Saturday, June 22, 2013

Look Before You Leap

I was going to post, "Fully investigate something before committing." However, as I thought about it, the very fact that something is new to you indicates there is a level of foreignness there and as a friend used to say, "you can't know what you don't know." Sure, we can ask others for their advice or expertise, but at the end of the day, the experience is all ours and there will be aspects that no one else can fully prepare us for. It's as if inherent to the newness of something, is the element of the unknown. Perhaps, what is unknown is that which we must uniquely experience for our own growth and maturation. As you experience it however, you then can become that person who passes on their wisdom and lessons learned to others and part of that wisdom should include the counsel that one be prepared for the unknown. We don't like the unknown. Many of us over-prepare, over-analyze and procrastinate, all in an effort to make sure we fully know what we're getting into. But I'm coming to a place of believing that full knowledge about that which is new to us is not entirely possible.

I posted the above on Facebook earlier today.  This post emanated from the experience of living with my 82-year old mother for the past eight months.  You see, my father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in January 2011.  Last October, his health greatly deteriorated and my brother rushed him to the hospital late one night.  My mother had already asked me at the time of my father's diagnosis if I would move in with her if anything happened to my father.  I told her that I would.  Personally, I could not in good conscience leave her alone.  She has never lived on her own  and would have spent a lot of her days in anxiousness.  From a selfish place, it probably would have been more work for me as I would have been constantly calling to see if she was okay, eating properly, taking her medicine, etc.

So, the night my father was taken to emergency, we knew he would not be returning home, either due to death or being moved to a nursing home.  He was in no condition to come back home and it would have been too much for my mother to try to care for him.  As it was, she had spent the previous several months attending to him:  trying to get him to eat, take his medicine, clean up accidents and had recently taken over driving as he was too weak to even drive.  Thus, I began sleeping on her couch that night and have been living with her ever since.  I eventually moved into one of the bedrooms, but for the first month or two, I was sleeping on a soft couch with a bad back, gradually moving things from my apartment to her house, wrestling with whether to sign another year's lease, paying month to month which would have involved an additional $100 a month or giving the landlord a 30 day's notice and making the big push to get fully moved.  All the while, I was working full-time, traveling between my apartment and my parent's house, visiting my father in the hospital and working with my brother on end of life issues like the eventual funeral arrangements and then making space for my move into the house (this was no small endeavor as my father was somewhat of pack-rat).  

Finally, I got fully moved in at the end December, just a mere two months after my father went to emergency.  It's been a real transition and growing experience for my mother and me.  She has had to adjust to being a widow and alone, so to speak, even though I am with her.  I have had to adjust to living with an elderly person after living on my own for 20 years and being single with no children.  For 20 years, I have been my only concern.  Now, I have the added responsibility of making sure there are groceries in the house, picking up meds, getting the garbage out to the curb for the scheduled pick-up (when you live in an apartment, you just take it to the dumpster; you're not concerned with pick up dates and proper handling vis-a-vis recycling cans), transporting to medical appointments, home maintenance (I eventually wanted a home, but inheriting what feels like somebody else's baggage is not what I had in mind), etc.  

All in all, the experience has been good.  My mother has grown in that amount of time and learned some new things and for that I'm grateful.  I also have learned a greater amount of patience.  However, it's been an adjustment as someone who enjoys solitude and only had myself to care for.  At times, it feels like there's always just one more thing with which to contend.  That is where the posting above comes in.  Had I just investigated what all was involved in moving in with my mother.  But you know, even if I had consulted with someone who has been down the same road, there are some things they couldn't have prepared me for like having my car in need of a rebuilt transmission and the decision to sell it while I drive my father's 10 year old car which I end up having to sink $600 into, all in an effort to keep it running until I can get my own car replaced.  Now I'm motivated to go out and get a new car, but that is going to be another thing to fit into my schedule.  This may not sound like much, but when you have to make calls to follow-up on something, a full-time job, an adjunct teaching job and various other things to see about around the house, it can be just a bit much.  I know about respite care and will probably avail myself of that in the future, but personal business is not necessarily something I'm going to or can entrust to a stranger.  

But I am learning to take time for myself and realize that is something you have to make a priority.  For instance, as I'm writing this, I'm sitting in Panera.  I had to get out of the house.  It's supposed to reach 88 degrees today and I'm a warm body whereas my mother is not.  This will make for interesting times this summer.  I could run the air all day and sleep with it on at night.  My mother, not so much as she catches cold easily and just doesn't get warm like I do.  However, she does need it at times like today as she suffers with COPD and the heat and humidity are no good for her.  But what's comfortable for me and her and two different things.  Plus, I just needed a change of scenery and to get away from the questioning and reminders.  I now know what it feels like to have a "honey do" list and I'm not even married!  Who knew that I would learn about parenting and marriage through living with my mother?  

In any event, long story short of the purpose of my post above, would I have not made the decision to move in if I had all the information beforehand?  Could anyone have even prepared me by saying, "Now look, when you move in, the dryer's going to break on the weekend that you're packing to go away on a business trip and you'll have to arrange to have one delivered while you're away?" or any of a sundry other things?  No, they couldn't and to be frank, would my decision have been any different?  I doubt it.  As I said above, in good conscience, I couldn't let my mother live alone and she's not ready for a nursing home.  To the extent that I can, I think I will try to care for her and keep her in her home for as long as possible.  But even with that intention, it's not easy and there are days that it all gets to be a bit much.  But this is my experience that I must live and learn as I go.  

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