Reflections on 2012

So here we are at the end of another year. Thanks to Castorgirl for hosting this month’s Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse, and for suggesting the theme of reflections on the year. Like many, I sometimes struggle to see the positives (perhaps this year more than most), so it’s been nice to have a reminder. Thanks CG!

The biggest, baddest, and hardest part of my year has been the death of my mother. It’s been two and a half months now, and I still can’t believe I’m writing those words. Death. Mother. In the same sentence. Yet it was inevitable, really. Her passing, and my grief, overshadow everything; are sometimes overwhelming, yet somehow I manage to get up everyday and keep moving.

I don’t want to reflect on 2012, or look ahead to 2013. The more time moves forward, the more distant my mother seems. But, here goes…

My biggest hope for this year was that I would get to spend more time with Mum.Yep, I did get to do that. 🙂 I’m so glad that I did. We became a lot closer and I grew to understand her more. Of course we snipped and snapped at each other sometimes. And sometimes she drove me completely nuts, but I’m told that’s normal. It’s what made our relationship real. I would give almost anything to have her back, but at the same time I’m incredibly grateful we had the time we did. I’m glad I could be there with her until the end. Grateful, too, that her passing was quick and painless and peaceful. After all she’d been through she deserved those things at the very least.

I learned a lot this year. About life, and death, and the world. I learned that caring for someone with a terminal illness is hard, hard work. Much harder than I’d ever imagined. I still can’t believe how exhausted I was; how little time I had for anything. I think I’m still recovering. Though, of course, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I learned that grief SUX. Big time.

Perhaps the most important things I learned were about myself. Thanks to a truckload of therapy. I had some moments of mindfulness. I’m nowhere near perfect, but I’ve had glimpses of what being mindful is like and I think I like it.

I learned how disconnected I was (am) from my body, and how difficult it is for me to establish that connection. Sadly I can’t share any wisdom on this one with you – I still get caught off guard when I notice something in my body.

I learned a lot more about my anxiety and how it manifests itself: in my breathing, in the tension in my shoulders, in my “ADD”, my worry about being late, etc etc etc. In learning about my anxiety, I also started to learn about what I want, or think I want, in work and in life, without the pressure of anyone’s expectations. And I started to learn about the kinds of things that stress me, especially at work, and how I want to manage or eliminate that stress.

I knitted. A lot. And I loved it. I loved discovering all the stitches and patterns and beautiful yarns out there and discovering some fellow knitting friends. 😉

One of my biggest achievements, I think, is that I built a relationship with Mum’s cat. An old, cantankerous cat who has hated me for much of her life. Who broke my heart when, after Mum passed, she’d come looking at Mum’s chair and ask me where Mum was. She trusts me now. Even lets me brush her and purrs while I do. I never thought it would happen, but it did and I’m proud of myself for having the patience and love to sit with her through all this, as she sits with me.

That’s it, folks. I’m going to save my “hopes” for 2013 for another time. I will leave you with one of the songs that’s moved me this year. A lovely little piece by Missy Higgins. It’s a song about losing her grandmother to dementia, and to death. It struck a chord with me.

PS. Actually I may have undersold myself. I think by far my BIGGEST achievement was allowing myself to feel my feelings in the wake of my mother’s death. Ordinarily my approach would have been to eat, drink, shop or otherwise bury my feelings, but experience has taught me that doesn’t work. No, it doesn’t. The feelings just get bigger and come back to haunt you later on. So, instead, I allowed myself to feel. I think it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it’s still bl00dy awful, but I’m doing it. There’s been a little bit of numbing, but really nothing compared to what I’d usually do. So while it feels like the most unnatural thing to say – go me!!

Two months

It’s two months today since I lost my Mum. It’s a funny thing saying that you “lost” someone. Like you put them down somewhere and forgot where they were.

I know now that I will never “get over” this. I am forever changed. I know that the days become easier to bear, little by little. I am getting used to Mum’s absence. I no longer look for her on the couch when I get home, but the loss and the grief are always present. Like the other day I drove past a coffee shop, and though it was one I’d never seen before, it’s name was a word Mum and I used sometimes when we baked. It was another stabbing reminder that she’s gone.

The Back Up Therapist says at the moment it’s like I have a gaping wound, and everything like that coffee shop is like ripping the bandage off and reopening the wound. Again and again and again. Apparently one day I’ll rip the bandage off and the wound won’t be so raw and gaping. At the moment I can only hope so.

