A Week in the Life of an Elder Caretaker

To say the last 15 months have been difficult for my mother and the rest of the family is a gross understatement. I can’t think of anything more difficult than having to watch someone you love suffer in tremendous pain. It’s like being in one of those war movies where you are forced to watch the enemy torture and kill your best bud right in front of you.

Since August 2014, my mother has suffered with a fall, a concussion, a slashed forehead requiring stiches, a broken 5th metacarpal bone in her right hand, a partial cast that pained hand arthritis, worsening arthritis in her back, psoariatic arthritis, tooth infections that were escalated by an autoimmune drug she had been taking, dental surgery, nausea to the point where she can’t eat, physical therapy, MRIs, cat scans, XRAYS, multiple bouts of sciatica, and finally spasms that rocked her entire left leg, leaving her in excruciating pain.

We took her to the ER. That was a fucking nightmare. What she went through deserves mountains of expletives for the simple reason that a trauma occupied every single doctor for hours while my mother screamed in pain. For hours. Multiple times, I was a sobbing mess. At one point, I lost my cool and screamed into the ER for someone to please help my mother. Nope. No doctor. No pain management. All you other non-life threatening people problems can just sit and suffer. I’ve never heard of anything so atrocious. Last night, I felt an anxiety attack coming on so I took half a pill I got from my primary care. Five minutes later, I was sobbing.

Once my mom was admitted, the care was a billion times better. Four days on, she’s doing much better. My mom’s taking antispasmatics and pain meds. PT has come by and done some stretching. She’s had two MRIs, a sonogram, and an echocardiogram. From what we know so far, tightness in her hip and pelvic area is at a max and throwing her body out of alignment. She looks better even though she still has some pain. Tomorrow, she’ll probably be discharged with meds, an RX for PT, and a plan to get her out of pain. None of us know whether some of the back pains she’s been having were because of the tightening in the hip and groin that seem to have her body in a grip. We’ll see.

I moved back to my hometown a couple of years ago so we could be there for my mom when she needs us. I haven’t regretted the move for a second. I only wish she could be in less pain. Here’s to hoping that she’ll have a future with a lot less pain and more mobility.


Book Talk: Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari

I use the library as resource to prevent my home from becoming more overrun with books than it already is. In recent weeks, I have come across articles or book reviews on Facebook that lead me to take four books out of the library. One such book is Chasing the Scream, The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari.

Hari, formerly a journalist at The Independent and winner of several journalism awards, uses his formidable skills to weave an elegant, sensitive story of the drug war starting with Henry Aslinger up through the more recent changes to drug laws in the states of Washington, Colorado, and California.

Hari takes you through the tale that reveals itself like the petals of a rose as it blooms in spring. Hari takes considerable care to treat everyone in this emotional, unfortunate saga with utmost compassion. When you hear how Henry Aslinger used his office to create a hysteria and drug laws that, in the end, create the black market for drugs that still dominates our streets, you hate him. You feel angry and you want to hate him and blame him.

But Hari doesn’t let you do that. He asks the reader to stop and have some compassion, even for the man who started so much unnecessary pain and death over the last century. Even Sergio, the Zeta gang member, who killed his girlfriend and was protected by both the gangs and the police from her justice-seeking mother, is written with compassion and, like this entire book, without judgment.

This book did more than educate me on how the drug laws create the black market; it showed me how much love, compassion, and connection that addicts need. They need support and stability. And yes, sometimes they need drugs to help them through, but what really is the issue with that?

Some people in this world have suffered tremendously in their lives. The people in this book went through ordeals that I cannot even imagine. Even the worst that has happened to me, frequent illness and hospitalizations, seem to be pale in comparison to the abuse and oppression that others have survived and, then, went  on to make something of their lives, despite – or maybe because of – their drug use.

Addicts use drugs, legal and otherwise, to deal with the pain. Why punish them for that? We, as a country, need to stop being afraid of things simply because we can imagine them  (rampant drug use and addiction) and build a system of support that will help addicts remain integrated into society. It does not to jail an addict if the person goes on to have no way to support themselves when they get out of jail.

And really, if alcohol can be regulated and taxed, then why can’t other drugs? Why can’t we regulate and ensure purity and tax the use of drugs? It could work.  We would have to have safe houses where addicts could go to get their drugs from a doctor, have access to counselors, and get information about how to stop using drugs. It’s been shown to work in Vancouver. It could work for us.

