Thursday, September 06, 2012

I would be a horrible circus performer (although I am quite flexible)

I didn't realize that my being here would change so many things: I mean, when I first wormed my way into an invitation to stay on the couch, I obviously didn't realize that nearly five months later I'd still be here, unshowered and mid-flare, keeping constant watch on a woman so close to death.  I signed up for that, for the most part, because I had to: nobody seems to get that, really, that I feel compelled to be here, not just because I am capable of it (and, honestly, physically? I'm not capable, I'm just faking it the best I can), but because it's where I need to be.  I suppose I could have made a different choice, but every other option just felt worse than this one, so here I remain, camped out on a couch with a (probably permanent) me-shaped dent in it, edging the furniture over until it gives me just the right view of her on her sickbed. 

While I could not have predicted the ways that being here has altered my relationship with Grandmother - both negatively (particularly through her attacks during her dementia rants or just witnessing little character flaws that she'd previously kept hidden from me) and positively (there have been moments of extreme joy for both of us) - I'm more surprised by how being here has effected my relationships with the rest of my family, the rest of the world.

Example: I've got an aunt who lives less than an hour away, and who I generally have a good opinion of.  But her lack of visits (once every three weeks, maybe) and phone calls (I know Uncle Jack is a bear on the phone, but suck it up), especially since her mother's latest downturn in health bother me. What could be more important than this?  What enables you to go sit at a racetrack all day on your day off, as opposed to sitting by your mother's side?  Granted, Grandmother would probably have no clue who you are, and granted you have a right to your life outside of the fact that your mother is dying, but ... it still bothers me, and I know it's put space between us.

I try not to let it hurt me that people haven't come to see her, but sometimes I resent it a whole damn lot.  Cousins who send me messages about how much they care, but don't show up on the doorstep with a screwdriver and a willing hand when it's needed.  I'm conflicted about it because it seems wrong and hurtful and false, but also because.... I totally get it.

I keep hearing "I don't want to see her like that" or "I don't think I could handle it if she looked at me and didn't remember me", and I understand that desire so much.  I guess I'm jealous that they feel like they have the option to not come, whereas I feel like there's no choices to be made - she needs me, so I am here, even though it is one of the hardest things I will ever do.  To have her look at me, with that blank stare, or worse her evil stare, when she's pissed off about something, is an experience I would love to have opted out of; it's something I wish I could forget, and something which, no matter how many times I remind myself that it's not her but the dementia that's driving it, I know has put smudges on our relationship.  Deep, dark smudges I would give anything to erase. 

So I understand the sentiment, and I understand not being able to face what's going on here - but I'm still disappointed that so few people have turned up, that so many of us are able to just send their warm wishes, but not put any actual effort into it.  I'm jealous that they can do that, I'm confused at how they do that, and I am surprisingly more than a little hurt by how many of them can do it.  I think that's part of it: that I used to be so firmly a part of the "us" of cousins, and now I feel like there's this line, a "me" and a "them", because I've done this and been here, and none of them can truly understand.  They write their e-mails about how strong she is, and how much she's been through, but they don't know the half of it.  They say how they hope the end comes quickly and how she doesn't suffer, and I stuff the words back into my mouth: 'She's already suffering, she's been suffering for months, maybe years, and none of you have noticed!'

 It's not fair of me to think those things: I know that they are all doing what they can, and that they all do really love her: it's just that right now - living through the worry of each and every breath, each consistently lower pulse reading and oxygen level,  each english muffin I put in front of her that she doesn't eat, each 4 hour battle to get her to use the Depends because she's not strong enough to get out of bed - right now, everything they say seems like a platitude, a cliche, as disconnected from her and me and our actual situation as if they were talking about how many sheep there were at this year's state fair.

It's just another barrier between me and the people I love, and it somehow grew while I wasn't looking.

Which is another thing: I've been nearly myopically focused on our situation here.  I think that's understandable: death trumps pretty much everything.  But there's a lot of other things going on - a lot of other things - and I'm barely on the periphery of stuff that I normally would wade right into.  People are worried about losing their jobs, having their first panic attack, looking for new places to live, buying cars, getting fired, losing weight, gaining weight, dealing with depression, having birthdays, trying to embrace happiness after hardship, going back to school, moving across the country, ending longterm relationships, starting new relationships.  Two of my sisters have changed life directions and are actively trying to conceive - or are moving down the path towards having children. 

