BOOM! Another Life Change!

Just when you think that things are on an even keel, whammo! Then the world as you know it shakes us up with a new change; usually something we didn’t see coming. I’m the first one to say that change is ultimately good, but when it first happens, it doesn’t always seem that way.

Life Change 1: In June of last year, I discovered I had breast cancer (DCIS) and had a lumpectomy. Everything was clear in the next mammogram. It was a scare, and certainly something to keep watch on, but most of all, it was a major life change.

Life Change 2: I planned on working until I decided to retire, say, in a year so; but that didn’t happen. The company I worked for was cutting back and I was let go. It turned out to be for the best as my mother was dying of metastatic breast cancer and had recently gone into home Hospice.

I could never have kept that job and helped my mom and dad, so it was a change that needed to happen. I don’t regret a second of all the time I was privileged to have with my mom during those last months.

Not only that, but I grew even closer to my dad. We became a partnership of two dedicated to Mom’s well-being, comfort and happiness. It was a bittersweet time, and we were so grateful for the time we had together.

Life Change 3: Three and a half months later, my mom died peacefully in her own home. The Crankee Yankee and I were on our way, but she went before we got there. Dad of course was with her, and I often think of her last minutes of life. She was ready in every way to go, was peaceful in mind and body. I imagine how comforting it was for her to know that Dad, the love of her life, her best and dearest friend, was nearby.

After everything was over, I realized that I really didn’t want to work any more. I had people calling me to see if I was interested in this or that job, but as each day, week and month went by I felt that my working days were over.

At the beginning of this month, I had a knee replacement, and I am healing beautifully. My range of motion is better each day, and I keep up with the exercises and will start outpatient physical therapy next week. This of course meant I was out of commission for most of the month, and had to depend on the Crankee Yankee for so many little things. He rose to the challenge, and as of this day, I am walking well and improving.

I wouldn’t really call this a life change, as it was something I needed and wanted to have. My right knee had been painful for nearly three years, and I’m grateful to have been able to have the knee replacement.

It was only a day or so ago that I realized just how much change I have experienced in just one year. Now that the dust has settled (until the next life change shows up!), I have to wonder what is in store next. I still feel a little strange, not working, but I suppose that that will go away in time. While I am back to making jewelry again, I am still not ready to open my next Etsy store (I’ll let you know when I do).

These days when I am not doing knee flexion exercises or walking with two canes, I am reading and writing, watching some TV, and doing more sleeping than I have in months. Perhaps I am catching up with all the changes.

I will admit to a bit of fear and trepidation about the future; what will I be doing, what do I want to do, should I try to volunteer somewhere, join a book club, etc.? Right now my world seems a little large to me as I am still rattling around in all that has happened in this past year.

I’ll admit to some times of depression when I think of Peggy Lee’s famous song, “Is That All There Is?” While my mind knows that certainly there is more to my life that was has been, it’s often hard to shake old habits. When this happens, I keep saying to myself, ‘don’t worry, this will pass. It is all POP (Part Of the Process).

Let me say again that change is ultimately for our good, and I am slowly coming to embrace it.

 

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Although….

Although there are times I feel I will drown in my tears,

I still breathe.

Although there are nights I lie awake, missing you,

I still sleep.

Although I feel that part of my heart is gone,

It still beats.

Although there are days when the pain of losing you seems overwhelming,

I know you are near.

Although I am changed forever,

I can still move forward.

Although there is no laughter like yours,

Your voice is still in my ears.

Although I measure my days without you in them,

I had more days with you than without you.

Although I call your name,

I know that somewhere you answer.

Although I know that grief is now my constant companion,

There is still room in my soul for joy and laughter.

Although I am missing all that was you,

I know that we will be together again.

“This is the Way I’m Coping Now”

I recently emailed my best friend about my concern for my laziness, increased appetite, anxiety, lack of motivation and sleeplessness. I lost my 84 year old mother on December 16, 2015. Intellectually, I know that this is a major shift in my life, and that I am going to have symptoms of depression, anxiety, etc. I know this all in my head, but the rest of me hasn’t quite caught up.

I have read about what people go through when they lose a parent, and I’ve talked with those who have lost a parent. I recognize the symptoms of grief, but I can’t quite settle in yet to that grief. I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, I’ve written thousands of words about how I feel, and yet I can’t quite live comfortably with it. Yet.

Last June, I had a lumpectomy for my DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, which is the non-invasive type of breast cancer). The cancer is gone and my follow-up mammogram was clear. But to this day, I am still numb in that whole area (this is very common). Sometimes I feel deep twinges in the area that remind me that my nerves are coming back to life. This is a lot like my grief; mostly numb, but with some pretty painful twinges.

So, back to my email to my friend. She replied, and kindly addressed my concerns, ending with the perfect statement I can repeat to myself whenever I need to: “this is the way I am coping now.” This means that, should I spend the whole day re-reading a book and eating cereal, that’s how I’m coping that day. If I get up at 2:00am and watch an old movie on TV, that’s how I’m coping that day. This is not an excuse to give up or wallow in self-pity; it is just how things are for now.

