Rain On Me

I miss running. I haven’t done much of it lately due to stress (do I wake up at 4am to run so I can take my husband to his appointment then go to work?) or because my body and mind are incredibly sluggish from said stress and lack of sleep. Yet I become more tired the less I run and feel bad about myself so I eat a bit more and gain weight and feel bad and so on and so on and so on. Have you been on this ride before, too? Yeah. Not my favorite.

But this past week I was determined not to feel bad about myself. I was already missing my brother and I didn’t need to feel worse by treating myself like shit. So I did run on Tuesday then snuck a few walks in the next few days. My son and I went on a fantastic hike on Friday that began with his non-stop complaining and ended with his non-stop praise of the scenery. 🙂 We never saw another soul and loved the isolation. This was followed by amazing gelato at the Pugnuts Ice Cream Shop in Surry with my sister and brother-in-law.

The next day I went on a hike by myself and saw funky mushrooms and another little stream, all while listening to the birds and stopping every once in a while to just look up at the canopy of trees with the sky peeking through. It was cathartic and peaceful and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it, until I met someone at the end who had two dogs, one that barked and growled at me. But even that creature couldn’t ruin my tranquility.

When I woke up this morning to grey skies, I knew if I wanted to run I needed to do it soon. I drank coffee, folded clothes, watched a bit of CBS Sunday Morning (my absolute favorite news show for the positive stories that are portrayed), then decided I could do a little run. I ate a banana, put on my “hanging out at home” clothes instead of my usual running tank and wicking shorts, and went out with the attitude that I was going to have a good time.

Just two minutes in and “Little Bird” by Annie Lennox started to play in my ears. I smiled broadly and looked to the sky. “Thanks, Phil!” I shouted. My brother’s love of Annie Lennox was infectious and this song in particular was always one of our favorites. “I look up to the little bird that glides across the sky. He sings the clearest melody. It makes me want to cry….I wish I could be that bird and fly away from here. I wish I had the wings to fly away from here.”

I can’t fly but I pushed my shoulders back, picked up my head and ran a bit stronger and faster. Even when the rain did start coming down just past mile one, I kept chugging along, looking to the skies.

At mile three I had started to lag a bit, but yelled and waved hello at a few of my neighbors that never acknowledge my existence. (They did today!) A half mile later with the rain coming down in a nice, gentle pitter patter, “Rain on Me” by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande hummed through my earbuds and right down to my toes. That’s when I saw a lone bird flying through the sky, possibly trying to catch up to its buddies, or just out for a solo jaunt like me.

For once, little bird, I don’t want to fly away from here. Not sure how long I can hold onto that feeling, but I’ll take it today. ❤

Boundaries

The scene at my house this evening, minutes after arriving home from work:

Husband: Hey, hon, do you still have some reusable grocery bags I can leave in my car?

Me: Oh! Yeah, I have some right here. I’ll go put them in your car right now so I don’t forget.

Husband: No, no, you don’t have to do that.

Me: It’s no problem. I have to put these cds in my car anyway. I’ll be right back.

I trot out to our driveway, put things in my car, open his car door to place the bags in his passenger seat. Then I find this on the floor:

I flipped the package over to look at the date. Was this left over from before his heart attack when he was eating loads of junk? “July 9, 2021.” Last Friday.

I slowly walk back into the house with this fried chicken bag pinched between my fingers. My breath is getting heavier with every step. Cue the cartoon steam exhaling from my ears. I walk through the door and put the bag in front of my husband’s face. With a clipped tone I ask, “What the hell. Is. This?”

Husband looks slightly shamefaced but not nearly enough. He’s smiling a little, but that nervous smile he gets when he knows he’s fucked up and got caught. I may have been afraid to yell at him a week ago, worried he’d have another heart attack. I certainly wasn’t scared today. I lit into him. When our son asked what Papa did, I showed him the bag with the fork still in it so he could eat in his car without anyone knowing. The boy just shook his head.

I raged for just a few minutes. Told him that it hadn’t even been 4 weeks since his nearly fatal heart attack. 27 days, in fact. “You couldn’t even go one fucking month without fried, fatty food?!?” I left the room to put my sneakers on so I could take a walk to cool down. But before I left, I stomped back into the living room, pointed my finger at my husband and said, “YOU are not allowed to kill yourself. I am the only one who gets the pleasure of killing you!”

Ok. Not my finest hour, but it felt good. And we both ended up laughing because it was so absurd and sounded exactly like me. Then I still had to leave the house because I was pissed.

But you know what REALLY upsets me about this? The night before he ate that fried chicken, he had a scary episode. He went to bed, but then came back to the living room just a minute later and said he couldn’t lie down. His stomach was bothering him, which was one of the signs he had before his heart attack. So he sat in his recliner, and I asked him if he’d like me to stay with him. He said that he would and took my hand. “Once I start snoring, you can go to bed if you want. I’ll be ok by then.” So I kissed him, turned out the lights, got blankets for us both, and lay on the couch listening to my husband breathe, cough, and sniffle. Eventually he slept deeply and I went to bed. It was a frightening time, yet he trusted and loved me enough to ask me to stay, which I know is a great gift.

And then…he ate the fucking chicken.

As a caregiver, one has to know when to draw the line or when to say, “Ok, big boy, you can make the phone call to your cardiologist to find out when they’re going to look at your other blocked arteries.” (This is something I’ve been asking him to do for a week, and today his nurse told him the exact same thing. Should we take a bet on how long it takes for him to do it now?) Since Wal’s heart attack, my sister and so many of my friends have been telling me to make sure I take care of myself, to take some time for myself. I mostly have. But no one has yet said, “It’s time to stop taking care of him.”

