Thursday, April 16, 2015

Literally a 5 tissue post. You've been warned. (YMMV)

There's a lot of things I'm in charge of here that I could not care less about: Making sure NLYNephew (now 14.11 yrs old, thank you very much) takes out the trash is one of these responsibilities.  I hate Thursdays, because it is a constant refrain, from the time he comes home after school until he finally takes the trash out (tonight he did it about 10 minutes ago, a little bit after 9 pm). Not from me - I really only remind him the once, or - if I feel like he's closing up shop for the night and it has slipped his mind - maybe right before he goes to bed (which always earns me a huge groan, no question). He knows it's trash night; his dad knows it's trash night; EVERYBODY knows it's trash night.  Why it has to be a big battle every week is a mystery to me, but somehow it always is.


I don't know why I started this post that way.  I really just wanted to say that sometimes things here are still really freaking hard.  Hard in ways I didn't expect - I really miss the jokey, sweet relationship that my nephew and I had before I became the one he has to check with to see if he can run to Dunkin Donuts with his friends after school.  Before I became the one who puts corn on his plate and expects him to eat it. 

Before I became the woman-shaped-person who's taking up space next to the giant gaping hole his mother left behind.


Do you ever write other people's stories in your head and try to figure out how they'd sound? Especially ones that include you? I've been doing that a lot lately, trying to look forward and backwards at the same time for the kids so suddenly in my charge.  Trying to use our experiences as predictors for theirs, when I know that won't work, but I don't have any other grand ideas.  Trying to see into the future and prevent their damaged hearts from being crushed, as if by magic.

 I wonder, sometimes, what role they've casted me in, or will cast me in, in their eventual memories.

  Is that a normal thing to wonder? I don't even know.

 But I can't help it: sometimes snippets of things pop into my head and I wonder: Is that the truth of how they see me now? Is that the story playing in their head?

 Recently, I had this moment of - I don't know - disconnect and not deja vu but an equally awkward "how is this my real life?" kind of feeling that left me off balance. And when my niece and her cousin walked in at half past eight, tumbling in all loudness and loopy from their grandparents' house down the road, I had this piece of narration that just popped into my head, as if I were seeing the scene from the outside.

"We were a few minutes late, and I could tell by the look on Auntie's face that she had noticed. She always noticed things like that, especially when you hoped she wouldn't. She was a constant looming presence now, with Mum gone, and seeing her there - usually spread across the couch with her laptop at a right angle, or twisted up as best she could to squeeze into our one, lone armchair: three pillows, a heating pad and the laptop's glow on her face - gave me the jolt every time I walked through the door. It wasn't her fault, really, but she wouldn't have been camped out at our house otherwise, and we all knew it. If Mum were around, she'd be back at Grammy's and our twice monthly sleepovers would still be something to look forward to, a nice change of pace where we played games all day and ate tacos. But here she was, and here Mum wasn't, and just like a switch, I remembered it all over again."

I realize the scene itself isn't particularly charitable to me - although I don't feel it's unjustly harsh either - it's just that sometimes I can see it on their faces, the re-realization, and I h a t e being the impetus for that, the thing that highlights their loss all over again.

 I'm having a rough couple of days here - It's not just me: there's a lot going on in our family that's good and bad and horrible and up-heaving and life-altering.  And I feel a little lost, sitting here on this couch, with my charges in bed - one of them upset with me because I'm making him do chores, the other listening to her TV because she finds the quiet unnerving, even all these months later. My brother, snoring away upstairs as he's been since right after supper, and he'll probably be awake at three in the morning, and off to work, and another day will start all over again.

 And I wish that the end of the day felt like I'd accomplished something more than surviving.  I wish that I was able to make them happier, or healing, or at least not argue with them about stupid shit that neither of us really cares about except Oh My God Why Do You Have To Act Like A Teenager Right Now??? Could You Not Be Jerk To Me For 10 Minutes, Please???

And the thing is, my nephew is a sweetheart, and I KNOW that. And most of the time, he continues to be that - he's a good kid, with a good heart, and he's doing so great and trying so hard.  And neither of us really understands my role here or our new boundaries and ... it's fucking hard.  It's hard for me, and I'm a grown-up woman, who lost her sister-in-law and misses her, but who won't ever understand what it's like to be 14 and have your mom taken away from you so brutally. 

I know he doesn't blame me, but he kind of also does.

Because I moved in when she got sicker, and she just never got better, and I just never left, and I'm the one who told him it was never going to get better, and I'm the one who made him understand that that was her last day and he'd regret it if he didn't say goodbye, and I'm the one who's STILL HERE and his mom is NOT.  And sure, he's 14 and he's smart enough to know (in his brain) that that doesn't make sense, that I wasn't a cause for that effect, but I also know it doesn't feel wrong, because sometimes he looks at me like he hates me, and it breaks every little piece of my heart.

