In Praise Of Chocolate Ice Cream

My mother always said that chocolate ice cream can solve pretty much any problem.  Or, if it doesn’t solve the problem, consuming chocolate ice cream will at least make you feel better about failing.  I have an abundance of ample curves in places that should be less curvy and more flat because I have spent a lifetime harkening to this advice. 

My mother was not too proud to offer her children chocolate ice cream to do her bidding. In fact, I first learned the meaning of the word “bribe” in conjunction with chocolate ice cream.  One day, my mother asked if she could bribe me with a fudgsicle to take out the trash.  I asked her what “bribe” meant.  After she explained, I told her I didn’t really want a fudgsicle, but would take the trash out anyway.  I’m sure my refusal of the fudgsicle left her wondering if we did, in fact, share the same DNA or if she had just found me under a cabbage leaf. When we were sick and refusing to eat, she would coax back our appetites by pulling a half-gallon carton of chilly chocolate out of the freezer.  Jimmy Buffett might have had his margaritas, but, in our house, the frozen concoction that helped us hang on was chocolate ice cream.   

Calories and curves aside, it is hard to argue with her position.  Chocolate ice cream is just awesome.  It is creamy and sumptuous and decadent.  It goes down softly and smoothly and with a sultriness that is almost tangible.  I can go up and down the counter at an ice cream parlor touting thirty-one flavors of ice cream, savoring the idea of each of the flashy flavors. Inevitably, I end up ordering chocolate.  I would live on chocolate ice cream if I could. 

Maybe it is possible to live on chocolate ice cream.  When I was a child, we always had waffles with chocolate ice cream for our birthday breakfasts. Don’t they say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? 

At any rate, my mother’s chocolate ice cream cure ran into an ironic snag at the end of her life.  I guess she was testing the hypothesis that one can live on chocolate ice cream alone. During her last ten months, all she consumed was food based on chocolate ice cream.  She ate virtually nothing except Wendy’s chocolate frosties and McDonald’s chocolate milkshakes.  Sometimes, just to mix things up, I brought a thermal bag of ingredients and made her chocolate ice cream sodas.  I pulled out a small bottle of club soda, a jigger of half-and-half, a container of chocolate ice cream, a bottle of chocolate syrup and made the ice cream soda at her bedside.   I was the Benihana’s of the ice cream world. Her ice cream soda was dinner and a show.   

It is hard to imagine how it is possible to survive on chocolate ice cream alone, no matter how enamored with it you are. Day after day, I helped her drink her milkshake or ice cream soda.  It was really the only pleasure she could still enjoy. She continued to lose weight and to weaken.  She became more confused and restless.  She often punctuated short periods of wakefulness and connectedness with napping and detachment.   As I watched her fading away, little by little, I realized that it was not possible for her to survive on chocolate ice cream alone. 

I wonder if I will ever think of chocolate ice cream the same way again. 

What is your “guilty pleasure” in food?  What food would you live on if you could? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a sweet day!

Terri 🙂

A Beam Of Love

In the wee hours of the morning on September 2, my mother found her way out of this life.  After over a year of struggling on her path towards the next life, she fell asleep.  When she awoke, I am sure she found herself in God’s dwelling place instead of in the nursing home.

All my mother’s life, she lived joyously and richly. She squeezed every drop of enjoyment and meaning out of every day.  She was almost always happy.  It wasn’t that her life was always wonderful or exciting or fun.  It wasn’t even that she had a particularly exotic or interesting life.  Most people would say that her life was pretty conventional. She was a daughter and a sister and an aunt and a wife and a career woman and a mother and a friend.   What made her so special was not so much what her life was, but how she lived it.

My mother had a gift for satisfaction.  She collected fulfillment and meaning in her every action, even the most mundane experiences. When we were out driving somewhere and got off course, she’d often say, “I never get lost; I just have adventures.”  I think that pretty much summed up how she approached life, way beyond just how she approached a road trip. Wherever she was going in life and whatever she did, she was determined to find happiness and pleasure in the process.

