I tried…

…but did I try hard enough? Last night, as I sat with my mom, as we laughed and cried at “This is Us,” I rode an emotional roller coaster between guilt and relief at what today would bring.

This past week, Mom’s memory has been the best it’s been in over 2 months. Physically it hasn’t been great, but mentally things were better. Yet I know that it won’t always be that way. I know that a residential care facility and the folks that work there will care for her the way she should be. She won’t be alone for 6 hours a day like she has been while I’m at work. I know she’ll eat lunch and it will be good for her (and hopefully yummy) and I won’t have to inspect the trash or fridge to see if she ate what I put out for her or if she ate a half loaf of bread instead.

It also means I won’t have to change her sheets when she had an accident. I won’t have to clean the bathroom floor or the toilet or the bathroom counter nearly every single day like I’ve had to for two months. I won’t have to sneak into her room and steal her dirty clothes so I can clean them. Or ask her multiple times to please change her clothes or to take a shower.

But it also means she won’t be here as we eat our dinner around the table and talk about our day. Or laugh at silly things we find on television. Or fold all of our clean laundry (this was one of her favorite things to do).

For the past few weeks, various medical professionals as well as my friends and family have all said, “It’s ok. You’re doing the right thing for both your mom AND for you.” But this afternoon it did not feel like that at all.

My sister and I drove my mom to her new home, and it really is a lovely place. It’s not assisted living or a nursing home, but a residential care facility which is kind of in-between the two. It’s a very homey place, doesn’t smell like a nursing home or a hospital. Mom’s roommate is fantastic and she loves to watch tv as much as Mom does.

But as soon as we got there, Mom was angry and upset. After we sat in her room for a minute, I had to get up and leave because I was starting to cry and I wanted to find the director. Mom argued with my sister about why she had to be there, saying that yes she could take care of herself, but thankfully, my wise sister, distracted Mom with photos and questions about our grandfather. By the time I got back, Mom was smiling and was willing to let me put her clothes in the dresser. Later she went to lunch in the dining room with everyone else (and my sister) while I filled out paperwork.

We visited for a while longer and I encouraged Mom to walk about in the rest of the building, check out the two large areas to sit and read in or watch television. She sat in her recliner before we left and settled in to watch tv with her roommate. Once my sister and I got to the car, I sobbed. It felt truly awful to leave Mom. I felt like I abandoned her and let her down. I’ve felt guilty just thinking about when this day would come, and now that it’s here, that guilt sits heavy in my stomach, my chest and my head.

guilt-and-grief

I KNOW that Mom needed more care than I could give her. I KNOW that my son needs me and has needed me the past few months when I put my mother’s needs before his. I KNOW that my mental health needed this to happen.

So why does it feel wrong? Why does my stomach still hurt and my chest feel tight? Why do I feel so guilty when it’s the right thing to do?

 

 

 

 

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Suddenly

I know. You want to sing it, don’t you? It’s ok. You can.

This morning started out as a typical Sunday morning. I slept a little late, watched a bit of tv with my boy, baked breakfast cookies for the week and started laundry. After a while, I decided I didn’t want to go out and walk on this dreary day, so I started to move furniture in the living room so I could work out there. I had to move my body but nothing too strenuous. As I was moving the hassock, my  husband asked me a question. I started to answer, then stopped. I tried to take a breath then apologized to my husband and started to sob.  He ran over to me and hugged me and just let me cry.

I had this sudden feeling of powerlessness and loss and sorrow. My mom is about to go through a pretty intense operation on Tuesday to help her circulation in her left leg. It’s a tough thing for anyone to go through, but a 71-year-old woman with a frail body and mind? It’s even tougher. I’m scared for her. I’m scared for us. I think she’ll make it through the surgery, but her mind might not. Will she know my sister and I when she wakes up? Will she know her son is gone? I don’t know.

