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!

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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.

Hello, 2017!

I am ready for a new year! Like so many others, I’m not sorry to see 2016 go. 2016 wrung us out in so many ways, not just here at home, but throughout the country, and around the world. And even though today, the sun has simply risen on another twenty-four hour window, just like it has every day before this one, the fact that today brings a fresh new year gives me a sense of hope and optimism.

I’ve been reshaped in the past year. I’d like to think I’ve been made stronger. But the process of getting here hasn’t been easy.

Jack and I went to a wedding yesterday. At the reception, I was talking with a friend who has suffered more family tragedy in the past couple of years than anyone should have to endure. We talked about things like losing loved ones, watching our parents grow old and frail, and the seemingly high instance of addiction in people these days. We talked about how much pain and hurt exist in this world. And we discussed how easy it is to worry and to hurt when you love others. I said that I always figured the older I got, the easier life should be, and the less we should have to worry about. But with each passing year, I realize it’s just not so. It can be so easy to let fear, hurt and bitterness consume you – if you allow it.

If anyone ever had the right to curl up in a ball and let darkness swallow them up, it would be this friend. But she hasn’t and won’t allow that to happen. She inspires me. As we talked, there were some tears. She’s been through so much, and she endured a period of darkness not long ago that I’m not sure I personally could have survived. We talked about how hard it can be to keep taking another step forward when so often we don’t understand why things sometimes happen the way they do.

I’ve reached a stage in my life when “someday” has arrived. Years ago, I understood that someday, my parents would grow old.  I knew that friends and loved ones would eventually depart from this life, and that there was the possibility that we wouldn’t all grow old. I knew that not everyone I cared about would have an easy life. Not everyone would enjoy good health for all of their days. But when I was younger, and had more control over protecting the ones I love, when time was on my side, it was easy to tuck someday away in the back of my mind.

We get older, and someday inevitably arrives. It can’t be ignored. You can let it swallow you up … or you can face it, and find happiness and good in spite of it.

I told my friend that as I endured the loss of  loved ones over the past couple of years, the only thing that kept me from losing it was the fact that there were clear signs that this here, this now, is not all that there is. A prayer to my grandmother was answered with the sound of her favorite song. A loved one showed up in a dream, assuring us that it’s all okay, that there is happiness in the beyond. I call them God moments. So does my friend. To others, maybe they are simply hope and optimism, or just wishful thinking. Whatever they are … they give me the strength to keep keeping on.

Still, in 2016, I mostly felt as if I was just going through the motions and trying not to let everything get the best of me. I know this is simply life. Most of us will have to pass by this way at some point. It’s a process. Grief and sorrow can’t be overcome in a day. And maybe they are something we just learn to live with. Strength and new wisdom do not come in an instant. Shedding old skin, arising anew … it all takes time. This is what we’re here for. To feel every emotion. To feel alone sometimes as well as to be surrounded. To experience joy as well as pain. To understand that sometimes we have to endure the depths for a while. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. All of this is what helps us to know what it is to truly live.

My friend summed it up well. She told me she never could have survived her losses if it weren’t for the love and support of those around her. “We’re here to love each other,” she said. “We’re just supposed to love each other. That’s all this is about. Nothing else matters.”

I think she’s right. In 2017, I hope I’ll stay more focused on this. I can’t save my mom from the inevitable strains of her health conditions, but I can take care of her as best I can. I can be with her as much as possible and love her as much as possible. I can’t save anyone from the ugliness of this world, but I can remind them they aren’t alone and they are loved. And when the unimaginable happens, maybe that love will be someone’s saving grace.

I spent too much time in 2016 feeling lost, alone and defeated. I don’t want to feel the sting of tears so often anymore. I want to feel less anger and bitterness. I want to remind my brain to focus on the positive, and when negativity finds its way in, acknowledge it and let it pass on by. I want to enjoy what I have, appreciate that which I can control, and stop stressing about what (and who) is beyond my grasp.

As I’ve so often been reminded in recent days,  a new year is like a blank book.

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I hope I write a good one in 2017.

 

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.

It’s been a while

I haven’t written much lately. A lack of time is partially to blame. Being caregiver to Mom means that one day  often runs into the next. If I didn’t have to work, it would be so much easier. But I like working! Plus, having an income is nice.

