For those who hurt today…

I take comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in today’s big feelings about loss. I’m exploring the depth of pain felt by those whose country celebrates gains that for them, meant unfathomable loss of culture, family and land. I’m stunned by where we are now as nation – each to their corners today so that more survive the month. This is the season our ancestors globe-wide celebrate light. What I take from this day is how gratitude resides in us, giving us hope. Allowing us to celebrate the subdued light of this harsh and beautiful season.

I have 4 who will spend the day alone; two single people, and two married in separate nursing facilities (mom and dad). It hurts. I see you hurting too. You’ve lost people you love. You have loved ones in ICU. You can only visit today at an assigned time, touching hands through a pane of glass. You, yourself are alone. The depth of collective loss is so deep we can’t reach the bottom in a day. We will be processing this for months to come. I don’t even know “you.” But I spend this Thanksgiving Day with you.

Butter Alone

I am sleep deprived. Three kids with coughs are taking turns in steamy showers, propped up on pillows. Cool air for the croupy one, a nebulizer for the wheezy one and snuggling for the dramatic one.

I am somewhat happy to comply, so long it’s shared with a domesticated husband and a cooperative dog (she keeps the foot of the bed warm when I get up to help). I am accustomed to working nights in this job.

My trouble isn’t the kids. It’s mom’s heart and dad’s memory that make sleep elude me once I am awake. Heart and memory and relocation, pain and loss and depression. The vultures flying around what they have left—the Vet benefits that I can only hope come through before the death certificate. The elder care attorney, the total lack of Alzheimer’s care, the heart valve clinical trial consent form. The appointments. The medications. The forms. The health care system that doesn’t seem to understand age or disability, of all things!

Art by Helen Boggess

Art by Helen Boggess

My brain colluded with my uterus the minute I was pregnant and still marches onward full of love, most days (and nights). But I didn’t see my healthy, strong youthful parents’ infirmity coming out of left field until it struck me sideways. They were still my best babysitters up until the day of my mom’s stroke. Though she recovered, her heart and her husband will not.

In the morning I set to writing over a bowl of soup and a delicious roll at the coffee shop that’s quieter than my house. I peel gold foil from a pad of butter and stop before spreading it. “Wait,” I think. Dad we are trying to fatten up: he eats two. Mom can’t take the cholesterol; she gets ½ a pad. Child one is vegetarian; does not apply. Child three hates butter; DO NOT APPLY TO ROLL WITHOUT INSANE CONSEQUENCES. But I may eat one pad of butter.

I spread it on the bread, dip it in the soup, and finish every yummy bit.

Then I remember. It wasn’t the butter at all. Today I was going to eliminate carbs.

Tipping scale

imageThe orange light is on in my car. The bar is thin on my phone. The house is quiet. The chocolate bar I ate by myself last night at 9pm did not suffice. The sympathetic text from my old friend helped. A check-up from the neck-up with my therapist has sustained me. But I just made an appointment at the mechanic for a new battery for my car and the metaphor was not lost on me. I am on empty with a low charge today too.

For the last two weeks my husband has been working many more hours than he has been sleeping. A few days ago my brother, who was here to help with my mom’s stroke recovery, moved back to California. Yesterday I helped my dad begin to end his 40-year private practice in psychiatry. I was also asked to help with a legacy project for my amazing God Father. I assisted a friend through a crisis. I sent my middle son off to kindergarten in brave, hiccuping sobs. I listened, I nurtured, I supported.

When I carry my youngest these days I feel how soft his cheeks are next to mine and savor the curiosity in his eyes. I notice how tightly his little arm holds me around my neck and how big he is getting. Yesterday felt like that; full of nostalgia, obligation, honor and appreciation. I am incredibly grateful for all I carry, cherish and stand to lose. And, by the end of the day, the weight of it all, plus a two-year old, is heavy.

