My lucky day

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Yesterday I was at our Annual All-Staff Meeting, an all-day affair held at a resort nearby, with a speaker and catered lunch and awards and activities. The speaker was really good. He did magic tricks, and told jokes while educating us (roughly 150 people) about communicating. He made us laugh and we learned something – most of it we all know, but it’s always good to be reminded. Communicating with people is the heart and soul of what we do here at Acme Health Services, so it can’t be stressed enough.

The meeting was okay – I won a gift card (!), and the self-defense class was really cool. We had pictures taken (my hair looked like rats spit on it, of course), and the admin staff said really nice things about the work we do and the difference we make in our communities. Yay us!

But the best part was after the meeting when the real communicating and magic took place. As we do every year, a select group of us sashayed across the snow and took up most of the seats in a small bar at the resort. We drank and ate and laughed and just had so much fun. We’ve all known each other and worked together for a long time, and that’s our one opportunity a year to all be together.

We have 5 office locations, so many of the people I work with daily via email and phone – some of whom I have worked with for the last 18 years – I only see on that one day. Not to mention the retirees, most of whom were my friends before they left work. It’s like the best kind of a reunion, and it does my heart good. Every year I am able to set aside all my worries on that one day and just revel in fun and laughter with people I like and care about. I’m out of town, and I don’t have my car, so even if something happened at home, I wouldn’t be able to deal with it. I’m not responsible for taking care of whatever might be going on at home and the office is closed. On that one day, I’m free.

We all are. It’s more of a day off than a weekend or vacation day, in fact, cuz we’re required to be away from home, but we’re not working. I had told mom I would be home to make her dinner, but then as the afternoon progressed it was clear I wasn’t going to be. I wasn’t driving, so even if I wanted to leave (I didn’t) I couldn’t.

So I called her around 5 and told her I thought I would be home around 7 and if she wanted me to make her dinner then I’d be happy to, and then I gently suggested if she didn’t want to wait for me she could make her own dinner, which she is capable of now and again, certainly. It doesn’t take a lot of thought or energy to do baked potatoes in the microwave, after all. And I said I’d do the dishes when I got home.

I didn’t feel guilty as I don’t leave her on her own like that often, and she didn’t try to make me feel guilty, either, which was just amazing, really. That felt like more magic! Even a year ago, she would have done the full martyr act and tried to ruin my day. The last 5 years on meeting day I simply made arrangements to be home in time for dinner, because I didn’t want to deal with all that. Yesterday, though, she simply said, “Okay, I’ll decide. Be safe and come when you can.”

Wow! Who was that masked woman? Who are you and what have you done with my mother? When I got home she was pleasant and asked about the meeting and was happy I’d had such a great day. I made dinner for both of us, did the dishes and we watched a movie together before I went to bed.

This is the mother I have been waiting for my whole life. She set aside her own agenda so that I could do something that made me happy. Folks, that hasn’t happened in the almost 57 years I’ve known that woman, and it’s no small thing, I’ll tell you. I feel like I won the lottery or something. Winning that gift card was cool, but it pales in comparison to the other prize I got yesterday – a mother who is on my side, interested in my happiness, not just hers, and willing to compromise so we can both be happy.

Stunning, really, and I can’t explain the change, and it may not last, but I’m not going to question it. What a wonderful thing. Makes me feel that these last 6 years have not only served the purpose of keeping my mother in her home and as healthy as possible, but have also served to repair our relationship, and that’s a gift that is beyond any I’ve ever hoped for. It makes this whole experience feel less like a trial and more like an opportunity, and for that I’m very grateful.

Life is just so amazing – lows so low you think you’ll never rise again, and highs so high you’re flying. It’s all part of the same beautiful thing, though. Right now I wouldn’t give up any of it. Days like yesterday make all the bad days fade in memory. They’ll be back, of course, but I’ll hang on to this feeling for as long as I can and it’ll soften the blow of whatever harsh blow life has in store in the coming days, weeks, and years.

