Loosening My Grip

Right before my mother had her stroke on August 17th, I made reservations to take a solo trip to California to visit my friends and recharge my batteries. I scheduled the trip for mid-September. Max was going to hold down the fort so I could go to California without worrying about my mother. I ended up cancelling the trip at the last minute because I could not see myself leaving my mother at that time.  She was out of the hospital and in the rehab facility, but it just seemed too soon to leave.  We were both confused and unsure of what was happening.  I was too raw and my brain was too flooded with emotion to consider stepping away for a week. 

We started forgoing vacations even before my mother’s stroke because it was difficult to leave her on her own for more than a couple of days.  Even though she was living reasonably independently in her mobile home, she had no safety network in Florida and she often needed help with routine issues that come up in daily life.  For instance, she would sometimes have difficulties getting the air conditioning or heating to turn on and stay on to the temperature that felt good to her.   When I was home, it wasn’t a big deal to run over to her house and help her when there was a challenge.  I could try to anticipate and take care of as much as possible before leaving, but she still often experienced unexpected problems when I was on a trip. It became more anxiety-fraught than it was worth to leave on a vacation.  

When my mother started on the hospice program and I was losing myself in her illness, Max thought it would be good for both of us to have a vacation on the horizon.  Being the maniacal planners that we are, we have always believed that anticipating a vacation is almost as big a pleasure as actually going on one.  Even though I felt a bit stressed and pressured at the idea of planning to leave my mom, it did help to fantasize about a vacation.  When Max pushed to actually schedule a trip to California, I felt a bit panicky because I was concerned that we would commit the money for the plane tickets and then have to cancel at the last minute again because of my mom’s condition.  On the other hand, we were scheduling the trip four months ahead of time.  Truthfully, I don’t think anyone, including my mom, thought she would still be alive by the time our airplane went wheels up.   

As time passed, my mother stabilized.  She adapted a little more to her condition.  She settled into the nursing home and seemed comfortable there.  Although one of my favorite hobbies is anticipating vacations, I could not wrap my head around thinking ahead to the trip.  I worried about leaving her.  I didn’t want her to feel abandoned or sad.  I didn’t want her to think I didn’t love her or that I wasn’t going to come back to her.  I worried that she would stop eating altogether if I wasn’t there to make her ice cream sodas and bring her McDonald’s milkshakes.  I tried hiring a neighbor to visit her and bring milkshakes while I was gone, but it turned out she had a trip planned at the same time as ours.  I wanted to go and I had a sneaky suspicion that I was getting to the point where a vacation was becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity, if I wanted to keep getting out of bed each morning.  Still, I was hesitant. 

I wasn’t worried about the care the nursing facility was giving my mom.  The staff has been wonderful with her.  They make her laugh, which is officially my favorite thing in the world right now.  They treat her respectfully and affectionately.  They provide what she needs.  The sweet hospice nurses volunteered to bring daily milkshakes so my mother would not get out of the habit of consuming some form of nutrition.   I don’t think I was even really worried that she would die while I was gone.  She seemed pretty stable and, honestly, I think my mother would almost prefer it if she were to die without me being there. It is kind of a mom thing.  I think, at this point, she would rather die gracefully alone and protect me from the grief of watching her die.   

Still, there was some huge something that was preventing me from anticipating the trip with pleasure.  In short, I think it was some deeply buried belief on my part that my presence is some sort of talisman against my mother’s physical and emotional pain.  Something in me thinks that, as long as I am there, I am some sort of shield against her hurting physically or emotionally. It feels like, if I can control the amount of time I spend with her, I must be able to control how much she hurts.  That is clearly not true, given what she has been going through the past several months- even with my regular presence.  The truth is hard to take.  No matter what I do and no matter how much time I spend with her, I cannot change what I want to change- the reality that her condition is life limiting in every sense. 

After much mental percolation and urging by everyone in my life, I decided to take the vacation.  My mother gave me a wonderful and unexpected gift in the last week or so before we left.  She was able to tell me that she was glad I was getting to go.  Max and I ended up having a great time.  Max and I had fun and enjoyed just being with each other, surrounded by the activities of our old life.  I realized that the sneaky suspicion I had that the vacation was becoming necessary was more than a suspicion.  I came back lighter and more refreshed.  I was more able to perform my daughter-caretaker role.  You always hear that you have to take care of yourself so you can care for others better.  I understand that, but, like most caretakers, I tend to really believe that, with enough effort and will, I should be able to provide the best care even without taking time out. 

My mother did great.  She also seemed better than she was before I left. We have enjoyed clearer conversations and more laughter.  I sent pictures from my phone to the hospice nurse while I was gone, so my mom already had some idea of what I had been doing in California and was well-prepared to hear about my adventures.  In fact, it was kind of nice to have something new to discuss.  Going to the nursing facility nearly every day, there isn’t much that comes up between visits to be fodder for new conversations. 

I’m very glad I loosened my grip on my mother’s care enough to take my week away. I had to loosen my grip on her care to grasp my own.

What have you done to take care of yourself when you were in a caretaking role?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Take care!

Terri 🙂

 

It’s Twizzling

It has rained 47 of the last 52 days.  People have been sounding the alarm about possible drought for the past year.  I think we are past the danger.  All I know is that, if anyone starts yammering about “drought” right now, they will be drowned by the rain falling into their open mouths.

Before I run down to the shipyard to get the ark out of dry dock, let me put this soggy statistic in perspective.  Yes, the rain seems relentless, but it isn’t quite so dramatic as it might sound.  “Rain” can be anything from twenty minutes of the sky sweating around twilight to overpowering thunderstorms of Armageddon proportions.  It can be hours of pounding, blinding swirling walls of water that make you feel like you have been caught in a clothes washer. On the other hand, it can be a light, refreshing shower that is a blessed relief from the oppressive, humid heat that has boiled the day away.

