Monday, April 20, 2015

57 years young

As many of you know, my daughter Annie and her little family are currently living with us. To not admit there are some adjustments would be to flat out lie about how easy it is to live with your children after they've moved out (several times) and moved back in again. But, mostly, it is.  We probably would feel that way anyway, but the icing on the cake is that Angelo and I get to hang out with our grandson Luca almost every single day. That is one of the best gifts ever. And the cherry on the icing is that, at 3-1/2 years old, Luca makes quite an obliging slave.

I realized this one winter evening months ago when I was happily ensconced in "my chair" in the living room. Before bed Luca often plays for a little while while we finish up from dinner.  I played the elder card and went to sit down and relax. I could reach the lamp next to me, but I needed a little more light in the room. Luca was playing on the rug next to the floor lamp behind the TV stand. The switch is also on the floor, so I asked him, "Lu - do you think you can turn on the light switch behind you?" He needed a little instruction, but within seconds he had accomplished his task and looked quite pleased with himself. 'What a wonderful gift I've just given him,' I thought to myself, 'the feeling of accomplishment.' So I gave him that gift every chance I could.

"Luca, can you turn on the lamp again?"

"Luca, will you put this in the garbage for me?"

"Lu, see if you can put this book back on the shelf."

And so on and so on. I rarely moved from my chair all winter as all my previous knee-shuddering tasks were taken over by my enthusiastic and helpful slave, er, grandson. He wanted to help me; what was I going to do, disappoint him?

Then, I went to Florida for a few weeks when my Dad was in the hospital. Between me and my two siblings, if we weren't by my dad's bedside in the hospital, we were at my parents' apartment with my mother. I'm not saying that my parents were helpless...but let's just say that with a little extra muscle in the house, I was doing a lot more heavy lifting.

"Cindy, can you open this jar?"

"Cindy, are you sure you don't mind taking the laundry down?"

"Cindy, can you reach that book up on the shelf for me?"

And so on and so on. I was happy that I was able to be so helpful when there was so much during that time that was making us feel so helpless. I was bending down for this, running out for that, and carrying the other things. One day it dawned on me...I was the slave! I was the one whose knees still bent and whose back was still (mostly) pain-free. I could see to drive at night, run the shopping cart back to the corral and drive the car around to the front. I was still the kid.

One evening, soon after I returned home, I took my rightful place in my chair. I lowered my cold, aching, aging body into it and prepared for an evening of reading, catching up on Agents of Shield and enjoying the rest of my Cab-Sav. Luca was on the rug with his zoo animals, and he looked up and said, "Gramma, want to play with me?" I left my chair, switched on the floor lamp and grabbed the elephant and the peacock and sat next to Luca on the rug.

The chair can wait.

Friday, April 3, 2015

In an instant

I was in Florida again a mere 7 days after my previous trip in February.  This is the only picture I took while I was there:
It is a picture of the bus I had to take back to the hospital after returning my rental car to the airport. The company I rented from (Dollar, if you must know) gave me slightly inaccurate information when I made the reservation. They told me if I needed to keep the car longer than I originally scheduled, it would be no problem - just let us know! What they neglected to tell me was that they would also add a $20 late charge each additional day I needed it. So I showed them--I took it back! And was relegated to taking not one, but two buses back to town. That's why I took the text everyone and let them know I was eventually making my way back. I had about 15 minutes to kill between buses and I was trying to avoid the lady  asking me for bus fare, which I told her--honestly--I only had for myself. (Because I wasn't going to give her a twenty and expect change.) Naturally, she found the fare elsewhere and sat where? Right next to me.

Oh, right...the hospital. My trip to Florida was to be with my family as my dad recovered from a coma. The day after I left from my first trip, he fell, hit his head and began a journey for which there was no map. For all of us.  At the hospital, side effects from the concussion gave him aspiration pneumonia, which triggered the coma. My sister, Susie, was in Florida, wrapping up her own trip and about to fly home when she got the news. She canceled her plans and drove across the state to be with my mom and dad. My brother Richard and I relied on her reports on his progress until we made our own arrangements to fly to Florida, coincidentally arriving within minutes of each other; me from Connecticut and he from California. I rented a car (yep, that one...) and we drove from Tampa to Sarasota Memorial Hospital and found our exhausted mom and sister at my nearly unresponsive dad's bedside, where they had spent most of the past week.

