June 26, 2016

The sun is up and shining, and is supposed to continue thus for at least a week.

I’ve spent the last two days mostly sleeping, trying to recover from Seattle. On the way home from the hospital, I got a text from my sister in Oregon. She said that she hoped they found something, so that they could fix me. I didn’t reply, I am at a loss to find anything to say that she won’t twist into some unintended meaning, although not answering at all may well accomplish the same thing. I’ve been a little surprised at myself, that I have been taking all of this so calmly, and I did not expect what happened next. It’s been as though all of the pain inflicted by our dilemma has been building up under the skin of my psyche, like a boil of blood and pus. For some reason, although it was probably well meant, her text stuck a pin in that boil, and it burst. Our debarkation from the ferry was greeted by sheets of rain, and my tears seemed to take their cue from them. The wish that someone fix her broken sister led my mind back to the worst of her accusations, a hurt so old and deep that I had nearly forgotten it.

One of the very worst experiences of my life happened when I was seventeen. We had been living in the mountains of southern Oregon, and by then I was the last kid left at home. My mom was working at the hospital in Klamath Falls, about an hour away-in good weather. In the winters, with snow, the commute was brutal for Mom to drive, and so for my junior and senior years she and I stayed in town. I had been going to school in Chiloquin, a predominately Native American school, where I believe my graduating class would have been around twenty-five students. For my last two years of school I attended Klamath Union HS, with a graduating class of over four hundred. I think that during summer break we all went back to Sprague River, but I can’t be sure. Anyway, Daddy wasn’t too keen on spending money for nine more months of rent, so in my senior year the decision was made to bring the cabover camper into town, and the three of us would live there, until I graduated. Three people living long winter months in some forty square feet of space is asking a lot, especially of a seventeen year old. My bed was where the table was during the day. The television sat at the foot of my bed, and my father would stay up late, watching. He would sit on the steps next to my bed, which led up to where he and Mom slept-drinking beer while I tried to sleep. I mostly tried my best to never be home except to sleep or change clothes. There was a subtle unease in our oh so cozy abode. My fathers alcoholism was in full swing by then, and he sat there and drank every day. I don’t know how long he had been having blackouts by then, but I am sure he had one on that fateful day.

When I got home from school one day, I knew it was a bad day the moment I opened the door. My father was sitting at the table in just his shorts even though there was snow outside, and had obviously been drinking for some time. Daddy was a melancholy drunk, and he seemed lost and lonely, so I stayed. It was a rare day when my dad would confide in me, and he was in the mood for confidences. He spoke of disappointments. He lamented that there was something that my mother wouldn’t do for him. He said that at one time he had hoped my sister could help him, but that hadn’t worked out. What he wanted was oral sex. I was shocked by his words, but the fact that my father was confiding in me held me there-until he took his limp, shrunken penis out of his shorts and left it there, lying on his leg. The man I saw that day was not my father. Not the one that I or anyone else in the family would recognize. The father and husband we knew had the highest moral standards. Standards so high that we could never hope to meet them. My sympathy soured to pity at the lost and pathetic picture before me, and I fled. I wandered the streets and neighborhoods of Klamath Falls, trying to sort out what had happened-nothing really, my mind said, leave it alone. Trying to see a way forward I felt guilty and soiled, nonetheless, as I wrestled with the fear that although nothing had really happened, there was a part of me that would have done it, wanted to do it, if it would earn my fathers approval. I believe that made me run as much as his lewd suggestion. My first instinct was to find my sister, who also lived in town. I don’t remember why, but she was not available. Although it was the last thing I wanted to do, I called my mother at the hospital and asked her to meet me at the Denny’s restaurant when her shift ended. Then I sat there, trapped in misery, waiting.

Telling my mother what had happened was the hardest thing I had ever had to do, at that point in my life. I knew that my father hadn’t been ‘himself’. But I feared that if it happened once it could happen again. What if next time I gave in? What would that make me? That tiny camper had become a pressure cooker that I didn’t want to return to. My mother was shocked, of course, but like I’ve said-she had also been around to see the worst effects of alcohol on him. Neither of us would have dreamed that of all things his alcoholism would bring him down to this level. In fairness, my mother took me to stay with a friend in Chiloquin for a few days, and she went back to my father to hash things out. My father was outraged, he told her he had no memory of the incident at all. I believe that. One of the hardest thing for me to deal with, even now, is knowing he went to his grave believing that I lied. He blacked it out completely. The very lowest point for me came when my mother came to take me back there, giving her husbands’ account more credence than mine. No one believed me, not at first. It was said, among other things, that I made it all up so that I could have Mom all to myself. (Jenny’s always making up stories and telling lies) After some time and observation, Mom finally came to believe that what I had told her was at least possible, and we got an apartment together for the remainder of my senior year. Mom simply kept us apart for the few months that remained until graduation. I was lucky to graduate, I went from the honor roll at the beginning of the year to barely passing. I spent that summer before going in the Navy half with my brother in Vallejo, California, and the other with my sister in Virginia. I was actually inducted into the Navy in Richmond.