I try to pass the time. Even pass it healthily. The Back Up Therapist says that will make things easier in the long term. Thankfully, for once, my inner-self knows she’s right. So I eat (relatively) well, get regular exercise, don’t drink or take pills. And I feel those wretched feelings.

But I still miss Mum. For all her faults – and this blog recorded many – we had a close and enduring bond – better in the last few months of her life than for sometime before that. To say I miss her feels like such a ridiculous thing to say. There’s a huge hole in my life where she used to be and nothing – NOTHING – can fill it.

A friend said recently that the thought of losing her Mum is more than she can bear. I thought so, too, and yet somehow I have managed to survive the last two months. It seems incredible, but I have.

Time passing

I’ve been meaning to blog ever since Mum passed away. Despite my good intentions, thoughts of the blogosphere and my bloggy friends have fallen out of my head, about as quickly as they fell into it – like most things at the moment, I’m afraid.

It’s a very weird time. A friend said it’s like the plates of the earth have shifted and you have to recalibrate. Yep, it is like that. I read something that said it’s like stumbling up a staircase in the dark and putting your foot out for the last step, only to discover it’s not there. Yep, it’s like that, too. It’s also like being in a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language, only things are familiar – you just have to learn how to do everything all over again. Yep, that too.

Emotionally I’m up and down like a yo-yo, but trying hard not to numb, and trying just as hard to accept whatever comes. Those things are hard enough on their own, and then there’s all the emotions to deal with as well. Needless to say I’m exhausted. Mostly the mornings are the hardest, when I wake and discover it’s not a bad dream after all. I actually had a dream the other night that my mother had died, and I awoke, upset, thinking “what an awful dream”, only to discover it was my reality. The evenings are also hard (but getting easier), and the hours in between just pass in a blur.

I’ve found all sorts of thoughts popping into my mind. Things like:

  • I don’t want to be alone, but I don’t want to be with other people.
  • I don’t even know how much water the plants and flowers need.
  • It’s my fault she died because I made them give her pain killers.
  • She never taught me how to cook rhubarb.
  • I wish I’d done more to help Mum, day-to-day and with her unpacking. I’ve found lots of things she hadn’t attended to, though usually she would have.
  • I’ve cried; I’ve felt these feelings. Why won’t they stop?
  • I miss our banter.
  • Why couldn’t the doctors do anything to fix her?
  • How is it that the sun still rises everyday? And people’s lives go on?

The battery in Mum’s phone ran out the other day. I couldn’t bear to turn it off after she passed away, and yet seeing the battery dead was like reliving her death all over again.

People (real and virtual) have been very kind. Some have tested my ability to be social, just because I don’t know what to say. Others have relived their own grief before me, leaving me to console them. The closest ones just ask how I am and accept whatever is there, allowing me to be in their company, but elsewhere at the same time.

Thanks to every one of you who has sent me messages of support. I truly do appreciate it, even if I haven’t been able to respond as I would have normally. I’m not sure where my head is at the moment, and no one can tell me when (or even if) it’s coming back.

Sleeping

My mother passed away this week. I know it’s not entirely unexpected, but in the end it was quite sudden. It was peaceful, though, and she was in no pain, and for that I am very thankful.

We had both been a bit unwell this week and all my caring duties had fallen in a heap. We’d talked about how impossible it was for us when we were both sick, and agreed to get more home help. I was on the phone to the district nursing service one morning when Mum called out to me from her bed. I was quite short with her which I will always regret. I guess because I was busy, barely capable of standing up myself let alone making phone calls and looking after her. Anyway, she said she was having trouble breathing.

Ambulance.

Hospital.

They tested her blood and said her gases were all over the place. Apparently her lungs were just completely shot – from decades of smoking and from the cancer having zapped every part of her body of the strength it once had. Her body was holding on to carbon dioxide and not getting rid of it in the right way.

The doctor in emergency said she was going to die. Actually he didn’t. He told me a bunch of medical stuff and I said: “She’s going to die, isn’t she?”

Doctor: “Yes”

Me: “How long?”

Doctor: “She may only have a few hours. She might have a few days, or may be even weeks, but I doubt it.”

The rest of the day is a blur. I rang a friend to come and be with me, and a friend of Mum’s to be with her. I regret now not ringing more of Mum’s friends, even though she said she didn’t want to see them. But the look on her face when she saw this one friend – she just lit up. It was so beautiful to see.

I talked to Mum. The doctor had, too. She knew. She said it was her time. She was sick of all the medical junk she had to put up with, and totally and completely sick of her body. She was so thin and frail and could hardly do any of the things she once did.

