Saturday, February 28, 2009

Life Does Go On

Last March I wrote a blog titled, “Death and the Cosmic News Flash That Doesn’t Occur” which was about having someone die and not intuiting it. This week I experienced a sensation that was somewhat the opposite – having someone die and realizing that other people didn't realize what has just happened in my life.

My mother-in-law, who we’ve been caring for in our home, died suddenly and quickly Tuesday morning. Even though she’d been ill for a few months and even though she had plenty of medical issues, we hadn’t thought her death was imminent, so it was surprising and a little shocking when she collapsed and died within a few minutes Tuesday morning. Our younger children had already left for school so we decided to let them finish out the day before breaking the news, but our oldest daughter was still home so she was very aware of what had happened.

After the necessary arrangements had been made, my daughter and I both felt the need to get out of the house, so we headed out for a drive. We ended up over in Portland where we picked up my oldest son and went out to lunch. The three of us sat at lunch, in grief and shock, and talked about what had happened that morning. Inside, we were still churning emotionally, but to the outside world we were just three people having lunch together. As we grieved verbally, holding back the tears, I looked around the restaurant and realized that we were in our own little bubble of emotion; nobody else in that restaurant had any idea of the trauma we’d been through that morning. Just as I felt that I should have somehow known when someone close to me had died, in that restaurant I felt that people around us should have somehow known what we were going through. There was no way for them to know, of course, but it seemed so eerie to be walking around, full of grief, amongst the world of the non-grieving. As I watched the people around me as they laughed and talked, it hit me that this moment was, in some ways, a gift; a reminder that life does go on. A loved one is gone, our hearts hurt, but the world around us continues to function and, eventually, we will function again, too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hitting the Wall

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been caring for my mother-in-law and I’ve tried to look at the positive aspects of that responsibility by focusing on the quiet times and the balance they offer as well as looking at the challenges as a way to improve myself and increase my patience – yeah, yeah, yeah! It’s fine to look at the positive side, to try to raise my mood by focusing on the good instead of dwelling on the bad, but the reality is that this is an exhausting, frustrating time in my life and last week I hit the wall. I was still performing the chores necessary to care for my mother-in-law, but it was routine, more like a professional than a daughter-in-law. My mother-in-law’s dementia has taken away much of her mental functioning, but even she noticed the difference. At one point she said to me, “You’re not being very loving.” Whoa, hearing that made me feel really bad. I didn’t mean to be unloving. I didn’t mean to go about caring for her as if I was a heartless robot just going through the motions of doing what needed to be done. I realized then that I had, in fact, run into an emotional wall. I spent some time grieving to friends and complaining to my husband. Then I took a deep breath and picked myself up from the spot on the ground where I’d landed, took a few steps back and charged back into, and through, that wall. Even though I still feel exhausted, I feel like I came out on the other side refreshed and with a renewed sense of purpose. And isn’t that what we all do throughout our lives, in varying degrees of seriousness? We run into walls; we fail, plans are changed, roadblocks come our way, but we pick ourselves up and move on. Here’s to crashing through walls!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Beyond! Beyond What?

My husband held up his Men’s Health magazine and pointed out the title of an article, “How to look your best in your 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond”. Beyond! At 50, 51 for my husband, we apparently no longer warrant a decade distinction, we are simply “beyond”, but beyond what? Obviously we are beyond our 20s, 30s and 40s, but perhaps we are also beyond some of the worries of those decades. Perhaps we have found careers that are meaningful. Perhaps we have dispensed with petty disagreements with family and friends. Perhaps we have learned that relationships are the cornerstone of our joy. Perhaps we have realized that there is always so much more to learn, to see, to enjoy. Perhaps we now know that beyond is not really beyond, old is not really old, until you make it so. I like to think that “beyond” can mean some things are behind us, but ahead there’s still so much opportunity. I think that’s what Buzz Lightyear meant when he said, “To infinity and beyond!” I’ll make that my rallying cry!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Coo Coo Ca Choo

A few weeks ago, two entries ago, I wrote about the strange peacefulness I was feeling as I began the journey of caring for my mother-in-law. The feeling of peace, of being centered has continued and, given the circumstances of my daily life right now, I’m a little surprised by that. My mother-in-law requires round-the-clock care; she cannot be left alone. Therefore, most of my time for the last three weeks has been spent at home. I do have a relief person who has been coming in two afternoons a week so that I have time to run errands and I’ve made a couple of trips to the grocery store when I have someone else available to cover for me here, but mostly I’ve just been home. Normally I’m used to running around doing errands and transporting kids; it’s a bit strange to be scheduling all of those tasks into two afternoons a week. And, while I find the slower pace nice, I’ve also had my share of cabin fever. However, the peacefulness pervades.

Our Christmas cards this year had a Beatles’ theme because the picture we used on the front was of us crossing Abbey Road a la the album cover. One of the lines inside the card was coo coo ca choo from the song I Am the Walrus. I looked up the meaning of the phrase before using it and, according to the Urban Dictionary, it is: A term used often in the hippie era of the '60s, implying that everything is fine, or that there is no need to worry about anything. While I doubt I’ll ever manage to “not worry about anything,” I do think that my current sense of peacefulness is based on my feeling that I’m doing what I need to be doing right now. Even though caring for someone in this manner is tiring and emotionally draining, it’s what I need to do right now and there’s no sense worrying about the change in our lifestyle or what else I might have been doing. Everything is fine – coo coo ca choo!

Monday, February 2, 2009


I’ve been inspired this past month by a couple of friends who are making efforts to redefine themselves. One has adopted serious lifestyle changes in the areas of food and exercise, the other is trying to figure out the dynamics of having and keeping friends. Me, I’m working on practicing being patient as I care for my mother-in-law and deal with her dementia.

Certainly there are some traits we are born with and many that we learn from our environment as we grow up, but I think it’s exciting to realize that we are all capable of making changes in ourselves as we age or continue to “grow-up”. That ability to change, to redefine or refine ourselves is what keeps our lives exciting and is what helps us continue to grow as human beings.

My friend who has made the healthy lifestyle changes thinks it’s funny that I find her inspiring since she’s gone a number of years not worrying about her health. I think she’s inspiring for just that reason – she is a reminder to us all that it is never too late to change. That we can all pick out parts of ourselves that we’re not happy with or wish were different and we can make the effort to change, to be better, to realize our true potential.

For those of you who thought you knew me, let me introduce you to the new me -- just call me Debbie, the Patient One.