My energy is tapped. I don’t have a plan for refill beyond chocolate and hugs. I am sad that my brother is far away, my dad is aging, my God Father has cancer and my kids are growing up way too fast. I am trying to be brave and allow myself to be with my sadness, knowing it will be here for awhile. I am hoping that a few ounces of tears and courage added to the two sides of the scale will help Empty and Heavy balance themselves out over time. If I wait quietly, I will feel the scale tip as my heavy load begins to pour its contents, gram by gram, back into my empty heart. I am here now, with Heavy and Empty, waiting for the tipping point. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I am grateful for all that I carry because its the same substance that fills me up.

Mother’s Happy Day

IMG_0156My grandmother attended my wedding.  She held my first born and died 45 minutes later.  I believe she waited to meet him.  I know most people don’t experience the gift of great grandchildren, but I have always anticipated my parents would grow very, very old.  Watching my mom hooked up to tubes and monitors now numbs my brain.  Abandoning my routine to be here all day and much of the night has been exhausting.  Sounds like I am complaining.  But my mom is alive and she’s actually getting pretty good reports.  I won’t fuss.  The future still lies ahead of us, and I do not care so much about its length anymore.  A teacher at my son’s school wrote me a supportive email today, saying she understood because her mother had had a stroke.  She also lost her brother and her dad recently and reminded me; “what I take away from that is to live each day fully with as much love and compassion as you can muster-because it could all be gone tomorrow in a blink.”

I haven’t spent this much time with my mom since I was six, yet I miss her.  I keep picking up the phone to call her and tell her about how much I hurt and how scared I have been.  I think somehow my brain thinks the woman I am spending my days with right now is my grandmother who passed away at 98.  This couldn’t be my mom.  My mom sparkles.  Actually, my grandmother sparkled too.  I can see why my brain thinks I am with Louelle.  I was with her when she was diagnosed with heart failure and she looked at the doctor and said, “how dare you call my heart a failure after all these years.”  Now the tiny woman in the bed keeps waking up to crack jokes with her nurses in this low, distorted, slurred voice that is absolutely unrecognizable other than the wit in reveals.  Day 1 in the hospital she said, “I’m all for an adventure but I think I went too far this time.”  Day 2 she could really only open one eye, but I’m pretty sure she winked at me.  Day 4 we left ICU and when we made it to her room we shared our first post-stroke mother-daughter knowing look.  Day 6 the doc told her the MRI showed many strokes in her brain, like a shower of little lights; she said, “I’m a meteorite.”  Day 7; when I walked into her room she was sitting in a chair slowly talking with one of my close friends about fixing my brother up with her single friends so that he would move here to Minnesota.  My friend is a Reiki Master and I don’t know what she did, but I will be forever grateful to her for helping my mom out of her neurological shell for an hour.  Today my big brother and I gasped and squealed and clapped and hugged when we both heard her true laugh for a split second; just one twitter.  She was back.

But just for awhile.  When I leave the hospital the panic creeps back in through my pores.  The fear of losing her.  The terror of her being tormented by her body.  Back to Day 1.  The call from dad.  Seeing what I thought was her corpse in that E.R. bed.  Waiting for news.  Hearing the echoing voice of the neurologist say, “your mom’s health is very complicated and I can’t tell you yet which way this will go.”  Holding my husband.  Listening to my friend say, “breath, Shawna” on the phone.  Trying to breath.  Trying to feel the ground under my feet.  Trying not to throw up.  Crying, which I don’t do.  Feeling vulnerable.  Wanting to hide.  Holding dad’s hand.

In medical first responder training we learned about “core-shunting;” when the body sends blood to what is most essential in order to survive stress like cold, blood loss, shock.  I felt that way until we left ICU, and now I just revisit the feeling a few times everyday.  Its better because she is better, but there are still unknowns.  When I lapse back into fear my chest feels heavy, my arms feel tickly, my hands can’t grasp, my legs feel empty and awkward and my feet feel pins and needley on the ground.  On day 5 I felt this way as I left the hospital because I had determined the stroke was all my fault.

