I was home visiting one weekend and Dad was in the other room watching tv. Mom and I were hanging out in my parents bedroom for some reason and I was flipping channels trying to find us a good chick flick to watch instead of whatever “boy movie” Dad was watching in the living room. I found a show on ABC Family called Lucky Seven . We like these silly girly movies. They have been our thing for as long as I can remember. Growing up in a family of girls, a chick flick usually wins out over an action film. Plus Patrick Dempsy, aka Dr. McDreamy and Kimberly Williams from Father of the Bride, it’s the perfect combination for us!
I turned on the movie and sat on the bench at the end of my parents bed with Mom. We were watching the movie, just sitting there. No words spoken. Happiness being felt. Mom took my hand and said “Will you please just love me and be patient with me.” I don’t remember what I responded but it doesn’t matter. In that one sentence Mom summed up how she felt and continues to feel. It was a sweet moment and made me wish I could freeze time so we could stay there forever. Sitting on the bench, watching a movie, Mom not in pain or stressed, me not worrying or stressed. I don’t remember what had exactly happened earlier in the day but I am guessing I let my lack of patience with Mom get the best of me. I have a tendency to do that…
I want to remember that moment because it was a gift. It was simple. There weren’t a lot of words and there was not even a lot of activity. Many people would say there wasn’t even a good movie on tv, but I would have to disagree since we love girly ABC Family movies. The point is that as MS has come into our lives our time together has changed and the activities we share are different. We don’t run around as much as we used to but I find I cherish our simple moments more. They cause me to pause more and really focus on them. Today I don’t remember the shopping trip we may have had that weekend, even where we went for dinner but I do remember this evening spent holding Mom’s hand while we shared a movie. I need to focus more on our sweet moments and less on big picture stress.
In moments like this MS isn’t the focus but the love of a mother and daughter is and I have an ABC Family movie to thank for that.
I can’t put into words the love and respect I feel for my Dad. I believe deep down he is the reason our family is surviving Mom’s battle with MS. I have watched and continue to watch a transition as my father has become a caretaker. It brings back unsettling memories because I just watched my Grandpa go throught he same thing with my Grandmother as she battled Alzheimer’s. I watched as he became a caregiver to her and feel now I am watching Dad go through the same transition. And it is hard to watch.
Since this transition began I have felt my mind sharpened to the reality of marriage. My family is not large and up until I got married these two men, were the biggest male influences in my life. They still continue to be large influences as well. As I got married in 2010 and said my marriage vows, they really meant something very personal to me because I felt I was watchingthe tough parts of those vows lived out everyday. I understood the meanings behind the powerful words “for better of worse, in sickness and in health.” I understood the meaning of a committment and what it can mean through the tough times.
But I struggle with Dad’s transition in becoming a caretaker. He basically is one but I prefer to believe he is transitioning because it is difficult to think of Dad and Mom’s relationship that way. It is something I never gave much thought and if I did think about it, they were thoughts that this would not occur for many years from now. I also struggle because this level of responsibility and constant caretaking can take a toll on anyone. Dad will talk to me sometimes about what is going on and I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to offer support. What I want to do is pack up and move back home. I want to find a way to be there for my parents all the time. I want to help him with Mom, be an extra set of hands for him and just provide extra help. But this hasn’t been in the cards for me up until this point and I don’t think it is.
So what can I do. I feel helpless again. I continue to feel helpless. I feel helpless because the best way to offer assistance in this situation is to be there. I also feel helpless because there is no way for me to be there except for brief visits home on the weekends. In the past year my husband began graduate school for his MBA so we moved about an hour and a half away closer to my hometown. We were 4 hours away before. This was a step. But without physically being there, how do you offer assistance. How do you help someone who is doing everything and you are doing nothing. And he does it all- he takes care of Mom full-time day/night and works full-time. He balances both of those responsibilities and he never complains. So I complain for him because I know he must be exhausted. I know he must struggle. How does he do it I wonder. How.
I think it’s love that makes him do it. It’s love that keeps him going, keeps him supporting Mom. Love is powerful but is it enough? I still struggle with how I can help him. How can I be there for him. Going home more weekends, calling to give him a sounding board to talk to, reassuring him that what he is doing is so important and we are all here for him. The struggle continues and it’s something I think I will struggle with for a long time. But it’s a struggle because of the love I have for my family. It’s a struggle because I want to be there for them as much as possible. So while it is a struggle, it is a struggle worth having and one I should feel fortunate to feel at all.
I feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by Mom’s MS. Overwhelmed by my thoughts about Mom’s MS. Overwhelmed with my inability to focus on one particular thought and come up with a way to fix it. So I think I am going to rattle. Rattle my thoughts off and see if I can come to some sort of plan for myself. A plan to mentally deal with this because it’s becoming a lot.
I wish there were a more direct path with solutions to fighting MS. I feel like everyone has tried something different. You could try this but this worked for me. Maybe you should try this. Lately Dad is talking a lot about considering stem cell research for Mom. He is researching it, talking to people about it but Mom doesn’t want to talk about it. I understand both points of view. But I think we will try anything because we all feel helpless. I feel helpless as I live my life and watch Mom get worse. I think the MS is not only impacting her physically but it’s changing who she is, how she sees the world, how she lives her life. It’s changing all of our lives. It is putting an added stress on our family and on each of us. What is the best treatment, how do we continue living our daily lives trying to keep them as normal as possible, how do we encourage her, how do we live with a disease where we take 1 step forward as a family and shortly after are forced 2 steps back. And we continue this dance as we continue our lives.
I guess I need need to start taking things day by day. Everyone says to just live life day by day, take it one day at a time, and I agree with them but I never believe it in my heart. That’s where the life of a planner comes into play. I like plans. I like to make them. I struggle with taking things one day at a time. But what if I didn’t. What if I could just not think too far into the future but just into my day’s future. What if Mom’s good days and bad days were just that…a good day was reason to smile and a bad day was not a reason to panic that things are getting worse. They were simply just a good day and a bad day. Because I tend to not enjoy the good days as much as I wish I could could because I am focused on the bad day that recently passed or worried for the next bad day to come.
So how do I do it? How do I train myself to take things one day at a time? To not jump to the worst conclusion in a bad moment and to celebrate the good moments more.
Seeing old friends. Fear of the unknown. What kind of challenges await me there? Will I be able to get inside? Will my legs be stiff? They know I have MS but will I be able to hide it well enough so they don’t know how bad it has gotten? These are only a few of the thoughts I can imagine go through Mom’s head as we go into a new situation. A new situation where you can’t visualize what the future holds. You can’t visualize how it will all go down. Life is a big unknown but when MS is involved, it makes the unknown always scary. Never exciting. Not anymore.
Driving up to visit us last Friday I imagine all of these thoughts were in Mom’s head, plus some others. If it had just been a visit to see Sister K and me it would have been relaxed. There would not have been nerves but excitement. Instead though we were meeting with one of Mom’s college friends and her family for dinner. It brought an entirely new set of cards to play with Friday night. Mom got so anxious in anticipation of the visit that she psyched herself out. She let the evil weasels get the best of her. The problem is once the weasels begin to attack, if you cannot get a handle on the first one the others quickly pop up, taking over. They can take over fast too.
I was not there as they took over, but Dad and my Grandpa were. They were there as the weasels took over Mom’s mind. Took over her thoughts and they brought on stress which when mixed with MS is never good. Sister K had made some phone calls because they were running late. We were putting our stories together to determine what had happened. Then Mom called me crying. She called me crying like I call her crying. There was a panic in her voice, a please help me tone and helplessness. As I listened I almost felt like I was in a dream. Is this really happening. What do I say. What do I say to my Mom when she is always the one who provides this comfort. She is better at this than me. This isn’t my strength. I wish she’d called Sister K. Sister K always knows the right thing to say and I am a gamble. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it terribly wrong. So I thought of Sister K and what she would say. I came up with a new plan for the evening with the delay, that’s the easy part for me. I comforted Mom and assured her it’d be fine, that was the hard part for me. I felt a different sadness though in this situation. I felt sad becuase this was happening. Because this was a nightmare. Becuase no one else I know has to deal with this besides Mom. Because Mom wants nothing more than to get in a car for a little trip and have it be smooth sailing. Because it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair. I wanted to scream when I got off the phone with her like a little child and throw a tantrum with legs kicking and arms wailing it’s not fair. Because it’s not.
