Empty

Yesterday was the hardest day, I still cannot completely wrap my head around what happened, even though the date was circled on my calendar, planned for and witnessed by me.  How do you come to terms with the complete and utter dismantling of someone else’s processions, the accumulation of things that made their house their home?  I thought I had accepted the need to do so.  It wasn’t my choice, it was decided by the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, the need for round-the-clock care and the realities of how much that care costs.  I may be the one responsible for carrying out the orders, but none of this is my choice. Other options have been exhausted and there are few choices left.

I knew the day was coming, I knew the house would be emptied and I know what empty means.  But how empty feels – that’s what wells up inside me and causes the hot tears to fall.   It feels raw and tight.  It isn’t just emotional pain, though it is that too.  It is a physical ache, deep in my center, obscured by all the memories each item stirs.  Each item that is carried away is a memory and it is an ironic twist of fate that as memories are lost to this disease, the belongings that stir the memories go, too.

As I stood in the silent, hollow home, shadows chased me and pictures in my head swallowed me whole.  I could hear lively Italian music playing and smell the rich, spicy tomato sauce burbling on the stove.  I could see us all sitting around the table, sharing Red Rose tea and shortbread cookies with lemon.  I could touch the bricks and be warmed by the fire in the fireplace, and the Christmas tree sparkling and festive in the corner by the door.

And then I am standing in the vacant house again, nothing but dog hair and dust around me.

Time will make things better and ease the raw, rough edges.  Right now, though….  Wow.  Who knew that empty could be so full?

empty

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Seasons and Circles

seasons and circles

Ecclesiastes says “There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens”

The calendar says summer, but I am having a hard time escaping from the late autumn chill in my heart.  Still, this summer has brought pockets of warmth and golden joy.  Like the seasons, life sort of goes in cycles, circles that don’t always close.  Sometimes the circles overlap making mysterious patterns, rings like glasses put down on coffee tables with no coaster.  Lots of overlapping rings and patterns.

Music is sort of like the seasons.  Since before I can remember, I’ve listened to Mary Chapin Carpenter.  My relationship with her is older than my marriage, predates my children and has carried me through the many seasons of my life.  A few weeks ago, my kids and Scott and I got to go see Mary Chapin Carpenter.  We spread out blankets and chairs in the park beside the sea.  We shared a picnic supper.  While the stars appeared in a twilight sky, we waited and then there was Mary.  She began to play “This Shirt.” Sam eagerly recognized the tune before the words began.  The kids knew most of the songs and I knew them all… These are the songs that comforted me when I longed so desperately for the life I have now.  Being there in the park under a summer moon with the music and movement of the water all around us… I felt one of the circles closing. Other circles will overlap.

Moira, Maggie, Sam and I go through baskets of photos as we clean out.  Pictures have stories and each carries a memory, a character from an earlier plot line.  Part of the story began before they born, but they’ve heard the tale over and over.  In this season of chaos and loss I’m feeling weepy and shattered.  I feel lost.  And then comes someone who has always known how to find me.  More circles.  More seasons… there will be more.

 

d and fam

 

Proof

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So, now there is scientific evidence that going to the beach is good for you.  Researchers say it helps cure depression, boosts creativity, and reduces stress.  Duh!

In his Easter sermon, Pastor Steve was asking folks to try to think of their best day ever.  Closing my eyes, per his request, and thinking, of course I thought of the days when my kids were born, when I got married.  But when I thought of my best regular days, I thought of the beach: the lake, the ocean, the sun, sand and water.  It is where I feel relaxed, peaceful, and happy.  It is where I feel joy.

I know, of course, that those are days when I am not working, or doing laundry or scrubbing toilets.  I wonder, though, if I could work, launder, scrub, and then be close enough to go for a stroll, to sit and soak in the sun and feel the rhythm of the water, I wonder if I would feel less stress and more contentment.

I want to find out.

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Almost Home

    Almost Home (Mary Chapin Carpenter)

I saw my life this morning
Lying at the bottom of a drawer
All this stuff I’m saving
God knows what this junk is for
And whatever I believed in
This is all I have to show
What the hell were all reasons
For holding on for such dear life
Here’s where I let go
I’m not running
I’m not hiding
I’m not reaching
I’m just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in
And I’m almost home
I saw you this morning
You were looking straight at me
From an ancient photograph
Stuck between letters and some keys
I was lost just for a moment
In the ache of old goodbyes
Sometimes all that we can know is
There’s no such thing as no regrets
Baby it’s all right
I’m not running
I’m not hiding…

Right now this song speaks to me.  I’ve played it so many times Maggie rolls her eyes when she hears it.  But it soothes my heart. I wonder, what am I holding onto?  Why do I cling to what I’ve always known and treasured instead of moving toward something else?  Maybe even something better.