And I can't show it, because I know that grief doesn't make sense, and I know that he doesn't like feeling it any more than I like seeing it, but, god, what I'd give to go back to a time when looking at me didn't hurt him.

 I know he loves me, and I hope - with all my heart - that this is one of those things that time can fix - because I've loved this boy with my whole heart since the day he was born, and yes: I'm the one who told him his mom was gone, but I'm also the one who snuggled with him through every nap-time and sick day; the one who taught him about the joy of pretzels dipped in fluff; the one who showed him the miracle of bubbles; Who gave him sink baths and solar systems and learned the name of every maritime disaster in the last 100 years; the one he used to call when his parents were fighting and he was frightened. 

I know, eventually, he'll remember those things too, but right now, on a night when he looks at me and sees all that he's missing, what I wouldn't give to trade places with his mum, to let him have her back, to let her fight with him over the damned trash.

Well, now that I've bawled my way through that... I gotta go turn on the dishwasher, and lock us all up safe for the night.  Hope whoever is reading, wherever you are, that you're safe and sound tonight too. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

3 months later.

I miss you guys.

That seems like the place to start.

This is definitely the longest hiatus I have taken from writing here at my blog since I started it (coming up on 10 years ago), and it was unplanned, but pretty unavoidable.

Since my sister-in-law passed 3 months ago, I've been completely absorbed in trying to make things bearable for my brother and his kids, which basically consists of me living on their couch, making sure they don't starve (or, more likely, perish from scurvy, as their interpretation of fruits and vegetables runs more to the 'by the foot' and/or  'fry/chip' variety), pretending my 2nd major in social work 10+ years ago is an acceptable form of grief counseling, and making sure they don't live in filth. (My brother was ever the slob, and devastating grief did not make him MORE likely to pick up after himself.)

I'm not doing it on my own (there are a lot of us on the support staff) but a lot of times - when my niece is shivering her way through an anxiety attack at midnight, or my nephew is having a mini-breakdown that we're both pretending is all about school, or my brother is upstairs wailing his grief away and I can't go up and comfort him or even leave and give him privacy - it can feel like I am.

Normally, periods of emotional upheaval leave me itching to write, and this last little while was both no exception, and so much of an exception you wouldn't believe. There were times I felt as if if I didn't write, I might explode, and there were times were I felt like any words I could possibly write were too small, too insignificant, too useless. Mostly, though, I've just been too exhausted to parse any words at all.

The amount of spoons that this all takes - physically and mentally - is overwhelming. It's a 24-hours a day position, with no breaks or breathers, most times. My niece needs constant reassurance that everyone she loves is not going to just disappear, sometimes to the point of needing to be near me for hours at a stretch, constantly touching and talking and... that is not a thing I am physically capable of doing, most days, but I do it anyways.  My brother needs someone to run herd on his kids during the days he can't get out of bed, even if they're huge balls of tantruming energy, which is not in my wheelhouse, but I do it anyways. My nephew wants me to help him figure out calculus I forgot three seconds after I learned it 20 years ago, through brain fog so thick I put the controller in the refrigerator the other day. Not a great plan, but I do it anyways.

"I do it anyways" seems to be the motto right now, because shit needs doing and I'm the only one around to do it.

But this mentality (and let's face it, that's always my mentality, no matter how many times I try to change it), as you might guess, does not play well with chronic illness. I've been running on the fumes of fumes for at least two of the four months I've been here, and I keep crashing, but still have to push during the crash, because otherwise - as I previously mentioned - shit doesn't get done. And none of that stuff is optional: it's homework and 'my head hurts' and 'why isn't there any food in the house?' and three solid weeks of blizzard conditions and snow days galore. Decisions, big and small; appointments to make and cancel and try to show up at; rules to reinforce and reinforce and reinforce  - because bickering doesn't stop for migraines, and neither do dishes or meals or any of the other things that normally I would stop because it's just me and who cares, but right now it's not just me, and it doesn't stop, and that's hard.

It's all very hard, is mostly what I'm saying, and for every day I can crawl my way through without winding up in the hospital, I am super grateful.

And everybody else is on me to take care of myself better: which is a thing I want to do, a thing I know I need to do, but a thing I can't quite figure out how to do. Because asking for help is only OK if other people can provide it, and somehow everybody else is already doing the best they can here too. And I've definitely used up as much of my own reserves (ha! as if I had reserves. I had... like.... I don't know: gall? Is that a thing? I think that's the thing I mean.) as I could. I've been sicker here than I have been in years - part of it is exactly as I remember from watching these same kids as infants and toddlers, that every germ in creation is somehow called to them and then transferred to me, but another part of it is just being freaking exhausted in a way I've somehow managed to forget during (relatively) good cycles of illness.

