Runaway

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My daughter, who recently turned 20, ran away from home when she was 14 years old.  I don’t remember if I have ever written about this horrible time from the past.  It was a horrible incident, and probably one of the worst experiences I ever had as a parent.  That is saying a lot, considering we have lost two children and our oldest son had a terrible accident (brain injury, multiple broken bones, and was in a coma for three weeks) when he was 12.  What made the runaway incident worse by far was the fact that she chose to leave.  She chose to hurt us.  My babies didn’t choose to die, choose to leave me.  My son didn’t choose to be injured.  She chose not to care.  She chose to hurt the ones who loved her. Continue Reading »

Being the Bad Guy (Or Woman)

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“Though it be honest, it is never good to bring bad news.”

William Shakespeare

A lot of people are mad at me tonight.  Well, maybe it’s not me they’re mad at, but there has not been a shortage of people who have blasted their anger and disappointment my way this evening.

I knew this day was coming, and I have dreaded it.  I have secretly cherished conversations or email exchanges with certain people, because I knew that SOON, they were going to be upset with me.  The ax was going to fall eventually, and they would know the truth, or the results, results that I have already known for about a week.  Having people upset with me is part of my job.  It’s a role that I have voluntarily accepted, however reluctantly. Continue Reading »

Yelling Sucks

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Today someone yelled at me.  It was at the end of the day.  I am sick and exhausted.  My energy was already depleted, and the yelling sucked away whatever remained.  Even now, hours later, I am shaking.  I didn’t deserve to be yelled at.  While I spoke in a calm, reserved voice, this person blamed me for causing their lack of control.  No.  No person deserves to be yelled at, and no person can be the cause of another’s lack of control.  Hang up the phone.  Walk away.  Table the discussion.  Mentally healthy adults do not yell…..under any circumstance.  Yelling is a selfish, weak, self-absorbed way to handle a difficult situation.  Yelling is cowardly. Continue Reading »

A Conversation No One Should Have With Their Own Mother

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We have watched my mother’s health steadily fail for the past six months.  In December she fell and ended up in the hospital.  She wasn’t strong enough to join us for Christmas.  It was my first year without MY family for Christmas, and even though Mom and I have had our issues, not having any parents or grandparents around for the holidays was a very sad thing to face.

On New Year’s Eve, Mom was taken from the restorative care unit to the hospital due to congestive heart failure.  More dialysis, in addition to the three other times each week, helped to relieve the symptoms.  As the days passed, it became clear that she was failing.  Her weight dropped below 100 pounds.  Her mind was becoming fuzzy.  She began to lose control of her bodily functions.  She hid her medication.  She though that she was on a cruise ship.  She thought the nurses were trying to kill her.

I called a meeting with her Nephrologist.  I wanted to know what the long-term prognosis was.  Would Mom ever be able to return to independent living?  The answer was no, yet he still “held out hope.”  Hope for what, I am not sure.  Her kidneys had not functioned  at all for years.  She can no longer walk.  She is on oxygen, and a million different medications.  I’m not sure what his definition of “HOPE” is.  She wasn’t going to regain health.  What he meant by HOPE was that she could be kept alive with extensive medical intervention so that she could linger for a few weeks in a nursing home.  I asked him if anyone had ever considered discontinuing the dialysis.  Well, yes.  Had they ever discussed that with my mother?  Well, no, they hadn’t really thought it would come to this point.  They hadn’t thought that she would live this long.  (So many of years of medical training, and they hadn’t considered all of the possibilities?)  I was shocked.  Well, here we were.  It had happened, and it was time to make some decisions.  What I was looking at seemed cruel.  This was no way for a human being to live….and to be kept alive.

The doctor and I approached my mom with the facts.  We made it her choice to consider ceasing dialysis.  She decided to continue to receive treatment.  I was in support of her decision.  It was obvious that she needed to  let everything sink in.  We all needed to buy some time to make the adjustment to the next step.  Mom was moved back to the rehabilitation facility and would continue to be transported to the dialysis center three times each week.  This was last Thursday.

