Monday, April 18, 2016

Caregiver's Journal

     I want to think about something other than her.    
     I have trouble sleeping. I listen for her in the morning, watch for her walking home from the bus stop in the afternoon, make dinner and often entertain her with a movie in the evenings.  Sometimes I get up at night and listen at her door for breathing.
     I've got more constructive and satisfying things to do than this.
     What will I do when she's gone? Loss and gain. I will miss her playfulness, but gain my freedom.
     A life of show business: I am the assistant choreographer for another exit, stage-left.  My dad, my first husband, and now, my mom.
      I've spent weeks writing and reading and counseling and meditating and I have discovered some truths:
     *Grieving, even the anticipatory grieving that happens when you see the event coming, is hard work. Really hard.   All grief gets tied up together. The anticipation of losing someone brings up the loss of others. I've been thinking a lot about others I've loved who are gone.
     *She is an old woman who often reverts to sulking, sneaking like a 10-year-old, lying and weaving stories, taking things that don't belong to her, and who sometimes has tantrums.  I react poorly, becoming indignant and impatient.  And irritated.  She behaves like a child. Friends laugh when I tell them, "She gives away my stuff!" I might laugh, too, were it not so exhausting.  And my stuff.
     *I want her to admit all the things she did wrong with me and apologize.  Well now, if there was ever a ridiculous expectation, this is it. She never, in her whole life, admitted she was wrong about anything. Why would I think she could do that now?
     *I want to relinquish some of the responsibility for her care, but there is no one else who will do it. Despite the support I have collected, much falls on my shoulders and it weighs heavily.
     *I have a co-dependent relationship with my mother. I always do her bidding and she is very bossy and demanding.  Lately, I am resisting and pushing back. It's only taken 59 years. Creating a healthy distance was not allowed when I was a young woman. Perhaps I'll be successful now that I am old and have endured enough demands.
     I remember that I pleased my parents by making life fun. Playfulness, and the impression of playfulness, was central to all performance. It was hard, creative work to bring a show to life, requiring grueling rehearsals and preparation.
     I grew up riding on my parents' big personalities and identities.  Larger than life, television cameras, stage lights, big entrances, strutting.
     Imagine my father at every family or community event, comfortable and charming at the piano, his cigarette dangling from the edge of the keyboard, his smile big and playful and inviting.  My mother was often at the microphone singing. If you had been there, you would have seen that my dad and mother were the most spectacular people in the room. People gravitated to them and my parents thrived in the attention. I learned to tolerate that attention. Their grandiosity was my normal.
     My parents were more show-biz than high art, but always with the finest in performance quality. There was tremendous creativity. There was always a show or commercial jingle being worked. My parents were dramatic and clever and charismatic. My father's music and theatrics could bring an audience to tears. My mother's cleverness was always cause for admiration and adoration from others. People got involved to overcome their shyness or more often, just to be in the glow of the spotlight.
      What is Grace? Grace is being able to let a loved one's death be about his or her relationship to the Creator, and to let go of my lingering post or anticipatory sadness. Grace is seeing my mother as a colorful character. In the story of my life, she was interesting. She was daring. She had the ability to be extraordinarily fun. She had a big ego, was sassy and playful, and had mojo. I learned some of those behaviors.
      It's true that there was a lot of childhood trauma and confusion. She was not a protective mother to me. And instead of teaching self-sufficiency to her children, she taught them to perform, to play, to be dramatic.
     But it is also true that my life was full of enriching childhood experiences. I learned to paddle a canoe, ride a horse, tie mariner knots, march in cadence, dance, sing, use microphones properly, and make radio and television commercials. I studied fencing and martial arts and ancient languages. 
     I did not learn to cook or bake, apply make-up, dress appropriately, clean house, sew, or knit.  I did, however, learn to walk down stairs with a book on my head. I did learn how to survive on stage and break into song and dance on a cue.
     Is she self-centered? Most certainly.  Inappropriate? Definitely.  But my mother has rarely, if ever, been boring.
     Caring for my 90-year-old colorful character has challenge beyond age and the deterioration of the body.  There is the continued struggle to separate from her light and find my own.
     If I were 80, and were to write myself a letter, what would I tell myself as I turn 60? I'd say, "Your training and shaping are only part of who you are. Focus on what is uniquely yours and give that to the world. It is time."