Friday, January 18, 2013

untangling...





Her voice is whisper thin on the phone and its with great effort that any sound comes out at all.  The changes in my mom have come rapidly and have changed her ability to function at her usual capacity.  But her stubborn streak glimmers when her doctor tells her maybe she should start trying a cane.

Who me?  I'm not old enough for a cane.  No, I don't need that.  No, no.  Not that.  I'm fine.

I shrink back a little in my chair at the shrill and razor sharp quality appearing in her voice.  

She doesn't want to acknowledge that her gait is unsteady, and she has fallen a couple of times already.  Her diseased liver has grown maybe triple its size and grossly distends her stomach.  Ascites continue to build around her middle and its clear that walking is a major feat.

She has never been a drinker and yet Cirrhosis has staked a claim on her liver.

Ammonia built up in her system recently and induced confused thinking and lots of drowsiness.  At very high levels, ammonia can induce a coma.  We quickly got her to the liver doctor. She started a new medication that has fortunately brought her ammonia levels back down, but its a delicate balance calculating just the right amount of medication to keep it at a normal level.  I check in with her twice daily. 


I am finding its an odd thing when you are walking through your own illness, at the same time your mother is walking through one as well.  

Who takes care of who?  

She called yesterday.  Could I pick up her gluten free bread at the health market?  I'm relieved she has listened to her doctor and left her car in the garage for the winter months.  

I pick up her bread and she insists I come inside her apartment.  The heat blasts my face as I enter and I quickly take off my heavy winter coat.  Its stifling to me.  But her body can no longer regulate her temperature well and she is constantly cold.  

It's the perfect metaphor for our relationship.  She can't fathom anyone would think it was too hot.  As sweat beads on my forehead, she tells me she is thinking she'll need to turn the heat up soon.  I swear there is a glint in her eye as she says this.  The word facetious comes to mind...

My past rises up to meet me.  I am 12 again.  Her traditional and strict rules rub up against my soft heart time and again.  She closes off the heat registers in my bedroom telling me it isn't necessary to heat the whole house.  I layer myself in long underwear, then sweat pants and quilt after quilt - its a classic Minnesota winter and its -15 outside.  My nose is still red and cold when I wake in the morning and race down to the wood burning stove to start a fire.  

The 12-year-old in me wants to remind her of her own advice a "little cold" never hurt anyone... and... yet, I'm not 12 anymore.  And this too, is part of the reason I chose the word embrace- because I used distance to cope in the past, and sometimes I still just want to run.

She snaps me back to the present asking me which ones do I want to keep?

My eyes adjust to the soft lighting and I see she has been sorting through her Christmas ornaments.  She has divided them into piles.  Some for me.  The rest will go to my brother.  Christmases past spill out before me in a jumbled heap of beaded bells, glass ornaments, and delicate wire angels.  We've hand crafted  most of them, her and I, and they are a concrete reminder that we are deeply woven together, despite our differences. The sturdiness of the beads (her) entwined with the bending of the wire (me)-forming a brilliant and delicate white angel.

I still long for her to desire more.  More Christmases, more travel, more time spent with her grandchildren.  Its her grandchildren who have carved out a soft place in her heart.  

But she makes no pretenses that she might have had her "last Christmas."  There is no trace of sadness, merely a hint of resignation to what is.  She is merely taking care of what needs to be done. 

She comes around the corner as I heave the tote filled with ornaments into my arms.  She is carrying her new coat- have I seen it yet?  

I pause, with my heart lodged in my throat.  

A few seconds pass, and it suddenly dawns on her...

Ohhh, YOU were the one who took me to buy the coat!  

It was just last week and I had spent an entire day getting her groceries, picking up her pills, paying her bills, sending off her mail and helping her buy a new coat.  Sigh... how will it ever feel like enough?

She awkwardly embraces me as I stand holding the tote.  

Clearly, there is love between us.

Bundle up- its cold out there! She admonishes me.  

I'm rushing now to get home in time for when Colton gets home from practice.  

How will I continue to do this?  To care for her when I am so easily transported to the past.  I've been wrestling with this for so long.  

I'm entrenched in thought when suddenly the wheels on the van lock as I grip the steering wheel, sliding on the ice as I approach the turn to my house.  The ornaments shift precariously on the seat. With my heart beating rapidly, a singular, quick thought appears running through my brain.

Care for her as you will one day want your children to care for you.