On Friday morning, I received a call from a nurse.  Mom was refusing all treatment.  She said that she had had enough.  I was at work, had walked out of a meeting to take the call.  I asked the nurse to tell my mom that I encouraged her to go to her treatment and that I would be by to talk to her after work.

T and I drove down that evening to talk with her about what was going on.  I explained that a nurse had called to tell me what had happened, and my mom said, “They should mind their own damn business.”  She said that she was done.  She was tired.  I felt a sense of relief.  I have her medical power of attorney, and I didn’t want to have to make that decision without her consent.  I called Mom’s friends to tell them what was going on and asked them to pay her a visit.  I spent most of my weekend by her side.  It was calm and peaceful.  She slept most of the time.  Sometimes, she was disoriented and asked if Dad was out in the yard.  I tried to get her to drink or eat small bits of food that I felt would be soothing.  We watched “Parent Trap.”  The old one with Haley Mills.

On Monday, something changed.  She woke up demanding to go to dialysis.  Her nurse called me.  They were under the impression that dialysis treatment had been discontinued.  What did I want them to do?  What should they tell her?  Initially, I told them, no….no more dialysis.  Then I stood there wondering what I had just done.  Was I denying my own mother medical treatment when she was requesting it?  I called T.  What should I do?  I asked him to meet me at my mom’s room.

She was angry and disoriented.  She said, “Well, yes….I am going to dialysis.  I will die if I don’t go!”  I was stunned.  We had had moments of peace over the past few days.  I didn’t know what to do.  I stood there feeling helpless.  She lashed out at me.  She said, “I can see by the smirk on your face that you enjoy having this kind of control over my life.  You want to pull the plug.”  I was speechless.  I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know what to say.  I looked at the floor and reminded myself over and over not to say anything that I would live to regret the rest of my life.  I looked at her calmly and told her that there was not one thing about any of this that I was enjoying.  I told her that she had made the decision. She asked me where Dad was, and I blurted out that he had been dead for two years.  I burst out crying and had to turn around.  T sat there in the middle of a terrible situation.  I remember him talking calming in a low voice to her, but I don’t know what he said.

When I came back near them, and was more composed, she looked at me and apologized.  She said that she wished she knew where our relationship had gone wrong.  I felt adrenaline flood through my body.  Thirty years of wrong.  How could we resolve thirty years of wrong?  I had been determined to do right, not to let past differences and slights cloud my judgement in making the best medical decision for another human being.  I had been kind and caring.  All of this came out of the blue, and it shocked me.  I have never been so hurt and shaken in my life.  I wanted to run from the room, and running away is not usual for me.  I wanted to melt.  I wanted to cease to exist in the middle of this life of mine.  Too much hurt.  Too much.  I was shaking and crying.  I told her to go to dialysis.  I said that I refused to feel responsible for making this decision to discontinue treatment.  “Go!  Please go.  You don’t have a plug.  I am not pulling a plug!”  I left the room to tell the nurse to make arrangements for my mom to be transported to dialysis.  The nurse looked shocked.  She advised that my mother may not make it through a treatment.

There was another call this morning.  This time it was from the Kidney Center.  They had been surprised to see my mother show up for treatment.  They discussed a feeding tube with her.  They discussed hospice care.  They suggested discontinuing treatment.  They wondered what I thought.  After all, I have that damn power of attorney.  I told them that one of their own doctors had told my mother that there was hope.  Yes, hope for a day, a week.  They didn’t think that she would live out the month even with treatment.  There was a meeting later this afternoon with all of the Kidney Center staff.  They would discuss my mother’s case at that time and call me later.

It was determined that treatment was no longer of any benefit to my mother.  She could continue to receive treatments, but at this point, they may do more harm than good.  A feeding tube would enable her to have a little more time, but my mother had already said that she didn’t want to go that route.  Did I want them to talk to her and arrange hospice treatment or would I prefer to tell her myself?

