Three Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So Much Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Godsend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.

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

Best Things

img_4159I was just thinking that the best thing about today was the sunshine. Blazing, almost blinding at times sunshine.

And the brilliant blue sky.

And the sound of chirping birds filling the air as I stepped out of my car upon arriving at work today…

…Taking a break from a challenging day to enjoy a walk around the pond with a coworker/friend. Sun on our skin. A slight breeze and fresh air. Catching up on one another’s weekend doings and forgetting, for fifteen minutes, about the things going wrong back inside the office.

An email from my oldest with a picture attached. Sharing his past weekend’s adventure.

“I think I want to spend more time at the North Shore,” his message said.

I opened the picture and replied, “Wow. Can I come with next time?”

And, “Is that you in the photo?”

“Yup, that’s me,” he replied. “Fighting a fish. Or a rock.”

Spontaneous cooking at home once I’d left work and picked up Mom. I hadn’t thought tonight was going to be one of my nights. Jack is at work for the evening, so … nothing planned for dinner.

“I’ve been thinking about making your goulash,” I said to Mom as she settled in the living room chair waiting for Wheel of Fortune to begin.

“Oh, that sounds good,” she agreed.

“You’ll have to remind me what all goes in there. It’s been forever since I’ve made it.”

Ground beef, onions and garlic cooking in frying pan. Salt and Pepper. And after the meat had browned and was sizzling, stewed tomatoes and some pasta.

“Put a few tablespoons of ketchup in too,” she reminded me.

Mom wanted a slice of buttered bread to accompany her meal. I said that reminded me of dinners at Grandma’s house, where there was always a plate of sliced white bread and plenty of butter with every meal. I pulled some cantaloupe out of the refrigerator and put that on the table too. Not exactly the healthiest of meals, but it was hot, and it tasted good. Then again, food always tastes better when you’ve got someone to enjoy it with.

Just a really good day…

Getting Muddy

There’s a bird caw-caw-cawing somewhere out back. I can hear him even though the windows are closed. Even though I know the call is coming from a big, dirty, black bird, it makes me smile. It’s such a welcome sound. If I listen carefully, I can hear the softer, songs of daintier birds in the background. Spring seems to have arrived, at least for the weekend. I won’t get my hopes up. After all, it’s only March. But it has been a forgiving winter. I’m grateful for the early arrival of warmer days.

The last two weeks – I don’t know where they’ve gone. Mom had some bad days. Work was overwhelming. The last weekend got sucked up by other obligations. There’s always so much to do, and the more I cross off the list, the more gets added. Days keep marching on, ready or not.

Yet … I know I don’t have anything to complain about. I have a job – one that I love. I have a family that stays as close as I can hope. And they are all doing okay. They’re well. They’re safe. And Mom is okay. She just had a few bad days and seems to be on the upswing again. The house may have needed a good cleaning, but if that’s my biggest worry, I’ll take it. I know I have it good.

Last week, we learned of a death – the daughter of some old friends. She succumbed to brain cancer at just thirty years old. Parents, siblings, and a significant other left to grieve her passing from this life.

Last week, someone I’ve been worried about for a while finally ran out of luck. She got a DWI. And the weight of her world was too heavy already.

Last week, I talked to my best friend. She’s out of state, and I haven’t managed to connect with her in months. Texts have gone unanswered, phone calls unreturned. Now I know why. The cancer she’s been fighting for years – and over which she had recently been gaining the upper hand – had moved into her brain. My heart weighed heavy as she told me. I didn’t have the guts to ask about her prognosis. As she talked, she proved that she continues to fight and maintain her fantastic sense of humor.

“My hair is gone,” she said. “Except for the one in the mole on my hand. And except for my  mustache! Still have to keep waxing that damn thing!”

