Distance Visiting

We haven’t been able to see Jack’s mom in person since early March. She’s been in an assisted living facility since late last fall. Just before Halloween, she’d fallen at home and laid all alone on her laundry room floor for several hours, waiting for someone to realize she needed help.

I hate that this happened. And it wasn’t even the first time. This time it was a broken hip. After surgery and recuperating in a transitional care unit, Mom-in-Law and the family agreed that a senior living situation might be best. She took to her new digs easily, made some friends during her daily visits to the dining room, and all-in-all seemed to be doing much better than she had been at home. She was smiling again. She had a new enthusiasm because she had things to talk about when we visited. We all felt some peace of mind that had been lacking for a long time.

As the Coronavirus crept into the U.S., precautions were put in place at the facility. First, Jack was questioned upon entering the building a few days after our return from Mexico. Upon admitting we had been out of the country within the past fourteen days, he was told we could not come back for two weeks. (Luckily we had squeezed in one visit the day after our return from vacation before things got really serious.) Before our fourteen days were up though, the building was closed off to all visitors. And not long after that, residents were no longer allowed to leave their apartments.

We call Mom frequently, and she insists she’s fine. She says she’s not bored out of her mind and the Game Show Network keeps her entertained. She has a favorite caregiver who she mentions frequently, and that gives me some comfort. But we’ve been missing her.

Seeing the occasional story of others visiting their elderly loved ones at a window, we thought we’d try something similar. Mom’s apartment is on the backside of the building. She’s on the main level if you walk to her place through the front entrance. But the property slopes downward to the back of the building. On that side, her apartment is two floors up since the lower-level memory care apartments sit below at the ground level. However, there’s a little parking lot just beyond the back of the building which offered some promise. We made a plan with Mom, telling her we’d call when we arrived on Saturday and she could come to the window and see us while we talked on the phone. Son Ryker came along, and so did Lucy Pie. Grandma loves Lucy Pie!

The visit went well, even though it didn’t go exactly as planned. When we pulled in to the lot, Jack called and told Mom to go to the window. She said, “Okay. Just a minute.” And then she hung up.

Mom appeared in the window, without her phone, and she waved at us. We waved back. She waved again. Jack held up his phone and put it to his ear, trying to signal to her to get her phone. She waved again. “Just call her again,” I suggested. So he did.

We could tell the moment Mom heard her phone ring. She raised one finger at us as if to say, “Hold on!” And she ambled away from the window, returning shortly after she’d answered the phone. “You were supposed to stay on the line and keep the phone with you, Mom.” Jack said. “Oh,” she replied amiably. Jack put his phone on speaker and we all chatted with her for a while. A few geese were nearby, honking nervously at Lucy. Lucy pulled on the leash that Ryker held tightly and rumbled back at the geese. Mom thought this was quite funny.

Before we’d left home, I’d found an old box of sidewalk chalk in the garage and tossed it into the truck. As we chatted with Mom, I took it out and drew a few simple pictures on the asphalt, hoping she could see them. I guess it wasn’t obvious. She asked Jack what I was doing. He told her I was drawing for her. She laughed but was appreciative.

Watching us from the window required Mom to stand with her walker. She tired out after about fifteen minutes, so we said goodbye. After hanging up, Jack helped me put the finishing touches on the drawings, and before we left, we heard someone shouting from above. We looked way up to the top corner of the building where a window was open and two employees were waving and calling down to us. “Thank you! Thank you!” they said. “You guys are awesome! Can we take your picture for our FaceBook page?”

We proudly posed behind our artwork and allowed our pictures to be taken.

Those two employees made me feel so good! I realized that our efforts for Mom might brighten the day for a few others. Maybe I should get some more chalk and make this a regular thing!

Blanket Forts

Blanket forts. The other day, I was remembering how much as kids, my siblings, our friends and I loved blanket forts. My mom had some old blankets she kept just for this purpose, and in the summertime especially, we’d take them outside along with a handful of Mom’s one-piece wooden clothespins. We’d secure one edge of the blanket against the top of the chain link fence, and hammer a few more clothespins through the bottom edge into the grass. Some days, between us and the neighborhood kids, we’d have a row of tents fastened against that fence.

