Thursday, January 31, 2008

How well do you really know your spouse?

In the beginning of any serious relationship, you want to know every little detail about each other. What movies does he like? What kind of music is she interested in? What does he like to eat? How does he take his coffee? Is she into books or sports ? Or both? How many other significant relationships have they had? And on and on it goes.

But after a while, you settle into a comfortable routine. You have separate interests, careers, and roles within the relationship or household. And (if you're lucky) you have Intimacy. Those intense and very special moments together (as you go about the every-day busy-ness of life) are to be cherished. Love deepens and passion takes a back seat for a while (not lost, but simmering just below the surface).

However, when you become the primary Caregiver to your spouse, a different kind of Intimacy evolves - not the kind you wholeheartedly threw yourself into when first married.
Sex has nothing to do with it. In fact sex is a distant memory as it now falls into the category of aerobics. Breathing is Hubby's first priority. And if you don't breathe, you don't do anything else. Period.

As time passes and this incidious disease progresses, Hubby is slowly giving up his independent self. I check his bodily functions daily. Does "input" equal "output"? Is he taking his medications? Washing?

For the last few years now, I have had to help Hubby with bathing and dressing. How demeaning, not to be able to take a shower (hand movements tire him out and lower his 02 sats), or step into and out of the bathtub alone. If I'm not home - he doesn't bathe.

A body is a body is a body and we each have one, so that's not the Intimacy I'm referring to here. It's the thoughts going through his head, the feelings in his heart.
In the beginning of a relationship every emotion and thought pales in comparison to Love. We are saturated with Love. How do you feel? In Love. What are you thinking about? Love! As time passes, Love settles comfortably over everything, like a dustcover, and the rest of our emotions and thoughts can come out to play.

Sitting in our sunny kitchen at lunchtime today, I found myself truly listening to what Hubby found interesting enough to share with me. When he talks football or hockey my eyes glaze over. Same with finance. He knows it. I know it. I smile and nod and then talk about what interests me. Often it's the grandchildren, or gardening (yes, even in January). He listens and hungrily jumps in with two feet. He gives me his full attention, whether he "enjoys" that particular topic or not.

But for the first time today, I realized just how important his interests are to him. His world has shrunk. He stays at home. Consequently, watching football or hockey on TV becomes the focus of his day.
The focus of his life.
And I have been missing out on listening to his thoughts, his interpretations and his feelings - which are so important to him at this point in his life.
His life has become a Communication of the Mind. The body hardly participates anymore.

Whether I'm interested in a subject or not, it's the essence of Hubby's {{ Now}} We don't know how much time we each have on this planet. We only have {{ Now}}. And if I miss {{Now}} I am missing a vital part of Hubby's existence.

So I resolve to "pay attention", to hear beyond his words. Is there a plea for Understanding? For Interaction? Reassurance? For intimacy that goes beyond the body?
Is there a voice crying to be heard?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What the heck? going on with the grandkids? My brand-new grandson (5 weeks old today) is just out of surgery to correct a pyloric stenosis. I got the call from my frazzled Elder Son yesterday. He and his wife had spent the afternoon and all night in the Childrens' Hospital. Baby was diagnosed with pyloric stenosis and booked for surgery this morning.

Geez- what a way to begin life!

And my granddaughter (who just had her 1st birthday) has GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). What's with these babies and their tummies?

Fortunately, this stuff can be corrected today. Baby Grandson with surgery. Baby Granddaughter hopefully without surgery.

My younger son asked "what happened years ago to babies like this?"
"They would die". I told him factually.

He doesn't know what it's like living in a world where babies die routinely from infections or conditions correctable only through surgery. Come to think of it - neither do I. I grew up with antibiotics and vaccinations. I remember my mother giving me horrible-tasting medicine in the middle of the night. In those days they had to wake us "round the clock" for antibiotics. My sister and I had our tonsils out and one of my brothers was rushed to hospital for an appendectomy.

Today, not only do we have state-of-the-art equipment, diagnostic tools and medications, but internet information, message boards and support sites for every condition under the sun.

There's a strong wind howling outside today. Treetops blowing around crazily like upside down brooms, look like they might snap off and zap our roof! A downpour of freezing rain kept me from going out this morning; not only because of hazardous driving conditions, but also the constant fear of a power outage. It's always worse in winter. Ten years ago we had that famous "ice storm" that plunged us in darkess for almost 3 weeks. Fortunately, Hubby did not have COPD then. A power outage was inconvenient.
Now it's life-threatening.

