The Reality of Needing Help

“When it gets bad enough he will ask for help.”

Those words were told to me awhile ago by a friend when I shared my concerns with Dad being spread too thin between working and caring for Mom full-time. But sometimes I believe God forces you to make a decision you have been putting off by making other parts of your life begin to spin and that is exactly what has happened to Dad the past few weeks.

Dad was recently promoted which is really exciting but it also means more demands at work. At the same time, Mom seems to be digressing. She is having a harder time moving around lately and her MS is demanding more from Dad. I have been worried about Dad for some time but like I said above, I realized at some point I had to stop voicing my concerns and realize it was not my place to demand Dad get help with caring for Mom. The relationship between Mom and me verses Mom and Dad is different. They are married. They are husband and wife and I believe Dad is trying to do everything he can to fulfill his vow to be there for Mom in sickness and in health. I can’t get in the middle and force him into making decisions he isn’t ready to make.

But Sunday Mom seemed to be struggling and Monday she woke up with excruciating pain in her leg. Dad needed to be at work. This has happened before but this time his work demands are greater and he realized it was the beginning of being unable to be in two places at once. He was stuck. He called the nurse who had come to our house to administer Mom’s steroid infusion. She had spoken with Dad awhile back about staff she has that will come out and assist around the house. The nurse came out to meet with him and she and Dad began to move forward with making arrangements for someone to come out to be with Mom during the day.

So when I spoke with Mom during lunch yesterday, her new home helper/nurse/assistant…for blog purposes I’ll call her Nurse B…Nurse B was at our house with Dad getting acquainted with everything. I tried to talk to Mom like everything was normal but she was tired and explaining she was frustrated because she preferred to be by herself.

Even after all the time I have spent trying to get Dad to make this decision, I have to admit it was strange to think Nurse B was there. She was there to take care of Mom. My mom who has always taken care of us needed someone to take care of her. This is reality now and it made me sad and full of a mix of emotions…a big one being acceptance that this is my family now. It’s just strange. It feels strange. And even though Mom needs this, I feel sorry for her. I can’t help but struggle that her independence has been taken away and I played a part in that. Even though Dad ultimately made the decision I agreed with him. I don’t know why but I’m struggling with that realization because secretly I never thought it would happen- I never really thought we’d need to bring someone in to help Dad; I thought Mom would get better; Dad would figure out some magical way to manage it better. I just didn’t think it would happen and it has now.

Have you ever dealt with getting help for a family member that maybe impacted their independence? Have you ever felt the guilt of feeling responsible for taking it away? Do you believe sometimes life may force you to make a difficult decision?

The Family We Were/The Family We Are

MS has changed my family in a lot of ways and it is continuing to change my family in a lot of ways. My family that I have always been fiercely proud of and very protective over is changing in ways I cannot control. It is changing Mom, Dad, Sister K and me. Changing the way we interact, changing our dynamic at home, changing our activities- it is changing us.

This past weekend really shed a light on those changes as Sister K brought her boyfriend home for the weekend to celebrate Easter. All weekend I tried hard to fill in the holes that Mom should’ve been responsible for with a guest at our house. I didn’t mind but it made me realize even more that this is my role now and I needed to step into it for Sister K. I feel like I am doing that a lot in many capacities in my family- filling in the holes of where Mom cannot anymore.

But as the weekend ended and we were heading back in the car I was talking to Husband and I got upset. I felt uneasy after the weekend and couldn’t figure out why- and then it hit me…I was mourning in many ways the loss of my family as we were and realizing what we have become. I was sad because Sister K’s boyfriend will never know us without Mom’s MS. Because Husband and I started dating in college, he knew Mom before her MS and knew our family dynamic without all the extra added stress. At this point in my life I can define all relationships into two categories- those who knew my family before MS and those who knew us after MS. There are pros and cons to being on both sides of the line but I know that those who knew us before knew who were were- knew how we operated- they knew our true family. Those who know us now I am not so confident of the picture they get. I don’t know what they take away after meeting all of us in our current dynamic.

