Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Weird Abyss in Between

In case you haven't read my blog, here's a quick background to catch you up.

Me = 30something-ish mom, wife, two young kids, full time job, dad in nursing home with dementia

Okay. Now onto the topic: the weird abyss. The abyss I'm referring to is my role at this very moment in time. I'm caught in that weird abyss of being a mother to my kids, and being the daughter taking care of a dad on hospice care and in the nursing home when what I'd most like to do is watch him sitting on a dock, showing the kids the proper way to bait a hook.



The abyss is not an ideal place to be, as I constantly battle the struggle of managing time between the most important people in my life. If you don't know what it's like to have a loved one with dementia, please read this. It will help give you a little insight into why it is extremely difficult to bring young kids around a grandparent - a grandparent they love very, very much - when that grandparent begins turning into someone very different. Hence, the dilemma - I find myself short on days we can all be spending time together because life schedules and dad's mood and behavior match up. Thus, the need to choose who I'm spending time with has become a situation I'm far too familiar with.

On one side is my dad: the man who raised me, took the fam on cross-country trips to see the grand canyon, made my dream of performing dance in Europe a possibility, helped me pay for my college education, took me fishing, never missed a recital, taught my kids how to fish. You get it - and the list goes on and on. Now his days are in a nursing home because he needs quite a bit of help and it is the safest and best place for him, but he's lonely. While he's never been a really emotional guy, he makes it very known that he's lonely. I've seen him cry in the last year more than I have in my past 30something-ish years, and it breaks my heart. Some days he is barely awake and other days he'll talk about this or that. And while we try and be there as much as we humanly can (meaning, every single day when possible), he is still lonely in those times we are not, and I can't help but want to be there with him for whatever time he has left, trying to cheer him up. I know his days are growing shorter, and I just want to hear his stories and make him as happy and peaceful as possible.

On the other side are my beautiful babies, who really aren't babies anymore (but they still look at me with those big, baby doe eyes), who ask me when I'll be home or are we going to go somewhere together. The past year I've missed more school events and homework checks than I care to admit, because there just isn't time in the day for everything to get done for everyone. As I sit on the edge of the bed every night I can't help but remember that the time with them is also very precious. They're never going to be this age again. They're never going to have the same ideas for made up games and they're never going to make a baseball catch quite like the one I miss, and I don't want to miss a moment of it.

But I have to miss something. And here I am in the weird abyss where, no matter what choice I make, no matter who I choose, someone I love very much gets hurt and I miss something. I feel a tremendous guilt over not being there with him like I was with mom's battle against brain cancer, but here's the thing: I was single then and working full time, but no kids. I had nothing but time to give her. It's a lot different - and a lot harder this time around - because I have other obligations that also need - and deserve - my time and attention.

I don't write this because I'm looking for an answer - there isn't one. I write this because somewhere out there, someone is feeling like the knot in the middle of the tug-of-war rope too, and perhaps just knowing they aren't alone might help them from spilling tears in their mint chocolate chip ice cream for just one night. To that person: you're doing the best you can. Keep your chin up and keep chugging along. You're not alone, and you've got this.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Third time's a charm

Okay, lets try this one more time.  For those having trouble with searching, I did try and make a fix - if nothing shows up with your name, try your whole name, and try first and last name. I added all of those in as tags so that should help! I will leave names up through Thursday! 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Names

So, one of the questions I get asked most about writing is if I shape my characters after people I know. The answer is, yes and no. Another question is, on the blog, who are the mysterious people I write about (ha!). I've gone through on some posts and added names, which I will leave only for the next 48 hours, at which time I'll revert them back. If you're curious if you're one of the people I've written about, go take a peek. You can use the search box up top or just peruse ;) 

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Dreams

The mind works in mysterious ways. Like dreams. The other day my best friend Nancy from college texted me in a panic: was I okay?

Ummmmm, yes, why? That sort of creeped me out.

She said she had a terrible dream that I was hurt and she was worried about me, wanted to make sure I was okay. Ironically, her text came the same day we got the crushing blow that Dad probably needed to begin hospice care. She and I have ALWAYS been like that - we just know when the other one is having a really bad time because of a dream or a feeling. I filled her in and of course, then the reason for her dream seemed a little clearer.

I've always remembered my dreams and honestly, hardly have a night where I haven't had a dream about something. Some of them have led to my ideas for novels, some make me wake up in a panic, and some make me laugh when I'm retelling it to someone. Most of the time I don't give them a second thought - since I'm a writer and a daydreamer, my dreams often reflect a story I've been thinking about recently or a fantastically crazy plot line. But lately, I've had one particular dream scenario that keeps repeating itself and has really made me, well, uncomfortable.

