Things I want to keep in mind.

Category: hard working women

Aging – we all do it

Sixty.  I will be 60 years old next month.  It is so strange because in my mind I’m still in my 20’s.  How is that possible?  One quick glance in the mirror will remind me that I’m NOT in my 20’s — and watching my age spotted hands on the keyboard is another grim reminder.  Still, being young in my mind helps me to not really feel old.  I still like to “play” and laugh.  That’s the best part of having grandkids, you get to play with them and be silly.  My husband hasn’t been prone to silliness since 1965.

Of course, when I try to do things a 20 year old might, it results in sore muscles and a possible injury or two.  I spent this weekend cleaning windows and floors on my back porch.  It was exhausting work.  As a 20 year old, I could have done the whole thing in a day AND vacuumed the house afterward but as an almost 60 year old, it took me two days with a multitude of rest breaks.  As an aging generation, these are the things we can accept.  We can’t do EVERYTHING that we used to do but we can slow down, take breaks and continue to roll.

For the most part, I feel pretty good about aging.  I am in fair shape, although I know I could do more walking, stretching and SHOULD be eating more vegetables (yecch).  I have pockets of fat in new places — but they can be covered with a flouncy shirt.   My breasts went south for the winter and stayed — so an extra supportive bra was in order.  Let’s just “pretend” they are perky.  I have the “turkey neck” skin and LOTS of wrinkles on my face.  Lots of new skin blemishes throughout.  I won’t even go into the more intimate aging markers — suffice it to say there is plenty of positive proof that I am no longer in my 20’s!

As part of aging, my husband and I are participating in the usual old-age indicators.  Reading obituaries and announcing who has passed.  (“Oh geez, I thought he was already dead?”)!  My husband is falling into the “old codger” role quite comfortably.  I have to remind him it is NOT a necessity — but he fades in an out.  He complains about the government, other drivers, the weather.  (Again, with the WEATHER!  What is the obsession?).  I obsess over having to look my age – should I continue to dye my hair?  What makeup can I use to cover the wrinkles and LOOK like I’m only 50?  (Answer? NONE – putting make-up over an older face just makes you look like you have a lot of make-up on an older face…)  I can still fit skinny jeans but should I wear them?  Every time I go shopping for clothes I resist shopping in my own department – “women”, it just sounds so prehistoric.  For my “age” group there are the sequins, lots of bold decorative stitching and elastic waist bands!

Even more than the physical losses and changes are the mental changes.  Sure, we are getting forgetful.  We walk into a room and forget why we came.  We go to bed early and get up well before the sun.  We can be content to sit on the porch with a summer drink – for hours.  And we are fading into the background, slowly but surely.  It happens.  In the beginning, we are the center, the parents – we make things happen.  As everyone matures into their own lives, we become the outer circle and, eventually, the afterthought.  No wonder old people get cranky!

My husband and I made a pact when our kids started to leave the nest.  We would live our lives, learn to do things together and try to keep growing, learning, having fun even as we got old.  The hardest lesson was in knowing that FUN at 60 is different than fun at 20, 30 or even 40 — and that’s okay.  To each their own.  (And try not to become cranky…)


Just ruminating…..

Guilt.  Pure Catholic?  OR Female based?  Or, heaven forbid, a combination of the two!!!  I’ve always wished that, for just one day, I could be a man and think like they do, make decisions based solely on my own notion without considering the feelings and judgments of others or the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” I carry with me or any of the usual worries I have in making most of my decisions!

I have always wondered – is it nature or nurture?  Were we born with this innate desire to please, to mold ourselves into whatever is needed by the situation?  Or did the situation mold us into this caretaking creature?  I suppose it is a combination of both — exacerbated by a lifelong history of male domination, female submissiveness.

Here is my take: in the beginning, it WAS nature.  Women had the gift of reproduction – they needed to be protected, fed, valued for their contribution of keeping the species going.  Somehow as life transpired, instead of being valued they suddenly became demeaned as weak, helpless, useful only as a sexual gratifier and child “rearer” as if they had no other contribution, no intelligence or strength.  Women became a commodity, like breeders.  They were bargaining pieces, for sale or trade.  In turn, women became reliant on men out of necessity.  They had to modify their behavior constantly, to maintain the status quo or to be desirable on the open market.  They had little choice or liberty.  Sometimes, they were given for marriage to a far-older man – the highest bidder with the best offer.  Often times, they were given over into cruelty and abuse.  Bear in mind, these were women of intelligence.  They had to use their wits to survive in the worst of conditions.

