Monday, August 11, 2008

Bittersweet

Molly and I celebrated our 28th anniversary this past weekend. It wasn’t so high on the scale of romance as some of our recent anniversaries have been, but it was rich in an entirely different dimension. . .

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Four years ago, my mother (technically, I suppose she’s my step-mother; but since she married my dad when I was 10, I’ve only ever called her ‘Mom’) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. We live a couple states away, so we didn’t see many of the early signs, but Dad and my sisters, who saw her every day, started seeing enough little ‘lapses’ to take her in for an evaluation. Even so, we’ve never seen the ‘hollowed-out shell’ that people seem to always talk about when they talk about Alzheimer’s. Mom seemed bright and cheerful, maybe even more than she’d been before (although a lot of that was chemically-induced), albeit increasingly prone to occasionally bizarre lapses of memory.

Until recently. Over the last few months, my sisters (and my brother’s wife, who actually sees more of Mom and Dad than anyone else) have become more and more upset and alarmed about Mom’s condition, and its effects on Dad. Dad is 86, and he’s 13 years older than Mom. I’m sure the ‘plan’, such as it was, was always for Mom to take care of Dad as he got old. And now, those tables have been turned, in a way that almost seems cruel. Dad is still very clear-headed, but he’s old and tired, and trying to look after Mom has stressed him horribly. My whole life, my dad has always been one of those omni-competent 'Greatest Generation' guys, and it's been disconcerting to see him so completely overwhelmed

Finally, a couple weeks ago, Dad announced that he and Mom were moving into an assisted-living facility, and within a week, they moved. Apparently, he’d been laying the groundwork for the move for a year or so; it was a great situation for them – Mom would have access to the care she needs, but they could still live together, at least for now. But Dad hadn’t told anyone what he was up to, so it came straight out of left field for all us kids.

So, last week, in talking with my sister-in-law, Molly and I came to the conclusion that we needed to go down to help with the situation. First, Mom and Dad’s house needed to be prepared for sale (in the midst of the worst housing market in a generation; *sigh*). Thirty-five years’ worth of *stuff* needed to be disposed of (and Dad is a packrat of more than modest proportions). And Mom needed to be ‘looked after’ so everyone else could work on the house, and Dad could get a bit of stress-relief.

So Molly and I drove down and stayed with my brother and his wife, who live about five blocks from Mom and Dad. I helped my brothers and sisters and their spouses clean the house, which was sort of décor-frozen in the 70s. I took down maybe ten of those wall-mounted track-shelf units. And my dad had to have been the ceiling-hook king of the Universe. I must have taken down something on the order of 100 ceiling hooks. I am not kidding. Swag lamps (remember those?), hanging planters, and every other imaginable thing you ever heard of that could be hung from a ceiling, and probably a few that haven’t occurred to you, besides. My sisters/SILs went through the house, organizing things into boxes for a garage sale.

And we had the inevitable ‘Distribution of the Heirlooms’, in which my siblings and I identified the items which were too precious to put into the garage sale, and decided who would get them. I dreaded this distribution; I have seen several families nearly unravel, quarreling over who would get which precious heirloom from Mom and Dad, or Grandma, and I really didn’t want that to happen to us. And, with our ‘Yours, Mine and Ours’ family, there are a few additional landmines to be dodged in the course of distributing the *stuff*.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The tone of the discussion was much more one of, ‘such-and-such is a precious item, and we can’t let it leave the family – why don’t YOU take it?’ ‘Oh, I think YOU could make much better use of it than I could – why don’t YOU take it?’ And so on. Even some really nice items, there just wasn’t any quarreling, and in the end, everyone was genuinely happy that certain of the siblings would take certain precious heirlooms. It was really quite cool.

And Molly spent the weekend looking after Mom. Every day, I took her up to Mom and Dad’s apartment. Dad and I would have breakfast together, and Molly tended to Mom all day. I won’t go into any detail about what-all that entailed, but by the end of the day, Molly was pretty well wrung-out. But at least Dad got some respite from having to tend to Mom for one weekend. They have a caretaker five days a week, which is nice, but the weekends end up being pretty stressful, so my sisters and SILs are setting up a rotation for the weekends. And Molly and I will be taking our turn whenever we can.


So, in several ways, the weekend was bittersweet. It was sad, emptying out the house that I’d been ‘coming home to’ for 35 years, even though I’d hardly ever ‘lived’ there. It was sad, seeing my Mom in such a ‘hollowed-out’ state (and realizing that, four years in, it still has lots of time to get worse).

But, Saturday night, as we all flumped on the floor with our beer (even Molly and my sisters, who rarely drink beer) at the end of a long day, we had a wonderful time reminiscing about the life of our family, and our parents. We spoke more openly and affectionately with each other than we have in many years. Holidays are great family times, but the relating can be kind of ‘by the book’, so to speak. This was just us, talking honestly about our experience of our family; mostly recalling the good times, but some of the bad ones, too. Honestly, it was one of the best ‘family times’ we’ve had in many years, and it gave me a level of confidence that our family will survive the passing of our parents, which is something I’ve wondered about, from time to time.

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Molly and I were pretty much whipped after all that, and too tired for any very strenuous anniversary observations. I imagine that, once we’ve had a chance to recuperate a little, we’ll manage some more suitable way to mark another year of marital bliss.

But honestly, getting together with my brothers and sisters to take care of our parents was a fitting enough way for us to spend our anniversary, don’t you think?

