Thursday, May 31, 2012

When the Dysfunction Hits the Fan

Wow, this past seven days has been a whirlwind of research, phone calls, questions, more research, more questions and phone calls. At times it really does make my head spin.

I had done research on places for my Dad and found a referral service, so I inquired and started the process for getting help from folks who do this sort of thing for a living. I thought it’d be great to have someone ‘in the know’ on our side, especially since it costs us nothing. I quickly found out, however, I could not because I’m not the Power of Attorney.

Sharp learning curve ahead!

I had no idea what Power of Attorney meant, so I pulled out Dad’s will and looked through it. It was only after looking at our own wills that Richard and I saw what I had was in no way complete. I had to call my Step-Mom and ask her to look it up. It was our oldest brother. Okay, I thought, I’ll just forward the information and research to him. A phone call later and letting him know he is the Power of Attorney surprised him. Oh yeah, I’m not alone in being overwhelmed!

Meanwhile, my Sister-in-Law was taking the lead on some things she’d learned from a friend who had been a Critical Care Nurse. It all sounded well and good but it relied heavily on the Social Worker to help with a heck of a lot of stuff. I couldn’t fathom this happening in a big city. At any rate, she started off on that path.

I’d like to say at this point it was all smooth sailing, but no. One week ago today I began the correspondence with the referral agency and then handed that over to my brother at the beginning of this week. He didn’t want to do some of the things he needs to. Oh joy, oh bliss. I didn’t know there was an opt-out of responsibility. Yes, I’m frustrated, exasperated, and a wee bit on the pissed off side!

The dirt was flying, soon no one knew who was doing what and it got confusing not only for us but the Social Worker and the woman at the referral agency. Yep. Welcome to my dysfunctional life. We weren’t functional before this, why ruin the fun and start now? LOL!

It was decided by Step-Mom and the Power of Attorney to have me added to the POA. Okay. My Step-Mom said something to the effect of I hope you’re ready for this. I laughed and said, well, all those years I was trying to keep my house, work, and all was practice for this! Perhaps in reality it was that and more.

In my little world of TBI people’s intentions, including my own, tend to surface rather quickly with strange clarity. I can’t help my family with their baggage, insecurities, excuses, justifications, hang-ups, hesitations, etc. All I know is time is passing by quickly while the buck is being passed and my Dad’s life is at stake. Hello people, get your act together, this is NOT about YOU!

For whatever reason, my brain is sparked by this challenge and responsibility of finding Dad the best care. So much of my past ten years post-injury have been a living hell, going through systems that don’t care one iota about people, being isolated, feeling abandoned, vulnerable. I get it. I have a strong protective streak and I hate anyone being taken advantage of or not receiving the care they need. And passing Dad around like a flaming hot potato irritated the heck out of me.

I had to think about why I was willing to take this on and suddenly seem to be able to rise to the occasion although I get absolutely exhausted.
Here is some of my reasoning so far:
  • Dad served his country in WWII, he donated blood every year, he volunteered most of his life and we saw service and sacrifice in 3-D. You would NEVER hear him complain about his hardships…ever.
  • This is what we were raised for. We knew it would be coming, we didn’t know when and honestly, I have a couple of friends who would have loved to have as much time with their Dad as we did.
  • It’s not about who Dad is or isn’t, was or wasn’t. It’s about doing the right thing.
  • That protective streak in me means I HAVE TO KNOW he is being taken care of.
  • There is just something odd about my TBI being able to handle this type of adversity and challenge. It seems I am at my best in these sorts of situations. Who knew? I am fully aware this will take its toll, I have to pace and plan, process and let go, take care of myself all along the way or I will crash, and crash hard.
  • It is, quite simply, the right thing to do – and – so I live without regret knowing I did my best for him with what I had while I could.
The reason why we are tasked with the responsibility of making sure Dad is cared for is because they divorced. Yes, I know, I still call her my Step-Mom, she still goes to see Dad, but it’s entirely different now.

