Trying to Care

Since just before Thanksgiving Day, I have walked a mile a day. It’s not a lot, but when my friend and colleague, Sonya, put the challenge out to a private Facebook group, I decided that if I didn’t have it in me to run, that I could at least walk. Some days it’s just marching for 20 minutes in front of my tv, and other days it’s on the treadmill watching Netflix. As long as my mind is occupied and not in tune to what my body is trying to do, then I’m ok.

Today, though, it was 50 degrees at 7:30 in the morning…in Maine…in December. It wasn’t raining, just gloomy. I even had extra time before work. So I had absolutely no excuse to at least walk outside. So I plugged in my headphones and listened to an audiobook for a bit while I trudged a half mile. At that point I thought I could jog past a few telephone poles. I did but tuned into the radio then to give me a little pep. I did this for 2 1/2 miles and thought, “Ok. This is why I used to run. This feeling that I can accomplish something and that I’ll be alright. Now maybe I don’t have to go on antidepressants.” This little jog/walk left me feeling more positive then I’ve felt for a very, very long time.

I got back home, stretched, cleaned up and went to work. Yet minutes after I got to work, I could feel myself deflating. Not just energy-wise but attitude, too. I was starting to feel overwhelmingly sad and emotional and honestly?

I just wanted my Mom.

And my dad.

And my brother.

I can’t always separate my longing for one member of my family. Sometimes I desperately miss one person, but other times I just miss everyone and want to see each of them and talk with them. And not just one more time. Fuck that.

I want many more times.

But I don’t get that right? Right. So…what now?

Thankfully, I got busy at work and then received a really nice email from a friend that was sent just to make me feel good. The combination of the two brought me out of my darkness enough to get me through the day. Once I had a cappuccino in the late afternoon, I felt mostly ok again. I could more than function and went on with my day.

I’m guessing that’s how much of my life will be now. My stepmom told me this week that we have to keep going. We have to keep living somehow and some days will be easier than others. And although I know all of this, I also know I might need some help. I’ve had a bottle of antidepressants in my cupboard for several weeks, but I’m holding off taking them for now. I no longer feel “bad” if I have to take them. I know it’s ok for anyone to ask for help, although I never thought it was ok for me. But after the past two years? If I didn’t ask for help then I’d be even more lost than I feel right now. And that scares me.

For now my helper will sit in my cupboard. I’m done with turning to food or wine for help. The food (and pounds) have just made me feel worse, although sometimes it was exactly what I needed at that moment. I needed some kind of comfort and that quick little hight of “happiness” was what got me through these many months. But now if a walk or run doesn’t help me or if writing this blog doesn’t bring me some sense of comfort or control, then I’ll give the pills a shot.

And if I can find a counselor that I like, then I might give that a try, too. But since I’m a little gun-shy after the last one, I’ll wait. Let’s attempt just one thing at a time.

Reflecting

I wear my heart on my sleeve. If you and I are in a room and you’re crying, you will not cry alone. I am a very emotional person. Always have been and probably always will be. A few months after my brother died, I didn’t think I would ever be that emotional again. I was numb, kind of cold. Not much could penetrate the shield I created. But with the deaths of my parents this year, I have returned to that weeping mess I’ve always been.

So yesterday, when I was on my way to attend a high school classmate’s funeral, I knew it would not be a good day. When I saw the large church and the people already filing in 40 minutes before the service, I could feel myself start to panic. But I kept my shit together and walked in with a few old friends.

While looking at the photos of Vicki at the back of the church, my stomach started to lurch. I just wanted to stand there for a few minutes, catch my breath and look at all the pictures, many of our friend as an adult with her children, but we were herded into our seats. I was mildly irritated but I understood. There were going to be a lot of people there and they needed to seat people right away. But I also didn’t want to cry uncontrollably before the service even started.

As we sat down, we watched a slideshow of other photos on the wall of the church with this sad, sad melody playing in the background. That damn music. I can barely stand to listen to any music these days unless it’s angry. Although I often cry after listening to that, too. So we watched the show and saw images of Vicki with her husband and children, some with her colleagues, her siblings, her friends, and other photos as a child and teenager. While the slideshow played, we could see her family at the front of the church, greeting folks and waiting for it all to begin.