I still love my family very much and I am still obsessed with the people I am blessed to call parents, grandparents and of course Sister K…I would not change them for a minute. But I still feel like I am mourning the loss of my family as we were and realizing with both eyes open the family we are becoming.

Have you ever experienced changes in your family that make you aware your family dynamic is changing? Are there people in your life who know your family in the past as opposed to who they are in the present? Does what I am talking about even make any sense?

Derailed

I always knew MS would cause plans to change and to some extent I have experienced it. Running late to events, changing “dinner out” to “dinner in,” canceling a planned outing….but I have never experienced it when it involves plans with other people outside of my family.

A few weeks ago Husband and I went home for the weekend to attend a wedding with Mom and Dad. Sister K was unable to make it so Husband and I were going to drive with my parents on Saturday. The trip from home was about 2 1/2 hours up and 2 1/2 hours back to the city the wedding was going to be held. Initially we were thinking of staying overnight but Dad had plans to go out of town for work the following day so that didn’t work out.

That morning I had a feeling Mom might be struggling. She had just finished her steroid infusion and seemed to be moving slow. But after a bit of an argument with Dad about if we should go at all, he told me “this is how we roll with MS and if we have to come back we’ll come back.” I don’t think either of us really thought that statement would come true just a few hours later.

About an hour into our drive Mom needed to use the restroom so we pulled off at a gas station. I helped get Mom into the restroom and for the next hour I was in and out with Mom. That’s as far as I’ll go into those details. The point though is there I was in a black dress, black tights..pretty much dressed for a wedding helping Mom in and out of a restroom stall repeatedly. It was exhausting. It was draining. I had no mental capacity to think of what other people may be thinking. I had no extra mental space. Everytime I thought we were done, we weren’t. Husband and Dad hung out next door in a gift shop and even though I felt bad for leaving Husband in this predicament, I also realized I had no choice. My priority was to Mom in this moment.

At a certain point Dad decided, we can’t continue driving and make it to this wedding. Mom was upset but understood. This was her friend’s daughter getting married and our old next door neighbors. I texted one of the kids to tell them Mom was sick and we wouldn’t be coming. We got in the car and drove an hour back home.

It was a strange feeling having to text message someone to tell them Mom was sick and we wouldn’t be able to make it. I felt in many ways like this private world I like to shield the ugly parts of MS was being exposed to someone else. I also couldn’t believe that for the first time our plans were really getting flipped on their head…just like everyone had been telling me would happen eventually. This is what they meant. Getting all dressed up for a wedding only to spend your afternoon at a gas station. Getting home and thinking what was the point of that? The emotional exhaustion that comes from going through that experience. The thoughts that circulate through your mind. It’s a lot.

I know this is most likely going to happen more often and has probably already happened to many of you, but it was my first time to “get it.” To in many ways really see where we are at with all of this and it was a hard realization. Maybe these experiences will get easier and maybe they won’t…but it’s very humbling to have to expose these tough moments to not only close friends but also to all of you. At the same time I think it’s important because it is helping me to not be ashamed. This is who we are now and these things can happen. Our family really is changing and evolving and these experiences are all playing a part in the evolution of who we are becoming.

Have you ever had plans “derailed” by MS? Have you ever struggled having to admit the truth to friends? Do you struggle with thinking what others are thinking about you?

The Mental Slow down

I was home for a few days two weeks ago to stay with Mom while Dad was out of town. I had a love/hate relationship with those two days. I loved being home. I loved staying with Mom and spending time with her. I hated everything that had to do with MS. I hated how it tested my patience.

It gave me a great sense of appreciation for everything Dad is dealing with when it comes to Mom. It also made me feel like a failure because I can’t seem to handle everything as smoothly as he or Sister K does.