Maybe putting it into a mental picture can help. There was a woman and her husband out here you’d see often at the local restaurant. Her husband was unable to communicate, had to be directed by his wife where to sit down, she took off his coat, etc. There was an unmistakable sense of respect, honor, love, devotion and acceptance.

You just knew how much she loved him because you could see it. Caring for him was no chore, it was an expression of love.

Well, okay. Here we are with Dad and Step-Mom. She is not seeing him every day and is totally uninvolved in this process. It is the most bizarre thing. They have been married something like 10-15 years and the distance is unsettling, almost eerie.

I got a call from the Social Worker today, initially Dad was going to stay where he is for 6 weeks, then earlier this week they said 3 weeks, and now we’re back to 6 weeks. Why the change? Dad’s getting weaker, more emotional (missing his wife) and his cognition is decreasing.

In no uncertain terms will she have Dad back at her house if he is unable to care for himself. He’s 89-years-old! Nor will she have in-home care for him because she doesn’t want people in her home. Okaayyy…?

I’m struggling to accept just how it is that her personal preferences trump my Dad’s life and how she can be okay with it. To me, it would be optimal to have him return home and have in-home care and pass away in familiar surroundings.

Forgive me for rambling on about this, it’s just my processing of this one is a little slow, and the truth a hard one to swallow. But, in these situations we get to see the best and worst in ourselves and others.

As I've said all along this life post-TBI, if this weren't my life it'd be a fascinating study in human behavior!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Update on Dad


I initially started writing this one week ago today, so much is happening I need to get it posted now before more time passes.

A lot of things have been happening and although I think of the blog often I have not had the time or extra energy to write.  With so much going on I’m never quite sure where to start.

Dad is still in rehab trying to gain strength after he fell in the shower, and, he had a bout with the Flu, the nasty Nora Virus.  He had been very, very ill.  From what I gather he is having a lot of other problems but the doctors have to focus on one thing at a time.  Dad is lucid, for the most part, and, at this point he still recognizes my voice when I call. 

I wonder what this is like for him, being away from home with constant care, sometimes lucid, sometimes confused and talking with a staccato cadence.  That can-do attitude is a powerful thing, but, as I’ve realized, sometimes the greatest wisdom is knowing when to stop fighting, not resigning, but settling in to acceptance which is the only pathway to peace.  Letting go seems counterintuitive to our human nature, especially in this culture of Type-A’s and go-getters.  But those Type-A’s and go-getters never have struck me as the peaceful, happy or content sort anyway…especially since I was one once. 

Life is complicated and difficult, were I to expect anything less is to set myself up for even greater suffering with no hope for healing.  Deepak Chopra was on Oprah’s Life Class and he said every death is a reminder of the brevity of life.  True.  I learned that when my Mom died and I was only 16.  Yes, how are we living right now?  He also mentioned reminding ourselves that everything we see right here, right now will be gone.  Wow. 

We spend a lot of time, money and energy into keeping ourselves alive, ‘fighting’ the signs of aging, pushing to live one more day, distracting ourselves from the unchangeable notion we will all die one day.  Truth is, from the moment we’re born, we’re all dying.  Some sooner than others, but it may be worthwhile to inquire of ourselves just how well we’re living.  Are we living good lives right now? 

I’ve spoken with both my Step-Mom and Sister-in-Law recently.  Ah, these situations bring up the family dysfunction.  Oh joy, oh bliss.  Right now I have a good perspective on things and like not being closer and pulled into it.  That may change as things progress. 

My Sister-in-Law and Nephews will be flying to Seattle in six weeks.  My Sister-in-Law asked if I would be there.  Well, this is the first I’d heard about this so was caught off guard.  I told her it’s difficult for me to travel and she said she understood.  Clearly she does not and cannot understand.  She broached the subject of my not returning her email or voicemails in the past.  Hmm…my processing is in the lowest percentile possible so talking on the phone is NOT a good thing for me and is about as comfortable as an interrogation would be, complete with glaring light.