Now…what am I going to spend that gift card on?!

 

Growing pain

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I had a revelation about my personality last night, thanks to the pretty little girl above, Clare. Well, not exactly because of her; it was really more her claws. Her needle-sharp, very long claws.

She sets up camp on my legs in the evening when I’m watching TV. I have my feet up on an ottoman, and that provides her with the perfect platform. This is fine with me. Grace is not often snuggly, so Clare’s propensity to contact is and has always been welcome. She’s a “person” cat. She is either sitting with (or on) me or mom if we are stationary. She’s warm, and silky soft and she purrs so loudly I’m sure the neighbors can hear her. She’s my baby and I adore her.

Less welcome are her claws, which she uses to “knead” my legs when she’s getting settled. A common enough cat thing – every cat I’ve had it has done it, though Clare is the first cat I’ve had that does it on me. It hurts. Really. I try to encourage her gently not to use her claws, and sometimes when I say “soft paws,” she pulls her claws in and then no worries. But that happens rarely; mostly it’s full-claw massage/torture.

Did I mention it hurts? Not a big thing, but not a small thing, either. I don’t make her get down because I love having her sit with me. But it hurts, and leaves marks. I just endure it. I’m clear about why I allow it to happen: because I love that she wants to sit with me. So the pain is worth it.

The revelation I had was about how I allow people to hurt me, and for the same reason. I like to have friends. So, for much of my life, to my mind, that was the price of admission. If you’re going to have people in your life, you’re going to get hurt. Hopefully not a lot, and not seriously, but sooner or later it will happen. Right?

Yes, sometimes. The problem is when it happens all the time, and the relationship is not worth the pain. I’m getting better at recognizing those relationships, and ending them or making an attempt to change the dynamic by letting the person know what’s bothering me. In recent years, I’ve also developed a Spidey-sense about the kind of person who is likely to treat me as less than I deserve and I avoid those relationships from the start. So that’s all good.

My revelation was about the past:

I just wanted people to like me, and I thought if I made it hard for them by complaining about how they treated me, they would leave me.

Easy, right? Duh. I mean really: DUH. Abandonment. Major button for me – for lots of people. Not weakness. Not a character flaw or moral failing.

Here’s what amazes me most about that revelation: I was in therapy for 3 years, and I don’t remember ever understanding that part of me so clearly or in those terms. It must have come up, but I didn’t really get it, I guess. I certainly didn’t see that it was so simple. To me, now, having that understanding seems like a big piece of the puzzle that is me fell into place.

It is now, and has always been, my choice. Just as putting up with the way my mother treated me when I was younger and occasionally treats me now – I choose to overlook it and do the right thing by her because I can. I wouldn’t allow a friend to treat me that way, but she’s my mother, so she gets a pass. She struggles with her own demons – it’s not about me. That is something I got from therapy. I’m clear about that. So I’m strong enough now and sure enough about who I am that I can look past the hurt and just get on with it.

I’ve been patting myself on the back this morning over what I perceive as growth and maturity and insight – all those wonderful “adult” words. Such a nice thing – out of the blue. Not even something I was thinking or puzzling about particularly. I love it when that happens!

Do we ever get all the answers? Figure it all out? When we die, does someone hand us the answer key to the test? I certainly hope so.

Seems only fair.

Loud and clear

The universe seems determined to show me all the ways in which I don’t measure up this week. There are a lot of them, and I’m painfully aware of them all, but I try to look past them and just do the best I can with what I’ve got. This week, however, I keep running into those walls at every turn and I’m a little bruised.

Those obstacles are people-related, mostly, with a few work failures thrown in. As I said, nothing I’m not aware of, and if you know me, chances are that you’re aware of them, too. The work troubles are new, the people thing, not new at all. I’ve tripped over myself coming and going over that one all the time, all my life.

