Friday, February 28, 2014

Does the CareGiving Ever Stop?

An article about end-of-life caregiving triggers this post.  It's an old article, but I just read it today. .  Evidently a frequent question is: "Is there life after caregiving, and if so, what is it like?"  Kind of like the question "Is there life after losing a spouse, and if so, what is it like?" 

End-of-life caregiving can be 12 days, 12 weeks, 12 months or 12 years.  It will leave its mark.   There a website for former caregivers.  I'm going to explore it .  

If you were fortunate enough to have warning of your mate's death, and engaged in end-of-life care giving, what sort of mark did it leave on you?  I've participated in two end-of-life care giving periods.  They couldn't have been more different.  What was end-of-life caregiving like for you?  I'd love to hear your answer.  Below is my answer, a revised version of my comment to the article.

"My two end-of life care giving periods transformed me. The first period was for my mother, who had her problems.  Never warm and fuzzy, she grew nastier as her Alzheimer’s progressed.  She viciously turned on her caregivers like a cornered animal.  My tri-weekly visits were difficult to absorb and recover from.  Her death released me from pain and obligation.  Once finished, my husband and I bounced back with a well earned vacation.

The second period, for my husband, began two years later with his diagnosis of advanced stage Multiple Myeloma. I was told by his health team early on, that his needs must be my priority 24/7/365, if he was to survive at all. The burden and the opportunity of end-of-life care were mine.  We could have hired live-in help, but I feared my own end-of-life welfare would be jeopardized if we spent too much money. So we 'only' hired outdoor help, cleaning services and counseling. 

His 'good' death three years later left me with both extreme fatigue and profound self respect for his and my success against all odds.   Maybe my new confidence helped me deal with care giver exhaustion, because I didn't pressure myself to recover too quickly.  Maybe it helped me attack that anchorless feeling of grief we all know. I don't know.  I began a period of soul searching.  I created a blog of musings to sort my life out and choose my next step.

After many many many steps of recovery, I'm opening my heart again and maintaining an inner zone of safety and comfort.  Well, on good days I choose this.  End-of-life care giving was transformative in a good way ultimately.   From the compassion I gained caring for my husband in his most vulnerable condition, came a new depth of concern and appreciation for a motherless and partnerless woman - me .  I am indeed lucky."

Care giving doesn't stop.  It only transfers its target.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Who IS That Woman on Yonder Horizon?

Oh, God.  Is she ?!?  Is She?!?  ME?    The lovelorn widow pining for yesteryear?  Or that spiked heel cougar whose clothes looks poured on?  Is she that old lady playing solitaire while American Pickers and Extreme Makeover is on the telly?  Is she that eye catching woman in Advanced Style?  Is she that know it all that doesn't know when to stop butting in?   She's not that third one in the line dancing at the senior center, is she?  Oh.  Is she now head of that corporation?  Is she the one with the 'phoenix rising from the ashes' memoir on Amazon?  WOW.  She makes widowhood look FUN !

Maybe I'm this woman?  The one who's singing "It's cloud's illusions I believe" ?  Better that than the silver haired church lady handing out dessert after service.  Forgive me, God.  I love You.  I really do.

I've got to think about this.  Now that I'm letting  Project Rematch disappear over the horizon behind me, I can no longer claim to be the "Woman between husbands".  Oh, God. I liked that self image.  It gave me so much hope.  Maybe it's a good sign I'm facing the future without this prop.  "Stiff upper lip sensual artist gardener athlete writer homeowner lady"?    Maybe it will do.

 Makes me think of Maslow.

Who am I to be without a 'thee'?

Just the fact that I'm asking this question anew means I've climbed up a level or two.   Ready to make of life what I can with the ingredients I have.  Remember how stunned we were when life fell apart?  How can we be prepared for widowhood?  Even the best laid plans...  Maslow, you help me see how far I've come.

So many decisions we face, starting at the bottom.  First level -  do we keep the house?  Yes?  Can we afford it? Yes?   Can manage it on our own?  Yes?   Second. Third level - Do we move closer to our family for safekeeping and community?  No? Can we make enough new friends?  Yes?   Fourth level - Without the consistent mirror of one who loves us, who are we now?  Not  "Woman between husbands" for me any more.  But I'm learning self compassion.  Fifth level -  Is my finest self there on the horizon, or did her finest hour pass?

