Photo and urn by Blocks from the Heart
Five years ago today my mother died. It’s hard to believe that much time has passed. Following on the heels of saying goodbye to my dear cat last week, it’s a double dose of grief.
When I think about my mother, the visceral pain has dampened with the passage of time, but such a profound loss changes the landscape of one’s heart forever. As those who have followed this blog or have read The Reluctant Caregiver know, my mother and I had our relationship challenges, because we were opposites personality-wise. But a mother is an irreplaceable figure in one’s life.
There are so many people experiencing loss right now. Having experienced a variety of losses over the last decade, I can say that grief does transform over time. Grief is an individual process, and while the established stages of grief may offer some insight, be prepared to slide in and out of stages over time. One thing I have found helpful is to give meaning to the loss, to honor the significance that person or animal had in your life. This could mean designing an urn, writing a poem, planting a tree, etc. One meaningful way I’ve honored both of my parents is to engage in caregiver advocacy work, to support those who cared for my parents during their times of need.
For those who are grieving right now, I hope you are able to find a path that will lead you to some form of inner peace.
Today is my birthday, and I have to say I don’t mind being a year older. At least it offers me a symbolic new start, as 40 was one of the most difficult years of my life.
I’m having a lovely time in the mountains, but there is of course one thing missing. As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, my parents always made a big production out of singing “Happy Birthday” to me over the phone.
I have a poor recording of Mom singing “Happy Birthday” to me last year, recorded from my cellphone. It’s only barely listenable, but I’m glad I have it.
I do have a good video and audio version of my parents singing “Happy Birthday” to me, but sadly, it was when Dad was rapidly declining in the care facility. The staff had him so drugged up that he could barely stay awake, and he mumbled through the song. Mom tried to compensate by being overly cheery, but I know her heart was breaking inside.
Just the year before, Dad belted out the best version ever, and even sang another classic crooner song. That is the recording I wish I had.
While I sometimes feel that in today’s world, people are so busy recording their lives to post on social media that they forget to be in the moment, the upside is that they will have all of the moments recorded to cherish later.
So my birthday wish is for everyone to experience and if so desired, record loving moments with their family. It truly is something we often take for granted, until the opportunities no longer exist.
Today would have been my father’s 82nd birthday. He is so missed each and every day, but I am thankful that Alzheimer’s didn’t keep him trapped in a diseased world for any longer than it did.
But today is a reminder of why I have become an Alzheimer’s awareness advocate. I have become a more compassionate, aware person thanks to my father. To honor my father, and to help those who are going through the same thing with their own parents is now part of my life’s mission. I can no longer give my dad birthday gifts in this world, but trying to make a difference and battling the terrible disease of Alzheimer’s is a gift I will continue to give for the rest of my life.
I’ve posted this before, but I want to share again this montage of photos and my dad singing to me when I was a baby.
Well, here’s something about my parents that I never knew before. Mom and I were discussing the strange case of the Canadian tourist found dead at the Cecil Hotel and Mom mentioned that Dad was staying there when they dated. She said she would take the bus from her apartment to the Cecil Hotel to meet Dad. Then they would take another bus to the race track or wherever they were going on their date. They had to take a bus because Dad did not have a car. At the time, he did not even know hw to drive.
Dad was a handsome devil!
And it was Dad’s lack of wheels of all things that caused them to break up a few times. Mom came from that era and culture where you looked at a guy’s shiny set of wheels before you checked out the guy himself. Mom told me they got in a few tiffs that would cause them to take a break from each other for a few weeks at a time. Guess it’s a good thing that Dad got his best buddy to teach him how to drive.
But Mom admitted that she was the one that caved in and would call up Dad when they were on hiatus. Dad would ask why Mom was calling him and Mom would say to find out why Dad hadn’t called her. 🙂
Eventually, Dad obtained his license and a car and Mom’s heart. (Not necessarily in that order.)
I may have been Daddy’s little girl, but as I became a pre-teen, I tended to side with my mom when our family had domestic upheavals.
