The way to love someone
is to lightly run your finger over that person's soul
until you find a crack,
and then gently pour your love into that crack.
~Keith Miller

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Gift

The neighbor was on the front porch yesterday.  He frequently stops over before his evening walk with Blossom, a delightful Jack Russell Terrier, she is intrigued by Sammy, but disdains the cats.  He is a wonderful person, retired, thoughtful, salt of the earth.  I've become very fond of him over the years.

He said he was proud of me for having the courage to tend to my mom.  Courage.  It seemed like a strange word for the situation.  I told him that I was her only option ... I did it because it was the right thing to do.  He said I was actually her best option, but the choice was clearly mine to make ... and chosing to care for her was an act of courage.  It made my eyes sting.  I looked away.  "It actually turned out to be a gift to me."  I told him, meeting his gaze again, and he was interested in that.  His wife's disposition is very similar to my mom's.  He knows that.  And ... he has grown daughters, almost my age.

"How so?"

He wanted to know.

All the other people in my life who have died have done so suddenly.  It's shocking how someone can be so present and then ... just gone.  Goodbyes are hard when one can hold only memories.  And ... quite frankly, for me, those earlier experiences have made it difficult for me to really let people become important to me.  I have liked a little buffer in relationships.  I have liked "spacious" relationships ...  where because they are not part of ones every day the pain/risk is minimized.    Love hurts ... sooner or later, and it can be quite devastating.  The closer one holds "that" person, the more it hurts when they are gone.  I have tended to keep the number of "my very precious people" to a minimum.
It has made me want to fence love in ... and we all know love really is at it's best untempered by fears.
I notice with age, maturity maybe, I am getting better at loving people who may not be nearer for the rest of my life.  I am finding a way to ... and it's good.  Loving folks is good.

I went over there intending to stay for a week ... and to spend the bulk of that time enjoying the company of my brother and his wife.  It worked out differently of course, and I wouldn't have it any other way (the part about helping Momma).  Had he been well, I most likely would not have been needed or wanted ... the burden of her last days would have been carried almost entirely by him.  I say that and it's probably true.  I think it is.  That's how we had it set up.  And ... it was easier to manage the relationship for him.  Things were easier between them, had always been so.  He is moderately "crap" intolerant, which was helpful when dealing with Momma, also ... he was the one person on the planet who she would actually defer to.  Everybody who knows our family knows that.  I don't understand the dynamics of how ... just know that it is so and has been so for as long as I can remember.  Hey Tommy, go ask Momma ... golden boy was a star player on team kid.

But ... as things went, I spent a good deal of time with Momma.  I expected to take care of her ... and  collect information so that my brother and I and our spouses could (help) make choices for her care.  We didn't like the idea of a nursing home, partly because Momma was adverse to the idea, also because the places my brother and his sweetheart had already been able to visit just didn't seem like a good place for Momma.  I mean ... not all nursing care facilities are "good" places.  Momma left the hospital with referrals back to her PCP, and to a cardiologist, also an oncologist ... all three of those care providers made hospice referrals.  We knew Momma had at most six months with us and we all settled in to make the time as pleasant as possible.  I was, and continued to be through out the experience, very concerned about my brother's health ... and I felt like my strengths could make a difference for him where for Momma palliative care was our only option.  At some point I adjusted to/accepted the idea that I had to focus my time resources primarily on Momma's care.  She accepted the continuous company well I thought ... though she didn't exactly realized I was me most of the time, experiencing me as just somebody there to help her or keep her company, she didn't resist my presence ... she didn't ask me to leave as I thought she might.  She did "resist" most of the help available through hospice.  As I sit here in my own home, hundreds of miles and millions of minutes away from there  I am still so very amazed as how quickly she went from seemingly excellent health to her death ... the decline was staggeringly steep. It's so painfully difficult to process that she is actually gone.  And ...  for my brother it must be even more surreal as he had (at least) spoken with her everyday for the past several years.

