Tag Archive | Love

Adjustments

It’s been almost 8 years since my husband’s disease was discovered.  It’s been a long 8 years, full of learning experiences I never thought we would ever have to endure.   I’ve learned how very possible it is to get through every day life, struggling with exhaustion, or finances, or lack of time, or situations out of our control.  I know what it’s like to continually take one step forward and two steps back.  I know what it’s like to make sure my kids have a good childhood, with interesting experiences, unique opportunities, and the chance to become the people their souls are meant to become, all while living with a fathers’ illness that invades every part of our lives.  Life has been an ongoing struggle between dealing with a sick spouse, the loneliness of losing people in our lives who can’t deal with it, grieving the loss of our dreams, and living every day life, raising kids, enjoying what we can, and just keeping on going whether it’s an easy day or a hard day.

The hardest lesson has probably been acceptance of how this disease has changed our marriage.  Eight years of spousal illness takes a rough toll on a marriage.  Both of us are dedicated to each other until the end.  There is no question of that.  We love each other and we are both loyal to each other.  But life has changed for us.  My husband sleeps all the time.  When he is awake, he has no energy, or he has energy for short amounts of time.  He is on so many medications that he is often in a zone and not really hearing what I’m saying, nor responding to me.  He is in pain almost all the time.  It never goes away completely.  For all the exhaustion he has, he never sleeps well because he can’t get comfortable.  It’s really hard to watch your husband suffer every single day.  I get tired of it all. Sometimes, I just want to get out of the house so I don’t have to look at him like that.  There are days I want to scream out of frustration…frustration that he isn’t talking to me or listening to me, frustration that he can’t do much to help me out, frustration that it will never get better.  It’ll only get worse.  We likely won’t grow old together, and get to do the things we used to talk about doing when we retired.

There have been many times that I felt alone with all these frustrations, grieving the loss of a marriage that won’t be what we had hoped.  But, he deals every day with illness.  He never feels good, he is always wiped out and exhausted, he is bored being home alone all day while we are at work or school.  He wants to be included when we go out and do things, even though he doesn’t always have the stamina to keep up, and often wants to come home early.  There are times I need to get out of the house and away from the disease, so I don’t ask him to go.  I want to go out, and not have to worry about whether he is tired or in pain and needing to leave early.  We recently had a conversation in which he told me that it makes him sad when we do things and don’t invite him.  Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about it…I needed to get out, and I figured he wouldn’t want to go because he’s sick and can hardly stay awake.  I didn’t always think about asking him.

It made me realize how important the little things are when you are in this situation.  We can’t easily do the big things any more.  I don’t remember the last time we had a date night, or went away for a weekend, or did something fun together. Now, I’m happy when we have a ten minute conversation and he is awake and paying attention.  I’m really happy when he acknowledges the things I do around the house, or the little things I do to help him out, or when he brings me a candy bar just because I know he was thinking of me.  He is happy if I go to Walmart with him, or ask him if he wants to go with us somewhere, or if we pick up sandwiches and eat lunch together.

Life with a sick spouse is all about adjustments.  If you can’t adjust to a situation, you’ll never make it.  A simple shift in the mind can make all the difference in how peaceful your life is.  We have made small changes in order to make life a little easier for each other.  There will be more challenges and crises down the road, but if we do what we can for each other along the way, even little things, those challenges will be that much easier.

Teachable Moments

When my husband’s tumor was first discovered, our children were only ages 9, 7, and 5.  They were really too young to be kept in the loop about what was happening, and we went out of our way to hide it all.  They were too young to hear about doctors, illness, tests, and an unknown prognosis.  We spent two years not knowing anything, so it would have been  impossible to explain to them what we didn’t understand.  Once we started getting answers, the reality of what could be coming wasn’t something we felt they needed to know or worry about.  We wanted them to just be children, with no adult worries, and we wanted to keep their lives as “normal” as possible.  It worked for a while.

Now, our children are ages 16, 14 and 12.  There really is no more hiding, and it wouldn’t be fair to be less than honest with them.   They know Dad is sick.  They see it every day.  We don’t make a point of talking about his illness, but we answer honestly now, when they have questions.  That is a hard transition to make.  As parents, we want to protect our kids from the difficult parts of life.  Nobody wants their kids to grow up with a sick parent, constant financial struggle, and an inability to know what can be expected in the future.  Under the best of circumstances, none of us can predict what the future will hold.  But with an illness, it’s even harder.  Life is lived on a day to day basis.  Plans are hard to make.  Promises are almost impossible.

For a long time, I felt guilty that our kids were dealt this hand…living in a family with a chronic illness that hangs over us every single day.  I felt it was unfair to my husband, and myself, but especially to our children.  I had an amazing, happy, care free childhood, and it hurt my heart to know that my kids wouldn’t have the same experience.  I’ve always wondered how this experience would affect the rest of their lives.  Would they grow up feeling cheated, or insecure, depressed, or anxiety ridden?