11 comments:

Cocotte said...

First, Happy Anniversary! I went back and read about some of your previous celebrations - WOOT!

The parental thing is sooo hard. We are going through something similar with my FIL (Parkinson's). I can only hope that the siblings will step up to the plate like yours did when necessary.

lime said...

i'm just so glad to hear your worst fears were not realized and that what had as its reason for occurring, a less than happy reason, turned out to be such a positive family time.

happy anniversary to you two and i trust that when the time is right the celebration will be more to your liking.

Sailor said...

Happy Anniversary! Ours was yesterday, but since Lynn is still at the cabin, we had another deferred celebration.

I found that when my mom died, back in 2005, that the immediate gathering of my brothers and sister, and the week following as we setup the funeral and interment (long distance, took forever, and they lost her, I should blog that sometime)-

anyway, that period was sad, but also the best time that we've spent together as adults, ever. We did as you did, reminiscing, open talking, and that part was great.

I'm sorry that you are going to have to get through the next phase, but it's great that you are all there for one another to help each other deal with it, and cope with your own stresses because of it.

Therese in Heaven said...

Happy Anniversary!

I am so sorry that you are having to deal with "the long goodbye" with your mother. That is very difficult, I know, having had to go through that with my grandmother.

You must have a really wonderful family to have had the peace you did with dividing up the stuff. That truly is a blessing.

for a different kind of girl said...

Happy Anniversary!

I think it really says something about the strength of your family that you can work together so well in a time of such stress. I know that the road ahead may only get more difficult, but it seems as though you all have the ability to see past those times. It's enviable and admirable. I've watched both sides of my family tear apart over far less, and self-created hurt feelings still prevail.

Mud said...

Happy Anniversary .....

... and prayers for you and your family in this difficult time.

C-Marie said...

Happy Anniversary!

Oh what a relief it was to read of the warmth and love of your family as a task, a task none of us want to face, had to be weathered. I'll agree with the others, I've seen a lot of nasty things come out of similar situations over far less... sad.
Actually your post was quite inspirational, knowing that some where out there, there's so much to be thankful for - especially when others are faced with difficult decisions in their own times of need.

My thoughts are with you and your family...

Desmond Jones said...

Cocotte - Yeah, we've had some really fun anniversaries in recent years. Molly was just saying last night that we need not to lose track of getting in a more fitting 'celebration' of our anni. . . I like her thinking.

And blessings to you husband's family. . .

Lime - It reminds me a bit of those 'natural disasters', when everybody just pulls together, in the midst of bad circumstances. . .

And it seems as tho a 'more fitting' celebration is on its way. . .

Sailor - Deferred celebrations can be good. Just so long as they aren't 'deferred forever'. . .

And it sounds as tho you should tell that story someday. . .

Therese - Thanks.

'The Long Goodbye' is an apt way of putting it. Altho, at a certain point, you feel like you're waving at a ship that's sailed over the horizon. . .

And our family is far from perfect, but there really is a lot to appreciate about it. . .

DKG - Thanks. The *stuff* part was almost comical, at times. I think most of us already have more *stuff* than we know what to do with, and the thought of bringing home a truckload of more *stuff* was sorta, "What the hell am I gonna do with more *stuff*? So it almost became a contest to see who could leave the table with the least *stuff*. If they weren't 'precious heirlooms', we might've just pitched 'em all. . .

Mud - Yer name ain't Mud with me, bro. . .

And thanks. . .

CM - Thanks.

And, like you, I've seen families get blown up by stuff that just left me scratching my head, so I was very gratified that it didn't play that way with us. . .

Bunny said...

I'm so very sorry about your Mom's deteriorating condition. Sounds like the cleaning and sorting process was good for you and your siblings. I know we found it kind of cathartic going through my grandparents' house after my grandfather died (grandma had died 11 years earlier). My mother and her brother settled some things that had kept them apart for many years (and he died a couple years ago, so I'm glad they had that reconciliation) and going through all the stuff ended up a little fun even. Heartbreaking, but fun.

Glad you celebrated your anniversary in such a good way (and no, I don't necessarily mean the hot monkey lovin'). That's good too, of course. Though I must admit that we passed up the wedding night sex altogether. We were tired and figured we had the rest of our lives together, we could wait a day or so. We've found anniversary sex to be dangerous. There's a reason both our children were born in the same month :-)

Desmond Jones said...

Bunny - Yeah, 'cathartic' is probably a part of it. Altho, Mom's not gone yet; we've got a ways to go, and the worst is most likely yet to come. . .

Glad your mom and her brother could get reconciled. Some of the worst regrets I've heard about are over reconciliations that didn't happen. . .

Hmmmmm. . . let's see. . . Anniversary sex would lead to babies in late April/early May. . . Three out of eight could qualify for that, if you count it sorta loosely (the last three, in fact; wonder if that's significant?)

And there was simply no way we were gettin' to sleep without sex on our wedding night. I'd have laid there, staring at the ceiling for hours if we hadn't. . .

Sensuous Wife said...

For the first time in a month, I have some time to catch up on Reader and read my friend's blogs. This post caught my attention because of the Alzheimer's.

My Grandma is on hospice care and will pass away in a matter of days. So far, our family's interactions have been loving and positive, albeit with many tears. It warmed my heart to hear how your family pulled together. and Happy Belated Anniversary. I'll have to do some more reading to see how you and Molly chose 'a more fitting celebration'.
~Shula