You will never untangle the circumstances that brought you to this moment.  Maybe I don't need to. Maybe those circumstances made me who I am, like them or not. 

As I scoot down the hallway to my bedroom, I pause for a moment at the thermostat.  I smile as I turn the heat down a few degrees.  It turns out I like it a little more cool when I sleep at night.  I realize the very things that used to make me want to run, are some of the very things I turn to these days.  

And I'm learning... just keep embracing.  










52 comments:

  1. My all time favorite post yet. You need to write a book. I just wanted to keep on reading!

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    1. Wow- of all the things you could have said- this isn't what I expected- and that spoke right to my heart- very humbled - thankful for you!

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  2. So tender, sweet and wise ... it must be nice to live inside you.

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    1. Oh goodness Bonnie- such kind words- depends on the day, right?

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  3. Vicky, beautifully, richly poignant words. It is unfathomable for me, even, to think of how you might care for your mother and yourself right now. And yet this feels familiar. My own mother was rushing to my father, then to her mother. I wondered how she could ever have anything left for herself, and I worried about this. Now my father's gone, and it's back to just her and grandma, but she must tend to her needs, too. I think she's doing that the best way she can. And now I am feeling fragile in the wake of my father's death, wondering how I can do this. Your post reminded me how. Just one moment at a time. Let's not even talk days right now. I'm living in moments for now, taking it slowly, because it's the only way I can. Hugs, friend. I look forward to a chat soon. I probably have to get through January first but soon thereafter, let's find a time.

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    1. I'm so glad to hear you are staying in the moment when the days ahead are too far out to look at yet... so wise. I recall feeling so muted and numb for the longest time- like I was in a bubble of grief and was barely conscious of the world around me. Time heals, its true what they say. And I am ready when you say the word- I'm here no matter the time or day even if you just want to talk or cry or vent-just know I'm here :)

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  4. I agree with Melissa. You are an extremely talented writer. Every single time I read one of your posts I "feel" in that very moment, in your world. It's a gift to be able to write like that.

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    1. Marla- you're too sweet. I'm so honored you feel its relatable- that means so much to me- thank you! I hope you are well Marla!

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  5. Pausing to remember those times in our past and choosing whether to ignore them or embrace them, is something we have all had to do at one time or another in our life. Even though it is very hard to do, we are far better off if we choose to embrace them. Beautifully written post, Vicky.

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    1. Eileen- I appreciate your perspective and I think you succinctly hit the nail on the head- it is something we all face at some time and have to choose how we will do this... thank you for your kind words!

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  6. Yes!!! a BOOK!.. I've been saying that for years, you're such a gifted writer. You will never regret making the connections with your mother during this difficult time for both of you - it's a gift, your ability to embrace what is and not wallow in whatever may not be exactly what should have been. I struggle with that all the time with my difficult relationship with my father. You do a better job than I.

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    1. Yes- you have been saying that :) I am listening too- I just keep writing and maybe one day I'll end up with enough for a book- ha! I have actually been offered a writing class that I think may help nudge me in the right direction :)

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  7. Oh Vicky, I know how you feel. I brought my Mother to live with us when she got too sick to care for herself. Despite the fact that she was and had always been a serious alcoholic and I had alot of resentment and anger in my heart. But, I cared for her for 5 years. I dressed, bathed, did her hair. Before that took her to her Dr., to get her meds etc. While working part time and my kids in school. It was not easy but we got through it. I wish now I had done more. But, as we all know, "when you know better, you do better". I am finally at peace about it all. XO, Pinky

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    1. Pinky- I think you mentioned something that I think about too- what will I regret not having done after she is gone? I really try to let that guide me. Thank you for sharing your experience with me- it helps keep me going in the direction I need to go. Hugs to you sweet one!