I mean, I'm never NOT tired or sore - 20 years this past fall since that was even an option! - but I HAVE been taking care of myself and managing my illnesses for quite a while, and I've worked out all sorts of cheats to make things easier on myself, and so, I haven't had to be CONSTANTLY DOING anything for years (because I know how it wears me out, and is bad for me, and I don't do that anymore), so now, I guess I'm just remembering why. Oh yes: THIS IS THE REASON FOR ALL YOUR ADAPTATIONS, YOU FOOL. This constant exhausted feeling right here, where your brain is Swiss cheese and your white blood cells have declared themselves pacifists and your red blood cells have noped the fuck out of here, and you basically have all the energy of the lump of pillows you're trying to nest in, but you still need to get up and feed the faces of people who are still too young to manage it on their own. (Not that I don't make them do some of their own meals, but an 8-yr-old should not be in charge of feeding herself 3 meals a day, just take my word for it.)

If I've ever doubted that being a spoonie means being a warrior (and I only ever have in my own case, when it seems like the things I do are so little/adaptable in comparison to others), then those doubts are gone now. I could not be fighting any harder just to survive, and to pull these children and my brother along with me, than I am right now.

And, so, the lack of writing.

But I do feel like I'm going to explode without it, so I'm back. Even if I can't promise regularity. Even if the only thing I can promise is that when I show up, I'll have things to say.

I appreciate any of you still out there listening.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

2:41 AM, 10th November, 2014

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that my sister-in-law passed away on November 10th.  She died peacefully - I saw her breathe her last breath, open her eyes, and then, just... never take another one, from the same exact chair I am sitting in to write this post, 12 days later.

She fought so diligently and so hard, for so long, even though she really only had a short time. Her cancer proved to be super-aggressive, and ... towards the end, there wasn't much we could do for her but keep her comfortable, and wait.

That last Sunday was horrible, with last rites, and a house full of family - hers and ours, and theirs - and her being unresponsive by dinnertime. 

That morning, early - like 4:30 in the morning, early - I smelled the sharp scent of urine, and had to feel to see if she'd wet the bed (mostly because, at this point, she was sweating through her clothes so much that she was almost always damp). It was her first bout of incontinence, and - although I knew it boded ill, I did not realize how quickly things would go downhill from there.  I had to wake my brother up to help me change the sheets, and then she took her pain meds and went back to sleep.

A few hours later, she'd woken up in extreme pain, couldn't seem to settle at all. Just kept shifting from one end of the bed to the next, every 5 minutes or so.  She took more pain meds, but was just super uncomfortable and couldn't find a spot that worked for her. She told me her pain was 10/10 and she was crying, almost incoherent.

I woke my brother up again - from the couch this time - and he called the hospice nurse. Who came and different meds were administered, and we - the nurse and I resettled her on the couch, to try to help her find a way to sit with less pain while she waited for the meds to kick in.

It was during this transition that she was last semi-lucid, at least in my presence, and as I sat her down on the couch after yet another 'I'm so uncomfortable, I just need to move' attempt on her part (wordless, though - that's just the impression I got), she leaned over and gave me a kiss on the forehead.

I don't know if she knew who I was then. I don't know if she meant that for me, and I feel guilty that I was the person who got her last kiss. I haven't told anyone in our family that she did it, I don't think (although ... things were pretty intense there for a while last week, so I may have told one of my sisters without thinking about it), but it felt like a "Thank you" and a blessing and - now, knowing it was her last, and she didn't get to give it to my brother or their kids, or even her sister who showed up moments later? Almost a torment.  I still feel gifted by it, always will, but it hurts my heart so much that she's not here to give out anymore.

Shortly after that, her sister came, a family friend who is an actual nurse and knows what the hell she is doing (as opposed to me, who just spent weeks caring for someone I loved and watching them slip away, AGAIN, but was just doing my best and making it up as I went along, and following directions) also arrived, and I moved into a much more peripheral role.

She continued to get worse and worse, becoming unresponsive to everything besides pain, relatively quickly (within a few hours). I let my brother and her sister, and the nurses, be in charge of what they could be in charge of, and I made sure the kids got fed and my parents & sisters got called, and that her sister knew she needed to call her parents and brothers as well. I learned all about the new, liquid meds from the hospice nurse, and gave doses of morphine and ativan and hyamax as the day wore on.