We could spend hours running in and out of those forts, make-believing. Simple times.

It was my coworker, Jason who made me think about those forts. His work space is next to mine, and we both have stand-up work stations. He’s a highly intelligent, tech-minded, yet very creative person. Because we’re both often standing up near each other, we can’t help chatting. It usually begins with something work-related, but because he’s easy to talk to,  before we know it, the conversation topic has meandered along to something like blanket forts. It was the millionth time since February 1st, when my mom died, that I’d remembered how much simpler life used to be.

My fifth decade on this earth came along almost two years ago now and most of what I knew to expect is proving to be true. It’s harder to get a good night’s sleep. My body doesn’t want to retain the look it used to have, no matter how hard I work at it. But most often these days, I recognize that I’ve always had things a lot better than I thought I did at the time.

This has been a hard year, following a few challenging years. But that chapter is over now. Both of my parents are gone now, and I don’t care how old I am, it just doesn’t feel right that they’re gone. But day by day, I’m getting used to the new way of things. And with every passing year, I thank God more for giving me the life I’ve been lucky enough to live.

I feel the impact of Mom’s last days more severely than Dad’s, though. He had Mom to watch over him, and to reach out to one of us when needed. Because Dad left before she did, I had to hope that Mom was capable of reaching out to me herself when I wasn’t there for her. All of those days that I worried about Mom … that I wasn’t doing enough even though I was doing all that I could, they’re over now. I still so often expect the grip of anxiety to wrap itself around me before I remember that I can relax now.

The biggest thing? The most phenomenal, unexpected, unbelievable thing? Our family is healing. In those last most difficult days of Mom’s life, I was sure I was losing the last threads of our family bond along with losing my mom. I was certain we siblings would go our separate ways for the rest of our lives. But death has a way of changing so much. It opened my eyes. When I realized during that last week of her life that our mom was leaving us, all I wanted was to pull my siblings close. I thought they owed me an apology, but I found myself asking their forgiveness for contributing to the wedge that had formed between us.

I’m sure that if I were still in the midst of it all, I wouldn’t be able to see what I see now. But I now realize (cliché and lame as it might sound to anyone not standing where I am today,) that everyone has their own way of dealing with things. And no matter how much you think you know, you don’t know what other people’s lives are like. Anyway, now that it’s over, I just don’t care why it was the way it was anymore. I don’t need to think anymore about how alone and scared I felt back then. It’s over. Those pages have been turned.

Most of this year since Mom’s passing, I’ve been dealing with settling her estate. Mom made it easy for us. She had no debt, and most of her affairs were in order. The one hiccup was that there wasn’t a transfer-on-death deed for the townhouse. So most of the summer was spent working with an attorney and getting the appropriate forms filled out, but we got it done pretty easily. It just took time.

The house is now sold – to a dear friend’s mom, and I couldn’t be happier. My parents did what they’d always wanted to do. They left each of their kids with a little something to make life a bit easier. But more importantly, they left us with a life model we now strive to mirror in many ways.

Life moves on. I’ve spent the summer feeling phenomenally grateful to have been where I was, and to have arrived where I am. I walked a lot. Almost every morning, I left the house at 5 am, and many of those days, I walked a few miles, alone, along the trail that runs behind our house. I walked before the noise of daily traffic began to fill the air. I listened to the birds sing their beautiful songs and watched as the sun rose in the sky. The sun is incredible, by the way, when it rises on a warm summer morning. I took enough pictures of the sky the past few months to fill a book. It’s late in the season now and it’s too dark to feel safe going out alone, but those were beautiful days that gave me the chance to find some peace with everything that has happened.

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I feel a little bit older now, a little bit wiser. Would I want to do it all again? No. But would I do it all again? Yes. The thing about having come this far in life is that it allows me to look back and see the purpose in so many things, to realize how I’ve grown as a result, to see that we all have to suffer some unknowns in order to keep growing up. Fifty-some years and losing loved-ones has helped me learn how to be grateful.

