They came to live with me eight years ago, in my new home, tricked out with bars in all the right places, their living quarters all on the first floor, hardwoods to accommodate their cane, walker and wheelchairs. In the beginning, when they were relatively well, we cohabited with a fair amount of ease. I worked my crazy full time job, did Pilates a few times per week, and managed to maintain my home and get them out every few days. I had full time caregivers during the day, and Mom and Dad did OK for a few hours on their own a few times per week when I was working out.
To be completely honest, I'm not sure if I ever thought about the length of time they would be with me. When they came to live, it was because they could no longer safely navigate on their own, and I was the one in the family seemingly most equipped (big enough house, more financial ease, no kids or husband to compromise with) to care for them. I'm not sure what I expected, but as the months became a year, and the year became more years, the road has been longer than I ever imagined.
I wish that I had dedicated a blog years ago to just how unexpected caring for your parents can be. In addition to basically sacrificing your entire personal life, there are endless symptoms, hospital stays, antics, degeneration, laughter, tragedy, tears and mirth. So many memories, so much work, so much fun, so much exhaustion, and an endless barrage of every bodily function under the sun!
My Mom and Dad were the fun parents growing up. Our house was always the hang out house, and my friends have been daughters to my parents, and my parents their parents since I was in high school. To watch these vibrant people decline and age has been hard on many people in my sphere, not just blood family members. Their bodies and minds failing them, their friends falling away, their ability to do almost anything by themselves vanishing, and their frustration in dealing with all of this heartbreaking.
I dealt and deal with all of this the only way I know how, which is to put one foot in front of the other and power through it. Not a bad method, and it worked pretty well for quite a while. Eight years, however, is a long time to wear a cape.
We lost my Dad in July, his decline was both slow and lightning fast. Two plus years of a failing mind, and his body long past it's earthly abilities. Then the bitter end, when he was rapidly failing and afraid, and the girl who powers through everything finds she cannot. Her only tools are words and touch and tears, and even those pale when you are watching your hero in life transition to the next world. My Dad fought every step of the way, he did not go quietly, and I am still figuring out how that makes me feel. I know now that more than anything I would choose a peaceful end for anyone facing the end of their human journey.
As I pass through endless deep thoughts and tricky bouts of grief at the most unexpected times and in the most surprising ways, I realize mostly that I am fallible, a mere mortal. Even though I still have my Mom with me, and the responsibility of caring for her continues, I am being put in check by the universe. My body and mind are rebelling and taking a moment for themselves, exacting payment for years of focusing on everything except them. Kidney stones, bronchial issues, exhaustion, sadness, an overwhelming desire to crawl into the fetal position and stay there, to name a few. I know in my heart I will be OK in time. Even so, taking a beat is so not me, and this part is far harder than I anticipated. I find the greatest lessons of the past few months have been those of patience and self awareness. When dealing with myself, I have had to focus more on being kind, forgiving and eliminating judgment, because I'm just a girl, after all. A fierce, capable, roaring, gritty, strong, generous, and caring girl, but just a girl nonetheless. Despite the cape, I am not Captainette Awesome All The Time, and I learned that the cape has to go to the dry cleaners from time to time, and that sometimes they even lose the cape for a few months.
I miss my Dad every day. II adored him unfailingly, yet I know his passing has allowed me to slow it down some, and take a much needed breath. Sometimes I cry over stupid stuff. I am sad more than i would like to be. I am sick more often than not as of late. I know that I have to allow myself time to be OK again, for my body to get stronger, my mind to wrap around the fact that I cannot be all things to all people and still take care of myself. So many lessons. It's important to know I wouldn't change anything about the choice to care for my parents, for it has been for more joyful than agonizing, and far more rewarding than challenging. This middle aged dog even learned a few new tricks, and some pretty important ones at that. Yes, I do wish it was easier sometimes, but I still recognize I am fortunate, because I am the lucky girl whose parents are a gift that keeps on giving.