This theme has focused around someone from a long (long, long) time ago, and trying to find a way back to being in each other's lives in some capacity. Not romantically (sorry, no hot and bothered dreams here, I'm pretty happy in my romantic status with hubs), but as friends. The entire length of the dream is spending time mixed among other friends doing something (it always differs - last night, it was escaping a mall which let me tell you, I have NO translation for because I LOVE to shop and find it hard to believe I'd be willingly trying to leave), and then we can never seem to get to the crux where we're like, yeah, we can move forward as friends. It's like a movie that drags on far past the part where it should have been resolved - we just can't seem to get to the end. So there is no end. Every time. Then I wake up, and I'm wondering what the heck my dream is about.

This isn't the first time I've had this dream. It's been a recurring dream with a recurring star for nearly two decades. It's not all the time - it pops up randomly here and there, but I've never given it too much thought. Though now, it's like a non-stop midnight movie I can't turn off and so I really stopped to think about it this morning and focused on why it is recurring more now. Other than yes, I would have liked to stay friends with this person, but that path in life just wasn't meant to happen.

I searched a dozen dream decoding blogs (oh boy, if you haven't done that for one of your dreams, do it - some of it is fascinating, some hilarious!). I think when I look at life today and why that dream may be happening, it comes down to the chaos that seems to be daily life right now. We're going non-stop: running kids to activities, working full-time, spending as much time with Dad as we can while he's still talking and laughing. And when I look at the dreams, the people in them, and the story behind them, they start to become a little easier to decipher.

The dreams are always amidst chaos - people are walking around everywhere, getting from here to there. There's always a sense of rushing in the dream - getting from one place to another or doing something that needs to happen quickly. Sometimes it's trying to escape somewhere, or trying to fix something that needs to be fixed ASAP. Just like life today.

Then there's this person. Someone I knew a long time ago and cared about very much. Someone who knew me during a much less chaotic time in my life, when I had less responsibility and more time to just have fun. Someone who knew me well and who I knew well. So perhaps my mind is saying maybe I sometimes wish I was back in a time where there was less adulting to do; when I was around someone who represented everything calm and collected.

And then, in every dream, we just can't connect. We both know we want to talk, but we just can't seem to make that happen. Sometimes, even others (including our close friends) are telling us we need to make time and we just can't seem to get to that point. Which to me, sounds like the giant disconnect between the calmer life I'd like right now and the current chaos, which keeps me just out of reach of finding that calm.

I was worried for awhile about the "who" that was infiltrating my dreams. It's not someone I think about during the day, and someone who so rarely comes up in convo (like, maybe once a year if that). So why were they in my dream? But if I look less at the "who" and more at the "why", it makes sense. Somehow my subconscious is seeking some reprieve from the day-to-day of now, and reminding me of times when life was a little bit easier.

Now what to do about that, well, that's another problem for another day! :)

~Allie

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Eb and Flow of Friendship

It's always fascinating how we move through life and connect with other people: friendships, colleagues, family. The way people drift into one's life, make some memories, drift out... and sometimes, if you're lucky, drift back in. Like a friend I'll refer to as Mr. D.

Mr. D and I were friends back in high school. We hung out in the same crowd, but I don't know that we ever got to know each other very well. He dated a couple of my friends, I dated a couple of his, and we had a mutual best friend in common. He was what I considered a bit of a wild child, always fun and outgoing. He dyed his hair blond at times and always had this big, goofy grin. 

We didn't spend much time together, or at least talking. We did, however, share a birthday.

Once we left for college, we didn't really have the type of friendship where we would have kept in touch. Somehow, though, every year on our birthday, I received a text or email from Mr. D with a birthday message. Every year! And after the first couple years, it became one of the things I looked forward to most on my birthday. We didn't talk the other 364 days in the year... we didn't really know much about each other, although we still share that same best friend... but despite anything else happening in our lives, those messages still came through on that one day. And I'd wait, each year, as the clock ticked just past midnight and that little "ding" popped through on the phone.

In 2005, my mother passed, and in 2006, his. And that somehow became another life event that drew us together as friends. On Mother's Day, we both understood what the other was feeling. On Christmas, how hard it was to be without them. Suddenly the birthday messages weren't the lone exchanges; now a couple more days a year were added on. And Mr. D was decidedly better than me at reaching out; he is a genuine person who really cares about his friends.