Also, we may have bit off more than we can chew by deciding to build an addition on the house this summer. Thankfully Jack is managing that pretty well on his own. He checks in with me when he knows I’ll want to have a say in some aspect, but otherwise is moving the project along without me for now. I’ll get more involved when it’s time for flooring, paint and furniture.

I frequently find myself wondering where my life has gone. Then I remember my friend from high school, the one whose dad suffers from Alzheimer’s and lives with her. Her Faceb00k posts tell stories of sleepless nights, constant worries for his safety, the exasperation of trying to have reasonable conversations, and the sheer loneliness of being an only child with such an ill parent. I try to remember that I have it so much easier, that I actually have other people to help out now and then, and that I should stop feeling sorry for myself.

Still, I do feel sorry for myself, which is the other reason I haven’t written much lately. I can hardly stand to be around myself and I’m not fond of this version of me. I hear the words coming out of my mouth at times when it’s safe to just let loose, and I wonder how I slipped into such a bitter place. I cry too easily lately and hate that I feel like such a wuss at times.

It’s dark inside my head too much these days, and I’m embarrassed to share that. I hate feeling sorry for myself, but feel so helpless to fight it. I’m angry a lot, which I would also prefer not to be, but can’t seem to let go of it. I feel abandoned by my siblings. I don’t hear from any of them or see them much at all. And that’s fine. I  guess I can live without them. But Mom can’t. She misses them and I hate knowing that. She might hear from them periodically, but some of their visits with her are rare and  often all too brief.

I want to scream at them sometimes, tell them that Mom needs them and remind them that I’m the one who’s there almost every single day. I want to ask them how it’s fair that they don’t have to plan their days around Mom’s needs. I want them to realize that I’m the one who will be there when no one else is. I’m the one who takes time off work to take her to all of her doctor appointments. I’m the one who makes sure she has a hot meal each day, takes out the trash, changes the bedding, walks the dog, picks up the dog sh*t, fixes the computer, brings in the mail, waters the plants and a host of other things that Mom used to easily manage but can no longer handle on her own.

I’VE BECOME A WHEEL WATCHER for crying out loud! And deep down, gladly so. Mom loves her Wheel of Fortune.

The hardest part is that I feel like I’m the only one seeing her slowly slip away, day by day. And there’s no one to lean on while I worry that Mom isn’t safe in her house and wonder how much time we have left together. I see my siblings’ Faceb00k posts and feel resentment. I see them out with friends, on vacation, proudly displaying the results of hobbies they have time to pursue. I haven’t read a book in forever. My camera is literally gathering dust. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve spent time with friends this summer.

Once in awhile, a little light seeps in and I feel a little bit more like my old self. That’s happened this week and it’s a relief.

Perspective. Everyone has a back story. We don’t always know what it is. My siblings have back stories and I guess I have a small sense of each one of them. I need to remind myself that I don’t really know what it’s like to be in their shoes.

It’s my privilege to be the one whose life allows me to be there for Mom. She’s appreciative  and she never fails to tell me so. And the reality is that at least once a week, one of them, usually my sister, takes a turn and gives me a night off. I rarely know until the last minute when that might be, but I’ll take what I can get.

Clarity. All I can often see is what things look like to me. I imagine my siblings breezing through their lives without a thought as to Mom’s well-being, without any sense of sharing in her care. In my heart, I know that’s not really the way it is. Still doesn’t make it any easier that on a daily basis, I feel like I’m the one who has to carry the weight. But I know that Faceb00k tends to showcase only what others want us to see. It’s not the whole picture. My brothers and sister are struggling, just like me, but with other issues. I feel sorry for some of them. I know I’m  probably the lucky one.

A break in routine helps, and that’s come this week. I’m going away for a few days. Leaving the state. Getting out of this house and away from the office. I’m going to see my best friend. By all accounts, cancer is going to take her away from us long before her family or I could ever have imagined. It was suggested that I make this visit before it’s too late. It’s been a tough journey for her, and hope seems to be drifting away. But not if I have anything to say about it. I am praying daily for her. I am praying fiercely for her. Every once in awhile, there are signs of hope. Maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see, but I can’t and won’t give up on her.

