I’ve been posting a little inconsistently because I’ve been spending a lot of weekends “up north” at my parent’s house. As they age their needs have changed. Mom is mostly using a walker to get around, even in the house. She’s really needing a wheelchair if she’s out and about.
There was a big effort in March to get Mom a hospital bed to sleep in. She can use the adjustability. It will also help to have the grab bars just to roll over. We acquired a bed from one of the relatives (in the next state over). The logistics of getting the bed here and installed have been daunting.
The biggest dilemma in all of this has been space. My parents hang on to everything. As my Mom has lost track of what she has, she’s found the need to “replace” things that never were lost. We’ve seen them using what we would call rags and bought new as well. Then we discover the problem is just that the new stuff is being “saved for special.”
We are repeatedly invoking the mantra “Use the stuff! If you don’t use it, then toss it.” We’re at the point where the hospital bed is ready to install and the white gloves come off. We’ve spent the last weekend cleaning, decluttering and tossing. The whirlwind also included putting in new faucets in all the sinks (to stop the dripping).
It’s been a little distressing, a little disgusting, and required a lot of patience. The end result is that Mom can actually take her walker into any room in the house. Furniture has been moved and cleaned behind and under that had been collecting dust for 20 years. There is still a lot to do, but this is a good stopping point.
There is a lot of disorientation, especially on Mom’s part. It will take her some time to get used to the space. Dad has to touch everything that’s been put away and make sure that his most precious memorabilia is where he can get his hands on it at a whim. I’m sure in a couple of weeks piles will begin to accumulate again. Better is still better.
Thanks to my sister Andrea, her husband Butch, her son Zac and his SO Darcy, and Andrea’s daughter Alyx (who spent the weekend scrubbing). I couldn’t have touched this job and they took the lead on all of it. I’m thankful to be able to help at all. 5 years ago, I couldn’t have done anything.
Our culture has lost track of the sacredness of caring for our elders. We don’t have the time, services, support or even the examples of how to handle this. We are trying to do this work from a distance. 3 hours is no distance from my parents compared to what many of my friends deal with. Very few of us anymore have the resources to take our aging parents into our homes. We do what we can, and are grateful for the opportunity.
Have you missed me? I’ve noticed that when I’m dealing with big events in my life I stop writing. My journals all have gapping holes during the times when I would be most interested in going back and reading about what I was thinking in the moment. I’ve blank spaces from when Orion was a baby, and each of his hospitalizations. I have holes in the record immediately after recording that I had cancer. I stopped journaling when the cupboards came off the walls.
My parents are aging and it’s hard. It’s hard on them and it’s hard on us. I’ve missed the last two blogs. The first I skipped because my folks don’t have internet, the second because I’d just gotten home. I have been slammed with emotional content and I shut down.
When I was a kid I was “sensitive”. I cried in empathy, wore my emotions on my shirtsleeve and was generally harassed about it. I made an active decision to stop.
The first trick was pretty easy, typical in my family. That is to put emotion aside while you deal with a crisis. The idea is to stay clear headed and available, and not add to the chaos while it is occurring. The aftermath, when everything is safe, comes like a tidal wave and can be very confusing as it appears to have no source.
Having that kind of emotional catharsis in public is a great opportunity for gaslighting. There IS nothing to be so upset about (anymore). It IS overreacting (because it’s all the reaction at once). Even the part about “just looking for attention” isn’t entirely false. If I’ve just spent hours offering sympathy and emotional support to others, yes I may be looking for a little sympathy and emotional support for myself.
So I learned to allow myself to be distracted. Eventually I learned never to “get around” to dealing with my emotional content. There are lots of distractions! I’ve been trying to unlearn that.
I’ve found that I’m a better writer when I can be open to emotion. I’ve found that there is strength in vulnerability. I’ve found that it’s really hard to make myself do the work and that I need to create a time and space for it. I still can’t do it in public, at least not until I have a good handle on it myself. The support would be nice, but the gaslighting I can’t deal with.
So I shut down, a little. I look for distractions (I don’t have to look hard). I pick and choose my confidants. I try to carve out some space. Please be patient with me.
I got to spend the weekend up at my folks helping to make a happy birthday celebration happen for my Mom. Fragile is not I word I would ever have thought to apply to my mother. She’s the strong one, who will do whatever is necessary no matter where she is at. She bounces back. Climbing mountains after surgery is something I learned from her. She’s “in charge” and keeping track of all the moving pieces at any event she attends. At 82 today, she struggles to reconcile a self image which she can no longer maintain.
She rarely goes out anymore. It’s hard for her to get around. It’s hard for her to sit in the car for any length of time. When there are a lot of distractions, or conversations going on she gets confused. My Mom has been dealing with chronic pain for a long time. Her allergies are severe and complicated enough that medicating pain isn’t an option, beyond an occasional Tylenol. Her mouth is dry, so eating and talking become impossible when she doesn’t have water at hand.
We took her 100 miles there and another 100 miles back to go out to lunch with a good sized group. I went a few days early so we could get her showered, lay out her outfit and do some massage therapy in advance. Just my presence gives her a space to gather her resources. I make sure her water glasses are always full so she doesn’t have to ask. I put food in front of her rather than quizzing her about what she might want and what is available. I do the dishes and sweep the floors, which are both really big jobs for her. She can bank a little reserve.