I’m not sure how this equates to ‘getting rid’ of my father, as my sister alleged. He and my mother were only apart for a few months. She became a born again Christian during that time, and she decided that no matter what, her place was at her husbands’ side. I do treasure those months of just Mom and I, although I learned more details of her sex life than any daughter should. We were more like roommates, sharing everything. We even went to Al-Anon meetings together. She imposed no rules on my homework or behavior, and I was probably tougher on myself that she would ever have been. It was not, however, an easy time. Then, as now, I was deeply hurt at how much easier it was (and apparently still is) to believe that I lied. It has hardly been spoken of all these years, at least within my hearing. Remarkably, I had forgotten that part of the whole affair. I guess that’s why I feel the need now, to share my side of that sorry tale. I think daylight is the best disinfectant, and ignoring some things for too long only encourages them to fester, and grow. I release my hold on this dirty little family secret so that it can poison me no longer-and leave the judgements, reader, to you. Let he who is without sin…


June 9, 2016

Recent events have left a grayness in my soul to match the clouded skies.

Family dynamics. What do you do when a loved and trusted family member turns their anguish into anger…and directs it at you? The answer is usually to just listen. But when the vitriol is intensely focused on the most tender and wounded parts of your heart, can you listen without trying to defend yourself? I tried. In the last year, my sister has been struggling with depression. It’s no surprise, really. She has had something seriously wrong physically, for several years, that is slowly consuming her-to the point where she resembles a victim of the Holocaust. It isn’t anorexia or bulimia, but the doctors haven’t been able to find the cause. I know what that’s like. The physical toll is inevitably accompanied by the dark shadow of depression. The depression has been there for some time. The anger that erupted so spectacularly is the result of repressing her feelings for even longer. In my darkest moments I fear that she is experiencing the stages of dying. Family members to some degree, go through the same stages that their loved one does. Depression and anger are two of the seven steps a person goes through at the end of life. Her outward appearance lends weight (or the lack thereof) to this fear. Although she tells me that I am the cause leading her to seek help from a therapist, I’m glad that she has done so. In her eyes right now, everything horrible that I have ever experienced has been the result of me plotting to get people out of my way so that I could…take over, I guess. In her anguish, she’s reopened my deepest wounds. I forgave her the moment I received the first blow…but the pain is going to take some time to recede. And the worst thing is that although I want to reach out and comfort her, everything I’ve tried so far has only made things worse, and I’m the last person she wants comfort from.

So far, reaching out has only intensified the attacks. The tally of accusations up to this point is that I ‘got rid of’ my father, my children, two husbands, and now getting rid of my mother and herself…and anything else standing in my way. I even planned my mastectomy and reconstruction and got the puppies to give myself an excuse for ridding myself of my mother. She claims that she heard me screaming-“Mine! It’s all MINE!”  I feel like I should be wearing a monocle, with my pinkie poised at the corner of my mouth, or perhaps twisting the tip of my oily mustache while glaring at my cowering mother from beneath the rim of my black top hat. Muwahahaha! Actually, I feel like regurgitated crap. But I do not feel guilty or ashamed of how I have cared for Mom over the last year and a half. I know that some of my sisters’ pain is from jealousy for not being the one who gets to spend every day with Mom, especially now that the number of days are uncertain, but certainly coming to an end-before we are ready. We always thought that, in our family, we were united in our philosophy concerning Mom. None of us cared if she had nothing to pass on to her children-it was okay if nothing was left, not a penny, as long as Mom was happy and had everything she needed to live out her days in comfort. We congratulated ourselves on our unity, believing that the twilight of Moms’ life was guaranteed to go smoothly, without strife and rancor. I think that all of this has taken all of us by surprise. This is one of those times when the giggling from upstairs is sharp and sour. Death of a loved one is a seminal experience, going on to bring out the best and worst in people.