Well–that simple phrase immediately put everything in perspective for me. It has become my mantra when I start slipping off the rails; since I am not who I used to be, that is, a woman with a mother, I am still getting used to being a woman without a mother. I get it that I am finding my way through this, and in my journey I have and will make some wrong turns and even get lost from time to time.

But through all this I know that I will be all right. Love and loss are part of life, and for each life I lose along my way, I am better and richer for having had those precious hours and days and weeks and years. When you think about it, grief is a small price to pay for all that love. Elizabeth Barrett Browning says it well:

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.”

Losing It, But Maybe Finding It

It has been 38 days since my mother died. She went into Hospice in the beginning of September 2015, and she died in the bedroom of her own house on December 16.

In that time, I have alternately wept, laughed, breathed, performed normal functions and so on. Each morning my dad calls me and we chat for a few minutes. Each week I go up and see him, and we exchange sympathy cards that have come to us. We marvel that, after all this time, people still write and to tell us what a wonderful person Mom was. And so she was. She lit up every person she met, and she brought a lot of love and joy to many people.

My grief takes strange turns. In my 64 years on this planet, I have lost relatives and friends along the way. But losing my mother has, for the time being anyway, taken the starch right out of me. If you see me and ask me how I’m doing, I will smile and even laugh and tell you I am doing well, that I am going through the “normal” process of grieving. But I don’t think I really am–I feel I am sitting on top of a landmine about to blow.

By the way, there is nothing standardized about grief; that is, it manifests differently for everyone. We know that death comes to us all; that’s non-negotiable. But knowing this and feeling this is different. For the record, my particular grief is turning to isolation, misdirected anger, fear of more loss, and punishing myself in many little ways as if this is all my fault. Why am I telling you this? Because when this particular stage of life parks its unwelcome and unasked-for butt on your doorstep, you will know that you are not alone in “crazy” feelings.

The three main things I loved to do; making jewelry, playing the ukulele and reading have temporarily lost their luster for me. I know that I will return to them sometime, but now is not that time. I tend to weep at odd times and for strange reasons. For instance, the sight of Mom’s favorite rainbow-striped fleece bathrobe in her closet brings me to my knees.

When my grandmother died, my mother went to bed for three days. During those three days, she mourned and grieved to the point that it scared me. But she had lost her own mother to cancer when she was only 14 years old. She told me that she had had my grandmother as a mother-in-law so many more years than she had had her own mother. It hit her hard, and she realized that she was now grieving for two.

I am no different than any other person who has lost a parent. I am grateful that Mom was in Hospice and could be in her own home, and not die in a hospital or in a horrific accident. She and my dad were married 60 happy years, and were the loves of each others’ lives.

I have come to realize that we do not grieve alone; our family and friends are with us, and they want to help. I also believe that our own angels are closest to us during this time as well. I must apologize to my own angels, and family and friends, too–my own fear of losing it completely in the presence of others is poor payment for their love and comfort. Please know that I have finally realized that I am not very strong right now, and I apologize for pushing people away from me. Just because my grief is loud, messy, teary and snotty (well, isn’t everyone’s?); which scares the living hell out of me (I truly hate not being in control), it’s no reason for me to pull away.

Today is the day I will call my therapist and make an appointment to start healing.

 

 

 

The Mom Journal

I thought that I should buy a special journal to write down thoughts, feelings, and anything else that came to mind about my mother. It has been over two weeks since she died, and I feel her loving presence with me still. I realize now that this blog is my journal.

To say that my mother was an amazing woman doesn’t begin to describe her–she was funny, acerbic, warm, complex, intelligent, beautiful, generous, kind, loving, welcoming; however, she didn’t suffer fools gladly, and she told it like it was. I learned a great deal from her, more than I think she knew. While I miss her physical presence in my life, I know that she is near me.

There are of course times when only tears lighten the occasional heaviness of my heart; however, there are far more times when I feel invigorated, light, happy, and full of hope. I cannot be Mom, but I can carry her legacy forward. I find myself reaching out to others more than ever. My usual aloofness seems to have taken a vacation; I find myself smiling more, talking to people more, sharing more and feeling an overall lightness of spirit. In the main, I feel like putting myself out there a little more than I used to.

I know that the inevitable swing of emotions will overtake me from time to time; that’s how these things work. Although it has only been since early September that I began helping Dad with Mom while she was in Hospice care, it seems a longer time. So many things changed; so many things lost importance to me while caring for Mom. She was my whole focus during that time. I woke up each morning with her on my mind, and when I laid my head down at night, she was all I thought about.

It has been months since I read a book cover to cover; me, who plows through books like wildfire. I can’t seem to keep my mind on what I am reading these days. It has been months since I picked up my ukulele to play, and I haven’t spoken to my teacher about setting up more lessons. I haven’t been able to make jewelry, either–I just can’t seem to get my head around it nor get any enjoyment out of it. Oh, I know that things will change as time moves ahead; I will go back to some things, drop some things, and start other things.

But there will always be a place in my heart that longs for my mother’s voice, presence, touch. I remember Dad saying that while he had lost his wife, I had lost my mother. I miss hearing her voice, her laughter. I miss caring for her, I miss calling her each night, I miss seeing her. But somehow that place in my heart seems to be filled with her presence.

