You don’t know what someone is dealing with…what they’re going through. Sometimes a person can be confident and also anxious, look healthy but be sick, look happy and be miserable, look good but feel ugly, act hopeful but feel hopeless, smile and be broken, or never smile at all and be happy… You don’t know. So unless you ask, don’t judge. Don’t assume. Sometimes a person you see every single day or think you know very well can be fighting battles you know nothing about.
It does NOT phase me to be with someone when they die. I mean, I don’t see it as a negative experience. I’m good at being fully present for another person’s death. I’m good at opening my heart. Letting the energy flow. I’m good at holding hands and holding space and saying the words that you say to dying people, helping them to let go. Lord knows I’ve done it enough times.
It does NOT freak me out or make me uncomfortable to be around dying people. I know it’s part of life. It doesn’t scare me. It doesn’t make me feel weird or distressed.
In fact, death is one of the most peaceful things I’ve ever been around, in the moment that it takes place. It’s the getting there that is hard and sometimes scary and painful. It’s the living part that is hard. And the grieving. The being “left.” Dying? Dying is easy.
Everything goes quiet – even amongst all the noise, whether it’s chaos or just the whines and whooshes of machines that surround it. Everything goes still for that one, solitary moment…the one when you hold your breath as you wait to see if they’re going to take another one…and then, when they don’t…the release of your own long held inhalation.
I have seen them leave, and I always wonder where they go. What’s really next…? Are they still there, in a different plane of existence? Did they see a light? Did they know they were dying? Did they see something beautiful, or did they see nothing at all?
I mean, there are gross things about it – certain smells and things they do sometimes at the moment after dying, as the body releases them…it’s not “pretty” all the time but it’s not…it’s not that terrible to me, that moment. In that moment, they have something I don’t have: real peace, and the knowledge of what comes next. It’s relief. It’s that final endeavor of living.
I find death to be one of the most precious moments you can share with another human being. And so very often, it feels like a gift…
So why these nightmares. Why? My therapist says I’ve been through a multiple year long trauma that ended with holding another person’s hand as they died. I don’t feel like I’ve been through a trauma. I feel like I shouldn’t be having nightmares. Especially not ones in which my kid is dying.
Maybe I AM losing my mind. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m the only one left of that little family unit that was my family unit all my life. No grandparents. No parents. No brothers or sisters…or are there, somewhere? Maybe that’s it… The fact that I was adopted never phased me, until now. I never really had questions. I never really wondered. I just knew that I was blessed to have a home and to be loved. Not that I’m not now… I just…as we ease up on the one month mark since my mom’s death, something weird is happening inside of me.
The last few years culminated into feeling like a dream for the last several months – I have literally survived, I realize now, by living in a whole non-reality, on autopilot, and there are very few everyday experiences and mundane daily tasks that I do now without being in an almost confused state. Like, “what is this?” or, “how did I ever do that…I don’t remember…”
I am beginning to realize that I actually exist – and can exist – as a being separate from continuous worry and fear about/for my mother, and I have completely forgotten how to be that person. I still wake up some mornings, if I’m not already at my moms, with this programmed state of, “I have to go check on my mother,” being the first literal and conscious thought in my head. Even if I stay there, which I haven’t been able to peacefully do yet, I find myself in the mindset that I have to get up every few hours to check and feel guilty when I wake up and think I forgot to set alarms to wake up.
Everyone says, “it’s got to be such a relief, though, since she died…” It is, in some ways. But in others, it is the same, just different, level of stress to readjust to “normal,” which is difficult now anyway because WHAT IS NORMAL in a world of COVID? I focus myself on cleaning and doing what needs to be done before anything else (music, photography, etc.) when the things I used to do I was only able to do mindlessly, really – just as a distraction from insanity.
I don’t know if this will make sense to anyone who reads. It has to sound like the ravings of a lunatic mind – but as I’m remembering my intelligent, creative, indulgent, passionate, and subconscious mind I find myself feeling everything from confusion to guilt to elating freedom to even complete blankness and emptiness.
It’s not the grief. Well, it’s partially that but only about 3/4. I don’t know, in this moment, WHAT the word or feeling or experience is. I remember going to through it to some extent after Dorie died and I had been such an integral part of taking care of her, but it wasn’t the same as this, nor was the care.
24/7 worry and anxiety about someone for years, and then 24/7 for months – even to the point of every single daily task they needed to do and then to the point of helping them through every moment of their death…it’s a completely different experience to readjust to existing without that task attached to your back when it was there for so long.
So yeah, you’d think it’d be lighter, more peaceful existence…but it’s actually more like a feeling of chaos. I hope like hell it doesn’t last long. I have too much to do – and, too much I want to do. I assume it will last through and a bit beyond probate because that limits me on the speed at which I can chose to move forward and move on… If it were up to me, I’d snap my fingers and life and the “me” I was “pre-Alzheimer’s parent” would click right back into place.