I’ll cut myself a little slack, because I don’t think anyone would argue that watching your mom and your best friend hang in the balance at the same time is a lot to ask of anyone.

I ‘ve worried about being away from Mom for four whole days. I pondered reaching out to my siblings while at the same time feeling bitter that I would even have to ask them to look in on her. But by some miracle, things are falling into place and it seems there will be someone to look in on Mom each day while I’m away. It occurs to me how arrogant it was to think that Mom couldn’t survive without me for a handful of days. How prideful of me it was to struggle with the thought of reaching out for help for my mom’s sake.

I’m hoping this break shakes me up a little bit and helps me to keep my head in a higher place. I’m better than this person I’ve allowed myself to become. I am so blessed. I’m stronger than I think I am sometimes. And I need to remember it.

Kinda Wish I Lived in Colorado

For months now, I’ve had trouble connecting with my best friend due to the effects of her cancer. Sometimes when she’s actually able to answer the phone, it’s mainly to tell me she’s not really able to talk.

Her husband told me she’s been really down lately. He thought it would really do her good to talk with me. So he proposed a system. When he thinks she’s doing well and likely to manage a phone call, he’ll text me. We tried this, four days in a row. Three times, she picked up the phone and began coughing so much that she had to cut our call short. We both ended up in tears. But on the fourth day, yesterday, something clicked. We had one of our good old-fashioned gab fests! It was amazing.

She put me on speaker phone and all three of us talked for a while. She talked about how defeating it has been, to have experienced great evidence of recovery, only to have the cancer metastasize to her brain. Still, their attitudes are great, and they maintain a good sense of humor. She talked about having had pneumonia for about ten weeks straight, and she joked that I must not be praying hard enough.

“Yeah,” he said. “You gotta get on your knees more.”

We all laughed. But seriously. I assured them, prayer is the one thing I can do, and am doing. Daily.

I’ve never been a good pray-er. My Catholic upbringing means there are a few prayers that for most of my life have rolled off my tongue effortlessly … and without much thought. But aside from that, I think I was always the sort that, when I actually bothered, just kind of offered up my grocery list of worries and requests.

Things are a bit different these days. Prayer is not always a conscious effort, but sometimes simply the backdrop of all that’s going on around me. I think it’s a good thing that it doesn’t always require so much thought before it happens. Other times, it is very specific and focused. And it’s not just about asking for the things I want or think I need. I try to remember to first express gratefulness.

My mom and I actually had a conversation tonight concerning what the Catholics believe about praying to the saints. Apparently it’s acceptable. Mom mentioned there’s a patron saint of cancer. I looked it up. St. Peregrine. He’s going to be hearing from me from now on.

I wondered if half the battle of receiving what we ask … might sometimes just be a matter of asking. I’m going to keep asking.

Also … I’m researching Cannabis Oil and dosage recommendations. So there’s that. I really wish I lived somewhere this was easily accessible and where I could talk to an expert. This is my best friend we’re talking about. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help her fight this.

Pulling Oneself Up by One’s Bootstraps (and Getting By with a Little Help from One’s Friends)

There’s been a distinct shift in my perspective this past week. Looking back over the past few months, I recognize that  I’ve sometimes been so deep inside my own head that I can’t get out.

I know I’ve been wallowing in self-pity lately. It doesn’t make me proud, but I’ve somehow felt helpless to really rise above it. When I think about this time in my life, I try to remember that this is just a season. When I contemplate the time I spend with my mom, and how it contributes to her ability to continue living somewhat independently, I realize that years from now I will not be sorry. But I’m also guilty of worrying too much about her hours alone. Is she okay? Is she staying safe? Is she feeling lonely? I know it’s not bad to consider these things. But there has to be some balance … a healthy amount of worry coupled with productively contributing to her well-being.

I’ve been overly focused on the fact that my free time feels nearly non-existent. I can barely manage a text or email to a friend these days, much less actually spend time with anyone. And I’ve been bitter because those whom I always thought would be here to help either truly can’t or  simply … won’t.

