Thursday, October 30, 2008

A much belated post

"Give love and unconditional acceptance
to those you encounter,
and notice what happens."
Wayne Dyer

I've had these thoughts in my head for awhile. I should have written them down weeks ago.

A little background: Apparently it was no big surprise to anyone but me that when I moved back into my childhood home to care for my father in the last years of his life all my codependent traits flared back up with a vengeance. Slowly at first because when I first moved back I felt my adult persona still in charge. I sort of faced my father as a women in her fifties rather than a child of five. But as the years pass, my isolation grows and my inner age diminishes by years.

While in conversation with my therapist during my most recent funk, we began to discuss codependence - again. "Oh that,"I recalled. "Didn't I already deal with that? Didn't I already pack up my people pleasing insecurities and guilt like sweaters in June, then stuff the box to the back of my closet/psyche?" Yeh, well, funny thing about time, it moves in circles, not straight lines. Sometimes the stuff at the back of the closet works its way to the front.

According to my old and very yellowed copy of "Codependent No More" codependency has as many definitions as people who suffer from it. To some a "codependent person is one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her." To another * it is "an emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual's exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules - rules which prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems." But here is the definition that really hit home for me*. "Codependency means," said one woman, "that I'm a caretaker."

In my situation, as with most codependents, it means putting the needs and wants of other people ahead my own. After awhile, everything gets out of whack, the self seems lost and the everyday emotions become way out of proportion. Anger takes on the appearance of a nuclear mushroom and sadness is way more than blue, it's the color of a dark, roiling sea. Eventually I forget (if I ever knew) how to be who I am and depend solely on the perceived reaction of other people to know how be in any given situation. It's no wonder I feel powerless because I pretty much gave all my power away.

You'd think, having been through years of therapy and 12-step meetings to address these issues, I'd have recognized the baggage before it got too heavy to carry. I didn't.

Back to my original point ....
I joined a group of women writers during the summer. I've written about them before. The group facilitator is a published author with more books coming and more energy than 10 of me. The other ladies are all in some stage of writing - just for fun, about to be published, telling their story, in love with words. I love the energy of the group. I love reading and hearing what they have to say about their own work and the work of others. I love getting away from my testosterone-filled environment to spend two hours with women who don't go out of the house without mascara (me being the only exception to that rule!) I love the iced tea and pastry at Paneras.

Yet, after a few weeks I noticed that I stopped writing. My ideas, my words, my window to the world dried up - a metaphor for how my life seemed to be going. Because I don't have any real goal for my writing, other than pleasing my family based fan club, I began to feel less than. I worried about breaking the writing rules we were being taught. I dreaded even the gentlest of critiquse even though not one of them was anything but plauditory. I was grateful for the days I could legitimately miss a meeting. How had this happened? How had I gone from excitement to dread in just a few short months?

After spending an agonizingly long day trying to re-write something I'd posted on my blog so I'd have something to "turn in", I made a break-through of sorts. I printed up my story, but I also invited the ladies to my blog (what? open myself up to more critique? what was I thinking?). I offered up what I feel I do best, write from the heart, not the rule book.

Guess what happened. Each one of those women read my blog and said I was okay. They gave me permission to be who I am right where I am. It wasn't their praise that touched me, though admittedly I felt rewarded, it was their acceptance. In essence they said, "hey girlfriend, you're one of us. You don't have to try to please us. You just have to do what you do and let us into your world. We're interested in your world."

Do I sound like Sally Field at the Academy Award show? "They like me!!!!!!!!!!!" I think I know how she felt that night.

On the way home that day, I became painfully aware of how entrenched my codependence has become. I was a little sad to think I need validation from strangers because the man who depends on me to clean up his pee doesn't even realize he's starving me. The overriding emotion, however, was how grateful I am for friendship and acceptance. What a gift.

Along those same lines, here's a quote from a recent post from my friend Terri St. Cloud **, "when you get to watch someone find their talent, that's such a good thing....and when you get to watch someone start to believe in their talent....and then trust and believe enough to offer that talent.....well....that's a little piece of heaven."