I told Mum I loved her. I told her she could go when she was ready. That I would be ok, even if I’m not. I told her she could go but not to do it in the emergency department at the bloody public hospital which was full of people detoxing and drying out.

She wanted to go home. In the end it just wasn’t possible. I’m torn between beating myself up for not getting her home and realising that she was just too sick.

They transferred her to a lovely room at the private hospital across the road. They set up a bed for me to stay if I wanted. She had a few mouthfuls of food at dinner time, but started choking on phlegm and junk. They started suctioning and carrying on and it was very distressing for me and Mum. She pushed them away. I told them to stop.

They gave her some medicine to make her breathing a bit easier. She was sleepy after that, and at some point slipped in to unconsciousness, I think. I’m not sure. I don’t really know about these things.

A friend came in and we sat by Mum’s bed eating lollies and laughing. Mum would have liked that. Much more than the tears and stuff.

Shortly before 4am I woke up, looked over at Mum and saw her breathe. For whatever reason I went to the toilet, with plans to check on Mum afterwards. By the time I came back, she was gone. The nurses said they were just there, too, and she was ok. And then not. Gone. Just suddenly gone.

There is other junk that happened, like Mum deciding at the last minute she wanted to change her will, and me spending hours on the phone trying to organise this and then realising Mum may be wasn’t competent enough. She was fully alert and everything, but kept falling asleep and changing her mind about things and that didn’t scream “legal competence” to me, so I let it go. I can fix that up later.

I feel completely lost. I am trying to just put one foot in front of the other, but even that is a gargantuan effort. I am completely and utterly shattered and lost.

More later.

Another milestone … or just a stone?

I sold my house today. I got a good price. All in all, it went well (even if my anxiety was off-the-richter-scale high before the auction). I *should* be jumping for joy, right? Probably, but I just feel really sad (and really tired, after weeks of cleaning and showing my home off to a bunch of strangers each week!).

I’m guessing it’s sadness, anyway. I’m not very good at *feeling* the feelings, although PNT is teaching me. There’s a kind of pulling at the corners of my mouth, likes a sad ‘smiley’ face. And I feel heavy inside. And I’d kind of like to lie down and cry, only I’ve had an all round busy day and haven’t been able to do that.

So why am I sad? Well, I love this house. I know it’s only bricks and mortar, but I love it. I love the location, the house itself, the neighbourhood, the little park around the corner, the coffee shop around the other corner. I *even* like my neighbours. It’s the house I always wanted. Seriously. Ok, sure, it didn’t buy me the happiness or self-assuredness I think I thought it would, but it’s still the home I’ve always wanted. The proverbial ‘dream home’. Pretty much.

I know I’m selling it for practical reasons. The house is totally IMpractical for Mum and I. It’s too small. There’s no storage. And don’t even get me started on the steps at the front which make me constantly worried that Mum will fall and break a hip or something. We’re moving to a place that’s bigger… by half. I’ll have two bedrooms and a bathroom ALL TO MYSELF!!!! It’s in a similar location, in fact only 450 metres away. It’s closer to the river, which is also a lovely park. And I can easily still walk to my coffee shop.

All good, right? Wrong.

I feel like I’m giving up part of myself. This house was my dream. And it was mine. Slowly slowly, bit by bit, I feel like Mum has taken things away from me. I know that sounds ridiculous, and I don’t mean to be awful. But that feeling is there, just the same. After she moved in, I slowly lost a whole lot of stuff. I lost some of my independence. I lost a whole STACK of time. I lost my second bedroom. Now I’m losing the house, and soon probably my car (as Mum needs something with higher seats). I know these are all just possessions – meaningless possessions – but it feels like they’re an extension of me, or something. 😦

Coping with stress

My stress levels have been progressively increasing over the last few weeks. To the point, now, where they’re at intolerable levels. I’ve been mildly unwell for weeks, and now have what the specialist thinks is eczema spreading like wildfire. I’m grateful that the rash isn’t some horrible disease, but I’ve never had it before and can’t help thinking it’s stress related.

I’m quite sure spending the last few weeks packing up my mother’s house hasn’t helped my stress levels. Nor has having her officially move in with me. She’s been living with me for months, but now it’s formal and proper, or getting that way, and my once cute little house is filled with her stuff as well as mine … there’s barely room for either of us to move. And there’ still more stuff to come! Then there’s work which is busy and pressured. I like the work, I like the people I work with, but I’m finding it incredibly difficult to keep all the balls juggling in the air. The one for me; the ball for my life pretty much dropped long ago. Which is another obvious source of intolerable stress. And then there’s therapy – that’s a whole other chapter, just there. I’m learning a lot at the moment, but the PNT is also pushing me in ways I’m finding really difficult, and it’s all just adding to the stress I feel.

