too much going on this year, and b) I’m getting old. I’m okay with that. Like always, I still say I’d never go back in time. And I’m much more aware than ever how important it is to make each day count.

The past year has shaken me up. I have had too many reminders of my own mortality. Add to that, too much seems to be falling apart as I sit here helplessly. There is a constant worry about a loved one’s child destroying his life with drugs. (You always think it can’t happen in your own circle, until it does. And it’s horrifying.) There’s the exhausting dysfunction that continues to plague the relationships among my extended family. (Why are some so comfortable being hateful to their own blood?) Sometimes, it’s simply the thought of this county’s next leader that leaves me fearful of tomorrow.

Some days it all weighs on my heart to the point that I wonder why we bother with any of it.

The upside of aging is that while it is still and probably always will be in my nature to worry first and give a heavy amount of attention to the negative stuff, I’m learning not to stop there. There’s just so much I can do nothing about. If I’ve learned anything from losing my 47-year young best friend almost two and half months ago now, it’s that life is simply too short to waste the days giving energy to battles that can’t be won.

There’s a lot of anger and hatred between my siblings, and I guess … I’ll admit … me. I don’t want to own any of this, but if I’m honest, I’m not completely without blame here anymore than the others. I’m just as capable of refusing to see past faults as anyone else. In years past, I found myself constantly trying to fix it. Now I realize that maybe we’ll never be able to understand where each other is coming from. I’m tired of harboring resentment though, and I’m tired of feeling that if it’s going to be fixed, it’s going to have to be me who takes the initiative. As many times as that’s happened, I’m just sick of coming back to the same place again. I’m tired of swallowing my pride and opening my heart and home to others who refuse to acknowledge that they have played and continue to play a role in the fraying of our family life. Maybe it’s enough to just concede that we can’t force togetherness and we should just love each other from a distance.

There’s a woman I work with. We’ll call her Dee. Dee is the most bitter and angry person I’ve ever met. She’s constantly using sarcastic humor to express how stupid she thinks other people are. I know there’s probably a lot of history behind it, but even as I try to understand what might be beneath the surface, there’s a limit to how much thinly veiled judgement I’m willing to take. I think everyone wants to have some friends at work. But Dee? She’s alienated all but me and one other person. We are the only ones willing to eat lunch with Dee anymore. All others have gone their separate ways. This week I told that one other person that she shouldn’t take it personally if I opt not to spend my precious lunch break with her and Dee some days. I see how easily in the past, I’ve been where Dee is right now. I don’t want to fall back to that place and I just don’t think it’s good for me to spend time with a person who doesn’t ever seem to want to let go her darkness. I’ve had enough darkness. I need light in my days.

This year has been good though too. It’s shown me I am strong in ways I never thought I was. The experiences of this year have created a bond so strong between my mom and me that I never thought possible. I will never regret this, I know. But sometimes I worry that I’m falling short in my friend relationships, with the in-law side of my family, and that I should be doing more to give of myself in a wider circle.

Then often comes a reminder from somewhere else. My mom needs me right now more than anyone else needs me. She is my calling at this time. It always comes back to this. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I realize that there will be other days for those other things that pull on me. My friends who have been here? They understand this and I love them for it. (Shelly! Rose!)

This year has taught me that there really aren’t any solid lines in this life. As much as we try to tell ourselves as much, there just aren’t. There’s no real black and white. As angry and abandoned as I feel sometimes with some of my siblings, I’m willing to admit that we just haven’t found a way to “get” each other. I love them, but right now, I just need to keep my distance. I don’t have enough energy to do all that I must do every day, and understand things they can’t or aren’t willing to share with me. I frequently remind myself that as much as I’d like to think there’s a way things are supposed to be, things just are what they are. I’ve come to believe that what is supposed to be is mostly an illusion anyway. Someday, it might all be made clear to me, but for now, I have to accept that there’s a lot that isn’t going to make sense. We all choose what we choose in life. We can’t do so for others.

None of us knows what it’s truly like inside the hearts of each other. Sometimes people can’t share what drives them, and rather than hang on to the hurt, we have to either accept it, or just walk away from each other. Sadly, because this world is so broken, sometimes it’s just not possible to have the relationships we imagine in a perfect world.

I’ve come to accept that with precious few hours in a day, and precious few days in this life, I have to put my energy where it’s welcomed, where it can make a positive impact. For now, that’s my immediate family, my mom, and anyone else who is willing for us to accept each other as we are. If someday it’s possible for healing with those who have drifted away, I’ll welcome it. In the meantime, I’m not going to force it.

With age and the experiences of late, my mind and heart seem to be breaking free of the limits I’ve spent a lifetime enforcing on them, in both profound and simple ways. I don’t have to hate. I don’t have to be sad. But I also don’t have to keep exposing myself to people and circumstances that make me hurt. There’s a degree of freedom in finally accepting that I can’t force life to be what I expect it to be. And when I finally begin to see it as it is, it might actually be easier to be happy.