Conversely, there were women during the same period who lived easier lives.  Those who were given over to more comfortable surroundings and significantly better financial means.  However, they were under a different lock and key – limited to “female” pursuits; child bearing, sewing, taking tea and dressing for dinner.

Gratefully, through time, women have evolved.  Women began to take a stand, to exert their will.  It was a long hard climb and it was fraught with much difficulty.  To this day, there is no clear path for most women.  True, we are now more likely to be educated, strong, intelligent and many have specific and fulfilling careers.  But we are still the breeders.  We still WANT and LOVE our children.  In most cases, what has happened is that women have merely taken on an additional role – breeder and bread winner.  And despite our best efforts – we can’t do it all.  Who would want to?

Women evolved and took on whatever we were given.  Men sat back and let us do it, waiting for us to fail.  In other words, the men DIDN’T EVOLVE.  (Side bar: I must qualify that statement. Some men did evolve.  Some only partially.  There are men who DO fully support their partners, who are present and focused on making an equal contribution to a familial relationship.  Some men “try” but are still men, after all…).  There were men who didn’t believe that women could ever be capable or “equal”.  They were perfectly happy to sit back and let them roll in, work hard and sometimes surpass them because they knew they were in control of the purse strings and that is all that mattered.  The glass ceiling is their secret weapon and secures their dominance for eternity.  This is their way of thinking.

Even in the best of times, as women, we continue to modify our behavior to accommodate our situation.  As a gender, we will always be encumbered by our traditional roles.  Motherhood, caretaking, teaching, guiding…these are our strong suits.  It isn’t that men are not capable or can’t excel in those suits, if the need arises. But to their way of thinking, the need never arises.  SOMEONE has to step up, 9 times out of 10 it will be the woman.

As an example, I will site my own case.  My husband is a good man.  He is strong and loving.  He loves children and is good with babies.  When our children were little, he fed them, changed them and took care of them while I worked or had other pursuits.  When we met, we were both working at jobs that we enjoyed, our dream “career” jobs.  As our family grew, it became more and more difficult to work these jobs because we were both working shifts.  Finding babysitters became difficult and we were struggling to keep a decent schedule.  We decided that I should get a “day” job so that at least one of us had a steady, reasonable schedule.  The truth is, I had no choice in the matter because he was making twice as much money as I was and it made more sense for me to take a cut in pay and work as a secretary.  This also meant that I would now take on 85% of all household duties, and childrearing responsibilities because he continued to work shifts and was either working or sleeping during regular family “living” hours.  It wasn’t that he wasn’t willing to help and participate, he did what most men do in that situation — he figured if I needed his help I would ask him.  I did what most women do — I figured, if he were paying attention, he would see that I needed help without request or instruction.  Therein lies the rub.

If you are in a partner relationship – married or no — you know that there are definite differences in the thought processes of the gender roles.  (I wonder what it is like in gay relationships?  Is it the role or the gender that defines the process?)  Men don’t worry.  They don’t watch, listen or ruminate.  Women wear down the carpet of worry.  We read body language like a romantic novel, absorbing every detail.  Not only do we listen, we rehash every sound, word, inflection.  The focus for each gender and the means of dealing with each circumstance is, by nature, very different.  It becomes far more obvious in a relationship when childbearing and childrearing begins.

“It’s not right for a woman to read.  Soon she starts getting ideas and thinking….” Gaston, Beauty and the Beast   Women think so much.  Too much really, because we are ruminating over the SHOULDS, feeling judged, judging ourselves (far too harshly), anticipating a need….frankly, it is exhausting.  At any given moment, you can ask any man, “What are you thinking?”  He will never respond with a worry or any thought in connection with an emotion.  It will be a thought about a mechanical process or about the weather (what is their obsession with the weather?) or a physical process — calculating or building something inside their head.

