White Pine Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Disconnected

Challenging.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I felt so sad all the time.”

YES.

“And lonely.”

YES.

“Just … unhappy.”

YES. Me too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t have time,” I said.

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

“No, but I …”

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

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

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

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

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.

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?

I remember when I used to write

Lord, I miss writing. And to think that for years, I used to come to the internet and do so multiple times a week. Now weeks go by with not a word. I miss it.

My life is just not in a place that allows for writing anything much that’s creative or takes more than a few moments. I’ve thought about this so much lately, how there was a time when it would give me anxiety to go too many days without writing. Writing was the thing that gave me release and I gave it priority. Not to mention, it gave me a community that I loved being a part of. I know there will come a time again when I’ll have the time and freedom to sit down and craft my life stories again, as well as spend time with writing friends. It just isn’t that time. For now, I’ll have to be content to find a rare moment like this here and there.

Actually, I shouldn’t even be sitting here now. I’m supposed to be tackling things around the house in preparation for a house full of company this coming Thursday. I volunteered to have the hubby’s family here for Thanksgiving. When I mentioned to him that I was contemplating this, Jack asked, “Are you insane?” They’re a BIG group. They won’t all be able to join us, thank god! But we’re still looking at a good 25 to 30 guests. I’m not too worried. I have a new room on the back of my house with no furniture in it. It’s going to be our Thanksgiving dining room! And this gives me something different and fun to look forward to for a change.

But as I was saying, there’s work to do around this house. The combination of a months-long construction project, and my caregiver responsibilities to my mom means that we have not kept up on a lot of our usual “stuff.” I should be tackling all that stuff right now. But while glancing at my phone this morning, I noticed a WordPress notification that it’s my one year anniversary on this blog. (They should also give me a reward – or penalty – for being the person who has abandoned blogs and started fresh in a new place so many times. I think this one is my fifth blog site since 2006. And I was hoping to make this my permanent home. I probably will. I just might not be “home” quite often for a while here until something gives a bit in my life.)

I had a milestone birthday last week. People kept asking me how it felt to be “the big five oh!” I told everyone, simply, that I was happy to be here. The unspoken words in my head were, “I lost my best friend a few months ago at forty-seven years old. I am grateful to reach fifty.”

Life has been busy. The hours in the days fly by. The days and the weeks and the months fly by. And I find myself wondering how the end of this year is already approaching when it seems we just turned the corner on 2016. How is it that my dad has been gone for almost a year already? My father-in-law for two?

The busyness and the speed of time lately means I appreciate like never before, the little things. Things like having an evening free to run errands or get a little grocery shopping done. Or bowling. Bowling used to just be … well, bowling. Now it’s my guarantee of having some sort of social life. Without it, I would not.

Still, we’ve managed to squeeze in some good stuff. The kids were all here last weekend to celebrate my big birthday. They and Jack had tried to plan a surprise party for me, but I got wind of it. (Jack’s terrible with secrets.) I told them, in all sincerity, I really did not want a big to-do. I just wanted time with them. They graciously honored my request and it was WONDERFUL! I loved waking up and having the usually quiet house soon fill up with their presence. We had big breakfasts together – eating things like Belgian waffles and bacon. And we sat together in the living room and just talked and laughed. I just love the adults my kids have become. They’re good people.

As part of my birthday gift, Chesney arranged for us to have a family photo taken, rather spontaneously. There was no time to coordinate clothing, and I realized I just didn’t care if we looked picture-perfect. We had a grand time doing it and the photos turned out GREAT! I’m going to treasure these for a long time to come.

IMG_9748.JPG

… This felt good … I may not be back again soon. But I will be back.

It is what it is

I can’t believe it’s autumn already.

img_4543

(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.

Deepening Our Roots

I feel guilty for not having written in so long! Of all the things I like to do in my spare time, writing is the one thing to which I used to be truly dedicated. It’s been hard to find the time these past few months as we’ve been putting an addition on our house.

The addition will be our new living room. Along with it, came a new deck to the back yard and a million other little things. We’ve spent the last four months talking windows, siding, decking, lighting, and discussing what we want in a gas fireplace. The house is in a constant state of chaos.

It’s amazing how one fairly significant home improvement project turns into a domino effect of smaller projects. We had a knock-down ceiling done in the addition. And then decided to replace all of the popcorn ceilings in the main level with new knock-down ceilings. What a mess! But the ceilings look GOOD! The drawback? It’s nearly impossible to spray a new ceiling and stay perfectly within the borders. If we had leftover paint in the color of every room, we could touch up the top edges of the walls, but we don’t. Well, a fresh coat of paint will be nice. We’ll get to that … eventually.

And as long as we had to put windows in the new addition, why not replace all of the windows in the house? Okay, to be honest, we’ve had BAD windows for years and we had planned all along to replace them when we started this addition. But installing new windows meant removing all of the trim work, staining the new windows, (which hasn’t been done yet,) and replacing all of the trim work, (which also hasn’t been done yet.) We pulled off the old window blinds which consisted of varying levels of quality, depending on our finances at the time they were purchased. Most have been thrown away. I bought cheap, room-darkening curtains for the bedrooms and hung them on tension rods until the staining and trim work is done. They do the trick until I can figure out what we want for permanent window treatments.

This weekend, the hardwood floor was installed. Now to find an area rug. And some furniture. I have visions of a cozy, sectional sofa!

While all this house stuff goes on, the yard stuff falls to the back burner. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve talked about the list of chores we need to address next spring. There’s a tree that needs to come down, gardens that need attention, and landscaping that will have to be replaced in the aftermath of the construction. Also, it bothers me that the shed is not the color of the new siding. Jack says he’s not spending the money to put new siding on a shed. I’ll get over it.

Really though, I’m not complaining. In the back of my mind, I always wondered if Jack and I would stay in this house for the long haul. (There was never any doubt in his mind, but I have always wanted better living space.) With this addition, the house will be everything I ever hoped it would be. My kids and their significant others … and maybe someday, some grandchildren … can come visit and we’ll have a great space to relax together, or celebrate holidays.

It’s been a productive few months. We have gone from this …

img_0176

… to this.

 

Every day with this project is an adventure, and I always have something new to look forward to… even if that means trying to make dinner in a dusty kitchen. The dust is never-ending!

Jack hired a crew of guys to help him build this addition. (He knows “a guy” for every type of project – electrical, sheet rock, you name it.) They all have day jobs, and are doing this outside of their normal work hours. The upside is that we’re saving so much money over hiring a contractor to do the work for us. The downside is that many days, the workers are here working over the dinner hour. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to relax in the quiet of my own home, but those days will be back soon enough. And since the guys are spending all this time away from their own families, what I lack in manual labor skills, I make up for in cooking for a hungry crew who is always grateful for a hot meal. They have worked so hard and everything is turning out just beautifully!

There is a certain satisfaction in this process, slow as it may seem at times. It will all be so worth it in the end.

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.