We don’t get into any state of being in the blink of an eye and we become the next version of ourselves even less quickly, I suppose. That’s been my past experience. So trudge along and get it done, I guess… ((Yawn.))
**Edit: my mother passed away 26 hours after I posted this.**
About five months ago, my mother was mentally bad and had wandered and broken her arm. Three and a half months ago I brought her home from the hospital. For years before this, from about six months after my dad died, I had struggled and fought for her and tried to care for her but she didn’t want to let me. I heard, “I am FINE,” at least 72,000,000 times. We had all made jokes about her condition – jokes about “NaNa” – jokes about how bad she was getting, “but there was nothing we could do…” Yet, I still fought…and I know those battles, and they’re why I’m here tonight.
I wish we hadn’t done that…made jokes, because it’s not funny. But I’m glad I never stopped fighting, even if we never had the mother/daughter relationship I always wished we’d had and even if I didn’t get her the help she needed WHEN she needed it because of a broken system that doesn’t correctly diagnose dementia/Alzheimer’s until it’s too late to really slow it down. It shouldn’t be this way – not with the research and the knowledge we have, medicine we have, and resources we have in this country.
I am at peace with the fact that I did my best – that I did everything I could. I don’t need to be externally validated for that…but it makes me feel and have almost a need to validate others who are or have been or will be in my shoes. All these years…they’ve culminated so quickly – in just a matter of weeks.
Three months ago, my mom looked like this (first photo) when I picked her up from the hospital. Tonight, she looks like this (second photo), grimacing and clenching in pain, almost choking on even oral liquid Ativan and Morphine, and her own phlegm and fluid, coughing like a weak squirrel, moaning and crying out in pain to the God that she believes in and still praying incessantly (again, quietly like a weak squirrel, but in pain all the same, barely able to verbalize it).
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are considered mental health issues and illnesses. Don’t tell me you can’t SEE IT because “it’s a mental disorder.” You CAN see it, right there on the MRI. Don’t tell me it’s not real or difficult or physically painful because it’s JUST a “mental disorder.” That’s what I was told for so many years – she’s just getting older. She’s just getting forgetful. She’s just having “mental problems” because of age. No – not just mental problems. A DISEASE – and a terminal one at that.
And you know what else? Especially if you’re a doctor? Don’t pretend to care when you don’t. When you belittle. When you get annoyed with children who are fighting for a better life and end for the parents. Don’t pretend to advocate because for the moment you feel sorry for someone. Don’t pretend like you’re Gucci just because you give to this or that charity or “buy your way” out of having to actually GIVE CARE.
You know what means even more than your charity checks and your “honest opinions” to families struggling with ANY illness or disease or end of life process when you follow up your explanations with the words, “we care?” When you SHOW THE FUCK UP for them.
I am showing up, mama, and even when you don’t want me here, here is where I will be. Too little too late to heal all the old wounds, but not too late to SEE that bygones can be bygones, and despite all of our bad times, all of the good you’ve done for me.
I’m so sorry for the hell, all the chaos I brought to you. I’m sorry for all the hurtful words and for all the times I fought you. I’m sorry I’m not the daughter you’d always hoped I’d be, playing the philharmonic or writing novels or preaching the gospel…but so many of the good things I am are things that you taught me.
“I didn’t carry you in my belly for nine months, but I carried you in my heart for a lifetime,” is what you’d often say to me…and that “to do your best and leave the rest,” was sometimes the only way to be. These words I’ve never forgotten and these words I’ll never forget.
I will soon, again, be an orphan, a fate you once saved me from…and with these fleeting last moments I am sorry. I know I was wrong. I’ll always be a daddy’s girl, and this always broke your heart…but the reality I thought you lived in was creating jealousy into art. But I always had a mom…
I understand your love tonight and what made you who you are…and that even though we aren’t the same we aren’t that far apart. I want to say, “it’s ok, let go,” though it truly breaks my heart…because I understand after all these years who you really are.
Rest now, precious woman, I know you did your best…and your best was really always enough, though I often put you to the test. I thought you didn’t love me, but you just loved me in your way…and, “rest now, precious woman,” is all I can seem to say…
It might be one thirty in the morning but it is still Sunday, so Reverend Sister Christy is going to preach. We having church.
Today’s topic is: Don’t give up a good apple in your life just because you see a blemish and mistake it for a worm.
Misery may love company. But you know what miserable people really want? To be heard even in their silence. To be cared about even when they’re misunderstood. To be thought of even though they may not want to be seen. Even if they can’t or don’t want to express themselves or respond…they need to know they still matter, not tossed to the side because they or their struggles make you uncomfortable.
Why? Because disconnection is not humanly reasonable even if a human being doesn’t have the ability to express themselves – and all people are not going to express themselves in ways you can understand when they DO express themselves. We are meant to be a collective, supporting each other, even if it’s just with a comforting smile and soft eyes, or a simple, “Hey there, I was thinking about you and I’m here if you need me.”