When the pastor started the service, he made me angry from the beginning. “Vicki’s work on Earth was complete,” he said. Complete? Finished? At 46? Screw you, man.

But then her adult daughter spoke. She was funny and sweet and told great stories. One of Vicki’s colleagues quoted a variety of children from the school where Vicki taught. These were little ones, elementary school, and some quotes were sweet and others were exactly what we were thinking. “I just don’t understand. Why?” Listening to the thoughts of children losing their beloved teacher, this woman whom I knew years ago but apparently remained the incredibly kind and gentle person she had always been, this started to break me. Why indeed.

Two of Vicki’s nieces read a “Pete the Cat” book aloud. Vicki taught Pre-K so Pete the Cat was a great character to pass wisdom on to kiddos. A parent whose children were taught by Vicki spoke and told a wonderfully funny story about Vicki’s thoughtfulness and kindness. Then Vicki’s husband got up to speak. I sat up straighter in order to brace myself. This man was devastated and sobbed on and off throughout his speech. The love he has for her poured from him as he spoke and cried. To witness this act of love and loss was a privilege. A gift. This high school classmate of mine was loved so much and it seemed she became who she wanted to be and lived the life she wanted and loved. I won’t call her lucky, because to die at 46 is not lucky. It sucks. But to live a life that you chose, surrounded by people that you loved and loved you, that part was lucky.

Vicki’s adult son was the last to speak. He was just as eloquent as his sister, told some funny stories and gave us insight on the mom that she was. She loved her children fiercely and went to every single sporting event or activity that they were in. She did everything she could to be there for them.

It was odd for me to go to this funeral. The last three funerals or life celebrations I’ve attended, I helped plan. They were the core of my family. My grief lives on, long after any church service or get together. Yet after Vicki’s service, it became a time for my friends and I to reflect a bit on our own lives. What would our children or spouse or friends or family say about us? Would they say we were kind, a great parent, a good friend? Maybe. Would there be standing room only in a huge church? Maybe not.

Once I got home, I could only think of Vicki’s family, and what they were doing right then. Did her siblings cry themselves to sleep that night or drink until they were numb? I’ve been that sister and I did those things. Did her mother just want to follow her child in death? My father did. Did her children try to stick close to their father, worrying about him and wanting to care for him? I was that child and I worried, too. Did her husband even sleep that night, or does he just want to sleep all the time?

I don’t know Vicki’s family but I just wanted to hug all of them and tell them this sucks so much and you can call me whenever you want and I’ll listen until my ear falls off. But since I don’t know them, that probably would have been weird. And they don’t need this tall crazy woman hugging them and crying on them. They have enough to deal with.

This holiday season, don’t forget about those that have lost someone. This can be such a difficult time to try and celebrate with and for those around us and pretend to enjoy ourselves when we just want the day to be over with or to just be alone with our thoughts and memories and possibly a glass of wine. Try and understand if that friend doesn’t want to go shopping or she has to turn the radio off because Christmas music bothers her or he wants to skip the holiday office party this year. They may be able to do those things with you next year, or they might not. Just tell them you’re there for them and will listen if they need to talk.

And if they need someone to cry with, I’m always available.

Wrecked

Today, on this grey and chilly fall day, my sister and I buried our mother.

As we stood around the small hole where Mom’s urn would be buried, we stood with our husbands, our children and our brother-in-law. We told a few stories about Mom and my husband read a poem out loud because I wasn’t able to. (“If I Should Go” by Joyce Grenfel)

I looked over at my big sister and she, like me, was a wreck. She said, “Remember when Grammie died?” My first memory was what my niece recalled, how my mother shook her head as we stood by her mother’s grave and kept saying “I can’t do this.” But what my sister reminded me was of Mom’s comparison to losing a partner to losing a mother. Just the year before Grammie died, our stepdad died suddenly of heart attack at 58. It was devastating. But the day of my grandmother’s funeral, Mom said that when your partner dies, yes it’s awful and horrific. But when your mother dies? You just want to follow her.

What you see here is me leaning against my sister. I was sobbing at this point, not wanting to put our mother into the ground. It may have only been her ashes at that point, but I could still touch the box she was in. It sometimes gave me a weird comfort. But our mother’s wishes were to be buried beside our stepdad.