Logically, we have to be different.  In any relationship, there is never a 50/50 split of duties and responsibilities.  We each have different strengths and weaknesses.  Generally, one partner provides more income.  One partner is responsible for keeping the finances.  One partner vacuums, the other one mows. One partner remembers to send birthday greetings.  So on and so forth.  Each partnership will execute the dance of compromise, deciding who will undertake which duties.  As the partnership evolves and transitions into various stages of growth, the dance changes as well.  It is the responsibility of each partner to clearly state their needs and desires AND they must be willing to compromise or there will be resentment and balance will be lost.

Awareness is key.  It is too easy to fall back into traditional roles — men will pull back and wait to be “told” what to do and women will let them, feeling angry that they still aren’t mindreaders even after all this time….  While there are times that I do wish I could think like a man, cast aside all of this guilt and insecurity; most of the time I am glad that I don’t.  Who would take care of all those little details, feelings, and sustain life as we know it?


In 2014 when I retired, a gaggle of old friends (strike that — we aren’t old just long-time friends) decided we should meet monthly and have a few drinks, dinner and visit.  We agreed to meeting on the second Thursday of the month, at 4pm at a “happy hour” of our choosing.  We have been faithfully meeting ever since.

There are four of us, we met and worked together at 911 dispatch in the 80’s.  This was back in the glory days when the quality of our service to the public was job 1.  Working as a 911 dispatcher was stressful, but we were proficient, intelligent, sensible and dedicated.  We could hear and talk at the same time – something that is important when you need to remain aware of what is going on around you.  We worked together like a well-oiled machine – most of the time.

Of course, there were more than four of us working at the 911 center at the time, and the majority of dispatchers were of the same mind and skills.  We rotated shifts so you learned to work with a wide variety of personality types but, in many ways, we were like a family.  We spent countless hours talking and sharing details of our lives.  We celebrated and mourned together.  We grew up together – even though we were all well into adulthood when we began.  And there was always that one crazy aunt, bitter cousin, ditzy sister and cranky grandmother that we had to contend with in our dispatcher family.

We have great memories of those working days and this week we reminisced about quite a few of them.  One of our Funco gals has retired and we took a mini-vacay to Leavenworth, WA to celebrate.  We stayed in a lovely Air BnB near the center of town within walking distance to everything.  The weather was perfect, sunny and warm – with clear skies and gorgeous views.  We ate out, did a little shopping (didn’t buy much?) and enjoyed several happy hours.  We also watched Frozen and threw grapes at patrons of a brewery across the street from the deck of our rental (how old are we?).   **No injuries were reported….

This has been a year of change for all of us.  We’ve had health issues to deal with, either our own or that of a family member.  One of us has moved.  One of us has retired.  One lost the family dog but eventually got a new puppy.  One of us recently lost her mother.  One of us has a sister who is gravely ill.  One of us is expecting her first grandchild.  Time marches on.  It is lovely to share it with these friends.  Even though we may not see each other as often as we used to – we still share a common bond.  To the Funco Gals – many happy returns.

The end

The flowers were beautiful at my mother’s funeral.  Her casket was dark oak, very plain, as she had requested.  The service was very personal with granddaughter’s doing the readings and a very nice, young, enthusiastic priest presiding over the ceremony.  The “Prayers of the Faithful” were read by my aunt and were very specific to our family.  At the burial service, a cold wind came in but it did not rain.  In fact, the weather of the day was very much like my mother, gray and calm in the morning, cold and windy in mid-afternoon, clear and sunny by late afternoon.  A perfect day to celebrate her passing.

Naturally, the funeral ritual is for the living.  This is a way to say a final goodbye, to celebrate (and review) the life of the person who has passed.  My mother was a humble woman and I’m sure she would have been embarrassed by all the kind words.  She WAS strong and giving.  She never hesitated to help when she could.  And she was a deeply religious person.

I realized, yet again and as I knew I would, that there were many aspects of her life for which I was not familiar.  Her relationships with others, were different than her relationships within her family. This is common for all of us – we step into each role of our lives from a different set of stairs.  There are so many different influences, expectations and obstacles in each role we play.  Some roles are too difficult to take head on and we have to limit our time and conserve our energy – so we withdraw.  We tackle the easier roles that don’t threaten to deplete us.

