Monday, January 16, 2012

Free time

I was walking down to my mother's apartment this morning to put her fentanyl patch on her, and I suddenly had an acute memory of last summer, during the week my father started going downhill so fast-- he was... evacuating his last meal, and we were waiting for the hospital bed to get set up, and I was sitting behind my father, propping him up so he wouldn't aspirate, getting his shirt off him and cleaning him up-- and I started to cry. So, I was in tears when my mother opened the door to me, and she hugged me, which was nice. Even though her moods are not completely predictable, she has offered me comfort during the time she has lived here-- and that is a great improvement, both in her condition and in our relationship.

I went home and my friend Chris had the day off, so he had come over and made some coffee and was surfing the net. I came in and poured a cup of coffee and cried some more, so Chris offered to take me for a drive to cheer me up. I have had some work done on the car recently, too, but it still doesn't feel completely right, so I wanted Chris to drive my car and try to diagnose it. We ended up going to the carwash, too. Then I ran Pat to to her doctor's appointment (naturally) and dropped her off (she did not need me to stay for this appointment). I came home and started working on my grant again-- a big grant that has been weighing on me. With an encroaching deadline.

And here's where the day started to get a little odd. I received an email from a contact at my client's site describing an insurmountable obstacle to submission. I called them immediately, everyone pretty much at the same time determining that there is no point in moving forward with the proposal. I unexpectedly now have more free time now. I was supposed to go to Hartford this weekend, and my mind keeps rubbing at the trip and preparations like a canker-- until again and again I conclude that that is no longer happening. I have been thinking about this for so long that my brain can't yet catch up with the change.

It would have been nice to get away for the weekend, even a working weekend. But it is even nicer to have this pressure off my plate.

Some friends and I have been talking about going shooting for the past three weeks, because the weather has been amazing. And every time, I have said, "No, I can't. I have to work on the grant." So, today, with temperatures in the low 70s, we got into the car with the windows down and drove out to the conservation area and shot 300 rounds of ammunition at these fun targets we have. And I didn't really think about much at all, just took in the landscape, with the sun glinting off wheat grass and turning it gold, the rare blue-ness of the Missouri winter sky, a few clouds, and hitting my targets.

It's hard for me to quiet the thinking that way. I don't hear voices-- but I am a wool gatherer and a ruminator, and it's rarely quiet in my own head. I said to Chris this morning, as I removed my glasses, speckled with the salt from my tears, blew on them and cleaned them on the bottom of my shirt (I know, I know), "I need a vacation. I just want to get out of my own head." The head that remembers sitting behind my father, the head that remembers the moment I realized that he was not going to take another breath, all of the images and moments from last year. I said, "I really didn't count on this shit coming bubbling up SIX MONTHS LATER."

Chris just gave me a look that said, "REALLY?" Like he has seen it coming for awhile, and that's probably the case.

It bubbles up, I cry it out a little, get on with my day. And so it goes.

Well, I didn't get a vacation, but I did get a peaceful, beautiful, sunny afternoon. I'll take it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Getting to Nowhere

So, Jen, How is Pat adjusting?

That is an excellent question.

Sometimes, when I think of what she has lost this past year-- her companion of 50 years, her home, a LOT of the possessions and furnishings she had treasured for years, her proximity to her siblings, her friends-- my heart breaks for her. I feel such sadness that I don't know how she can bear it. And then I remember psychology textbooks I have read about projection, and I wonder who I am actually sad for.

But what Pat has gained has been, in my opinion, valuable. I know that for her it doesn't compensate her for her losses; it certainly doesn't help with her [perceived] physical pain. And what Pat has gained is more of Pat. She can be kind now. She calls all of the other ladies over at St. Andrews, "Honey," and "Sweetie." They call her when she isn't out in the hallway, sitting in the lobby, or when they are going downstairs to make a pot of coffee, which they drink with powdered creamer.

She tells me almost all the time how depressed she is. She is seeing a psychiatrist-- at her physician's and her behest. But she has a community here. When I call her and she is with her friends, she gets off the phone with me faster than a teenage girl gets off the phone with her mother when she is at the mall pizzeria with her posse.