I don’t know why. I like people, and I’m friendly. It seems to be that like some snakes or toads that have markings to let you know they’re dangerous, I send out some kind of signal that folks pick up sooner or later that lets them know that I’m different in some way. With two notable exceptions, I have trouble keeping friends, and consequently, I’m lonely and feel left out sometimes.

It’s something I’ve come to terms with for the most part, though, and luckily I enjoy my own company. Most of the things I like to do are solitary pursuits, so not a big deal most of the time. Every now and again, though, I hit that wall hard and this week I’ve run into it multiple times.

As for work, I seem to have outlived my skills. I was not wildly talented at what I do to begin with and now 25 years later, the expectations have outpaced my creative ability and my skills in some cases. The young people who run things now have no patience and no respect for experience; they have their own ideas about how things should look and be done, and they’re not interested at all in what I think. I think that’s probably as it should be, but it’s hard to take being treated as if you have no value after working so hard at something for so long.

So that’s really what it comes down to – being treated as if I have no value. I tell myself over and over that I am fine, doing the best I can, and that I’m worthwhile. The message I get over and over from other people in most areas of my life repeatedly, however, is different. This week that message has been particularly loud. And clear. It’s been hard to take.

Ironically, though, when I go home to my mother I’m reminded that I have a lot of value in her eyes. That hasn’t always been true, but it is now, and that’s a good thing. So the hardest part of my life has been the best part this week. Maybe that’s the message I’m supposed to be getting from the universe – that I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and the rest of it isn’t important.

Maybe.

Living accordingly

“Maybe the reason nothing seems to be ‘fixing you’ is because you’re not broken. Let today be the day you stop living within the confines of how others define or judge you. You have a unique beauty and purpose; live accordingly.” ~Steve Maraboli

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I’ve been beating myself up pretty good the past couple of days, feeling like a failure, abnormal, an alien. Feeling like an idiot for getting myself in such a desperate place again. Thinking about how hard I’ve worked to get well, to accept myself as I am, to have compassion for the trials I’ve faced and the ways in which they have shaped my journey. Berating myself for throwing all that away by willingly putting myself in a situation that has brought me to my knees once again.

What was I thinking?

Well, I thought for once I could do something meaningful for someone else. I wasn’t thinking of myself, necessarily. I was challenging myself to feel compassion for the one person in my life I felt least deserved it, but probably needed it the most. I knew I would be challenged, but I felt like I was up to the challenge and that it was almost pre-ordained by the universe. Major karma between me and my mother all these years, and I felt this would be the end.

I had no idea it would take this long. Honestly, if I had known I would still be here 6 years later with no end in sight, I might have run away screaming when she asked me to move in with her. Really, though, there was no other choice. She couldn’t live alone. What else could I have done? Looked my then 80 year-old mother, recently widowed after 60 years with the same man, living on meager Social Security and in poor health as always, in the eye and said, “no?”

Well, yes, in theory I could have. She would have died in a short time, probably, and I would have gone on with my life. I wouldn’t have felt good about that, though, and in some ways that might have been more challenging anyway. I’d still be around, and she would have called on me constantly no matter where I was.

Ultimately I would have felt like there was something more I could have done. So instead of feeling bad, I did that something more. I wasn’t being true to her so much as I was being true to myself. This is who I am, who I always have been – loyal to a fault. Like a dog. To my detriment, almost always, especially where my family is concerned.

So now I’m a better, if not happier person. I have never believed that the purpose of life is to be happy. I believe the purpose of life is to be of use. I believe in the Golden Rule. I think if there is a god, that’s really all the bible needs to say: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Treat others with love, acceptance and understanding. Even your worst enemy is a human being worthy of respect and kindness. Everyone is deserving of forgiveness, love and care.

Even my mother. I forgave her a long time ago, and now I’m working on the “love and care” part. Everyday. Mostly it’s on-the-job training, but I’m getting through. It’s so hard, especially the last few months when she has been so ill and my life has been turned upside down again, much as it was over and over as a kid by her poor health, and then later by depression. I’m tempted over and over again to question my decision to be here, and the life that led me here.