I tell her I had to back off all communication due to the lawsuit so that’s why I disappeared from online.  She understood and seemed relieved that it wasn’t because I was mad at her.  If I had been, I told her, I didn’t remember!  It didn’t dawn on me until later when I relayed this to Richard it was due to something specific. 

When I had hit rock bottom and my only foreseeable way to keep my house was a fundraiser, she was one of the people I asked if she’d be willing to head it up.  I thought she’d be a good candidate; she’s very involved in the religious community, works for a Christian organization and has a lot of contacts.  Her response?  She has two teenage sons and was TOO BUSY.  Wow.  How she can say how much they love me and yet are completely disconnected, unable to be there or offer even the slightest bit of support.  Hypocrite.  Love is something you do, and, if necessary, use words.

So I sit here thinking of what else to write as there’s so much emotional family baggage to sort through. It’s not important in the big picture of life but it is important for me to process it well and move on.  A lot to let go of, reflecting on who Dad was and wasn’t.  Only recently have I come to terms to just how much my family has been a source of pain.  We’re in the moderate to severe range when it comes to dysfunction, complete with domestic violence, police reports and a whole host of events that can really screw people up.   
Grief need not be ‘bad’ or ‘good,’ it just is.  I revisit, reflect, I do not stay there.  I have the choice to think on it for a while and let it go.  I never had the chance to get away from it growing up.  Just having the choice is empowering and freeing. 

Dad’s wife is struggling to take care of herself right now as she fell, hit her head against the house and was rushed to ER.  They did a CAT scan and said she was fine and sent her home.  She’s had some headaches since then.  She also had that terrible flu my Dad had, one of her sons saw how very, very sick she was and took her to ER for the second time.  They did a second CAT scan and found nothing; she stayed in the hospital overnight for observation and went home the next day.  Well of course, in my mind is a flashing neon sign saying, “BRAIN INJURY” and I say to her that was strange they did not do an MRI, she agreed.  She is still recovering from the flu and is very, very tired. 

Our next step is to find a place for Dad, my preference is to keep him at the rehab facility if at all possible.  He gets good care, he was there previously, they have good food and my Step-Mom concurs the people on staff are wonderful.  Can we afford it?  At this point I don’t know.  We’ll need to find out what sort of benefits my Dad may have from serving in WWII as well as look into his personal assets.

My Sister-in-Law seems ready to take the lead on this although no one has asked her to and I find it odd for how distant they’ve been throughout this why she wants to take this on. ..not to mention letting me fall one step closer to homelessness and hopelessness.  They have a lot going on in their lives from what she’s told me, besides, my brother (her husband) and I are the Executors of Dad’s will.  I would think Dad would want us making the decisions.  This is weird.  Out of three brothers, all older than me, it seems like I’m most in tune and connected with what is going on with everyone. 

I’m still friends on Facebook with the retired Social Worker from rehab and I recall she had to move her father to a care facility too not long ago.  I’m considering asking her for direction because of her experience with this type of situation and understands my TBI.

I did manage to communicate a couple of points to my Sister-in-Law.  One, this is what we were raised to do, it’s our turn to step up to the plate and do the right thing, honor Dad and help him live out his life with dignity and support, and, we don’t need to make this any more difficult than it already is.  By that last comment I meant it is important to live in the moment and not future trip about ANYTHING.  That was how I was able to honor and be present for my dog when it was her time to go and it was beautiful. 

I also said the fear we have about death is learned.  None of us come into this world with a fear of death; it is our experiences or lack of coping skills that make us weak in this area.  I think that’s why I like Patch Adams, the movie, so much.  Why not face death with dignity and maybe even a little humor? 

Talking with her, giving her comfort, encouragement and strength I realized the storms of life had made me stronger and I was surprised.  I hadn’t made myself stronger; every act of kindness shown to me was stored up in my heart.  It is that energy that drives me now…gratitude and service. 

These are difficult moments for sure.  We can go into this complaining and dragging our feet but changes nothing and only serves to increase our own suffering.  Who in the heck wants that?  The process of death can indeed be beautiful, I believe, because it is a process of nature and we are a part of nature.