Sometimes I look around at the vast circle of people we hold close. There’s a lot of struggle and pain. I was thinking of my best friend, feeling like I haven’t been the friend I’m supposed to be to her. Half the time, I’ve been completely unaware of how bad it’s been for her, while I’m feeling sorry for myself because of something like not having time to sit down and write for a little while.

I pray for her constantly these days, but it doesn’t feel like enough. I told her story – anonymously – on a prayer board, wanting more prayers for her. I’m asking for a miracle, even though I know it’s out of my hands. I selected the option to receive a text message every time someone prayed for my request. (Faith has gone all technology! Pretty cool!) My phone buzzed all morning long, signaling offered prayers. It’s astounding to realize there are people in this world who will hope and pray for someone they don’t even know.

I read through the multitudes of other requests out there and offered prayers for people I don’t know. It’s becoming a daily thing I do. Homelessness, brokenness, sickness, mental illness, addiction, financial distress… the list goes on and on. It’s heart-breaking to realize that there are others who would trade their problems for mine in a heartbeat. It’s humbling to realize how blessed I am – and for how long I’ve taken that for granted. It’s opened my eyes to a million ways I can give back and do something for others. And it gives me hope. It’s so easy to close myself up in the comfort of my own world, but more and more lately, I realize I’m not meant to shrink away like that. I’m supposed to do something about it, get in the mud and help wherever I can. However I can. Even if it’s as simple as just hoping and praying.

Life is messy, no doubt. But life is good.

Dog Fortune

It’s no secret to anyone that I’m a full-fledged, over-the-top dog lover. Dogs don’t judge. They forgive so easily. They simply take you at face-value and love unconditionally.

I often stop to recognize how fortunate we are that Lucy Pie came along into our lives. I just adore her. Her face is full of sweetness, and she’s loaded with personality. Anytime one of us returns home from anywhere, Lucy provides the kind of welcome deserved by one who’s been away for months on end, and whose return was anticipated with sheer uncertainty. The four-legged leaping, the whipping tail-wagging, the joyous barking is enough to sweep away the darkest of moods. And Lucy runs from one person to the next, bouncing off our shins while failing to maintain any sort of self-control. It’s as if she’s saying to each of us, “Look who’s come home! Can you believe it? We HAVE to celebrate!”

Our grand-dog, Dacotah displays similar, albeit a bit more controlled affection for her loved ones. There’s no chance of feeling lonely with these two canines around. I’m constantly amazed by their intelligence, and the way they figure out how to communicate with us.

Lucy has perfected a sort of loud yawn. She does this particularly when we awaken in the morning, or when someone comes home. She opens her jaws wide and emits a noise that sounds like she is saying, “Hiiii-eeee!” I always respond, “Hi, Baby,” and then Lucy’s tail begins to thump rapidly against the floor, so happy is she to be acknowledged.

And then there’s the sneeze. When Lucy’s excitement is too much for her to contain, she sneezes, again and again! She’s so funny.

Dacotah clacks her teeth when she wants something. She might be looking to be fed, or she might want a good scratching for her often dry skin. She knows I have the fingernails for it. She’ll sit facing me, locking eyes while snapping her jaw at me while I ask, “What choo want?” When I finally run my fingernails along her shoulders and back, her whole body melts into my hands.

It’s hard not to feel happy around these girls. And they love each other as much as they love their people. When Dacotah is visiting, there’s rarely a moment that Lucy isn’t glued to her side.

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Laying claim to the sunny spot in the living room on a cold winter morning

As much as Lucy loves Dacotah, she can be a bit possessive. If Dacotah takes a toy from Lucy’s overly-stuffed toy box, Lucy runs right over to snatch the toy from her. Honestly, I want to believe she’s not always just being selfish. I think she’s hoping that Dacotah will play. She wants to chase and play tug-of-war. But Lucy’s got a bit more puppy left in her than Dacotah, and Dacotah tends to just give up and walk away, prompting us to scold, “Loooo – Seeeee!”