When I’ve stepped outside of myself lately, I’m disappointed in what I see. I am stronger than this! And I know better. Lucky for me, I’ve been shaken out of my stupor. It’s funny how just the right person can come along at just the right time. Or in my case, the right people. I guess I needed reinforcements.

A call with my best friend’s husband last week, meant to bring me up to speed on the state of her cancer battle, has turned into almost daily communication. He opened my eyes to how truly difficult my friend’s days have been. I’d been a bit clueless due my inability to connect with her recently. But he’s also sharing hopes about bringing his family back to Minnesota in the coming weeks, to celebrate their son’s (and my godson’s) graduation with family and friends. We’re talking about how I can help with the party and anything else they might need. We’re discussing the potential for me to make a trip there to spend a few days of one on one time with my friend. Becoming so aware of the depth of her fight and how much ground she’s been losing has been cause for many tears this past week. It was easy to believe things were okay when I didn’t really know. But knowing allows me to really focus my prayers for her and for them. And being in touch with him, discussing how I can support them, makes me feel better somehow. At least I have a sense of direction. And he seems grateful to be able to talk about it with someone.

Kim  also contacted me this past week, to ask if she’d ever sent me a hard copy of her latest book. Kim is someone I would never have met if it weren’t for the internet and blogging. I’ve met her in person just a couple of times, and in spite of long stretches of time without communication, our friendship is a close one. She is a living example of the faith I’m always trying so hard to build within myself.

Kim is an author, and I’ve had the honor of previewing all of her books over the past several years. I’d read and reviewed some months ago an electronic version of her fifth and latest book. During our online conversation that day, I admitted that she’d never sent the promised hard copy (and I’m thinking she shouldn’t, that I should support her by actually purchasing it instead.) And then we moved on to the “How’s life?” kind of stuff.

Kim shared some of her struggles of the past few months, including the fact that her best friend is fighting a rare and aggressive form of cancer. This news itself lifted the fog of loneliness I’d been feeling. In spite of her trials, she exudes positivity and continues to rely on her faith to keep forging ahead. The simple fact that she could closely relate to the helplessness I’ve felt in regards to my friend’s situation, and could offer tips on small gestures I could offer … well, it simply gave me a renewed sense of strength and resolve.

And then there was an email from Rose, my longtime friend. We’ve known each other since we were six or seven years old. She’s one of the few offline friends with whom I’ve shared this blog. She’d read my latest post, and emailed to offer her time and support. Rose took care of her own mom during a time of declining health. She did it on her own, until her mom left this world. She’s been where I am. It truly helped to converse with someone who gets it.

I’m out of the grip of my funk now. It’s funny how nothing’s changed, and yet everything’s changed. The sadness of watching the decline of loved ones is still there. There’s still the sense that sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day. But I’m managing to write here at least once a week, which is always such a release for me. And somehow there is just enough time to connect with a friend now and then, even if it is a simple text or email. I’ve remembered to stop feeling so sorry for myself. My life is good. It’s not me who’s truly suffering. The struggles that weigh on me are not truly mine.

Abby posted about how she writes a “Question of the Day” on a white board at home, meant to keep her son’s mind sharp over the summer months. I commented that I write things around the house too. My writings are meant to keep my  mind in a good place too, to center my focus in positivity.

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Periodically, an idea comes to mind that at various times in our lives, we’re called to something specific. I realize that my calling right now is that of caregiver. I’ve been mistaking this as a sort of burden. I’ve been wrong.

It is a privilege.

Calmed

This long weekend has been good for me. It’s provided me some breathing room, and the realization that I have been neglecting to keep a positive focus. That is something I’ve been purposefully striving for over the past few years. I remember when I first realized that it’s possible to remain hopeful even in the midst of storms.

How easy it is to slip back to old habits. I hadn’t even realized how fretting and worrying had overtaken me lately.

But like I said, maybe a break in routine is all I needed.

Jack and I were able to go to the ball game with our friends Friday night. It had been raining all day, and the rain continued as we drove to the field. If the weather didn’t break, we were just going to find a restaurant downtown and have dinner. But the clouds parted and it ended up being a perfect night for baseball.