She was the kind of person who attracted other people. She was an interesting and interested person.  She was curious about all kinds of things and embraced opportunities to learn.  She relished good, meaty conversations.  She was an excellent listener. She knew how to make people feel safe.  She heard what you said and what you didn’t say.  She heard what was underneath your words.  I don’t believe there was ever anyone who knew her who did not love her.  She constantly sowed love and harvested relationships as she rollicked through her day-to-day existence.  She valued those relationships and nurtured them.  Even in the nursing home in her very compromised state, she radiated a kindness and joy that attracted people.

On the other hand, she followed her own heart in living her own life.  She did what she believed was right and followed the paths that brought her happiness. She used to say that she liked herself and she liked her own company.  She had a busy mind that was always tooling away happily, creating thought and considering possibilities.  I used to say she was her own occupational therapist because she could figure out alternate ways to do almost everything when her mobility started to desert her.   She owned a home computer before most people did and, even in her eighties, she embraced new technology that added interest to her life.

She had courage of conviction.  She walked her life with God as her guide.  She held firm in her convictions and relied on her relationship with God to support her in her journey. She believed in prayer.  She believed in miracles.

She loved God.  She loved life. She loved other people.  She loved herself.  In short, she was a joyful beam of love, illuminating and warming everyone with whom she came in contact.

Now this beam of love has faded into the next life, leaving this life darker and colder and considerably less sparkling.  The thought of going on with my journey without her physically by my side seems unconscionable.  Considering all the memories we shared, all the things she taught me, and all the gifts she gave me, it is inaccurate to say I will ever be traveling through this life without her.  All that she was is embedded in me and will be with me forever. I want to honor all she was and all that made her beam by carrying on her legacy of loving, joyful living.

It seems that now I will have to grow towards the joy on my own, without her walking in tandem with me. I don’t know yet how I am going to do that.  It helps to know that she has found the greatest Joy of all.

Thanks to all of you for your support as I have walked this difficult path with my mother.  Thanks, in particular, to my friends Louisa and Odete, who encouraged me to write this tribute to my mom.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a joyful day!

Terri 🙂

Special programming announcement:  I’ll be off the grid next week, but will be back with new content on October 4.  

Tumults Of Terri

This is not so much a post for Terri LaBonte: Reinventing Myself In Retirement as just a message to let you all know that, despite the discombobulations of my life in the past ten days, I am alive and well and still living in central Florida.  I’ll be posting more details in posts over the next few weeks, but, for now, just now that we are safe and all manner of things will be well….. once we regain power.

My beautiful mother passed away early in the morning of September 2.  In my sadness, I began frantically grasping distraction- accepting any and all invitations, volunteering for projects and organizations, planning fun outings for the next year.

Before I got very far into my business mania, we heard that Hurricane Irma was on its way and would likely impact central Florida pretty significantly.  We spent days preparing and I spent lots of brain cells worrying.

Irma hit on Sunday and we hunkered down to wait out the blast.  And blast it was.  Blessedly, we are safe and the house seems to have weathered everything quite nicely. The wind was still bad Monday, but we were obviously past the worst.  Today, we did clean up.

We don’t have power or internet and won’t until the middle of whenever.  Still, we count ourselves lucky and gifted by God.  My cell phone battery has died and so has my laptop battery.  I am charging them both in the community clubhouse, as I type.

Just wanted to let you know that I’ll post again as soon as I can.  Thank you all for your prayers and support.

Terri 🙂

 

Do Babies Ever Come Installed With Refurbished Knees?

The reason I ask is that I’m pretty sure my knees are older than the rest of me. I don’t know when it happened, exactly, but my knees seem to be protesting the passage of time much more vociferously than any of my other body parts.

I used to kneel in church with relative ease. I enjoyed sitting on the floor and could rise from that position without assistance. I was the designated “get down on my hands and knees” person to plug and unplug various computer connections to reboot them (since that is the only computer troubleshooting trick I know, it stands to reason that I would get lots of practice at it.) I am a fairly clumsy person and had infinite practice crawling around on the floor retrieving things I dropped.