It’s not about us, it’s not about the dysfunction, mistakes, distance, or grievances experienced.  It’s about letting it all go and living in the moment…and isn’t that what living a good life is all about?  

Being able to be vibrantly alive in the moment , helping ourselves and others have a beautiful, inspiring and empowering experience.  There is beauty in this very moment in each of our lives; it is our job to find it.  Sometimes it is as elusive as a butterfly or as available as the air we breathe.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Why I Said No to Suicide [updated May 23, 2012]

(Written several weeks ago, I had hoped to post it sooner, but have been offline more often than online.)

A previous post mentions a person threatening suicide on Facebook.  There is probably nothing else on earth I take more seriously or pierces as deeply.

I think of the people I’ve read/heard about killing themselves.  Too often you don’t get to know what great people they really were or what great things they accomplished or how their lives touched others; all that stays is a dark, lingering legacy of suicide and difficult, sometimes unresolvable, grief and a chaotic mental twister of unanswerable questions.

Suicide does not scare me, in fact, I understand going to that dark place and staying there.  One can only take so much negative news, rejection, betrayal, loss, etc.  So yes, I thought about it enough to research it.  I had to go there; I had to take myself to that scary, unknown, uncomfortable place of looking straight at it and figuring how I’d do it…even knowing fully the pain I feel when someone else commits suicide.    

Recent events had me reflect why I said no to suicide:
  • I have animals I needed to take care of.
  • It would completely devastate my elderly Dad, family, and friends; they would most likely carry that pain and regret to their graves. 
  • It would be like a slap in the face to anyone and everyone who ever prayed for me or helped me at any time in my life.
  • People I don’t even know right now would be deeply affected by it.
  • I didn’t want to be known only as the woman who committed suicide.
  • My role models never chose suicide, no matter what they’d been through.
  • I think of Denzel Washington in “The Hurricane,” a movie about a man wrongly convicted of murder.  Although imprisoned he nurtured his spirit and mind toward kindness, peace, strength, resilience.
  • Some of my family members are/were from “The Greatest Generation” (Tom Brokaw’s book) who endured much more than I will ever know and they made it through (and never once did they complain.  The only marks left were their strength, compassion, service and resiliency.)
  • I think of those who survived the unthinkable Holocaust and chose to live to make a difference.
  • Regardless of faith or faithlessness, I believe it is not my place to take my own life.  Life is sacred.
  • Suicide resolves nothing, it heals nothing, and it transforms nothing.  I believed the lie that suicide would relieve me of my pain, but in reality, it only transfers it to others and compounds their existing pain.
  • By my nature, I never want to bring pain into other’s lives. 
  • I would not want others follow in my footsteps thinking since I did it, it’s okay for them too.
  • I do not miss the irony so many people are living to die while others are dying to live. 
  • I am reminded of Cyndi Lauper who contemplated suicide at one point her life and didn’t – life got better.  It always does. 
From my walk with suicide I penned:
“Stay intricately connected for suicide calls to the harshly rejected.” 

Suicide or significance and service.  No contest!  My life is to live in gratitude for ALL I have received in my lifetime, and pay-it-forward.

I have been given much, just as every person who reads this blog has. ..Sometimes we just don’t see it or feel it when we are stuck in that deep, dark place where the lies inside our heads repeat like clanging churchbells.

Would I do it again if I were in the same situation?  Yes.  Why?  Three reasons: I recently helped another dear soul on Facebook find the light and resilient heart inside herself and say no to suicide.  The feeling I got from that is enough to carry through the rest of my life with profound gratitude and awe.

Second, the words of Buck Brannaman were resonating in my heart so much I could not deny the opportunity to reach out.  Buck and his older brother were severely beaten in childhood.  Buck went on to heal his broken life in an extraordinary way; it is quite remarkable, inspiring and true.  There’s a documentary on his life if you wish to see more, Google it.  Because of his own abuse and healing he said if he saw someone mistreating a child he would not miss the opportunity to speak up.  I felt since I knew of this situation and I could help, I had to.