It is hard to plan anything around the weather in the summer in Florida.  Clearly, people cannot stop their daily activities because the forecast calls for the ubiquitous “rain.”  Since the prediction calls for at least a 60% chance of rain almost every day and history shows that it actually does rain on far more than 60% of days, we would all have to zip-lock ourselves into our self-contained, air-conditioned houses if we are determined to avoid “rain.”  We have to be a little more creative if we want to strike a balance between hermetically sealed and waterlogged.

For one thing, savvy Floridians don’t just check the day-to-day forecast when making plans.  Our weather reporters give updates on the exact time they expect rain to hit specific city neighborhoods.  They are amazingly accurate.  We are also pretty sophisticated weather.com users.  It is commonplace to see people at Disney World huddled under canopies during rainstorms, feverishly working their phones to track the precipitation minute-by-minute to determine when they should make a dash for the Space Mountain line.

The real problem is beyond the timing issue.  It is that the word “rain” is just so ambiguous. They say the peoples of the frozen north have dozens or even hundreds of words for snow.  People who live in central Florida should have at least that many words  for rain. It would make it so much easier to plan my activities if I knew just how intrusive the day’s particular rain is expected to be. I’d like to propose a few new vocabulary words to help clarify the peskiness level of rain.

Twizzling– This is the soft, warm rain that falls like the sun nearly every night around twilight.  If you are inside, you might not even realize it is raining.  If you are outside, it takes a minute to realize that the moisture you feel is actually droplets of precipitation, as opposed to the sweat that has been gathering on your skin all freakin’ day.  Twizzling is good.  No significant peskiness quotient at all, unless you just washed your car.  And if you did just wash your car, what were you thinking?

Soggifying– This rain is prolonged and intermittent.  It isn’t hard enough to impair visibility.  It doesn’t involve ferocious wind or chilly drenching. Still, if you go out in the soggify, you are going to be uncomfortable unless you can hide under an umbrella. You usually can’t wait it out because it may go on for hours.  It is sneaky, too. It may seem like it is over, but will start up again twenty minutes after clearing.  Super high peskiness factor.   There is just no getting around it.  Soggifying will pretty much put a crimp in any plans that don’t involve just staying home.

Tantraining­– The skies darken menacingly and thunder booms alarmingly.  It seems to come from nothing and looks a lot scarier than it is.  There may be a few flashes of lightning, culminating in a short, feverish burst of angry rain.  The whole thing reminds me of a toddler throwing a hissy fit…loud, explosive, and over as suddenly as it began.  Tantraining is pesky while it is happening, but is usually over within 30 minutes.

Stealthsoaking- This is the “Camelot” version of rain… it never falls till after sundown and by eight am the morning dew must disappear.  Many nights, the skies open gently and a slow, steady rain waters the earth while most of us are sleeping. It is the sort of rain that would cause Lerner and Loewe to suggest that there is simply not a more congenial spot for happilyeveraftering than central Florida. Stealthsoaking is a pretty darn convenient kind of rain with a low peskiness quotient… unless you work the swing shift or engage in midnight gardening activities.

Thunderwowers– These are the terrible, wrathful thunderstorms that make the earth slosh.  They feel as though they are never going to stop.  The sound of the thunder makes you think that you have happened into a time warp and World War I is still under way except that they didn’t fight World War I underwater.  The rain is so thick and choppy, driving becomes more of an adventure than it should be.  You can’t see what is in front of you, but can’t pull off to the side of the road to wait for a break in the storm because you can’t see what is on the side of you either.

I think that adding these words to our weather language would help meteorologists be a lot more specific in reporting the rain forecast.  I’d like to champion their inclusion, but I’m not sure where to go to propose them.  Apparently, everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it!

What is the wackiest weather you have ever experienced?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Stay dry!

Terri 🙂

 

 

A Piece Of Your Mind

I love it when readers comment.  It is absolutely exhilarating to have empirical evidence that someone out there is actually reading.  Also, I learn a lot from the various points of view expressed in the comments and emails I receive.  It is one of the best feelings ever.

I remember the first comment I saw.  It was from someone I knew in my work life who I valued a great deal, but didn’t really expect to hear from after I stopped working.  In retrospect, I should have known she would respond when I sent my initial email to the chosen few I invited to read my blog.  I chose the “chosen few” based on how much I trusted their courtesy and graciousness.  I couldn’t bear to start my blogging career to the sounds of silence.

Then there was the first real comment I had from someone I did not already know.  That was pretty amazing.  The idea that folks who I could not manipulate with guilt honed from years of prior relationship would read my blog and be moved to engage with me pretty much rocked my world.

Since then, I have enjoyed the camaraderie developed through the blogging repartee.  It expands my mind and heart to get the perspectives of others.  We often agree and build a richer recipe of thought when we collaborate on ideas.  When we don’t agree, I always appreciate hearing the music of someone else’s mind…. especially when that someone has obviously thought and felt enough about the subject to actually respond to a blog post.  I have been so touched and strengthened by the wave of caring and support that readers have pushed my way since my mother’s stroke.  One of the many unexpected blessings I’ve found in writing the blog has been this infusion of fortitude that comes from you all.

