Be Careful What You Wish For

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I had a birthday about a week ago.  I won’t mention numbers here, but it was a fairly significant (and painful!) birthday.  While having a birthday mixed up in the middle of the holiday season wasn’t so great when I was a kid, the older I get, the less I mind getting lost in the shuffle.

For many reasons, the holidays are not my favorite time of year.  However, the newness of a holiday in a different place was interesting.  We went all out on outdoor illumination.  Both of the boys were here for Thanksgiving, and we began the process that weekend.  Emily added more lights one day when she wasn’t working.  We added more lights the following weekend.  By the time it was all said and done, we had a pretty respectable outdoor display.  We especially enjoyed the uniqueness of our choice of pastel colors in our very white-bread, Stepford-esque neighborhood.  If prizes had been given, our house would have won the award for “Most Unique.”  I smiled every time I pulled into the driveway after work during December, and I already miss our happy display of lights.  I might have to dig out the pink lights for a Valentine’s display, although that might be a violation of our HOA regulations. Continue Reading »

Life Raft

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Last night, T told me to get ready.  We were going out for dinner.  He said with a silly smile that  I needed some red meat.  Double entendra.  Em didn’t have plans, so the girls could stay home by themselves.  I agreed that it sounded like a good idea.  It had been a hard day.  I didn’t feel like cooking.  The girls seemed happy at the thought of having us out of the house for a while.  They were both occupied with their own things, and seemed to be looking forward to an evening of quiet….without Mom and Dad hanging around the house.  While I didn’t feel much like going out, the thought of a juicy steak at one of our favorite spots perked me up a little.

I had been a slob all day.  We were heading out for a late dinner by the time I got myself cleaned up and looking presentable.  It was nice, though, because the Saturday night rush had already passed by the time we got there.  We went to a local favorite.  It’s a cozy, intimate place, and has a beautiful evening view of the runway lights at our local (tiny) airport.  To top it all off, the food is always wonderful.  We enjoyed a cocktail and conversation while we waited for our food.  I could already see that this was a good idea as I began to feel myself begin to relax for the first time all day.  My friend T.  There he was across the table, always knowing what is best for me even before I know it myself.

As soon as my tension began to subside, deep, deep fatigue began to set in. The adrenaline had been replaced with exhaustion.  T asked where I wanted to go after dinner, but all I really wanted to do was to go home and go to bed.  He tried to entice me with a drive down by the river to look at Christmas lights.  Maybe we could stop for martinis?  “No, please.  All I want to do is go to bed.”  I can’t ever remember feeling so wilted.  We drove home after dinner, and I immediately got ready for bed.

He was there in bed with me, and I’m not sure where I was.  Yes, I was in bed, but I seemed to be floating.  I rolled over, laid my head on T’s chest, and hung on for dear life.  The headache was back, and I felt like I was swirling and spinning.  I was hot and cold at the same time.  I was sweating and shivering.  Images and emotions flashed at me in my half-sleep.  At some point, I fell asleep.

Around 2:30 a.m., I woke up.  I was tangled in the covers, and my hair felt damp and stringy.  I wanted to get out of bed.  I wanted to wander around the house.  I wanted to stand and look out of a window.  It was December 11.  I picked up my phone to confirm the date.  There it was, taunting me in the darkness, December 11.  I laid there, forcing myself to stay in bed when all I wanted to do was flee.  I’m not sure where I wanted to go, but I didn’t want to be there in the quiet darkness with my thoughts.  If I got up, though, it would be the actions of a crazy woman.  “Normal” people don’t wander around the house in the middle of the night.  I flung my leg across T and grabbed his arm.  Once again, I hung on until sleep came.

This morning when I woke up, it felt like I had won a battle.  I had been victorious.  I hadn’t cried.  I hadn’t wandered around the house thinking and thinking.  I had CHOSEN not to do the things that would feed the fires of grief.  Instead of floundering around in the water, I had held onto my life raft.

Today was another sad December 11th.  My mom has been moved from the hospital to a skilled nursing unit.  It’s depressing, even though the facility is nice.  She lays behind a curtain on her half of the room.  This is what her life has been reduced to, a room,  a bed behind a curtain.  As I watched her laying there, mumbling in and out of sleep, I wished for my dad once again. To see her like this would have made him so sad.  If Dad were alive, he would have been able to keep her at home. He would have been able to care for her in a way that I am not able.  My children, my job, my responsibilities have not allowed me to become the full-time caregiver my dad once had been for her.