After quite a bit of soul searching, I think I may have found the root of part of this- I need to slow down. I like to go-go-go. I am a planner. I am always one step ahead and thinking one step ahead. This way of living, feeling and thinking does not work when your Mom has MS. Because these tendencies are pretty heavily intertwined in who I am…in may ways Mom’s MS is fighting constantly with who I am.

I came to this realization about halfway through. I then felt really frustrated with myself. I spent the rest of my time home trying to mentally slow down. Physically slowing down is one thing. But mentally slowing down and focusing on the present with Mom is tough. But I tried. And I was successful for a day. I know it’s a day, but it is some sort of proof to myself that I can do this…baby steps.

So here comes my new challenge, the mental slow down.

When I am in the presence of Mom I need to make a conscious effort to mentally slow down. Fight my urges to speed through our time together and get lots of things accomplished. Instead slow down. Realize I am not going to accomplish that many things. Most importantly realize that is okay and realize the important part is the moment with Mom.

Do you ever had a tendency to try to speed through life? Is it easier to physically slow down than mentally slow down? Do you ever get the two confused?

Rambling Under The Sun

Mom is undergoing a steroid infusion this week. Every evening someone from home healthcare has been coming to our house to give Mom an infusion. Becuase of her decline the past few weeks, her physical therapist thought she may be having an MS exacerbation. My parents quickly made an appointment with her doctor who prescribed the steroid infusion to get her strength back.

I have to be honest, I didn’t think much of this. I didn’t think this would really make much of a difference and had started trying to reason my way through the changes in Mom. I am continuing to do this. But something strange happened this week- the steroid infusion began and I have felt through phone calls with Mom that her presence and spirit are back.

Today at lunch I was going to go run some errands and just called to check on her really quick. Really quick turned into 45 minutes….she was so tuned in, talkative and upbeat that I couldn’t bring myself to get off the phone. I soaked up every one of those minutes as I wandered around outside. We talked about the same things, she was rambling repeated comments a few times but I really didn’t care. It was just so nice to be able to talk to Mom…really talk. She wasn’t loopy or tired or out of it. She was Mom.

I know this may not last. I am very aware that this is most likely a result of the steroid in her body right now. But I also don’t care. I enjoyed this afternoon so much and felt so revived coming back for the second half of my day. It all ties back into living in the moment with Mom. I have been having tough moments the past few weeks. But today was a good one. It was one that I want to cherish.

I am heading home this evening to actually see Mom and Dad. Husband and I are attending a wedding with them tomorrow and then I will be staying there until Wednesday morning because Dad has to go out of town. He likes for either Sister K or I to stay with Mom if he is traveling overnight. I know we most likely won’t be able to do this forever but for right now we are both in situations that allow us to, so we do. It will be nice to be home and nice to spend some more time with Mom. More time working on my patience and working on living in the moment. Hope you have a great weekend!

The Warrior

This past weekend Husband’s family visited. I struggle sometimes because it is difficult to have a mother-in-law who is healthy and active and then have my own mother who is struggling and not as active. It brings to mind a lot of challenges internally for me and has pretty much since we got married. But this weekend, I really put those aside and tried to just enjoy the time with Husband’s parents and I found that when I did that things worked smoothly. My mind was more at ease. When I just lived in the moment, not worrying about the future with my parents and inlaws but instead just enjoyed the weekend…things just worked.

One interesting thing did happen though. We took Husband’s parents to a university basketball game. My father-in-law is having issues with his hip and may have to get a hip replacement eventually. There was a quite a bit of walking to get into the stadium. We saw an area for accessible entry and Husband and I walked up to ask a question about how to get to our seats from outside. The thought went through my mind to ask if we could enter in this specific spot, but I held back since it wasn’t my own parent. In hindsight I should’ve just asked and next time I will. Later, Husband told me he wanted to ask but didn’t know how. He said he didn’t know how to word it. He said he was unsure what was appropriate to say or unsure what they would say in response. He also said he thought I would’ve known exactly what to say in this situation…I deal with this all the time…and I am years ahead of him on this topic.”