This weird weather usually brings on headaches. Hubby feels out-of-sorts. But today, he's having a Good Day. His rehab exercises went well this morning. And when he can do his exercises without fatigue, or having-to-stop-because-his-heartrate-is-too-high-or-his-oxygen- sats-too-low, we celebrate!!

Strange weather, sick babies, and well COPD'ers. Is this how we learn to "expect the unexpected"???

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Passing on Good Energy

On my way to my granddaughter's birthday party, I pulled into a gas station.
Looking around I noticed that all pumps were full and I'd have to wait in line. Oh no! Who wants to spend Saturday afternoon in a gas station???

I had 3 choices:
1) I could come back later (but would probably forget).
2) I could wait impatiently and become frustrated (blowing things out of proportion only makes them worse - they'd probably charge me the wrong price or mix up my credit card).
3) I could assemble the birthday gift in the car while waiting for the Gas Guy (yes, I've done that before - what a rotten grandma).

I chose door # 3.

Leaning over the back seat, I transferred gift and wrappings to my lap. The frilly baby dresses I wrapped in pink tissue, plopped them in the gift-bag and was sprinkling chocolate valentine hearts over it all, when I was startled by the Gas Guy appearing at my window.

"Combien, Madame?"

"Fill it up, please - rempli" (in Quebec our conversations are usually carried out half in English and half in French).

Gee that was quick! My spirits picked up instantly. He fitted the nozzle into the gas tank and was just turning towards another car when my hand reached out the window, thrusting the last few valentine hearts in his face.

"Veux-tu une chocolate?" I asked, offering him one.

"Merci", he answered looking genuinely pleased.
He popped the chocolate into his mouth and went back to the other customers.

I was feeling Good, so I passed the Energy on to him.

My next stop was Reno Depot - a hardware store that stocks a wonderful selection of fresh flowers. I picked up a pot of pretty pink tulips (try saying that one with your mouth full!) and a matching container to put them in.
The cashier was a sweet young girl who just scanned the bottom of the container, thinking that the tulips were part of the arrangement.

Hmm - do I tell her she made a mistake? Or take the tulips and run?
I chose #2.

And passed Good Energy on to my granddaughter.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Granddaughter!

Yesterday it was my Granddaughter's First Birthday!
I can't believe a whole year has gone by. That first year of a new baby's life is filled with wonder and delight!
What I loved the most was watching my Daughter bond with her baby.
This is something only a grandparent can observe.

Over the months of her first year, Daughter and her daughter became closer, more in tune with each other. I could see Love developing and deepening. It takes more time for baby and daddy to develop this bond, but that is only natural. Daddies don't have breasts.

When you're in the middle of raising your own children, there is precious little time for reflection.
You take things as they come and "just do it" - whatever that may be. So as a grandma, I can sit back and enjoy. The hard thing to do is to keep my mouth shut. It is so tempting to tell the younger generation how to raise their kids. After all, in my time - I've been there, done that.

But Time marches on. A New Year has begun and with it, the cycle of birthdays to celebrate. Each child will be a year older. Some will be reaching milestones this year - my eldest grandchild will be starting high school in the fall. Baby boy, who was born just after Christmas last year will be celebrating his First Birthday in December 2008.

As a young person, I never looked this far ahead into life (who does in their youth - and why should they?). School, friends, marriage and babies were on the agenda. Becoming a Grandparent? Egads! That concept was so far away, I couldn't even imagine it.

Well, now it's here. A time to slow down and celebrate the good things in life.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Something weird happened in the night.

I don't sleep well at night.
When my husband was first diagnosed with COPD, I would awaken several times during the night to make sure he was breathing.
This became a pattern.
Now, I rarely sleep a full night. Actually never. I always wake up for some reason.

For a long time Hubby blamed my insomnia on hormones. He didn't want to feel responsible for my wakefulness. He was partly right. Hot flashes are not conducive to a good night's sleep.

I have learned over the past year that I must stop checking on Hubby constantly. Whatever will be will be. I cannot change his COPD. I cannot stop his disease process. I cannot "save" him when he stops breathing forever.

Last night, I was sound asleep. Actually, it was in the wee hours of the morning.
Probably around 4:00 or 5:00.
"WENDY!!!" someone yelled.
I awoke with a start!
Who was that? And why did they yell at me?

Instinctively, I reached over and put my hand on Hubby's back (he was sleeping on his stomach). I thought it felt still. No reassuring up and down movement.

So, I smacked him - not too hard, but enough to make him roll around.