I sat with her in the darkened room.  I wondered what her mind was thinking as she slept.  I hoped that the thoughts in her dreams were better than the reality of what her life has become.  I hoped that she was remembering the things that once made her life worth living.  We didn’t talk at all today.  She drifted in and out, and I sat in a chair…watching and thinking.  We had once been a little family, Mom and Dad, and me.  Those days have passed.  So many things have passed.   Too many.

I drove by the old house on my way home from the hospital.  I had to stop and go inside.  For just a moment, I stood there in what was once a living room.  Think of that word!  Living room.  It was once a place where people lived.  It had once been full of life, love, family, and conversation.  I gently touched the place where I had found my dad two years ago.  I touched that spot, but I remembered other times, happier times, and I was thankful that this is where he had taken his last breathe, in the living room, in a place he loved, in the comfort of his own home.

 

 

A Good Cry

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It’s in there, but I am holding it back.  I really want to get through the next few days without tears.  I’m not sure why, or what, but I think if I can remain stoic through this weekend, I will be proving something to myself.

I woke up after a restless night’s sleep with a monstrous headache.  Lola was standing by the edge of my bed asking if she could go outside and play with the neighbor kids.  I raised my head up to look at the clock on the bedside table.  Ugh!  It was much earlier than I had intended on getting up.  T, who is an early riser, was already up and gone.  Bless his heart.  He was doing the weekly grocery shopping.

I sat up groggily, hair wild, head pounding, and tried to figure out what I needed to do first.  I threw on a robe, and proceeded to help Lola dress in warm clothes to play outside in the 1/2 inch of snow.  I remember those days of childhood.  Even a sprinkling of snow was too good to miss out on when it’s Saturday morning and the neighborhood kids were ready to play!

Once she was out the door, I popped the first handful of many ibuprofen I would be taking today.  I poured a cup of coffee and tried to figure out what was wrong with me.  I felt miserable, but I didn’t have time to dwell on that.  I had promised Em to go with her to see our “Hairapist.”  We love the woman who does our hair.  Not only does she help us look our best, she has become a close friend over the years.  In fact, she and I are planning a weekend trip in January.  I didn’t dare have a bite to eat.  This headache was one of those debilitating, make you sick, kind of headaches.  I threw on some clothes, put my crazy hair up into a ponytail, and slipped on some sunglasses.

I walked into the Hairapist with Em, and visited for a while before heading out to get us all mochas for our visit.  That’s when the first wave hit.  As soon as I was alone in the car, I felt like crying.  I looked at myself in the mirror and saw the tears begin to well up in my eyes.  I wanted to be home.  I wanted to be in bed with the covers pulled up over my head.  I wanted a friend.  I needed a hug.  I wanted my head to stop hurting.  I wanted the stress and the worry to go away.  I looked back at the poor, pained woman in the mirror, and I said, “Buck up, baby.  No tears for you.”  I bought the mochas and headed back.  The visit really did do me good.  The mocha revived me, and the friendship of women (stylist and my daughter) was exactly what I needed.  I popped a few more ibuprofen along the way, and the pain began to become manageable.

It was noon, and I still had not eaten.  I still couldn’t.  Our next stop was the hospital, and knowing what waited there drowned out my appetite.  I am tired of long corridors and medical staff.  I’m tired seeing so many people who are going through terrible times in their lives.  I’m tired of the haunted looks on so many of the faces I pass by.  It is Christmastime, and once again, I find myself in sterile hospital corridors instead of celebrating the warmth of the season.  I am tired, so damn tired.

T has been wonderful to me this past week.  Knowing that he cares even when he isn’t along for the ride does help.  I called him to give him an update on my mom’s condition, and he answered the phone, “Hi, precious….”  Two words, and they lifted a load of pain.

Em and I stopped for a bite to eat on the way home.  We had a chance to talk, to eat, even to laugh.  She is going through a hard time with the approach of December 11th, too.  Tomorrow.  Tomorrow.  Tomorrow.  It will be here, and then it will be over for another year.  Until then, I will hold my breath and my tears.  December 11th won’t take anything else from me without a fight.

I’m finally home.  It’s Saturday, and it was more exhausting than a day at work.  I wanted to lay across my bed and have a good cry.  I felt the tears building up behind my eyes, in my throat, and down across my chest.  I didn’t do it, though.  Not this time, and hopefully, I won’t ever again.  The tears exhaust me, and I need my strength.  The tears weaken me, and I need my strength.  I refuse to give another ounce of myself over to this grief.  I need my strength.