I am grateful that the funeral was so personal.  It was a great send off for a woman we really loved, but didn’t truly know.  After the reception, we had a gathering for a grandson’s birthday.  We talked and laughed, watched him open his gifts and blow out his birthday candles.  We took family photos.  The sky was clear and the sun was nice and warm.  A perfect ending.



A**holes of divorce

Why can’t they just be normal?  Why can’t they care about their children as much as we do?  Why don’t they ever see the damage they are doing, the lives they are ruining?  But then, that’s part of the reason we chose to abandon the marriage, isn’t it?  We knew they couldn’t or wouldn’t see or do those things.  We realized we were already single mothers and didn’t want their influence on our children.  Those same uninvolved, unaware people suddenly demand inclusion when realizing divorce is imminent.  What a tangled web.

Things are no different than before the divorce except now they are actively pretending to be fathers.  It is painful to watch.  Especially when those are our babies under their care and tutelage.  With no previous experience, true understanding or interest, their parenting is haphazard at best.  No thought is given to proper meals, playtime or a decent bedtime schedules.  The focus is not what is best for the children but what will make it appear that they are the BEST parent.  It is a horrible book of fiction and we keep turning the pages, powerless to rescue our favorite characters.

There is no true “co-parenting”.  You wage the same battles you would have experienced had you stayed married.  This is why women often stay.  It is easier to fight those battles or stay under the radar when you can parent your children silently with only minimal and sporadic interference from a neglectful partner.  But most of us realize that is just existence.  We want an authentic life for us and for our children.  We choose to lean in and get out, hopeful that we have the strength to pursue the more difficult path.

Not surprisingly, we find that we do have the strength. Once the smoke clears and we can see the light of day, the anxiety and fear begin to abate.  It never gets EASIER dealing with the shenanigans of the ex but we get tougher and more savvy as time goes on.  You do the best you can to counter all of the ravages of the custodial visits.  You try to do no further harm.  You try not to think about how much easier this would have been if only that asshole had been hit by a truck…

I can tell you from my own experience: you do survive and you can find the authentic life you deserve. Although, at first, it only comes in small snippets.  Your kids do suffer.  You cry buckets.  You worry endlessly about the kids – Are they safe? Are they scared? Do they know how much you miss them?  Will they tell you they want to go live with him instead?  Are they ruined?  It is a lifelong struggle.  So much pain, so many transgressions.  You will want to throw in the towel – many times.  But you don’t.

One day, your children will know.  They will see.   Until then, you just keep laboring.

The vanishing

It is hard to remember what she used to be like.  She has faded, physically and mentally, to a mere shadow of her former self. It takes effort to retrieve a memory from prior to this era of vanishing.

The hospice nurse recommended the use of a wheelchair to help prevent falls and because she no longer uses the walker, she is getting more frail by the minute.  It is rare to hear her talk.  I haven’t seen her smile in a very long time – although, others have told me that she still does.  Her only reaction/response is to eating – her last pleasure?  Or is it just animal instinct to satisfy a basic need – hunger.

It continues to be painful to visit her, to watch this decline.  You have to muster up your courage before you go and then decompress when you leave.  You sit in your car and you feel helpless and sad.  Your heart literally aches.  One thought plays over and over in your mind.  She would hate this if she knew.

Yesterday was the anniversary of my dad’s death.  It has been 16 years.  While it was awful to lose him so suddenly – watching my mother go like this is so much worse.

Tips and tricks – part one

I have been alive for 59 years and 4 months.  Hard to believe.  It has been a long road of learning, changing and updating.  Here is a golden review:

Lesson 1 – life is transition.  Nothing remains the same, no matter how hard you try to squeeze it into the little plastic box.  People enter and exit your life on their own timetable and at their whim.  Not much you can control about that – other than how you deal with your gain and loss.  There’s always a chance they will cycle back through at some later point, but there is also the chance that they won’t.  Be open for both possibilities.