Two of my younger sisters.  Are trying to have babies right now.  Which is so exciting and awesome and terrifying, and also like an arrow straight into my chest.  Because there's that baby thing again, which I have been actively avoiding (with little luck) and just do not have the mental energy to deal with right now, but there it is, everywhere I look.  College Roommate/Best Friend had her third baby yesterday, after a difficult pregnancy.  One of the (young stupid intern) doctors who saw her in the Emergency Room wrote the words 'advanced maternal age' on her chart.  We are the same age, and while I know that 33 is not technically considered advanced maternal age, I know it's also not considered to be a time when you've got plenty of fertile years ahead of you.  So there are all my own issues with TTC, and then there's all of their issues with TTC (which are varied and complicated, as they seemingly always are) and how best to support them (because I do want to support them) through their own insecurities and doubts and troubles.  And how to do that effectively with the 5% of my brain that isn't focused on Grandmother and her medication schedules, stuck here in my little corner of the living room couch, while at the same time not letting the fact that I am not actively TTC be a gaping wound that grows between us.

Life is going on all around me - everywhere but in this house, in this time, in this space that I can't leave - and I don't know how to participate in any of it.  Everything else seems unreal to me, everything beyond this door, everything outside the range of the Darth Vadar sounds coming out of her oxygen machine seems as if it's happening to somebody else, like I'm watching it on television, maybe.  And it's interesting, and it's something I want to be involved with, but my brain just can't seem to make the leap from Here (and all that implies) to There (and all that implies).

There's a big gulf between me and the rest of the world - the part of the world that isn't changing their grandmother's diaper (and sheets - why don't those goddamn Depends do what they're supposed to do more than 1/4 of the time?) at three in the morning, or watching an old woman's chest to make sure it's still rising and falling - and I don't know how to bridge it.  Phone calls and text messages seem like communiques from far off lands - someone shows me a picture of a fancy new car, someone else just says hello, there's a Facebook message from a far-away cousin, a phone call from someone I didn't even know had my number - I want to grab onto those things as if they were life preservers, use them to help keep me afloat when I feel like there's so much here that it will drag me under.  And I can't decide if this is the Real World, or that is (even though I know they both are): I just know that they don't seem to exist within the same atmosphere, in the same time zones, on the same planet.

This disconnection is even harder when I do get a break, when I'm sitting face to face with someone, and there's all these awkward pauses, all these spaces and cracks in our conversation that there never used to be.  I feel like I am rusty at speaking to people, even those I talk to everyday: It's as if my conversational skills have deserted me in favor of the ability to withstand the tears of a ninety-five year old woman when you tell her she can no longer walk - and there's no ease to any of my relationships right now, no settled in feeling of comfort and compatablitly, even with those that I am the closest. 

Example: Mum will come over to help - most days she comes over to help - and make a misstep in her delivery - do something that pisses off Uncle Jack (which isn't hard) or say something to Grandmother that confuses her and sets off the panic train (which also isn't hard) and instead of relieved, I wind up feeling exhausted to be dealing with that, that now I not only have to deal with the repercussions of her visit, but also have to somehow not hurt her feelings while I'm repairing the damage she did by trying to help.  It's often awkward and uncomfortable (mostly because Uncle Jack is a stubborn ass sometimes and he's so set in his ways that even people doing nice things - like bringing over a boatload of food for us to eat - can make him angry) and I find myself having to hold back how upset I am by it in order to smooth it over on both sides, wishing the whole time that I didn't have to play referree to supposed grown-ups, that it would be nice if, once in a while, I could get some actual HELP, that was just help - no strings, no messes to clean up afterwards, no complications - just simple help. 

Most of the times I can't get up the energy to feel anything besides terrified that I am going to do something wrong here, that the last memory Grandmother will have is of a frustrated woman struggling not to yell at her to 'just pee already, goddamn it!' instead of a peaceful, loving face.  And I want that for her - for her to go knowing that We All love her so much, knowing that she has so many people praying* for her and thinking of her - and I'm horrified that I might not be able to provide it. 

*That's a whole 'nother area where my conflicted feelings are doing battle: she's very religious so we've had a bunch of priests come by, and she's had the last rites more than once, but I also think if the hospice people tell me that "all we can do now is pray" one more time I might punch them in the throat. 

When I do get beyond that feeling, I feel guilty for wishing this were over, guilty for seeing each peak and valley as just another obstacle for us to overcome -It's especially hard to know that when she does have a 'good day' or make a small improvement, instead of rejoicing for her that she's able to eat a half a turkey sandwich, there's a part of me that wishes it wasn't happening, because it's only prolonging something that is already so difficult for all of us.