Instead of tears, I will write.  I will release the grief in a way that does not sap me of energy, but instead, strengthens my resolve.  I’m snuggled up under the ugly blanket made by my great-grandmother years ago.  I have a cup of coffee next to me.  T had a pot waiting for us when we got back home.  I’m safe, and I’m comfortable now.  Right now, I have all that I need.

My Roller Coaster Life

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T and I went to Chicago last weekend for an open house/parent’s day at Andrew’s school. We both took Friday off work. I was excited because we were taking the train for this trip, and it would be T’s first time riding the train. I had hoped that he would love the experience, but he wasn’t too impressed. I suppose I understand that. He didn’t like the lack of control he felt without a car. He did like not having to pay an arm and a leg for parking, though.

We had a great time. Our visit with Andrew was really, really wonderful. After checking into our super-fabulous room, we met Andrew at a Starbucks near the “L” station by our hotel. We talked. We hung out. We went for an early dinner at one of our favorite spots and gorged on BBQ sandwiches. Then we headed over to the Hancock Center to have a drink at the Signature Room on the 95th floor. The view was spectacular, made even more fantastic with the addition of the twinkling Christmas lights. We each had a martini. The bill was over $50 for three drinks! After we left the Hancock, we shopped a little and wandered our way over to another favorite spot where we feasted on crab cakes and filet sliders. The weather cooperated, and it was wonderfully warm for December. I did stop to buy some ear muffs, though, and T and Andrew laughed when they made me talk too loud and say, “what” each time they spoke to me.

The visit, demonstrations, and tour of Andrew’s school were impressive to say the least. While the changes in our son have been evident, we began to realize that his newfound focus and drive can be credited in part to an intense curriculum. The students are immersed in their discipline from day one. I can’t begin to express how very proud I am that Andrew has taken hold of his new life in Chicago and appears to be thriving and loving every minute. Our visit was over all too soon. They were golden moments that I am certain each of us will always cherish. It’s a rare gift to be able to have such happy, fun, content moments with our grown son. As we made our way back home, both T and I were quiet. We had taken a day and night to forget about everything that weighs down our lives. Now we were speeding right back to all of the things that made things not so perfect.

It didn’t take long once we got home to lose the relaxed, peaceful feeling we had in Chicago. All of our regular weekend chores were waiting for us. The girls had stayed home by themselves, and we had allowed Em to have a couple of girlfriends spend the night. They had a fantastic time, and I’m glad….but oh, what a mess was waiting for us. They had done A LOT of cooking. The made cupcakes, pancakes, bacon and eggs. While they had “cleaned up” the kitchen, it wasn’t exactly up to Mama Martha Stewart’s standards. You could have practically skated on the bacon grease that covered the hardwood floors in front on the stove.

When we got home, the girls were hungry. They wanted dinner. They wondered if I was going to go to the grocery store to do the weekly shopping. “There’s nothing good in the house!” Uh, no…not that evening! There was laundry to do, cat fur to vacuum, and I was feeling guilty knowing that I wouldn’t be able to fit in a visit to my mother that weekend.

While I enjoyed having a Friday without work, I should have been in the office. It’s budget approval time, and I had two really horrible meetings to prepare for on Monday. I should have been working on Friday, but being a Mom had to come first in this instance. It is such a balancing act at times. Panic was beginning to creep in while I was attempting to do a weekend’s worth of work in one day at home.

By Sunday evening, I was not feeling well. My batteries were running low. As I pulled into the driveway way after dark from my trip to the city with a load of Christmas gifts and groceries, T informed me that he had brought home a Christmas tree. Ugh! I put away the groceries and made dinner while he put the lights on the tree and Lola bounced around excitedly asking me when I was going to get the boxes of ornaments out of the basement. UGH! All I wanted to do was sit down, but what I really needed to do was a week’s worth of ironing. Decorating a Christmas tree had not factored into my plans for the evening. I could feel myself slipping. I was near tears. I didn’t want to be grouchy. I wanted to go back to that happy, relaxed feeling I had less than 24 hours earlier.

As I ironed, a friend sent me a text asking about getting together sometime with mutual friends to have a holiday drink. These are friends from “back in the day.” We are all past PTA presidents, and spent many mornings sipping coffee while our now-grown kids played. I loved the idea of getting together again to catch up on each other’s lives. We’re all working now. The kids (almost all of them) are all grown, and we don’t get together as often as we once did. My friend sent a text. “How about Sunday, December 11?” and I lost it.

December 11. I hate that day. It is the most horrible, despicable day. December 11 is the day my daughter Grace died. December 11 is the day my dad died. Two people I loved. It was on December 11 that I held my daughter in my arms as she looked into my eyes and took her last breath. On a December 11, I wandered through the pitch dark house, room to room, flicking on lights and calling my dad’s name. On December 11, I found my father dead on the living room floor. December 11 is full of horrible moments frozen in time.