What had just happened?
Did he really stop breathing for a minute or two? Did I get a real call from a real angel or spirit?
Or was it nothing at all?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sometimes we try so darn hard..... dance in the rain (or snow) that we end up falling flat on our faces. I'm talking about the quote "Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain".

I can't go to work - Hubby needs me at home. I miss the socialization of being out in the workforce, not to mention the paycheque.
So, I'm at home. And it's winter.
I'm happy with this Blog. It lets me be creative, completely on my terms.
But it's still winter.
I need something else to do. Something that will bring in money and make me feel productive. Just until gardening season. Then I'll be outside all day, my hands in the warm Earth.

I saw an ad in the newspaper for a "medical transcriptionist".
I used to do that years ago. I'm sure I can still do medical typing now.
I applied - and got the job.
Then I read the contract and found out how much they pay - actually how little they paid.

I fell flat on my face.
I had imagined this to be such a wonderful business opportunity. I'd rise to the top of the ranks in no time! Look out world-of-stay-at-home-people-who-work-from-home.
I was going to be successful!

I peeked in at Hubby - still peacefully sleeping, totally unaware of my inner chaos.
He has no idea the amount of soul-searching I do when he sleeps.
I could tell he wasn't very happy when I got the job. But I resolved to go ahead anyway - until I read the contract.

Just the thought of working with my left brain instead of my right put me in a tailspin. The money was just the trigger, the straw that broke the camel's back, the perceived insult that got me back on track.

So I think I'll stop dancing in the rain or snow - just let things be for now.
And pretend there is no storm.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

And we have our Good Days!

I feel lucky.
We have had a string of Good Days.
Hubby has Energy! Something that is constantly in short supply with COPD'ers.

Is it the bright January sun, streaming through our kitchen windows?
A sun that turns snow drifts into sparkling jewels?

Is it all the sleep he'd had before these Good Days?

Most of the time we never find out. That's the nature of the illness. There will be good days and there will be bad days.

But today, he is chipper (did I really say that?) in good spirits, and his exercise program is going well. Those re-hab exercises are usually the barometer of how Hubby's body is handling his COPD.

The key word here is "usually". There is nothing "usual" about this disease.
There are days when his work-out seems to go well (02 sats stay within normal, heart rate is not too high), but he feels tired or headachey.
Then other days, he feels fine, but his work-out is just that - work!

As I've said before, COPD is a roller-coaster ride.
And at this moment we're flying high!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sitting on the Edge

I feel tense. I feel anxiety in my body. I feel like I'm sitting on the edge of something.
It is not a comfortable feeling.
Hubby is sleeping - has been most of the day.
So, I wait.
Do I go out? Stay in?
Call someone on the phone? Bake some cookies? Clean the house?
Will I finish my task or be interrupted?
What am I waiting for? Hubby to get better or Hubby to get worse?
I truly don't know.
It's the not knowing that keeps me "sitting on the edge".
Am I caught up in his energy once more? Do I have to remind myself yet again to "detach" and let him go through whatever he needs to and not get my energy sucked out in the process?

Supper is over and once again the sun has come out - hubby is washing dishes.
He still looks tired. He still looks frail.
But - he is up and washing dishes.
Things are back to normal - for tonight.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Wills and Chills

There's a chilly rain falling outside. Our spring thaw has turned into freezing rain. It's horrible.
The damp and cold make Hubby tired and lethargic - and depressed. Even though we have a nice, warm, cozy house, somehow the dampness sneaks its way in and seeps into his bones.

That's why we were discussing "Wills" this morning. Hubby discusses his Will and our investments when he is depressed.
He wants to make sure I will be O.K.
I find it hard to hold back tears. I'm trying to be objective, but it still hurts.

He gets upset if I get upset, so I focus on remaining detached - as if this is a discussion about somebody else.

I know I should be counting my blessings. I have a Hubby who cares about me deeply; one who wants to make sure I am looked after when he goes.
But.... does he really have to go??

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Did I forget to mention the warmth of foggy January?

Out of the fog, the eerie fog, sprinkled a fine mist of rain.
It was warm. Unseasonably warm for January.
I opened all the windows in the house to let in the warm air - fog, rain, and eveything.
We always have a January thaw, but not usually until the end of the month.

It felt like Spring outside! I bought a pot of daffodils and put them on my kitchen windowsill. Down came all the Christmas decorations - the red candles with pinecones and evergreen branches, red bows, Christmas cards (yes, some people still send Christmas cards by snail-mail).