Of course, not all comments are created equal. When I first started, I received these enticingly flattering comments that seemed just a bit, well, off.  They seemed to come from all over the world. The diction and syntax were bizarre, to say the least. Still, it seemed kind of snobbish to dismiss the comments just because the English was poor.   I had read about spam commenters, but I wasn’t sure these were spammers.  There was nothing in the comments themselves mentioning products or services.  When I clicked on the URLs they provided, I still wasn’t clear about any nefarious motive for the commenting.  I tried emailing some of these commenters and it turned out that the email addresses were invalid.  I did some internet surfing to try to figure out what it all meant.  It turned out that they were, indeed, spam comments.  The key factors were the bad email addresses and the fact that the comments were exceptionally generic.  The likely culprits were sketchy Search Engine Optimization (SEO) companies that have ways of mass commenting to get their clients’ website links out into the blogosphere, thus increasing clicks to the client websites.  Even after learning that these blog responses were bogus, it was still traumatic to actually delete such glowingly complimentary words.  It felt so ungracious and I kept wondering if they were really spam.  To soothe my wounded politeness gene, I installed a plug-in program to identify the spam for me.

I went along, quite merrily, for some time with these generic, benign kinds of spam comments promoting SEO clients.  They were kind of a learning tool for me.  In trying to figure out what was going on, I learned a lot about how the SEO process works.  I couldn’t explain it in technical terms, but I think I did gain a general understanding of the concept.  Occasionally, something a little uglier came in, but I didn’t obsess over it because the spam program identified it as impersonal and meaningless.

Then the porn spam started. It took about a year for it to kick in and I’m not sure why.  I think it must have had something to do with my innocent use of the word “sod” in my piece called A Sod, Sod, Story.  Apparently, the word triggers connotations beyond “lawn” in some circles.  Almost all the porn comments I received were on that piece and appeared long, long, long after I posted it.  Luckily, the spam program ensnared them before publication and sent them to me to review.  After a few weeks of being treated to snippets of salaciousness in my blog’s spam box, I solved the problem by closing comments on postings after a specific period of time.  That made the problem a self-limiting condition.  I don’t think I’ll be including the word “sod” in any future blog titles.

A few overly enthusiastic SEO agents and purveyors of pornography aside, comments are wonderful.  Every week, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.  It is interesting to see which topics inspire the most reader response and activity.  Please continue to share your perspectives.  Please keep giving me your two cents worth.  To me, your two cents are worth a million dollars!

I hope it doesn’t seem greedy to ask for comments about… well… comments.  What motivates you to comment on a blog post?  Are there any reader comments that have struck a particular chord for you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a chatty day!

Terri 🙂

I’m Afraid Of The Dark

You may have noticed that I rarely publish serious, high-minded posts more than a couple of weeks in a row. I tend to be a bit mercurial in deciding on blog topics. I go from light-hearted to serious to practical fairly regularly.

It isn’t that I have the attention span of the common house fly. I mean, I do have the attention span of the common house fly, but it isn’t just that.

I’ve always been afraid of the dark. I slept with a nightlight well into adulthood.  I literally see things in the blackness of the night.  As a child, no one could convince me that there was nothing scary in my closet (except for a mess) or under my bed.  You would think I would have outgrown those fears by now.  I probably have.  I honestly don’t believe there are monsters in the closet or that there are ghoulies and ghosties and three-legged beasties under my bed.  I think it is just that my imagination is so powerful that what my mind perceives overlays what my eyes see. Sometimes, the correlation with reality is pretty clear.  Through the dark, I saw snakes on the floor of my bedroom the night after the snake invasion in the garage.  Other times, the connection between my thoughts and what I see in the dark is more obscure.  In the dark, my thoughts can be complex and unconstrained by reason.  Such brain processes create ideal conditions for my mind to manufacture some pretty abstract monsters.

Exploring the dark places of my mind is way scarier than anything that could ever actually be lurking under my bed. People talk about “grey matter,” but my brain sometimes seems to be rather more black then grey. I often seem to stumble over the least pleasant parts of my personality when I go routing around in that blackness.

The dark is always there. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, though…monsters in the closet notwithstanding. There are actually some benefits to spelunking around in the darkness of my brain. If I never explore the more hidden parts of myself, I am unlikely to grow and improve. In excavating through the darkness, I sometimes run across hidden ideas that help me start to solve difficult problems that deeply trouble me.  I am sometimes able to find interesting mental artifacts that help me cope and improve my life.  These nuggets of solutions can get obscured when competing with all the stimulation of the light of day.  Sometimes, I need to explore the dark to find what I need to make things better in the light.

I suppose the real key to living a thoughtful life is to live in a balance between both dark and light.  We need to be brave in the dark and revel in the light.   There is some weird physiology that lets us see better in the dark once our eyes have been exposed to some light. I think it is the same with the heart and mind.  A little laughter and light helps your heart and your mind cope with the darker places. It also helps us see the valuable lessons we can find in the dark.

So there we have it.  Confronting the dark can be a good thing.  On the other hand, if I hang out in the dark too long, I am apt to trip over something scary.  That’s why I hustle back to light-heartedness with my blog posts after a few weeks of serious introspection. But maybe I shouldn’t be all that afraid of the dark. Anything lurking there in the dark is also there in the light. As counterintuitive as it sounds, I guess some things are just easier to see in the dark than in the light.

What do you think?  Do you tend to find “buried treasure” when you explore the darker corners of your mind?  Or do you just tend to trip over things that go bump in the night?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Hope you don’t have a scary day!

Terri 🙂

 

How Are You, Really?

If people realized how dangerous that question is, I think they would stop asking it.

Ever since my mother’s stroke, I have struggled with how to respond when people inquire after her health and my emotional state. These dear, kind, lovely people are genuine in their desire to express concern and offer support. I don’t know what I would do if no one asked.  The support of others may be the only thing that is getting me through this challenging time.  On the other hand, I don’t seem to know how much to say.  I’m okay at responding quickly and generally when someone politely asks how she is doing. It is when they follow-up with a subsequent, probing question about how I am “really” handling it that I have the problem.