I told my friend, “I’m sorry. I can’t on December 11.” I sent no more texts. I couldn’t. How could I explain that I am crazy on that day each year? How can I explain that I live in fear of that day? On December 11, I want to gather everyone I love all in the same room. I want to make them sit within my view. I want to hold a vigil over them. I want to lock the doors and stay in the house.

That one little text, with the words “December 11” threw me for a loop, and I still haven’t been able to recover. I sat in the bathroom and cried. I couldn’t help with the Christmas tree. I sat down later that evening and talked to T about it. He knew, or at least understood, my reaction. He’s seen it for years…The December 11th Syndrome. It’s real, and it sucks.

Things have been hazy since then. The cloud of depression has descended. I tried to explain that to T, too. The clogged-up, cottony feeling of depression. I told T about times in the past when I had wished for a semi to cross the center line while I was driving. I had wished for a patch of ice to spin my car around, out of control, and throw me off the road. I explained to T about the times when the depression became almost unbearable. I told him about times when I truly had not wanted to go on, but could not figure a way out of each day…the endless string of days filled with pain. I told him that sometimes, and now was one of those times, dealing with depression is an exhausting struggle. It felt better to talk and to say it all out loud.

Through the haze of this depression, I have been functioning as well as I possibly can. I’ve been working and taking care of my responsibilities. Life goes on. People are nice, or people are rude and mean. What I am going through is unnoticed and unimportant to most people around me. Most people don’t even know. I created the budgets. I attended the meetings. I answered questions and phone calls. Like an automaton, I continue to function day after day.

Strange moments have pushed themselves forward, to the front of the haze. Last night, I fell asleep on the couch and dreamed a happy dream. I had a puppy, a bloodhound (strange!) and I was happy. Something happened, though, and woke up. I was was awake for hours alone in the middle of the night. Near dawn, I fell asleep once again. This time my dream was full of fear and sadness. I don’t remember exactly what happened in the dream, but I was surrounded by grieving people. The room was full of despair. A door opened, and in walked a dear friend. I was up and wrapped in a comforting embrace. This morning, I sent my friend a thank you text for being such a reliable, comforting part of my real life. That steady friendship had made its way into my dreams just when I needed a friend.

And the strangeness continues.

This afternoon, I received a text from another friend. “Sorry I won’t be able to meet for dinner. Problems at work. Had to fly to CA.” I had no idea that I had even made dinner plans. So I rescheduled a dinner that I apparently would have missed.

Tonight, when all I wanted and needed was to completely relax and regenerate at the end of a bad day, I received a phone call from the hospital. My mom had fallen, and they thought her leg was broken. There was no need for me to come right away. Mom was being taken in for an x-rays, and I wouldn’t even be able to see her. They told me to wait for a call. I didn’t change my clothes. I didn’t throw on my comfy yoga pants and giant sweatshirt. I stayed in my office clothes in anticipation of a trip to the hospital. I waited. I did laundry. I vacuumed. I helped Lola with her homework. I made dinner. I carried my phone around waiting and waiting. Thankfully, my mom called at 8:30. Her leg isn’t broken. She can’t walk, though, and has been admitted to the hospital. No, there was no need come to the hospital tonight, but I need to go first thing in the morning. Arrangements will need to be made. The hospital will only keep her overnight. The assisted living facility won’t allow her back if she isn’t able to walk. It’s up to me, once again, to figure out where my mother will be going. Again. Again, and by myself. I have meetings scheduled for the morning. How am I supposed to fit this in, too?

After talking to my mother on the phone for a while, I felt reassured that she would be OK for the evening. I hung up and headed into the living room to let T know what was going on. There he sat on the couch with a 12-gauge shotgun on his lap. A man with a gun. It was shocking, and instinctively, I took a step back. It was my dad’s gun. We had brought it to our house, because it didn’t seem safe to leave guns in a vacant house. Of course, the gun wasn’t loaded. T doesn’t even like guns. He wants them out of the house, and was looking online for a fair selling price. Still…it’s a strange thing to walk into the living room and see your husband sitting there with a gun across his lap.

All evening, I thought of the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity…” Tonight I was praying, not for serenity, but a break from what seems like an endless series of crises. In closing this post, I ask you all to please be kind. None of us can know the internal struggles of those around us. A kind word, a smile, an act of friendship just might make someone’s day a little better at a time when they need it the most.