It’s all a blur and we are so very tired. The demands and needs are endless and cyclic, and we either forget or don’t have time to pay attention to ourselves. But regrettably, it’s not an adorable newborn baby we are caring for, where the beauty and wonder of a new life compensates for the sleep deprivation and fatigue. Neither is it managing the care and hope and life for a child, which, incredibly, I deeply miss all the time. This chapter is about the painstaking, daily effort to meet the needs of an elderly person, someone who sometimes knows where she is and fiercely defends herself, and sometimes believes that her son is her husband.
Rinse and repeat: We drag ourselves out of bed in the morning, act responsibly and professionally at work because other people are counting on us there, too, make calls on behalf of mom, and take hours from work to tend to her doctor appointments and other critical, sometimes emergent needs. At home we collapse, rinse, repeat and do it all over again the next day. Yes, we manage to insert meals and errands and exercising, and sometimes manage a night out with friends. But when the evening plan was filing or ironing, and instead becomes a trip to the ER or a quick visit to say goodnight, or a series of phone calls trying to explain who we are and where she is, there is simply no energy left for anything else.
We have been here before, transitioning to end of life. And maybe we’ll get better at it; perhaps I’ll stop complaining like my wonderful friend who lovingly takes of her mom without uttering a word. After all, this is a woman who deserves every ounce of care and attention she gave to others. But at the beginning and end of each day, my husband and I look at each other, bleary-eyed and weary of the heart, and wonder what happened to our life.
I am spent, and cannot begin to explain to others that my baseline of life changed irrevocably with our son’s final journey. Sometimes I fear (I know?) that no one can bear to hear about our loss anymore because it’s in the past, and we should simply move beyond it. We’ve had our stint of warm meals delivered to our home, unnecessary treats and gifts bestowed upon us, unrelenting awareness and attentiveness towards us, and prayers for the well-being of our son, our family. All of that faded along with Gilad, and sometimes I feel that we are expected to simply be as normal as everyone else. But the raw truth is that my entire perspective on life – and the hope life holds – was beaten and pummeled along with my heart. I don’t believe in anything the way others do or in the manner I used to. We expend conscious effort to be positive, and it takes significant planning to weave goodness and pleasure into our rinse-repeat cycle. My baseline is that life is heavy and it hurts and is arduous and too often hellish and it’s so damned unfair, and I wrestle with those overwhelming emotions every single day.
We are in our mid-50s and should be enjoying the freedom from tuition, the absence of child-care responsibilities, and simply revel in the quiet of an empty nest. But we have have aged and feel so much older than our years, so drained and worn out and diminished from everything we have been through and continue to face every day. We are emotionally exhausted from doing so much for others, going to and fro, getting this and that, rinsing and repeating.
Over 30 years ago I met the kindest man who I hoped to spend my life with. But it is not the life I ever imagined it would be. I understood that my choice of being a stay-at-home mom would have its downside; I knew that moving across the country would have its issues; I learned how to deal with the challenges of marriage and family. I accepted and appreciated those typical trajectories, but I continue to thrash at my fate. Yes, I have the blessings of children and grandchildren, but I am greedy and it’s not enough. I wanted to live to see every single one of my children grow up, take hold of their independence, marry, and continue the cycle of life and our family’s legacy and traditions. And I am forever struggling with that disappointment. Underneath my well-dressed armor, I am piggish and resentful, and I have coveted what others have and what I feel I deserve. And that, my friends, is that backdrop upon which we care for our mothers, one declining and the other still healthy and independent, but she will not live forever. So we spend our days rinsing, repeating, and endeavoring to find and recognize and savor the kernels of goodness and happiness and satisfaction in each moment, each day, each chapter.