Category Archives: aging parents

Cloudy and at sea

PacificCoast2007That’s kind of how things have been here for the last several weeks.

Well, my father in law’s funeral is over now, and the out-of-state relative we’ve been hosting has gone home. Time to start getting things done again. How  have all of you been lately?

An Apology

I never like to fill my posts
with tales of woe. We all have those,
and most are worse than mine. It feels
like telling all of you to marvel
that weeds have sprouted in my garden
when your house, maybe, just burned down.

And yet, sometimes, some times like these,
I start to think I ought to say what’s kept
me silent more days than I speak.
So, here’s the problem: two weeks in
the hospital – no, no, not me,
my husband’s father’s sick. Today,
a gift: he hasn’t gotten worse.

And so, today, I write.

(Poetry 201: Write a poem containing a simile and the word “gift”; make an acrostic with the first letters of the lines, which I haven’t done.

But Dad really is hospitalized, and it’s difficult for everyone.)

Best Laid Plans (2)

UPSwampIn short (but it didn’t feel short, not at all), it took two cold icy slippery winters separated by a hot, sweaty summer to clear out all that junk. And after that, the house desperately needed a good cleaning – it’s been years since my mother had the strength and energy to keep up with dirt, and it upset her to see anyone else (me) doing what she couldn’t do. Scrubbing woodwork and walls was even more exhausting than clearing out junk.

20150626grandmasvasesBut at last it’s done; some of the usable things went to an auction house to be sold, while others went to Goodwill (we gave so much to Goodwill that the staff at the store in her area started to recognize us). We probably have a buyer for the house. And only a few weeks ago, when we thought all the stuff behind stuff had been cleaned out except for a few books that the auctioneer rejected after they sat on the same shelves unread for the past forty or fifty years, I found two old brass vases hiding behind the books! They’re fairly ugly, but they belonged to my grandmother, and I’m keeping them.

Oh, and the Great Cleanout I had planned to start last New Years? It didn’t happen. Yet.

But it will, soon. After another week to rest and recover, I’m going to start throwing things away here. I had planned to allow myself more time off – but looking at the mess is getting on my nerves. (That’s a good sign, right?) My living room is so full of boxes that came from my mother’s house that it could be featured on one of those TV shows about hoarders. Boxes have come and boxes have gone, but for the last month I’ve been too tired to cope with them, and boxes have stayed. Time to make them go away.

My hair isn’t sore

My eyelids aren’t either. Or my ears. Pretty much all of the rest of me is, though – stiff, sore, and tired. My husband and I spent five days at my mother’s house (yesterday’s flowers grow in her back yard) sorting through things and filling up a dumpster.

What goes in a dumpster? Worn-out furniture. Half-made-up dresses that my mom never finished. Thirty or forty years worth of greeting cards for every special occasion on the calendar. Broken flower pots. Badly rusted tools that my father never cleaned up or got rid of. Piles of old magazines. And more.

Medicines that haven't been available to buy for years. And years.

Medicines that haven’t been available to buy for years. And years.

My parents – children of the Great Depression – found it very, very hard to throw anything away, no matter how worn-out it was. I suppose it made them feel secure to be surrounded by piles of Stuff, even if it was unusable. (Anybody out there want some burned-out light bulbs? I have plenty, now.) And in recent years, my mother just didn’t have the strength to do much cleaning. But I don’t have any sentimental regrets at all about throwing away a box of Jello dated 1981.

We’re nowhere near finished sorting through stuff and throwing things away, either. Maybe by August, if we’re very lucky and hardworking, we’ll be ready to hold an estate auction to dispose of the usable things that nobody in the family has room to keep. It’s going to hurt to see Mom’s house empty, but it has to be done.

Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, now that I’m back in my own over-cluttered house – I learned my mother’s lessons very well – for the moment, I need to go and throw things away. I don’t really want to be an official minimalist, but I don’t want my sons to be stuck with a project like this some day. It’s time, past time, to figure out how to weed things out as I go.

I used to think it would be wonderful to live in an enormous house. You know what? If I had a huge house, there would be more room for junk to pile up. I think I’ll stay with the medium-small place I have, thanks.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Five Days of Haiku

Haiku number 2, for this week’s WordPress Writing Challenge. The goal is to write five between Monday, November 25, and Friday.

Since this is Thanksgiving week here in the U.S., I’m probably going to focus on things to be thankful for – after a fashion.

Misery’s Company

Yes, that’s how it is,
We say. You’re not alone. Give
Thanks for friends’ shared pain.

(A number of people in my circle of friends are coping with elderly, failing parents. Nothing can make the situation painless, but it helps to know that other people are facing the same kinds of problems.)

Friday, and Problems

If you see this post, it will be because my mother is not well at all and I have to be away taking care of her. In that case, well, I’ll resume posting when I can.

Only one more day of 2012!

We’re staring 2013 in the face.

I don’t usually write about my problems here, mostly because I don’t have much that’s fresh and insightful to say about the subject. But the end of the year seems to be the traditional time to evaluate our lives and make plans to improve them.

And what did I accomplish in 2012? I started off with grandly overambitious plans – “finish writing at least two books; be thin; live in a tidy house; rebuild my savings account; learn to draw; and, for the heck of it, finish several reading challenges.” It’s been a sobering year.

My house is as messy as it’s ever been, possibly worse. I’ve gained five pounds. I don’t have the free time to concentrate on drawing. The reading challenges petered out midyear, largely because I found other topics to post about, so I don’t really care about that failure. Have I succeeded in anything?

