26 February 2015

T-R-A-N-S-I-T-I-O-N

 T R A N S I T I O N (S)

I thought about starting a new blog about my adventures in caring for my 90 year old father and 91 year old Mom, but it didn't seem necessary. I have neglected my blog for a long time because I've been up to my eyeballs in taking care of "the twins", as I affectionately refer to them, but my posts on Facebook seem to be getting longer and so I feel it's time to get back to my blog.

In the beginning, this blog was about a 40 something year old woman who found sobriety on 11 January 2004, and learning how to live as a responsible, productive citizen. In the time since my blog began, my son and daughter have grown up, married wonderful spouses and made me a grandma in 2014 - adding 3 new beautiful grandbabies to our family - my son and daughter in law brought their beautiful little girl, Evelyn Sophia, into the world on 8 September 2014 and my daughter and son in law chimed in with identical twin daughters in late October. What blessings!!

In September 2012, it became necessary for me to stop working OUTSIDE my home and tend to my parents. Memories were failing and medications were screwed up and mother suddenly gave up cooking. One day, she just didn't do it anymore. My Dad is a great man, but he's useless in the kitchen, possessing no knowledge of how coffeemakers work, how bread becomes toast or how to scramble an egg.

Me? For most of my adult life I had about as much interest in cooking as I did underwater basket weaving. The kitchen was a place I breezed through to grab iced tea, a snack and frankly I took most of my meals out. In September 2012, I became chief cook and bottle washer - because it finally occurred to me that while Smithfields and Pizza Hut are convenient and tasty options, they aren't sustainable in the long-term. 

So my self-taught culinary education began. At first, it was a clumsy, messy and sometimes inedible affair but as with most things, applying time and tenacity and step by step instructions online, I learned how to cook. I must say I've given a pretty good account of myself and as of this writing, no one has incurred any gastrointestinal issues as a result of my culinary offerings (touch wood). In fact, there are some days I find great pleasure in creating dishes and I have learned to look upon this, and so many other things I've been conscripted to take on, as challenges in the "I dare you to try - let's see what you've got" kind of self motivation. 

I've learned a lot of lessons, gained new skills, been made humble and stumbled a few times - but the good news is that I've grown and stretched in more ways than I can count. I'm grateful, but it's not all sunshine and daisies. There are days when I'm sure I'm in my last moments of sanity. There are nights I hit the bed and I'm positive I won't be able to summon the physical and emotional strength to get back up again. Some days I feel as if my head will explode if I hear my dad retell the same stories he's been repeating for the past few years. When upcoming doctor's appointments arrive and I'm tasked with getting both of my parents to Wilmington Health for a visit with Dr. Babiss, I feel as if I'm herding cats - my Mom with her bulky walker and my Dad with his lack of coordination and failure to recognize the building we've visited so many times - asking me if he's ever met "that lady doctor" before. When it's time to dispense my parents' daily meds, my Dad always ALWAYS asks if he's ever taken that pill before and is it for him? He's only been taking that pill for about 20 years and yes, it's for him. We have that same conversation every single day. Every. Single. Day. Not a day goes by that my Dad doesn't see a speck of dust or a leaf on the floor that he doesn't bend over, pipe fully lit in his mouth, and dump hot ashes on whatever it is he's trying to pick up which isn't nearly as noticeable as the trail of sometimes red hot sparks that drop out of his pipe. I remind him daily, please don't bend over with your pipe in your mouth to which he instantly asks me "how come? I won't spill anything!". Ummmm, yeah you do and it's dangerous.

Watching the mental and physical deterioration of my parents is one of the most painful experiences I've ever been exposed to. It's so heart wrenching at times that it almost physically makes my heart feel as if it's breaking. My parents have been blessed - it wasn't until their late 80's that mental deficits began piling up but when those glitches began happening, they have accelerated so that as I write this in late February 2015, there are days that my Mom doesn't really know who I am. She knows my name is "Susan", but I'm not "her" Susan. She doesn't connect the dots. My Dad will look at his great granddaughter and when I ask him who she is and what her relationship is to him, he'll think for a couple of minutes and exclaim, "She's my grand niece!". This from a man who has devoted most of his retired life to genealogy research and has over 15,000 names on his Family Tree Maker. 

But there are those golden moments, and they never fail to catch me by surprise. I will hear my Dad loudly and lovingly exclaim to my Mom, bending close to her face as she sits in her recliner in their room, "I love you, I love you, I love you!!!!" or, "did you know you're prettier today than the day I asked you to marry me?". There are those moments when my Dad comes over to me and gives me a tender hug and says, "Your Mom and I sure do appreciate how you take care of these two old people...". Some mornings I'll walk in the kitchen to get their breakfast started and he will be ever so gently holding the chair for her and easing her into a sitting position with the greatest care imaginable. Some evenings I'll walk by their room and overhear my Dad patiently answer my Mom as she asks him, "When are we going home? How long have we been here? Do my parents know we're living together here? Can we go to West Virginia and see my brothers?". My Dad tenderly tries to bring her into the present, as much as his own memory has a grasp on it, and with kindness tries to give her comfort.