On one hand, I want to tell them. Oh, how I want to tell them! There is a huge reservoir of unexpressed thoughts and feelings living in my mind that constantly threatens to breech the levy of my composure. On the other hand, I don’t want to a be an emotional drain or a tedious attention-guzzler. I don’t want to be someone who can bring nothing to the relationship table except her brokenness. I have been that person and I hate myself when I am so pitiful. I also don’t want to be crying in public all the time, as I am wont to do when I start allowing all those thoughts and feelings to creep over the dam. Crying is not my best look and I seem physically unable to control it.

I am always resolving not to take the bait the next time someone asks me how I am, really. I’m afraid I usually fail. When someone asks probing questions, I tend to reward their kind concern by vomiting out a string of words, words, and more words, punctuated by awkward pauses and wrapped in weird syntax. The friend who has asked the question tends to look engaged and concerned at first. As the words keep coming, the friend’s eyes tend to go somewhat blank. Finally, when it is clear that I am either going to have to stop talking to take a breath or lose consciousness, I notice the friend’s eyes darting around in a panic, searching for an escape route.

I am pretty sure that the long outpouring of words is rarely lucid. I know it does not accurately describe what is going on in my heart and mind. That may be why I keep talking and the words keep coming out. I guess I figure that, if I say enough words, I’ll utter some that will actually reflect what I’m feeling.

It isn’t like writing. When I write about how I am doing, I can write all the words I want without burdening anyone. I can reread all those words I have written and focus on the few that actually ring true. I can highlight those genuine nuggets and expound on them, while excising all the words that seem unauthentic or unhelpful. On the other hand, when I’m in a live conversation, all those words just lie there between me and the other person. They litter up the personal space and often create a barrier between us. Once I’ve said them, I can’t edit them or “unsay” them. I think that is one of the reasons I have a hard time sleeping at night. I tend to replay past conversations, editing them in my head. I will surely be prepared for the next time that exact same situation occurs and requires a better version of the exact same conversation. I also anticipate future conversations, writing the script for what I should say when the time comes. Of course, since no one else gets a copy of the script, it may be a little bit difficult for me to say my lines without the other players giving me the right cues.

The other day at the nursing facility, one of the hospice nurses asked me how I was doing. I responded by saying I was okay, as well as could be expected. She asked again and I responded similarly. I was hoping she’d stop that particular line of questioning, but she just kept standing there, staring me in the eye, saying nothing. I’ve always known that a person who is comfortable living in the awkward silences of a conversation is a person is who is likely to get the information she seeks. It is a technique I employed often in my working life. My familiarity with the strategy didn’t help me in this situation, though. The hospice nurse didn’t have to live in an awkward silence very long at all before words started stumbling out of my mouth. I don’t even know why or what I was saying. I just had to talk.

The hospice chaplain saw what was going on, because there is basically no place that is private in a nursing home. He hustled over to hug me and add his voice to the “how are you doing, really?” chorus. Trying to stop the flow of tears that inevitably accompanies the flow of verbiage, I started babbling about completely unrelated subjects. The nurse and chaplain seemed to find the whole exchange pretty alarming.  They kept suggesting I needed to get away from it all much sooner than a trip I was toying with taking in September. They also thought I should do relaxation exercises, ask for help, and remember to put on my own oxygen mask before assisting others. This required even more words to convince them that I am doing things to take care of myself and actually feel like I’m approaching the situation in as healthy a way as I can muster. It is just a sad, exhausting situation, even if you do all the right things. And I come from a long line of easy criers.

Despite all the words, I don’t think I convinced them.

Do you have difficulty responding when people show concern for you during difficult times? How do you reply?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a FINE day!

Terri 🙂

How Does My Garden Grow?

It doesn’t.  Unless you count the weeds that explode with primeval lushness in my yard during Florida’s “growing season.”

We try to keep up with the encroaching overgrowth by weeding at least once a week.  I hate weeding. It is exhausting.   It is physically painful.  It is also frustrating because it is so darn relentless.  I swear that as soon as I pull one weed out of the ground, another one springs up in its place.  The weeds and I are in a race to see if I can pull faster than they can grow.  The weeds are winning.  Every now and then, as I contemplate the futility of my task, I consider forgetting the whole thing and telling people I am going for the “wild, naturalistic” look for my garden.  Two things keep me from doing that.  First, I don’t think the homeowners’ association would buy my story.  Second, I am concerned that, if too much overgrowth takes hold, my yard will become a haven for creepy crawly creatures that can hide amongst the weeds- creepy crawly creatures like bugs, lizards, and snakes.  Heck, I’m pretty sure that if I stopped weeding for a week, dinosaurs would once more walk the earth in my backyard. This time of year, maintaining the weed status quo is a victory.

So I keep weeding.  Resentfully, but I keep weeding.  When I start a weeding session, I am irritable.  When I finish a weeding session, I am just relieved to not have found a brontosaurus in the tangles of the shrubberies.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually love gardens.  I love flowers.  I love fresh vegetables and herbs.  I love butterflies bouncing off blooms.   I’ve visited many beautiful arboretums and botanical gardens.  One of my favorite places in Washington D.C. is the national botanical garden.  I have spent many a happy hour at the flower and garden festival at Disney World’s EPCOT park.  I never go to Las Vegas without visiting the gorgeous garden in the conservatory at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino.  Yes, I love gardens.   Unfortunately, I also hate dirt and sweat.  The two positions appear to be mutually exclusive.  It is all just so much work… hot, dirty work.  I think I could almost handle the work itself, if it didn’t involve salty sweat droplets dripping into my eyes and mud embedded under my fingernails.

