Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Imagining Life

It's been a while since I've last written. Life is moving forward. The seasons are changing, the kids are growing. It's strange to be in a time and place where my mom does not exist. Sometimes I watch the news or hop onto social media and I think about how lucky she was to never have to see some of the ugliness and craziness going on in the world. If everything I've been taught is true, then she's in a glorious place where sorrow and ugly doesn't exist. Other times I am left feeling sorry that she never got to grow old; she never got to watch her grandkids grow, and see all that they are accomplishing. She missed out on the golden years with my dad. There's an emptiness in our lives without her.

Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if Mom were still here. Who would I be? What would I be doing? I sometimes find myself imagining what I'd be doing right now if Mom were still with us. I imagine the two of us making our shopping list for our upcoming RV trip to Lake Pleasant. I imagine sitting together in church, my youngest sitting on her lap while she looks at books with him and tries to keep him quiet and reverent. I imagine her marveling at Ryder's most recent tooth that he lost and remarking what a big boy he is becoming.

I imagine that I'd be saving a seat for her at the boy's talent show. I would look over at her and she would have that huge grin that she used to get when she was beaming with pride. She would be so proud of their courage for getting up on stage, and of Cody's amazing talent with his guitar.

I imagine her cheering above every other voice in the room, "that's my girl!" when Aubrey takes the stage to sing, just like she did when it was one of her daughter's on stage.

I imagine my kids having sleepovers at grandma's house while Jeff and I go out on a date night. She and dad would probably be spoiling them with trips to the movies or the fair, like they used to do B.D.

I imagine myself, picking up the phone to call her and vent to her about the teenage attitude I'm dealing with, or to ask for recipe tips or advice on any given topic.

If Mom were still here, I wonder how I would fill my days now that all the kids are in school. I imagine that I would be the mom that is at the school all the time, volunteering in the classroom, joining the PTA, running all the activities. Maybe I would put more time and effort in to my home sewing business. I wouldn't have so many distractions- a foundation to run, blogs to write, tears to wipe.

My course in life has certainly been changed by dementia and by the tragic loss of my mom. It has changed the person that I am. The ambitions and goals of my younger self are not the same as they are today and life can never be how it would have been if Mom were here. Now that she is gone, I can't go back to who I once was.

And yet, I'm not sure if I'd want to go back to that person. On one hand, I have much more sadness in my life now. The rose colored glasses have come off and I see things in a different light now; not just my own sorrows and struggles, but that of others as well. My heart hurts for what I've been through and it hurts for what I see others going through. There are some days where I feel completely unhinged and unstable and I struggle with the dark cloud of sadness that often hovers overhead. But, on the other hand, I've heard it said that you can't truly feel joy without having felt pain, and I feel like I appreciate the little things in life so much more.

Going through this has definitely made me a more empathetic person. I feel that I am better able to relate to others experiencing loss because I have felt what it's like to have my own heart ripped in two. I am more aware of other's needs and things I might be able to do to lighten their burden. B.D.(Before Dementia), I would have never imagined myself doing some of the things I've had to do; giving up my time to provide care for someone other than my kids, changing diapers, aiding and comforting someone in their last moments in life, preparing them with all the love and tenderness that one can muster for their final departure of this life. All of those things required sacrifice and they were not always easy or convenient, but I am better off for having learned those little lessons of love. Love means sacrifice and I'm not so sure I completely understood that B.D.

My relationships with family members and friends would not be the same either. My dad and I have always had a good relationship, but I feel as though we have grown a lot closer over the past several years. We have leaned on one another to get through this. We've had some deep and meaningful conversations and I have found myself turning to him for advice many times. My love and respect for him has only grown deeper by his example of unconditional love and care for my mom and for his entire family.

I have always considered myself to have had good relationships with my family, but when my mom got sick, there were a couple of aunts who became like second mothers to me. After my mom was diagnosed, one of my aunts (who lives long distance) started calling me every now and then, just to chit-chat. We'd never really had that kind of relationship before, but the more and more she called, the more I came to see that I had someone else there for me, ready to listen. Now, we talk on the phone at least a couple of times a week, if not more. She's become a mother figure to me and our relationship has become very special and dear to me. I have another aunt who I've grown closer with as well. She was the aunt I used to spend the night with growing up, so we've always been close. But since my mom has been sick, we make more of an effort to have regular family dinners and get together here and there "just because" or to celebrate birthdays. She and my uncle make an effort to be at the kid's concerts and events and I know that both of these aunts are always be there for me in a heartbeat when I need anything. In fact, they are the ones who I leaned on the most the week my mom died. I don't know that these relationships would be quite the same if dementia hadn't have crossed our path.