I’m hoping this doesn’t shoot a big hole in the reunion. It would be tragic if she didn’t come-none of us knows when the sands will run out for Mom. Could be ten years, could be tomorrow. What if she passes away before the next opportunity? And yes, part of me wants her to come because she will blame me if she doesn’t, especially if something were to happen. I’ve been trying hard to be like a duck and let things roll down my feathers like beaded drops of water, but this girl can only take so much blame on shoulders already worn by the burdens of daily pain and worry. I had the whole day basically off, yesterday. I could have taken the dogs for a run on the beach, or even travelled up to Sequim to see a friend-but the last angry text (ironically, written in the wee hours) was waiting for me when I got up, and I was too weary and baffled to do anything but take a nap. In my experience, it does not matter how much you try to prepare for the loss of a loved one, nothing actually does. We knew that my father was slowly dying a decade before his passing, but the pain of losing him was still shocking in its intensity. As closely as I am entangled in the situation with Mom-and that won’t stop when she leaves here-I am expecting the assault of self-judgement to be fierce following her passing. Was it because of the move? Did I do everything I could for her? Was she happy? Was her death in any way brought on by something did-or didn’t-do? Are the accusations against me valid? No one can run me through the guilt wringer like I can. If I could I would tell my sister that nothing she can say equals the cut of my own self-doubt. I have had ample opportunities to question my own motives over the years from every possible angle, and I find myself flawed-but not a bad human being. I have forgiven myself for my mistakes, while still owning up to them, and not a single day goes by that I don’t try to make things better, for all of us.


June 7, 2016

I woke early hoping to have quiet time, but Mom’s already on patrol.

I bade her good morning and escaped into the writing room. Perky first thing in the morning is too much for me. Staying out there would have meant having Mom pop over every two minutes to ask what I’m doing, and incessantly checking the time on her clock. If I am able to feed the animals, I should go ahead and feed her, right? Nope-can’t do it. The pets’ food doesn’t need to be prepared for them, and I don’t do prep before a couple of cups of coffee. Today will be the first day with even more caregivers, Moms first full day of care from the agency. Mondays are a half day, I didn’t want anyone here early on Kevin’s day off, so that he can sleep in. But we did go out to lunch and shopping, which I rarely get to do. I’m going to have to discuss this new schedule with the supervisor. At around thirty-seven hours a week, that’s like a full shift. The supervisor tells me that they don’t want to give all the hours to one person, in case they call in sick. I can understand that, but split shifts still tie me down, because I have to be here to sign them in and out. I can’t plan anything that takes a whole day, that way. I think I will propose that she try having people work a full shift, just not every day. If someone is here a full day, it will give me a bit more freedom. Some of my best friends live some distance away, and half days don’t cut it for a visit.

There is also another possibility, although I hesitate to propose it. I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up. We will see how it works out with more help, and whether or not we would be able to handle keeping her home. I think it’s only fair to consider the possibility. The question is, could we handle the constant parade of relative strangers in our home-and if so, for how long? A year? Five years? For us, the majority of stress comes from not having any time together as a couple. I’ve been staying up much later just to have some time with my Honey. There really is no place we can escape to, and we can’t go somewhere else, leaving her here alone. Yesterday, just going out to lunch together was novel, and we spent it basically catching up with each other. Even though we spend every evening together, we can rarely talk. And no, a closed bedroom door is no impediment when she comes looking. Mom has to know what every conversation is about. I spend so much time, on a daily basis, pondering the Mom puzzle-that there’s little time to think of anything else. And that won’t stop when she leaves here, it simply means that I will be spending a lot of time driving to see her. I figure that the first few weeks, I will need to be there to reassure her every day. I think, or maybe hope that once she settles in, she won’t need to rely on me as much.

I’ve been talking a lot about how this has affected my husband and myself. On one hand, I don’t thing it’s talked about enough. We keep these thoughts to ourselves, thinking it selfish to express them. On the other, caring for someone you love should be a selfless act, philosophically. I think I’ve been obsessing over the issue lately because my motives in this have been questioned. I made this commitment with my eyes open, and caring for my mother will not end if she stops living here. My sister has expressed an interest in moving her to a place in Oregon, where she can be closer to Mom-and I have no objection to that, really. We all feel the time running out ever faster that we have to spend with Mom. It’s getting harder for my sister to travel here. I only hope that she’s not still thinking that she has to rescue Mom from my evil clutches… I still don’t really know what she’s been going through, but communicating with her is like walking through a minefield with the wrong map. She’s so fragile, both physically and emotionally, the fault of whatever has been wasting her body away for too many years now. Normally at this point I would feel I have to balance this narrative with all of the positives I see for Mom in this. Not this time. I think there is a real need to discuss the huge impact that caring for a loved one with dementia has on those who care for them.

I feel no guilt in my treatment of Mom the last eighteen months, nor do I regret making the decision to move her to long term care. Sure, there have been times, maybe even many times, when I wish I had held my temper or my tongue. All I can do is learn from my mistakes, try to make amends, forgive myself-and carry on. My goal for my mother is the same as it has always been-for her to live the rest of her life happy and secure. I believe unequivocally that this move will benefit her in many ways, providing her with activities and stimulation that I cannot. It does not mean that my commitment to her ends when she leaves here, only that here will be a place I can escape to.

June 2, 2016

The sun has been holding me hostage for the last couple of days.