Lucy doesn’t tend to be bothered by the scoldings. And she is most certainly selfish about sharing “her” people with Dacotah. Lucy thinks nothing of trying to steal all attention from Dacotah’s “daddy,” Jaeger. But if Dacotah pays attention to Lucy’s people, Lucy has to squeeze between and make sure Dacotah knows we belong to her, and her alone.

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If Dacotah is next to me, then Lucy is going to be on top of me!

Even though Lucy can be very rambunctious and silly, there’s a gentle and comforting side to her too. She’s thrilled when my mom visits, and seems to know how fragile she is. When she comes over, Lucy tries hard to wait for Nana to get settled in a living room chair. Then Lucy slowly and carefully lifts herself into the chair too, squeezing in next to Nana. She tips her head way back to snuggle against my mom’s neck and shoulder, and sneaks a big, wet kiss if she can get away with it.

When I’m feeling quiet, sometimes Lucy comes to me as if to ask, “Are you okay?” She’ll move in front of me, then sit back on her haunches and hold her paws out for me to hold. She looks into my eyes and cocks her head as if trying to figure out what it is that’s going on with me.

When she sits like this, she knows I’ll eventually run my hand up and down the soft fur on her chest … and maybe this is all she’s really hoping for. But I like to think there’s more intention in her actions than just a good belly rub.

A friend and her family had to make the difficult decision to put their sixteen year-old dog down this week. I expressed my condolences and remembered what a sad and difficult decision that is to make. The loss of a beloved pet leaves an undeniable hole in one’s heart. I’ve been there too many times myself. Thinking of my friend’s loss reminded me what a gift our pets can be. They bring such joy and love to the household. I’ve always considered my four-legged kids to be members of the family. And in spite of the fur on the furniture, the occasional sock or slipper lost to puppy chewing, the periodic puking that happens just inside the back door, and the clean-up that has to be done in the yard, particularly after a snowy winter, I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

As Lucy was snuggling in my lap last night, I kissed her soft head and told her, “You’re a very special dog, you know that?” She simply sighed in contentment. I think she knows.

Grief in Stages

During the earlier half of this past week, I realized I had been really struggling emotionally for a while. And it wasn’t just because the January skies have been so gray and the air so cold, or the fact that daylight takes so long to arrive and darkness falls again so quickly this time of year. I couldn’t seem to shake that same old, same old feeling. And worse, I was constantly battling off feelings of anger and resentment, and not doing a very good job, I might add. As someone who feels she’s made great strides over the past few years to keep a positive mindset, it was almost scary to realize how deeply dark I was feeling inside. I wasn’t liking myself very much, and I was certain others were seeing a side of me I’d prefer they didn’t, though my closest friends kindly assured me that wasn’t so.

Logically, I know the reasons behind my feelings. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my mom. And that in itself is not the problem. I’m not complaining about the amount of time we spend together. In fact, I supremely enjoy it. Since my dad passed away seven weeks ago, my relationship with Mom has deepened and evolved in beautiful ways. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But I’m fully aware that there’s not a great amount of balance in this area of my life.

I often find myself dropping everything for Mom’s needs, even when I know she would understand if I said, “Yes, I can do this but not until I take care of that.”  She would be perfectly willing to compromise if I said, “I can’t do it today, but how about tomorrow?” She’s not demanding or selfish. She’s aware that her needs are greater since Dad has been gone, but she doesn’t expect me to be at her beck and call. I guess I’m doing what I do because most of the time I know that if Mom has a need and I don’t take care of it, no one else might. But I might also admit that deep down, I get a great sense of satisfaction in being the person on whom Mom can really depend.

So it’s really just me creating my own problems.