For her, it was more than worth it. She had a really good day. She enjoyed it so much she didn’t want to go to bed because she didn’t want the day to be over. My youngest sister couldn’t make it, but all the rest of the female children and grandchildren were in attendance. It was a girls day out. There were lots of leftovers, but she knew I would get them home and see that they were used. The wait staff sang happy birthday and fussed over her desert. We all tried to keep the table conversation with one person talking at a time. There was a lot of love.
I am so very fortunate to be able to help facilitate that kind of good day for my Mom. I’m grateful for every opportunity I have to see her out and about and having a good time. It’s a joy to watch her relax and participate and let go of the worry of being “in charge”. I wish I could do more.
Happy birthday Mom!
I missed posting last week because of hunting season. We went up to my parents for the week. They don’t have the internet. We were up before dawn bundling up to sit in the cold and back again at dusk. In the meantime there were meals to make, housekeeping to tend to and just visiting.
The area we were in was pretty unrestricted but we did need to have everything inspected. There is a prion, like mad cow disease, that has been invading the deer herds. The state is trying to track its spread. Given that we hunt for meat rather than for trophies this is kind of important.
There are a lot of views on hunting and a lot of reasons to hold those views. I like wild meats and having them makes a significant impact on my very tight budget. My family has always supplemented the grocery budget this way, even the farmers. It makes sense to me to know that something has to die for me to eat.
Participating (even if it just means sitting with a gun in my lap waiting for Karina to shoot something) in this annual ritual is a way to connect to my heritage, my ancestry. Through both lines I come from northern climates, where hunting was an essential food supply. My people were not city folk, and even when they were they stayed involved with natural cycles.
Growing up in my family I’ve cleaned fish, tapped maple trees and weeded gardens. I’ve tried my hand at milking a cow and had pigs, chickens, and goats butchered to accommodate my visiting the farm. I’ve always known where my food came from.
Karina’s generation is even further removed from food sources than mine. As a chef food is important to her. In taking up hunting she is also committed to learning how to field dress an animal, how to process it and of course how to prepare the meat. The fact of the matter is that she’s the one doing all the work. I’m just making space in my freezer.
This year hunting was also an exercise in support. As my parents age it is become difficult for them to be as independent as they’d like. My Mom worries about my Dad’s eyesight. She worries about him carrying a loaded gun through the woods, tracking a deer on uneven ground. My Dad worries about my Mom being left alone too long. She has trouble getting around and has taken a fall or two herself.
Going up this year we could pretty much be sure My Dad wouldn’t have to go out alone. We could set Mom up for comfort and give her a “check-in” call before we wandered too far off. Orion stayed inside so they could “look out for each other”. Karina took charge of all the carrying. She says the beer kegs she’s been weighing each week at work are heavier than the deer. She also appreciates how easily things slide when you drag them on snow.
Now that I’m home I can look forward to some tasty meals. When I have them I’ll be grateful. I will be grateful for the deer that sacrificed its life. I’ll be grateful for my daughter taking care of me. I’ll be grateful for the opportunity to make memories with my parents. I’ll be grateful for my heritage.
My schedule has changed considerably in the past few weeks. My son’s step-mother and I have come to an agreement that scheduling would work better for everyone if the two of us confab and just let the ex know what we’ve arranged. That said, she even offered to return to the original agreement ex and I had when we first split up!
This is huge for everyone. It means Orion will be spending quite a bit more time with his father. It means that it will be easier on both sides to plan weekend events. It also means I may actually have an opportunity for a life outside of being “Mom”.
Orion and I spent the week of 4th of July with my parents. It’s clear they need a little help as they age and I’ve been trying to visit more frequently and for longer periods of time. I missed the trip I’d planned for Memorial Day weekend as I was in bed on heavy duty pain killers. Walking in at my folks I admit to feeling a little guilty for not making it up.
I know what it’s like to not be able to keep up with the day-to-day of living.
My own house is suffering from years of neglect and I’m playing catch up when I can. My parents are now at a point where they also need a boost just to stay even. They didn’t get that when I didn’t show up in May. After I’d been there a day I texted a friend “I think I’ve done more housework since I arrived than I’ve done at my house in the last month!” (I’m not sure if she was shocked about how much I was doing there or how little I’d done at home. LOL)
I don’t want to give the impression I’m doing it all. My sister is a trouper. She’s covering long drives, doctor appointments and scheduling, medications, emergencies and the 30 min. weekly (plus) drop-in to see how things are going. Her new husband has done things like adding grab bars to the bathrooms, helping with deadfall, and maintaining the driveway. He has also committed to shoring up the back porch and gazebo. (I wish I had one or two of him at my house!)
It’s not all work either. I had a lovely chat or two with my Mom. Orion and I got Dad to take us out on the lake in the canoe. Meals are still good (even if I am doing more of the cooking) and Dad still bakes bread. Orion gets his waffles for breakfast and most of the time he and Dad manage ‘bathed and dressed’ without me. (I do lay clothes out the night before.)
I’m grateful that I still have them to visit and that I’m able to be helpful. I’m grateful that they are still managing in their home. I’m very grateful my sister is close by when they need something.
Things change and life moves on. It’s clear we’re all shifting into a new stage. Hopefully we’ll all manage to do this with grace and compassion (and maybe a little fun).