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St. Paul Saints games are SO much fun! We had great seats, behind home plate with a clear view of the game. We enjoyed silly fan events held on-field between innings. And the “cheerleaders” in the form of a nerd couple who danced on top of the dugouts kept us laughing and cheering the whole time.  The post-game fireworks, choreographed to commercial jingles were the perfect ending to such an enjoyable night.

Saturday morning arrived with more rain, the perfect day to be stuck in the house painting walls. I called Mom before we dove into our project and was relieved to hear she was finally feeling much better.

Jack and I got started and we made a great team. I did all the taping, while he edged along the ceilings and then the baseboard that I had protected with blue masking tape. While he continued with the detail work, I followed behind with the roller. When those first patches of sage and caramel hues hit the walls, I wondered if we’d made the right choice, but by Saturday evening when we were almost done, we were really pleased with the results.

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It’s hard to take pictures of walls, so this photo doesn’t do it justice, but there is definitely a new vibe of serenity in the living room.

Yesterday, I had plans to go with my Mom and my siblings to visit my Dad’s grave. While waiting for my brothers to arrive, I received a message from my best friend’s husband that I should call him. My heart sunk. My friend has been battling cancer and it’s not been going in her favor. When I called, her husband told me that he was aware she has not been communicating much with her friends, and basically, while he did not feel anything was immediately imminent, I might want to plan a trip to see her sooner rather than later. My mind reeled. How phenomenally difficult it must be for that poor man to have to make that call and to have that conversation with his wife’s friends. Yet he was calm and detailed. Clearly, he has reached some level of acceptance.

IMG_4229aAs I stood quietly with my family around  my dad’s grave yesterday, I tried to process all of the pain and struggle I see happening all around me, not just in the world in general, but too close to home these days, in the lives of family and friends. So often lately, I think of the world as a dirty, ugly, dark place. It’s so easy to feel lost, and it’s hard to keep moving forward with a hopeful spirit. But at the same time, I realize that I have to, that the whole point is to find the joy in spite of all the chaos that surrounds us. Otherwise, what is the point?

Difficult as it may be at times, even if it feels like I’m just sometimes just going through the motions, I’m moving forward … with prayer, hope and optimism.

New Life

Springtime is in full force. The past week brought rain nearly every day, sometimes for endless hours. The grass in the backyard feels like a wet sponge. Lucy comes inside with muddy paws and is learning again that at this time of year, she needs to stop and sit on the rug by the patio door before continuing through the house. She’s not fond of it, but waits patiently enough as someone towels off all four of her soppy, grimy feet. It’s so good to see the sun again today.

The lilies and irises that I split and transplanted a couple of weeks ago are thriving, and the flowering crabapple tree in the front yard is bursting with buds. It won’t be long before it explodes into full pink bloom. It’ll be gorgeous for a few days before all of those tiny flower petals fall off and litter the black asphalt driveway.

Spring is having a positive effect on me too. It always does, but the impact feels more significant this year than ever before. The events of the past winter weighed so heavily on all of us. Lately, I feel as if a sludge is finally draining from my spirit. I’m beginning to find more balance and enthusiasm. Instead of every other day,  or even less as had become my habit during the darkest days of the past few months, I’ve been to the gym daily the last two weeks, and add mid-day walks whenever I can fit them in. It’s good for the body, but maybe more importantly right now, puts my head in a much brighter place.

It’s always amazing to me to realize that no matter how old I get, I can always change and improve, not just my habits, but  the way I view the world, my circumstances, and whether I’ll rise to meet them, or let them drag me down.

Although, I’m apparently a slow learner. I hate to think how many years I spent maintaining feelings of bitterness and unforgiveness in the face of difficulties. How often I was willing to believe that some things would never change. Too many. And honestly, those feelings are probably still my first reaction. Every time I hear my mom’s shortness of breath because she had to walk from another room to answer my phone call, or when I see her drooping with exhaustion after a walk from the handicap parking spot into her church, I think how unfair it is that a woman who never touched a cigarette in her life has been saddled with such a debilitating lung condition. She makes remarks now and then about how she probably won’t be around all that much longer. Just typing those words makes me want to cry. I think about all of the years we didn’t “get” each other, all of the time wasted not appreciating one another. And only now, since my dad is gone, have I realized just how very precious my parents are and should have always been to me. I’m not proud to say that I spent too much time feeling put-upon to take care of their needs when I didn’t feel I even had enough time to keep my own life together.