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  8. If I could write like this, I would be an author.
    I'm not kidding about that, Vicky.
    You are an exquisite writer. Do you know how good you are??
    Beautifully written...perfectly penned.
    I send you prayers as you minister to your family and to yourself.
    I wish I could do more.
    I love you and will be praying for your Mama....
    Jackie

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    1. Jackie- you are too kind- goodness, thank you- I don't know what to say. I feel it comes "through" me at times and I am merely the instrument. Thank you for the love and prayers always~ xxoo

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  9. Vicky, some people never gain the wisdom you have acquired, and I think of you as still so young! It is hard when the child becomes like a "parent" to the one who used to care for you. It was only today that I was thinking back to all the admonitions and things my parents and grandmother used to say, and my answers would come with an impatient sigh, "Yeah, Yeah!!!!" The memories are like stray, frayed edges of my life, strings that never seemed to fit anywhere in the tapestry of my life. And now, as they come to mind again, I see ---- like you did ---- that they ARE a part of who I am, even though I resisted them hard and long. Like you, I was always cold at night and now I turn down the heat and keep it cool. I love your word, embrace! Resistance only hardens us, but embracing softens and makes us beautiful, inside and out! I'm so glad you have those ornaments. I'm sure every year as you take them out, you will embrace your Mom again and again and remember all of this over and over. Today, I will embrace all those things again, too. Thank you, Vicky!

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    1. Such wisdom and clarity from you Cora- I certainly take away so much from your perspective... I love this part "resistance only hardens us, embracing softens and makes us beautiful." Thank you Cora!

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  10. this was beautiful vicky....and filled with love and honesty.

    so many of us are in this position....still taking care of kids, ourselves and now our parents...it's
    a lot....and i praise you for your patience and understanding that some of us fall short on....xo

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    1. Well I promise I fall short too at times- but I want to remember to keep trying...xoxo

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  11. To answer your question....no, it will never be enough. That is the answer I found with my mother when I asked the same thing.
    Never, ever enough.

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    1. Sigh- it's not going to get easier, is it... Hugs to you...

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  12. Hugs to you as you deal with not only yourself but of things of your mother. I can relate to the fact of being so busy dealing with someone else that we ing it hard to think about ourselves. Hang in there my love. Hoping for better days ahead for you.

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    1. Thanks Verna- the days are good- just tinged with hard at times like everyone.... Hugs to you...

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  13. Funny or rather interesting that many of us have the same relationships with our mothers. Your words could have been written by me except I could not have written it so well. My mother is sick too something different and she lives far so far from me, yet I could see the way you both interacted together is so similar to the way we are together me and her.
    Melissa is right you could write a book. Sending you love and hugs and strength xo

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    1. Anyes- I'm sorry to hear your mother is sick also- as hard as it can be to be close sometimes, I often think its equally hard to be far from our loved ones when they are ill. And yes, you could have written this- I have no doubt you'd do it and do it well- no doubt :) Sending love and hugs and strength right back to you!

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  14. Your gracious heart shines Jesus in so many ways and how beautifully you write the difficult things of life.

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    1. Oh thank you Susan- I really feel as though the words pour "through" me at times and I am so honored if it shines Jesus :)

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  15. A great post Vicky. You are such a beautiful writer. Sending blessings to your mom!

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    1. Thank you Lisa- I'll send those blessings along to her!

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  16. Thanks for letting us see inside your world just a bit. I cannot imagine a "normal" life without my M&M's support, much less the life I now lead.

    And l like it cool at night too. I freeze Brian out. ;)

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    1. So many of my sistas in cancer world have stories of freezing their husbands out :) I'm grateful for all the others that step in knowing my Mom won't be able to and Dad isn't here... I'm blessed with amazing support...

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  17. You are such a beautiful writer Vicky....you really are. Thank you for sharing what you did.
    Sending many warm hugs!

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    1. You're welcome Jen- thanks for taking the time to read :)

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  18. This is a GREAT post. As I read this, I kept flashing to scenes of my mom, when she was sick, and stubborn, she wouldn't use a walker or go out with her oxygen tank.
    Mom's are tough....both young and old.
    And your writing.....too good.

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    1. Thanks Mark- Moms ARE tough- so true! It both frustrates us and yet makes us who we are! Thanks for relating :)

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  19. A MA ZING...I felt you climbed into my brain and through my heart penned these words. Thank you. Love.

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    1. I'm honored that you could relate to my experience, and I love how connected we all are through these life experiences! Hugs to you!

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  20. That was beautiful and you are awesome! Thanks for sharing you and your moments with us... :)

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  21. Thank you for taking the time to share them with me! Hugs sweetie!

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    1. Mellmo- that was for you :) The Ipad battery died while I was commenting last night!

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  22. Yes we are all getting older faster than we'd like to.
    We all have aches and pains and none of us knows what the future holds.
    We hope for the best. Lets hope this will be so for your Mom as well.
    Lovely blog.

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    1. Thank you Vic- so greatly appreciated~

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  23. Some of your BEST writing ...so transparent - how brave you are.
    I needed this today. thank you my friend.