Take today, for example. It was raining when I woke, and I immediately had a little party inside, thinking it was the perfect day to loll about and potter and do not much. Of course that didn’t happen because I ended up running errands for Mum, and trying to put some of her things away, and tidying up my own mess, and catching up on chores… and when I finally did get to sit down this afternoon, I turned the TV on to watch my favourite show and do some knitting (a new thing, it’s great… but more on that later). My mother had barely said a word all day and yet took this opportunity to prattle on about every little thing, and seemingly nothing at the same time. I’m ashamed to say I lost it once or twice and snapped at her. But, for god’s sake!!!!! All I wanted was 30 mins of quiet time with my favourite TV show. Is that really too much to ask?

Everything feels so crowded. I have no space. Not physically, mentally or emotionally. I feel muddled and messy and streeeeetched. And squashed in on all fronts. I just want to run away. I’ve learned from PNT that I excel at the flight thing, so I guess it’s logical for me. Will that help? Probably not, but I can’t think of anything else to do. I’ve looked at my schedules and there’s just nothing that can give, time wise. I’m trying to sort the house out, but that will take time. And short of gagging Mum, I’m just not sure what to do with her. And then there’s work. And therapy.

It’s all too much. I’m at wits end.

The end of an era

Hello blogosphere, it’s nice to see you again. It’s been waaaay tooooo long. 🙂

My mother has sold her house and  we (correction, I) have spent the last few weekends and fully the last five days packing, sorting, cleaning. To say I’m exhausted is a complete understatement. This does mean that she’s moving in with me, but more by default than by any grand design – at least on my part. Given the circumstances, I didn’t feel there was any alternative, and it’s kind of a nice thing in a way. But that’s not the point.

Anyway, today was the last day at her house. Forever. The end of an era. It was also the first day in I can’t remember how long that I haven’t been working my guts out while there. Mostly I was just sitting about waiting for the tradespeople to do their things. Wouldn’t you know it, I was overwhelmed by flashbacks. Just little ones, and not all of them yucky, but there they were, sneaking up on me again. Dammit.

Stupid flashbacks. They hit you when you need it least and, with me, usually when my coping skills and ability to self-soothe are buried beneath a pile of rubble. I remembered the times Mum and I would sit under the apple trees on a summer afternoon, the cool(ish) breeze blowing through the trees. I remembered some of the times I’d been sitting on the steps with the sun on my back and my father would say something like “look at your toes – they’re terrible” or “look at your stomach – when did you get so fat?” I remembered how I’d enjoyed sitting on the verandah watching the boats sailing in the bay. And the night the yacht that won line honours in a race came home, and we raced to the yacht club to enjoy the festivities. I remembered the times I’d felt trapped inside when the weather wasn’t good. And how the dog used to try to sneak in, out of the rain. Good and bad these things, but still messing with my head. I should have done a better job of anticipating this, but I’ve been just so busy I haven’t had time to pay attention to anything really. Some of you might think that’s an excuse. I guess it is, but not deliberately.

I found myself at the lemon tree, picking the last of the lemons. Lately I’ve started taking real pleasure in such seemingly small, ordinary, daily occurrences. I enjoyed the feeling of the lemons in my hand – slightly bumpy skin, warm from the sun – and the waxy leaves, and the slightly citrusy smell. I loved it. We stopped at one of the organic grocers on the way home. All I wanted to do was wander about for as long as I could enjoying the sights and smells of the produce. So fresh, beautiful colours, their scents tinged with a slight earthiness. (Unfortunately my mother just wanted to hurry and get home, so it wasn’t the sensory delight it could have been.) There’s something beautiful, refreshing and almost invigorating about it all. And grounding; definitely grounding. Since my last holiday I’ve been wanting this sort of experience with nature more and more. I even came home wanting to grow veggies and have chooks! (Most of the people who know me IRL are still laughing hysterically at the thought of me going anywhere near a garden!!)

I got home feeling entirely panic-struck, completely unsafe and wanting to self-injure. I’m not wholly back from my dance with the flashbacks. Still wobbly, despite a hard but ultimately helpful (I hope) session with PNT. Still feeling overwhelmed. So completely overwhelmed. I’d like to stay in bed tomorrow and hide from the world. Or lie on the couch and do not much. Or file my nails (something I haven’t found time to do in over a month). Or go to the park and just enjoy my surroundings. I just want to STOP!!!!!!