My life is my own again, and yet I still miss my parents so much. But most of the time I can now see that it had become too difficult for them to face another day, take another breath, fight their failing bodies. My parents brought God into our lives every single day. There were times I resisted, but I’m now so thankful that they did. I’ve had time to learn to understand some of the ways of this life. I take comfort in knowing they are with Him now, living in peace without the chains of age and disease. I can’t be unhappy about that.

Like I said, life has moved on. Good things are happening in my little world, and I feel myself changing in positive ways. When I sat down this morning to write, I thought I’d write about that. But I think for now, I’ll leave it here … with memories of blanket forts.

Alive again

I’ve turned a corner. I feel it this week – immensely.

I hadn’t even realized over the past few years, the degree to which I was lacking any real joy, or hope, or even a simple sense of peace. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t recognize then how low I was. But I see it now, and it feels so good to be on the other side of it.

The past few years were a journey, one that began in 2014 with a significant decline in my parents’ collective health, and ending in February of this year by which time both of them were gone from this world. It was a difficult road at times, but I see now that I navigated it with some semblance of success, and it seems I’ve reached a sort of check point.

This week has brought clarity. When I look back at myself over the past two years especially, I see the darkness that permeated my mind, the lingering sense of loneliness, and the pangs of sadness that always hovered just below the surface and often spilled over. It’s only now I realize I was probably walking a fine line between true depression and basic self-pity. No one wants to watch their parents die. I often felt sorry for myself because it felt as if I had a front row seat for the slow end of my parents’ lives and I watched it in brilliant Technicolor.

I can’t count the number of times I wished things could have been vastly different, that my parents didn’t have to suffer the debilitating effects of disease and aging, or at least, that I could have had blinders on. But now, there’s a sense of gratefulness that God put me where He did. Today, I have few regrets and those include wishing that I’d had less fear, and that I might have supported my parents with a glad heart at all times. I didn’t always. BUT … I did it. I was there for them. I held their hands as they stumbled through to the end. Even if inside I sometimes felt scared, or bitter that my life was put on hold to some degree, I see now that I wrapped my arms around my role. My parents never had to go to a nursing home, which was a huge fear for both of them. And my relationship with Mom blossomed into something beautiful – which in my younger years, I never could have imagined. Countless times during the past two years, she expressed her immense gratefulness to me. Affectionate pet-names rolled off her tongue when she spoke to me, and that felt SO good! The words, “I love you,” were exchanged daily between us … words that years ago were always assumed, but rarely verbalized. I will never be sorry that I was thrown into this role of part-time caregiver and faithful daughter. Difficult as it was at times, it could also be rewarding and deeply fulfilling. I had to dig deep, but it allowed me to find a strength I might otherwise never have known.

For years, I have felt a desire to deepen my faith, to figure out where I’m at with God, and how to get where I want to be with him. I know that’s a lifelong pursuit, but this week it’s become so clear that doors were opened because of the experiences of the past several years. I have grown in my faith as a result, and it seems that I’ve finally found the sense of direction I’ve often lacked.

A couple of weeks ago I had dinner after work with a friend, one who inspires me with the way she lives her faith. I told her at the time how I still felt so weighed down – with memories of Mom’s last difficult days, with the burden of settling her affairs, with my own family stuff, and with ever-increasing work stress. I told her how stuck I felt, and that I knew I needed some time during the day to pray, reflect or recharge, but I didn’t know how to find it. Even though my parents are now gone and a sense of freedom had begun to return, I still felt as if there were never enough hours in the day. Turmoil was still so prominent in my heart.

My friend reminded me of something she does that I’d forgotten. The challenges of her life have been infinitely more difficult than anything I’ve ever known, and yet she maintains a sense of peace. Each day on her drive to work, she turns off the car radio and spends her commute praying. I decided the next day I was going to give it a try myself.  I’ve never felt that I really knew how to pray beyond the routine prayers I’d committed to memory during my Catholic upbringing. I’ve rarely felt that I’ve actually communicated with God, or heard His will with any true certainty. The first few days were sketchy. My mind was chaotic and rambling, and I wasn’t sure if I was really praying, or just letting my brain run wild. But something good was happening. My daily commute is typically thirty minutes or so, longer if there’s any kind of weather or traffic issues. And with that small fraction of each day, I had begun to carve out a much-needed period of quiet and reflection during my otherwise noisy existence. Each morning, I began to develop a bigger craving for that time alone in the car. And each day, a sense of peace and contentment began to gradually grow inside of me.