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    1. Robin~ I've been overwhelmed with how much this one has resonated with so many~ and it was with sheer trepidation that I hit publish-wondering if it was the right thing to do. Thank for reassuring me it was :)

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  24. This hit me right between the eyes. I'm sort of there with my own mother & need to shake the 12 year-old me. God is watching, and so are my kids. Thank you.

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    1. Candy- so great to see you here! Ugh- its a tightrope act most days, isn't it? It just gave me some reprieve to admit I don't always fulfill that role in the way I want- its a relief to know I am not alone in this :) Thank you for visiting friend!

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  25. How perfectly God times things. I had just checked in a day or so ago, and somehow missed this post until today. After 30 years of fake peace, I brought things into the light, naming the elphant in the room and sweeping the rug back off of his body with my own mom. It has turned out so much messier than I had hoped, and the estrangement that has come of it is breaking my heart. But still I hope. And after reminding her that I still love her and that I want a good relationship once we get through this mess, I wait in the quiet, knowing that she can't yet say the same to me, but hoping it will happen.

    And the liver thing? There is an adopted mom in my life who has been my rock since moving to this country almost seven years ago. She has a similar thing, apparently from taking a hormone supplement so many years ago. We watch her ammonia levels go up and down, and pray that all the other levels are good. My heart sinks when she's yellow and quiet and too tired to stand during worship, but it soars with joy when her skin looks less yellow and her eyes twinkle with mischief again. It's an up and down journey, and my heart begs for healing for her, for this mom who has been a mom to me when my own wasn't able.

    All this is to say that my heart found a place to rest in quiet and understanding here in this post of yours today. Thank you for that.

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    1. Oh sweet friend- I'm so sorry to hear of the mess and the estrangement. "Fake peace," its that very thing that drives me into "real" as much as I can... I hope for you too- I hope she can and that the elephant can just be slayed altogether. And I too feel blessed that others have come into my life that nourish and nuture in the way I craved long ago- thank goodness for adopted moms :)

      Thank YOU for sharing with me- I walk away with a tiny piece restored just from knowing I am not alone...

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  26. I love your brilliant writing and enjoyed reading the comments too. It is interesting that most of us identify with your post as though we too could have written it (but none of us so well). I love your honesty and wish I could be so transparent. I would love to say exactly what you said. And I mean exactly. I would have to set up an anonymous blog to say what I think, lol.

    My Mother is a tough one and as I am spending more time with her I am being transported back to childhood too. And it aint much fun. Perhaps it is because my father is no longer here and I am seeing things I never did before. I don't know.

    I am caring for my sister with Parkinsons Disease (and other issues) and also help my mother when needed. My sister is in her early 50s and is extremely disabled and has been for 30 years of so. My mother is considerable older and has nothing wrong with her. At all. However, I find my mother far more difficult than my sister. I feel like screaming at her not to be so selfish when her own daughter is so sick. But then she had years and years of looking after my father so perhaps she is aching for someone to care for her too and pay her attention. We humans are so complex at times.

    Funnily enough, my three sisters and I have been discussing this very issue for the first time - shame you cannot join us for a Skype hook up lol. I am lucky that I have sisters to share it with. I think it is incredibly tough on you as the only daughter. And you are right. Who mothers you?

    I guess we are shaped by people in our life and by our circumstances but seeing my mother at this stage of her life has made me reassess my own life and relationships. I really do not want to be a selfish old cow lol. To her now or to my own daughter later . So I am sucking up my mother's perceived comments, criticism etc and just getting on with it and doing what I can, when I can. I am treating her the way I would like to be treated (and I bite my tongue a lot).


    I also found that it was a good idea to access as many community and government services as I could (house cleaning etc). It takes the pressure off everyone a bit.

    I wish your mother the best Vicky and I wish for you lots of patience and understanding. But you are only human too so I wish you a big hug cos it aint easy at all expecially at this point in your life. Life is a bloody intersting journey hey?

    Yes, like everyone said, a book......

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  27. This is such a beautiful post. Your ability to lean into and bare your vulnerabilities is a blessing to your readers.

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  28. This is undoubtedly the best post I've read in the recent past. There are just so many things about our parents that we detest. But it's always easier on the heart to give away love than resentment. Like you rightfully said..It's hard, but I guess this is one of our life lessons.

    I am deeply touched by this

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