I think it's a two-way street. When we offer the belief and the trust and the acceptance we gain a little piece of heaven, but so does the person on the receiving end of the trust, belief and acceptance. We're all in this world together. Being co-dependent isn't necessarily a bad thing, until it gets lopsided.

Thank you to my writing pals for the reminder,
Merry ME

* Codependent No More, Melody Beattie, Hazelton Foundation, 1987, pg. 28

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Goodbyes Suck

"Why can't we get all the people together in the world that we really like
and then just stay together?
I guess that wouldn't work.
Someone would leave. Someone always leaves.
Then we would have to say good-bye.
I hate goodbyes.
I know what I need.
I need more hellos."

Elton John sings that "sorry seems to be the hardest word." But I think he's wrong. I think the hardest word to say is "goodbye."

This morning, after a week that seemed like it had less than the optimal 7 days, I took my big sister to the airport so she could fly back to Washington. I don't know how many miles it is between Washington and Florida but I know the distance between sisters is way too big. Oh sure, we have cell phones and Internet access, but tell me, is there anything better than sitting knee to knee, sharing iced teas and life stories?

As we stood on the sidewalk, shivering in the record-breaking autumnal morning chill, we hugged - the kind of hug that says,"thanks for coming; thanks for caring; thanks for all your support." And, "you're a great sister and I'm missing you already." An I-know-everything-will-be okay-but-it-will-be-so-much-okayer-if-you-could-just-stay" kind of hug.

Sometimes it feels like I've spent my whole life hugging people I love and saying goodbye. I've stood pierside as an aircraft carrier lined with sailors left homeport for six months. At one time or another, I've said farewell to my husband, my children, my parents, my sisters, and long-time friends. I've held furry friends as they drew their last breath, and I've said final goodbyes to more people than I'd like to count.

Funny how every new goodbye conjures up memories of all the old ones; after awhile they all weigh heavy on my shoulders. I spent the day trying to catch up on a couple hours sleep, feeling sad, leaden. But I'm also feeling grateful for my sister's visit, glad for any time we could spend together. While she was here, there was an ever so slight, but still noticeable, lessening of my caregiving burden. Linda dad-sat so my sweetie and I could have a night away. And, like an invigorating tonic, my beloved sister pumped up my sagging countenance with her unceasing affection and support.

It's time for me to go to bed. I think my sister is probably just getting home. It's been a long day for both of us. At least I didn't have to eat stale peanuts (assuming, of course, that airlines still serve peanuts!)

Merry ME

Monday, October 20, 2008

Getting harder

"Resolve to be tender with the young,
compassionate with the aged,
sympathetic with the striving,
and tolerant with the weak and the wrong.
Sometime in your life you will have been all of these."
Dr. Robert H. Goddard (American rocket engineer 1882-1945)
Saturday was a pajama day for me. I placed my butt on the couch, turned on the TV and only moved when someone called from another room ... M A R R R YYYYYY!
I had a ringside seat of a reality series that was being shown in its entirety on the WE channel.

The show was called the Baby Borrowers. It was an experiment of sorts - if you can call parents giving up their children to teenagers who don't have a clue about child rearing for three days an experiment; it looked more like torture for both the real parents and the wanna be parents. Here's the premise. A group of teenage couples from all over the country, are in "love" and want to have a baby (I never heard marriage or commitment mentioned - just the baby part, but I tuned in a little late). So they sign up for this reality show to find out what it's like in the real world, i.e. labor, delivery, sleep deprivation, poo diapers and, oh yeh, working a 40 hour week to pay the rent.

I felt kind of sorry for the kids. At the beginning of the first show they still had stars in their eyes. They got to sleep in the same bed in a house that was made just for them. The TV monitors didn't bother them. They were in love. They laughed.

After a few days of wearing a weighted pregnancy belly and one wisecrack from her sweetie, one girl took the belly off, locked herself in the bathroom, refusing to come out even to attend the classes that graphically detailed the birth process. To his credit, her partner hefted the bellypack over his shoulders and went to the class. It was pretty clear that this couple had some problems and bringing home a baby was perhaps going to be the proverbial back-breaking straw.