I’ve begun to sleep again on my own. My nerves feel less frayed. Minor annoyances are beginning to roll off my back. I’m smiling more readily and I’m able to see again how blessed my life has really been. Most importantly, there’s a recognition that life will always be a series of hills and valleys. I’m on the mountain top for the time being, but I see now it’s the periodic lows that will help me continue to appreciate when I’m on a high. The last few years brought some serious lows, but I would never give them back. I am grateful I was given the opportunity.

Mom is gone

MomBut she’s not gone. She’s just no longer here. No longer in this world. No longer with me.

I spent last Friday with Mom in the emergency room. She had lost most of her ability to swallow any food or liquids. She was admitted to the hospital and after an endoscopy was performed the next day, we learned that the disease which has plagued her for years, Scleroderma was attacking yet another part of her body. Her lungs had been compromised years earlier. More recently, her stomach and bowels were affected. Now it was her esophagus. It had been damaged and there was no known way to fix it.

Days. Tests. Questions. Guilt for not realizing how dire things had become. Finally a decision. A feeding tube. The procedure took place on Tuesday.

I naively thought the feeding tube was the miracle answer that would give Mom a better quality of life. In my defense, that’s pretty much how it was presented to us. Even as the hospital staff began to use it, and I felt a little panic about learning to help Mom with it, I still thought we were going to turn the corner somehow.

Mom had a lot of pain after the procedure was done. All day and well into the night, I sat with Mom, unable to do anything to ease her pain. The best I could do  was to be there when she opened her eyes looking for some comfort. Wednesday was no better.

Early Thursday morning, a nurse from the hospital called me. Mom was struggling. Pneumonia may have been starting to take hold of her. I got there as soon as I could. It was 4:30 am. I asked the nurse if I needed to call my siblings and she said, “No. We’re not at that point.”

A couple of hours later, I decided to trust my own gut and I called them. Mom wasn’t entirely lucid and she was having a lot of conversations … but not with me. Her eyes kept looking upward to a corner of the ceiling as she spoke. Sometimes I could understand her words, sometimes not. At one point, she said something and then turned her eyes to me. She looked almost surprised to see me there. I asked, “What, Mom?”

“What suit am I in?” she said.

“What suit?” I asked.

“What suit am I in?” she repeated. This was a clear sign to me that Mom thought her time here on earth was coming to an end. She has periodically expressed concern that we dress her in a nice suit for her funeral. I told her, “No suit today, Mom.”

She said, “Oh. Okay.”

My sister and two brothers arrived quickly. The day was very long. Instead of improving as a result of the feeding tube, Mom was declining quickly. We called friends and relatives. We discussed hospice care. Mom continued speaking out loud to people we could not see. She had one foot in this world and one in the next. Her priest came to give her last rites.

Plans were made to move Mom to a beautiful hospice home where my father-in-law spent his last days a few years ago. But as it turns out, we didn’t need the hospice home. Mom was gone before the day was done.

She went quietly and peacefully, surrounded by her family. We were able to take some comfort in the fact that her long struggle was over.

As I now think back over the past few years, my parents’ decline, the loss of my dad, and the care Mom required over the past two years, I have so much regret. I exhibited such an enormous amount of angst and bitterness. I see how it nearly consumed me. And I realize now that it was such an enormous waste! It only served to hurt me, my mom and my family.

I regret that I threw away so much valuable time; gave it up to my hurt and helplessness.