There was some laziness and procrastination in there, but mostly I was in recovery mode after a long week. This has been a rare week without doctors appointments, and I took advantage of that to just rest. Mom, too, has been catching up on her naps. When we were out in the car yesterday, I asked her what she could see. She described for me the trees, the sky, and the road ahead. It made me happy that she could see better, but at the same time I was grateful that the temptation to drive is no longer there. The improvement in her vision has refueled her spirit, and I sense that this will make the move more contentious. I’m sure that her recent willingness to address the issue has been forgotten, and is unlikely to return. I should get an email with the new schedule for the caregivers today. It will basically be four to eight hours a day, six days a week. We will have two caregivers splitting the shifts, so that if one calls off sick, we still have the other. I will use this time to find the right place for Mom. I want to narrow the search down to just a few before I take her to see any. I’ve done some research online, and have the list down to about a half dozen. I’m willing to be on a waiting list, for a good place, and I already have one in mind. No matter what, it’s going to be at least a forty-five mile drive, probably more. And I have new pressure to get this done.

Something happened yesterday that tells me the sands are running out on my mobility. I was walking into the kitchen, and my legs simply buckled, dropping me to the floor. I’ve had them try to fail me a few times over the last year, but this was the first time they gave out altogether. I try to visualize my spinal cord as glowing lights, flowing unimpeded. But my mind sees the stenosis squeezing ever tighter, cutting off communications with my lower limbs. I still don’t look at this as the end, more like a warning sign. Time will grind on inexorably as my spine slowly breaks down, and time runs out. The struggles of the past year have made a battlefield of my face, and when I catch my reflection I see every minute of my sixty years writ large upon my features. I want to get Mom moved and settled in before I lose my mobility. I would like to have the use of my legs after all is said and done, for as long as possible. Right now I have enough to worry about. Besides, with the VA it would be a long and arduous road. The red tape alone could take a year.

I’m certain that it will all work out, eventually. One thing that’s done wonders for the whole family is the couch we picked up for free. During the day, I usually have both dogs and at least one of the cats up here with me. Einstein can keep a watchful eye out the window from where he lays, and there’s a cat perch in front of the window. In the evening, I can snuggle with my Honey and somehow we all fit. Mom usually just shakes her head at the pups on the couch, but when one of them leaves her an opening, she will snuggle with me. The layout is more open, with room for the dogs to play. Everyone has relaxed, and the urine wars have stopped. I’m starting to believe it could be magic, this couch. Today I have the mind-numbing task of searching through paperwork for a VA authorization from a year ago. But my mind today is on the upcoming elections. I try to abstain from punditry in politics, but this primary season has been so preposterous it baffles me. I am not as disturbed by the frighteningly successful antics of the Donald, as I am about his popularity. By turns I feel angry, saddened, and afraid. Has his rhetoric expanded the polarization in our country, or simply shown the spotlight on what was already there? For the last (nearly) eight years I have observed our congress obstruct our President in a manner that is pure racism sold as philosophy, to anyone really paying attention, paving the way for someone like Trump to rise to power. Has the ‘dumbing down’ of America really progressed this far? I think this whole thing is darkening my outlook as much as anything else.

I’m not trying to climb up on a soapbox here, or go on a rant. I only bring it up because of its effect on me. Right now, Moms nose is buried in her arm like a little puppy as she naps at the table. This week, she has decided to nap at her table again until after lunch. Then she will usually nap in her room in the afternoon. She was up all day yesterday because she had an accident, and I had to wash her sheets. I was in the living room when she got up to go to the bathroom, and I noticed that she only had her pajama top on. She would be in there for a while, then go back into her room for a few minutes, then come back out to start it all over again. “Hey, Mom,” I called, “you don’t have any bottoms on. How come?” She struck a pose that managed to be both coy and nonchalant, and replied, “Oh, I put them somewhere, I guess.” I had my answer when I went into her room. I think she would smell what was on the sheets when she would lay down, and go to the bathroom to try and clean it off of herself. She went through a roll of toilet paper in the process. The sun is supposed to be back later in the day, and hopefully lift my mood with it.

May 30, 2016

The sun is striking sparks of light across the freshly washed landscape.

It’s going to be a glorious week, and just for the moment (knock on wood), there isn’t a single scheduled obligation. The flurry of medical appointments is pretty much done, for Mom. We have a few more weeks of special eyedrops to go, but that’s all right-its at least easier to bear than the weeks of surgical drains that tied me down. She’s doing really well now with her vision, and it will be exciting to see if eyeglasses will be helpful for her again. I might even be willing to play card games with her, if she can see enough to play. I stopped enjoying playing games, after a few frigid winters in the mountains of Oregon. We would get snowed in an average of two weeks a year, we lived four miles from the nearest paved road. Countless card and board games were played-enough to keep me for the rest of my life. I think I could bear to pick them up again, if it becomes possible for her to enjoy playing again. I guess the reunion will be a good test of her ability and willingness. I will have to start this week calling facilities and setting up tours. I also need to talk to her caregivers supervisor, and see if they are going to be able to handle more hours for Mom. There are a couple more agencies out there, if the current one can’t handle the increase. We’re going to have to move carefully, going forward.