Third, the song by Whitney Houston, “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay” kept haunting me, the part where she repeats, “I’m gonna be alright, I’m gonna be okay, I’m gonna make it anyway.”

[May 23, 2012 update:  My expansion of thinking on this topic has become limitless by space and time.  I think about those who chose to serve our country, who died defending MY freedom (and yours!) no matter where you live.  I think how tremendously grievous it would be for me to take my own life when they died defending mine.

Every act of ours touches lives we may never see or know...it is that ripple effect of tossing a stone into the pond.  I could have died in the car accidents, especially the one on the freeway.  I could have been aborted before birth instead of being put up for adoption.  For whatever reason or reasons, I am still here, and you are too.  If I remove all human thoughts of mine and get back to the spiritual growth, I can say I've graduated to a deeper level of intention, wholeness, faith, understanding, compassion and empathy.

If my intention is truly to grow as a spiritual being, does it matter what form it comes in?]

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Grief


[I wrote this post on April 18 but could not find it on my computer.  LOL, no wonder!  I dated it April 18, 2010 instead of 2012.]

Grief.  It seeps into every area of life, when I am not consciously thinking about it, it floods whatever thoughts I had or task I was doing.  It is exhausting, as if something from our own bodies is missing or faces the threat of loss.  It is scary, it is inconvenient, but it is life, and it is the truth which I love so dearly.

I have learned through Pema Chodron’s teachings what I do in that moment of discomfort can increase or decrease my own suffering.  Do I have an aversion toward death, am I willingly going into this process.  Probably yes and no.  

My Step Mom called last night with Dad’s phone number at rehab, she suggested I wait until today to call him, he was probably resting from the move.  I had completely forgotten today was a trip to ‘town’ which is 65+ miles away to take my cat to the vet and do some errands.  

Today started out rough, I woke early, with a headache and that dog-tired feeling of having wrestled with grief and sorrow again.  I have forgotten this was how I lived for so many years post-TBI with all the loss and sorrow that it brings.  I was surviving, not living.

I had already used one ice pack for my head when Richard returned letting me know he’d started the coffee and asked if I needed another ice pack.  I told him I needed to get up and get going, I went to the kitchen, had a ready-to-drink protein shake and coffee and had to get busy feeding the animals.  I was so tired, groggy, slow I felt like I’d be going backwards if I went any slower.  

I fed the animals, changed clothes, put my hair up in a ponytail so I can wear a baseball cap and I go to get my cat into the carrier.  At this point, she’s not liking the long trips to the vet, she’d done well up until, well, let me think…I think it’s been since a blood draw went terribly she hasn’t wanted to go at all.  She gets acupuncture and chiropractic and it has helped her, I just don’t know if I can continue to ask her to take such long trips and those blood draws, wow.  I wasn’t prepared for a blood draw today, if they mentioned it last time, neither Richard nor I remembered.    

I don’t know how long we can endure it.  The difficulty getting a vein (like last time), they restrained her, put a hood over her little kitty head, asked for permission to shave her throat, and had a bit of a rough time getting blood again.  I think it would have felt better had my heart been torn from my chest.  I know I’m pretty sensitive today because of grief, but wow.  Could we make this any less traumatic for her?  Okay, and for us?  We’ll see what the blood work shows before I make a decision.  

With my forgetting to eat breakfast this morning and getting off to such a rough start I was easily irritated, oh yeah!  We were in Target looking at items when a lady comes down the aisle, we move out of her way, she neither says, “Excuse me,” or “thank you,” like she owned the store.  I quickly snapped sarcastically, “Oh no, excuuuuuse me!”  I told Richard I really hate people today.  I was definitely in rare form!  How to win friends and influence people…not!