And he was right. It made me take a step back and think of the lessons I am learning in the process of dealing with MS. Sure there are tough moments. There are also good moments. There are also moments of complete failure and moments of complete success. But through all of them I am learning lessons. Life lessons.

In no particular order, I offer you a few of my own personal lessons learned:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for anything. What is the worst that will happen? Someone will say no. They might..but most of the time they won’t.
  • Chivalry for Mom exists 100%. People hold doors. People get out of our way. People don’t mind stopping their cars while we cross the street. We force people to press pause in a very hectic world. They press pause and watch. Sometimes they are impatient and rude, but for the most part they are kind. Blow off the rude ones but embrace the feeling of the kind ones.
  • Also realize people are selfish and are not paying as much attention to you as you think. They are not staring at you pushing your Mom in a wheelchair or getting in and out of the car. Even if they are staring they will forget shortly. Because strangers don’t really care that much about you..and take comfort in that.
  • Assume your plans will fail. Something will go wrong. Learn to roll with the punches of MS and the punches of life.
  • Stay calm. Mom is watching me and waiting for my cue. If I get stressed it means Mom will get stressed. And a Mom with MS who is stressed is a full on recipe for disaster.
  • Cherish the moment. Cherish the phone call. Cherish the experience. If Mom is having a good day, cherish it. Take seconds to remember it and embrace it. Don’t assume these will come everyday. But cherish them because the memories of these are what gets you through the tough moments.
  • Life is going to bring people into your life. Wonderful people you never imagined meeting. Realize these people are your support team and they are gifts. At the same time, people in your life who you always thought would be your support team are going to disappoint you. You will have to find a way to “let them go” realizing at times we have to clean out the old to make room for the new.
  • Keep perspective. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Realize the importance of MS in your life and the large place it holds in managing your daily stress level. With that being said, little things don’t deserve a big place in your stress level. They don’t deserve a place at all. Anything unnecessary that contributes in a negative way to your daily stress- get rid of it.

Only the strongest families are given MS to deal with- and even more so than that, only the strongest children (no matter what your age) are given a parent with MS. Life is going to give you the tools you need to get through it, but it is figuring out what those tools are and how to apply them in your life is hard. Find your tools and embrace them. And above all, remember we are warriors.

What lessons have you learned from dealing with a disease such as MS in either yourself or a family member? Do you know a child who has a parent with MS? Take a minute sometime to recognize them for what they are- a warrior.

Empty-Handed

Maybe I am naive but I really thought finding a way to deal with Mom’s MS would get easier. She has had it for 3 1/2 years, I have seen the highs and lows firsthand and I thought at some point my mind and my heart would find a way to kick it into gear with coping mechanisms. For awhile I felt that was the case. Now I not only feel like I am struggling with coping, I am not even sure how I can cope.

I went home this past weekend with Husband to attend a wedding of a childhood family friend of ours. We only went for one night, Saturday to Sunday, but by the time I left I felt like I had been home for much longer. I was really struggling with Mom and where she is at right now. She is on some very strong medicines which I think are messing with her mind combined with increased physical difficulty over the past few months. But for some reason, even knowing all of this going into the weekend, it was rough for me.

I had trouble carrying on full conversations with Mom where she was fully present and interacting. I felt like as long as we were being silly or laughing things were fine but if we shifted the conversation to something more serious or stimulating she couldn’t contribute. I struggled with having Husband there through all of this. I felt like I was half hosting him at our house and half dealing with my emotions about Mom secretly. In a way maybe I was trying to mask certain things because I know they are there but having Husband notice them makes them more real. It was overwhelming and tough.