Because we don’t do that, right? We try to squeeze moments out for ourselves which often causes more stress in the long run, but we never say to someone, “Ok, you can give up on that person now.” And why? Because what if that person dies or has a stroke due to their declining health and is bedbound or mute or paralyzed. How would we feel then?

GUILTY.

But…shouldn’t there be a time when we finally say, “I will no longer take care of you. I will remain your partner until death, but I can no longer help you if you refuse to help yourself.” Any person we are taking care of must take some responsibility in their own health if they are able. When I took care of my mother, I understood that she could no longer do this. She could make her own coffee and get dressed, but showering and eating well and taking her medications were no longer in her realm of tasks she could do. And after a few months of working full time and taking care of my son and my mom, I knew that I couldn’t keep caring for her without losing much of myself.

So what do you do when you’re taking care of your spouse or partner? I have a friend who is dealing with this on an even more intense level. I have tried to lend my shoulder and ear to her as much as I can, but I know it’s never enough. She’s given me loads of advice and listens whenever I need her to, but her caregiving tasks are much more serious and frightening. And her spouse is NOT able to care for himself much anymore.

But my husband can. And he needs to. I find his lack of respect for his health infuriating but also incredibly sad and unfair to me. To our son. Does Wal know and understand all of this and everything I’m feeling and what I wish he felt? Yes. He does. And if he doesn’t, he will when I read him this blog post. 😉

The question remains: What do I do now? Do I throw my hands up and say, “Whatever. Do whatever you want”? Or do I say I will help you if you need me to, but I will not make phone calls for you or keep track of your sodium or fluid intake? My therapist and I just had conversations about what kinds of boundaries to set down, and the latter seemed the most appropriate at that time a week ago, but now? Now I’m angry and hurt and not sure what steps to take next.

I’m already tired of being angry. I’m not apathetic because I’m too emotional about this. I think I’m sad, frustrated, and disappointed.

Maybe I just need to find some patience and let him be and hope he finds the path towards good health. He doesn’t need to die trying to look for it because it’s right there in front of him. I’ve been holding out my hand to show him for a long time, but now I guess I just need to go on ahead and hope he catches up. I’ve left breadcrumbs and neon arrows to guide him, so let’s hope he just opens his eyes.

Caregiving vs. Self-Care

When you’re taking care of someone, it feels much like being their parent. You worry about them more often than not. If they don’t feel well or are having a rough day, you feel like they do. And when they admit their fear about what’s happening to their body and their life, you feel just as frightened.

This weekend has been another rollercoaster ride for my household. Our son had his wisdom teeth out on Friday and yesterday he was just ok, but this morning he was in pain and had been up most of the night. Wal had gained 2 pounds overnight, which is not a good thing when you’re a heart patient. He also didn’t feel very well much of the day. I didn’t feel good when I got up, but I kicked into crisis mode after realizing my son was hurting and my husband wasn’t well. Got the kid on a pain med schedule and my husband already took the medicine he needed to work on the extra fluid in his body. So although I didn’t feel great, I went for a run in the heat and humidity anyway. I needed to physically put one foot in front of the other so I could do it figuratively when back at home.

At one point this afternoon, both my husband and son were napping. It reminded me of the times when my boy was a baby and although they always said to nap when your baby naps, I would always clean. Which is exactly what I did today. I listened to an audiobook and swept and mopped and cleaned bathrooms and did laundry. I get like this. It’s like I’m preparing for the next crisis, so maybe my house will be clean when it arrives and I won’t feel as much stress.

Folks talk about self-care and have really been driving that home to me over the past two weeks. And maybe I should have rested when my family did. But in my own quirky way, cleaning the house was taking care of myself. I love that when I walk on my kitchen floor now, my socks don’t stick to it. 😉

Once my son was awake, he felt a bit better. I gave him some yogurt and he planted himself at his computer desk to play a video game. I checked on my husband, who was still napping, then made myself a margarita at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Might not be the best choice of things to do, but I curled on the couch with a book and my drink and relaxed for 15 minutes. It was pretty fantastic.

But then I got up and checked on my husband again. He had been sleeping for nearly 2 hours at this point. I watched his chest to make sure he was still breathing—-just like I used to do with my son when he was an infant. Wal started to stir and caught me staring at him. I asked if he was ok and he said yes and wanted to know the time. I told him and he said “ok” and rolled over. I figured he’d get up in a few minutes, so I went to the kitchen and started making a salad. An hour later I went to our bedroom again. I was trying not to freak out. He woke up this time and we both wondered aloud, “Is this ok?” Is taking a long nap alright? Does it mean something besides being tired?

We are stumbling along this path, not fully understanding where to go or what to do. Everything keeps changing. His blood thinner meds have changed every few days because his blood wants to clot and right now that’s not a good thing. We weren’t really sure how much sodium he’s allowed to have until a friend whose husband went through this last year gave me an idea of what the amount should be. And just today I found the answer in his pile of paperwork he came home with. (I thought I had read it all but obviously didn’t take it all in.)

This all still feels…surreal. Exhausting for sure, and unfamiliar yet a bit familiar at the same time, but not enough to actually know what we’re doing.

For now, we’re doing our best to take things one day at a time and one issue at a time. We’re also still trying to enjoy the little things that bring us joy. Whatever they are. I hope you do the same, friends. Live in the moment if you can. ❤

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.