I also thought about how lucky so many people have it and they don’t even realize it. How simple their lives are in comparison to mine. How they have never watched a disease this horrible take over their Mom. How they have never seen their Mom feel so helpless and felt helpless themselves too. It was a tough tough afternoon. It got resolved as it always does. My family stepped up and we did our thing. Sometimes in situations like this where other people are involved I feel as though we are performing on a stage and some nights are easier than others. But somewhere in the middle of our “performance” the problem that was once there is lost. The happiness we felt we were faking takes over. We begin to laugh again genuinely, not forced. Our minds stop wandering from what just happened to the present. We stop saying in our heads “it’s all going to be okay” to calm ourselves down and instead we are comforted becase we begin to feel like it is all okay. We survived another battle with MS. We didn’t let it bring us down again. Maybe it’s okay to perform, to focus on the stage because by forcing ourselves on stage there is no time to be sad. No time to dwell on solutions to a problem that can’t be fixed. It is on that stage where somehow life becomes okay again.
This weekend Mom came up to visit Sister K and me. Dad brought her up Friday evening and my Grandpa tagged along for the ride. On Saturday afternoon after the wedding shower Sister K and I drove Mom to meet Dad at a halway point. A lot happened this weekend in a short amount of time. We had incredible highs and incredible lows. But, that’s how it always seems. It was also a lot to process in approximately 24 hours of a visit. I plan to write more about the weekend and the lessons learned. For now, some general weekend lessons:
1. Stress and MS are not friends. Neither are helpful under a perfect scenario and together they are full blown enemies. They antagonize each other and they do it at Mom’s expense.
2. I know MS is awful but I forget how much this has truly hindered Mom’s life. How it has been a big blow to her plans and dreams for this stage in her life.
3. My family is full of not only love but committment. Committment to Mom and committment that we will not allow MS to hinder her life or our family’s life anymore than it already has.
4. There is a big fear of the unknown for Mom. I need to find ways to eliminate that fear.
5. Laughter is an amazing medicine. It can calm nerves, make people smile and even eliminate pain for a brief period.
This weekend two things happened. Simultaneously. Without me being aware. My hatred for MS grew while at the same time my love, admiration and respect for Mom grew.
Mom is coming to visit tomorrow until Saturday. We are going to attend a wedding shower for one of her college friend’s daughters Saturday. Dad is going to drive her up and then head back home. She’ll stay overnight at Sister K’s apartment and then Sister K and I will drive her back on Saturday. It’s easier to stay at Sister K’s because she has cement floors making it easier than carpet for Mom to roll around with her walker, and then it’s also just the three of us girls.
We were on the phone today at lunchtime working out all of the details of this and who would drive up, back, etc. For a second I felt selfish. I wished we didn’t have to orchestrate all of this. I wished a simple overnight trip didn’t require a big plan filled with coordinating cars and people. But then I thought to myself, stop. Stop thinking these thoughts. Mom is here and fighting this disease everyday. I am also blessed by her fighting spirit everyday.
By planning a weekend trip with a few extra logistics, by not getting frustrated and canceling plans- that is how Dad, Sister K and I also fight MS. We all have our role in this fight against Mom’s MS and it’s important we remember that always.
Yesterday I wrote about Mom’s dilemma regarding leaving the house with a friend in the afternoon since she didn’t have her walker. I resisted every urge inside screaming at me to problem solve. Instead I just backed off. I hoped it would work out alright. I also knew I didn’t have a choice except to let it resolve itself. It did, but not without chaos for my mom.
She said she took the walker she normally has inside our house out into the garage to wait for her friend to pick her up. In the process she knocked over our recycling bin and bottles went rolling everywhere. One of those bottles was glass and went rolling out into the street and broke. When her friend arrived she didn’t mind at all picking up the bottles and even picked up the glass pieces. This is friendship at its finest. My family has learned a lot about who our friends are through Mom’s diagnosis of MS, who we can count on, who we can share our pure moments and who Mom isn’t afraid to call to ask for help.
The entire situation makes me want to scream out of frustration because this is not the first time a tiny issue because a large one. I feel like when MS is involved, it turns rain into pouring rain; molehills into mountains; you get the drift. It makes life difficult. A simple mishap like knocking over a box of bottles becomes a huge problem and one that cannot be taken care of easily when you are by yourself. The entire situation made Mom stressed and frazzled. And rightfully so. It would make me stressed and frazzled and I don’t have MS. In the end she was happy she had decided to leave the house and spend the afternoon with friends.
In hindsight, there are lots of lessons to learn. We need to plan better to make sure Mom has what she needs if she is planning to leave that day. It’s okay for me to back off and trust a situation can resolve itself on its own. Most importantly, Mom has some great friends, people who have become like family to us. These friends hold our hands and are there for Mom because Dad, Sister K and I can’t always be there. These friends are little blessings sprinkled throughout our lives.