Few books make me fall in love with an author’s writing and the author himself. Johann Hari’s book was one of those few. I love the storytelling and Hari’s seemingly limitless and compassion and lack of judgment towards all the people in this tale, but for himself as well.

Walking Towards The Bear

“Every moment of one’s existence, one is growing into more or retreating into less.
One is always living a little more or dying a little bit.”
Norman Mailer

I received an email newsletter from Tama Kieves, author of This Time I Dance!: Creating the Work You Love and Inspired and Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work, with this quote at the end of a story about how she had to walk past a bear while hiking in the words.

And I thought: What is my bear? What is the thing in my life that scares me most of all? For me, it has been the same thing as long as I can remember: Wanting to please others, I restrict myself. In my head, I have equated things I do with other people, their reactions, and their anger.

But is that really true?

The Buddha says the way to end suffering is not to be attached to anything. Let feelings and situations come and go. Don’t cling. Experience it and then release it. The Buddha would tell me not to be attached to what other people do. Just live my life, and let other people do what they are going to do.

I’m not into a lot of New Age woo. I try to have an open mind. If there are things that don’t ring true with me, I set them aside. If there’s too much of that, then I toss the book. One book I did not toss was The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. The one I need to work on the most is this: Don’t take things personally.

That can be difficult when you want to maintain a relationship that is important to you, and you have spent your life interpreting things personally. However, to continue taking things personally moves me in the direction of dying a little bit. I feel hollow inside and unable to move forward based on things I can do nothing about.

Can I make someone see another point of view? No. Can I make someone talk to me? No. Can I help someone change themselves to be more trusting, more open, and to forgive so that I can have a deeper relationship with them? No. I have no control over a lot of things that other people do, but the fact is that, somewhere deep inside, I do believe it.

And that’s a major problem.

The bear won’t overwhelm me. The bear will threaten and roar, and then leave me in the wilderness by myself. I will be alone, vulnerable, and afraid. The bear stalks me like this every day of my life.

I am taking steps to try and free myself from the idea of the bear. The bear isn’t necessarily fear or terror. The bear is what we make it.

And, as Tama Kieves says in her newsletter, the only way out of our conundrum is to walk past the bear towards freedom.

Letting Go of the Past

Surrender to now

About 8 years ago, I saw someone who I had not seen since high school at a mutual friends’ birthday party. Before he left, he looked at me and said, “Love you.” I think I replied, “Love ya back” or something close to it.

I saw him again recently. He said something along the lines of “Let me know when you divorce your husband.” I laughed and said, “Why would I want to do that?” After it came out of my mouth,  I half realized what he say saying. We let it drop and talked about something else.

Now that I am back living in my hometown, I have been thinking of him and these interactions that we have had. The thoughts made me sad, and I put down a lot of my questions that have been causing me to suffer.

Are you serious? Why are you saying these things? Why now? How long have you loved me? Why did you never say anything to me when you saw me all the time and when I could have said yes to you? Were you ashamed of me? Afraid? You once said you were intimidated by me and my smart friends. Was that true? Even if I said yes, would it have worked? Would you, the knows-everyone townie, and I, the caged animal who yearned to break free at a full run, really would have worked in a relationship? 

The thoughts kept haunting me. I felt sad, so I decided to pause, relax, and let myself feel it. I cried and then realized that I was perpetuating my own suffering.

In high school, I would have given anything for this gentle, kind, funny person to ask me out. If he had asked me out, held my hand, gave me kisses, been proud to be seen in public with me, I would have been propelled into outer space happy.

With that, I felt a shattering of my high school image of myself: unlovable and unloved. I was only those things because I told myself so, and because I hinged my inner self worth on the meaning given to me by the affections of other people. Because of that, I suffered then, and I suffered now.

I am reminded to be ever so gentle with myself. Being gentle with others results when you are gentle with yourself. You cannot be judgmental and gentle at the same time. You cannot know your own worth or your own sense of self love if you are hard, judgmental.

Once again, I recommit myself to letting go of the past, the things I cannot change, the false beliefs in myself that caused me immense pain, and to be gentle with myself.

Surrender. Release. Hope.