And why has she made these gains I mentioned? Because her considerate and intelligent physician is slowly weaning her off all of her narcotics. Boy, she may not remember whether I am leaving town for Hartford on Tuesday or Wednesday, but she remembers the word "loritab." Hydrocodone. House's favorite, and also Pat's. Perhaps that speaks to her good taste...?

Last summer, when she returned from Utah, she ran out of her loritab shortly after she got back, a full ten days before she could get her prescription refilled. Those were not good days. She would call me about every 15 minutes begging me to get her some loritab, asking me when she could get some. There was nothing I could do. The doctor and I discussed it, and how it affected her behavior, and he took her off it shortly thereafter. He put her on a longer acting painkiller, not a narcotic, that she takes 900mg of over the course of the day. That is the maximum dose. She doesn't think it does anything. Both the doctor and I have explained to her multiple times that the loritab didn't help with the pain-- it helped with her loritab addiction. It was a fix. And she insists that she was better when she was on it-- and of course, she has no recollection of those ten days.

I think I am portraying her and the situation more negatively than I intend, though. I am trying to set a stage by showing some of the things we've encountered this year-- but I have noticed a tremendous difference in her every time the doctor decreases her fentanyl dose. She becomes nicer, gentler, more thoughtful and considerate. She can conduct conversations with my friends that they enjoy (and not just at her expense). She scribbles down notes about the news so she can talk to people about it later. She remembers her grandchildren's names and things they are interested in. Unfortunately for Pat, she is not really on that list.

She also becomes more independent. She has gotten to the point where she can separate from her weekly medications (I set out seven days' worth every Saturday and call for refills when she needs them-- usually two or three a week) her medications for that day and the next morning, so there are days when I'm really busy and she tells me, "You don't need to come by today."

But I am distracted. I am so distracted, by work, by life, by the appointments I need to keep track of and drive her to, the children I need to feed-- and nourish. My dear friends. So, sometimes I am not very good at attending to her emotional needs. She hasn't been out of the house for a few days now, and today she wanted a new crochet hook. She wanted to run into Walmart to get it. However, Dash took the van and the kids had taken the car to their D&D game. So, Chris drove me to Farm & Home to get a snow shovel (Dash borrowed the other one, but we are going to need two anyway), these awesome spikes the kids and I put on the bottoms of our shoes (being absolute chickens on the ice), and to Walmart to grab a crochet hook.

Pat called me while I was at Walmart. "Be sure to get the ones with the flat tops-- you use the round ones."

"Mom, I'm standing here looking at all the crochet hooks, and they are all identical."

"I think it's a brand name. Let me go see if I can find it."

There was only one kind of crochet hook at Walmart. I almost sent her a picture of the display with my phone, but there is no way she would have known what it was or how to access it on her own. And I've seen the old ladies sitting in the lobby, trying to figure out how my mother's new Timex works. I'm not entirely confident they can figure out texting or picture messaging for that matter.


I grab crochet hooks. She calls me while I am at the checkout line, and I tell her I have to go. We get to her apartment, and I asked Chris to come in because I had to set out her pills for the week. She greets us at the door with, "I don't suppose it has ever occurred to you that I might want to get out of here once in awhile?"

And it sort of went downhill from there. She has also gotten out every single medication from the cabinet (including two she doesn't take anymore, but I kept on hand because they were just different doses, so could be used if she ran out). They were all out on the counter. She had a year-old list of her medications that she was consulting.

I said, "Mom, what are you doing?"

"Well, I put them out in alphabetical order."

"This list is outdated! And you don't put them out in alphabetical order. Did you read the labels to see what time of day and how many you're supposed to take?"

"We always put them out in alphabetical order in Utah."

. . .

She wants more independence-- but what she fails to comprehend is that as long as she keeps waiting for me to hand responsibilities over to her, she *can't* be independent. And it frightens me when she thinks she is capable of something-- like putting out her own medications-- when she isn't.

Winter is hard on both of us. I know I'm bluer when the skies are always overcast. I need the sun. I need to remember to use the lamp I bought to combat this. But the gloominess outside makes it harder to remember what I need to do inside to combat it.