I will repeat here the advice my grandfather gave me years ago to you all–“have no regrets.” What I have taken away from this experience of helping my dad care for my Mom in her final illness are these things:

  • Say the things you keep meaning to say to someone you love but haven’t yet
  • Try to stay focused on the person, not on their complaints or grievances
  • Help all you can, but don’t sacrifice all your time and energy – you can’t be effective unless you are feeling your best
  • Don’t be a martyr; it serves neither you nor the person you care for
  • Rest as much as you can
  • Don’t berate yourself if you can’t do it all
  • Accept help
  • If you feel mean-spirited and are afraid you will blurt out something you regret, do this simple exercise: keep your tongue firmly placed behind your front teeth

 

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

I absolutely love this quote from Plato–we never  know what hard and silent battles those around us are fighting. It seldom shows on peoples’ faces. Although when we are going through a hard time, we always feel it shows in every breath. We may nod and smile at others, but inside we are in such pain, and wanting to be heard and understood. How many times do we pass another on the street, unaware of their suffering or situation?

These days I find myself remembering that quote over and over again. For me, each day is filled with a combination of loss, sorrow, dread and acceptance as I watch my mother dwindle from the metastatic breast cancer that is killing her. I know she must go—I know she will go. I can’t expect the world to stop spinning because I am in the process of losing one of the most precious people in my life.

I know that so many others are in pain and sorrow, and I hurt for them. I know that my own pain is a speck of dust in the world where so much sorrow exists. But it is my pain, and as such it often overwhelms me. It feels as deep as the ocean, as wide as the sky and as far-reaching as the wind.

Last night the Crankee Yankee took me to our favorite seafood restaurant, where we dined on succulent fried oysters, onion rings and coleslaw. (These days fried food is a rare and semi-forbidden pleasure, so when we have it, we really enjoy it.) I was feeling especially down and going out to dinner was a welcome diversion.

We were enjoying our seafood in the peace of the “early bird” hour. There were two other couples in the restaurant. As we boxed up our remaining feast, a woman from one of the tables called over to us asking if we had ever had the fried clams. I suddenly found I couldn’t speak, much less look at her. The Crankee Yankee answered her, and they got into a little discussion about how good the food was. Ordinarily I would have joined in, but I was suddenly exhausted and couldn’t even bring myself to look at her.

I must have come off as terribly rude, but honestly I just couldn’t do more than just sit there, staring at the wall. As they wrapped up their friendly conversation, she said, “have a blessed day.” The Crankee Yankee wished her one as well. As we walked out the door, she said with a slight edge, “God bless.”

Oh, dear. Madam, wherever you are, I apologize for my rude behavior. God bless you too, and may your own hard battle be won soon.

It All Comes Down To This

These days I drive up each afternoon to my parents’ home to help put my mom to bed. It’s more than that, though–we talk and we laugh at old jokes and memories, and I rub her feet while we talk.

It becomes harder for her to remember each day that I am coming over; I call her from the road and she is so surprised and happy that I am going to be there.

She has limited time on this earth, and the metastatic breast cancer that is slowly taking her life makes her mobility and pain a little worse each day. Some days toward nightfall she is a bit confused. Hers is a gentle form of sundowning, and we all roll along with it. We tell her that everyone forgets things from time to time, and that it’s all right.

Often she cries a little, and we get through that, too. During the days, she loves visitors and phone calls, and most days are good days. Her appetite is excellent, and she enjoys the lovely and thoughtfully-prepared meals that dear friends bring over for her and my dad. I myself have made more soup than I ever have before in my life. Much of our produce from our garden; fresh, crisp broccoli, jewel-like cherry tomatoes, larger peach-yellow tomatoes and zucchini, and soon (hopefully) some of our late-plants peas–ends up in their refrigerator.

My dad will be 91 this Saturday; seven years older than my mom. He wants to be there for her and care for her, as do I. Although we both know that the cancer will take her in the end, that end is not yet here. So while she is with us, we cherish all those minutes and hours and days. My dad and I are closer now than ever, if that’s possible; another gift of this time.

We do not fear death; my mom and dad and me. We know that it is simply a gentle call back home where we all will be someday. I have been told that people in my situation have “anticipatory grieving.” While I would rather just enjoy what time Mom has left with us, I still find myself flooded in tears imagining that last day.

I ask myself if I have done enough, am I doing enough now, have I told her often enough how much I love her, have I made her know that, because of her, I can stand alone in this life with confidence? Does she understand that it was she who showed me all that a person can be? Can you ever say “I love you” enough? I don’t know the answer to that, but I say it over and over and over again.

It all comes down to this–my being there for my mom is my entire focus. The time is soon coming when I know I will be staying there for days and nights on end; that’s all right. Bless the Crankee Yankee who, when his mother was dying at home, wouldn’t leave her side for a minute. He has lived through the sorrow of losing a mother; he knows that simply being there trumps everything.

So–here we are, my mom and dad and I, sharing one more life experience together. We have shared so much else together, all through the years, and this time is good time.