On the Precipice

DSC_0011This has been a difficult week.

In most ways, it’s been no different than any other. Each of us in the family went to work, took care of personal responsibilities and even had a bit of social time together. We made plans for a family dinner over the weekend, and perhaps even an afternoon at a N.H. fair.

But in between, there have been tears – and a few adult beverages. There have been hugs that felt tighter, laughter that seemed a bit too necessary and memories shared and sometimes quickly swept away. It hurts less if we don’t think too much.

Yet, we can’t stop thinking about what’s going on. Can’t stop thinking about what’s been – and most of all, we think about how much longer this all will be and how it will end.

Here’s the thing – when someone in your family is gravely ill, the kind of sickness that’s gotten significantly worse over the last decade, when you witness what life has done to him and wish there was a way to make it all stop, even when that person is in hospice care, there is no guarantee that person you love will soon have any peace.

In early June my children’s father entered into hospice care, a bit surprisingly, at least to us, even though we had been watching his agonizing decline for such a long time. This past winter brought a fairly severe injury and surgery, and he’s been increasingly less active since. What we see now is barely a glimmer of who and what he once had been – and with each day, there’s a bit of improvement, a bit of decline, a bit more decline, then perhaps a better day, although at this point, what really can be considered better?

We’ve been in a holding pattern for so many years. No one but our immediate family can even imagine it all – and we share it with each other in ways that run deep and run strong.

The greatest tragedy of our collective lives has not been just losing this person, but losing him incrementally over the course of so many, many years. He’s been gone for us for so long, yet his physical presence, while just barely, is still here.

Earlier this week, we met again with hospice care providers, who offered kind words, spoke of discontinuing medications, procured funeral home information and yet, none of us have a window into the length of this journey. This man is stubborn, but he may finally be ready to let go in the months ahead.

As a family, we may soon face that final loss, the acknowledgment perhaps of what we’ve felt for so long. We’ve never truly had a chance to grieve as we experienced one thing after another over the past 20 years, focusing instead on holding things together, finding solutions and pushing emotions as much as we could to the side. That’s not to say emotions haven’t run strong; that we haven’t had our own mini-breakdowns and crises of the heart. To feel anything at all sometimes is to begin to feel it all – and to get through it has almost pushed us to the point of desensitization.

That seems melodramatic, but it’s been 20 years of appointments, of medical tests, of more and more medication, psych evaluations, cognitive testing, of medicine mismanagement and misusage, of supportive devices and therapies, hospitalizations and adult daycare, of increasingly difficult behaviors, of safety issues, of car accidents, of impairment, of anxiety and physical harm, of managed care facilities, of brain surgery, of a family pushed to the very limits of love and acceptance and a man who was loved dearly who never accepted his illness or realized that no matter what happened to him he was someone of great value to this world with so much still to contribute. The list could go on and on, and the heartache could match it along the way.

There have been countless discussions around long tables, with caregivers and caretakers, with medical and mental health professionals, with good people often doing the best they can, with little to offer that could ever change a thing – and we’ve told his story, told our stories, offered medical history, becoming a bit more jaded and disheartened each time.

This past week has been a difficult one – one more table, one more discussion, some tears, another emotional visit and time together as a family. We’re on the precipice now, holding our breaths not sure when the ledge will break. We know all too well how painful the plummet will be.

Indisputable Proof

20160123122211_01I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning and reorganizing lately, some of it because I have a little bit of extra time on my hands and even more, because it’s way overdue. It’s easy to get in a rut maintaining a household, not making too many changes and yet as time goes by, there’s so much less that I need. What’s most amazing is no matter how much I clean and discard, there is still so much more to deal with – it’s incredible how much one accumulates over 30+ years with a family.

As part of the process, I’ve been cleaning out old photos, and coming across lots of slides. Early on, long before digital cameras, we took a ton of photos with a Minolta camera and generally shot slides since processing was so pricey. The best ones we made prints from and put them in albums, but all these years later, even the marginal shots are precious and worth saving. So, I’ve been scanning slides, saving them digitally and even introduced my mom to the effort to help. Sadly, there were many slides that haven’t withstood the years, which makes it even more important to capture what I have while I can.
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Just as I accumulated a ton of material items over the years, I have even more in the way of memories. Some have lain dormant until the visual reminder sparked those memories. Like many of the objects in the house, filed and boxed away for safekeeping or convenience, I did the same with many of the things that came my way – putting them in boxes to unwrap later, I guess, for when I had the detachment of time to take them all in.