So that is what we did.

Before we left the cemetery, once again my sister says between sniffles, “Well, no more of this. Let’s not do this again!” I shake my head and this time whisper, “There’s no one left.”

Searching for Signs

Yesterday afternoon after I got home from work, my husband and I helped our neighbor for a little bit then took a short walk. Once we got home, I went for a longer walk by myself. I listened to an audio book, anything so I wouldn’t think too much. Yet as I walked, I had an incredible urge to go to my father’s grave. I haven’t been there since we buried him in May, but I needed to be there at that moment.

As soon as I got home, I told my husband and son where I was going. It’s about a 20 minute drive through back roads in beautiful farm country. I tried to take in the last of the fall colors as I drove. When I got to the cemetery, I parked my car directly in front of the site.

This was the first time I’ve seen my father’s gravestone. It seemed so small to me. My father was not only a large man, but he was larger than life sometimes. He had a great booming voice when he wanted to and his love for his family sometimes seemed larger than the room you were in, you know?

I stood in front of Dad’s grave, said “hi Dad” then waited. I wasn’t expecting him to say anything back obviously, but I was expecting…something. I thought I would feel like he was there listening. But there was absolutely nothing. I felt nothing. I went back to my car, put my head on the wheel and cried. I just needed my father to be there. I needed to talk with him, but I really needed him to talk back. I was hurting and I missed Mom and I just needed my papa right then. I needed him to hug me and rub my back and tell me that he understood. He wouldn’t say it was going to be ok because it wasn’t, but he’d probably tell me how much it sucked, but I would eventually be ok.

Once I got home, feeling sad and tired and frustrated, I got out of my car and saw a small murder of crows flying over my house. I find myself looking for signs of my family everywhere now and I wondered if Phil and Dad and Mom were a part of this group saying “hey” before they went wherever they were going. I had this overwhelming feeling of being left behind and I whispered, “Wait!” They didn’t wait but flew away, as they should.

Foolishly, I decided then I should take care of Mom’s things I had from the nursing home and some of the photos we had out for the celebration of her life. I sat in the middle of my home library surrounded by her things and her photos and her smell that clung to the clothes I was unpacking. I only cried once, but I could feel the loneliness creeping into my bones.

My husband was in his office and my son was in his room. After I finished with Mom’s things, I started to fold laundry in the living room. When my son came out and asked me something, I got upset at him. When he asked me what was wrong, I broke down and in between sobs told him I missed my dad and my mom. My heart was broken but I didn’t want to tell him that. Instead I held the washcloth I was folding close to my heart and just rocked and cried. My poor boy put his arms around me as my husband came out of his office and sat with us. The three of us began to talk and we cried and we laughed and we just were.

We were together.

Caring

As a parent, you raise your child or children and although you never stop loving or caring or worrying about them, you get to a point where you start taking caring of yourself or try taking time for yourself. That’s what running was for me when I started 10 years ago. But all of that came to a standstill over two years ago when I started to care for my mother. Even before my dear brother died in July of 2017, I was at my mother’s home more and more, trying to get her medication under control and taking her to appointments. I moved her in with my family later that year and the care increased dramatically.

Once Mom entered a residential care facility, I remember my sister saying to me that now maybe I could properly grieve for our brother and start taking care of myself.

That didn’t happen.

I continue to grieve for my brother, but I know that will be for the rest of my life. There are some things you just can’t fix. And as far as taking care of myself? I visited my mother each weekend, cared for my father every few Sundays, and still tried to be the best parent and wife and librarian that I could. I’ve stopped running and I don’t think I’ve been a great friend over the past few years, but something had to go.

And then Dad died. I found myself unable to sit still on Sundays because I felt like I should be somewhere else than at home. Then I broke my arm horribly in June. I had a great excuse to no longer run but the pain was so debilitating at the beginning that I truly understood why people want to die when they have so much pain. I just wanted it to end.

Then the pain finally got better but I was very down and frustrated and angry. I ate my feelings once again and put another 5 pounds–that’s 15 extra now since Phil died. Yet, I haven’t really cared that much. Not like before.