We could hear the snow melting off the roof. Our driveway has patches of pavement showing! Yippee - Mother Nature is really teasing us. But I don't care. For today I will enjoy this spring-like weather.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Eerie Fog in January

January! Cold! Snow! Ice! Deep Freeze! Hibernation! Animals in their innate wisdom slumber away this bleak and cold season.

People bundle up in heavy warm winter coats and snowsuits, scarves, hats, mitts, boots. Your mouth emits steam as you talk; making everyone appear to be smoking cigarettes.
Snowmen stand frozen and erect in yards. Icicles hang off roofs.
I remember as a kid sticking my tongue on the frozen metal of our front door. It stuck!!! In panic, I'd pull my tongue back, ripping off a layer of skin, the metallic taste of blood instantly filling my mouth. My older brothers watching and laughing.
Do kids still do that today?

Over the last 3 days, however, it's been eerily foggy. Thick, heavy fog, that sits like a heavy shroud transporting us to another world. Swirly fog so bad that I can't see my neighbour's house across the street. Time is erased. No sun to mark the time of day.

The doorbell rings. I open the door to see a repairman standing on my front porch, his face a ghostly white in the strange light.
"Sorry, I'm late". He didn't sound particularly sorry. And he was almost 2 hours late. I thought he'd lost his way, or forgotten the appointment.

The phone rang. The line crackled with static.
Nobody there.

I decided to venture out once the repairman left. Visibility was bad - would it be wiser to wait until tomorrow?
Nah - I'll chance it. Traffic should be minimal. It was, except for the ever-present 18-wheelers roaring at you out of the fog.

At the grocery store, while going through the cash I noticed that the cashier looked spacey, not quite "all there". She gave me 42 cents change. Then turned back to the cash drawer and gave me the rest - $4. Strange.

Next I went to the dep (corner store) for a hazelnut coffee. They guy serving me kept repeating
"Just coffee?"
"Yes, just coffee"
"Are you sure?"
What's there to be sure about, I thought. I just wanted coffee.
"How about a Celebration?"
He pointed to some lotto tickets.
"No thanks - just coffee."
I couldn't wait to get out of there. Jeeze, what's wrong with everybody today?

Even the girl at Tim Horton's where I get hubby's coffee looked asleep on her feet and she charged me the wrong price! (I know, I know - what on earth am I doing going to 2 different places to buy coffee when we have a perfectly good (and relatively new) coffeemaker at home.)
I guess we get quirky in our old age (or indulgent).

Rounding the bend of the Tim Horton's building, a service man with a drill in his hand leered up at me out of the dense fog. What the heck? Who was this guy and what was he doing?
Probably exactly what he was being paid for - fixing something. But he looked ghostly, like some weirdo out of a movie. I certainly hope not - he had a lethal drill in his hand.

Strange fog. Strange day.
Boy, was I glad to get home.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Crumbling Body, Shining Spirit

My Hubby's body is deteriorating.
I can see it in the way he struggles to breathe.
I can see it in his emaciated muscles.
I can see it in moments of confusion.
I can see it in his need for more sleep.
And there are other bodily functions, just beginning their descent into shutting down.

And yet - as I look deeply into his gentle brown eyes, I can see his Spirit shining through. His eyes sparkle at a shared joke, a memory, the voice of his grandson over the phone.
How can that be?

While Christmas shopping, I ran into an old friend. Someone I hadn't seen in years.
"How are you?" she enquired.
"Fine." I answered "how about you?"
"Oh, I've got cancer." I nearly jumped out of my skin.
"Yes", she continued, "it started in my breast and now it's in my bones and lungs".

"But you look fine!" I blurted out before I could think. Is this the right response? Does somebody in this situation want to look fine? Or do they want you to say "yeah, you look tired" or something similarly vague, as a way of admitting that things are not quite right.

I looked into her eyes. I scanned her body, trying to get a feeling for her energy. She looked like any normal middle-aged woman out shopping. Not someone who had metastatic cancer.

How can that be? How can someone be so sick and yet look normal. Here she was dressed comfortably in jeans and sweater, hair done, a touch of make-up, carrying a shopping bag in each hand. She had the energy to go Christmas shopping!!

As the days pass, I wonder "will this be the day?"
"No", I answer myself "Hubby is still doing his rehab exercises. He is still able to eat normally. He still has interest in life - watches sports on T.V. and reads books. He talks to his sons over the phone. He clings to his daily routine, like the survivor of a ship-wreck who clings to a piece of wood. And he still has a Shining Spirit.