I got in the car with Husband to drive back and I cried. I just wanted to cry. I felt like the woman I had just spent the past 48 hours with, the woman who is Mom was not Mom. With all the changes that have occurred with Mom throughout the course of this, the one that I am struggling with the most is clearly the cognitive changes. I believe all of this may be part cognitive changes but also part medicine side effects. Regardless, it doesn’t change the situation I am left with- I am left with a Mom who isn’t quite herself. In a situation where communicating is one of the few things we have left and we are now struggling with that…I feel very helpless. I feel overwhelmingly sad. I feel like no one can understand. Even Dad and Sister K do not seem as affected or bothered by this as I do. For Dad in many ways he cannot allow this to effect him because he is Mom’s full-time care taker. For Sister K, we are different people who handle situations like this differently. At the end of the day though I am left feeling very alone and trying to find a way to cope. And I am coming up empty-handed.

Do you struggle more seeing family members lose physical or cognitive abilities? Do you believe we ever truly cope with a situation or do we learn to mask our emotions? Do you ever wonder why some people have a harder time coping with tough times like this than others?

Pushing Through

I am having a tough time blogging lately. I am pushing through it though because I love this blog. I love writing and having a place to come share my thoughts about everything going on with Mom. But my thoughts lately are cloudy and they are tough. I feel overwhelmed but the challenges being presented before my family. I feel overwhelmed about how much there is to this story that I cannot fix. I am trying to accept these complex thoughts but it is hard. It is hard because they are not easy to accept and I am not sure if accepting them is the right thing to do. I feel like a lot of the time I am thinking myself into circles about everything…only to realize nothing is resolved and the only way to cope is to mentally move on to something else.

To put it bluntly, I feel tired of MS. Tired of the impact it is having on my family and Mom. Tired of the way it is seeping its way into our dynamic and forcing us to accomodate and find new ways to get on balance. I feel like we’ll never figure it out. A big part of me wants to give up but a bigger part of me knows that isn’t what you do. To that part of me I tell myself- this is your family. These are your people. These people make up the biggest blessings in your life. You have to focus on them. You have to focus on the love you feel for these members of your family and focus on your relationships. You have to cherish the good moments and really cherish the memories of those moments. You have to remember the bond Mom has with you. A bond that can’t be broken by a disease. A bond that makes Mom the only person you want to call when you are upset and a bond that in the same way tells Mom just from your tone of “hello” over the phone that you are upset. She knows you. She knew you before anyone else knew you.

It’s not easy and in fact I think it is getting more complicated. Life is throwing bigger curve balls at us. I am worrying more about my parents. I feel older. I feel less like a kid. I guess that was going to happen eventually but I also feel alone in the process. I don’t have anyone who can share this except Sister K. No one else understands that I am now thinking for both Mom and me- Trying to manage our family, keep up with buying people presents, rsvp’ing for events, planning events, but all making it look like Mom is still doing it. I have always been a planner and always been organized with life tasks like this so it’s not that far of a stretch but it doesn’t make it easier. In many ways perhaps God was preparing me to assume this role my entire life…and now that time is here. Do I mind, no. But does it make things very real, yes.

I am not sure where I am heading with this as it seems to be a bit of a rambling post. But I wanted you to know where I am at these days. I am still around. I am still blogging. But some days I can’t bring myself to think about MS and do it…and some days all I want is to have a blank white screen to ramble about MS. But thanks for sticking with me and continuing to read as I charter through. Maybe this is all part of it. The ebbs and flows of life and the ebbs and flows of MS. Like my blog says, I don’t have a manual and I am just navigating it the best way I know how.

Do you ever feel like you need to ramble? Have you every struggled with blogging about tough things? Have you struggled with ups and downs with a family member and a disease?

Wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Backing Off

I worry about Dad. This is nothing new. I worry he is taking on too much between his responsibilities at work, his responsibilities with Mom, his responsibilities within our family, a lot of responsibilities that don’t leave a lot of time for himself.