Still, this is usually the way it goes with parents and their children. We go through phases, the joy of the early years, the frustrations of the middle years, and finally reaching appreciation later on. We can only forgive ourselves for the past and move forward as best we can. I’m beginning to realize this more every day.

I think my dad would be proud today.

Back in the day, I was the kid who fought him on all things church-related. Church was boring. And I hated having to dress up for mass. Besides, my friends’ parents didn’t make them go to church every single weekend, every holy day, and every holiday. Why couldn’t I skip it now and then? Our family’s weekly attendance at mass made for the longest hours of my life.

When I began to have children of my own, we decided it was important to make religion a part of their lives. But our reasons were more about family tradition than anything. I was mostly just going through the motions, hoping for something bigger, but rarely finding it long enough to hold on to it. As our kids grew older and busier with activities, and as I became the bad guy, making everyone stop what they were doing to go to weekend mass, I wondered why I bothered. And I stopped. We all just stopped.

For a while I felt guilty, then eventually, relieved. It was pretty easy to give up religion. When we were regulars at church, I always felt like I was falling short on all the rules about attendance, tithing, attitude, and forgiveness, to name just a few. There was a kind of peace that came with not having anyone breathing down my neck about all the ways I was falling short.

Still, I’m grateful for a nagging feeling that remained in the back of my mind all of the years I was drifting. It’s the thing that eventually taught me that I’d missed the memo at some point, that I’d never really understood who God was and what He could be and do in my life.

These days, it is that very faith that keeps me going. It feels all new to me. Like I’m finally starting to get it, and every day my eyes are opened more and more. I have found healing in a relationship I didn’t think could ever be salvaged. I have experienced calm when I might otherwise have gone off the deep end. I have understood joy amidst the deepest feelings of grief. I have found acceptance at times when I might have railed at the world in anger and frustration. Not always, but often enough to know I can face with confidence whatever life throws at me, instead of living in fear. I guess you could say I’ve learned to believe in miracles.

I still experience bouts of anxiety over any number of things. My kids’ happiness, safety and well-being. My mom’s health and how long she’ll be here with us. The cancer that plagues my best friend. A host of other worries about the people I know and love. The difference now is knowing that no difficulty has to leave a permanent black mark on my soul. I’m learning to say thank you for challenges – not because I believe there’s some magic trick that turns every act of thankfulness into a happy ending, but because I choose to believe these experiences can take me in positive directions. And choosing to believe anything is half the battle toward making it reality.

I’ve broken outside of that shell that would have me believe you must participate and believe in only one specific segment of Christianity. Or even Christianity. It is my choice, but if someone else finds peace in a different way, more power to ’em.

While I’m back in regular attendance at the Catholic church, and while that would please Dad, it’s mostly because that’s where my mom wants to be. And since I am usually the one who takes her to church, that’s where we’ll go. Realistically, I find the teachings of other denominations to be mind-blowing at times. And thank God for the internet because I can hear from other churches at home while doing other things. And some of these people are so COOL! And “cool” is not something I ever thought I’d believe church could be. Listening to the word in unfamiliar settings, outside of the years of routine and repetition have helped me to really hear. I have to laugh at myself sometimes because I’m just hungry to know so much more. And it wasn’t that long ago that I could easily have just throw it all away.

I’m finally getting comfortable with prayer. It’s no longer just the reciting of age-old verses known by heart, but conversations in my head and heart, picturing God on the receiving end, acknowledging all of my fears, asking favor for my specific needs and those of others, and most importantly, expressing thankfulness for all things that make my life as good as it is. It all helps me recognize that my life is remarkably more blessed than I’ve often acknowledged.

I’m reading the Bible, willingly, for the first time ever. (Hey, Dad! Did you catch that? I’m reading the Bible!) My dad wanted all of this for me while he was here. I didn’t even begin to grasp it until he was on the downhill slide of his life. And the big boom of it came with and after his passing. Better late than never, I guess.

