Gratitude. Like it or not.

Phew. How to even start. I guess first by saying that I promise not to write about this topic every single week from here on out. But it’s a promise with a lot of holes in it at the moment. So, thank you for humoring me.

Remember that time my blog took a turn to parental care, loss and grief? No? It was now. Not the loss, loss – but still, the loss. It’s been an eighty-two day week by my count. Too long – but not long enough. As I was settling into the guest house this evening – I felt a new-to-this-week emotion. Gratitude. What the shit?

Right, an abbreviated back story. On the evening of August 17th, a switch flipped in my mother’s head – and it’s still mostly switched. I have felt just about every emotion since – but certainly not gratitude. We were on our annual family beach blast – all having arrived the previous day. My mother was definitely off, though not terribly so. But between starting dinner on that Monday night and finishing, she became completely unresponsive and mostly unable to walk. At first, we all (separately) thought ‘she’s just exhausted‘ – after all, she was just a few weeks out from back surgery after another slip at home. The surgery was minor – the third time actually that she’d had it – just a little bone glue. But it was evident that something was not right. It took five people to get her into the motor home and into her chair. I will right more about this on a future date when I’m more ready – but, the summary is, an ambulance was called and her vacation relocated to the Grand Strand Medical Center in North Myrtle Beach. I think we all thought she’d be back to the RV in a day or two. Except no. Summary number two – she spent two weeks there – barely communicative, unable to eat without assistance. Unable to do anything without assistance. after two weeks at GSMC and a whirlwind thirty minutes last Tuesday, she was transported back to North Carolina.

Gratitude. Go away. Where were you coming from?

Positive emotions had been mostly absent for weeks as we, as a family, tried to figure out why on a random Monday night, Mom’s brain decided to take us on a new journey without asking anybody if we wanted to go. Gratitude? Pass. Glimpses of luck, yes – that we were all together when this happened, or that Grand Strand was just as confused as we were and willing to do as much as possible to figure this out, that we were all able to help Dad (one who is still learning to ask for help) in our own ways and that we were able to return to our homes on time when Dad hinted at needing some space (I think he was quite tired of everybody staring at him).

Gratitude, though? No, thank you.

Yet, there it was again – a feeling of gratitude randomly jumping into my head on the fourth day since I’d done a u-turn from Virginia back to the beach. The two weeks ‘after’ at home were up and down until I felt on the verge of panic to get back south to see my mother. Dad dropped a tiny hint of “I think I’d like it if you came back down” and that was all it took. Rich, sensing the urgency while understanding the added bonus of my ongoing driving anxiety, directed packing for all three of us – likely knowing only I would be leaving – but prepping in case irrational thoughts got in my way. Monday morning I drove as fast as permitted to South Carolina. I prayed most of the way. I’m sure God was surprised to hear me on the line. I felt a bit sheepish…‘hey there, I know it’s been a long time, but…’. I just wanted to arrive in at the hospital in time to see my mom again. Just in case. There’d been chatter of a transfer to either an acute rehab center or nursing home – but no departure date or time. Beds were hard to come by in Myrtle Beach (thank you!) and had to be grabbed quickly. The idea that she could be transferred to a rehab center or nursing home where today’s protocol equaled no visitors was sending my heart and head in a frenzy. So, for six hours, I asked for that chance.

And I made it. Gratitude? No. Relief.

I was able to see Mom on Monday. Tuesday, my Dad and I swapped places at lunchtime – him heading back to the campground, me strolling into the hospital armed with pictures to show her – hoping it might spark her memory or her voice or her focus or anything at all that would give me some, what, sense of this ending better than it seemed like it was going to? And she did react to the pictures – smiling and pointing. And just while we were settling into trying to name the occupants of the pictures, chaos began. A nurse popped her head in asking if I knew Mom would be leaving in thirty minutes and What!?!?! Where?!?!? How?!?!?! Time began skipping as Dad rushed back from his lunch and Mom was prepped. She was heading to North Carolina – another prayer answered – as it meant Dad could as well. He was ready to be home, beginning to understand that his wife of fifty-seven years would likely never join him – but also beginning to be ready to walk through the next door put before him. Which was better than I was doing.

Gratitude. For real. Stop popping into my head.

Dad and I arrived back at their house on Wednesday – both frazzled and trying to shake three hours of driving that provided three hours too much of time to think. Mom had arrived the night before – but we were advised not to bother coming to the rehab center as we wouldn’t be allowed in. Okay. We knew that was coming but it was still a blow that put us on edge. Did she understand what was happening? Was she okay? Wednesday afternoon, we were invited to go sit outside the admissions desk (outside, outside – with an 107 degree heat index), sweating while we answered questions (heat sweat, anxiety sweat, super refreshing) and signed forms, making Mom’s stay official. Gratitude – I was starting to acknowledge it, I just didn’t know why. It felt very important to me that I was there with Dad – to hold his hand and help fill in the blanks and to join him in a drive back home that was very obviously short one person. We went home and I made a mental map of the rest of the week. There would be cleaning (though not very much), cooking (of which Dad is totally capable, but apparently stress had turned me into an Italian grandmother), Zoom lessons (of which Dad was totally not capable nor excited about) and a strong effort not to follow him around the house asking him if he was okay because I was absolutely riding a roller coaster of emotions.

Gratitude. Fine. Maybe you’re not that annoying.

The week and the time it provided for Dad and I to bear down together – I was beginning to realize it was a gift. Each time I felt recognized that – with a jolt of gratitude – well, I was actually slightly annoyed at the ‘good’ feeling interrupting my sorrow. But I did recognize the moments as important – as they happened and as they will be remembered in years to come. We found ourselves laughing – surprising both of us (oh, we’re laughing!! I’m laughing!! My stomach doesn’t feel sick right at this moment!!). We told stories – some about Mom, some not. We pushed each other to keep moving forward. We cried. I mean, not in front of each other because we’re not that woke, but, well, maybe a little sometimes. We had extended time alone together, probably for the first time ever, without Mom lurking in the next room.

Gratitude. This time together was a gift and I was becoming thankful for it. Except when I was pissed because what I really wanted was more time with Mom. I guess not all gifts come wrapped with a pretty emotional bow. I knew I was helping prepare Dad for a new kind of life and prepare myself for a new kind of life and…can we even do this? I have no idea. I suppose it doesn’t matter to the universe if we think we can or cannot. Or if we want to do this or if we do not. We don’t. I’m actually shocked that this is happening to me – this big thing – I’d much rather it be happening to someone else and I could just be there as a supportive friend, passing along advice and tissues.

Although I guess that’s exactly what I’m doing.

***

Mom’s current diagnosis is early onset dementia – though I’m holding out for a Lyme’s test (grasping for anything..). The mystery is why, on that night, everything changed so drastically. She’s been tested multiple times for strokes, seizures, lesions and tumors. To be continued…

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