I think I’ve found a way to resolve “love gardens/hate gardening” dilemma.  I kind of cheat.

There is a garden club in our community.  I never did anything as madcap as joining it.  However, a friend of mine belongs to the garden club and invites me to activities that involve no real work.  I’ve visited arboretums and joined the club members on garden tours. I’m not a gardener, but I’m riding the coattails of the gardeners.

I know a number of club members now.  It strikes me that they are all perfectly normal, clean people who are somehow able to create gardens without perpetually looking like ragamuffins.  I don’t know how they do it.  I wash my hands reasonably often.  I bathe regularly.  Still, I usually find I am picking garden debris off my extremities hours and hours after actually gardening.

It has been really wonderful to immerse myself in the delights of gardens without exerting any effort beyond polite conversation.  Also, I’ve enjoyed the club members’ discussions and learned a thing or two.  You don’t have to be an artist to be interested in art history.  You don’t have to be a gardener to be interested in botany and design. I usually enjoy listening to anyone who is talking about anything for which he or she has a passion.  Listening to my talented gardening friends is no exception.

Once in a while, that passion is almost contagious.  I flirt with the idea of actually planting something.  Then, reason prevails.  I forget about subjecting some poor plant to my ineptitude and neglect.  It is easier to head to Disney World for the Epcot Flower and Garden festival to get my flower fix.  Heck, it is easier to fly 2500 miles to Las Vegas and visit the conservatory gardens at the Bellagio.

Do you garden?  What is your experience like?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a great growth day!

Terri 🙂

 

The Terri Bear

Many years ago, I started a tradition of giving my mother a present on my birthday.  I figured she was the one who did all the work.  I just showed up.  One of the first of these gifts was a teddy bear dressed in a pink sweater.  My name and date of birth were embroidered on the sweater.  It was the perfect “It’s A Girl” present for a new mother.  The “girl” in question was in her late thirties at the time.

My mom kept that bear safe for many a year.  She moved the bear from travel trailer home to mobile home.  The bear also made the trip from California to Florida. I think my mom got a kick out of my furry little avatar.  She would sometimes play whimsical little tricks on me, featuring the Terri Bear.  I’d sometimes find her in unexpected places, accompanied by notes from my mom telling me to have a good day or to remember to eat.  Once, when I walked into my mom’s house, she had the bear wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket, snuggled in the corner of an overstuffed chair.  When I laughed and pointed at the bear, my mother exclaimed, “well, it was freezing last night- I didn’t want her to get cold!”  Heaven forbid.

When my mom moved to the rehab facility after her initial hospitalization, I brought some things from home.  I brought her a blanket and some clothes and her wheelchair cushion. I also brought her the Terri Bear.  I told her that, when I wasn’t with her, the bear could keep an eye on her and report back.  We both enjoyed that idea.  The bear was also a good conversation starter for anyone who came into her room.

As my mother transferred around to different medical facilities, we did manage to retain the blanket.  Everything else ended up staying at the rehab place.  There seemed to be many more important things to worry about than retrieving a bunch of stuff from a place where she would no longer reside.  Basically, we were just talking about a bunch of old blouses and slacks.  She had plenty of them and I could get her more, if need be.  Somehow, the little Terri Bear got lost in the shuffle.  It took a couple of months for me to realize it.

Once Terri Bear meandered back onto my mental radar screen, I felt sad that she was gone.  I knew that I could probably make phone calls to the rehab facility or go over there and see if someone could look for her.  The idea of actually talking to anyone there just seemed overwhelming to me.  Actually, it seemed pretty impossible to me.  I kept trying to convince myself that it wasn’t important enough to force myself to deal with the issue. Every time I thought about the bear, which was often, I felt sad, though.  On the other hand, I just couldn’t seem to muster the energy to contact the rehab facility.

Why did it seem so hard for me to resolve the issue?  I told myself that I have been spending so much time and energy doing things that are actually required to take care of my mother, the idea of taking on a task that was not absolutely necessary was just masochistic.  I told myself that it would likely be an insurmountable chore to convince the rehab staff to search for the bear, especially given the length of time that had passed.  I could foresee having to have multiple conversations, meeting with resistance, and finally being told that the rehab facility could not be responsible for items left unclaimed for so long.  None of these stories that I told myself felt completely truthful, however.

Despite my arguments with myself, I could not bear to let the bear go.  My brother had asked several times during my mother’s illness if there was anything he could do to help from California.  My brother has a big heart and wants to do whatever he can, but he is not always able to follow through.  He has struggled with that propensity frequently during this difficult journey.  The other day when he asked again if there was anything he could do, I thought about the bear and decided to take him up on his offer.  I explained that I really wanted the bear, but just couldn’t seem to make myself call the rehab facility or go into the building.  I asked him if he could contact them and have them mail Terri Bear to me.

Bless him… he did contact the facility.  Somehow, he ended up talking to the owner and she found Terri Bear right away.  She wouldn’t agree to mail her to me, but did offer to keep her safe until I could pick her up.  That would still entail me having to actually go into their building, but my brother worked with her so that I could simply go to the reception desk and pick up the bear without having to get into conversations and explanations.

Today, I felt a surge of emotional strength when I awoke and decided to try to retrieve my bear.  After visiting my mother in the nursing home, I drove to the rehab facility.  I sat in the car for a while, marshalling the necessary fortitude to get me inside the door.  Finally, I took a deep breath and marched into the entrance.  I saw the Terri Bear sitting behind the receptionist and said, “Oh, good…. You have my bear.”  After looking at my identification (because of course there would be tons of other people who would want a twenty-something year old teddy bear wearing a sweater emblazoned with “Terri 09-30-59), she gave me the bear and I bolted to the door.