I called the priest, and the funeral home, and the priest again. (And we all know how much I hate making phone calls). We cried, and waited, and held hands, and helped the kids. Gave them a chance to say goodbye, then let the little one curl up into my lap and sob when she walked away. Watched her big brother comfort my big brother as they both sat in tears by my sister-in-law, SisterNc's side.

Watched as her nieces and nephews filtered in and out. Approved as my sister and her husband ordered a regiment's worth of pizzas and made sure everybody got fed. Comforted and cried, and just sat around rubbing smooth patterns into backs, and backs of hands, and anywhere I could reach, really.

Later, her parents and brothers, and my dad and sisters, all cleared out.  We were down to my mom, her sister, the family friend who is a nurse, my brother and I, and a friend who had known them both since the moment they met, some 16 years ago.  Around midnight, it seemed to get dramatically worse, and the med levels increased and the hospice nurse came out again and told us "a matter of hours."

About 2:30, my brother and her sister both decide to go upstairs to get some rest. The nurse-friend, the work-friend and I are sitting in the living room, my mom has snuck outside to get a cigarette.

A quick text from my brother asking me to bump the heat up because it's freezing upstairs, @ 2:37. As I settle back into my chair, I glance over at Nancy, see her breathing is very strange, but I check the book and it is nowhere near time for more meds. So I sit down, and the work friend says to me that she gets an inspirational text every day on her cell phone and starts to read it to me. It says something about "new pathways and being open to new challenges," And that's when I see SisterNc's eyes open, and I notice that she hasn't taken her next breath.

The nurse-friend has noticed too, and is getting up, checking on her, fussing with her. We both know - I can see she knows - that there is no reason to fuss.

It is 2:41 am, on Monday, November the 10th, 2014, and my only sister-in-law, the beloved wife of my brother and mother to two of my favorite people in the entire world, the only sister I ever made instead of came with, has died.

I send my brother a text that reads "you need to come back down, honey", and he must know. He wakes her sister up and doesn't bomb down the stairs. Takes each step, heavily, I can hear it even now. They are both crying as soon as they see us. As soon as they see her.

My mother comes in from the kitchen, seeing us, and begins crying too.

And that was her last day, her last actions, her last minutes, to the best of my recollection. I do not want that kind of thing to be forgotten, even if I am the only one who remembers it.

The past twelve days have been torturous for my brother, and difficult for his children, and so heartbreaking for all of us. I don't know how to help any more than I am, but I fear that it will not be enough.

I am - we all are - doing the best we can.

But it's hard to keep swimming with a broken heart, and hard to hold the pieces together while you wait for even the tiniest bit of it to heal.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Bullet points for the brainless

  • Maleficent was magnificent: I probably like the idea of the story better than the original Sleeping Beauty. Angelina Jolie's cheekbones are RIDICULOUS in that film. 
  • I just want to nap. For like, ever, hours. I miss me a good nap, especially now. 
  • Somehow days are super long and time is super short right now. I despise this phenomena. 
  • I can't remember the last non-cancer related conversation I had with my sister-in-law, and that's making me physically ill, because it was probably our last actual conversation. (That doesn't involve me coaxing her into taking her meds or trying to swallow her food.)
  • I'm ashamed to admit that I watch her breathe, but it's almost more painful to realize how many people I have had to do that for. 
  • I didn't get to go home for a shower at all this week - things got hectic (but the slow, interminable kind of hectic that can only happen mid health-crises) and schedules didn't line up. But I'm getting one this week. Almost definitely. 
Now it's pill time again; I have to talk to the hospice nurse tomorrow about when it's better just to not try to wake her vs when I should be absolutely making her wake up to take things. (I feel like never, but I don't want her to wake up in pain because I let her sleep through a dose of her pain meds.) 

Friday, November 07, 2014

In a much needed attempt at not being plugged in,

I'm sending my brother and sister-in-law to bed early, and watching Maleficent with the kids. With my luck, the mother dies. (Let's talk about our Marvel-thon this summer and how all the Avengers are freaking orphans, whose mothers are, you know, dead. Better yet, let's not.) But we're going to attempt it anyways. Wish us luck.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Why doesn't liquor work in real life the way it does on tv?

Today they talked to us about hospice. My sister-in-law is still a month shy of her 45th birthday. She and my brother just bought a house, and never had a honeymoon. And tonight, I need to have a conversation with her children about how they live the rest of their lives without her. Not today, but soon.

There are very few times in my life when I've thought "God I really wish I could drink," given what I know about drinking and how I've never seen it actually help any actual person as opposed to hurt them worse, but ... boy: if it worked like it did in the movies, just numbing things for a little while? Today would be one of those days.