Over the next two weeks our lives changed.  We had all the conversations; honoring advance directives, honoring my dad's wishes, planning for my mom's future. Then, as the respirator was removed and he began responding,  other ones about rehab, affording home care, staying, leaving,  etc. The five of us had been together in recent years, but within our larger, extended family, and for much happier occasions. Operating as the original five in an emergency situation was the family dynamic on steroids. Our common focus was, of course, my dad. Secondary to that was being supportive to my mom, such as we were. We three were so darn supportive, we just kept getting in each other's way, outdoing the next in being helpful and considerate. I offered some imagery to help us keep some perspective: We were all floating in the pool of our love for our dad, but on separate rafts, with separate needs and feelings. Clearly we would probably bump into each other on occasion, but it would just be a slight bump and we could float off in another direction without turning into a big deal. It seemed to work.

On we went, figuring out where to stay (What? It's Spring Break? Who knew?? About a million northerners, that's who.) Hotels were crazy-expensive and we were nomad-like in finding rooms and accepting generous offers. A family friend offered their home and car to me for a few days and it was like a life preserver (to continue with my pool analogy) as it gave me the solitude I needed to process our experience. As much as I could. Friends of my parents' loaned us their car, pretty much indefinitely, while we were all there. A gold, Sebring convertible. They were worried we wouldn't like it.  Our cousins offered a bed and meals and all in all, we were pretty well taken care of. Which was a good thing, because none of us really knew what we were doing except just wanting to be there.

When my dad began to regain his consciousness, but not quite his memories, we hung around him day in and day out, just to catch the next thing he was going to say. He was kind of hilarious, with his curious questions and raspy voice. One day I was Olga, his sister. As far as anyone knows, there was never a sister...or an Olga. I was back to Cindy the next day. One morning he shared with Susie that he was surprised that the nurses brought him his breakfast in French Maid's costumes. We gently suggested to him that it could have been a "waking dream" as French Maid's outfits aren't exactly conducive to effective medical care. We laughed as much as we cried and on the last night before I had to leave--begrudgingly-- to come home, we all had dinner together in the dining room of the rehab facility where my dad finally ended up 18 days after his accident.  Another amazing coincidence because the rehab is in the building my parents live in and is one floor below their apartment. My dad asked us all to hold hands and he expressed his gratitude that we were all able to be there together. He said he was grateful that we all loved each other and that we all liked each other, too. "And not necessarily in that order," he added, with a familiar smile.

It's funny how such a situation can completely take over what you once thought was your life. The first few days I was gone from home, I had occasional tugs of responsibility. But those tugs were quickly brushed away as I turned my attention to catching the doctor or flagging down a nurse. I am lucky because my husband, children and friends took up the slack in my wake when I left for Florida with only a one-way ticket and no idea what was going to come about. The emergency consumed me.

I began thinking about how people's lives can change in an instant, due to accidents and other misfortunes, and all the decisions that are taken out of one's hands. What if we could do that same thing, but mindfully, with purpose? Could I change my life in an instant? Because now that I am back home, the only thing I can really focus on is my next trip to Florida. Not that I've been invited, but I'm planning anyway.  Thankfully, my dad is excelling in his rehab programs and activities. My mom is getting some rest and, although she recently told me, "I kind of miss having you all around to get some errands done," she seems to be doing okay.  But I want to be there and I know that they could use the support.

When lives change in an instant, and often it is due to a calamitous or devastating event that forces us to rally our energy and resources to make sense of our lives once more. All I'm asking is why not do it on purpose? I'm not saying I am going to chuck all my possessions in the back of my Toyota Sienna van and head south...yet. I have to get Angelo on board for that one. But I've got him thinking about it, and so am I.