In the second episode, a group of parents delivered their year old, teething, not-always-sleeping-through-the-night infants to the couples. The teens were given a notebook full of instructions and then left to fend for themselves. The parents were on the other side of the make-believe neighborhood watching 24 hour monitors of how things were going. There was also a professional nanny shadowing the couple, ready to step in if an emergency presented itself.

Maternal instinct kicked in pretty fast for a couple of the pretend moms and even one of the fathers. However, the teens were like most new parents - scared, unprepared, and ill-equipped for a child that cries non-stop. Let's face it poop happens and saying the "F" word and stomping around the bedroom isn't going to change the smelly diaper.

As I watched the couples tossing pillows over their heads in the middle of the night to shut out the sound of baby wailing, or standing over the baby in a sleep deprived stupor trying to talk the child into going back to sleep, or crying to a partner whose sound sleep has not been penetrated by the screams, "I don't want to do this anymore, you do it!" I realized taking care of an older person who doesn't feel so good is a lot like taking care of an infant (maybe more like a stubborn two year old but I slept through that episode!).

Since Dad got out of the hospital, my nights have been long, my REM sleep short. When Dad calls my name, I am yanked from a deep sleep to instant movement by a great surge of maternal/caregiving adrenaline. I had no idea I could actually move as fast as I have been moving. One minute I'm in dreamland and the next I'm by Dad's bedside with some semblance of coherence. This morning I grabbed his antibiotic instead of his pain meds, then forgot the 2nd pee pill thus having to make 4 trips to the kitchen before my brain actually kicked into gear, yet in the end I got him accurately medicated. I smoothed back his hair, handed him a dry pair of underpants and crawled back into bed.

Knowing I should sleep while Dad sleeps I was unable to turn of my adrenaline stimulated brain. Memories of my first days of motherhood flooded into my foggy brain; praying for the crying to stop, pacing back and forth between my bed and the crib, wondering what I'd gotten myself into. Infant rearing and parent caring are two sides of the same coin.

While somethings are the same - the round-the-clockness of routine - one big thing is different. When you are taking care of an infant, you are helping it to live, togrow. When you are caring for a parent at the end of his life, there comes a point when you realize all you are doing is marking off the days. The work is about making the patient comfortable in his last days. Days that could possibly extend into years. The joyful reward is replaced by on-going sadness.

Yesterday my Dad started talking about getting a 2nd opinion on treatment plans for recurring bladder cancer. I suppose even though we all know he's no candidate for surgery, chemo, or radiation, it wouldn't hurt to have someone other than me tell him so. But at the same time that he kind of, sort of, clung to the hope of living longer, he mentioned letting go, doing nothing, dying. Conversations like these make this caregiver/daughter emotionally confused.

It's his life. He is going to do what he has to do. At the end of our life's journey, we all have to make the decision to hold on or let go. But I find I'm caught in the middle. He's my father. I want him to live. I'm not ready to be an orphan. I want him to enjoy the days he has. I want him to smile. I want him to get fresh air, go to church, tell jokes, be happy. Even though it means I have more work to do, I'm not quite ready to let go. I believe wholeheartedly in the Hospice concept, but I'm not ready to embrace it. I rage inside because it's not even my choice. It's his.

We had a fight about pain medication this morning. For all my years of experience, I'm really not so different from that young guy on TV who cried in frustration at the baby in the crib crying in frustration. Neither children nor parents come with instruction manuals. Maybe Baby Borrowing should be a requirement. If there is such a thing as Dad borrowing, I'm not sure I'd recommend it. Perhaps on the job training is a better option.

Forgetting how to be merry

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Later that night ....

Post Surgery
12:30 AM

Dad: Mary, I'm all wet.
Mary: Hmmmm.
Dad: Call the doctor.
Mary: It's after midnight. He's asleep.
Dad: Let's go to the Emergency Room.
Mary (out loud):Hmmmmmmm
Mary (in her head): Oh, my God, I can't face the emergency room tonight.
Dad: I'm wet. It burns.
Mary (in her head, sounding like Prissy from Gone with the wind): I don't know nothing about leaking penises.