Now, things are a little different. I kind of hope that elderly, immobile people will sit next to me in church services so I can use them as an excuse to remain sitting on the edge of my seat during traditional “kneeling” times in the service. I would never voluntarily sit on the floor unless I intended to die there because I know I could never get up again. If I have to reboot the computer, I either just push the button to turn off the power supply, get Max to pull out the plugs, or consider buying a new computer. As for the many things I drop, I shamefully admit to sometimes using one of those grabber thingies.

It isn’t that I am inactive or shy away from exercise. I do housework. I do yardwork when I really must. I participate in water aerobics classes. I walk over six miles a day. I’m actually a pretty healthy person, all in all. My vital signs and lab work suggest that I’m wearing well. There is just something about activities requiring excessive pressure on the knees that makes me suspicious that I might have come with used knees.

I think, before I was born, maybe God was trying to conserve resources and found a couple of used knees that someone returned knocking around in the body parts bin. He made a few tweaks to spiff them up a little and installed them in the new Terri1959 model baby girl. I’m sure those refurbished knees were “as good as new” at the time, but I think their patina is wearing a bit thin almost 58 years later.

Yes, the extra weight I’ve carried around in the last 58 years may have something to do with the wear and tear. Yes, the bare feet and footwear without adequate support may have contributed. Still, wouldn’t you think the rest of me would also be protesting if the problem was just ordinary depreciation? After all, my knees have had no life of their own separate from my hips, ankles, back, shoulders, etc.

Come to think of it, maybe my hips, ankles, back, shoulders, and my etc. are complaining too. I pulled weeds for forty minutes this morning and felt like I was run over by a truck. Let me clarify…. all of me felt like it was run over by a truck. So maybe my knees truly aren’t any older than the rest of me. Maybe all my body parts are feeling their age. And maybe the warranty just ran out!

What do you think?  Do you have a certain body part that seems to have aged way beyond the rest of you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a great day!

Terri 🙂

Autonomy

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog piece called Loosening My Grip.  In that post, I discussed my need to find a way to let go of my mother’s situation long enough to allow me to take a trip to California.  Lately, I’ve been thinking that the concept is much broader than just leaving my mom to take a vacation.

I need to figure out a way to let go of my mom’s journey.  Everything I read tells me that this time before death is very important to the person who is dying.  The person has internal work to do to feel complete in this life and to be open to whatever God has ready for her in the next, everlasting, life.  The journey belongs to the dying person and it must be whatever is must be for her.  As much as I would like to intervene and make the process “better,” I cannot.  Truthfully, it is better that I don’t try because my idea of “better” may not be what my mother needs or wants at all.  I’ve always been inclined, when given the option, to shoulder the hard job instead of asking someone else to do it.  I think part of me is trying to do that for my mother now.  I want to take on some of the difficulty, the pain, and the work for her.  However, I’m learning that, on some level, death is something that we each have to do on our own.  Besides, the fact that I suffer pain and grief does not alleviate any of her pain and grief.

I also wonder if my mother needs me to let go so that she can feel confident that it is safe for her to let go.  I think neither of us wants to be the one to turn away from the other first.  I’ve had the conversations with her that all the books recommend- the ones in which you assure the loved one that you will be okay when the loved one passes from this life.  I’ve tried to think of all the things she might worry about and I’ve talked to her about how they will be okay.  I’ve shared memories with her and continue to look for things in her current life that I can connect back to our history together.  I can’t think of anything else I can do to help her feel content that it is safe to let go.  Except to let go of her.

I don’t know if I can let go of her.  I don’t want to.  Traveling this path with her has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, but it would have been unimaginably harder to know she was walking this path without me.  I know that, someday soon, my mother will pass and I will have to let go.

The same books that tell me it is important for the dying person to understand that the family will be okay after the death also tell me that the most important things to a person who is dying is for the person to know that she is loved and that her life has had value.  That is really what I have been doing for my mother for the past year.  As long as my mother still understands the concepts of love and value, which she clearly still does, I feel like my attachment is that validation of love and value.  I don’t want her to go a single second of her life without feeling that she is loved and valued.

