We have FOOD again! The kind with which to cook responsible-type meals. I mean besides things like grilled cheese sandwiches, frozen pizza, and pancakes.
It’s been a while. I discovered the other day that the milk went sour. (Actually, Jake discovered it after taking a big swig. Poor Jake.) The only frozen vegetables were a couple of bags of brussels sprouts. There were no eggs, no bread. The cupboards (and refrigerator and freezer) were bare. I never thought I’d look so forward to grocery shopping. On a Friday night, no less. I actually planned some meals, made a list, clipped coupons even.
We’re getting back to a sort of normal. Not the old normal, but a new one. A friend told me there would be a new normal and we’d get used to it. I didn’t believe at the time that I’d get used to the constant panic about my dad’s physical, emotional and mental well-being. But she was right. There comes a point where you just don’t have the energy to keep freaking out anymore.
It has been five weeks since my dad fell and broke his hip. Life since then has been completely turned upside down. But I feel things starting to settle down ever so slightly and I’m grateful.
I’ve come to think of the past five weeks as what a work friend would refer to as AFGO. (Another Effing Growth Opportunity.) This has been a big one. Emotionally, I’ve seen every extreme. At times I’ve been sadder than I’ve ever felt in my life. I’ve been so angry sometimes that words I’m embarrassed to admit to have flown out of my mouth in multitudes. I’ve been scared, felt helpless because there’s not a thing I can do to change my dad’s helplessness, and have actually asked God to just take him instead of making him suffer so much.
But none of it works that way. I’ve learned that worrying changes nothing. Praying often doesn’t produce the answers I’m hoping for. I want to just know when everything will be okay, but we don’t get to know when – or even if – it ever will be okay.
I’ve realized that I had pretty much always expected that our tomorrows would be “normal” and that our parents’ older years would just be a time of slowly winding down until a peaceful end. But now I realize that not everyone gets to look forward to a quiet and peaceful end. Sometimes there’s no end in sight, but every moment moving in that direction feels like a battle. And “normal” is probably just an illusion anyway.
My dad is ever so slowly returning to something resembling his old self. He’s beginning to move his limbs and body more comfortably than he could the first couple of weeks. There have been a few setbacks, and too many nights when I’ve felt bad leaving him alone in that room while I get to go back to my own house and my own bed. His place is nice enough, and the staff is really good, but I feel bad for all the time he spends alone there, waiting for one of us to be free to come spend a couple of hours with him.
Progress is infinitely slower than I could have imagined, but we’ve learned to celebrate any kind of victory. Any day that Dad’s spirits are good, or when he eats more than a few bites of his food are good days. He’s a little bit more mobile now, but still not allowed to move around unsupervised. We’ve been given permission to walk with him. It’s a production. Put on the belt. Place the walker just so in front of him. Loop your finger in the back of the belt and wheel the wheel chair along behind with the other hand in case he needs to stop quickly and sit. One day this week we went down the hall, around the corner and eventually back again, all without needing the wheel chair. That was a BIG day! Last night we only got about fifteen feet and that was it. I had to wheel him back to his room in the wheel chair and then go back to collect the walker. He said he doesn’t like walking on the carpet. It makes it hard to move the walker and his feet. It’s a very flat industrial type of carpet and I reminded him that at home, there is carpet. And it’s a lot more plush than the stuff he’s dealing with now. He’s still got a way to go, but he’s getting there. He talked about being at home this winter, and I felt a sadness drift over me because I’m not sure I believe he’s going to go back home again. Maybe he’ll prove me wrong …
I talked to the doctor at the care center on Monday. My dad really likes this guy, and he was open and honest with me. He pretty much laid out Dad’s life expectancy in light of the hip surgery. He described my dad as a very fragile guy and confirmed that the amount of time he may have left is pretty much the same as what you’ll find if you seek medical advice online about hip fractures in elderly men with other acute medical conditions. I guess it was just a shock to have someone confirm it. Up until then, I could tell myself not to panic and to stop getting medical advice from the internet. But now I know. Time is running out. So that gives everything some real perspective.