Sometimes she remembers that we are looking for a place, and sometimes she doesn’t. I try to keep the discussion low key and matter of fact, and thus far she just thinks of it as ‘someday’. I’m hoping that this will eventually lead to acceptance. I would like to take things slowly, but it isn’t just my patience and peace at stake here. For the last two weekends, Kevin has tried to make us a special breakfast while Mom was sleeping. Both times, just as he was sitting down, out would come Mom. He would put his food aside, and instead of sitting down with me get up and cook for Mom. It’s the lack of time together, just the two of us, that’s difficult to juggle. The fact that after all that, she only eats a couple of bites…well, that doesn’t help. It isn’t her fault, she’s just looking to be a part of things, and you can’t blame her for that. What’s even harder for him is that he stays up late for the express purpose of having quiet time to unwind, and she often wanders at night, disturbing the peace. I will be heavily promoting social activities at any facility I show her. With back surgeries and the ensuing disability, I have gown somewhat accustomed to a solitary existence. My husband comes home every day, but I seldom see other people. Thus, the pursuits I engage in are solitary ones. Immersing myself in the natural world, writing, activist commitments online…I don’t even get to read, these days. None of these enterprises are inclusive. Boredom is her worst enemy, and I am limited, physically, in what I can do for her.

Whatever is going on with my spine, or gut, or both-has been cramping my style, and I can barely make it to the end of the driveway and back, on foot. That’s maybe a hundred yards, round trip. Pathetic. Sure makes it difficult to keep up with two rowdy, energetic dogs. Thank goodness Mom takes naps too. Physical limitations make me angry, and I suppose that’s a good thing-it at least moves me forward. Logic tells me my legs will eventually fail, but I will not surrender them easily. I will take my cues from the sunshine today though, and push my worries into tomorrow. I can’t do anything much on a holiday, anyway. And I think I will try to get out to the cemetery and take care of Daddy’s’ grave. I like to see it when the flags are there. As the dogs keep reminding me, it’s too nice of a day to waste on worry. I need to be more dog.

May 12, 2016

It’s an odd day, here on the Island.

I’m writing later in the day than usual, but then everyone seems to be off their schedule. I haven’t written for a couple of days. I’ve been mired in reflection and, quite frankly, self pity. It’s a cumulative effect, one thing piling on top of another until the whole mess falls apart. That hot mess would be me. Mom is in fine fettle now that she can see a little again, although her biological clock has been a bit off with all the daytime sleeping that she does. I think she was up in the wee hours, whilst I wasn’t. The evidence-the light on at her table and an empty cookie jar-suggests that she was up for some time. I’ve seen her go back and forth to the bathroom a couple of times, but she hasn’t come all the way out yet. I will need to get her up and moving soon, we have to go in to town this afternoon. I have an appointment for acupuncture. I will be quite interested in what the doctor may be able to tell me about my latest test results. I have very high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in my blood, which is an indicator of disease or inflammation. My belly blows up over the course of the day, becoming distended and as tight as a drum by bedtime. It makes everything more difficult, from breathing to walking. And, of course, it hurts. 

Lets just get it all out while we’re at it. I’ve had a sore, swollen ankle that I don’t remember injuring and doesn’t want to heal, worries about further skin cancers, the continuing deterioration of my spine, and a tumor in my head that I don’t think we’ll ever get around to addressing, since I only get to talk to my VA provider once a year-and then only deal with one issue at a time. I’m sure there’s more, but right now I’m probably lucky that they’re finally addressing the anemia in a serious way. So, what could be the cause of my discomfort? According to what I’ve been able to find online, the options are Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or one of several cancers. My CRP levels would be considered high at five, and mine is twenty-four point nine. If we are dealing with a cancer, my CRP levels drastically reduce my chances of survival. Add it all up, and it makes me weary and more than a little bit frightened. I mean, am I really falling apart, my body systems crashing in cascade fashion? It has to be a bad sign to have so many system failures going on at once. So I’ve been having myself a little personal pity party here at the homestead. It’s a shame, too, with the lovely weather we’ve been having. I haven’t been to the beach with the dogs in a long time, and I haven’t had the stamina to play with them outside very much. Having skin cancer has made it problematic to be outside. If I stay in the shade, as I should, the mosquitos have me for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Would you like a little Zika virus with that?