My parents didn’t have a storybook relationship, but it did endure over the years. I think most couples hit some roadblocks along the way, and for me, that came during my pre-teen and teenage years. It also was the time that my mom was going through menopause. You can just imagine what a hormone-enraged household that was!
A lot of the arguments would take place while we were driving home from some local errand. Mom would threaten to get a job and leave Dad, and Dad would scoff at the idea of Mom being able to find employment. Frankly, he was probably right, but I did my good daughter duty and sided with Mom.
I remember one particular incident clearly. We were coming home from grocery shopping. Whatever Dad said (which I don’t remember what it was now) really enraged me. I picked up a stool from the breakfast bar and raised it at Dad. I didn’t strike him, as he retreated, no doubt to go smoke a cigarette and cool off for awhile.
The whole incident blew over and was never mentioned again.
Looking back on the whole thing, I think there were legitimate frustrations on all sides. Perhaps attacking one another verbally and otherwise was not appropriate, but the important thing was that we worked through it. And at the end of Dad’s life, Mom and I stood proudly by his side, trying to make his exit from this life as dignified and painless as possible.
When I came home today after running an errand for Mom, I heard her call out … Dad’s name.
It’s not the first time she has done this. She has started to call Dad’s name multiple times before, but usually catches herself and finishes with saying my name. She usually does this when she is frustrated or worried.
It’s just very odd being mistaken for Dad. I guess there were so many years when Mom would call out for Dad, that even now, almost a year since his death, she still feels his presence around her.
I don’t mind being mistaken for Dad. In fact, it’s kind of an honor.
Mom almost had forgotten how she had taken care of a “bag” before she was stuck with her colostomy bag. Dad had a catheter inserted temporarily at one point when he was still living at home and he had to “pee into a bag” that was attached to his leg.
Mom handled the extra duty with ease. Dad was already starting to drift mentally a bit by that point, but even if he had been mentally sharp, I think he would have wanted Mom to take care of it.
Now Mom is having to deal with her own “bag” issues, in this case a colostomy and it looks like it may be a permanent thing for her to deal with. Mom mainly has a good attitude about it, but she does get down sometimes, especially when there are accidents, like today.
I have also surprised myself by stepping up and being able to manage a medical issue with some level of competence. If someone had told me a year ago I would be able to change a colostomy bag successfully, I would have told them they were crazy.
I think what I have learned so far through the illnesses of my father and my mother is that we humans can more easily adapt to change than we give ourselves credit for.
It’s my first weekend as a full-time caregiver. Yikes!
To be fair, Mom is doing pretty darn well on her first full day back at home. She mostly made her meals for herself today, and is getting around the condo just fine.
On the other hand, her INR levels spiked to a somewhat disturbing level today (fun with Coumadin & blood clots) and we had another colostomy bag leakage. So yes, ups and downs, but I’m used to that by now.
But now, I get a taste of what Mom went through as caregiver to Dad for those last few years of his life. Even though my mom has lost a bit of her mental sharpness, it is so much easier to be a caregiver for someone who can and wants to follow instructions. I can only begin to imagine what Mom had to endure with Dad, who was non-compliant due to his dementia.
That’s not to say that Mom’s motor-mouth and other quirks don’t drive me a little crazy. They do. But then they always have. And that’s the key. Mom’s been through a lot physically, but she’s still Mom emotionally and mentally. With Dad, we lost him mentally more than physically at first. I think as a society we are more equipped to deal with the crumbling of the physical body versus the disintegration of the mind as we grow older.
There’s a lovely trail near my parents’ condo. Mom and Dad used to walk this trail frequently. It was one of their favorite things to do in Ruidoso.
Yesterday I found myself on the same trail, which overlooks a golf course with a majestic mountain range in the background.
Everyone walking the trail seemed so relaxed. They were out enjoying nature, such a wonderful stress reliever.
I know I will be walking this trail frequently in the weeks to come and I hope it can bring me the same joy. I can feel my Dad’s spirit with every step I take.