My mom is wearing out too with all of this going on. Not being in good health to begin with, the frequent trips to the care center, my dad’s ups and downs, the paperwork, phone calls, and simply trying to manage a household by herself have all taken their toll. She’s so frail herself, and I think we all allowed ourselves to be fooled into thinking our parents were much more capable than they really were before this all happened.
I’m trying to stop thinking so much about the future. It can make a person crazy, trying to have a plan mapped out for every possibility. But the thing is, no one knows where this is all going to lead. If Dad doesn’t get to where he needs to be physically, he may not be allowed to go back home. He’s still battling a cough from his pneumonia and his blood sugars have seen too many extreme highs and lows. Who knows if he’ll get over the hump and recover well? But if he does, and if the choice is left to the family, then we kids want our parents to move out of the town house and get into a safer place. However, our parents are still capable of making those kinds of decisions and it’s clear they’re not interested in considering other living arrangements. Tensions are pretty high some days. How do you just sit back and agree to let your parents make decisions that don’t seem in their own best interest?
I’ve decided that at some point, we just have to accept what is, whether it seems right to us or not. Maybe we’ll just have to put on blinders at times. I mean, at some point, we kids have to go back to living our own lives, at least to a degree more than we’ve been able to lately. For the past five weeks, except for the rare occasion when another commitment prevents it, when I’m not at work or sleeping, I’m with one parent or the other, or both, or running errands for them. A lot of days, I just pick Mom up on the way home from work and bring her to my house for dinner before we head off to visit Dad until bedtime. At least that way, I know she’s eating something. She feels a little bit guilty about it and asked if it bothered Mark that I was always bringing her home with me. I told her that Mark and I probably wouldn’t even bother with dinner if it weren’t for her. So she’s helping us out by motivating us to sit down for a few minutes and eat together. It’s a good thing.
And this has brought us closer – most of us anyway. We say ‘I love you’ a LOT more than we did before. I used to always be really close with my brother, Jim. We seem to have drifted apart over the past few years, but this whole thing has brought us back together. I hadn’t realized how much I’ve missed him and it’s so good to be doing this side-by-side, Jim, Cori and me. The other brother? He’s even more removed than ever. I can count on one hand the number of times he’s visited Dad since his hip surgery. He’s refused assistance to Mom at a time she desperately needed him. I don’t know how he sleeps at night, staying away day after day like he does. I wonder if he gets that his time with our dad is likely very, very limited. For a couple of weeks I wanted to confront him and let him know just how hurt and angry we all feel. But it’s not worth the energy. I don’t understand him, and I guess I just don’t care anymore. When it’s all said and done, we will all have made our choices about how to cope with this, and I hope that we can all live with ourselves then.
Jim, Cori and I were all visiting Dad on Wednesday night. It was just a fluke that we were all there at the same time. We usually try to stagger our visits so as to make sure Dad has company every evening for a few hours. But Tuesday, my dad had a bad night, and so I ended up going back as soon as I could again on Wednesday. All three of us being there, we got goofy and the conversation was full of laughter. Dad didn’t have a lot to contribute, but he seemed to be enjoying our silliness. It was clearly good for him. For the first time in a while, when we left him before bedtime, he seemed really okay.
There are so many times that I wish to go back to the way it was before. I’d love to go back to believing my parents are strong and capable. I sometimes wish for a lazy evening sitting in the living room just reading, or watching something on t.v. I wish I could go back to being in charge of just my own life. It feels weird, taking charge where your parents are concerned, no matter how old you are. But nothing’s ever going to be exactly how it was before. And I have to keep reminding myself that this is likely a small window in time during which everything is really challenging and worrisome. Things like this help me understand how people do it … go on as if things were normal when there’s a big elephant in the room all the time. Things like this make you tougher. And ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ seems a helluva lot easier when you simply don’t have time or energy to think about the small stuff.
Things will probably get easier again. But they’ll definitely be different.