As our kids grow older, I find myself looking at our situation in a different way.  I’ve accepted that this is how things are and there is nothing we can do about it.  We can fight it and wish it were different.  That doesn’t work…I’ve tried it.  We can let it consume us and ruin our lives.  For me, that has never been an option and I wouldn’t allow my kids to let it affect them that way either.  Now, I try to look at it another way…a way that will hopefully help my kids.  My kids are, and always have been, watching me and how I respond to my husband, his illness, and our life as a family.  I hope that they have learned that spouses are loyal, through sickness and health.  I hope they have seen that life can be brutally hard and not go as planned, but that you simply don’t give up.   I hope they have learned that sometimes, you just have to put your head down and plow through the tough times, and that eventually you WILL come out the other side.

Now that our kids are more aware of what is happening,  they are asking me more questions, and talking to me about their feelings…whether positive or negative.  It’s my opportunity to continue to teach.  The most common feeling they have mentioned is frustration.  They get frustrated that their Dad sleeps a lot, and spends a lot of time just sitting and watching TV, or wandering aimlessly around the house, not doing much of anything.   They get frustrated when they see that he eats and drinks unhealthy food.  They get frustrated that he is often too tired to do something with them, or drive them somewhere.  They get frustrated when he won’t wear a seatbelt.  I completely understand their frustration, but I take those conversations as the opportunity to sympathize with them and to teach them that we can only control ourselves, not other people.  My kids tell me they don’t like to talk about it (as they are talking about it), and it gives me the chance to tell them that talking about it relieves them of the burden of holding it in.  I encourage them to talk about their anger and frustration because I know it helps to let go of it and share it with someone else.  I tell them it will eat them up to hold it in if they are sad, angry, or upset about something.  They tell me they want to spend more time with their Dad, but don’t know what to do with him.  I tell them to tell him that they want to spend time with him…it will make him feel good, and they will always remember the times they spent together.   Communication is important, and they should always tell him when they want to be with him.

As life evolves, and the years go by in our household, there will always be teachable moments that I hope will help my kids throughout their lives.  I could live with a heavy heart, wishing that life for my kids was different.  Or, I can share my experience with them in the hopes that they can move forward through their lives with a little bit of wisdom, and a foundation for dealing with the hard blows life can throw at them.

Out Of The Ashes

Living in a household affected by chronic illness is challenging, stressful, frustrating, and sometimes next to impossible.  It often feels like a jail sentence from which there is no escape.  But over the past almost seven years, my family has experienced amazing acts of kindness that we may not have seen if all had been well in our world.

In October of 2010, my husband wound up in the hospital with a failing kidney.  It was decided that he needed a nephrostomy tube placed through his back and into his kidney to allow it to drain properly.  His tumor had occluded his ureter and his kidney was swollen.  It was the only thing they could do to save his kidney function on that side.  We didn’t know it at the time, but that was the turning point for his disease and we had yet to feel the full impact on our family.  Meanwhile, I had a hip resurfacing surgery scheduled for early November that year, and we decided I should keep the surgery date and get it done before he was any sicker and I couldn’t take the time to do it.  I had surgery, and a few weeks later, my hip fractured, and I had to return to surgery for a total hip replacement.  My second surgery was 10 days before Christmas, and my sick time had run out.  Neither of us had any income coming in.  With three young kids, and no income, the stress of Christmas was the highest it had ever been.

One day, a letter came in the mail, addressed to me.  I opened it and found $500 with a note saying that it was so my children could have a nice Christmas.  It was signed, “Santa.”  I felt the tension release from my shoulders immediately, and was so excited that I could buy them presents to put under the tree.  A week or so after that, we found a gift basket full of cheese, crackers, snacks, and assorted other goodies, left inside our back door.  There was no note and we had no idea who had left it for us.  We put it under the tree to save for another day.  We decided to open it a few days before Christmas.  At the bottom of the basket was a green gift box.  I opened the box and found $800 in cash.  To this day, we don’t know who left those for us.  But whoever it was, they were our Christmas angels that year, and we will be forever grateful for their kindness and generosity.  That was the most stressful two months of our lives.  Our world had completely fallen apart, and yet out of the ashes came hope, love, and incredibly kind gestures that made all the difference to us that Christmas.

Over the years since my husband got sick, we have been the recipients of numerous kindnesses from many people.  Our friend celebrated her 40th birthday, and asked all of her friends and family to donate money to help us, in lieu of gifts for herself.  Our parents have helped us out numerous times when we were in a bind.  They have paid our mortgage at times, bought us heating oil, bought us appliances when ours had broken, and my awesome uncle even gave me a car when mine had died.  Friends gave us money this past Christmas and we were able to buy heating oil and pay some bills.  My parents treated us to a Disney vacation,  have taken us on vacation to the beach in North Carolina, and my husband’s parents treated us this summer to a vacation in Vermont.  The list goes on and on.  People have made us dinners, and taken our kids to do things, and helped with projects around the house.  Every gesture of kindness has been very much appreciated and drastically reduced our stress during those tough times.