I think of Pat and I limping along, going for our long country drives, both of us newly single and trying to make our way in a town neither of us has ties to-- a place neither of us can entirely understand ending up. We drive out on empty, twisty roads, taking in the barren landscape that is so stark that it fills me with the same pain and longing that I described above. We drive, talking sometimes, sometimes in silence. I take music with us. Sometimes I play ABBA, which she likes, and sing. Sometimes I play Josh Groban, because nobody else would tolerate me playing it in their presence. But no matter how long and far we drive, we always end up back at St. Andrew's. That disturbs me literally and metaphorically.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I'm back

It's been slightly over six months now since my father died. If I had to account for how I am doing, I would have to say that I don't think I have even begun really to process the last year. It's too important to me to stay upright and functional right now.

Some of you know, some of you don't, that Dereck moved out over Halloween weekend. However, that is all I am going to say about that here. It is between the two of us.

So, my mother and I have found ourselves both newly single, and in some ways, I think that has bonded us. We are both navigating the waters of living alone (well, I live with the boys, of course), and I think that has actually brought us closer together. Pat lives here in town now. She lives just a little over a mile from my house, but I confess that I drive over to see her most days. Even though, this winter has been [perilously for the planet] exquisitely warm and mild until today. Today we got our first crispy bite of bitter temperatures and crunchy snow. No, scratch that: We had a little snow before  Christmas. I remember being nervous to let Sam drive to school, but I let him, and he was fine. This morning, I worried less. However, I am still not comfortable with it.

Yes, Sam is driving now. Life marches on, doesn't it? He is now eighteen. He nailed his ACTs and has already been accepted to Truman for the Fall. Christian is 15, and had an amazing experience at the Joseph Baldwin Academy last summer that has sparked a philosophy, politics, and religion reading frenzy. Thomas, as he prefers to be called, has adopted the task of drawing a neighbor girl from Australia out of her shell, jollying the younger sister (who is facing the fact at age 13 that her mother is terminally ill) and taking both girls to Kum & Go and buying them snacks with his allowance. He is very tall, and he takes a lot of pride in his personal appearance.

The kids had a tough year last year too. Their mother was largely absent in Utah for the six months. Then, I was devastated over the summer. Then in the fall, their stepfather moved out.

My children have had to endure hardships, all of them, that I would never in my wildest dreams wanted them to have to experience. And they have emerged tall, supportive, brilliant, creative, loving, generous, empathic, funny, and strong.

For the past couple of years-- perhaps longer, I have struggled with my career. It has been a great blessing and I have been incredibly fortunate to have had the time to devote to my family. I am grateful to work from home and to have had the flexibility last year that I had. I have been privately griping, though, about the sacrifices to my career that I've made. However, I am now, unexpectedly, in a position where I might be able to return my thoughts to building a satisfying career. And that possibility has allowed me to see with clearer eyes the fact that all of the time and commitment I have given to my kids has yielded greater dividends than any supposedly great career could have. It's true that I have barely been published (except for copious amounts of blogging); it's true that I cannot, now, have a full academic career. I will never be a reknown scholar. I may never be able to teach at a university level full time. I passed up opportunities to perform in Community Theatre, because it was important to me to be home with my kids in the evening, to have family dinner, and to tuck them in. Some of the experiences I haven't had feel more like sacrifices than others. But no regrets. None at all.

The summer was strange and intense. Right around Thanksgiving, melancholy started to rear its ugly head. I find it very difficult to concentrate on work, and I think that last year's tribulations are starting to bubble up in spite of my best attempts to tuck them back down. I find myself listening to Pandora stations I create that play Don Fogelberg, Christopher Cross, James Taylor, Steely Dan-- a lot of stuff from the seventies. A LOT. I can tell that I am reverting a lot in my mind to the safer time in my life this music conjures. I am cocooning myself, with the music, in my last real period of innocence and happiness.

My days, these days, usually begin earlier than they ever have (voluntarily) in my life. I get up, I turn on Pandora, I lift weights or do the dishes. I actually enjoy cleaning and taking care of my home now. Sometimes, in the midst of these things, I take my coffee out to the studio and have a cigarette and a cry. I tell my friends that I feel like one of those punching bags you have when you're a kid. You can punch it for awhile, and it will fall back, then spring up. It does this over and over until it's a little deflated and then its ability to bounce back is inhibited until you blow it back up.

I'm back. I'm trying to blow myself back up. One word at a time.