A hard week

You know, I think I’ve just had one of the hardest weeks of my life. I’m more exhausted than exhausted can be. And I’m sick – still or again, I’m not sure which. I’ve been at my mother’s house with her, cleaning, tidying, sorting, getting ready to put her house on the market. Much of my time there disappeared in a dissociative haze, and I’m still not sure I’m really “back”. Whatever went on, I felt the familiar claws of depression latching onto me. 😦

For the first few days I had to keep reminding myself that my father wasn’t there and that wasn’t going to say something nasty. I have to admit this was a giant head f**k. I know he’s dead, but everything around me was just the same as it was when he was alive – his chair there by the TV, his other chair out on the verandah. I kept expecting him to ark up, complain, say something horrible, be nasty. He didn’t, thankfully.

My mother and I spent some time going through her things – working out what she wanted to keep, what she didn’t, etc. Part of this was hard – learning about things that had meaning for her, or had been passed down through the family. Although sometimes it was just downright funny, like when she *finally* threw away the half-done macramé projects that belonged to my grandmother. The one who died 31 years ago!!!!!

Despite the odd funny moment, Mum again proved that she’s an emotional cripple. Not only did she deny my needs the entire time we were there, but also several times invalidated what I was feeling. Just as an example, the weather was unbearably hot for much of the week. I don’t cope well in the heat. I wilt quickly and just want to curl in a ball and sleep. Mum just told me to “get used to it”. If I’d had some wits about me, I would have said, “No, Mum, I won’t get used to it, or get over it. I’m 41 years old. I’ve never liked the heat and I’m not about to start. You don’t like the cold – I don’t ask you to get used to it. It’s how I am. YOU get used to it.”

Most of her behavior was the same across the week. Instead of saying she was tired, or finding it difficult, or whatever, she just took it out on me in some sarcastic, acid-tongued way. I knew it was about her, but it still threw me back into the cesspit of negativity and criticism, and needless to say pretty much did my head in. I quickly felt myself slipping to the edge of the abyss.

On top of that was all the physical work – gardening (in the heat), painting (in the wee small hours to miss the heat), lugging rubbish to the tip, and second hand goods to charity. Of course my mother’s still not up to very much physically, so I did most of the heavy work. I have no idea how I did it – except by disconnecting myself, physically and emotionally. Not healthy, I know, and kind of scary to think how quickly and easily I slipped backwards. I feel like I’ll always be skirting the edge like this. It feels completely pointless. I know that’s not good, but I’m having trouble stopping.

I’m coming back, now that I’m home, but slowly. The darkness is still there, and the darkest of dark thoughts still appealing. I’m hoping a weekend of nothing much will help. I’m due to go back to work next week, and it’s just about the last thing I feel like doing. I’m wrecked.

The unaskable

I can’t thank you all enough for your messages of sympathy and support in response to my last post. You helped me feel validated in my devastation, and less alone than I have felt. So thank you.

I confess I’ve spent much of the last week in tears. I’m not sure how I’ll ever come to terms with this. The PNT says I probably won’t. For a control freak like me, that’s hard to take.

Mum and I haven’t talked much about her new diagnosis either. It’s not her way; not our way. I have, of course, been reading endlessly to find out as much as I can about this new hideousness. It’s not good news. So bad, in fact, that instead of celebrating my first festive season without my ghastly father, I now fear this will be my last with Mum. 😦

Mum, of course, hasn’t been reading and even if she had been I’m not sure how much of the horror she has understood and absorbed. I know she hasn’t been telling her friends the truth. Not the whole truth, anyway. She’s mentioned something about another cancer, but that’s about all. Not the ugliness of it being highly aggressive and incurable. I’m not sure if this is because she needs time to process it all, or is in denial, or both.

The obvious question, of course, is why don’t I ask her? Yea, right. How do you ask someone how they feel about dying? Do they want more treatment, or not? Is there anything they want to do before they go? How do they want to spend what might be their last few relatively healthy months? Is there anything I want to say to her before I lose that opportunity forever?

Of course, now is precisely the time I should be having these discussions with Mum. I’m not sure I can. Not only is it not our way, but I’m constantly afraid I’ll cry. And I’m afraid she’ll get snippy and cross and defensive. The Wonder Therapist said all of those things are pretty much guaranteed, but there are more serious things to worry about here. She’s right. I need to find the courage, somehow, to ask the unaskable.