It turned out to be not quite so easy.  I must have arrived at the end of a shift.  As I walked back out into the parking lot, several different nursing aides who cared for my mother approached me to ask how she was doing and where she was.  It was incredibly nice that they remembered my mother and recognized me, but these were still difficult conversations.

When I finally got back into my car, safe from further questions and explanations, I broke into sobs for the first time in a while.  I think I finally understood what it was that I dreaded so much about facing the rehab facility again.  The rehab facility was the first place where the spotlight shone on the reality of my mother’s condition.  It was where both she and I most acutely and painfully mourned the loss of the kind of life she cherished.  The rehab facility was also the last place we had hope that she would be able to recover enough physical and mental ability to live a new kind of life she could learn to love.  In retrospect, I think the rehab facility was probably the place my mother decided not to try to prolong her life although it took me longer to come to understand that she had made that decision.

I think I’ve stabilized my grief about my mother’s illness.  I am more able to handle myself and live life without being debilitated by sadness.  My encounter at the rehab today showed me, though, that I still have a reservoir of pain dammed up in an area of my gut. It was suddenly so tangible. I could actually feel that pocket of pain on the right side of my abdomen, just about at my waist.  It is kind of like an inflamed appendix that bursts, releasing lethal toxins into the body cavity.  That reservoir of pain overflowed because of my encounter at the rehab facility, causing a kind of emotional peritonitis.

I really do appreciate that folks at the rehab facility still remember and think fondly of my mother, even months after she left there.  It touched me when they asked about her.  It reassured me that the people there did truly care for her while she lived there.  On the other hand, the rehab facility does not hold happy associations for me and never will.

Still, I am happy to be reunited with Terri Bear and I am grateful to my brother for easing the way.

It’s your turn now.  Do you have anything so wrapped up in emotions and memories that it has become more than just a piece of stuff?  Have you ever lost that item?  Please tell us about it!  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  in the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂

My Hair Is Winning

The other day, I went to the hair stylist and begged her to transform my do.  I had been growing my hair for several months, in preparation of making a change.  I was managing that awkward “growing out” phase fairly well until about a week ago.  Then, I suddenly hit my personal wall in the hair-growing department.   

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t hate my hair.  In fact, it is one of the few aspects of my appearance that I can say I’ve always rather liked.  I have dark (well, with the help of a little gray-concealing enhancement), rich, wavy hair. It looks healthy and lush.  My curls tend to spring and bounce, which makes me look happier than I may actually be.  That, in turn, makes me become happier than I could be. 

So, if I am so enamored with my hair, why this passionate desire to change it? Call it a need for a pick-me-up. I don’t think it was so much about my hair as it was just that I wanted some sort of change.  Hair seemed like a relatively simple thing to change. 

Or so I thought.   

To be fair, I had mixed ideas on what I wanted.  As I thought about what I wanted my new hair style to look like and wandered around the internet looking for inspiration, the precision cut angled bobs called to me. The art deco sleekness attracted me.  On the other hand, I kept talking myself out of them because I was pretty sure my thick, curly hair would reject an angled bob as surely as a transplant patient rejects a mismatched organ. I went back to gathering pictures of shaggy, springy cuts similar to what I already had.   

When I went to the salon, I shared the story of my hair angst with the stylist. She listened to my thoughts on a new coiffure.  She looked at the pictures I brought with me.  Somehow, she heard what I really wanted through all the self-doubt.  She bobbed my hair beautifully.  We were both kind of astonished by the result. The stylist started snapping pictures. I stared into the mirror, gaping at my reflection.  My hair looked and felt great.   It swung around cleanly and softly, but never moved out of place.  No gel, no mousse, no hairspray.  It was magic.   

I turned to my hair magician and said, “I kind of love it, but I’m really depressed because I know I will never be able to get it to look like this again.” She immediately began to reassure me how easily I should be able to recreate the look at home. I knew that the key word in her exhortations was “should.”  When she realized I was still smiling sadly at the woman in the mirror, she started suggesting that I could come to the salon to get a blow out if I couldn’t get it the way I wanted it by myself.  I think we both knew that was never going to happen.  I don’t have the time, money, or inclination to be one of those women who go to the beauty parlor twice a week for styling. She suggested that, if I found the straightening too difficult, I could opt for a curly bob. I’m pretty sure a curly bob would make me look like a brunette Bozo the Clown. 

The day after my transformation, I said good-bye to the girl with the wonderful sleek new hair-do as I stepped into the shower.  I was pretty sure I would not be seeing her again.  Still, I wasn’t relinquishing her without a fight. 

I did my best with my hair when I got out of the shower.  The haircut was still nice and I managed to style it in a way that bore some resemblance to what it looked like when I stepped out of the salon…. But only the slightest resemblance.  The curls still flipped up a bit and the part didn’t seem to want to part the way it parted so naturally at the salon.  Everything didn’t look like it simply fell into place any more.  It looked more like it was pushed.  It was sort of like a new artificial Christmas tree.  When you first open the box, the pieces of the tree fit so neatly together and the whole bundle seems so perfectly packed.  After Christmas, you may be able to get the tree back in the box, but it is always a struggle and the pieces never lay quite right. There are always branches that seem to spring out all akimbo.  So did locks of my hair.    

When I decided I wanted to change my hair style, I never really intended it to be a battle. Still, I am fighting my hair and my hair is winning.  I guess I knew deep down that this would be the likely result if I succumbed to the allure of those bob pictures on the internet.  Sometimes, self-doubt is justified. 

