Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Forget to Remember

This summer my sister Gina and I held the distinction of having two parents in the hospital at the same time. On top of that, they were in different hospitals; one hour apart. I was drawn to our Mother and my sister was pulled to our Dad. We didn't pressure each other. Our natural abilities paired with what each parent needed at the time.

Gina is a doctor in a teacher's clothing. I call her first when the girls are sick. Her diagnosis and remedy are always correct. She can read hospital monitors and converse with doctors as if she is their colleague. She retains what they tell her and is able to explain it to others. That's what my Father needed as he suffered with lung cancer. My mother needed an emotional touchstone while stranger after stranger ran test after test to determine whether she'd had a minor stroke as well as the status of her overall health.

Staying by my mother's side was not a conscious decision. I was a magnet and her needs; her heart were my base. Even in a hospital she held the homing device that guided me toward a soft place to fall.

That would've been all well and good if I wasn't also a mother of four, a wife, an adjunct professor, professional actress, small business owner, and writer who occasionally likes to sleep. ( My list is no longer than most people these days.)

In order to be there for my Mother I had to borrow from all of those areas at a cost. When I was with her, I felt guilt for not being with them and vice versa.

And it wasn't as if this was going to be temporary. After her one week hospital stay, we transferred her to a nursing home with a dementia unit. She would not return to the home she'd lived in for forty six years.  I felt responsible for my Mother's (Mommy's--pronounced Mah-mee) well being as if she were one of my children. It wasn't until I embraced that notion that I found a way to manage the responsibility.

For all intents and purposes, she was a child; a dependent. I needed to accept that my mother was in line with my four other children. No, I didn't need to feed, clothe, and bathe her every day but if I opened my schedule to fit one more "child" than I wouldn't feel guilt over my attention being divided. (Or anyway, I'd feel much less guilt.)

Attention given to Mommy wasn't "taking from" it was "a part of" being a caretaker to my whole family. My heart was already open to taking care of Mommy. Embracing her as a dependent enabled me to open up my life and see a bigger picture.

Also, it didn't take away from my Mother's dignity, grace or everything she'd accomplished in her life that she needed my care. Circumstance had converted our relationship. I needed to let go of being "the child". That label no longer applied and I had to make a mental shift in my thinking in order to move forward.

I suppose I could have left my Mother's care to the nursing home but the magnetic pull was always there. (I will address the importance of due diligence and nursing home care in another post.)

The adoption of another dependent was the best way for me to take on my role as caregiver. A role that chose me but I was honored to play.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Forget to Remember

My Mother passed away on February 2nd after suffering a massive stroke. She was found unconscious on the floor of her bathroom at the nursing home she'd been living in for the past eight months. She had lived there since my Father passed away in June. My sister Gina and I had moved her from her house in the suburbs to a dementia unit in the city so she could be closer to us.

She'd been suffering from dementia most likely for the past five or six years. I say "most likely" because she'd only been diagnosed and medicated since she moved into the nursing home. Before then, she and my Father were in denial as the upkeep of their home and health declined.

I recently wrote a one woman show about the series of events that have taken place over the past eight months (Truth Be Told). It addresses living with my Mother's dementia, my transition from being her daughter to her caregiver, my rather confusing childhood narrative, losing both my parents within a short period of time, selling my childhood home, uncovering family secrets of soap opera proportions, and the importance of living a truthful life.

The process of writing the show and performing it once in front of an audience was cathartic. It will be even more cathartic in July when I perform it six times for Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre in Evanston, Illinois.

I've realized that as much as I covered in the one woman show, there is more of this story that I want to share; for my sake and others. People have told me that they relate to my experiences and appreciate my putting their feelings into words. That is the very reason I write.

So I will use "Writing My Mind" as an outlet to talk about this period of time where the circumstances of my life forced me to confront the very notion of who I am as a daughter, woman, Mother, wife, and sister.