I have had quite a few conversations with him about this. Conversations where he admits it’s tough taking care of everything for Mom and how he never has any time for himself. I know it’s not my responsibility to make sure he gets time for himself. I know I can’t control this situation. I also know that it is Dad’s life. He has to be the one to institute the changes. To make time for himself a priority. To take on less. I can’t do these things for him. But I tend to blame Mom. I get angry and blame Mom for not getting it. For not seeing everything he does and still making him take on more. Little things like picking up shower invitations because she can’t drive…grocery shopping…dropping things off at someone’s house…but that’s what these things are…they are little things. Little things that add up and become big things.

Mom and Dad have been going to church at a local hospital on Sundays instead of our usual church because it is easier for them to get in/out of and easier to make the service. The problem though is there are two times, one at 1:30pm and one at 3:30pm. Well yesterday they missed the 1:30 so they had to go at 3:30. So by the time they are out of there it is 4:00 at the earliest and because Mom taks so long getting ready their entire Sunday has pretty much been wasted…and now Dad has other errands to do on top of this. I got upset. I snapped at Mom. I was mad at her. Mad for what she is doing to Dad. I know he is a grown man. I know he doesn’t need me saving the day but I was mad. I got off the phone and was mad. I felt really upset. I felt helpless. Like I can’t fix anything, I can’t help anything and I feel all alone in my thoughts. No one seems to want to improve this situation. Mom doesn’t get it. Dad won’t stick up for himself. Am I just supposed to stand by and pretend this doesn’t exist? I was mad. I am still sort of frustrated about it. I just feel helpless.

Do you think sometimes you just have to take a step back and “let people be” even though you know it isn’t what’s best? Have you ever found yourself defending a family member who probably didn’t really need defending? Do you think I probably just have to “back off” no matter how hard it is to do?

I Feel Sad

It’s been a strange week of talking to Dad on the phone about MS, Mom, how we are dealing with it, how we are handling it. There is a lot of frustration, a lot of questions, a lot of sadness. I think the main question that keeps coming up is “Why?” Why is this happening to us? Why was our family chosen to deal with this? Why doesn’t Mom want to try harder to fight this? Why can’t Mom improve like other people we hear about who have MS? Why is this so hard on my parents? Why does Dad have to be dealing with this along with everything else? Why.

We want to know why because this journey we are on with MS is painful. It is painful to watch and painful to live. Today was painful. I called Mom as I usually do on my lunch break around noon and she answered. She sounded a little out of it. I tried carrying on a conversation with her but felt like I couldn’t get her to focus. She asked me a question or two but I knew she wasn’t really listening to my response. Twice I couldn’t even understand what she was saying because her words almost sounded slurred. She said she was laying down and it seemed like she was literally dozing off- so I got off the phone. The conversation hurt me. It hurt me because it shines a bright reality light into my eyes that Mom very much has MS and she is actually not getting better. It’s easier for me to not focus on MS when I can call Mom and we can chat somewhat normally…when she is having a good day. But today was not a good day and with that comes the reminder of the pain of this disease for all of us. Mom is changing. It is reality.

I called Sister K to tell her about this and Sister K told me she was sorry and that Mom was probably tired. She seemed a bit frustrated because she felt I was seeking more of a response from her…I honestly wasn’t. But when I got off the phone I was left wondering what did I want? Why had I called Sister K to share this with her? She can’t fix it and make it go away…did I secretly want her to? Or did I just want to tell someone what had happened because I felt sad. I didn’t feel angry; I wasn’t asking why me; I just felt sad.

It is one thing to talk to Dad about Mom’s decline but it is another to experience it. It feels even bigger to experience it all alone on the phone. I was surrounded by people walking on the streets, yet I felt all alone. I think the person I really wanted to talk to was Mom and I was painfully realizing in many ways, at that moment, she wasn’t there.

Have you ever been surrounded by people yet feel all alone? Have you ever called someone after something tough but not really understanding why you called them at all? Do you experience moments where the light of a reality you try to conquer is shined brightly in your face?