I’m not giving up quite yet, though.  I haven’t thrown in the towel on hair diplomacy.  I keep thinking that, with a little quiet negotiation, I might be able to end the armed conflict.  With some practice, maybe I can figure out the technique that allowed my hair magician to tame my locks into straight submission.  Maybe my hair and I can reach a détente. On the other hand, my hair may demand complete independence.  If that happens, I am sure I will capitulate to the curls.  Playing against type is pretty tough.  I just haven’t the will to win a war with my hair.   

It is a good thing that I like my curls.

What do you do when you just want a change?  How has it worked for you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful, springy day!

Terri 🙂

PS- Several days later…. It turns out my hair stylist is indeed a hair magician! The haircut has survived my ineptitude! I may not be achieving the same professional level of smoothness, but my hair still looks and feels good in “straight enough” mode. Even when I go curly on a given day (after all, it is June and I live in Florida, the hotbed of humidity), I don’t look at all like Bozo the Clown! Maybe there is hope for me yet.

 

Does God Have A URL?

The other day I googled God, but couldn’t find an email address. I wanted to keep in touch, so I thought I’d write Him a letter and post it on the blog… just in case God happens to be trawling the internet.

Dear God,

I thought I’d write a quick note today to tell You I was thinking about You.  How are You?  No, wait, don’t answer that.  You are Great.  Of course You are Great.  You are God, after all.  At any rate, I hope You are in Your Heaven and all’s right with the world… at least from your perspective.  I suppose Yours is the only perspective that is completely accurate.  Please forgive me if, down here in the weeds, I sometimes question the “all’s right with the world” part. 

A frog fell on my head today.  Yes, really.  I pushed open the screen door on the garage and apparently dislodged the little guy.  He must have been perching on top of the screen. I had no idea that frogs even had perches.  Maybe this frog suffered from species confusion.  Maybe he was a bird in a prior life.  If he was, he forgot he no longer had wings and couldn’t fly.  Instead of soaring into the air when I jostled his nestling place, he came crashing down on what would have been the hard cement driveway if my head had not gotten in the way. My head is also pretty hard, for that matter.   

I mean no disrespect, God, but was that absolutely necessary?  Haven’t things been challenging enough lately without lime green amphibians hopping around in my hair?  Did You think You really need to up the degree of difficulty? Or were You just bored and in need of a laugh? 

If it is the latter, I hope I provided you with a real gut-buster.  I am sure I looked insanely amusing while chasing the little guy around with a broom.  Once he bounced off of my head and onto the ground, I regained my senses enough to know that I wanted to make sure he didn’t hop into the house.  He was cute, but not THAT cute.  I stared down at him, trying to figure out how to get him away from the garage door without turning my back on him.  I’m not really sure why turning my back on him seemed like such a bad idea.  I’m not a border collie. It wasn’t like my staring at him was going to make him stay put.  In point of fact, I have no frog-herding skills.  Maybe the already defective visual reasoning part of my brain was still stunned into silence.   

At any rate, I ran backwards into the garage to grab a broom, never taking my eyes off the little bugger.  He was wedged into the track of the sliding screen garage door, but I was pretty sure he was just waiting for his chance to make a break for it.  Amazingly, he was still hanging out there when I returned with the broom. He soon became MUCH more active when I tried to sweep him onto the lawn and away from the garage. 

Unfortunately, he wasn’t a very bright frog and didn’t seem to understand that it was in his own best interest to hop in the direction I was sweeping.  Instead, he kept jumping up and spinning around in mid-air trying to propel himself closer to the garage.  I’m not sure what he found so compelling about my garage.  I can’t imagine entering this vehicular inner sanctum was actually the hill he wanted to die on, so to speak.  Unfortunately, though, I think he did die for his cause.  I must have looked pretty ridiculous dancing around the driveway, broom in hand, maniacally sweeping a moving object.  No matter what I did or how hard I tried to redirect it, that critter kept resuscitating and moving towards the door.  At a few points, he actually breached the perimeter, but I persevered.  I didn’t intentionally kill the frog, but I’m pretty sure he perished in the fight.  Maybe not, though.  He was a very resilient creature.   

So, what have I been doing when not killing frogs?  Not much. Certainly nothing as jaw-dropping as my close encounter of the amphibian kind. I am spending a lot of time with my mother exploring different techniques to keep her alert and engaged. I am only marginally successful with any of these strategies. I’ve decided to grade myself on a curve and declare victory based on the smallest achievements.  I gave myself an “A” the other day when she laughed and nodded while watching me discuss the day’s activities on a home video of my trip to Williamsburg a few years ago.  I am atoning for any unnecessary administrative burden I placed on clients during my career by trudging my way through Medicaid paperwork purgatory. Just a reminder, dear Lord… purgatory is supposed to be temporary, isn’t it?  In my spare time, I’ve been sightseeing, literally and figuratively, around various Christian churches.  I walk at least six and a half miles to nowhere every day. I go to water aerobics classes and am proud to report that I have become much more proficient at not drowning.   

So, God, I hope You are doing well. Thanks for giving me all the people who love me. I’m sure You are busy, so it is great that You’ve sent some emissaries to bring a little of Your grace into my life. If You get a moment between crises in running the Universe, could you please spare a second to bless them all with peace and joy?  I’d really appreciate it!   

Love, Terri 

P.S. One more thing, Lord, if it isn’t too pushy to be asking…. Do you think you could keep the frogs out of my hair in the future?  As long as I’m at it, the same goes for any other animals.  Thanks! 

I think God will get my letter even without an email account. I think God is everywhere- even the worldwide web!

Now it is your turn.  Have you ever experienced anything so ridiculous that you thought it had to be God’s joke?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a hoppy day!

Terri 🙂

 

The Long Haul

It has now been over nine months since my mother’s stroke. We’ve experienced several seasons of her prognosis. I’ve felt that each season has required a different response from me.