The house is in a state of utter chaos, the laundry is piling up, and the kitchen is hidden behind a mountain of dirty dishes. I have to decide which mountain to climb this morning, because by the time we get back from my appointment, I will undoubtedly be done for the day. I’m leaning towards laundry, I need clothes if I’m to go anywhere today, and the bed is beyond needing to be changed. On thing I will never be is a domestic diva. It interferes with thought and creativity to be faced with mundane household chores. Speaking of chores, Mom has finally risen, so I’m off to make her breakfast. Hopefully I can come up with some answers today, for good or ill.

May 6, 2016

It’s going to be another banner day in the Pacific Northwest.

We awoke to a sky of flawless blue, and every bird on the Island is in full voice, singing its praises. In fact, the next week looks to be sunny and beautiful, with temps comfortably in the seventies. While that should (and does) make me feel good in a temporary sense, (who doesn’t love a warm spring day), it also makes me decidedly uneasy. It’s another indication of the end of weather as we know it. It has become hotter sooner in the last few years. There are times when I feel like I’m standing at the dawn of extinction for the human race. I wonder sometimes at the purpose behind denying the evidence all around us. We should be complaining, this time of year, about the endless rain and clouds. People at the top of the socio-economic ladder seem to be grabbing onto wealth as though that will save them. At a time when global survival is in question, all resources should go into finding and implementing solutions, not hiding our heads in the sand. What does holding onto their money buy them? A front row seat? Sooner or later the politics of survival will kick in, and the mighty will fall-and take the rest of us with them, unless we start coming up with some answers. I think I’m with Stephen Hawking on this one-the only path towards survival for the human race is to leave this amazing world that we have plundered, and find another planet to live on. The question is, do we deserve another chance? Are we just going to frack up the next one with our insatiable appetites and reckless abandon, or learn to live in harmony with what we find there? Whatever qualities of redemption we find in ourselves seems to be overbalanced by our reasons for needing to be redeemed. It is a point of great frustration to me, especially in an election year, that almost no one running for office-with the exception of Bernie Sanders-is even talking about the looming disaster of climate change. Not only is it real, it’s here. And if we aren’t careful, we may witness the end of the evolutionary experiment known as mankind. This soapbox is now closed.

We have our second day with the new caregiver, M, today. This time, I will try to write down a list of duties for her. When she came on Monday, she did virtually nothing. Mom has a hair appointment, so she will have to be dressed and taken in for that. Her laundry is piling up, and if not for my conscientious husband, she would have a load of dishes from last night. Mom pays for it, (in part), and she should get value from that service. M needs to be able to work on her own, too. I have errands to run today, and I shouldn’t need to supervise her all the time. Mom has been doing really well since the surgery although now that she can see more, the animals get kicked off of the furniture more often. She is still spending the majority of her day resting in bed. Most of that due to boredom I am sure, but she was looking sort of haggard by the end of the week with my sister here, so I know she sort of needs her naps. Today I will call the social worker from DSHS, and try to have Mom reevaluated for level of care. I would like to see her daily rate go higher before I spend too much time talking to residential facilities. I’m hoping that once I get the ball rolling, things will move along quickly. Even with the reunion coming up, there’s no good reason to keep putting this off.

My sister is sending Mom some headphones, and they may arrive today. I can put a bunch of music on my old iPhone and she can enjoy music all day if she wants, or listen to her audiobook without competing with the television. She needs more things to stimulate her mind, and music has always been a source of happiness for her. Musical talent and appreciation run in both sides of our family, and I’ve lived with my mother enough over the years to have an idea of what she likes, or may like. When I worked in Hospice, I used to like to dim the room lights and put some Tangerine Dream in the CD player before I would bathe my patients. The music and warmth was soothing, and sometimes, in that warm relaxed state, they would leave life behind with a sigh very much like contentment. When its time for me to make my own exit, I wouldn’t mind going that way myself. I think I will spend some time at the beach with the dogs today and see if that doesn’t chase away today’s shadows in my mind. I could use a more sunny outlook, and I can’t think of a better way than sun, dogs, and beach. I will let you know, reader, how that goes.

February 27, 2016

Another three am, and I lay wide awake.

Three am…The time for searching souls and dark thoughts, the hour of despair. My exhaustion at the end of the day before was profound, and I fell into bed early, which could account for the early hour I awakened and was unable to return to slumber. The rains have returned, and the low barometric pressure has all my aches awake and complaining. The day before started in the new paradigm of Mom going to bed whenever there’s a break in the conversation. She didn’t get up yesterday until nine am, ate breakfast, and went back to bed. She got back up about an hour later, and stayed up when I told her that N was coming early. I spent the rest of the morning making calls and doing research online. Kevin forgot his lunch, so I left a little early myself, delivering food before taking Newton to the Vet for his final shots. We set a date for the neutering, and once that and the microchip are done, I will get his license. I will feel better once he’s all legal and traceable. The pup is growing fast, he’s just been through another growth spurt, filling out the loose skin that came first. I will probably be adjusting his collar again… It looks like he will be just about the same size as his brother, and when he’s grown they will make quite the handsome pair.