One day this Spirit will go out. But for now, I am marveling on the strength behind this "will to live" - this strong Shining Spirit.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Honouring The Journey

I "googled" Hospice the other day. I had wanted to have a better handle on the bodily changes a person might go through towards the end of his life. This "need to know" seems to be some sort of emotional protective device I use, keeping me aware of even the slightest change in Hubby's health - so I can be prepared.

I found and the following story - which helped me tremendously in accepting this Journey we Caregivers are on.

The caregiver has given time and love in ways that people see and respect, even if they do not fully understand. But the caregiver has received "gifts" from the dying person: trust and love of a kind rarely experienced, and the dying experience itself. It is all of this and something more that the caregiver receives. In trying to explain what it is about, one man offered the following analogy that he referred to as "The Journey."

Imagine helping a friend on a journey to a remote monastery perched on top of a mountain. As you begin your trip, the path is fairly clearly marked and the goal easily seen in the distance. But as you approach, the monastery is often obscured by the tops of trees in the forests through which you pass. And you say " if only we could get out of this woods, we would be able to see the monastery again and see where we're going." And as you continue the climb, the path fades and much is accomplished by guesswork. You call on your friend for help. After all, this is his trip and he should know what he's doing. But he becomes older and weaker and relies more on you moment by moment.

Things get worse. You lose the path and you are tired and hungry. But, he can not proceed alone and you can't leave him on the mountain while you return to the warmth and safety of home. So, you find a new reserve of strength, enough for both of you, and you continue up the mountain, for now it is your journey, as well. You look at yourself anew and find that you have grown older, become more mature like your friend, and you accept this as part of the mutual trip. And in accepting your role as guide you find that you are guided, that your friend, whose legs have crumpled beneath him by now, offers you wellsprings of courage and hope. You drink deeply, for you realize that if either of you are to make it to the top, it will need both of you guiding and supporting the other in ways constantly changing and unimaginable.

One day when you least expect it, the heavy cedar gates of the monastery are suddenly dead ahead. The trip had become the whole purpose, it seemed, and the monastery forgotten. But there it stands: Your friend's objective has been reached The door opens to admit your friend and, as if you had performed the ritual many times before, you hand your friend over the threshold. The door closes, and you stand there numb, alone, bewildered.

Out of habit you continue walking. It doesn't seem to matter in what direction, for each of the possible paths lead back down from the mountain.

The trip down seems easier than the trip up was. The mountain holds few surprises, now, and there is ample time to sit and ponder before reaching the valley below. And somehow in reviewing the trip with your friend, its moments of desperation and fear are overshadowed by the times of giving and accepting, of sharing and journeying together. Memory of the monastery fades and in its place stand crystal images of points along the upward trek. There was the time you picked him up and carried him across the rocks when his strength failed. And there was the time when you slipped and lost your grasp, but he held you up and supported you with the power of his mind. There was something special in those moments, something, which if you could string all of those images together in just the right order, that then, maybe then, you would understand.

As it is, you return to the valley a different person, quieter and stronger, knowing only that you have been a part of something .... holy. This friend shared with you his most personal possession, his death. And though you can't quite comprehend its true value, you find yourself hoping that you will have the ability to fully experience and share your final journey with another wayfarer to whom you can pass on crystal images.

Deep gratitude and celebration are the order of the day for those of us who are called to assist in this challenge. The suffering, remember, is found only in our refusal to let go, only when we refuse to go through the pain and move to the other side. We get through by going through. The rewards are wonderful: the joy and blessings that come from extending the self beyond its own comfort zone; the knowledge we gain of life and death; the love that is lost and found again on a higher plane; and the areas of awareness that are opened. Grief is a healing process to be welcomed and not feared, for when it is allowed to go its own course unobstructed, it will fill with wonder the void that the loss created.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's Day

January 1, 2008. Snow swirls gently outside my window.
My first thought was "oh no - more snow - I'm glad I don't have to drive anywhere today." It seemed to me the heavy snowfall was issuing a dire warning: "this winter will be a long one!"

But as I continued to watch the mesmerizing snow (from the safety of my warm living room), a feeling of peace enveloped me.
After a while, I began to welcome the gentleness; the soft, silent swirling of magic flakes as they descended from above.

As the day wore on the snow intensified; once again covering hedges, the birdhouse and our front walk. I've given up on birdfeeders - the squirrels eat all the food.

What kind of a year will this be? Does the first day always portend the rest of the year?
Does swirling snow indicate turbulence in the coming days? Or will the peace I felt deep within my soul win out?

What do you think? What kind of a New Year's Day did you have?