Families dealing with chronic illness tend to get caught up in the day to day stress of trying to keep their lives as normal as possible, even though their lives are anything but normal.  It helps to take a step back sometimes and look at the good that has come out of a tragic situation.  We have had friends come into our lives who have provided companionship, laughter, and time away from “the disease.”  Anonymous people have come through to help us when we needed it most.  We all have a choice to get lost in the rubble, or to stand up and see the beauty that can come from the same mess. We were dealt a crappy hand, but because of that hand, we have also been given the profound gift of friendship, love and generosity.  THAT is the true gift.

Grandma

This blog post will be a little different today.  I am writing about my grandmother who is celebrating her 90th birthday today.  While most of my readers don’t know her, I wanted to write about her because she has been one of the greatest influences on my life, and one of the ways I can honor her is with my words.  I will be giving her a copy of this post, in a card at her upcoming party.

 

Dear Gram,

Today, on the occasion of your 90th birthday, I want to express to you all the things I love about you and the ways in which you have influenced me over the past 46 years of my life.  You have been there for me since day one and you have always been like a second mother to me.  I don’t remember the first two years of my life when we lived right next door to you, but going to your house, even today, makes me feel like I’m home.  You are always so happy to see me and always willing to make coffee and have a bite to eat and spend time visiting.  I feel like I can talk to you about almost anything and your words of advice stay with me.  Some of my favorite memories from childhood include sleeping over at your house and staying up late to watch TV with you while Grandpa fell asleep on the couch, and the shopping trips and errands we would go on where you would always buy me “a little something.”  I remember all your roast beef dinners, and the holidays that were always celebrated at your house. Christmas will never be the same anywhere else.

I love to hear your stories about France, your childhood, your parents and especially the World War II stories when the Germans occupied France.  Of course, I also love to hear about how you met Grandpa, and the night my Mom was born on your mother’s dining room table.  You are a master story teller with a gift of description that brings your listeners to the place and time of your stories.  You are always willing to share your personal stories, even if it means making fun of yourself or sharing something embarrassing that you did.  Your story telling is one of my most favorite things about you.  My children also love your stories and I love that they will remember you and your stories.

One of the things I admire most about you is your incredible artistic talent.  I don’t know anyone who has a knack for decorating like you do, and I don’t know anyone else who takes it upon themselves to walk into their daughter’s or granddaughter’s home and make adjustments to the decor without being asked.  We never minded because it always looked a million times better!  And you did it from your heart, and to help us love our homes as much as you love yours.  You are amazing with a sewing machine and I know over your many years you have made wardrobes of clothes, but most impressive and meaningful are the many wedding gowns, head pieces, and hats you have made.  I hope someday one of my girls will wear the beautiful head piece you made me for my wedding.  Then there is the knitting.  There have been many babies who have been blessed with the baby sweaters and hats you have made over the years.  I cherish the sweaters you made for my babies, and all the hats and scarves that kept my children warm over the years.  My favorite thing, though, is that every year you take a baby sweater to the hospital on Grandpa’s birthday and donate it to an underprivileged newborn baby.  You are always so generous with your love and talents.

Your generosity is another quality you have that I admire.  You have always been willing to help out any of your children or grandchildren with anything…whether it was a home cooked meal, or an item from your home that someone could use, or even cash to help someone get by during a rough patch.  You have a way of giving without making the other person feel bad or guilty, and you have no idea how much that is appreciated by all of us.  You also are willing to help strangers.  I’ve seen you help elderly people in stores, or assist a child with something out in public, or simply donate something to a stranger when one of your children or grandchildren mention they know someone in need.  I also remember several holidays when you took in people you didn’t know who had no family nearby, and let them spend the holiday with our big family and enjoy an incredible dinner.  You share your love and let your light shine, and the world is a better place for it.  I know mine is.

Your job as mother is where you shine the brightest.   You took care of your children in a way that every mother should.  Their needs were always first, they always had a hot meal, beautiful home made clothing, a happy place to live, and tons of love.  You took care of Grandpa throughout your life together, right up to his last breath.  He was so lucky to call you his wife.  You have that same love for your grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Everyone knows that Mom, Grandma or Grandee will take care of them.  You taught my Mom how to be a Mom, and she taught me how to be a Mom.  I hope that my girls continue to carry it on.

Grandma, you are one of the strongest women I know and that is one of the biggest influences you have had on me.  Life hasn’t always been easy for you.  You’ve survived a war, and left your country to come here to raise a family.  Our family has had it’s share of difficult times, but you are a pillar of strength for everyone.  You never let it get the best of you.  You have survived the worst of nightmares in the loss of your child,  Uncle Jeff.  I can’t imagine the devastation of losing a child, and I know it was devastation for you.  But you carry on, and live and laugh.  That is an incredible gift to him, and the rest of your family.  So many mothers would get lost in their grief and never be the same again, but you are still here for the rest of us.  As I go through difficult times in my life, I think of you and your strength and it helps me carry on and do the same for my family.  Thank you so much for that.

I could go on, but those were the things I especially wanted you to know.   I love you more than words can express, and I want you to know that you will forever occupy a large piece of my heart.  I will carry you with me for the rest of my days, and I will be here for you for the rest of yours.  Have a very happy 90th birthday, Gram.  I love you!

 

Renee