I’ve grown so used to life as it now is that I sometimes forget what my life once was – and as I scanned slides and viewed many of the images with my mom this past weekend, so many memories came alive again.

I often tell myself that while my life had been pretty special when my kids were young, I also know that the distance from those years often lends a rosier vantage point than maybe it really was. But as I looked at pictures from my late teen years, from the early days when I was dating my one-day husband and the earliest years of our marriage, the proof is indisputable. It wasn’t just pretty special – it was extraordinary in so many ways.

20160113223300_01A truth I can’t dismiss is this: I had a genuine love story. So many happy times and so much love. It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfect for us. And out of that love, our story grew to encompass four kids that brought such joy to us – and we had so many adventures together for so many years.

I think I pushed some of this away for a while; it doesn’t hurt as much if you lessen the magnitude of the loss. I made up scenarios in my head that told me that had some of the heartbreaking stuff – illness, issues related to that, separation and more – not happened, it still didn’t mean that our lives would have continued to be as good as they once were. But it’s hard to know that, hard to guess what two people might have been like in the future based on whom they were once upon a time. So it was easier to second-guess who we had been, what we once had.

But there we were, once upon a time, in full color across my laptop screen. Pictures don’t always show the truth, but these have back-stories to corroborate what had been hidden away in boxes, in a dark closet at the end of the hall.

And as I remember it all, I can now smile as I do. Life seldom unfolds as we planned, but I am blessed to have all that I had and still do.

Fourteen Years Gone

24153_419790996958_1767782_n-2My father passed away fourteen years ago today, and it strikes me that he has now been gone more than a quarter of my life. Something about that is beyond bizarre to me, and yet his influence is felt every single day. I feel him in my attitude, the way I talk, and the manner in which I approach life itself.

So much has happened since he died – so many things I wish I could tell him. He wouldn’t say much in response. Never a big conversationalist, he would most likely nod or smile, or scowl dependent on the subject matter. He could get exasperated pretty easy, but I like to think he would have mellowed a bit more with age.

My mother always says that my father would never have survived in these times. He’d find them too upsetting, the world too crazy. I don’t know – he was pretty realistic. As an engineer, he looked at life strategically and was a straight shooter in his response to what life handed him. Or maybe she just knew him so much better than me and perhaps his failing health was in response to the world around him and his internal strife in viewing it.

Maybe I just idealize the man that has always meant the most to me. Continue reading “Fourteen Years Gone”

Lifting the Weight

Mary_Magdalene_Crying_StatueI have found myself counting my blessings even more than usual since 2013 began. Even when times are tough, I try to pay particular to all of the good things I do have in my life and be sure that I am expressing gratitude and thankfulness for those things. There’s been a lot of heaviness in the new year – the loss of my brother-in-law, who had been an enormous influence in my life as well as many deaths throughout the small community I live in, serious illnesses and more – and although the majority had very little close connection to me personally, they affected many people I know and care about in significant ways and I have had a hard time shaking the weight of that sorrow. Too many good people were having too much struggle in their lives, too many awful things were happening and it nagged at me as I tried for months to make sense of it all.

Continue reading “Lifting the Weight”

Five Years Gone

13835_239245301958_5543545_nIt was a typical pre-Christmas day in many ways. 

Work in our small office was relaxed as we prepared for the annual company shutdown between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It was my first year with the company, and after a couple of years in the fast-paced retail environment, this seemed far too easy. I embarked on some last-minute shopping after leaving work that day, only to realize that my wallet was missing when I approached the registers at TJ Maxx. I didn’t panic as I recalled my late afternoon coffee run after which I placed my wallet on my desk and not in my purse. I was more aggravated than anything as it meant a return trip the next day to pick up the items I had taken the time to choose. However, it wasn’t worth running back to the office and then back to the store, given the time of day and the traffic situation. Tomorrow was another day.

Continue reading “Five Years Gone”