Luckily, I have a few friends who are doctors.  I sent a frantic, “what if I had known” text to one of them and she responded, “it wouldn’t change the outcome.”  I sent another and he said, “its not your fault.”  Another showed up in ICU like a bald, beautiful angel in nice shoes and said, “she’s going to be ok.”  Hearing that from someone who knew her before meant everything to me.  And one more just happened to have lit a fire in his backyard, scrounged his fridge for 3 beers, and had open chairs ready before my husband and I even called him at 10pm on night 5.  He talked me down.

The night before her stroke I pulled over on the way home from choir, ready to turn around and drive to my parent’s house.  Something felt wrong.  I talked to her.  She had a cold and this had been a tough month with a chronic condition she has battled; maybe just dehydration.  She and dad agreed; we’ll call the doctor again tomorrow.  We’re going to sleep–don’t come.  I didn’t follow my instincts.  By morning she had had “a shower” of strokes.  Panic.  My feet tingle.  I could have saved her.

But we sat by the fire and he told me about medicine and how it works and how it fails sometimes.  He gave me medical reasons why spending the night in the E.R. might not have kept her from having a stroke.  He gave me human reasons for not always being able to protect the people closest to me.  And we ate some chocolate and cheese and sat by the fire in the rain and felt better.  Blood returns to feet.  Hands grasp.  Strength returns.

I haven’t always trusted my husband to be the supportive type.  I figured he would fill many, many needs but my friends would supply the shoulders I cry upon.  And they have.  They have watched my kids, called, texted, shopped, hosted, prayed, sent light beams, prayers, cards, and watched my kids more.  I love, love, love my friends.  But it was good for me to realize that I was wobbly at the hospital without my husband there.  As soon as he showed up, I was grounded.  If something good comes out of this it is knowing I can be vulnerable, and “there is still joy,” as one of my very first friend’s wrote today.  In fact, my cousin watched my littlest guy today and took him to visit his horse.  He came home dirty and smelling like hay and I loved my cousin for the joy he rendered during a week like this.

Another cousin came to see us.  She brought a flower for mom and her beautiful smile and she brought me tumeric and ginger for my nervous stomach.  She has been here before.  She has been darker places, actually.  She gave me a teary hug that felt like a blanket I could hide under for awhile, and together we made mom laugh a little.  Actually, in truth, I think mom made us laugh.  And then she was tired and slipped away again.  She felt present for a little while when her dear friend visited.  And she smiled when I told her Teddy had come with flowers and when we told her that her brothers and sisters wanted to visit.  I read her the emails and cards and prayers everyone has sent and she cried, saying she couldn’t die yet.  And I sat in disbelief looking at her crooked face and one good eye and feeling the love she eminates.  All I could do was hug her and all her wires as tightly as she has always hugged me.

But our best Red-Tent moment came a few days later.  She had a painful test involving a needle being injected into her bone to sample marrow.  If I had any doubt in her strength before we held hands for this test, it vanished as she squeezed my fingers (unfortunately/painfully donned with the rings they removed from her fingers in the E.R.)  She had to lay on her side, and I sat at her bedside inches from her face.  We locked eyes and breathed together.  I am sure it was an awful point in time for her, but for me, it was a turning point.  I found my place as her support.  I found something I could do for her.  I found my role in all of this mess, and my blood returned to my limbs and my belly and my head.  Lesson learned; if I remain in my body I can be helpful to my mom.

So, here is the update; she truly is doing a remarkable job recovering from her stroke.  She is exhausted.  Her underlying health issues remain complicated so she will be in the hospital awhile longer.  For more and more of the day everyday, she is  her funny and sparkly self.  Everyday she is strong.  When I went to visit her on Mother’s Day my oldest said, “wish her Mother’s Happy Day.”  I started to correct him and then realized he had said it on purpose.  This year, my mom and I needed to celebrate Mother’s Happy Day instead, and he knew it.  So in celebration of Mother’s Day this year I hung pictures of her at carefree, outdoor times on her hospital room walls.  I want her to remember being her, but I also want her nurses and doctors to know what she will look like when she recovers, and who she has been to all of us.  I want everyone to know that she is special;  my mom is a meteorite.