I'll share what I learned, what I'm still trying to understand, some helpful information for current or future caregivers, as well as my concerns about elder care, bureaucracy, and how to help a friend in the midst of tragedy.

I am not an expert but in this case, I took a crash course in the school of life and discovered a great deal.

When I address these topics I'll put them under the title "Forget to Remember" because at this juncture one of my biggest challenges is how to grieve the loss of my Mother; a woman I adored.

It has been difficult not to dwell on her last days in the hospital as she lay in a coma. It's been hard not to think of her as a woman who lived in a nursing home whom I feared would not remember me the next time I visited. It's been challenging to accept that it took so long to realize she had dementia and recognize how it affected the last four or five years of our relationship. Now as I connect the dots I can understand behavior that seemed out of character, hurtful, confusing.

I can barely think about my Father because it's unnatural to grieve two people at once. But I can't escape the image of him meek in his hospital bed. It pains me to realize how he started calling more frequently the last six months of his life before I knew he was sick. I don't know if he knew he was sick and didn't tell us. If he did know, how sad to think he suffered alone.

I am still frustrated that it was so hard to get him to go to the hospital and how impossible it was to convince him to get my Mother professional help.

Now, I navigate the world as an orphan; in my opinion too soon. It is unknown territory to be in this world without the unconditional love they gave me. I'll explore that here.

At the same time, because these topics are at the forefront of my mind, I "forget to remember" the other things about my parents. Memories that could sustain me while I grieve, escape me.

I'll share my memories of two extraordinary people I called Mommy (Mah-mee) and Daddy (Dah-dee)

Not every post will cover these topics. I hope when they do, you find a piece that is helpful to you.

Monday, March 12, 2012

March Madness; It Doesn't Matter If You Win or Win...

"It's alright. I'm happy for everyone." That was my answer when I was informed that I was clapping for the wrong team at my daughter Audra's Hoop Dreams Game. That ladies and gentlemen, is the full extent of my competitive edge. So what if the kid in a blue t-shirt made the basket instead of one of the tyke's wearing red like my daughter. The color of the shirt most likely had to do with when the kids were signed up for the activity. In my mind, nothing else separated them.

On a Saturday morning at the YMCA watching a bunch of four and five year old boys and girls run back and forth on the court all I care about is how darn cute they are, what good exercise Audra is getting, and how soon I can get my next cup of coffee. I'm fairly certain that is the sentiment of most of the parents who sit on the sidelines and watch their little moppets but even in something as innocent as toddler b-ball a tinge of good, better, best emerges. The parents (me included) can't help but break into thunderous applause when a basket is made. The moans and groans are march-madness-ri-fic when a basket is missed. It's a natural impulse. We can't seem to help ourselves because we all grew up on a steady diet of "winning is everything". Even if that ideology didn't show up in our homes, we could not escape the message in school and in our culture.

What if we applauded the basket and the miss? Or what if the game was met with no applause at all? Okay, that would be weird. I'm not the type who believes in building artificial self esteem where everything is "Amazing" and every attempt at anything means the kids is a genius but I do wish there was a way to delay the inevitable programming related to winning and losing.

After Audra's "game" I observed a coach running some drills with some older kids. They did a passing sequence and then a kid shot the ball...and missed. "He shoots," said the coach, "And scores," he continued even though it wasn't true. I appreciated that. What mattered to the coach was the process, not the result; the journey not the destination.

I'm not sure if this is right or if somehow I will be depriving Audra of some important edge that will ensure her future success. All I know is that when I teach improvisation and acting and we play a game in order to highlight an important point, my students start to froth at the mouth at the very thought of winning. If I happen to miss adding a point to one of the team's scores, you'd think I was messing with the last few minutes of the World Series. The truth is, I could care less about the score and I try to encourage them not to care either.

In Audra's case, I hope she always maintains that beaming smile as she runs across the court and looks to see if I'm watching. I swear it could land a plane. Because it's not about winning or losing. It's about playing the game. Right?