Mary: Hi Dr. Mona, sorry to bother you at this hour.
Doctor: No problem. What's going on?
Mary: Dad's leaking. Dad's in pain.
Doctor: Oh, he's just having bladder spasms.
Mary (in her head): JUST???
Doctor: Is he bleeding? Is he feverish? .....

Crackle. Crackle. Pop. Silence.

Mary: F#!&*K !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! JACK !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jack: Yes dear.
Mary: The GD phone isn't working. What do I do now?

The phone rings again.

Doctor: As I was saying. Why don't you just remove the catheter?
Mary: I don't know nothing about removing no catheters.
Doctor: I'll tell you how.
Mary: Oh, well in that case.
Doctor: First you cut the short tube ......

Mary (scissors in hand, remembering Carol O'Dell's advice to look for the funny in a situation): Okay, Dad, here's the plan. We're going to cut your pecker off.
Dad: Good idea.

Mary(on her knees in front of her father who sitting on the toilet, not much visible except the plastic tube extending from penis from hell.) Here we go!
Dad: What are you cutting?
Mary: The part of the catheter that keeps the balloon inside you blown up.
Dad: Balloon?
Mary: Don't ask me, I'm just the cutter.

Cut. Pull. Success.

Dad: oooohhhhhhh. ahhhhhhhhh. That feels better already.
Mary: Thank you Jesus!
Dad: You sure have earned your salary today.
Mary: Yup!

Dad: I think I'll go to sleep now.
Mary (downing two Tylenol): Sweet dreams.

Dad: Mary ?????
Mary: Yes, Dad.
Dad: Do you think I should take a pain pill?
Mary: Are you in pain?
Dad: It burns. I'm wet.

Mary (finally in bed, pulls up the covers, curls into a fetal postition): Deeeeep siiiiighhhhhh
Jack: I love you. Sleep well.
Mary (in her head as she falls into well-deserved and deep sleep): I love you too.

A little less than Merry but truly blessed,

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Been there ... done that!

In the days since I last posted anything, I can honestly say I've thought about writing. I've had some ideas, but never made the effort to put fingers to keyboard. However, I have been knitting and have a bag full of almost 50 teeny tiny baby hats to send to Save the Children.

Today was one of those days spent sitting in hard, uncomfortable chairs in a hospital waiting room. Gratefully, it wasn't as long a day as it could have been. Any day, though, that starts before 7:30am is going to be a long one for me.

Dad had a tumor removed from his bladder. An aggressive cancer that will probably return. But at his age and with the condition of his heart, these cystoscopic surgeries are really the only treatment option.

I know Dad is the one who should be getting the sympathy, not me. However, in my normal it's-all-about-ME mentality I've got to say even though I signed on for this job, I just never figured I be on such intimate terms with my father's pecker. He's had this surgery before but in the same way a person experiences situational amnesia, I obviously blanked out any memory of catheter cleaning and changing. It came back to me as the nurse was giving me a mini- course in Foley maintenace how last time we went through this drill, I spilled pee all over Dad, me and the bathroom. There's a trick I'm sure I'll have to practice that keeps the pee from shooting out across the room as soon as tap is opened.

I know it's kind of rude to listen to conversations that take place on the other side of a hospital curtain. However, I couldn't help but perk up my ears when I heard a doctor say to his patient in the cubicle next to us, "I haven't done this procedure before, but I'll give it my best shot. If it doesn't work, I'll have to think of something else."

What????? He's never done it before? Is that appropriate doctor/patient conversation? I'm guessing the patient had already had some kind of sleepy juice as I did not see him get up and walk out as fast as his plastic-tred tube socks could carry him, his untied hospital gown flowing in the breeze.

I wonder, is it wrong to use another's misfortune to spur me on to writing again? Perhaps between pee emptying escapades I'll find some humorous tales to share.

Looking for my rubber gloves,
Merry ME