Listen.  It is quiet.  It is still.  I am not running, hiding, reaching.  I am learning to hear what is in the silence, to embrace all the empty spaces and not rush to fill them.  I have regrets, I’ve said good-byes – too many – and it is all right.  I’m all right.  I’m letting go.  I’m almost home.

 

 

Conversation

alzheirmer's picture

“What’s the name of that lady?”

“What lady?”

“The one with the horse farm?”

“Linda?”

“NO!”

“The one across from the old house?”

“NO!”

“The one from Senator Bell farm?”

“NO!”

She’s exasperated and I want to help and I am so tempted to just say, “I know who you mean.” But then if there’s a follow up question about the lady will I know the answer?  Will she know if I make it up?  What if she does and it makes it worse?  What do I do! These conversations are frequent and frustrating… and other F words come to mind.

Finally, she is able to grab onto the name and spit it out.  “Beth!  Beth is the one I mean.”

“Okay, yes.”  Beth doesn’t own a horse farm, but that isn’t really the point, is it. “I know Beth.”

Long pause.  Giant sigh.  “What was I going to say about Beth?” she asks.

I hate Alzheimer’s.

Peel your own orange

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My kids speak fluent sarcasm and I love this about them.  I love that I can joke with them and they get it.  The other morning they were getting ready for school, making their breakfast and packing lunches.  Sam told me he wanted a ham and cheese sandwich and Moira retorted, “Have fun making it!”  She was making her own roast beef sandwich.  About this time, Maggie wandered into the kitchen asking for a bagel with cream cheese.  “Bagels on the counter, cream cheese in the fridge,” I told her, as I sat at the counter and sipped my coffee.

Sam says, “You know mom, some parents actually make their kids’ breakfast and pack their lunches.”  Sarcasm.  Told you – they speak it.  “Yes, I’ve heard that,” I answered, not getting up.

“So why don’t you?” he asked.

“Because mom wants you to be independent,” Moira answered for me.  “So when you get to college you won’t starve!”

“Sure, that’s it,” I said.  “Why else?”  I wondered.  I wasn’t asking so much as thinking out loud.  Most of my parenting is gut-reaction.  Then, later, I might go back and reflect.

“I heard a story about a kid who was 9 and didn’t know how to peel an orange,” Moira said.  “His mom always peeled it and packed it in his lunch and then one day it wasn’t peeled and he didn’t know how and asked his teacher.”

Maggie giggled.  “I can peel my own oranges.  I’ve done it since I was like, 3!”

They all thought not knowing how to peel an orange was funny.  Meanwhile, I’d had either too much or not enough coffee and was thinking deep thoughts for so early in the morning.

“Yes, but that’s the point.  I want you to always peel your own orange, or at least know how!   I also don’t want you to think you need someone to do things for you all the time.  Somebody feed me, somebody wash my clothes, somebody do my work…  If you are hungry, get some food.  If your clothes need to be cleaned, wash them.  If there’s work to be done, do it!  You can depend on yourself.”

“So,” Sam says, “You’re saying that you’re sitting there drinking coffee while we pack our own lunches and get our own breakfast because you are a good parent?”  He grins that wonderful grin of his.

“Exactly!”  I answer.

“Or you could just be lazy,” he says.

“Or it could be both,” I reply, and wink at him.  The kids all laugh and I pour more coffee and watch my independent, smart, sarcastic kids and I feel quite cheerful for so early in the morning.

God peeks through

sunset

There is no doubt that this is one of those times in life that feels like a struggle.  Part of the struggle is indeed my own.  I feel pulled in bazillion different directions and like no matter which direction I run in, I am going the wrong way.  Part of the struggle is also watching a loved with Alzheimer’s disintegrate slowly day by day and it is truly agonizing.  It is hard on our whole family, and Moira particularly struggles with it.

A few weeks ago we were at the library, and saw a sign up for a workshop on arm knitting an infinity scarf.  “Let’s do this Moira!”  I pictured bonding time, laughter, and a beautiful keepsake to take home.  We signed up.  We ventured into the Yarn Barn and bought expensive and beautiful yarn.  We giggled and looked forward to our evening out.