People don’t necessarily always want or know how to express themselves. They may not necessarily want that. But what everyone wants and needs, whether they express it or not, is to have the option.
So get down off your high horse, Herod Agrippas of the world, and sit down and LET PEOPLE BE EXPRESSIVE in whatever ways they can be even if you can’t understand those expressions – and as long as they’re not abusing you in any way, if you don’t have anything nice to say or don’t know what to say? Just say so.
Stop punishing people just because you have your own issues and double standards, Herod Agrippas of the world. Get rid of those double standards, and if you have your own issues? Work on them rather than personifying them.
I won’t even say “as long as they’re not hurting you,” because you know what? SOMETIMES THE TRUTH HURTS. Abuse is different. But just because someone’s behavior or choices bothers you, or you don’t agree with them, doesn’t make them invalid or constitute a behaviors they should be punished for by someone with their own flaws and faults. NONE of us are perfect – and for all who would argue that the biblical God was, he himself was not perfect and he KNEW that after he screwed up “man” (see https://lifehopeandtruth.com/god/who-is-god/genesis-6/).
Here’s the thing: You aren’t living someone else’s experience. THEY ARE. So be kind in the ways you can be, even if it is to explain to them that you can’t be of help to them. Be thoughtful. Add some good to the world by shutting up and just offering to listen, even if they don’t want to talk. TRUST ME – that matters. It counts. It’s worth the effort in the long term, even if it angers them or seemingly stresses them, if you truly care for them.
No. Don’t give up a good apple in your life just because you see a blemish and mistake it for a worm.
Therapy used to be the bane of my existence. Now that I have the best therapist on the planet (for me) via BetterHelp, it’s not so bad. The whole thing revolves around my time schedule – which can be pretty chaotic – and finally finding (or being gifted by the universe?) a therapist who GETS ME is priceless.
That said, it doesn’t change my thoughts or feelings. It helps me to express them in a safer environment than any other, but the reality is that my kind of depression doesn’t ever really go away. It’s up and down, it doesn’t flip but it rises and falls. And with my mom? It’s basically a pit of hell.
I think the thing that brings me down the most is watching this all play out and not being able to do a damned thing about it. Dementia is like that. No matter what you do, it’s gonna progress. Maybe slowly, maybe quickly. Maybe meds help. They don’t if you’re fighting with the person to even take them.
Mostly, the whole situation makes me both miss AND respect my dad so much more. Sometimes I am so angry that he is gone. Most of the time time I’m just sad. Sad at a level that isn’t just melancholy or blue, but at a level that is a thunderstorm – dark clouds and pouring rain, raging winds and thunder in my head. Sad at a level that I can barely breathe through these days.
But here I am. That counts for something, I suppose. Even still, I feel so useless to everyone around me. I feel useless to my mom because she won’t LET me be useful to her. I feel useless to everyone else because, well, depression. I just stay in my room, and read. I cry but I don’t know why as it doesn’t really let anything out. I wish that someday I would be able to find the words to describe this experience just in case I make it past it and have an opportunity to help someone else.
I hope you all have a pleasant weekend. I appreciate your correspondences and your kindness more than you know. You help me more than you know.
11 years ago today, where we used to live in Coosa County. Actually this was taken in 2004 but I edited it and posted it 11 years ago today.
A lot of days I miss it. Not today, but a lot of days. I’m also very grateful for where we are now in many ways. Especially with depression, but maybe for everyone, peace comes and goes.
I see people strive so hard to attain peace when the reality is that it just comes and goes. Sometimes, it’s even harder to attain when you’re working so hard to find it. Sometimes, most of the time, if it’s to be had it’s just right there within. That’s been my experience.
We are human. It’s hard to be at peace in a world where you see so much that is wrong – abused children and elderly and animals and women and even men, hell, people in general. Wars. TRUMP. Capitalism. Most everyone getting the short end of a very fucked up stick… Yes – if you have any compassion or heart at all, if you care anything at all about others, it’s very hard to live in this world and have a constant feeling of peace.
But, we can speak kindly, offer a hand, take responsibility and apologize when we have not behaved our best, and do our best not to be a part of the problem. Of course we always will be because for most of us there is no way not to be a consumer. But you get what I’m saying, right? Peace comes and goes. Good times and bad times fluctuate – just like weight and the economy and lots of other things.
The only certain thing for me is that one day I’ll be dead and a few generations after that I’ll be forgotten and cease to matter. I intend to make it count while I’m here – and that’s what we did back then. I’m grateful to be where I am today. I wouldn’t trade a thing for my child. But the days back when this was taken? Not even gonna lie. Best days of my life.
Nothing can beat the freedom of that life. The people I had around me. The beauty and seclusion of where I lived. The lack of worry and responsibility for another human being…. Easy times. And we knew it. And we lived it to the fullest. And I’m grateful for every memory and experience. ❤️❤️