Because of dementia, I have had to learn patience and forgiveness, both for myself and with others (this is a never ending lesson!). I have learned to rely on and trust in other people. My mom was always my "go to" person, but by opening myself to talking and confiding with other people, my relationships with them have grown stronger and I have discovered a whole "community" of people that I feel a part of. So many people have shown love and support over the years; family and friends alike rallied together to help our family during years of hardship. I had friends who had never even met my mom B.D., but were still at her funeral and serving us through our darkest times. Their examples of friendship have truly inspired me and makes me want to be a better friend and person.

I hate that it took losing my mom to grow into the person I have become, yet there is also a sense of beauty in bettering one self in spite of trials. I can't really say if I am truly better or not, since I don't know the person I would be if this had never happened, but I'd like to think that there are ways that I've learned and grown through this. Lately I have been struggling with myself; feelings of sadness and inadequacy have been creeping in; feeling a bit lost and confused about which path to take in this stage of my earthly journey (another post for another day). Sometimes I wish I could turn back time and go back to a simpler time of life. But I am trying to focus on the beauty rather than the pain and trying to live a life that my mom would be proud of.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Quest For Joy

It's been a while since my last post. Partly because the holidays are always a really busy time, but also because the holidays were really hard this year. I didn't figure anyone wanted to read another depressing post about how much I was missing my mom. I actually sat down and tried to write a happier post, but I just wasn't feeling it.

Everyone said the first holidays without your loved one are rough. I guess I didn't anticipate it would be so hard because we had started losing my mom a long time ago. She hadn't known what Christmas was for a few years. Yet, it was different and it was painful not having her there with us physically. No gifts to put under the tree. No hugs to give. No pictures to take. All we could do was visit her grave; a piece of stone with her name and picture on it.

We did, as a family, go over and decorate her grave. I'd like to think she was looking in on us and saw the love we have for her. We visited our other loved ones who are buried at that same cemetery as well: my grandparents, great-grandparents and nephew.



I decided a while ago that I would continue with making English Toffee this Christmas, in honor of Mom. As you may remember, I have been making my mom's famous English Toffee for Christmas and Mother's Day for the past few years to raise money for my mom's caregiving fund. Obviously that need is gone, but I have some devoted customers who look forward to toffee season and I figured it would be a nice way to honor and remember her at the holidays. I decided to make a donation to The DEANA Foundation with the money raised this year. I didn't think it would be a difficult task; I've been doing this for years and have enjoyed doing it for my mom. The difference that I didn't anticipate was that I am no longer doing this for my mom, but rather in memory of. It hit me much harder than I expected. On day one of making toffee, I ended up crying on my kitchen floor, two separate times. I always thought it was over-dramatic in the movies when people would crunch up in a ball and cry; I've never been that kind of crier. I get it now. Thankfully, I was able to pull myself out of it and finish the job. It helped to have my aunt and sister-in-law come over a time or two to help me out so I wasn't alone with my thoughts. I got through toffee season and I made around 90 pounds of toffee!

On Christmas morning, I woke up with the flu. I didn't know it was the flu at first. It started with a slight cough that hurt my chest, and throughout the day I felt progressively worse. I started getting body aches, fever and chills and I just felt tired. It wasn't exactly how I wanted to spend my Christmas, but if I'm being completely honest it did distract me from missing my mom because all I could think about was getting through the day and going to bed at the end of it. Having family around also helped to make the day brighter.

I know my dad struggled a lot this season. I can only imagine what he's going through. I know how hard it has been for me and hard as that is, I have no doubt that it's ten times harder for him. But, we got through it and are looking forward to brighter days. Just after the new year, dad and I visited Mom's grave (as we do every Sunday) and we talked about the struggles of moving forward and feeling joy after losing her. My dad said something that really made me pause and think. To preface this, he remarked how he'd been watching "Castaway" a lot lately. At the end of the movie, Chuck talks about how he survived for four years, alone on that island. My dad quoted a part of the movie; here is the quote directly from Chuck's mouth:

"I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that's what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I'm back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass... And I've lost her all over again. I'm so sad that I don't have Kelly. But I'm so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?"

My dad has lost my mom and some days it feels that all hope is lost with her. Yet, no matter what, the sun is going to continue to rise each day, whether we want it to or not. It is up to us to decide how we want each day to be. Some days will be easier than others, but who knows what tomorrow might bring? Even through the sorrow, we can find joy. It may only be a moment here and there, but hopefully the joy will soon outweigh the pain.

In thinking about this new year, I've thought a lot about how I can find my joy again. The ache in my heart for my mom will never go away, but I am trying my best to live each day focusing on the good things that I have in my life. Will I stop crying for her? No, I don't believe I ever will. But I am resolved to do my best to focus on the things that bring me joy.