Look!  Yonder woman on the horizon!  Yes!  That's you!  Can you imagine 100 acts of kindness for her?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dancing on My Husband's Grave: Part Two - Dating

What does it take to date on your late husband grave?   Will a skeletal hand rise from the grave to lock my ankle and crush all 26 bones?   Will he inhabit this ghostly realm and haunt my bedroom when I make love in our bed?  What if he falls out of love with me, since I've fallen out of love with him?

Does anybody but a widow get how huge a step dating is?  I'm not talking desperation dating, the 'I can't stand to be alone' dating.  Not the 'I'm getting my mojo back with a stiff drink' dating.  I'm talking about 'I'm letting go' dating.  The 'It will be different, and different is O.K.' dating.  Young widows do it.  Older widows do it, less, but they do.  I fall somewhere in the middle, not young not old.  Personally, I psyched myself up for the  'It will be different, even better' dating.

I'd seen my 75 year old neighbor recover her omp-pah-pah after her husband of 38 years died.  She played with her new boyfriend for eight years.  He was by her side as she went into the great beyond.  Who wouldn't like second chances?   Besides, one guy I knew said I was 'an animal' on a bicycle.  Wasn't this a sign?

Omp-pah-pah rising.  The key to my heart is in my hand, and a gentleman may gain it.  Enter project Dating.   Many men responded.  Three men got the keys.    Mr. Wide Horizons,  Mr. Pleasure Maker, and  Mr. Best Friend.  Unfortunately, I need these three lovely men in one dear person.  

God!  They gave me such great gifts.  My heart woke up.  My sex drive came roaring back.  I regained that delicious relevance I feel when a good man's heart beats strongly because I love him, too.  I guess my 'loving muscles' are in pretty good shape.  But right now I need time out.  Maybe when spring comes...  I can go either way, solo or joined, though solo is winning at the moment.  But at least I have a choice, and that's made all the difference.

And my fears? No hand ever reached up from the grave to crush my ankle.  No ghost haunts my bedroom.  No love has been lost.  All that's missing now are chains in my heart holding me back from embracing a wonderful life.

Happy Valentine's Day, all
I would so love to hear your experiences dating.  As much as we learn about who's out there, we learn about ourselves.  Pretty cool.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Dancing on My Husband's Grave: Part One - Simplicity

O.K.  Please refrain from calling the police because this widow is showing inordinate glee.

What I have is a full blown case of resolved grief.   WooHoo!  I mean, this was the whole point of writing this blog.    Resolved grief.   Happy feet!!

How'd this little episode of glee erupt?  This past weekend I went through scads of photographs. 1953 on.  These little beauties ended up sorting themselves into piles.

This is My Life
  1. Before 'him'.  Little girl me, teenage me, young adult me, family, friends, school, work place, my boyfriends
  2. Family from my side
  3. Courtship.  Wedding
  4. The two of us
  5. Him, just him 
  6. Me, just me, during and after the marriage
  7. Our homes, including the ones on wheels
  8. Family on his side
The new categories, #1 - 7, are stored in tidy white boxes upstairs.  Category 8?  That last category, #8, is now in one of those sturdy 18 gallon storage containers in my basement, alongside other pieces of his life worth keeping.  No doubt these containers will withstand my periodic basement floods.

Category 8 is for his parents, brother, nephews and nieces and cousins.  Most of these photographs were taken at weddings and funerals and holidays at very fancy places, including a couple of horse farms.  Yes, my dearly departed was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  The poor man had to suffer through debutante balls, a first marriage with lots of hoopla, and eventually, the stern and vocal disappointment from his father.  For you see, my fellow didn't grow up to lead a Fortune 500 company like his Dad did.  Nope. That fellow of mine spit that silver spoon out of his mouth and hitched himself to a sweet middleclass artist who lived in Greenwich Village.  Yes, we were invited to major family events.   But when my dearly departed became sick with cancer, only one of the clan - his brother - contacted him at all.  Not a smidgen of support for him, for his children, for me.  He was deathly ill for three years!  When my husband died, none of them attended the funeral.  Well, his brother couldn't come to the funeral because he had to attend a golf tournament at his country club.  Yes, pictures of my late husband's family belong in the basement.

WooHoo!  No in-laws!
I did discover one tiny 3 1/2 x 5'" photo that feels very sweet.  This one I may frame.  If so, it would be the only photographic reminder of him in my home.  The rest of the reminders are in my heart.  With these, I dance.

1987  The first summer in our new home
Nothin' holdin' me down.

Stay tuned for Part Two...Dancing On My Husband's Grave - Dating. This gal's experience, anyway!
Can you imagine the day when you will be extraordinarily happy, or humbly happy, or just a little bit happy?