Tonight T and I went to tell my mother that there was no longer any hope.  A few days, a week, a month at best.  We entered her room, and she was sleeping.  I woke her up and asked how she was feeling.  She was groggy for a while, and we three sat and watched HGTV.  I didn’t know how to begin this conversation.  I was at a loss.  T finally began talking.  Quietly we explained everything.  She just looked at us.  What do you say when someone tells you that it’s real, you are now dying?  Mom, this is it.  There isn’t anything left to do.  I told her that I wanted the time she had left to be comfortable and full of family and friends rather than more and more medical care.  I told her what to expect physically.  There should be no pain.  It would be peaceful.  (I pray to God.)  I asked her if there was anything she wanted.

She asked me if I believed in Heaven and Hell.  I told her no, I don’t.  I said, “I believe life is Hell enough, what waits on the other side is Peace.”

As T and I drove home, he told me that when I had stepped out to talk to the nurse, my mom had asked him if I was OK.  He told her that this was not easy for me.  She is all I have left of my family.  When she is gone, I don’t have anyone else left of my family.  He told her that I was carrying  a burden of guilt, because I didn’t want her to think that I was responsible for ending her treatments.  She said, “Why would Pam think that?”  He reminded her of what she had said the previous day, and asked her not to say such things again.  He told her that we would do our best to care for her, and asked her to leave me with peace.  I was shocked by what he told me.  I didn’t know he would defend and protect me in such a way, and I loved him for being able to say the words that I was not able to speak.

 

The Wisdom To Know

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It seems like a lot has happened since my last blog post.  A lot, yet nothing much at all.  There were no significant, life-changing events, but yet I feel a certain sense of change.  Christmas has passed.  It is a new year.  I am another year older, having celebrated a birthday during my blogging absence.

I apologize for temporarily shutting down both blogs for a period of time.  It was not my intention to cause alarm or concern.  I simply needed a time to hibernate.  I needed a time of quiet reflection.  I suppose I needed solitude.

The holidays were filled at times with deep sadness while other moments were shining with a kind of joy that I have not allowed myself to experience fully in a very long time.

I had ten days of no work, time with all four kids home, happy and getting along well.  I ate too much.  At times, I drank too much.

T and I  rang in the New Year with old friends.  For the first time in years, I was not on stage playing music, but I was one of the crowd enjoying the entertainment.  That made me sad, and it felt odd at first.  Eventually, though, I was out on the floor dancing up a storm.  That night, I belly laughed for the first time in over two years.  The sensation caught me by surprise.  At first, I didn’t recognize what was happening, and it made me laugh even harder in wonder at the privilege of having the experience of happiness and joy flash into my life for a brief moment once again.

Acceptance.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Those were words I heard my dad repeat hundreds of times.  My dad lived those words.  They were written and framed in a variety of places in his home so he would never forget.  He was reminded over and over to accept with courage whatever life sent his way.

I have never had a problem with courage.  Many times, I have faced down my fears.  The word CAN’T, the word NO, those were words that offered a challenge to me.  Being told that something was not possible only spurred me to try harder to prove the possibility.  Fighting for what I wanted or what I believed in was never the problem.  It has taken me two years to learn an important lesson.  There are some things in life that I cannot change.  Can’t.  No.  Some things are beyond my power to control.  I know that concept may seem like a no-brainer to some, but not to me.  I thought if I fought hard enough, tried hard enough, I could make practically anything go MY WAY.  Of course, I have always understood that there were things, like death, that were beyond my control, but beyond that, I stubbornly, bull-headedly believed that there was very little else that I could not sway, or fix, or influence.  I was wrong.

While I may have not lacked courage and conviction, something else has been lacking.  A great, gaping hole stood in the middle between me and acceptance.  That gaping hole was wisdom.  “…the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”  Two years of struggle, and an unwillingness to admit acceptance into my life, has taught me that WISDOM does not come easily.