When my mother first had the stroke, I stepped into the war zone of my emotions, trying to be ever present and functional as medical staff triaged her towards “survival.” This season lasted only a day or two.

During the next season, my mother worked hard at rehabbing. The goal was for her to improve from “precarious existence” to “some truncated version of independent living.” During that time, I rabbitted around doing, doing, and doing. My focus was on doing all the administrative things to keep her life on hold and making sure nothing fell through the cracks so there was nothing to distract my mom from just getting better. I also invested my efforts in being her cheerleader and motivator.  I concentrated on trying to share the rehab process with her, as if my doing the exercises with her could somehow take part of the yoke from her shoulders. I also tried desperately to provide some sort of normalcy and memory of what “real life” was like. I remember regularly pushing her wheelchair around the rehab facility in the hot, humid Florida weather. My goal for that little adventure in exhaustion and dehydration was to remind her how much she enjoyed just being out of doors.  I wanted to show her that she could still enjoy some of her favorite things about living.

I think my mother knew before I did that things were not going to work out in the way I wanted. The season changed. It became darker and bleaker. The rehab wasn’t working.  My mother’s life got smaller instead of larger as she kept struggling with the physical and occupational therapy. As her life got smaller, so did the number of life experiences she could still enjoy. She became so, so weary. She declined physically and emotionally.  We seemed to have entered a season of good-bye. The hospice people believed she would pass quietly within a few days or weeks.

When someone you love is in their last days or weeks, everything in life changes. My life became all about her. During this short-term season, I spent much of my time just being with her at the hospice center. We didn’t talk much. We didn’t really do anything. I was just there. She ate almost nothing.  She slept a lot. I think she was just worn out from the months of battling to make progress in rehab and from the emotional effort it took her to accept her reality and decide to just let things be.  I did nothing to keep my life running that didn’t absolutely have to be done. I didn’t make much progress on the tasks needed to manage the financial side of my mother’s life either. Anything that wasn’t boiling over got pushed to the back burner, including my own feelings.

Once my mother had this opportunity to rest her weary body and soul, she stabilized and the season changed again. While it was clear she was never going to get better, it appeared that she would survive beyond the short term… whatever that might be. She was still journeying rather purposefully towards the end of life, but she was traveling at a languid pace. Sometimes, I think that pace has slowed for a reason.  This new season has given her time to look at the totality of her life in a clearer, less confused way than she could during the rehab or hospice seasons.  It has given us both the chance to reconnect in a more meaningful way.  Whatever the reason for the slower pace, it is her pace and it needs to be what it is.

Now, we seem to be managing her illness and journey towards her end of life for the “long haul,” if one can speak of the journey towards the end of life as the “long haul.”   The response must change. My role in this season has been to suggest and implement ways to make her memories and connections more satisfying and concrete.  I’ve bought laptop computers and portable DVD players to show her family pictures and videos. I’ve suggested particular movies and television shows for us to watch together that have meant something to us in the past. I call and face time my brother regularly from her nursing home room so that they can interact I’ve kept up with her friends in California, which results in those folks sending her emails and cards.

I have to acknowledge, though, that it is no longer possible for me to react in the same way I did while my mother was at the hospice house. All those practical and logistical tasks that I postponed during that sad, strange short haul have to be dealt with at some point. I must invest some time and energy in other relationships, if I want those relationships to survive the long haul of my mother’s decline. I have to feel the feelings that I pushed to the back burner when the only thing that mattered was my mother’s comfort. I need to take time for myself to replenish the reserves of strength that I’ve been depleting over the past nine months.  Over the long haul, my life has to be about more than watching my mother come to the end of hers.

I struggle with how to prioritize and balance over the long haul. I’m confident that my mother likes it when I live in a world outside her narrow one. She enjoys the pictures and stories I bring back to her after my “day off” each week. It is still pretty excruciating to leave her, for a lot of reasons. It is still exhausting to conduct my life with the extra layer of hurt over my shoulders that doesn’t ever really disappear. In some ways, of course, the short haul season was more difficult because it was so dark and intense and lonely. The long haul has been lighter and more purposeful. On the other hand, the long haul is just so relentless. I am so aware that I have no idea how much longer this way of life will continue. I have no idea how much longer I will be rearranging my days to visit the nursing home during my mother’s “sweet spot” of alertness. I have no idea how many more days I will have to do what needs to be done to manage her affairs. I have no idea when I will run out of strategies to keep her engaged.  I have no idea how long I can handle the grief. I have no idea what is ahead and how far ahead it is, except that the situation is likely only to get worse. As difficult as the “now”  is and as difficult as it is to journey this path with my mother, it hits me in the gut that the day is coming when I won’t be traveling with my mother anymore. That reality sneaks up on me from a dark, cold corner of my brain on a regular basis.  I am terrified of what it will feel like when it happens.

Sometimes I think I cannot face all the sorrow and fear one more day. Then I realize, I don’t have to face it for one more day. Right here, right now, I only have to do it today. I do much better when I keep my eyes and heart focused directly in the present. I can go to the nursing home today. I can think of ways, however small, to make my mother happier today. I can handle seeing her pain today. I can avoid experiencing the pain associated with my mother’s eventual death today.

What is the answer to handling the stress of everything related to my mother’s illness over the long haul? The short haul.

What do you think?  How does a person balance the needs of oneself  with the needs of others?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have safe travels today!

Terri 🙂

PS For those of you who read last week’s post, I wanted to provide an update.  Last Thursday, when I was walking into the nursing facility, I noticed that the warped places in the pavement are now covered by cement structures that look like speed bumps.  Apparently, my nice gardener guy did more than just help me up and clean up my mess.  I’m glad they fixed the problem!