I have recently become a contributing writer to Totally Buffalo. I will be blogging every 3 weeks or so on this site. I am cheating and posting a link here on those weeks so welcome to my first official post! It’s entitled “Your Relationship is the Priority, Higher Than Any One Person’s Individual Needs.”
My sister Janet is eight years older than me. I have some memories of her as a kid, but mostly there was a big enough age difference that we didn’t steal each other’s clothes or boyfriends so there wasn’t a lot of conflict.
She is the middle child, but for years we also called her the Perfect Child. As adults, I found out that she always hated that so I stopped saying it. I also call her Dad’s favorite daughter and I haven’t stopped saying that. I joke around about it, but it doesn’t seriously bother me because she is truly one of the kindest women I’ve ever known in my life.
I was just talking with a client yesterday who has a family member with cancer news. I remembered when we starting testing Tim and suspected it might be cancer. Janet lived near Rochester so she was an hour-and-twenty-minute drive away. I was on the phone with her when she said, “No matter what happens Darcy, you won’t be alone. We will be there every step of the way.” And she was.
Twice during Tim’s five months of illness, she took an unpaid leave of absence to come and help. I never forgot that because there were other relatives/friends that lived closer and were more close to Tim than she was, but she was the one that didn’t bat an eye. She just took the financial hit and came.
One memory that particularly stands out was when the decision was made for Tim to go to Hospice to try to get his sleep regulated. I called her to tell her and she made all that distance and got here before the transport car came. She and I took Tim around the property in a wheelchair to give him a chance to look at everything, reminisce, and ultimately say goodbye.
She has been here again, this time for Dad. She arrived the day before New Year’s Eve from Tennessee. And she is still here. She leaves Saturday which means she was here a full three weeks. Dad required 24 hour supervision until this week so she literally spent the whole time with him in his assisted living apartment. I can’t even begin to express what a massive relief that was to me. I know Dad is going to miss her terribly, as will I.
I enjoy her company immensely, but I was in a catch-22. She was here to take care of Dad, which was my chance to get a break. I wanted to visit with her, but I needed some distance from the situation at the same time. Thank goodness she completely understood that.
Even though she lives in Tennessee now, she still had a job where she had to take an unpaid leave of absence to be here. To take a three-week cut in pay when you live paycheck to paycheck is an incredible sacrifice. She makes it without blinking an eye, without a question. If I asked her to stay even longer she would.
Her husband supports her being here, even though I’m sure he misses her. Her daughter supports her being here, even though Janet misses her little grandson so much I’m sure her heart aches. So thank you to all of her family who let us borrow her capable hands and her ever-giving heart.
And how do I thank Janet? I couldn’t possibly. But deep down, I know she knows. She loves me too, and came to support to me. Mostly though, she did it for the deep love she has for our dad. He’s not an expressive man, but I know he appreciates her as much as I do.
Thank you dear Janet. You truly are perfect!
I have been lecturing on death/dying/end of life planning for four years now. As my dad has been going through medical issues, I find myself on the other end of that conversation. I hear doctors and nurses say things almost verbatim to the things I have said myself many times over. But it has been a good wake-up lesson for me to have it be so personal again. It’s been a while since the information has been so relevant and in my face.
A few weeks ago when Dad was in the hospital, we had to make some decisions. I have been anticipating this moment for at least a year, maybe longer. Yet somehow, I felt shock, blind-sided, unprepared. It was strongly reminiscent of what I felt when Tim passed. I had been at his side for months, thinking I was ready for the moment when he would go. But when they announced his death, I felt my knees literally buckle underneath me. I was shocked. How was that possible? Yet it was the definite reality I lived.
Dad made a decision to go palliative a few weeks ago. It totally makes sense. It’s a rational, reasonable decision. He has Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease that only gets worse. There is no getting better. After seven hospitalizations in 14 months, there will be no more tests, procedures, labs, hospitals, etc.. The decision was made through a very teary-eyed conversation between myself, my sister, and the nurse practitioner. She did an excellent job, just like I would have done in that position. She told us that Dad had spared us making tough decisions but clearly making his wishes known in his MOLST form. It was end of life planning working exactly the way it was supposed to.
Then why the hell is it so hard?
Now don’t get me wrong. Dad does not appear to be in the active stages of dying. But he is ready to when the time comes and wants quality of life until then. He could be around for a long time, no one knows.
My sister and I took him to see his dermatologist yesterday. We updated her on what has been happening. When we were ready to leave, she cried. She apologized if she was upsetting us but I told her it always feels good to know other people love Dad too. He has a great team of doctors that have taken years to gather together.
Again, my point is just this. While I talk about this “stuff” quite frequently, it is still hard to face when it isn’t just concepts we are talking about, but someone I love dearly. It renews my passion again to help people think about these concepts before they are in the middle of crisis. It’s hard enough to do with preparation! I’m starting the process of figuring out my next career move but I know it is going to have something to do with helping people on this journey.
As January settles in, I have started my annual task of going through my filing cabinet. This not only accomplishes purging, but I also prepare for my taxes as I go along. It usually takes most of the month. This year, there is an added element to it. I am trying to go paperless as much as possible. That means do a lot of scanning, which can be time-consuming.
Today, I came across a folder that I basically forget about until January every year, the divorce papers from my first marriage. I have no contact with my first husband, but there are no ill feelings between us. I was thinking about him this year more than usual because I am dating someone whose middle name is the same as my first husband’s last name. Back in my twenties, I changed my name to his so I bore that name for six years as well.
It was a 16 page document, which is crazy because we had the simplest divorce ever. No property, no money, no kids, yet it still required 16 pages of legal jargon. I scanned all of it and shredded it. New years are always a time for reflection so this morning was no different. Never in a million years did I think I would ever be divorced, but then probably no one ever gets married thinking that it won’t last forever. It made me terribly sad. Not bitter, just solemn.
Of course that led my thoughts to my second marriage. Never in a million years did I think I would ever be a widow. That is irrational, because if we had lived together until old age, there was a 50% chance that I would be a widow at some point, unless I died first or we both died at the same time for some crazy reason. Yet it never occurred to me. I suspect most people don’t think about that much when they get married. But I certainly didn’t think I would be a widow in my forties.
I mentioned in a previous blog about being at Emily’s last month with her now eight kids and thinking about how when I married the first time, we planned on six kids. We had zero. But in my marriage to Tim, I had one biological child but gained three step-kids. Four is a lot closer to what I thought my life would look like. If I marry again to someone who has two kids, that would make the six I originally thought I would have.
Life is like that lots of times. Maybe even most times. I think if we polled a bunch of people in their fifties, the majority would say their life doesn’t look the way they thought it would. What’s that famous saying? Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. I keep thinking about Jennifer Aniston in the movie Marley and Me. Her husband is lamenting this very thing and she comes back with a confident statement about how much better their lives are than anything they ever could have imagined.
Makes me wonder what the future holds for me. What will life bring in the next chapter? What will 2018 hold for me? And will I lament or celebrate how differently it all came out? I vote for the latter!