I was missing my brother this morning, too. In the fall and winter, nearly every other Sunday my brother stopped by my house to have tea while I baked something. He would tease my son or chat with him while I washed dishes. I’d lean on one side of the counter while he sat on the other and we’d munch on goodies and talk about our week. Eventually we’d head into the living room and continue our conversation. It was a part of my week I always looked forward to.

I miss him so fucking much.

I wish he’d be at the hospital with us while we wait for Mom’s surgery to be over. He’d make us laugh and just be there. His presence just made me feel better. He’s part of my home.

After crying in my husband’s arms for a few minutes, I walked about the house and realized I just needed to be outside. So I slipped my headphones on, told my family I was going for a run and left. This is only the third run I’ve been on in the past month, but it felt ok. It was really difficult and I trudged more than I ran, but I refused to walk. I needed to sweat out some of this anxiety and sadness and just plant one foot in front of the other. So I did. And it was ok. I felt better than I had when I left my house. So that’s something.

On a side note, if you read my last post, you know I’m trying to get a counselor/therapist/someone to talk to. It hasn’t happened yet. I did make a few calls, finally got an appointment, but then cancelled it. Our electricity (like many in Maine) had been out for a few days last week and I couldn’t deal with doing one more thing. And no, I didn’t reschedule yet. I need to get Mom through her surgery and then we need to take life day by day after that. Am I making excuses? Probably. But the thought of adding one more thing to my life at this moment makes me want to pull my hair out. And I like my hair. So this will have to wait. For now.

If you’re feeling particularly generous or positive or hopeful on Tuesday morning, try to send a little of that my mom’s way, ok? I know she’s a tough ol’ bird, but a little extra optimism wouldn’t hurt.

Lost and Found

If I’ve learned anything this past week, it’s that Alzheimer’s Disease slowly eats away one’s independence, dignity, eventually humanity. It not only destroys the individual, but it injurs and scars the caregiver and the family.

Last week ended with me losing my mother in a hospital (she can seriously boogie with that walker!) and also discovering at least 6 months worth of unopened mail in her home, including financial matters that should have been tended to. And this week began with me visiting the bank and crying at the desk of a bank employee.

Today I told more people about my mother’s condition. I told people that may only be on the periphery of her life, but ones that need to know why she doesn’t seem like her typical reliable self. My mother’s reputation has been in jeopardy for the past year, and maybe that doesn’t matter to some. But I know if my mother was in her right mind, it would matter to her. She’s been a respected citizen of our little town for nearly 50 years. She’s always been responsible. She paid her bills on time, mostly obeyed the speed limit and every single person I talk to says, “She’s such a sweet woman!” I don’t want anyone thinking less of her because I didn’t pay attention to that growing pile of mail in her living room. If I had done my job, I would have helped her open that shit at least two months ago.

mailBut I didn’t. I didn’t want to. I was afraid. In the back of my mind, I knew my own responsibilities for Mom’s care would increase. I knew I would have to have uncomfortable conversations with Mom about finances–her last bit of true freedom. So I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything until….well….until I did.  I had to stop putting it off and just ask Mom if we could organize her mail a bit. But something so simple is still not easy for me to do. To this day, I still dread the thought of my mother being angry with me. She put fear in all her children, and although I can’t speak for my siblings, she put the fear of disappointing her, in me.

So now when I need to ask my mother permission to do something, like open her mail, I’m waiting for my mother to bite back, to tell me “no” and that she has everything under control. But she never says that. Not anymore. She knows she no longer has everything under control.  And as much as it pains me to say it, I guess that’s my job now.

In the midst of things…

My family and I are in the middle of the 5th month of our spending moratorium. After cancelling our vacation,  we seem to always search for that silver lining. We have our days that we feel sorry for ourselves and mope around the house, whining that we’ll never go on a nice vacation….ok, I’m the one that really does that….but other days we try to look on the bright side of things.

For instance, with our tax refund this year, we were able to not only pay off the credit card but one of our loans that had some old debt on it. We paid it off a year early! And with that bit of extra money, we’re hoping to pay off this new car loan by January.  So what does that mean for us? Does it mean we can ease up on the moratorium and try to have a little fun? Well…not really.