I feel guilty for that, for wishing that there would just be an end to things, knowing what that means in reality.

I feel guilty for being here, when I'm needed elsewhere.  For missing out on the summer adventures the kids and I had planned,  for all the hand holding I haven't been around to provide, the two a.m. phone calls I couldn't answer.  I know the world doesn't revolve around me - that me not being at the house for sleepovers, for example, wasn't the end of the world or a crisis for the kids - but that's a two sided-coin: I'm glad that my absence didn't wreck everything for everybody, but at the same time I'm hurt by how (seemingly) easily I was removed.  Because it feels like I'm the only one who's upset by my missing out on other things - everybody else just goes about their days and sometimes remembers that, in the ordinary scheme of things, I'd probably be involved in this particular activity too, but it doesn't do more than blip on their radar before they're off for other things.

And how selfish of me is it to admit that that hurts?  That not being needed or missed in those other situations is hurting me as much as the fact that I'm missing them in the first place?  I obviously want it all at the same time - people who love and miss me, but make do when I'm not there; being needed and valued for what I feel I contribute, but being able to not contribute those things for a while and still be loved and valued. 

Basically, my brain is a big toxic mess right now, and I've got it all as far down as I can get it - so that it's simmering somewhere in the background for now, because I have only enough energy (and barely that) to make it through each day here, and the rest of that shit is going to have to wait its turn.  And there's a very large part of me that is anxious about what will happen when I'm done focusing on the immediate crisis - how I'm going to pick up all those simmering, boiling pieces of myself and glue them back together into something that resembles a human being - but for now, all I can focus on is converting Mgs to Mls (which is stupid: doctors should write the Rx in the dosage of those little droppers and not expect me to do math every time I've got to give her meds in the middle of the night) or if the sheets are too tight around her feet and could be causing bedsores.  I know that the end of that type of worry is fast approaching, and I see the train full of other worries barrelling down the track towards me (and know that it will be loaded with all of the things I'm talking about here PLUS a huge drowning dollop of grief once she passes), but I can't even pretend to deal with it yet.

 I'm just going to sit here and breathe, and hope that I'm doing what I can, and that any of the balls I'm not actively juggling will not be too damaged when I get around to picking them up.


AM said...

I know nothing of what you are going through but I think you need to take an hour or two for yourself. Go home and take a shower. Go to a movie. It is ok. You have to give yourself permission to get out of the house. I know you don't want to but I think it would do you some good. Just some unsolicited advice.

The Goldfish said...

I think you do have good cause to be annoyed at family who stay away, not for your grandmother's sake, but for your own. Because whether or not a visit would make a difference to her, it would most certainly make a difference to you. When the problems of my Gran's dementia fell on my mother's and uncle's shoulders, despite her living an hour and a half away and my Gran having two other sons, two daughters-in-law and seven adult grandchildren within five square miles... well, I was annoyed, not for Gran, but for my Mum and my uncle.

My Gran used to be a very unpleasant person, and that was part of the excuse - that she couldn't be forgiven. But she wasn't herself any more, and anyway, Mum and my uncle didn't stand accused of anything. I'm inclined to be careful with the idea of debts we might owe to senior family members, just for bringing us into existence, so I wouldn't describe it as unfair. But they could have done more.

It doesn't help that I also feel angry with family members who aren't chipping in at all - you can't make them and it would be a mistake to try (and I always try to think, "There must be other things going on in their life which makes this impossible for them") but you shouldn't feel guilty about resenting that a little.

You said, "I'm glad that my absence didn't wreck everything for everybody, but at the same time I'm hurt by how (seemingly) easily I was removed."

Much empathy with that. Of course, I can't imagine what you're going through, but I have certainly disappeared from normal life for spells and it is a cycle of guilt that you can't be there doing your thing, then hurt that the world goes on without you.

The only thing I will say about that, is that others do want to make your life easier and don't always know how. I imagine sometimes folks will be hesitating to confide in you because they feel you have enough on your plate already, and quite possibly exaggerating how well things go without you there so you don't feel bad about it.

The one thing that has helped me greatly in intense times when I felt I had no room at all, has been learning. This is an intense time of learning for you. One way that helps me is that I imagine I'm picking up useful information about the human condition with which I can write things later on.

I'd probably be taking lots of notes in your shoes, which may not sound all that healthy, but hey, this isn't a healthy situation. Which is why I shall leave you with a (((hug))) and I very much hope it changes soon.