At the same time, I can see that my mother is just starting to slip slowly away from me as she continues on her path.  She still recognizes me and seems pleased to see me, but she doesn’t feel as attached in some vague, almost intangible way.  It is hard to explain or describe.  It is just something I feel.  I think the time is coming when we are going to reach a fork in the road on this journey.  She will go one way and I won’t be able to follow her anymore.  I will have to stay at the fork in the road.  I won’t be journeying with her anymore, but will only be watching her.  It will be the part she will have to do by herself.

In the meantime, I, too, have to start taking baby steps towards letting go.  The balance between allowing my mother the autonomy she needs to complete this journey and making sure she understands how much she is loved and valued every single minute is going to be difficult.  I think I have to stop trying to think so much about what the right thing to do is and what the right amount of time to spend is. I have to start trusting my gut to tell me what feels right.

What do you think?  It is hard to let a loved one go.  Have any of you had an experience that might help me release her?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Thanks for reading and traveling with me virtually!

Terri

I Heart The Planet

I’ve always felt a little guilty about not buying a hybrid car.  Every time I go to buy a new vehicle, I tell myself how much more environmentally responsible it would be to get a hybrid.  Then, I look at the sticker price of a hybrid model and compare it with the non-hybrid price.  The significant difference in cost sends me skulking shamefully back to purchase the non-hybrid version.

Recently, on a trip to California, I rented a car.  When preparing for the trip, I looked at the car rental company’s website and selected the class of rental vehicle I wanted.  I had only two criteria for selection.  Firstly, I wanted a car as familiar and as much like my own boring, gas-powered, mid-range four-door sedan as possible.  Secondly, I wanted a car with sufficient space for luggage for three people, preferably in the trunk.  Based on these criteria, I obviously did not select a hybrid.

The car rental fates giggled.  When I got to the airport and picked up the rental car, I found I had been “upgraded” to a hybrid.  I wasn’t thrilled about having to adapt to a different type of car in unfamiliar territory.  Also, it seemed clear that three suitcases were not going to fit in the trunk of the vehicle.  I argued and pouted and begged for the class of car I reserved, but the rental car people were “short on inventory.”  The lady said she could “see” if there were any other cars available, but she did not sound hopeful.  In fact, she sounded downright whiny.  Not wanting to waste any more precious vacation time feeling put-upon, I decided to get over it and just take the hybrid. I could use this opportunity to sample hybrid drivership.  Maybe the experience would motivate me to get past the sticker shock on my next car and actually buy a hybrid.

The lady at the rental car company told me that the car operated pretty much the same as any regular car, but did warn me that it might seem kind of freaky that the car didn’t make any noise when it was turned on and the engine was going.  That was a little freaky.  What was more freaky was that it wasn’t really true.  Yes, the car didn’t make the traditional engine rumbling noises.  However, it would periodically emit a sort of high-pitched squealing noise, reminiscent of a siren in the distance.  For the first couple of days, I nearly got whiplash spinning my neck around trying to spot the emergency vehicle every time I heard the noise.  When I finally figured out that the noise was coming from the car, I nearly got run over by a fire truck because I didn’t realize there actually WAS a siren in my vicinity.

Then there was the shuddering. Every now and again, the car would shake, rattle, and roll.  It was similar to the sensation I used to get when an older, tired car in need of a tune-up would cough and sputter and eventually die.  The hybrid didn’t conk out, but it certainly did a great imitation of a car getting ready to expire.  You know how they say “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down?”  Well, hybrids wobble but they don’t stall out.  Comforting to know, but it would be way more comforting if they didn’t wobble to begin with!

There was also the acceleration rate… or lack thereof.  The hybrid’s get-up-and-go seemed to have got up and went… somewhere else.  Pushing down on the gas did not result in a commensurate sudden increase in power or speed.  I think the hybrid interpreted me pushing down on the gas pedal as more of a suggestion than an imperative.  This was especially noticeable as I braved lane changing on California freeways and climbed the summit over the mountain  pass we had to travail when we took a side trip to Nevada.  To be fair, I think I could detect a very slight increase in power when I pushed down on the gas.  It was more like the power oozed into the car rather than spurted into it, though.  It took some time for that ooze to solidify itself into something resembling strength.  When I pushed the accelerator, I think the engine may have worked harder, but not any smarter.