And now Mom is gone. The woman who gave me life, taught me how to bake, and tried so hard to instill all her confidence and love into me so I would be proud of and love myself, is no longer on this planet.

Three of the most important people in my life are gone–all their love for me is gone and all the love I have for them is bursting from my body and soul and it doesn’t know where to go. I didn’t think I could feel more lost after my brother died, but after each parent left this world I felt more bewildered and sad and shocked than ever before.

Last weekend we held a celebration of my mother’s life. It was sad and exhausting yet also exhilarating to hear new stories about my mother that I had never heard before. Once my son and I arrived home, we unpacked the car, got into our pjs, ate dinner and just watched tv. I napped a bit on the couch on and off, but I felt ok. At bedtime, we talked to my husband on the phone, but I told him I had to go because as I stood at the sink I started to feel woozy and knew I needed to sit down. Yet as soon as I hung up the phone, I fainted. I don’t remember falling, I just remember being on my kitchen floor and blood was dripping from my nose. My poor son was freaked out and helped stop the bleeding of my nose and cleaned up the mess. I twisted my right knee and foot pretty badly and apparently knocked my face on the counter because not only did my nose hurt but the area under one of my eyes is still sensitive to the touch. I got myself to bed and my boy called his father to explain what happened and to express how scared he felt.

I wish I could tell you I knew what happened, but I don’t. I think I fell from exhaustion. I ate plenty that day and had my usual 8 cups of water. But I was so tired and had a week of planning for my mother’s celebration, ordering an urn, picking up her ashes, getting paperwork for probate court and on and on. Plus I worked a few days.

And my mom was no longer here.

I think that was reason enough for my body to give out on me and say, “Fuck you. I’m done. Let me rest.”

So now…to take care of myself? My son is only 12 and I will still put him first and I’m trying to figure out how to care for him. He has also lost three people that he loved and idolized. His mental and physical health is my priority. But maybe with time, I’ll not only re-learn how to care for and about myself again, but I’ll have the desire to do it.

And maybe this blog will once again be about running instead of grief.

One More Day

She’s gone.

These are the words my sister says to me over the phone, just 5 minutes after I left my mother’s bedside.

I think that’s what she said. I’m not quite sure now. My sister and I had been with our mother for 24 hours–sleeping in recliners, talking and reading to Mom, rubbing her arms. She had been unresponsive for the day. We knew it was near the end but I thought she’d be here for one more day.

Mom had been with hospice care for 3 weeks, but at first, we thought she had a few months left. Or I did. She had a gastrointestinal bleeding that they couldn’t fix, so she began pain medicine to help. We took her to the waterfront for her birthday and ate ice cream and whoopie pies and drank coffee–all some of her favorite things. We had some wonderful visits with Mom and she seemed more like herself than she had in ages. I’m assuming she had been in more pain than anyone thought.

Then her pain increased and she was on a regular dose of morphine. Two days later she fell. It was awful. She was so fragile and now in more pain than ever. Her morphine dosage increased just to keep her from crying out. So my sister and I sat with her, told her we loved her and told her it was ok to let go. We would be ok.

Friday morning I left to go home and wake my son up, take a shower and take my boy to school. I drove back to the residential facility, thinking about the afternoon. My sister was going to go home and take a shower and I would sit with Mom, read more of her favorite book aloud and just be with her. Weirdly, I was looking forward to it. I would spend some time with my mom and hang out. Just the two of us.

When I got back to the facility, Mom’s breathing had changed. But it still wasn’t like Dad’s had been. He had long bouts of no breathing before he died, so I thought we still had a little time. I stayed for a bit then had to leave for an hour to get another x-ray for my arm. I was just down the road when my sister called me. I turned around and raced back. I ran from the parking lot into the facility and down what seemed like a very long hallway. When I got to Mom’s room, the hospice doctor, nurse and my sister were there but I didn’t look at anyone. I hurried to Mom’s bedside, touched her face and arm and just sobbed and sobbed. My body shook with grief as my sister rubbed my back.

I knew this would happen. I knew Mom would leave once I was out of the room. I said this to my sister the day before, and Mom just proved me right. I was the baby of the family. Before dementia set in, my mother did all she could to protect me, but not my sister. She was the oldest and honestly the strongest. My mother would tell her when she was in pain or when things weren’t right, but never to me.