Lesson 2 – Motherhood is not easy.  Babies are adorable, cuddly, soft and warm.  They will love you forever.  That is not in dispute.  BUT they are also a lifelong commitment of pooping, puking, crying, keeping you up at night, making you worry from dawn till dusk.  There will be illnesses, trips to the principal’s office, fighting, injuries with trips to the ER, an endless array of financial needs (shoes, clothes, costumes, science fair projects, sports uniforms, dancing shoes, pianos, band instruments, braces, winter coats, summer gear, vacations, school trips), as a mom you are “on” 24/7.  It’s easier with a partner who can (and will) tag in when you are spent.  Someone who is there for the long haul and will learn how to anticipate the needs of said infant/child as well as you do or a close facsimile.  **See lesson 3 part 2

Lesson 3 – Partnership in a relationship is never 50/50.  Each person brings their own skillset to the relationship.  In the household, there will be a division of labor that works for each couple.  This division is constantly under revision, depending on the situation, and both partners must be flexible, vigilant and mindful.  Small examples:  If you make a mess, clean up after yourself.  Simple lesson for children AND adults.  This includes dribbles on the toilet seat.  Dads, teach your little boys (by example) to look before they flush and wipe up after themselves.  Hair in the sink or the shower drain?  Clean it out BEFORE you leave the bathroom.  Cooking meals – what works?  Who comes home first?  If one cooks, the other cleans up.  Cooking together can be fun too.  Yard work – what works?   Every “job” requires effort and elbow-grease BUT also provides opportunity for togetherness.  The key point is that both parties are fully aware that this is a partnership – the desire to play an active role is important.

Lesson 3, part 2 – Partnership in a relationship changes drastically when offspring are born.  It is unavoidable.  Mom becomes a guernsey cow (or it can feel that way) feeding and in total focus on the new family member.  Dad may feel neglected.  It’s up to both of you to modify how you view your relationship, and how you contribute to maintaining your relationship.  The partnership is now a UNIT.  There will be diapers to change, books to read, extra laundry and cleanup.  If you thought your life was in constant motion before, welcome to the hurricane.   The dance has changed but it is possible to continue building your relationship/family.  Again, flexibility is paramount.  Dad’s need to participate in the care of the child – a father’s bond is as important as the mother’s.  The best bonding mechanism is when dads have an active role; feeding, changing, bathing, rocking, reading.  Moms need to let dad “in” – he will do things differently than you do.  That’s the way it works, and works best.   Child-rearing is difficult.  Work hard to find the middle road, always.  And it doesn’t stop with infancy and toddlerhood – dads need to continue feeding, reading, transporting (pickup or drop-off at daycare, school, sport/dance practices, etc. etc.), cooking, shopping, cutting hair, learning to braid hair, etc. etc.  Remember: The division of labor is constantly under revision.

Lesson 4 – Pregnancy is a crapshoot.  Some people can get pregnant on a wink and a smile.  Others require IVF or other fertility assistance.   Every pregnancy is different.  Some women claim they never felt better than when they were pregnant.  Some women have just the cutest little basketball belly and from the back, you can’t even tell they are pregnant.  That was not me.  I felt like shit for the first trimester and into the second.  Constantly nauseated and looking for something to eat that would settle my stomach and make me feel better.  I gained far too much weight!  The last thing I ever felt like eating was salad or vegetables.  Bread, pasta and potatoes were my only saving grace.  I was a huge pregnant woman – big everywhere.  Toward the end, I had a huge round face and swollen ankles.  From the back, I looked like Sasquatch.   In regards to my heavy weight gain, my obstetrician (a man) said, “Well, you’re the one who has to lose it”.   And he was right…

To be continued….more lessons ahead.

The Rummage

The rummage.  (Definition: an unsystematic and untidy search through a mass or receptacle).

As a child growing up in a very small town on an Indian reservation in Montana, like most of the residents in our valley — we didn’t have much.  My dad was a logger, working in neighboring towns at logging camps.  He would come home on weekends.  Mom stayed home with us kids – cooking on a wood stove and washing clothes on the back porch – no matter the season.  They owned their home, such that it was, and one vehicle.  Money was very sparse – but they made do.  Everyone did.

I don’t have a lot of specific memories of those days.  As children, we really had no idea how “poor” we were.   As far as we knew, we were royalty living in a castle.  Though the castle was always cold and the roof leaked when it rained.  We did have an indoor toilet, however!!!  That was an improvement from the modified granary we had been living!  My mom and dad were very proud to have their own place and unbeknownst to us, they had plans for further improvements as time and money would allow.