Wintering

Yesterday morning at the YMCA I attempted the tread mill for maybe the 4th time in my life.  I was loving it, which shocked me.  I have successfully staved off gym workouts until this winter’s trifecta; low snow, low temperatures, broken toe.  Given how elated I was with the Y, my jog, and my music, I momentarily lost track of my body.  It might have been the air drums I was playing on the handle bars or my attempt to change songs, but I wiped out in full slapstick style.  I dropped to the tread, which abruptly whisked me to the floor.  Attempting to quickly regain vertical, I got caught in my earphone wires and snagged them out of my ipod, broadcasting loudly “to dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave do not go…”  But I went there.  And I could not stop laughing, along with a dozen or so other people.  I tripped again attempting to board my moving treadmill, and had to acknowledge my display, “I’m ok, I’m ok, thanks folks.”  My right hand neighbor snickered, “wow–you are having an inspired workout today.”  When I continued to have fits of giggles over the next ten minutes, left hand neighbor finally let hers fly, saying “well, if you’re laughing, I’m gonna laugh.”

This is the same week in which I slathered chap stick on my cold-injured lips and entered the mall (another place I normally avoid) with my two year old.  I brought a few long black dresses to the changing room and started to strip.  Two year old stripped.  I threw on a dress, he threw on my shirt.  I looked into the mirror expecting to cherish this sweet moment with my son, and instead I was greeted with an old lady wearing way too much raspberry-cream lipstick; not chap stick.  This is the very lipstick situation that has marked old-age disempowerment for me for decades, only now it was on MY FACE.  I groped for wipes and found myself surprisingly overcome.  Wesley made a break for it at this moment, under the door, and was greeted by the lovely smooth-skinned fashionistas at the counter with oooohs and ahhhhs and “adorables.”  I opened the door, lip-disaster free and ready to assess my gown, but the young women were completely focused upon belting a $100 dedazzled t-shirt onto my child that he had selected from the rack.  I took a deep breath, reminded and relieved that it is his time, not mine, to be noticeable.  I doubled over laughing at the image of myself in floor-length black gown, running shoes, pony tail, blue sports bra, smeary pink lips and naked two-year-old sidekick.

This morning I got pulled over for not signaling my turn.  I didn’t even know one could be pulled over for such an offense.  He gave me a warning, ostensibly because of my “perfect driving record,” but the two toddlers in the backseat crying “cold, cold” as he stood at my open window might have had an impact on his decision.  We hadn’t been driving long enough for the car to warm up from the balmy five degrees outside.  The officer explained that he was there because someone from the neighborhood called the city about fast and incompetent drivers in that quadrant.  I actually agreed with the officer and thanked him for coming to save our neighborhood from said drivers before I shut my window and came to my senses.  Guess who made that call?

To wrap up this week, I had a funny dream last night; kind of sad/funny.  I was running through the snow with our three boys, which is no small feat.  Things were slow going and there were tumbles and exposed wrists.  Mittens fell off and had to go back on, boots got stuck in drifts and had to be emptied.  Despite all the rollicking and overall fun, ears got cold, noses dripped, brothers threw punches and kids cried.  Suddenly I looked back and gasped, “Ooh noooo!  I went over the hill and I didn’t even notice!”

IMG_0098I’m still not sure if this entry is about winter or about aging, or about both or maybe they are the same.  In summer, time stands still because its warm outside and one can afford to be still.  But in winter, you have to keep moving to keep warm.  Time passes without us noticing while we are working hard NOT to be trapped indoors, or cold-injured or chilled to the bone.  Its hard on our bodies and creates some hilarious situations.  One must have a sense of wonder and humor and pursuit to enjoy this frigid challenge.  This frigid challenge of time passing; of realizing you are suddenly over the hill when you were busy taking care of the children.  We had barely noticed we were climbing.  When I looked back up that hill in my dream, it was covered by snow angels and footsteps and big holes where we had flopped and wrestled.  At the end of the dream I looked down the hill and realized that spring, yet again, was suddenly just a few good laughs ahead.