For the Sake of Mom by Jean Marie Keenan-Johnston
This weekend was beautiful! When my daughter woke this morning, her first comment to me was about the singing birds she heard outside her window…hearing her mention this made me smile to myself because for the past few days I’ve been noticing the emerging beauty of Spring every time I take out the dogs or jump into the car to run an errand. It was just yesterday I realized the tree out front is finally getting buds on it! I saw my first bumblebee of the season, darting among the clover in my less than perfect yard. I pointed out a bunny to my girls. He sat on our front walkway, and as I opened the front door and quietly brought them to the door to catch a glimpse, he just sat there as if he was waiting to give them a chance to say hello. I watched two small birds “wrestling” in the street today, as I drove back into our driveway on my way home from a trip to the pharmacy and grocery store. So many glimpses of the beauty of nature showing us the wonders of Spring, my very favorite season. So many feelings of peace and calm…I almost sigh aloud, smiling to myself, when I feel the warming sunshine on my face and catch sight of another sign of Spring showing itself. So many chances to feel more rested and more relaxed because that’s what this season does for me…after the season of Winter offers so much pain and so many obstacles, I always enjoy all the positive feelings Spring gives me. And after these past two months, it’s appreciated even more.
My mother is 77 years old, and almost two months ago she began to have terrible abdominal and pelvic pain. After a CT scan in the emergency room, we learned she had an abscess around her colon, a serious problem caused by a bout with diverticulitis. My mother described the pain as worse than ANYTHING she’s ever experienced in her life…birthing two children, repeated kidney infections, a history of colitis and other attacks of diverticulitis. Every hospital admission lasted about a week. Mom would show up at the emergency room in dire pain, be admitted to be given IV antibiotics, stay for almost a week, and improve. Each time her tests showed the abscess shrinking, but each time she returned home, the pain would return…with a vengeance. In the end, she had to have surgery because the abscess kept returning every time she was taken off the IV antibiotics. A few days ago, Mom was discharged from the hospital for the third time in two months, but instead of going home, she’s been admitted to a rehab facility to recover from her surgery. It’s been a really tough road…it’s the first really serious health problem she’s encountered since losing my dad last Fall, and the repeated stays at the hospital with all the severe pain have really worn her out. She’s only just now, a little over a week following her surgery, starting to feel a bit more like her self. Watching her get to this point hasn’t been easy.
Until now, during the past six years I’ve only had fears of being inadequate as a mother and wife because of the problems I encounter every day from my fibromyalgia. I also at times feel let down a bit myself for not being able to achieve all I want to achieve. I haven’t taught in six years and my attempts at returning to certain hobbies of mine haven’t been exactly “successful” while newer projects, like my two blogs, have been extremely difficult to tackle because of the extra hurdles in my path to make them successful. But now this situation with my mom has raised the stakes.
My mother doesn’t have my father with her to help care for her in times of illness anymore, so she must rely on her children. Being the oldest and possibly the child with the strongest “caretaker” kind of personality, I don’t feel like I can leave her care to others, no matter how much pain and fatigue my involvement causes me. It’s certainly not easy to care for a parent when you’re a strong and healthy individual. Your own responsibilities – children, housework, your husband – all can take a back seat for a bit but they’re still there in need of your time back at home. You feel pulled in different directions because you can’t be in two places at once. You’re exhausted, drained, most likely scared about what the outcome may be, and possibly even angry deep down that so much is being asked of you. Maybe you don’t have the assistance of loved ones, or maybe there’s constant tension as you find yourselves as siblings forever bickering about what’s best for your aging parent. But when you have a chronic condition like fibromyalgia, there are more problems to contend with than these. Long drives to hospitals, hours spent standing in emergency rooms or sitting in uncomfortable chairs in waiting areas can cause terrible body aches and stiffness. A stretch of visits over a period of five days caused me to miss visits throughout most of my mom’s second hospital stay, a recovery period I should have expected but was upset to have to admit to myself and my family. Managing my fibro while trying to keep up with my family and my mom’s treatment has definitely proven to be difficult in more ways than one!
But I can’t stay away. My mother has been through so much with me…she’s been a family advocate during my fibromyalgia, my biggest cheerleader and babysitter to my children during my breast cancer treatment, one of my best friends….how can I leave her in her time of need? Until now I knew I had to find a balance in my life…a way to successfully manage my pain while trying to keep up with housework, cooking, pet care, raising my children and being a wife to my husband. Now that balance seems even more crucial. I feel like I’m on borrowed time while she’s in the rehab facility; I know she’s safe right now, under the care of wonderfully experienced nurses. But when she comes home and we start all over, I know there are some in my family who worry about whether or not I would be able to care more fully for my family and my mother in the same weeks should she come home needing our assistance.
During my most exhausting and painful hours, doubt has an easier time creeping into my thinking. I feel a renewed strength from talking with my mom and her sisters, more wonderful cheerleaders, all “trained” by my incredible grandmother (probably the origin of my awesome “caretaker” gene!). I look back upon my life and see all I’ve been able to successfully accomplish for myself and my family despite the hold of fibromyalgia – the birthday parties, the scrapbooking and other craft projects, the learning experiences I’ve provided for my little ones, just to name a few examples – and I see that while I don’t feel like Superwoman, I’ve certainly pulled off some pretty heroic feats! Lately I can add the times I’ve been able to race to the hospital forty-five minutes from my house or the night I stayed overnight at the hospital with her. I may pay a price for it all in the end, but just as I continue to push myself to be all I can be for my husband and children, I’ll have a very hard time backing away from helping my mother in her final years with us if that decision ever becomes necessary for both our sakes. Losing my father so quickly was a screaming message about how fast parents can be taken from us. So as long as I’m able to manage, even if it comes at a hefty price of pain and exhaustion, I’ll be the advocate and caretaker I was born to be…all for the sake of my mom.
(Dedicated to my mother, the woman who is forever the sign of strength and perseverance whenever needed in my life, the woman who grew to be more of a friend than a parent during my adult years, and the woman who taught me how to be the mother I want to be for my girls. I love you, Mommy!!! Feel better soon!)