Tomorrow Began Yesterday

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Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end

It’s all now you see: tomorrow began yesterday and yesterday won’t be over until tomorrow. – William Faulkner

It’s a quiet morning, and I’m in the house alone sitting in my room, sipping on a steaming cup of coffee, and cuddled under the covers in my robe.  Mornings like this are a rarity, and I am fully enjoying the moment.  Out there beyond my bedroom door are lists of things I need to buy and things I need to do.  Kids and family will begin descending on our house either tonight or tomorrow.  I haven’t really been able to clarify exactly who is being brought along to our house…or when.  For now though, until my feet hit the floor with some kind of purpose, these morning moments belong to me.   Continue Reading »

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Defining Me

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diamond studs

Late on Christmas day, while our house was still full of people, my oldest daughter and I retired to the living room.  T had made mochas with his new milk frother (awesome!) and Emily and I snuck away to a quiet spot to spend few moments together.  When we sat down, my daughter told me that she had been prepared to give me a “talking to” that day.  Sadly, I wasn’t shocked.  My poor daughter has been my watchdog and my rock, but on Christmas day, she was proudly smiling at me.  She went on to tell me that she had been prepared for me to be upset that Andrew hadn’t been able to be home with us and that my parents were gone.  She had been prepared for me to wallow in what was NOT instead of being grateful for what WAS.  I smiled.  She was right to have been prepared with that talk, and I was ridiculously proud that she didn’t have to say those words to me.  Yes, I have changed.  The changes have been subtle, and they have been a long time coming, but here they are.  I made the most of the moment right in front of me.  Best of all, I made my daughter happy and proud. Continue Reading »

Sometimes People Suck

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Anyone out there who thinks that government employees are overpaid, lazy people who can’t get a job in the private sector, think again.  Most of us have been employed in the private sector at one time or another.  Many of us will return to the private sector again at some point in the future.  That’s where I’ll be once again when I can no longer take the stress of being a government employee.  While I can only speak for myself, I am in this job, because I want to make a difference.  I believe in what I do, and that means something to me.  I’ve been in jobs before where I was nothing but a corporate drone.  Now I’m in the trenches, and most of the time I like that.  Although, all too often the people I am fighting for perceive me as an enemy or “one of the bad guys.” 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.

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.