Along with wisdom comes acceptance, and acceptance brings with it a sense of calm.  For the first time in so very long, I have had moments of calm and peace.  I have had moments that have allowed me once again to recognize myself, the woman I once was, the woman I hope to be again someday.  Acceptance does not take away sadness or loss, but it has allowed me to occasionally step off of the hamster wheel.  This wisdom has allowed me to stop punishing myself.  Yes, some things are beyond my control.

I now understand why my dad found it necessary to keep the words of the Serenity Prayer near to him.  Like me, he needed to be reminded.  It was a lesson that had not come easily to him, but once learned, he never forgot the value of that lesson.

A Heart Two Sizes Too Small

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I watched “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” tonight with Lola.  She has been singing the song from that movie all week long, and we finally decided to watch the DVD.

Fah who for-aze!
Dah who dor-aze!
Welcome Christmas,
Christmas Day.

I’ve seen the show many, many times, and I was only watching halfheartedly.  Something struck me as I listened to the words tonight.  When the Grinch witnesses the love and kindness of the people of Whoville,

“And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”

It’s the same old story, and it’s a beautiful story.  It’s the same story that has been told over and over in so many ways, many versions, and in every language.  For as long as human beings have been telling stories, this basic theme has been a part of that tradition.  A troubled character is touched by love, and some momentous positive change occurs.  This type of story is  more than just a “good vs. evil” tale.  These stories are lessons.  They attempt to teach us that not only does GOOD win over evil, but that if we are good enough; we can actually change evil INTO GOOD.

Earlier as I was driving home from work, I was had been remembering a “friend” that I had once believed in, championed, supported, and defended.  It was a classic case of throwing good deeds out there one after another in an attempt to douse the flames of evil.  I had excused insensitive behavior over and over again.  I forgave lies and half-truths.  I had forgiven this person for horrible, hurtful things without even the decency of an apology.  I had let bygones be bygones even when no attempt had been made to rectify the misdeeds.   I thought I could teach kindness.  I thought I could show by example the true value of friendship.  I thought I could convert Bad to Good.  When that failed to happen, I blamed myself.  What had I done wrong?  Where had I gone wrong?  Why wasn’t my love, friendship, kindness good enough to make a difference?  I had failed.  I hadn’t forgiven enough.  I had stood up for myself too often.  I had put myself first instead of my “friend.”  I had failed.  This person never changed, just as everyone around me had warned.  In fact, the situation continued to worsen until I had finally had enough.  I walked away from the situation feeling defeated, battered, and beaten.  I had failed.

I thought about this “friend” once again as I watched The Grinch.  Again, I felt the sting of my failure.  No, I wasn’t able to bring the Good out from under all of the Bad.  Yes, I failed, but I also learned a valuable lesson.  It is not my job to try to change other people.  Some people move from person to person taking all that is offered until there is nothing left to give.  While that is a painful lesson to have learned the hard way, I wasn’t really the loser in the end.  In the end, this person is still messed up, while I have learned to acknowledge and cherish the real and honest goodness that already exists in the people who are a positive and giving part of my life.  Those are the people whose hearts are NOT “two sizes too small.”

Who Will Catch Me When I Fall?

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Today is one of those horrible anniversaries of a BAD November day, a day that was most likely the worst day of my life.  I have been thinking a lot about that fact this past week in anticipation of this hated date.  It truly was the worst day of my life, and that makes me feel bad.  It makes me feel guilty.  I have lost loved ones through death, but not on this date.  On this date, my horrible experience was something worse than that of losing someone through death.  That makes me feel bad and guilty, so I have been trying to examine what happened and what went wrong.  Unfortunately, all the fingers point to me.  I have no one to blame but myself for getting to a point in my life where I was truly alone in my pain and grief.

