When I started this blog last year, I fully intended to write every week and use it as a sort of journal to see where my thinking was taking me. Then my mother had a devastating medical emergency on October 3 (her 83rd birthday!) and my life changed immediately. I was the one of four sisters who lives near my mom, and it fell to me to manage the situation. It’s nothing new, there are so many articles and stories written about the sandwich generation–and we think we know what it is about until we are fully living it! For me it was different because I am single and have been an “empty nester” since 1989 when my then 17 year old son went into the Navy (that’s another story!). I had built a very active life running my business, doing consulting, traveling to visit my friends around the US and in Europe. I was constantly on the go and very busy, as whatever I committed to, I tended to do all the way. Because I’m not in a traditional “sandwich” with a family at home and parents who also need me, I can call this more of an open-faced sandwich experience.
For the past several years, I had called my mom twice a day from wherever I was–I worked around the country doing coaching, going to classes, working with the Make Mine a Million $ Business group at Count Me In–and until my dad passed away in September of ’06, I was mainly a supporter of her as she dealt with his illness. The year following his passing, she was sort of getting her sea legs as a widow. They had been married 62 years, and had spent almost every day together. Quite a feat, although expected in their generation.
So, I encouraged Mom to go on a cruise, keep active, all that stuff. and she did. But then she had a minor medical procedure on October 1st and within two days was in the hospital, where she almost died because necrosis had eaten away the top level of skin across her stomoach. She had 4 surgeries in 2 weeks and somehow just hung in there and made it. After she woke up from a month in a medically induced coma, she had to learn to do everything all over again–swallow, move her arms and legs. eat, sit, stand–everything. It was quite a journey, and after 11 weeks, I was able to bring her home to my house to keep getting well.
The first few weeks it was like I had a newborn baby. I was up and down every two hours to help her. She was on a walker, had a wound vac that had to be toted around, and she had to be helped up and down from bed or when sitting in a chair. The experience is a little like a blur now, but the one thing that stands out is how perfectly lovely my mom was during this time (and still is!). You hear about older people being difficult, but she is the opposite. She was so grateful that she lived, and that we rallied around her to help her live, that she decided she had a big responsibility to make that worth our while. She still talks about how she feels compelled to live and live well because of what we all went through together.
During the hospital stay and right after, I kept working with my clients, but saw that the responsibility of having Mom at home was growing. And I wasn’t that pleased with the caregiver service that we hired to be with her when I had to travel for work. I had minimized my outside work, doing most of it from home, but there were times I had to be away. I realized that I had come to a crossroad, and it was time to decide what to do.
So I resigned my position with Count Me In at the end of the last event I attended in January, and came home to be a stay at home mom for my mom. That was the beginning of my new life, and now I’m finding that I can actually talk about it. For the last 2 1/2 months I’ve been living it, noticing how I felt, thinking about what lies ahead. But I have been sort of bottled up inside, not really able to sit down and write anything. This morning, the words just started pouring out, so something has changed.
I am ready to talk to myself this way again, so I’m going to keep writing and see what comes out. I want to record this part of my life journey, because it is a dramatic change for me to see that I identified myself mostly for the last 30 or so years by what I did. That is so clear to me now, although I had the notion that I was evolving and integrating myself and growing ever more comfortable in my own skin. What came to me this morning is that it isn’t an either/or about what we do vs. who we are.
We are who we are and we express that by what we do. It sounds so simple, but I have been in countless conversations about the pros and cons of “being” and “doing” as if they could be separated! Perhaps this isn’t so novel to others, but it is new to me! Based on my observations of myself as a caregiver to my mom, I see that I am still a “doing” person–that I find ways to be busy each day, even though I don’t currently have a big job title or lots of clients waiting to work with me. After selling my rep firm a year and a half ago, I immersed myself into my consulting and coaching work, not taking a breath between the ownership position and the more independent work. Of course I had been doing the PeopleBiz work for years on the side, but now it was my full identity, and I just went with it.