Since we paid off the loan, we were able to loan two of our family members a little money (just $20 or $25) when they needed it and it didn’t hurt us too bad. That was a good feeling, and they both paid us back which is even better! But for the past few weeks, I’ve spend more on groceries than normal. I haven’t been as diligent. I kept saying, “Oh, we’re good! Look at all we’ve done!” And then I felt the squeeze. My husband didn’t work 40 hours one week, we both had doctors’ appointments the next week, two of our cats were due for the their shots…you get the picture.  That’s when Holly started freaking out.

I started getting grumpier than my normal. I started interrogating my husband on what he bought and where. I ate cereal for supper more than once, trying to spread the meals out a little more for the rest of the family. Of course, then I gorged myself on chocolate chips on those nights because it felt good and I needed to feel good. Which made me depressed about my weight, my lack of running and the fact that we were low on chocolate chips.  See that nasty downward spiral?

But then little things started to pop up that made me happy.  Little things that were really big things. Like my mom taking my son and myself to McDonald’s for lunch. We went INSIDE the building. We sat INSIDE! Last week Mom went grocery shopping with me. She actually went INTO THE GROCERY STORE. This is really big. I haven’t been inside a public building with my mother in over a year, except for hospitals and doctor’s offices. When we went into the store, she folded up her walker, put it in a cart, and started pushing it all through the store. And I mean all through the store! It was awesome! Really, really awesome. She recognized a few people, she remembered what was on her grocery list, she knew what was going on. It was FANTASTIC!  True, she was wearing the sweat suit she seems to want to wear all the time and she didn’t have her teeth in, her teeth that were never found, but who cares? She was aware and coherent and cruising along. It was a good day.

Other little things that have made me happy? Watching the Oscars with my brother. It may have been in the hospital, but he made me laugh hysterically, like he always does. And right now, at least this week, he’s feeling better and he’s home. So that makes me happy. Hanging out with some of my family this weekend, just having lunch, chatting, watching The Love Boat–all made me happy. Listening to my child spell words for his father–that not only made me happy but amused the hell out of me. Watching comedians on Netflix, laughing at a joke my husband told, talking with some of my favorite people via email and Facebook–all of that made and makes me happy.

There really are silver linings out there, somewhere. Not for everything for sure, and certainly not all of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not all sunshiney and farting rainbows, people! I’m not always happy when friends they tell me about their fantastic vacations they’re planning or what incredible (and incredibly expensive) outings they’re going on with their children. I can get downright pissy. But when I come back to myself, I remember that this debt business isn’t their fault. That’s all mine (and my husband’s). And although I might think snarky thoughts and hope they get into debt because of their fabulous vacation, I usually snap out of it and wish them well and try not to be such a bitch.

Then I go off and start looking and searching and hoping for the bright side, the silver lining, the good stuff.

It’s usually out there.

So let’s go find it.

 

Looking For Motivation

Two winters ago, I gained 7 pounds due to less activity and too many goodies. By the summer I had lost a few of them, but this winter I gained them all back with an extra three for good measure. That’s 10 pounds extra of Holly that I wish I didn’t have. And yet…I can’t seem to care that much.

All of my pants still fit, but most are much more snug than they should be, thus giving me that lovely extra-large muffin top. I cover my squishiness up as best as I can with layers of turtlenecks and sweaters. Winter in Maine is good for some things! And even with all of that, I can’t seem to get my butt on the treadmill or outside more than I do. I’m only running 6-9 miles a week and attempting to do a smidge of weight lifting a few times a week, too. You might be saying, “Hey! That’s great! At least you’re doing that much.” But it’s not really great. It’s not enough, especially since I’m eating anything I want and not giving a damn. Yes, I am moving, but I’m only one step away from Couch Potato Kingdom.