This is an emotional gig I find myself in the middle of and tears come with the territory, but I keep them private and out of view. As a 55 year old adult, I understand perfectly what is happening to my parents from a clinical standpoint, but as the only living offspring of these two, I dearly miss my parents a little more every single day. It sucks to see your two most amazing role models, a pair of the finest people you could ever hope to meet, who have guided you and been incredible examples of integrity and love, falter, fail to recognize you, grapple with the simplest of tasks like opening an e-mail, working a simple jigsaw puzzle or turning off a faucet rather than just walking away and leaving it running. 

This is what I want to use my blog for now. As difficult as so much of this is, and for as much as I sometimes imagine myself far removed from this situation, I know there will come a time when I will want to remember so many of the little things. I want to remind myself that we all did the very best that we could.

I'm not alone by any stretch of the imagination - there are a lot of us baby boomers out there engaged in the same role of caregiver. My situation may be a little unique in that I have no living siblings and I am a full-time caregiver to both parents. I'm outnumbered and on most days, I honestly surprise myself that I've managed another day of keeping it all together, but there are moments I feel desperately tired and I just want a few hours where I'm not in charge of anyone or anything. 

I do have full-time aides who are furry and go by the name of Cleo and Sailor - two rescue dogs that rescue me on a daily basis. They interject "life" into my daily grind. They demand that I go outside and throw a tennis ball and almost every day they insist that I take them on an errand, even if it's nothing more exciting than a trip to CVS or Smithfields or the grocery store. When they see me grab my Doc Martens, coat and car keys, they are front and center and, because I fear my parents may accidentally open an outside door leaving the dogs to take the opportunity to run like the wind, I feel safer taking them along with me on most every outing I make. They are wonderful companions and they also have proven themselves as fantastic therapy dogs to my parents. Their antics, affection and interaction never fail to add laughter and joy to my parents' lives. I couldn't get through my days without Cleo and Sailor. I will forever be in their debt.

While it's true I have no siblings, I do have an amazing posse of the most generous and steadfast friends one could ever hope to meet. My dear sweet Sharon leads the pack - this woman truly makes my life so much easier and is a constant reminder that I am not alone. Sharon was one of the first friends I made when I moved to Wilmington in August 2000. I knew absolutely no one but it didn't take me long to find her. She watched in horror during the early years of our friendship and pulled me out of many of dicey situation, courtesy of my serious relationship with red wine and when it was finally time for me to confront my drinking and admit that I had become powerless, she truly held my hand and helped me believe that I was stronger than I felt. In the years since I popped that cork back in the bottle, as I've grown and regained so much that my drinking took away, she has celebrated my victories and made me believe in myself. For those reasons alone, she's been one of the most pivotal humans in my life but as I've made my way through this journey of caregiving, she's been not only a staunch source of support, but she's done a great deal of the heavy lifting right there with me. In every way except blood, she IS my sister, along with our buddy Anne, and these two women keep me laughing, cry along with me when it's needed and their support gives me courage; when you're taking care of "eldertwins", you need all the courage and stamina you can get your hands on. These women, along with other angels in my life, deliver in spades. I can honestly say that while the mission of caregiving can be a lonely business, I have seldom, if ever, felt truly alone. My friends make that impossible for me and I'm so dearly grateful for each of them. 

Reaching out doesn't come naturally to most of us. However, it does become necessary. I want to be someone who learns to lend Grace as my own friends have so often and generously given Grace to me. Friends both local and far flung have showered me with so much kindness, packages of spirit lifters, cards, teas, sea glass, sailboat pillows, mugs with sayings that make me smile and feel loved, books that share advice for this passage, notes and cards that whisper comfort and joy. I'm so humbled by these gifts. I'm incredibly blessed by these angels who literally light my path and "walk me home". I can't even express how much this love means to me - a gentle envelope or box of strength that, regardless of what it contains, says, "Yes, you can keep going. You'll be fine.". There are so many wonderful people in this world and when you're in the trenches, you notice them as never before. 

I don't know how much I'll be updating this site, but I want to try and keep it current. If you're in the middle of parental caregiving - feel free to reach out to me. If you're not, feel free to reach out to me anyway. I'll do my best to reach back to you.

2 comments:

Michel said...

Congratulations, Susie, for returning to your blog to share your useful, while frustrating, experience.

Karen Gerstenberger said...

I've mostly been offline for weeks, and am thrilled to find you writing here, Susie! Hooray for you! You were one of my early blogging champions, and now, it's my turn to add a word of encouragement to you.
I was just with my writing group today, one of whom works with Island Volunteer Caregivers, and told her about you and what you are doing for your parents. She reminded me that IVC has a caregiver support group which meets regularly, and I am wondering if there is such a thing near you...
With love and Hip-Hip-Hooray-you're-writing-again! from Karen