To be fair, my sister is in this with me. But she still has kids at home, with busy lives and activities, and the problems that accompany that stage of life. It’s harder for her to be there for Mom than it is for me, the person with an empty nest. It’s my two brothers with whom I’m so frustrated. After Dad passed away, I thought things would change. There was a lot of love and togetherness in the days following Dad’s death. But in the past few weeks, we’ve gone back to the old normal. My brothers’ lives are apparently just too busy for them to commit to seeing or helping Mom on any regular kind of basis, or even call regularly. I don’t expect them to be able to be there as often as I am able. But it bothers me that Mom sits all alone in her house all day long, with little company but the dog, and my brothers can’t seem to carve out a bit of time for her. Worse is that she openly admitted that she doesn’t hear from or see them as often as she’d like. She told me she misses them, and it hurts to hear her admit that she feels neglected by some of her kids.

Mom can manage hanging around the house on her own, but her health prevents her from getting out without assistance most of the time. She doesn’t have the stamina to do regular cleaning, grocery shopping or any real cooking. Someone has to do those things for her. My sister and I are doing a juggling act in managing the upkeep, as well as making sure Mom has a decent meal every night of the week. I’m grateful for my niece who goes almost every Tuesday to make dinner and eat with Mom. Still, I’m at Mom’s or having her over to my house a minimum of four days a week. Meanwhile, my to-do list continues to grow and be neglected.

I’m trying desperately to remember my resolve not to be so unforgiving, and to know that not everyone sees this situation in the same light. I keep reminding myself that I can’t hold everyone else to my standards, and that I don’t truly know what it’s like to walk in my brothers’ shoes. I guess it’s just that once in awhile, when Mom needs someone, it would be nice if I thought I could lean on someone else to step in. Oh, I can ask. But experience tells me that such a request is likely to be met with a sort of disdainful disbelief that I would even ask. The sense is that their lives are just so much more overwhelming than mine.

And to top it all off, the most disconcerting thing happened when I woke up one morning last week feeling angry at my dad. Who gets angry at a dead person? Well, apparently it’s a very common and normal stage of the grieving process, but that doesn’t make it any easier to admit I was having those feelings.

I think it stemmed from the fact that my parents were scheduled to move into an assisted living facility in December. The move was planned because after Dad broke his hip last year, his health and care needs upon returning home were greater than Mom or the rest of us could accommodate without professional help. My dad was adamantly opposed to the move, insisting he and Mom could manage fine on their own, even though it was obvious to the rest of us that he was fooling himself. And when he passed away one day prior to moving day, everyone sort of joked about how Dad had made sure he didn’t have to go to that damn apartment.

Mom immediately decided she just couldn’t make the move in the aftermath of Dad’s death. She wanted to stay in their town house. She said she only wanted to move in the first place because she needed to be where she could have help caring for Dad’s needs. In the midst of my fresh and raw grief, I agreed that this was the right decision for Mom. But as we’ve settled into our new normal, I find myself wishing she’d had a chance to move before Dad passed away. If things were different, she’d have had the opportunity to get settled and familiar, and make new friends before Dad left us. And these cold, dark days might not be so lonely if she were in a community where she could be with others her age, with daily social activities, and where three square meals a day are guaranteed when one of us couldn’t be with her.

I guess I was blaming Dad for taking away those opportunities that might have made all of this a bit easier.

I spent a day carrying around that confusing anger at my dad. I was angry even though I knew that my feelings had to do with Dad’s human nature, and that since he passed away, I believe he’s shed all of the ugly facets so common to our humanity.

The next morning, when I couldn’t take being down any longer, I had a good cry and asked God what I was supposed to do with all of this darkness. I soon realized that’s all I needed to do. I needed to give it up. It wasn’t something for which there was a black and white answer, and it wasn’t in my power to fix it.

It’s amazing how quickly my heart and mind settled after that. Nothing externally had changed, but I was reminded to just take each day as it comes, to stop worrying about tomorrow, and the next day and next month. I remembered to stop obsessing about what others were doing, or not doing, or what I assumed they were thinking or not thinking.

It occurred to me how long religion and spirituality were such a question mark in my life. And I realized what a gift it has been that my desire to have a greater understanding of God has resulted in a serious deepening of my faith in the past few years. This is what is carrying me through right now.