I was so angry at Mom. Why couldn’t she have waited? Couldn’t we have this one last afternoon together?

I knew I wasn’t being rational, but none of that mattered. I was angry and sad and devastated. I thought I would be a little relieved after everything we’ve been through, but I wasn’t. This is my mom.

My mom.

My mother remained my mom until the very end. I essentially became her parent over the past two years, but she was still mom. She couldn’t remember I had visited her the day before or that her mother had passed away 14 years before, but she remembered that I injured my arm 3 months ago. Less than a week before she died, Mom stopped herself from touching my arm and asked me about it instead. My sister kept poking my arm because she forgot, but our mother with Alzheimer’s did not.

And I know she was still trying to be my mom with that last breath. Everyone has their theories about what people do on their deathbeds and what is intentional and what is not, but I do believe Mom wanted to save me from what maybe she thought would be too hard for me to handle. But I am so happy my sister was with her. When our dad died, I was with him and I felt like he gave me this incredible gift. I can’t tell you what it is or why I feel this way, but I do. I only hope my sister feels that way now with Mom. My sister’s was the first life my mother brought into this world, so it seems fitting that my sister was with Mom as she left it.

I feel lost tonight. Earlier today I found myself walking back and forth in my house, not sure what I should be doing. I called my sister and she was doing the same thing. What do we do now? What does one do without their mom? I feel like I’m in a foreign place that looks familiar, but I have no compass so I don’t know which way to go.

I miss her. I miss my mom.

Heal Thyself

It’s been over 2 months since I broke my arm. Each day is still peppered with a variety of challenges, particularly with my hygiene and getting dressed but it’s certainly more manageable than just a month ago. I go to physical therapy twice a week and am able to lift my arm a bit more–enough to wash my face now and even to create an awful-looking pony tail. But that’s something!

Every 2-3 weeks I get another x-ray and have become quite familiar with what the inside of my arm looks like. Unfortunately, my last x-ray this past week was extremely discouraging. Three weeks ago it was clear that my arm was starting to heal. You could see this white bit in my x-ray where the bone was healing and it wasn’t just a black void. But now, after another three weeks have passed—nothing. Not one thing has changed. There should have been signs that it was healing more, but there were none.

My doctor tried to be positive and said that it was good that the plate or screws hadn’t moved and it didn’t look worse. But that really wasn’t much of a consolation to me. She said it was time to beef up on Vitamin D3 (5,000 IU) and try and get this bone to heal. My daily dose of vitamins and extra calcium and D3 just wasn’t cutting it.

So since things didn’t look that great, I decided to ask the question I really needed to. “Will I really get my full range of motion back?”

She didn’t say no, but she didn’t say absolutely yes. When I look at my x-ray and see that one particular screw pointing towards my breast and know that that screw is helping to hold me together, just makes me wonder if I’ll ever be able to freely move my right arm back and forth and stretch my lovely limbs out like the orangutan I know I am. She told me when I stretch my arm across my body to my left side, that movement may always be impaired. But I might not have to have the plate in my arm forever…if I’m particularly sensitive to it and it drives me nuts after a year or two. Or I may have to live with it despite the sensitivity if my bones don’t heal enough.

So…..well….fuck.

I teared up just a smidge as she’s telling me these things and tried to be positive. I told her I was going to the beach with my kiddo and my niece and her family and try to enjoy myself. And I did. Then I didn’t do my physical therapy exercises that night because I was just too pissed and disappointed and frustrated. When I told my physical therapist the next day what the doc said, I did cry then. And my PT was just as distraught and discouraged. But we sucked it up and carried on.

The last few days I’ve had off from work and have faithfully done my exercises morning and evening. I’ve taken my huge dose of D3 every day and have tried to not dwell on the “what ifs.” I’ve been repeating my father’s mantra, “one day at a time” and trying to channel every bit of his laid back attitude. I don’t always succeed but I try.

This week as we dive back into school schedules and all the juggling that entails, I’ll be murmuring “Keep Calm and Heal On!” and “One Day at a Time” and I’m sure by Friday, “Where’s my glass of wine?”

Have a good one, friends. May we all heal just a little bit this week.