Somewhere in the last year, he's become someone I consider to be a close friend. We haven't seen each other in person in probably close to 15 years and we live halfway across the country from each other, but he's one of the people I know will answer when I need a friend. He will understand the topic whether it's missing mom, crazy high school shenanigans, or trying to figure out something in life. The past year and a half, as Dad's been battling his illness, Mr. D has been there for my random texts and worries because he understands the pain in a sick parent, and he's done more than his fair share in trying to keep my chin up. 

It's pretty incredible how you can not see someone for so long and still feel like they make an impact in your life more than most can. Mr. D has made an indelible mark on my life since the time we were 16 years old, even if I didn't realize it until I was older. And if you'd told me at 16 that Mr. D would be someone I talk to more than most, I'd have probably thought you were crazy.

When my kids worry that a friend is leaving their school and they're scared they'll never see them again, I remind them of my friends like Mr. D. Sometimes people go on different paths in life. Sometimes people move far away, and sometimes we don't see them for a very long time. But sometimes, the people who are physically the farthest away, are some of the closest people in our lives.

~Allie





Monday, June 12, 2017

Getting Social

I'm a writer and a pretty social person. Expressing myself through written words is my norm, and I often find I do better typing my feelings out than saying them in person. And I don't mind sharing those feelings because my hope is that if there is someone out there feeling the same way, they can find comfort in knowing they aren't alone.

Which is part of why I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I dislike how easy it is for people to be bullies behind the comfort of a computer screen, but I do enjoy seeing photos and updates from my friends and family about what they are doing. As a child, I loved opening our Christmas cards because I thoroughly enjoyed the updates; with Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, it's like a constant flow of Christmas cards year round and I love it!

The other aspect I love about it is reconnecting with old friends or family I never would have met otherwise. Whereas we used to have to wait for reunions or family gatherings or, oddly enough, things like funerals to catch up with people we had lost contact with. Now, with just one of those tools I mentioned early, we can reconnect - or connect for the first time - with the people we want to know more about. I've connected with distant cousins and been able to catch up with high school friends. And one of my absolute favorite things happened last week:

I received an email from someone I'd lost touch with.

I absolutely adore emails and letters from people I cared so much for once upon a time. There's thousands of reasons we lose touch with someone: different paths, distance, arguments, life in general. This particular person and I had just taken different paths because we had different views, and while we weren't angry with each other, we each remember being agitated by the other. It's sort of interesting to look back at someone you were upset with years and years ago and the reason why; so often, it's simply a lack of communication. 

I look back at myself a decade or two decades ago and realize how much I read into things, and how I didn't always act appropriately to say the least. If I was angry with someone, I was angry. Today, I find that even when I don't agree with others or don't get along with them, I still hope that they have an incredible life and find whatever happiness they are looking for. There's really not much room - or time - in life for hate and anger, because we don't have enough seconds and minutes and hours as it is.

And so I was overjoyed to get this email and message back and forth about how they are doing, some old memories, and so on. Sometimes, it is a beautiful thing to have that re-connection and forgiveness of the past, whether that relationship will move forward with more correspondence or not. As a writer, those letters - those written words - are just about the best gifts I can receive. ;)

~ Allie


Friday, June 9, 2017

Broken Hearted

Twelve years ago when mom was in her final months of life, we called on hospice to keep her comfortable. They were amazing, but as wonderful as they are, you pray it's a service you will never need again. 

Unfortunately, today, we began hospice for my dad. After the last year and half with dad battling dementia, I thought I was prepared for this moment. I thought I would be okay. And when the nurses pulled me out into the hall today to tell me what I already knew - that Dad's time is running short, they believe - I burst into tears.

I've seen him wage a war against this disease since late 2015. We've seen the ups and downs and ins and outs of what it does to him and what it did to us. And after watching it wreak havoc on his mind for so long you start to think, him finding peace will be a good thing. Until that peace grows so close you can see it waving in the distance. Then you want to freeze time and savor every moment you have together.

Dad's been pretty out of it for quite a few days now. He mostly sleeps, and when he isn't sleeping, he's pretty groggy and out of it. Today, when I arrived, he could barely open his eyes. He'd turn his head towards my voice but it was almost as if he couldn't remember how to actually raise his eyelids. After a nap of about 40 minutes or so he woke up, and for the first time in months, he was clear. There was no confusion. No asking me why we were "riding the rail cars" or where he was, no asking me if I'd gotten married or what my name was (on the bad days). There was just Dad. The man I grew up with, for the next 50 minutes, was there next to me - albeit with a weaker body.