I know that even if I could go back and relive these days, I probably could not change it, and that thought alone gives me some comfort. This world is exponentially more difficult to navigate than most of us will ever stop to think. As I struggled to get a handle on myself during the past couple of years, I looked in many directions for some answers about how to deal with this stage of life. I looked to God, church, books, friends, the internet … and yet, I could not shed the turmoil that wrapped itself around my mind and heart. I heard loud and clear many times that life is short, and so much that we make important is not. I heard that I would have regrets if I pushed away the people who should be most important to me. But I could not be helped. I think that the darkness that often permeated my existence during those days was an inevitable consequence of our circumstances. As did I, the members of my family each dealt with things in the only ways they knew how. It was not for me to understand then. But I think I do now.

My husband has been struggling with his health for about four months now. It’s been nothing life-threatening, but concerning, none the less. My responsibilities at work have increased. It has often felt lately that I’ve been losing my grip. It has seemed as if I was crumbling, inside and out. I cried out to God in anger recently. I said he should not have let me be born. I was doing such a miserable job of managing the life he’d given me and I wasn’t really sure I cared to have it anymore. I prayed for something to break, because I couldn’t take it anymore.

I was not asking for my Mom to be taken from this world. This is not what I was asking Him to do.

My mom’s last days opened my eyes. I hope that she had enough awareness to witness the forgiveness that occurred among her children. I hope she could see the way our divisions dissolved.

I myself cannot fully explain how, or why I have been able to forgive my brothers for what I perceived as their willing and deliberate absence from my mom’s life. I was certain that at whatever point Mom left us, I would sever all ties with my brothers. I had absolutely no doubt whatsoever. Now all I want to do is pull them close. I guess it’s just that now Mom is gone, I’m willing to shut the door on that phase of our lives. I was only able to survive these last days in large part due to my siblings’ presence. I forgive them.

Yesterday as we met at my parents’ church to plan Mom’s funeral mass, I forced myself to say some words to my two brothers and sister before we met with the priest. I told them that I regretted the way I’d let our parents’ needs defeat me over the past several years. I said I regretted the way I’d contributed to the divisions in our family. I said I was sorry, and that I wanted us to be a family. We four came together at that moment. I only wish that we could have made this happen sooner.

Going forward, I believe it will be easier to let each other just be who we are. I know that with Mom now gone from this world, and without such daunting responsibilities, it will be easier for me to lower my expectations of others.

I would like to think that Mom saw us finally pulling together, and this is what made her able to let go of this world and move on to the next. I often had the presence of mind to realize that my role in Mom’s life would serve some valuable purpose. And though I wanted to understand then, it was not until now that I could see it.

Growing up, Mom and I were like oil and water. I was her challenging child. She frustrated me and I never felt understood. My high school years were hell for both of us. It has only been through the growth we both experienced since my childhood years that we’ve learned to understand and accept one another. As I’ve often believed would be true at this point, I have no regrets about our relationship now that Mom is gone. Being able to play a role in her care allowed us to grow together. My love for her exploded during these last years, and she never failed to tell me how important I was to her and how much she loved and appreciated me.

I always thought it would be somewhat of a relief when I no longer had to wake up each day and worry about Mom. So many times, I wished for the freedom to live my life, and my life alone, to be free of the responsibilities that often felt like chains. Now? What I wouldn’t give to have one more day to take care of my beautiful mother.

“Assisted Living” is no longer an off-limits conversation topic!

(How my blog topics have changed! I vaguely remember once writing an entire post questioning whether underwear, or what type, should be worn under yoga pants. I kind of miss having nothing more pressing to worry about than whether panty-lines are visible beneath my workout wear!)

Anyway. I spent nine and a half hours in the emergency room with my mom yesterday. Three and a half of those hours were spent in the waiting room before even getting moved to an actual patient room, so we clearly had a less dire emergency than many others. Anyway, that’s a story for another time. Or not. Because it would probably just come off as an enormous rant, and I’m sure none of us are in the mood for that!

Besides, the most important thing about those nine and a half hours is that it gave Mom and me lots of opportunity to talk. She felt bad that I’d had to forsake any other plans I’d had for the day (which was mainly work … a rush project that I really needed to get back to and didn’t.) I spent much time trying to assure her that no matter how important I thought it was to get back to work, she trumps everything else.