I understand now why so many people need and have faith in God, or any other belief system or practice that helps them get through each day. Life is hard sometimes. So many of us go through the days all knotted up, worried, fearful, or angry. I’m guilty. Every happy thought used to be dampened by another worrisome thought. I think we’re all just looking for peace. And now that I’ve discovered how I might find it, it gets easier each day. And when you find something that works, you just want to share it. I’m really grateful to have so many people in my life who never gave up on sharing their stories. I guess it’s my job now to share mine whenever the opportunity arises.

 

Third Day, an Easter Cactus, and More

Seventy (almost) degrees last Saturday. A dusting of snow on the ground this Saturday morning. In many years past, we’ve still had measurable amounts of white on the ground at this point in the season. I should be grateful that today, the winter layers of snow are all gone. But if I’m honest, last weekend’s weather makes a thirty degree plunge hard to swallow. I’ll get over it. Spring is just around the corner.

I still seem to be struggling with writing here regularly, so in the interest of catching up, I’m going to follow my friend MJ‘s lead, and offer some of what she would call “randoms.”

In music: I went to a concert last Saturday with a friend from work. We saw Third Day, a group that falls into the category of Christian music. If I’m honest (again,) I’ll admit that what first drew me to the group was the lead singer’s voice. Is it wrong to admit that I found his voice to be sexy? Listen and tell me I’m wrong.

But I’ve remained a fan because Third Day’s music is so much deeper than their appealing voices and sound. The concert was fantastic and uplifting, and we were so glad we attended. We left there feeling joyful and sorry it was over so soon. Still, I’m going to say that having now seen Third Day in person, the lead singer is not hard to look at! (Those dimples!)

In plants: For all the years of little ones running around the house … not to mention the cats … I could never have plants in the front window where they’d enjoy the most sunlight. My plants were always in sad shape, barely thriving. Now with kids grown and cats gone, the front window can finally be a good home to my plants. There resides an African Violet, as well as the Christmas Cactus that my sister gave me last Christmas. It’s almost Easter, and the Christmas Cactus is blooming! So is the Violet! My grandma, the queen of African Violets, would be so proud. Maybe if I get an Easter Lily, it will bloom on the Fourth of July.

In birthdays: A group of us at work have become a sort of informal birthday celebration committee. We make sure there are decorations and goodies on our coworkers’ special days. It was Tom’s birthday this past week. Being the last one to leave the office the day before, I took the responsibility of decorating his cubicle. I went a little overboard, decorating both outside and in, criss-crossing banners and crepe paper across his work space. As employees walked by, they would stop and chuckle. One called me sneaky! Tom was a good sport when he arrived the next morning. He worked all day in the midst of all the decor, even though that meant ducking in and out of his cubicle.

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In dog-loving: My former boss, now my boss’ boss, who is also my friend, stopped by this week to share a story about how her daughter rescued a lost puppy last weekend. She didn’t share this, as one might expect, to see if I needed or wanted another pet, but just because she’s a dog-lover. She said that as a dog-lover myself, she knew I’d appreciate the happy ending. (I did. New owner volunteered. Original owner found.) After we returned to our respective responsibilities, my phone buzzed with a text message.

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I smiled because I couldn’t have agreed more.

In Mom news: My mom had lots of plans this week. A friend of Mom’s, my niece, and my youngest brother had all made dates to have dinner with Mom, resulting in a “free” week for me. I was grateful as I had a lot of catching up to do at home. And I accomplished much. I finished and mailed invitations for the bridal shower I’m giving for my niece. Jack and I went out to dinner one night. I picked out paint samples to help me decide colors for the main level, (which I’ve been wanting to paint for three years now.) And I bought a dress for my niece’s wedding which takes place in May. (It’s red, with some bling. Chesney says it might be too flashy for a wedding, but we both agreed if I’m happy with it, I should go with it. I’m keeping the tags on for now, just in case I change my mind.)

As of yesterday, I hadn’t seen Mom since last Sunday! I called as I was leaving work because I missed her and wanted to stop by. Before I could tell her so, she said she missed me. She wasn’t used to going so many days without seeing me. She was thrilled when I asked if I could stop by before her dinner date with my brother. I did so, and we made plans to attend the Sunday evening mass at her church. We did that last week. She was happy to have someone to take her to church and I enjoyed the more contemporary music. A win-win!

And how was your week?