Later on, after taking a break at Starbucks, I called Dad.  I seem to have hilariously funny WRONG timing whenever I call; he’s usually in the bathroom!  No joke.  The attendant that answered the phone was kind in asking if I could hold for a moment, I said certainly and he continued to tell me the weather is partly sunny and that Dad is enjoying the view and sunshine.  I thought that was so sweet of him to share that, I’d never talked to him before; it was a comfort to feel Dad was being taken care of.  

Dad didn’t talk long since the attendant was there, LOL, we don’t usually talk long anyway!  I joke about our 30 second conversations, but it is what it is.  30 seconds is better than none.  He sounded good, he was lucid and his voice sounded tired but strong.  

I thought a lot about grief, being caught off guard today many times as the waves crashed through my thoughts and activities.  I thought a lot about aging, and suffering.  My Dad does not want to go to a senior home or anything of the sort although he does enjoy being around people.  I think about what my Step Mom said about Dad being in excellent health.   

I think about our society and delaying death.  I wonder if we erred in keeping him alive despite his wishes he not be put on life support.  That life support saved him, as did the prayers of many, and visits especially of our Step Mom.  But, did we do the right thing?  He has struggled a lot, he uses a walker and every time he got up from the couch he’d say, “This is the pits.”  

I feel in my heart of hearts he must have lost oxygen because he wasn’t depressed before the surgery but became VERY depressed following, and, his Dementia is worse.  He will say things like he’s feels he is losing his mind.  I think about his quality of life, is he really living?  He apologizes for being a burden.  What happens to a person who has an inborn ‘can do’ attitude and can’t now?  

There are a lot of things to think about at this juncture; what if Dad outlives his wife, what if Dementia takes over and he no longer knows any of us?  I think of the heaviness of a funeral, arrangements, maybe having Dad take me out of his will and put my brother in my place since he still lives in the same state as Dad. 

I think about when Mom died, I was only 16.  We never talked about it.  Grief has the ability to bond people together, that clearly was not for us.  If that was not enough I had a dream that had something to do with the number 3 and death.  I interpreted as I was going to die in that time, but that was incorrect.   

Dad’s mom passed away exactly 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days from the day my Mom died.  No joke.  That loss affected Dad more than it did the rest of us as she didn’t accept us because we were adopted.  Nice.  Oh yes, let us sing the old Christian hymn, “…they will know us by our love.” Wow.  Religious people really do suck sometimes.  

I think about suffering, his, and ours.  I think about how wretched a society we are for how we treat our elderly and disabled.  I think about the fear and uncertainty of having to put him in a home, and I wonder if it’d be possible to move him to Spokane where his sister is, in a nice retirement home.  She loves it there and is a lively spirit even at 80.  

I think of how difficult it was for Dad to sell our home years ago.  These are not easy issues or quickly answered questions for any one at any age.  I am very protective of those in my life and I would have to know he was being taken care of in a holistic manner where the heart and spirit are as important as the physical body and mind. 

I think about Patch Adams, my favorite movie because of his giftedness at reaching people where they’re at and transforming lives.  I need to watch it again.  Patch found a desire to become a doctor after having committed himself to a mental hospital because of suicidal thoughts.  It was there he learned he wanted to help people because he received such sterile, dehumanizing, unkind care.  Patch challenges everything we have come to accept about health care.  He addresses the heart and soul of a patient, not just addressing them by their disease.  

 This afternoon I had a message from my step mom that my dad had fallen in the shower, I called him and he confirmed this.  He said he landed right on his backside and hurt his back.  I jokingly said we need to get him a padded shower stall and he laughed.  I asked him how he was feeling and he said, “Great!”  

Hmmm….never can rely on Dad being honest or realistic.  Denial is such a part of our family you’d think it too was adopted at infancy!

Again we didn’t talk long; my family is so flipping hard to talk to.  My step mom is okay but wow how the women in our family carry the men!  It’s not right, it’s not healthy, and it weakens us all. 

I called my Step Mom and she said he hurt himself pretty good, but his spirits were up today and he looked good. He’s still pretty weak and she keeps telling him he can’t go home until he is stronger and can take care of himself.  She says he remembers it for about a minute and then forgets.