I don't know about tending to her being an act of courage.  That certainly seems like too big a pat on the back.  She was my mother, of course I would do my best for her.  It was fortunate that she was able to cooperate as well as she did.  We did go round and round several times about ... "I can take care of myself, just go on about your own business and let me be about mine."  I thought it was interesting and sometimes amusing to see how dismissive she was about receiving "help" from me and anybody.  She was fiercely independent and seemed content to be "left alone".  I told her that "leaving her alone wasn't an option from any perspective".  I tried to help her see that even legally it wasn't viable ... as in elder abuse.  She snorted and laughed at that ... "DeAnn! Neither of my children would ever abuse me!"  And of course I agreed with that, but it was impossible to get her to see that leaving her alone would be perceived as poorly (and rightly so I think) as leaving a child alone.  That didn't go over well ... now I was insulting her by equating her capabilities to that of a child ... it actually enraged her.

There is so much that goes in to caring for your own "old" person.  I felt that I was doing pretty good with everything until Momma became mostly bed-ridden ... mostly, in that there were events when she was perfectly able to hop out of bed and bolt across the room ... or yank her flat screen free from it's connections and carry it to the balcony (how did she even unlock the safety bolts?!?).  Once she was unable to maneuver herself to the bathroom she was pretty well impossible to deal with.  For one thing ... that loss of bodily independence was horrible for her.  The very idea of a "diaper" was an affront to her sensibilities (I get it).  The people at the hospice house were great with helping her address that in a dignified way.  I hear people complaining about having to change their parent's diapers and I have to say having cared for five of my own babies probably prepared me for that better then most people have the opportunity to prepare for ... I didn't have a problem with that (other then the diapers aren't as great as the ones marketed for babies and they should be - the technology is there).  It was hard on my mom.  Having one of her babies change her diaper was hard on her ... horrifying so.

I am glad I got to be there for her.  I'm glad my family made it okay for me to be there.  I feel that the time with her was a gift because I got to witness her, a person I know/knew well, "being born into whatever exactly comes next".  I'm still thinking about that.  I'm thinking about the "hallucinations" a little but mostly I'm thinking about how she starting being able to express her pleasure or contentment at the smallest of every things.  All her memories seemed to be good ones.  All of her expectations about her future were anxiety free.  All the anxious energy ... resistant and/or avoidant ... dissipated.  She was present in the moment and at ease.  She was happy ... delighted even. 

I think my mom's earliest years left her emotionally scarred.  I think she did her best to tend to us in ways that she perceived to be most important ... like keeping a perfectly tidy home, preparing deliciously healthy meals, guiding us to high civic and educational standards (mostly ... they wanted polite well-spoken children) ... spiritual matters were less important to my parents then they have been to me.  I think she did remarkably well at what she thought was important and I don't fault her.  What was very difficult for her was anything, behavior-wise, that was contrary to her directives.  She wanted, insisted, with the one exception of my one brother, that the people around her do what she wanted them to do ... and she exerted all her energy towards developing strategies for making that happen.  It came across as bullying ... dominating ... self-centered/selfish ... helpless sometimes ... distancing, dismissive ... denying/delusional ... manipulative ... angry ... aloof.  I didn't mind not being "close" to her.  One of the most surprising things she ever said to me (and it was years ago) was that she never realized that I wouldn't live near her again after I left for college ... that she was saying "goodbye" to proximity (which I think she equated to closeness).  She didn't see herself as "difficult". Everyone else was difficult (those stinkers!)  I didn't doubt that she loved me ... I just don't know how to sort out what "love" was to her.

That time ... those last few weeks ... was a gift.  I'm working on notes about that.  Or maybe this is it ... yes, I think it is ... it's what I've gone back to "put" in bold print.

The gift makes me smile in my heart.

She left me with the desire to emulate the qualities that surfaced in her during those last few days. She left me wondering if that wasn't who she "really" was ... the truest, purest her.

saw this on PINTEREST
Judith McNaught is a writer whom I have not read,
I hadn't even heard of her before today,
but I like this.

With Momma ... I decided to just go for it.  And I'm so glad I did.  I saw qualities I will aspire to.

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