You know how sometimes the picture in your head and reality are different?  This was one of those times.   Arm knitting is complicated, involves many knots, stitches, and intricate hand gestures.  I could tell by the look on Moira’s face that the hand gestures she was thinking of were not the kind needed for knitting.  Someone at the table said, “It’s like math, confusing and hard to understand until you finally get it.”  That’s all we needed to hear.  The M word drove us out.  Moira untangled herself, threw her balls of soft, beautiful yarn in a bag and we fled the library.

To salvage the evening, I offered a Dunkins hot chocolate and a cruller.  On our way, we saw the most amazing sunset.  We pulled over and sat quietly looking at the sky, the blend of the dark and the light, the clouds and clear, brilliant, fading twilight.  If we hadn’t left the library, we would have missed that mystical moment together.

We got our hot chocolate.  We laughed, we bonded, and we even came home with a keepsake photo.  You know how sometimes the picture in your head and reality are different?  This was one of those times.   And reality turned out to be so much better.

The Whale that swallowed me

wailtail  So, not quite over, my LOA.  Leave of Absence.  Writing does take effort and energy and it is true that my effort and energy has been swallowed by other things… like the whale that swollowed Jonah.  It has been far longer than 3 days and 3 nights, but I feel like I am finally coming out of the whale’s belly and into the light.

So much depends on how we see things.  What we focus on.  Last night I was sharing with a few ladies and heard myself lamenting over the lack of help and support I am getting with some things… and then after listening for a bit, my mind spun my problem 180 and instead of seeing the lack of help, I saw all those who were helping.  Coming “out of the whale” means being able to see clearly and also knowing what to look at.  Why am I looking at the shadows instead of the light?  Sometimes I still feel the cool dampness of the being in that belly; it clings to me.  It does not want to let go.  I am weary.  I am filled with inertia.

Inertia can be heavy, feel like a weight that stops you from doing what matters.  What matters?  Driving home yesterday in the car the kids were talking about what names they would choose for themselves if they could pick.  Names like Toby, Kate, and Parker were tossed about.  And then Maggie says, out of the blue, her clear voice like a wave that giggles as it rolls on, “Sam’s name can be Gezpacho!”

And we all laugh.  I’ll follow that glow.  I see the light.

Leave of Absence

I took a leave of absence. Things got crazy, both in real life and in my own mind. It was hard to think clearly and frankly, my heart hurt. Writing is feeling, sorting, being. And it takes effort and energy. I had no energy left over, and all my effort was going into getting through each day. NOTHING left over.

And then as the spiral continues, I wake up one morning and see all the bathing suits and towels on the porch railing. What does that mean? It means summer. It means swimming. It means kids. And suddenly, it means happiness. The heat, the hum of the insects, the faint smell of wet towel and chlorine; they make me happy. They offer proof that we not only get through each day, we cannon ball in the deep end.

The Alzheimer’s is still there. The COPD, the nut allergy, the asthma, the learning disabilities, the family drama, the constipation of life is all still there. And yet,  bright blue and pink towels and  damp swim suits  drape across our porch railing, their fluttering existence proof that we are here, living, being, present.

My leave of absence is over.

towels on the rail

Four-legged Blessings

Dog harmony has been sadly missing from our home – until now. We adopted Sadie in 2012 and while we fell madly in love with her and couldn’t imagine life without her, our resident rat terrier, Josie, decidedly did not. I’ve always had dogs, and usually more than one, but I have never had dogs that did not get along. This was a new and truthfully frightening experience for myself and my kids. When Sadie and Josie fought so badly that we had to call the police to break it up and take Josie to the vet, we knew decisions needed to be made. When Milo, God rest his little rattie soul, was here, he was Switzerland. Without him, we just had 2 dogs we loved who hated each other. Can we give one up?

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How, when we love both dogs?  For almost 2 years managed with 2 rival dogs, 2 dogs who could never be in the same space, never be together except on opposite sides of a gate. It was hard. We constantly wondered if we were doing the right thing. But, Sadie is so perfect for us. The kids play ball with her and snuggle with her and we take her for walks and she wiggles so hard when she hears the school bus I think her little nub might just fall off! She just fits us. And then there is Josie, who simply wants all the attention, all the food, all the love and does not want to share… Josie the happy couch potato who does not want to play ball or take long walks, but simply wants to sit beside you with her head in your lap. For 2 years we did the “Dance of the Dogs” continually swapping out one dog with the other, dividing time, practicing constant vigilance to keep the dogs separate. This was not what I wanted for my kids or us… we never meant for this to happen… when we adopted Josie we thought it would be forever, and when adopted Sadie we agreed to forever, but Sadie and Josie never agreed to anything.

And then suddenly, everything changed. And now – dog harmony is ours. Thank you God, for our four-legged blessings.