Over and over, however, I find that the answer to those questions is simply that “this is who I am.” This is who I’ve always been. I believe I have lived my life according to my purpose, even when I wasn’t really sure what that was. This is the family I got, and they are and have been my path to enlightenment. The path has been arduous – strewn with rocks and pits, over mountains and deep valleys – just like everyone else’s. I’ve been tempted to lay down my pack and stop so many times.

But I haven’t yet, and I hope I won’t. As I have gone on I’ve become stronger, better equipped, and better at seeing the way ahead. I can’t see where the path ends, but the next step is clear, and maybe the next step after that. I try to stay in the moment, and I find I’m happier if I don’t think about what’s ahead. I’m tired, but I focus on putting one foot in front of the other and that’s all. Just keep moving I tell myself every morning when the alarm goes off.

Get up, and just keep moving. I’ll be where I need to go soon enough.

Throw me a line

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I spent most of yesterday at the hospital with my nearly 86 year-old mother. First we were in the Emergency Department, then later she was admitted for an overnight stay and some tests this morning. (She’s home again now and everything’s going to be okay.)

What struck me most about the day when I finally got home last night and thought about it was the waiting. There is no sense of urgency in the ED these days. We’ve been fairly frequent visitors since I moved in with mom 5+ years ago, and it doesn’t seem to me that it has always been as bad as it was yesterday, but waiting is definitely a big part of that experience.

There’s no choice but to gut it out, though, cuz the fact that you’re miserable and that it might be their job to ease your misery as if it were an emergency, clearly does not seem to register with anyone there. It makes me wonder how these people are being trained, and maybe even why they wanted to be in a “helping” profession in the first place. Didn’t they know they were going to have to deal with sick people?

The most helpful thing they did in the 5+ hours we were there was to admit mom into the actual hospital, which was a completely different experience. Thank goodness.

Anyway, that’s another blog. Back to waiting

I had an epiphany sitting in the uncomfortable chair in the little room in the ED in which my mother was on a gurney writhing and moaning in pain, and we were waiting for someone to decide to do something. I realized that I’ve been waiting for my mother all of my life. Waiting for her to let me go. Waiting for her to grow up and realize that she was the parent. Waiting to begin the life I dreamed of, not the life she envisioned for me with her as the center and my own needs secondary (read: non-existent).

There are a lot of dynamics at play in our relationship, adoptee guilt, fear of abandonment and need to please not being the least of them. I take responsibility for my choices – I could have walked away and never looked back, certainly. That’s not my nature, though, and there were other reasons I gave in to the manipulation, so I own my decisions. I spent a fair amount of time in therapy a while ago working through the resentment, so that’s not really an issue anymore, and I am certainly here now with her since my dad died by choice. I have been a good daughter to her and my dad and I feel good about that. I think it matters. 

But I realized yesterday that now instead of waiting and hoping she will change, I am waiting for her to die. I think about the changes I’ll make in my life after she passes and that makes me feel hopeful about the future in a way I’ve never experienced before. Being tied to her and her needs has always been a given, a limiting factor in my life, and the end of that is in sight now. I’m not wishing for her death, and it is most likely years away, but it’s no longer a lifetime away.

It seems a little ghoulish, but I’m making plans for my life without her and Iooking forward to that time, much the same way I’m looking forward to retirement. To me both those things represent the freedom – the liberation – I’ve been hoping for all of my life.

I felt a little guilty last night when I realized I was thinking in those terms, but there it is. It’s probably just rationalization, but I feel like I have done my time, and it’s not horrible for me to be thinking about my mother’s demise as a good thing. My parents have lived good long lives, and in a lot of ways I eased the way for them, certainly for my mother. I served my parents well and when that service comes to an end, I will be free and clear. All debts paid, and a clean slate before me on which to write the rest of my story.

No more waiting then – for anything or anyone. I have a lot to catch up on!