There was a time when I would faithfully work out 6-7 times a week, even though it stressed me out to do so. I justified it by saying the physical activity did me more good in the long run. But now, just the thought of trying to squeeze 6-7 workouts in a week, makes me want to cry. I give myself Wednesdays off so I can volunteer at my son’s school library in the morning and I give myself Fridays off so I can go to my mom’s in the morning and fill her pill container and check her blood sugar and just make sure all is well.

So what are my excuses the other days? I’ll squeeze in a 20-30 minute workout most mornings, but honestly, I have no excuse for not running on the weekend. I have the time but I’m just so apathetic. I have no doubt that part of my apathy stems from my mother’s illness, my father’s newly discovered memory loss and even our lost vacation. But I can’t keep going on like this because I know my physical health will suffer and my mental health is already deteriorating. The winter affects my mood anyway, so the lack of exercise makes me feel even sadder than usual. I tend to fix that sadness with more reading and chocolate and wine. And that, my friends, is asking for trouble. (Except for the extra reading. That’s always good, no matter how you look at it.)

My friend, Aymie, lost 50 pounds last year and ran over 500 miles. She looks fantastic and you can tell she feels great, too. My friend, Moriah, is on a journey to lose weight and to get healthy. She’s lost 14 pounds so far, and although I know it’s been tough, she’s doing it and I’m so damn proud of her. And yet why can’t these women motivate me to get my ass off the couch? I’ve been inspired by these women and others in the past, so why not now?

Maybe I need a goal. Something to shoot for. Use a website like stickk like I have before? Cover my Facebook feed with memes of encouragement?

Maybe I just need to hold on until spring when the temps are warmer and we’ll see the sun more. Although I think the zipper on my jeans probably can’t wait that long. I really need to find something now to make me care about my level of fitness.

What do you do to help with the winter blues or with the inactive times in your life? Is there something that helps you get up and go? What motivates you to take care of yourself?

As usual, any and all suggestions welcome, my friends!

The Right Stuff

Taking Mom to her neurology appointments are emotionally exhausting affairs. They make me feel very uncomfortable. It is obvious that in this particular office, I am my mother’s parent. I am asked questions about her health, her memory and the level of her confusion.  Don’t get me wrong, this is done in a very respectful way. The doctor asks my mother if it’s ok to ask me questions, and so far, my mother has always replied very happily, “Absolutely!” I think she likes that I’m in the hot seat before she is.

Then the doctor turns to my mother and asks her a few general questions about her health or her habits before getting into more serious memory testing. Meanwhile, I sit diagonal from my mom and stare at the floor. I look up occasionally to see the reactions of both the doctor and my mother, but mostly I just try to shrink into myself and disappear. This seems like such a private encounter to have to witness. It feels like I’m watching my mother be interrogated and she appears very vulnerable during these interviews. Sometimes tears run down her face while she answers the questions. I desperately want to leave the room while this is going on, but I have to stay. I give the doctor clues when Mom’s answers are not true or just a bit off. Like today. The doctor asked Mom if she ever goes to the library to get reading material. She book-mobilereplied that she didn’t, but the bookmobile comes around once a month.

Ummm…..what the? We haven’t had bookmobiles in this area for about 40 years. No joke. It was such a random thing to say. I was surprised she didn’t mention the library where I work. But something about that bookmobile memory was just floating around in her brain and it popped out. So bizarre.

Yet most of Mom’s other answers to the variety of questions? FANTASTIC!  At the end of the doctor’s interview, she told my mother how impressed she was with how she did. At this point in the year, Mom should have been on this Alzheimer’s medication for 6 months. But due to the snafu we had this summer, she’s only been on it for a month. The doctor knew about this and yet Mom’s memory and level of confusion had improved tremendously since January when she initially saw the doctor. Let me say that I love this neurologist. She’s always brutally honest, there’s no sugar coating for this lady, and yet she conveys empathy and compassion.  She told us that she realized that last January’s appointment could have been a particularly bad day for Mom and today could have been a particularly good day. But even with that, Mom was more than keeping her own. She was actually improving. The Aricept that Mom is taking typically just maintains people’s memory loss, or delays the advancement of the loss, but in 10% of the patients who take it the medication improves the patients’ cognition. The doctor said that Mom may actually be one of those 10%.  YES!!