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A day after letting go, I was invited to go out for happy hour after work with a bunch of coworkers. It just so happened that this particular day left me free of responsibilities to Mom. My sister had it covered. But I left home that morning thinking I’d pass on going out after work. I had a lot of things to do, and though happy hour might be more fun, I really needed to catch my breath at home.

When I shared these thoughts with my closest coworkers, the ones who know my life inside and out, I was sternly and playfully informed, “Not acceptable. You need this and you’re going with us.”

That’s all it took. I was in and haven’t regretted it for a minute. I got to spend some down-time with good friends and coworkers. We laughed and had really great, deep conversations. There was no worry or resentment hovering around me and I remembered how good it is to lean on those around me sometimes to create a better balance.

And it helps to have done a little research on the stages of grief. It seems I’m experiencing a mix of several of them all at once, but knowing it’s all normal and part of the process, and that I’m growing in positive ways as a result makes it easier to keep moving forward.

Adultness and Babyness

Contrary to the first full week of the year, this past one seemed interminable. The pace at work was intense, (albeit positive,) and outside of work, there was a constant list of things to be done and places to go. And it was cold outside. Really cold. But in keeping with my goal of exhibiting gratefulness rather than complaining, I am thankful that my family all has plenty of warm outerwear, reliable vehicles and a comfortable, safe home with a solidly working furnace.

We had a scary circumstance late in the week. I was driving my mom back home from a doctor appointment Thursday afternoon when Jack called and said he was taking his mom to the emergency room. Jack’s sister had stopped by their mom’s house on a whim before going to work that morning. When she arrived, she found her mother lying on the living room floor. She’d been there all night, unable to reach the phone or get herself up.  Being a widow, there was no one else in the house to come to my mother-in-law’s aid until her daughter came and found her there. My sister-in-law was not expected to stop by that day. But fortunately, something prompted her to do so before going to work. Jack called it “freaky.” I called it “divine intervention.”

The doctors’ initial theories were that Jack’s mom had suffered a mini stroke, or maybe a blood clot. Those things have now been ruled out, and she seems much improved from that first day, but we’re still waiting to hear what exactly is going on. Her children, of course, want to “get her out of the house”  as soon as humanly possible. And while she’s not one to openly argue, my mother-in-law hasn’t exactly expressed her willingness to make that change. Additionally, her doctors are suggesting she may have to spend some time in transitional care before going back to any sort of independent living. Both suggestions make me feel sad for my mother-in-law. I’m fortunate in that I have always had a great relationship with her. I adore her and want her to be happy and well. And I guess the similar experiences with my one of my own parents in the past few months are still so fresh in my mind and heart that the whole thing has me feeling a bit of trepidation about her situation. I’ve said a hundred times lately that it’s a road most of us will have to travel. It’s just so hard to see our parents in decline.

Anyway, she’s in good hands for the time being as she’s still in the hospital. And the little perk that came out of all of this is that my sister-in-law needed time this weekend to be with her mother, and so she needed someone to relieve her of her Saturday babysitting duties. I gladly volunteered to take the job for the day, and so got to spend my Saturday morning with the happiest baby I’ve ever known. Our niece brought him into the house early yesterday morning. She was carrying him in his little car seat, and to protect his delicate skin from the dangerous cold during the short walk from car to house, he was covered from head to toe in a blanket. Once inside the house, I took the baby carrier from my niece and pulled back the blanket. I was then greeted with an enormous ear-to-ear baby grin! Baby L and I spent the next several hours snuggling, googling at each other, reading stories and playing. When he took a nap for a couple of hours, I baked some banana bread while I waited for him to wake up again. All in all, a great way to unwind from the stress of a rather intense week!

p.s. As far as I can tell, this video is going to come across in gigantic fashion. You’ll have to forgive me for that. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how to reduce it!