As we were on the way to the Vet, they called and asked if I could come an hour later, they were running behind. With an hour to spend, I took the dogs for a run on the beach. I had intended to do this after the doctor visit, but it worked out fine-we had the last of the nice weather for it. There was even another puppy down there, always a bonus. If there’s anything my dogs like better than playing with each other, it’s playing with even more dogs. And their manners are improving all the time. I’m beginning to teach them that when someone comes to our door-including us, you sit down by the door and wait, not jump all over them barking with joyful abandon. Its tough for a terrier to sit quietly, so its slow learning.

Mom looked a lot better after coming back from the salon, and I’m sure she felt better, too-getting out and having someone new to talk to. Even with her eyesight pretty much shot at the moment, she maintains a determined cheerfulness, every ready to be delighted by sudden joy. “Standing by for fun!” Should be her motto. She still amazes me with her resilience and optimism. Still, she was never meant to be a solitary person. I thing that the socialization of being in a facility will bring a little spark back into her life. It will take her some time to adjust, of course. I don’t know whether it would be best to give her a little time to settle in after she moves, or if it would be better to be there every day at first, so she knows she still has family support. I will have to ask facility staff how best to handle the transfer, once I find a place. I will probably try to get her on as many waiting lists as possible, I have heard that the wait time can be months. You would think knowing that would make me quit procrastinating on finding a place. But each part of this process is painful, and I question myself every step along the way. I still believe the decision to move Mom is the best for everyone concerned. But the seeds of doubt sown in my mind by recent events make it a tough slog. I had a terrible thought yesterday, and it has dug a little foxhole in my brain. Am I afraid, not of finding Mom deceased, exactly, but of the first question I would ask myself, what did I do wrong? And then finding that I had.

When Mom was so late to rise yesterday, I began to feel really uneasy. It got so bad that at a quarter to nine, I had to go in and make sure she was breathing. I thought about all the things I hadn’t done yet, like paying for that cremation ahead of time, so that we don’t have to think about it in the midst of grief. She has been slowing down and withdrawing, but whether that’s due to natural progression at the end of her life or depression, I do not know. That and the combativeness are issues I will bring up when I take her to the doctor on Monday. Its possible that we could help her with those things, medically. Its part of the palliative approach, to help a patient with fear; anxiety; sleep; and pain control. All of the things that make a person feel better. While I am not keen on adding a bunch of meds now, it is after all what they are for and at an appropriate time, I think. Certainly if she goes into a facility. Being all new and strange will be disorienting at the very least, probably frightening, too. The level of fear depending on whether her vision improves with the removal of her cataracts. I’m sure there will be some anger and antagonistic behavior as well, adjusting herself to her new surroundings, rather than adjusting the surroundings to her satisfaction. She will certainly have to share a room. She won’t be able to heat her coffee in the microwave every ten minutes. She will more than likely have to take a shower-not a bubble bath-and have very little choice in what time of day she gets one. It will also probably be twice a week, not every night. We will see what mountains we have to climb along the way. I’ll tell you what, though…I will have earned the nervous breakdown I’m going to have when this is all over.

January 29, 2016

Talking to my sister could not have gone more badly.

Which sort of figures, since Mom was still on a roll, too. She attacked me for the second time in as many days. This time it took both hands to hold her off, and she tried to head butt me in the chest. I was once again forced to stand guard over the animals, instead of getting anything done. This was all when Mom decided to throw her hot coffee at me as I once again told her to leave the pets alone, hitting about a thousand dollars worth of electronics-along with me and Moms chair. First, though, my sister called-and the day went downhill on rocket power from there. It actually started out pretty good. After making me feel like a criminal the last time she called, she said that while Mom was down there, she punched my sisters’ cat off the counter, bouncing her off the cupboards. She told me she was sorry for practically calling me an abuser after losing my temper with Mom one day, when she threw Einstein off the chair. I was encouraged enough to tell her about the need for placement, and that’s when the tide turned. Just as I feared, she wants to quit her job, and take care of Mom herself. She can barely drag herself through the day as it is, and I worry a lot about her health. She has lost so much weight, and nobody can figure out why. I’m certain that Mom is strong enough to knock her over.