*big smiles and clapping hands*

I know that everything can change very quickly. I know that most likely, there will be a day that my mother will not know who I am. But that day isn’t here. Not yet. And it might be just a little further off than it was before. And that, my friends, is reason to celebrate.

Three cheers for a good day!

 

Looking for Contentment

I am a tall woman who lives a small life. I live in a very small town with less than 3,000 people. I work in a small, rural library in a town of only 4,000 people. I rarely travel, except to and from work and to soccer practices and games and to my mom’s house and to most of my mom’s appointments. I run and I read and if I want to have a drink, typically I’ll have it at home where it is considerably less expensive.

Most of the time, I think this is ok.

It’s not the exact life I thought I’d have, but it’s not horrible. It can be hard some days and weeks, but it’s not bad. It can be horribly hectic, particularly weekday mornings (probably like yours, too!)–trying to squeeze in a run or a walk before or in between getting the kid ready and making dinner for that evening and doing laundry or dishes and fitting in a shower in there somewhere. And if I’m volunteering at the school library that morning? Forget it. I don’t even try to exercise on those days unless I’ve been up since 4:30 due to the cats hitting my face with their paws….claws out.

Again, not horrible. A little bloodshed, perhaps, but could be worse. And yet, I strive to find contentment. Do you?

I often wonder if social media is what has done this to me. I see my friends taking their children to far off places or flying to another state to run and drink (and vomit?) but having an adventure of some sort anyway.  Typically I’m very happy for my friends and family and the journeys they are fortunate enough to take, but this week it really got to me. I was thinking about all of those lovely images as I entered the local pharmacy where I needed to pick up extra vitamins for my mother because she couldn’t remember to get them. As I kneeled on the floor trying to determine which calcium was the right one for her and which one wouldn’t bankrupt me, I felt my shoulders slump and had to blink back tears. This? This is what my life is? Sitting on Rite Aid’s floor trying to find the cheapest yet most effective vitamin for my poor mother whose entire life seems to center around her cat? How has this happened?

Once I got back to my car, I had to take some deep breaths and try to snap out of this funk. Feeling sorry for myself or for Mom isn’t going to get either of us anywhere, yet sometimes wallowing in self-pity in private doesn’t really hurt, does it? If it does hurt, then I’m a damn mess.

I didn’t shake the blues until two days later. I barked at everyone at home and at work, until my boss and I had this great conversation about “kitchen envy” and trying to put things in perspective. She loves to cook but has a small apartment with a small kitchen. Yet some of her friends will post photos on Facebook of their gorgeous homes and kitchens and my boss will drool a bit over them. But she reminds herself that she has a small place with that horrible orange countertop so she can have decent vacations and save for a good retirement on the small salary that she makes.

Perspective. Again. I keep having to remind myself that it’s about perspective.

I do live a small life in a small town in a small state. But I also live in a lovely town in a gorgeoudscn3538s state. My family and I took a walk in the Bangor City Forest this weekend, to attempt to “leave town” but also in payment for a promise that we’d do something together OUTSIDE. It was one of the best days I’ve had in weeks. I watched my kid kick butt on the soccer field, I got to walk in the crisp air with the trees falling from the trees with my family around me, then I stuffed myself with sushi and rice noodles and tea. It was a good day. A BIG day in my little life.

Does this mean I don’t want to travel with my family (or without them) or fly off and run a race in another state? No, of course not. I yearn to take my child to San Francisco, a place I’ve always loved, or to go to Seattle, a place I’ve never been but desperately want to go to. I’m not into racing much these days, but I’d love to do the Brain Freezer 5K again, for sure! (No alcohol, but ice cream and possible vomiting.) But for this day, for right now, I didn’t need to buy an expensive gadget or travel to another state to have a great day. I just needed to look around and realize and appreciate the wonderments I had right in front of me.