So we talked. Real conversation for the first time in months. We talked about some good memories. We talked about my kids. We talked about how he knows his time is getting shorter and he isn't scared; how he's had a good life and he hopes we have, too. I was blessed to hear him say that he was grateful that I was there to take care of him, that I have been a great daughter - words I needed to hear after the chaos that has been this disease. He talked about how my younger brother was a good dad, and how he knew he'd be okay. Then I called my husband and asked him to bring my kids up while my dad was doing better. They were there within 15 minutes, and Dad talked to them, watched his granddaughter perform her recital dance, and listened to his grandson talk about his latest feats in baseball. There was no anger, no agitation, no anxiety, no curse words. It was just Dad/Grandpa, and it was magnificent. 

It was strange, honestly, to talk so candidly about the fact that he knows his time is short. But it was also such a blessing. I mean, we said things we never would have said. I reminded him that he was free to go, because we would take care of everyone and everything, and he just said he knew we'd be okay. I can't imagine anything about this is easy for him, but today, he showed a wisdom and dignity and calm I don't know that I could possess if I were in his shoes.

I'm not sure what the next few days or weeks or months will hold. That 50 or so minutes of clarity today were an anomaly of sorts. However I know that no matter what, we've said all we need to say and there are no more words needed to share how we feel. Which makes a difficult situation just a little easier to bear.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Six Foot Four



Today I found myself in a familiar place, walking the same path I've walked for what feels like a million times, though I know it's much less. The tiled floor with it's soothing blue and tan marbled pattern leads me 167 steps towards the ancient elevators that will lower me down to his floor. This isn't his home; I refuse to call it that. The nursing home, while fantastic, will never be his home. It's not filled with precious memories of Christmas stockings and antiquing finds. It holds a few photos and some other decor but we all know the truth; the sterile room could never be much of a home. I wish there were a different way to give him the best care, but as a big guy, this is the safest place for him. But it's not home.

Tonight was not a good night. He was so groggy when I arrived and sat down on that ugly couch in the main room next to him, sitting in the wheelchair that's now become a necessity. "Hi Allie," he mumbles, hardly understandable, without even looking. His eyes are pointed in another direction and he tries to shift towards me, though he cannot seem to refocus his eyes in my direction. Yet he knows it is me simply by the sound of my voice. I can't help but smile because some days, he's not able to remember me much. 

Some days, he's not the Dad I remember. Dementia robs people of who they really are. When he gets agitated and angry at times, I pray that somehow, the people around him know that it isn't the real him; it isn't the man I grew up with. Sure, he was a pain in the butt sometimes, but we all are. We all have qualities that are less than enjoyable. But like all of us, he has always had a really good side. I hope that that side is the one people can eventually see.

I try talking a little bit but he has so much trouble responding - the words are barely a whisper on his lips, and even then, only one or two at a time. He does manage to say "I love you," and blow me a kiss. That's the Dad I remember from before this dementia. 

I help him get a bib on for dinner and it strikes me again just how demeaning this disease is. This man once stood six feet four inches tall while waiting for my dates; now, on his best days, he's a little bit smaller as his back and knees force him to lean over. He was a policeman, a salesman, Charming Charlie. He was the best fishing buddy to my kiddos, who dearly miss their time at the creek with Grandpa. Each time they ask if he'll be able to go soon, it breaks my heart. That vibrancy has been replaced by this disease, and now I'm putting a bib on him so we can minimize the spills at dinner. 

Tonight he wasn't hungry, and chewing was a chore. We carried on, both his hands holding one of mine as I scooped each bite so he could eat. Each bite fed to him by the hand of another is yet one more blow to his ego; another reminder that he is no longer the man he was one year ago, five years ago, a lifetime ago.

He let me rub his arm tonight, which he normally never does. Usually once we get the lotion on, he's good, but tonight, he would look until I'd rub his arm again, and then smile. And as he got into bed and drifted off to sleep I listened as he took some deep breaths, then quiet until the deep breaths started again. Sitting next to him, his hand in mine, I couldn't stop from thinking back to how the nights were just like this during Mom's last months. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel the same: torn between wanting him to fight and keep truckin' as long as he can, and wishing for him to find peace, even if that means leaving us. 

This disease sucks, plain and simple. I wish there were more thoughtful words to express it, but that's the truth. Tonight, my heart is just broken and I wish there was more I could do for him.

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