As we sat and watched the minutes and hours tick by, waiting for the hospital staff to decide whether they’d admit her, we contemplated how we’d manage if they sent her home. She’s had a bad week and is in no shape to be alone over the weekend when she has no home care services. When she’s feeling normal, she manages on her own on the weekends until noon or so when my sister or I come to make sure she eats and has some company for the rest of the day. When she’s sick, it’s always a challenge to make sure someone is with her at all times. We’re walking a tight-rope much of the time.

Mom was the one who brought it up yesterday – the idea of moving to an assisted living facility. I was cautious at first. Didn’t want her to realize how much and how often I think about getting her into such a place. But when she stated that she’d really been giving it some thought, I pounced like a tiger and started touting all of the positives of making such a change, not the least of which is that she would have companionship. I assured her that my sister and I would still come spend time with her just as often as we do now, but without the burden of all the driving back and forth, cooking, clean-up, etc.

We already looked at a really great place a couple of years ago when both she and Dad were supposed to move. When he died the day before they were supposed to move in, she couldn’t bring herself to go alone and has stayed in her town house ever since. How often I’ve anguished over the fact that Mom would have been so much better off if we’d have accomplished that move before Dad was gone. It has been a long and difficult couple of years, but maybe there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel!

 

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!

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.

So Much Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Godsend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a Season

I need to shake the habit of thinking that things are supposed to be a certain way. It’s just not true. I don’t know where I got that idea. Maybe I’ve just had it that good in life. Maybe I didn’t have role models to show me how to handle certain challenges. Maybe I’ve simply been wearing blinders.

There are no guarantees that life will go well or that there will always be a simple solution for all of its problems. And it occurs to me that I’m probably more that a bit spoiled if I’m waking up every morning wondering if this is the day things will iron out and I can get on with my comfortable life again.

A few miles down the highway, my mom continues to live on her own. I purposely refrain from saying that she lives independently, because her life is far from independent. The past few months brought an onslaught of worry, not that I wasn’t already forfeiting a large percentage of my energy to that particular habit.

Mom’s already fragile state took a noticeable turn sometime before Christmas. Something wasn’t quite right. Numerous doctor visits resulted in the professionals merely shrugging their shoulders, making best guesses and sending her home again. They said it was probably just the progression of her autoimmune disease.

The real problem revealed itself two weeks ago in a most painful manner. Mom spent most of a week in the hospital and I couldn’t help but wonder if the coming days would find her children planning another funeral for a parent.

Thankfully, the cause was found and the issue was somewhat resolved, but the entire episode left mom sapped of what little physical strength she’d had previously. And unfortunately, an important conversation with the hospital doctor occurred without any of Mom’s family around. It was strongly recommended that she spend some time recuperating after her hospital stay in a transitional care facility. Mom declined. She didn’t want to go to “one of those places.” She needed to be cared for after her hospital stay. And if it wasn’t from the professionals, someone else would have to provide it. I was already providing a lot of support to Mom beforehand. Now she needed even more.

Mom’s barely been alone since her return home over a week ago. She’s just not been capable of managing on her own at all. She hasn’t been able to take care of herself or her dog without constant assistance. She walks minimal distances around the house with her walker. Worried eyes follow her every move. My sister and I were already taking turns spending nights with Mom during the week before the hospital stay. And since she refused to spend time in transitional care, our rotating “slumber parties” have continued in the wake of her return. I’m eternally grateful for Mom’s longtime friend who provided relief during the week, spending nights and most of the days so my sis and I could go to work. But evenings and weekends are still our responsibility.

We just can’t continue the pattern this way. Something’s gotta give. Though it’s probably the best option, Mom won’t consider assisted living right now, due to reasons I can understand. (She won’t leave her dog. And even if dogs are allowed, she feels she can’t manage him in an apartment.) I don’t agree that we should be putting the dog ahead of Mom, but I get that some decisions are just not easy to make. Especially when you’re sick and lonely. But I’m afraid even if and when the dog is no longer a factor, she won’t be willing to improve her living situation. I’ve begun to understand the senior mind these past few years. While the body may be weak, the mind grows ever more set in its ways.