I drove the hybrid over hill and dale for about 1000 miles on our trip.  I was not sorry to give it back to the rental car company when it was time for us to return to Florida.  I am sure many people drive hybrids and love them.  I am prepared to believe that my hybrid experience was colored by my own ignorance, inexperience and ineptitude. It was, however, my experience. That experience did nothing to motivate me to buy a hybrid the next time I am in the market for a new vehicle.  What it may have motivated me to do, however, is to stop feeling guilty about not buying one!

Do any of you have hybrid cars?  What do you think of them?  What could I have been doing wrong?  Or do you think it is just a case of me being befuddled over something new?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂

Quality Of Life

One of my many sources of guilt since my mother’s stroke revolves around my decision to move to Florida.  If I had stayed in California, obviously, my mother would also have stayed.  It isn’t that I think that she wouldn’t have had the stroke if we had stayed in California.  It is just that she had a much more active, independent life when she lived in California.  She drove.  She ruled the docent world at the local reservoir like Glinda the Good Witch ruled Oz.  She had friends.  She worked full time for the school district during the summers. She had my brother living close by.  I hate to think that my mother sacrificed what was to be her last relatively healthy year and a half of life to make sure I didn’t postpone creating the life I wanted in my retirement. 

My original plan was to stay in California while my mother was still alive.  I know my mother had no burning desire to move to Florida.  I know she chose to embrace the move so that I would not put my life on hold.  The irony is that neither one of us wanted the other to sacrifice.  I guess that is a sign of a loving relationship, but it doesn’t preclude pain or guilt. 

Of course, I struggled with the guilt born of the decision to move long before my mother had the stroke.  I’ve argued to myself that my mother is a grown woman and she was the one who made the decision.  I’ve tried to provide as much care, company, entertainment, and love as I could to compensate for the amusements and activities she left behind.  I’ve acknowledged that there are many practical ways that her life improved when she moved to Florida. 

If anything, these months since the stroke have shown the wisdom of the decision to move.  If I had stayed in California, I would have been living over 150 miles round trip from my mother.  Here in Florida, I was only 15 miles from her mobile home before the stroke and I am only 7 miles from the long-term care facility now.  I don’t think I would have been able to do as much for her as I do now if we had stayed in California. That would have been a huge loss to both of us.   

All that aside, I still wrestle with the guilt.  It is always hard to know what the best answer would have been, even with the benefit of hindsight. 

The other day, I was responding to an email from one of my mom’s California friends.  I mentioned that I hoped that the benefits I provided in Florida compensated for the life my mom gave up in California.  The friend replied with a reassuring message about how my mother had always talked about all the fun things we did in Florida.  I decided to use that email as a starting point for a conversation with my mom.  I read an edited version of the email from her friend.  I said to my mom that I hoped she truly had enjoyed the activities and adventures we had together in our new home.  She looked a bit bewildered, so I continued.  I said that I sometimes wondered if I did the right thing moving to Florida because I worried that she gave up so much to move with me.  A light went on behind her eyes and she sputtered, “no, no, no.”  I forged ahead.  Looking around at the nursing home room, I said, “This is no one’s idea of fun, I know….”  She cut me off, insisting, “no, but HAPPY, HAPPY.” 

I think my mother’s cognitive and communicative abilities are no longer anywhere near sophisticated enough for her to try to say the “right thing.”  I have to assume she was genuine in telling me what she really feels.   

It was a gift. It was especially a gift in that my mother could not have that same conversation today, just a few weeks later.  The decline is so gradual and so ephemeral I don’t often realize it as it happens.  However, when I compare her condition today to what it was a few weeks ago or even a few days ago, I see the disintegration.  This ooze down the horribly rough road is so difficult to watch, it is hard for me to understand the “happy” response.  She is so frail and weak and disconnected, I don’t know how she can be happy. Her life has become so small and limited, there doesn’t seem much left that could inspire happiness for most of us.   On the other hand, my mother has always had a talent for happiness.   

Maybe, when you boil happiness down to its very essence, loving and being loved can be enough to generate joy.

What does “quality of life” mean to you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Enjoy the quality of your life today!