Meanwhile, we lived in the very old house and entertained ourselves as children do.  My mother’s companions were the few family members who accepted her, her sisters-in-law (who were also considered interlopers within the family); and the women from the Catholic church.  Mom belonged to the Altar Society – a group of women at the church who performed some sort of service – making quilts and helping the needy.   They had bake sales and meetings.  To be honest, I don’t really know what they did, I just know she attended the meetings and made friends with the other members.  In helping those less fortunate, they had an old building at the church filled with discarded clothing, shoes and other items.  I do remember that Tuesday was Rummage Day.

The building was called “The Rummage”.  It was an old Indian agency building right next to the church – I’m not sure what it was used for initially but it was full to bursting with OLD stuff.  Shoes, clothes, a veritable treasure cove for little children.  There were old bras to stuff, clothes for dress-up (including high heel shoes!) and some jewelry – but that was a rarity.  The Rummage was open every Tuesday for drop-off or for shopping.  Each item was sold for a dime.  Most of the clothing could be washed and would be in relatively good condition.  Some of it should have bypassed the rummage and gone directly to the dump.  There were boxes of old shoes, old coats, old dresses, old hats.  Truly, it was a fire hazard but there were no restrictions in those days and many were served by The Rummage.

The building and the contents therein smelled old and musty.  My mom and Delores would smoke and sort through the clothes, trying to keep them in some semblance of organization.  We kids would gleefully look through the piles trying to find something to buy for ourselves.  It wasn’t until we were a little older that we realized shopping at The Rummage was not an adventure for everyone.  The stigma became much more evident as we approached puberty – that glorious time when you become aware of comparisons, judgments and ridicule.

In those days, hand-me-downs, used clothing, “rummage” as it were, was very common.  It wasn’t just a fad, it was a necessity.  I wore hand-me-down clothing until I was in high school.  We didn’t have to shop at the rummage very much as we had other resources for hand-me-downs.  And I was really lucky because my mom could sew and, in my wardrobe, what wasn’t hand-me-down was sewn by my mom.  Although, I could never figure out why she always chose such wild and bold colored material.  At the time, I thought she was a little eccentric. I now know that she bought whatever material was on sale – it was never her intention to “choose” that wild and bold material – it was affordable.  Still, she sewed some beautiful clothing.  Our prom dresses were lovely!

I think I was lucky to live when and where I lived.  Most of us in the Jocko Valley (my home) were in the medium to low income range.  Many of us had hand-me-down or home-made clothing – it was bad form to criticize or judge.  And most of us knew The Rummage was there if we needed it.


Getting back to Bridge Club

She loved to play cards.  One of the most difficult parts of her illness in the end was that she couldn’t play bridge anymore.  That was borderline devastating.  How would they ever find a replacement for her at bridge club?

She had sclerosis of the liver, diabetes, a disease similar to leukemia and heart failure.  The combination kept her homebound for the last few months of her life.  This was the worst form of torment for her.  Normally, she had an activity on each day of the week – Bridge club, pinochle, bunko, newcomers club.  If you called to invite her to attend something, you had to squeeze it into her busy schedule.  She kept herself busy and had many friends right up until she could no longer drive or walk very far or travel.

She loved being the center and if she wasn’t, she would find a way to place herself there.  She was kind and loving but she was also bold and brash when she wanted to be.  She would tell it like she saw it — whether you liked it or not.  Getting older was very difficult for her – she fought it every step of the way.  Shortly before she died, after returning home from the hospital for the umpteenth time, she no longer wanted to hear about hospice or funerals or churches.  In exasperation she said, “I just want to get back to playing bridge, I’m not dead yet!”

The week before she died, we had a surprise party for her.  All of her children were there and most of her grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.  She had just gotten out of the hospital for the last time.  It was time for hospice.  Initially, when we rolled her into that room filled with people, she was a little confused as to what was going on – but then she realized that this was her family, all of her family, and she broke down in tears.  We ate dinner, sat around and visited and then took pictures of everyone, together.  I’m sure that was her favorite part, the photos.  Of course, she didn’t have a chance to refresh her lipstick…spent a few minutes looking for anyone with a tube of red lipstick then we finally gave up and just took the photos.