My main accomplishment, one I didn’t realize I was facing a year ago, has been to keep my mother out of the hospital and the nursing home, living quasi-independently in her familiar house with her familiar belongings and as many of her familiar routines as she feels up to bothering with. And it’s stressful for everyone involved, and pretty time-consuming.

But what about my January pipe dreams? Well, there’s writing. Writing fiction is something I’ve made progress on. No, I haven’t finished two books in the past year. In spite of my high hopes a month ago, I haven’t even finished one; it turns out that my mother now gets very upset by the prospect of Christmas (with all the things she feels she ought to do and can’t do), so upset that soothing her leaves me emotionally drained for most of the day. So that will have to be factored into future plans: December is a washout.

Even so, I’ve learned a lot – partly by participating in Friday Fictioneers and the 100 Word Challenge for Grownups – about writing: structuring plots, developing characters, keeping a story moving. Well before spring I really should have the current fantasy-in-progress rough draft written. (Pause for cartwheels.)

The score for the year? I guess I’m keeping up with the absolutely essential top-priority things. Almost top-priority, not so good. Tomorrow I’ll inflict a post on you about where I go from here.

(On a different subject, I just got home this afternoon from a two-day trip – my husband and I decided to give each other a mini-vacation for Christmas. I think I’ve caught up on all the comments people made on my posts while I was away; I know I have dozens and dozens of your posts to read. I’m looking forward to them, but it will take a while to get through them all. You may still be getting comments in February 😉 )

Out of anybody’s comfort zone

There are two (or more, but I’m sticking with binary here) reasons to go out of your comfort zone.

Mostly, we think of it in terms of growth, stretching your limits, expanding your horizons, overcoming obstacles. Things that are hard, but things that you choose so that you can end up where you want to go.

Then there’s the other way to leave your comfort zone – because you have no choice. Millions of people, right now, this minute, have been driven out of their comfort zones, by disease, by war, by poverty – my personal departure from comfort is a pretty minor one, really.

But it’s still unpleasant, even if it is a cliche: I’m becoming my mother’s mother, lost skill by lost skill. Her latest bit of slippage is especially unsettling because, in my family, it was always made very clear that my parents’ finances were Absolutely. None. Of. My. Business. And now I’m paying her bills and keeping her checking account balanced.

Monday, I’ll be getting her income tax done. Last year, I didn’t even have to think about her taxes. I don’t like it in this new world; she doesn’t like it here; we don’t have any way to go back.

(By the way: do you have grown children? Let them know where you keep your records and what your sources of income are. Now, while you remember. Don’t wait till it’s an emergency that you can’t help them with.)

It’s not that I object to helping her (though I finally realized that helping her is why I suddenly have so little free time). But it’s so painful to see a person who has always been responsible and independent become unable to cope.

Out of the comfort zone.

Getting back to my comfort zone

Sometimes we lose track of habits, even ones that make us happy. That’s been happening to me over the past six months while learning to cope with my mother’s declining health.

For years, I’ve been in the habit of walking a lot – actually, that started when I sprained my ankle badly a long time ago. (Falling down a couple of steps is disorienting enough. Falling down steps, coming to a stop lying on your side, and looking over at your left foot bent sideways at a 90 degree angle, with the sole flat on the floor, is not a good thing.) Even after the sprain healed, my ankle was weak and painful, until I started walking routinely. That seemed to strengthen the muscles so that they could stabilize my foot in a way that the damaged ligaments can’t manage any more.

So, for me, walking isn’t just one of those things you do because it’s recommended. Neglecting it makes me feel bad; my ankle aches, my gait gets a little wobbly, life is not good. And yet, from late September till early this year, I hardly walked at all. I didn’t have much time; I didn’t have enough focus to know how to best use the time I had.

Fairly recently, I’ve spent at least some time on our treadmill every week, and that’s a good thing. Outside walking, though? Not at all, even though it’s been one of the mildest winters I can remember. Even though I knew perfectly well I would feel better and cope better if I could get back to what used to be normal, something in me wanted to balk.

But this week, at last, at last, I made it outside, enticed by spring. Leaves are unfurling. Trees are covered with flowers. I headed outside with my little camera to celebrate. It wasn’t really a trip outside my comfort zone so much as a return to it.

With flowers.

Romance

My husband and I did not have a very romantic Valentine’s Day.

We were on the road before 8 in the morning, struggling through Philadelphia rush hour traffic and then halfway across Pennsylvania to my mom’s house. Of course, in spite of half a dozen conversations about the visit over the past few days, she had forgotten we were coming, so we had to spend some time soothing her.

After that, for a fun couples activity, my husband organized her pill boxes to carry her through the next several weeks while I sorted out her mail and wrote checks. He also got to spend time deflecting her from trying to feed me lunch at 10:30, or otherwise distracting me from getting her bills paid.

And then it was off to her bank and post office and pharmacy and grocery store, with a few quick home repairs to wrap up the visit; then back to New Jersey, hitting the outskirts of Philadelphia just in time for the afternoon rush hour. In short, my husband got to devote the whole day to helping out his mother-in-law; traffic jams on the Schuylkill Expressway were probably some of his pleasanter moments.

And he did it all cheerfully.

There are a lot of reasons I love him, but this is a sample of one reason. He is a genuinely good and giving and patient person.

And you know, that’s pretty romantic.

Paul, will you stay my Valentine?