She was hurt and insulted when I expressed my concerns, the very same concerns she had expressed about me. I believe that moving Mom down to Oregon would mean two moves, causing twice the upheaval for Mom. I can’t see my sister being able to pick Mom up if she falls, or to deal with incontinence, and all the extra work that it entails. I think sadness would overtake her as Mom fails, and that Mom would wind up in a nursing home anyway. I don’t believe she understands the pressures she would be facing. She thinks I am insulting her intelligence when I tell her that you don’t just quit your job for this gig, you literally give up your life, for as long as it takes. If Mom were to go into a slide, almost a certainty with a big change, would she be able to handle the lightening mood changes and behavioral quirks? What about when she declines, and can no longer walk, or feed herself? What if Mom were, instead, lucid and disoriented but generally healthy-could she handle giving up her own life…for years? Every single concern that I voiced just made her think that I don’t believe in her. And for the record, these are questions I ask myself, all the time. I asked her how she thought she could deal with Moms’ illness, when she couldn’t face what was happening, and couldn’t even bring herself to read this account of it. She told me that Mom didn’t have anything to do with her not being able to read the journal, she said in the beginning it was because she was jealous that I had Mom and she didn’t. She didn’t say what is keeping her from reading it now. But it’s painful to realize that she has harbored these feelings for over a year without telling me.

Maybe I picked the wrong month to break up with my therapist.

October 31, 2015

I need to begin this with another apology for my absence. The last few days have been a doozy of an emotional rollercoaster, and it took a while to get my heart beating again. Of course you’ll have to wait for the story…

My thoughts are as grey and misty as the air outside this morning.

We are supposed to get a good soaking today. So far, though, it’s just steady and light. Looking at the radar it would appear that this is just the beginning-there are some energetic cells in the mass of moisture headed our way. The real question these days is, what’s going to happen to folks east of us when this system moves on. A good weather system here seems to become monstrous as it heads east. I’m just waiting for some snow to appear on the peaks of the Olympic Mountains. Aha! From the sounds overhead, the heavier rain has arrived… Most of the northern part of the State is currently under flood warnings. Not here on the Island, though, we have almost no surface water, and not a lot of high ground. We do have to  watch for landslides, particularly on the eastern side where there are high cliffs. Our flooding concerns are all centered on rising sea levels. The more rain the better for us, that’s how we refresh our little aquifer. We don’t depend on snow melt. One good thing that’s been happening in the Sound this year is a baby boom in our local population of Orca whales. So far, there have been six calves born to the three permanent pods, and from aerial shots they can tell that more are on the way. The worry there is our ailing salmon population, which makes up a large part of the diet for Orca.

In my isolation here, I am becoming starved for logical, two-way conversation. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I haven’t returned to the blog. And maybe why I look forward to my therapy sessions, where I can actually talk to someone. When everyone in the family gets to read the details of our every day, they forget to share their own. Watching the news is the only information I get from the outside world. It’s been six weeks since I saw my friend in Blyn. I have two good friends here locally, one right here on the Island, that I haven’t seen or spoken to in months. And I haven’t seen any of the Brass Screw crew since the Steampunk festival in June. That fact that I knew this would happen when I took the gig doesn’t spare me from its effects. I came to this place willingly. And some of it is just the aftermath of the physical assault on my body, with its emotional ups and downs. The weekly trips to Tacoma are a welcome diversion, although I will be happy when I don’t have to go that far any longer. Monday’s appointment with the plastic surgeon will determine whether I have the second surgery right away, or haul these around for another eight weeks. Unless he can promise me a set of perky, smaller breasts, I’m done. I will find me a good tattoo artist and proclaim my freedom. Give ’em something else to stare at.

I’ve been having some difficulty getting back to writing as well. Part of it is simply reestablishing the habit, but also I think because I’ve been exploring some darker thoughts and 1) I don’t like it there, and 2) I’m not sure how to express it or even if I should. No, that’s not quite honest, I don’t want to share it because it doesn’t flatter me. Yet if I do not keep it honest, it loses any value in this account. I have been wresting with motives ever since my sister called with her concerns about my ability to handle having Mom here. Because I cannot realistically just sit with her every day, Mom gets lonely. Would she be happier in a group setting, surrounded by people her own age, or would she be bothered by dementia in others? I sit working at my desk, watching her nod at her table, slack with apathy-and it eats at my soul. Am I doing right by her, or is there so much more I could do? Is even thinking about placement a betrayal of someone who never gave up on me? Am I thinking about this for her benefit, or mine? And if it were my fate being decided, what would I want? Surely someday my own life will be in someone else’s hands. How do I want it handled, if I am fortunate enough to reach old age?

And what are my self interests here? Every day, I see things that I am unable to do because I have Mom. That resentments will arise is unavoidable. When I feel them I try to visualize the alternative, life without her…and know that the only way to fill the void left behind when she leaves us is to fill it with memories, now. And I have a hard time, after nearly a year, imagining life without her. At ninety years old and living on cookies and ice cream, she could live on to be a hundred-or be taken tomorrow.