I still work with clients now, but nothing like I did before. I’m learning how to NOT work! So what does that mean? Am I a different person? Is this just a hiatus until my mom is ready to be on her own again? Is it possible for me to cultivate a new persona at 60?
My coach keeps telling me to take it slowly, do as little as possible in the way I used to do it. Take my time, spend days in my PJs, rest, relax, go to movies, just have some fun. So I’m doing that, pretty much. But I still feel a little restless, and I catch myself wondering what I forgot to do.
Mom needs much less attention these days. She is walking freely without a walker or a cane, she bathes and dresses herself, gets her own breakfast many days, works crossword puzzles, plays solitaire on my laptop computer, visits with friends on her cell phone, exercises and has even started taking short walks with me. She is much closer to full recovery, even though the wound on her stomach is not yet fully healed. We still must change the bandage every other day, and she is still not strong enough to fully care for herself.
Some great things have come out of this so far: I am fully committed to doing my Pilates every other day. The consequence is that I feel really good, my muscles are still talking to me but they are saying keep going, we love this! [Instead of stop, this hurts!] And for that I feel very encouraged. I feel strong and agile, which I love feeling.
I have been able to stick to my exactly right diet, not eating things I’m allergic to because I can pick and choose and control all my meals. When I was traveling, I had to take what I could get many times, and am sure that contributed to my getting viruses and picking up strange bacteria on my trips. I had immune system problems in the early 90s (another story) so have had problems with food and health for the last 16 years. Not traveling seems to agree with my body.
And I feel closer to and more relaxed around my mother than ever before. Since she’s living in my house, I just had to let go of making “nice” when she made a snide comment about Hillary Clinton, for example. I am a major supporter of Hillary’s campaign, and my mom is an old-time, very entrenched Republican. It is fine for me if she votes that way, or even just thinks that way, but I don’t have to listen to her put down someone I believe in! So, we have had some very heated conversations about that–and it has felt great! I can see now that I was so PC when I was running my business and working out in the world. I don’t have to be that way now! I can say what I think, and I don’t have to protect anyone, including my mother, from my thinking.
It was actually easier when my dad was around to just avoid political conversations–they had pictures of George W. and Laura around the house. I just didn’t want to argue with them about that stuff, especially since my dad’s time was limited. But now it is different. I can see my mom opening her mind to new ideas, and she has even come to appreciate why I support Hillary and what it was like for me to be a business woman all these years in a male dominated business world. She was so protected by my dad and his position, that she didn’t realize how difficult it was for those of us striking out independently. So, even though it might have been easier to stay in a rut, or for me to just keep certain subjects under the rug, because of our living situation, I find it impossible. And she is growing and changing and thinking about things. I sincerely hope I can say the same about myself at 83.
The most interesting thing for me about this time in my life is that I have no idea what lies ahead. My mom is welcome to stay with me as long as she likes. As she gets stronger, she talks about moving to a retirement home with other people her age. As a transition, we have a goal of getting her to a bridge center so she can start playing cards and being with people.
She may decide to just live here and learn to drive her car again and have a social life that way. Or she may decide to move on and be more independent. I can see that it is fine with me no matter what she decides. I know it will affect my life more if she stays here with me. So, although I am open to it, I have no idea what it would feel like, except that it could possibly be just an extension of what we’re doing right now.
One thing I’ve learned through this: I’m actually easy to live with! I’ve had a few relationships over the years, but haven’t actually lived with anyone since ’96. so I had begun to wonder if it would even be possible again. But it is! I feel fine with someone else in my space, and I actually love doing domestic things like cooking, shopping, etc. Of course I still have my housekeeper 2 days a week, so it isn’t a full housekeeping position for me. But this has become quite a pleasant experience to think about what to cook and shop for interesting meals. I did it years ago when I was in a family situation, and I still enjoy it.
So, my journey continues. And I think I will be able to write about this more often now, because I have started it. Something seems to have broken open and I feel a different kind of energy.
To be continued……………….