Terri

 

A (Weird And Strange) Sentimental Journey

When Max and I travel, our destinations usually have a wholly “vacation” vibe.  We are always visitors, not residents.  There is no overlay of “real life” on our trips.  There isn’t any consideration of work, chores, obligations, or normal day-to-day routine.  As a result, our usual emotional experience of vacations is fairly one-dimensional- pleasure, relaxation, excitement, fun.

Our recent trip to California was a whole different beast.  Some of what we did on the trip did constitute “vacation vibe.”  We stayed in a hotel with a jacuzzi, took a side trip to Nevada to go to the casinos, and didn’t worry about responsibilities.  On the other hand, we did a lot of things that recalled the time when California was our home- went to favorite restaurants, took a trip to the San Diego Zoo, visited friends.  Being in a place where we spent most of our lives made it impossible to escape the impact of the remnants of our past. Things were pretty much as we remembered, but not quite as we remembered.  Everything seemed too familiar to truly feel like “vacation.”  The rub, though, was that everything also seemed a little too stylized to feel like “home.”  California probably didn’t change.  It is more likely that the different lenses through which we now look- ground by our new lives- are the reason for the differences we sensed. Reconciling those feelings of “home” and how they have changed was a huge theme of this trip.

This nostalgia created by a vacation tangled and snarled up with the memories and associations of “home” produced a much more complex series of emotions.  It was fun and wonderful, but also complicated.  Yes, we originally decided to vacation in California precisely to experience some of our old favorite haunts and activities that we have missed since moving to Florida.  I was just unprepared to still feel so connected and, yet, so ephemerally connected to California.  It was almost as if my old life in California was covered in cobwebs and I had managed to get tangled in some of those silken threads.  I was always aware of the sense of being attached and always equally aware of how easy it would be to pull away from the thread.  Still, I was not sure that I wanted to completely disengage… either from my California connections or the Florida connections that are just starting to form.

It was a very weird sensation that overwhelmed me several times during the trip.  Everywhere I looked, I remembered the best of my times and the worst of my times. I remembered who I was and how I perceived the world during the nearly fifty years I lived in California. I remembered the experiences I had with people who are either gone from my life or who have changed radically. I remembered how satisfying it was to regularly and routinely see my friends in California.   I think I felt more nostalgic and mournful about moving from California during this trip than I did when we actually moved. On the other hand, being in California didn’t feel quite real… or quite right.

The last time I went to California was a little less than a year after we moved.  At that point, I was still somewhat of a stranger in a strange land in Florida.  The brief trip back to California was a welcome, comforting dose of familiarity.  It was really too soon for California to not seem like home any more.  At that time, I had sketched in the outline of a life in Florida, but there was still a lot of blank spaces.  Since then, I’ve grown and expanded my Florida life.   I’ve colored in the blank spaces and the Florida life is more dimensional now.  As familiar as California felt to me on this trip, it also felt weirdly unreal.  It was hard recognizing that I am losing my attachment to my old home, especially when it still all felt so familiar.  Familiar… yet more faded, kind of like the way a copy of a copy of a copy used to look in the days before we had digital images.  Maybe it isn’t really that I am losing the attachment to California, but just redefining that attachment.  California may represent my past life, but it is still my life. Surely that means there is still some kind of attachment.  Besides, people I love are still part of the California life that is unfurling each day.  I think that means that California life is still a present part of my life, too.

When I went to church the Sunday after returning to Florida, a friend asked me how my trip was.  I replied, “It was wonderful, but I am glad to be home.” She looked at me and said, “so, here’s home now for you, is it?”

As soon as she asked the question, I realized it was true.  I had said “home” referring to Florida without thinking, but I knew I meant it.  California still houses a lot of the artifacts of my life- the memories and experiences that brought me to where I am now in my journey.  We revisited many of those memories and experiences during our trip, sort of like the way you might go to a living history museum to discover how people used to live in the “olden days.”  Then, after soaking up a dose of yesteryear, you go home and go on with your own present and future.  That’s what I did. After our trip to California, I went home to my present day real life.

Have you ever gone “home” after moving away?  What was that experience like for you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a great day!

Terri 🙂

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 🙂