I spent much of this week reflecting on the difference between last year and this year. It's been exactly a year. How could the two kitties have known what to do, right then? To pose in front of the chair we always sat in, typing and reading and blogging? Because it really was The End.
Up until now, it has been almost impossible for me to separate the decline of my mother's health from the viability of that marriage. When I came home from this visit two years ago, right after my Mom received a confirming diagnosis of dementia, I was sick with flu, the tendon in my left foot had ruptured and I was limping, exhausted. Arriving home, I looked to my then-husband for support but didn't get it. He asked me to do something small and when I refused, crying from tiredness, he replied, "You do NOTHING."
I cried for three days straight. Harder than I've ever cried in my life. I rented an apartment, a P.O. box, I prepared to borrow money from my sister, I begged my priest/friend for prayers and he said a Mass for me. Tears come to my eyes writing this because I cannot believe, on reflection, how cruel that statement really was. A statement about all he really thought about me and what value I had in his life. Up until then, I could still believe that he loved me. And yet I would not leave for another year.
I would spend the next year just going along with everything. I was beyond broken-hearted. I had given up. I decided I would simply take the joy where I could find it. I lived for the kids and I would not be the only woman in the world that was doing that.
In Miami last week, I ran into an old friend who recently accepted a new position. She's so visibly happy, so alive in this new job. Talking about that she said that she had become so used to just making it work, creating some beauty within the boundaries of a greater dysfunction. I understood exactly what she meant.
I finally made my decision in a moment when I realized that, for the rest of my life -- even though I would give up everything I thought, believed, wanted, accomplished -- it would not be enough to soothe him. And that was my purpose there - to be whoever he needed me to be in the moment. I played a guessing game every second and when I figured out the game was being rigged so I would fail, I quit. Last night, reflecting, it occurred to me that good marriages don't survive on love. Love helps, love is a good thing, but I think what makes a good, long, marriage is the respect you have for one another.
When I left he did not fight it. He said he did not blame me. He said in the lawyer's office that he had always liked the "status" of being married. He gave me a hug before I drove away. We agreed we would always be able to stay in the same room for our grandchildren. We were supposed to stay friends. I went home to the next thing - to help my sister pack up my Mom's office. We literally throwing the vast majority of her life's work into the garbage. My mother had compromised so much of life - friends, family, even her relationship with her children - to do that job. And yet at the end of the day, she wasn't even here to sort through it. It went into the trash and no one cared. It was a big, sad, moment for me.
Somewhere in the middle of that office packing, February of last year, my ex-husband's daughter called to tell me what he'd said and done in the last few days. I was gone. There was no one to take the hurt out on. That's the only reason I could think of to explain why he'd written hurtful things blaming her and the family for my leaving (...NO...). But if you wanted to hurt me, that's what you'd do, right? You'd hurt the people I love. You'd try to ruin relationships. So much for the goodbye hug in the driveway. He would not attend his granddaughter's graduation, but he'd send a box of useless kitchen items to me via a family member also attending her church reception. A way of being there, in the way he wanted to be.
Last week, February 2012, I came back from my mother's exhausted. Being with her, trying to be present emotionally through all of this, trying to make plans and changes to a more appropriate level of care - it's always draining. No matter what, we're always chasing behind the rapid progression of her dementia. Two weeks ago we weren't sure she was ready for the memory unit, now it seems obvious. We were making early plans, now we're behind.
While you're there, you do what you have to do. Time with friends was difficult to schedule and I quit trying when I realized what a bummer I was. So I tried my best to bury my own emotions and dipped into stores of energy I didn't know where there.
Back home, I kind of melted. Not into tears,but into a sort of shapelessness. I went about my life as usual - a little exercise, lots of work -I was all there without really being all there. But I didn't have to be. John was home this week - entirely unusual - and without really talking about it, he made me three meals a day, tons of coffee, figured out some critically important stuff for the booming spray business and did the laundry. I apologized for myself and thanked him profusely, and felt guilty for leaning on him so heavily, but even so, I knew I didn't have to. Being supportive is his nature.
Such a contrast.
Yesterday, I noticed that I was actually different. Not just divorced-different, get rid-of-your-stuff different, but happy different; got-choices-different. Been-gone-one-year-and-I'm-already-in-three-international-magazines-different.