She didn’t talk much that day, which was very unusual.  I suspect she was exhausted and in need of a warm bed, but she smiled and smiled.  So happy to be with her family, happy that they did this for her.  Happy to have the chance to see them for the last time.  We all knew this.  It was as hard for us to believe as it was for her.  I still can’t imagine a world without her.

The funeral mass is Thursday, the burial on Friday.  It will be a strange thing – as funerals often are – realizing that she really is gone.  I only knew her for 32 years, she was my mother-in-law, but I will miss her.

A prompt from Carla — Before

In June of 2015, we placed my mother in a memory care facility.

Before that, she was living in her own home.  My sisters and I took turns bringing her meals and checking on her.  She slept a lot and watched TV when she could figure out how to turn it on.  We would arrive to find her in a mess of one kind or another – half naked or with excrement on her, the couch, the floor.  The dog would eat her food and there would be a trail of wrappers and containers strewn about.  She remembered who we were, most of the time.  She didn’t offer much in the way of conversation other than answering questions.  Unable to dial the phone and sometimes, unable to remember how to answer it, she was cut off from everyone and everything.  Because she was unable to drive any longer, she spent long hours in her house looking out the window, thinking about how she needed to go somewhere.  In the end, she thought she needed to go “home” even though she was already home, and she started going out of the house, half-dressed and in disarray.  We knew the time had come to get her in a safe place.

Before that, she was retired and at home taking care of herself.  She had moments of forgetfulness and confusion but we didn’t realize it.  Our family had suffered a break and we were estranged from each other.  Her visits with us were strained and less frequent.  She worked at her church and drove herself to town to run errands.  She spent a lot of time with our younger sister.   We knew that she was having trouble with her memory and we were concerned about her ability to drive but because of the discord, we were unable to address those issues with her.  Our first try with offers of assistance were met with defensiveness and more dissonance.  She believed she was doing fine on her own.

Before that, she was working at the post office.  She had a small mail route in a small country town.  Despite her difficulty with her knees, she worked any time she was needed and enjoyed feeling useful.  Very devoted to her church, she taught catechism classes and played the organ every Sunday.  She was also a eucharistic minister and took communion to the elderly and shut-ins.   My mother was a “gallivanter”, if she was bored, she would jump in her car and go visit one of her children or grandchildren or her good friend, Evalyn (or all of the above).  Losing the ability to drive in her later years was devastating for her.  Her vehicle was her mode of escape.   She would also call to check in with us once or twice a week and if there was a function at the school, she would stop in to see if it was something that might be of interest.  She attended any function in which her grandchildren participated.  She was a widow but she still had her family, friends and church.

Before that, she was living with my dad.  She worked at the post office part-time and devoted a lot of time and energy to her church.  In regular contact with her children and grandchildren, she made every effort to attend any activity they were involved in and always brought a treat of some kind.  At this point in their lives, my parents’ relationship was difficult, at best.  They were at odds with each other over many things.  They rarely rode together in the same car to any of the family functions.  My mom had a habit of leaving without saying goodbye – suddenly you would notice that she was no longer there.  I think she often felt overshadowed by my dad and unappreciated for her efforts.  She loved spending time with her grandchildren especially when she could have them to herself.

Before that, she was working as a home health care worker, taking care of the elderly who needed assistance with cleaning and errands.  She had several clients and she was very devoted to each of them.  My mother was always a very hard worker.  Her church and her grandchildren took up most of her time.  She traveled to Texas once or twice a year to visit her family.  She also did a little traveling as part of her training for the eucharistic ministry.  I don’t know much more about this time period of her life because I was busy with my own.

Before that, I am not certain of the details of her life.  I have only snippets of memories of interactions with her.  Mom was not one to express her feelings or desires.  I have had a lot of time to think about her, about this illness and about losing her.  I’ve thought about having to help write her obituary and feeling totally inadequate to do so.  I will have to seek assistance from others if I am to do her justice in that endeavor.

When a parent has dementia, there are so many layers of loss.  You lose that person that you have relied on all of your life.  The one MAINSTAY we all have, our mother.  You also lose the opportunity to repair or rebuild a broken relationship – or to create one where there wasn’t one before.  You have to give up on that dream.  And far worse, you see this person slowly disappear and you still remember who and what they were…before that.