Sunday, April 24, 2011

Holding both sorrow and love at the same time

My church's "caring quilt" (made by me and friend Lynne)
that sits at the foot of my mother's bed
 The last two weeks have been the hardest weeks in all of my 52 years. My last post ("Doing hope") told the story of one of those weeks. The second week tested my ability to hope even further.

Mom ended up in the ER one week ago. After many tests and visits from specialists, it was determined that my mother has another intestinal blockage, and has suffered a heart attack as well. With no heart disease in the family, that last one was a shocker. It was no doubt related to the stress she's been under for 9 months and especially these last two as health issues have been piling up related to either the cancer or the chemo.

It was a really tough day for all of us. The entire family was there including my sister who was down from Maine with her husband and my seven-year-old nephew.

The docs hooked mom up to all sorts of machines and got her comfortable and then we headed home. Upon returning home, we found the world's greatest dog, our Brittany, in distress. We rushed her to our vet's office and it became obvious that she had suffered some sort of major neurological episode. We had no choice but to put her to sleep.

Ron and I have processed very little grief associated to Brittany, though we know it will catch up with us. There's no time or emotional space for that grief right now. I will dedicate an entire post to Brittany in the coming weeks since she was a creature that filled my life with joy for almost 11 years.

After consulting with many of mom's doctors, it was decided that there would be no more surgery and no more chemo. We are in a palliative care mode which will shift to a hospice mode probably sooner rather than later.

It is getting increasingly difficult for me to process all of this sorrow. As always, I try to buck up and get through it for everyone else's sake. Still, I try to find a life lesson in all of it. I'm still a bit of a mystic and feel that the universe always has something it wants us to learn from all of our experiences - good and bad.

I'm still sorting out the lessons but there's one thing I have learned. My friends, my family, my husband, my minister, and my church hold me in a way that I cannot explain. I feel enveloped in a kind of love that cannot be expressed in a Hallmark way.

It's there in the hugs from the amazingly wise and kind high schoolers from the church youth group I co-lead. I find it in the meal sent home to my father from my sister-in-law after our Easter celebration today. I hear it in the many private discussions I've had with my mother's doctors who have treated her and grown to love her since last July.

I will get through all of this grief because I have to, and I will learn to let go and trust the universe to teach me more lessons along the way.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Doing hope

I have a quote-a-day calendar that Ron gave me for Christmas. He bought it because the box it came in had the picture to the left as its cover. My friend Moira sent me that avatar months before and I immediately printed it and stuck it on my refrigerator.

There was a lot going on then as there is now and so I've kept that mantra in plain view at all times.

It was a tough week in the Nolan family and I needed to keep that quote handy. Dad ended up in the hospital for a few days and I took care of mom while my brother coordinated Dad's care.

I struggled this week both emotionally and physically. More than I have since mom's cancer journey started last July. My chronic fatigue syndrome is always there. Like a flu you just can't shake. I've lived with it for eight years and will continue to do so, I expect, till the day I die.

To make matters worse, in the middle of this stressful week I contracted the norovirus. Strangely enough, although I have a chronic illness, I tend not to be susceptible to the contagious stuff. I may get a minor cold once a year but that's usually it. I guess the universe figures I've paid my dues.

Dad returned from the hospital, recovered and well, and I returned home. At home yesterday - where I didn't have to keep up my caregiver facade - I was surprised to find a lot of overwhelming feeling spilling out of me. It was the meltdown that I've been pretending I could avoid for the past 9 months. I had this grand illusion that I could think myself through all the feelings. "You will have no regrets." "You are as strong as your mother." "This is all part of life." "Keep calm and carry on."

Maybe it was the exhaustion, maybe it was the norovirus that kicked the crap out of me, or maybe it was just the proverbial last straw. Whatever it was, it wasn't pretty.

Ron, the world's greatest guy, answered his phone while he was at lunch. What he heard was a sobbing, mumbling woman who could barely speak because all of her energy was being used to keep her shoulders from heaving themselves to the floor. He said, "I'll be right home."

I spent most of the afternoon sitting on the couch with my rock of a husband and a box of kleenex. Then I was sent to bed to sleep.

There were lots of feelings that made their way out of my mouth in between sobs while I sat on that couch with Ron. Some of it made no sense but feelings are not about sense. When I got to the point where I was too exhausted to cry anymore, I said to Ron, "So what am I supposed to do now?" He said, "Get some rest."

I know I didn't articulate my question correctly. I honestly didn't know how to at that moment. But I knew I hadn't found the answer I was looking for. That is, until this morning when I ripped off yesterday's page on my quotations calendar. " not a feeling; it is something you do." -- Katherine Paterson.

And there it was. Something I could do, not just feel.

I can't stop my feelings from overtaking me sometimes. But I can hope. I'm not foolish enough or in denial enough to hope that a cure is found for pancreatic cancer in time to save my mom. But there is still much to hope for.

I can hope for more treasured moments with mom and dad that will carry me through. I can hope that my loved ones will continue to be there for me as they have all along. I can hope that tomorrow will be a better day. And I can hope that no matter what I'm feeling, I can still choose hope.