While the experience of losing a child, or my dad, or when Andrew had his terrible accident were all gut-wrenchingly horrible to live through, I didn’t blame myself.  Those things were “just life” or bad luck.  During those terrible times, I felt surrounded by love.  I had a safety net.  I had people there to catch me when I fell and to soften the blow.  On this WORST November day, I was utterly alone.  I was crushed by ugliness, lies, and betrayal, but no one knew.  No one cared.  I had destroyed my safety net.  Those good people who had once been there for me where no longer around.  My dad was gone.  My friends had long since washed their hands of my troubles.  My family was clueless.  I had taught them through my actions to simply “leave me alone,” so they did.

I had made a mess of my life, but I thought I could handle it.  I thought everything would be OK.  That was not the case, though, not on that dark November night.  On that night, the very flimsy ground that was my foundation crumbled out from under me.  No one cared.  I had misplaced my trust.  Those I thought cared, did not.  Those who did care, had no clue.  I was truly alone for the first time in my life.  I wanted to die.  Truly, literally, I wanted to end my own life.  It scares me now to remember that BAD November day.  It scares me that those whom I thought would care, did not.  It scares me that those who did care, had no clue.  It has been a long struggle back from that dark place.  Many times, I have wished for a quick magical cure, but there is no magical cure to the pain life sometimes brings.

Last night, I thought about the times in my life that have been seasons of grief.  I thought about those other, more rational times of grief, and I realized how things have changed in my life in the past several years.  My Dad, my friend and father, he TALKED to me.  He and I talked about anything and everything.  During some of the most horrible times in my life, I could always count on Dad’s daily phone call.  On days when all I wanted was to pull the covers over my head, Dad would call, and I always answered.  We would talk about politics, religion, local news, or current events.  He always had a story.  He always made me smile.   He pulled me through some of the toughest times in my life.  He has been gone now for almost two years.  Without a doubt, those two years have been the worst years of my life, not because my dad has been gone, but because my life was a mess (and only got worse) at the time of his death.  Oh, how different these past two years would have been if my dad had been there as a steady, loving part of my life.

These past two years have been terrible.  I have learned some valuable lessons the hard way.  We are all responsible for our own actions.  I will repeat that one, because it is important.  WE ARE ALL RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR OWN ACTIONS.  No I didn’t deserve to go through such a hellish experience, but as I said, when I look back at the circumstances, all fingers point at me.  If my trust was misplaced, who placed it wrongly?  Me.  If I went through a terrible experience, and no one was around for me to lean on, whose fault was that?  Mine.  I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MY OWN ACTIONS.

Slowly, I am rebuilding the foundation of my life.  Many of the people who were once part of my support system are gone, but I am learning to reach out again to the good people in my life.  More importantly, I am trying my best to be good to others and to be there for those good people in my life.

Excuses and Enabling

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Enabling behavior is born out of our instinct for love.   It’s only natural to want to help someone we love, but when it comes to certain problems — helping is like throwing a match on a pool of gas.

 

I have been thinking about this a lot lately.  Addiction runs in my family.  It runs in my husband’s family as well.  While my own father’s drinking problem did not begin until after I was out of the house and married, I was still profoundly affected by his alcoholism.  My late father in law was also an alcoholic.  Our mothers constantly made up excuses for them.  None of us believed the excuses, but our politeness required us to play along.  We enabled the enablers.

It got bad.  Both of our father’s hit their all-time high (or low, depending on how you look at it) when our daughter Grace was in the hospital.  Imagine a drunken grandpa carrying a rocking chair through a large university hospital and arguing with a nurse at the door of the neonatal intensive care unit when he was not allowed to present it to his new granddaughter.  The stress of our dying daughter pushed both of our fathers to the edge.  Our mothers, instead of keeping them away from our already horrible situation, plastered smiles on their faces, rolled their eyes, made excuses, and pretended that our fathers were not sloshed.