John and I drove into DC to see a play. I confess that in a solid year, I have not been into the city. Not really. Twice to the suburbs - once to see friends and once to buy underwear. But not once downtown. And this play was seriously downtown. We drove past my college, and the monuments, and across the beautiful bridge. I was excited to see it all. Right then I realized I was cured. I am ready. I can go back now. Somehow I know, and I don't know how I know this, that I will not be leaving here again. That on Monday, I'm going to call a monastery nearby and see if I can spend a few days in silence and in thanks.
And that I will not be writing about that old sadness any more.
I call Minnesota "home" for lack of a better explanation. I've lived many places but since Minnesota is where my sister is, that's my home of sorts. Though we are only in our early 40's, I'm starting to think about where we retire - I don't want to be far from her.
Next, I flew to Miami for work. Miami is another home. I have many friends in the city and I have begun to realize how much I miss life there. I was very, very tired and cut the trip short and was sorry to do it. The sunshine was just right. Everything was in bloom. I was happy to see my friends, who I have been working with for many years now.
The trip back to DC took forever. Nearly twelve hours after a series of delays after three long weeks on the road.
At 1:30 a.m., the pilot had a clear approach for the descent into the city. We floated over all my old favorite places. My college, the Mall, Arlington National Cemetary - the quiet, dark, place in the sea of lights. I spent most of my adult life here, it looks like this time it will be for good.
The question is - how to keep all the other "homes" - Edinburgh. New York. Minnesota. Montana. Oregon. Miami - as well?
I'm in Minnesota for two weeks while my sister is on vacation. She went diving off Palau. Everyone keeps asking me, "Where's Palau?" and my answer is always, "I don't really know." It's far away. It's right here:
Mom has changed a lot the last couple of months and she's [al]ready for the next level of care. It's good to spend time with her in one way, in another, it's completely exhausting. She's like a grandkid that will never grow up. That growing-up promise that kids make makes all the difference to the way you feel about caring for them; cleaning up after them. Same with pets. The unconditional love of a furry thing will make you clean up unbelievable messes - with no regrets.
The Alzheimer's parent, though, is a little more complex. When she's sweet and grateful, it's a big deposit in the emotional bank account. A re-store for the wells of compassion you have for the aging parent.
When she's crabby, manipulative, and controlling - like a giant toddler who desperately needs a bath - it's much harder. I took away some of her freedoms this week. I'm making her take a shower, with the assistance of an LPN. I'm having someone come in and do her meds every day. I'm having someone come and knock on the door when it is time to eat lunch and dinner. I'm taking on the familiar role of "black sheep" because I am so comfortable disappointing her I realize it may be the best thing I can ever do for my "good girl" sister - to accept responsibility for these unpopular decisions.
She doesn't eat anymore because she doesn't remember to. She will eat if you hand her the food. So this day, I brought her lunch. Some wild rice soup, quinoa salad, potato chips, frosted valentine's cookies and Vernor's ginger ale. All old favorites. Putting everything on plates (that had to be washed first since they get put straight back in her cupboards after they've been used), I turned to find she had dragged the old typewriter table into the hallway for our lunch.
We took a picture of the table just like my grandma used to do at every holiday meal. All the doors are shut on that side of the apartment because she thinks people are coming in at night and "bullying" her. Small green post-its with her name written on them are all over the house. You can see a couple on the bookcase.
I'm hoping the extra service buys her some time in her own apartment. I'm hoping it buys my sister a little peace of mind knowing that someone is checking on my Mom five times a day. My Mom hates the idea, especially the expense. But that's because she doesn't seem to take on that her only other option is the memory unit, which is twice the price and basically zero freedom.
I went to visit the memory care unit, because we hadn't actually done that yet. It's down the hall and through another locked door. I expected to be miserable in there - I was when I saw units at other facilities - but it wasn't like that at all. It reminded me of the Apple Tree Inn in Indianola, Iowa where we stayed when we visited my Mom's parents. I hope that's a good sign. In their shared kitchen - they can eat whenever they like.
One penny for 1991; and one penny for 2011. We came back together after 20 years of not being together. I wrote a little bit about how we met (the first time and the second time) here. Both meetings were incredibly random. The first time, he picked my letter out of a massive pile in Kuwait. The second time, he just randomly e-mailed at the right time. I had recently uprooted and was asking myself some hard questions about how I wanted to live.
One year later, we are still very happy. I think my favorite reasons why are because we are best friends and we belly laugh every day. This is still one of my all-time favorite dates that he's taken me on.