We hired a home care agency last week. Starting tomorrow, someone will come take care of Mom in the mornings, Monday through Friday. That still leaves her alone in the afternoons, at night and on weekends. It’s probably not enough. And it still means that someone has to be there every evening to make sure she has dinner and something to heat up for her lunch the next day. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Mom views the home care service as a necessary evil. She clearly thinks the help is something she only needs temporarily. While she was on the phone yesterday, I heard her say to someone that she’s going to try it for a month or so. And I know her well enough to know that the first time something doesn’t sit well, she’ll be wanting to cancel the service.

I don’t argue with her when she says she just needs to gain her strength back so she can be on her own again. She hasn’t really been on her own for a couple of years. Her disease means it’s nearly impossible she’ll regain enough strength to live normally and independently. But I’m certainly not going to be the one forcing her to accept defeat. Having her live with me would help ease my stress, and it’s doable, but I know it’s not ideal. It would bring on a whole host of other problems. Still, I would do it if she’d agree. For the same reasons she won’t go to transitional care, she won’t come live here. That damn dog. I love him. And I hate him sometimes.

I love her dearly, but it makes me crazy that she doesn’t seem able to consider that without some sort of professional assistance, my sister and I have to put our lives and families on hold to manage hers. Having Mom to care for in addition to working full-time is exhausting at times…. God, that sounds so selfish! But when I think about all the unfinished projects around my house, the chores that have gone undone, the friendships that feel like they’re fading away, I can’t help but feel sorry for myself sometimes. I run errands for her every whim, while my Target and grocery lists grow to unmanageable proportions. And quite honestly, my sister’s life is in no shape to be put on the back burner. Yet she does it, if for no other reason than she won’t leave me alone in this.

Don’t get me wrong. My mom is always very gracious. She often states that she shouldn’t be asking us for so much help, but she’s so grateful for it. She tells me daily how much she loves and appreciates me. It helps to hear it, and her words make it a bit easier to face another day of the same.

I am fighting so hard lately to keep my thoughts focused on that which I can control, to keep them in a positive realm. I have succumbed to worry, sadness, anger and bitterness for far too long and I don’t like myself much when I’m in those places. I’m tired of thinking about it. I’m tired of talking about it. I wish so often that I had something else to contribute to the conversation. I just want to feel normal again, but I’m not sure normal can or will ever be the same. My thoughts are consumed with issues of the aging, with thoughts of death and funerals and sadness. My dreams are filled with scenes of me failing at my caregiver role.

I’ve learned lately that it’s a mind-game at times. You can teach yourself to partition your thoughts into those that you’re willing to see, and those which stay hidden behind a wall. And I’m finally beginning to grasp what it means to forgive. I don’t have to forgive others for keeping their heads in the sand and feeling no obligation to help care for the same person who gave you life. I don’t have to make them think that it’s okay what they’re doing. Or more accurately, not doing. But I can put those people behind that same wall as the self-pity and darkness. I have to remember that my anger and frustration poisons no one but myself.

But Lord, it takes practice, and I’m not always successful. I broke down sobbing Friday morning, during a quiet moment when it seemed safe to do so. I prayed for strength to keep going, and realized a good cry sometimes helps. Sometimes I’m just sad that the rug has been pulled out from beneath my mom’s feet. Afterwards, I reminded myself that this time in life is just a season.

Just a season. Seems like I’m always telling myself that. Someday, when Mom is gone, I don’t want to remember only that I was scared and bitter. This is just a season in which I need to fight extra hard. Years down the road, I want to look back and know that I did everything I could to give back to my mom all that she gave to me.

So I’m extra grateful for simple things lately, things like sleeping in my own bed, a free afternoon to wander around a furniture store, an understanding boss who says, “family first,” or coming home to find my husband and daughter making dinner so I don’t have to. I’m practicing hard to keep my thoughts on the here and now. Tomorrow is out of my hands. No good can come from imagining all that might go wrong after this moment. Besides, something … anything could go right. Right?