Of course, I have forgiven my dad.  That was years ago, and Dad is gone now, too.  He died on the anniversary of little Grace’s death.  I often think of them together now.  I was able to forgive my dad, because he recovered.  He made amends.  He allowed me to vent.  During my dad’s six-weeks of inpatient treatment, almost 20 years ago now, I confronted him about the many ways his drinking had harmed me.  I had refused to attended family therapy with he and my mother.  I had divorced myself from their problems.  I was pregnant and taking care of two little boys at the time.  I wanted/needed to concentrate on my own family, not my parents’ continuing issues.  I didn’t participate in their counselling sessions.  Instead, I wrote my dad a letter and gave it to his therapist.  The therapist didn’t think my dad would recover.  His words:  “Your dad is full of bullshit.  He thinks that he’s more intelligent than everyone here.  He thinks he can bullshit his way through recovery, get back out, and go back to hiding his problem.”  As I have gone through my dad’s belongings, I have expected to find that letter.  So far, though, it has not surfaced.

Thankfully, that therapist was wrong.  My dad did recover.  He helped many, many others find their way to sobriety, too.   One of the happiest-saddest-most profound-most comforting moments of my life was at my dad’s funeral.  As I stood at the head of his casket greeting those who had come to pay their respects, one person after another whispered in my ear, “I knew your dad from Tuesday nights.”  Some of them knew him from his Thursday night meetings.  Some of them showed me their AA coins discreetly as they passed by.  They loved him.  Some said, “Your dad saved my life.”  T and I were moved and overwhelmed as the back two pews of the church filled up with my father’s AA family.   In the midst of my grief, I was so very proud of my dad.  His pain, his addiction, and his recovery had profoundly and positively affected so many people.  I was proud to be proud of my dad.

As for T’s father.  He never recovered.  He has been dead now for over a decade.  I don’t think T has ever forgiven him.  There is much about T’s father that I don’t know.  It was bad.  I do know that much, but it’s something that T won’t discuss.  Even though T was hurt and damaged by his experience of growing up with an alcoholic father, what he took away from those experiences was how NOT to behave.

We are products of our environment.  I am part addict and part enabler.  I have struggled with both sides of my personality.  I have skated too close to the edge of behavior that was not healthy.  I have excused the behavior of others, even when there was no forgivable excuse.  At the root of it all is ENABLING.

When we behave in a way that we know is not healthy, we excuse ourselves.  We enable ourselves.  When we allow those in our lives to “get away” with bad, hurtful, or self-destructive behavior, we are not helping them.  We are hurt them.   We are hurting ourselves.

What if we all called a spade, a spade?  What if T and I had said, “Dad, you’re drunk.  Leave.  Our daughter is dying.  This is inexcusable.”  What would the results of those words have been?

That incident in the hospital so many years ago is my first real memory of being an enabler. I knew that I was hurting myself.  I knew I was perpetuating a lie.  I knew that I was saying, “Oh, it’s OK.  Go ahead and act like an ass.  Go ahead and hurt me.  I’ll pretend not to notice.”  Did I really think I was “being polite” to no confront my father, mother, and in-laws?  I’m not sure how we all justified that hiding their alcoholism was more important than making special the last moments spent with our dying daughter.  It’s sad and sick to think about.  That is what enabling is:  Sad and Sick.

While that incident was my first memory of enabling, it taught me nothing.  My enabling manifested itself in many shapes and many forms in the following years.  Worse than addiction, which is selfish and self-serving, enabling empties us of ourselves.  Enabling takes pieces, bit by bit, until we lose pieces of our own value.

Yes, this is a heavy subject tonight, but I am not feeling heavy as I write this.  Instead, I am feeling a weight lift.  This is a GOOD step.  Identifying a problem is the only way to begin addressing it!  I have a new filter, or I am going to learn to use a new filter.  Is this person being considerate?  Are they acting in my best interest?  Am I ignoring warning signs and red flags?  Tonight, I am feeling invigorated and optimistic.