Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Father (in this case Mother) No Longer Knows Best

Just recently, I conceded to myself; I am a senior.  I have avoided the admission for more years than I would like to admit, but after all, I still shop in the Junior Department, I feel as young as I ever did (no stiff joints or aches and pains), and it is unlikely that my behavior duplicates that of my peers (I still listen to Metallica for god’s sakes).

I accept that I have changed since my husband died.  My heart is heavier, my step a little slower, and my sense of humor less frivolous.  Without my PC (Prince Charming Post June 2013), my life lacks the invisible energy that exists between two people amiably in love; it is flat.   I miss the intangible magic spark he created that made me smile for no reason, and I long for the charm and warmth of my PC’s words even when we were merely discussing the weather.  Yes, I am exceedingly grateful for the precious memories, but as any widow will agree, it isn’t enough.

In the meantime, I have a wonderful, loving son of whom I am exceedingly proud.  But, since I returned to Florida after closing my home in Canada, he has appointed himself as the deputy in charge of motivating Mom to do what it takes to “get happy.”  He has welcomed the unconventional “role reversal” without hesitation, and he is not the least bit reticent as he assumes the duties of the pseudo parent.  He invents innovative ideas about how and what I should do to quickly return to my “old self “so to speak, and he doesn’t hesitate to share them with me in a lengthy text or email.  It hasn’t yet occurred to him that my “old self” doesn’t quite exist as he remembers it.  He lectures me about my attitude, my financial future, and he warns me about the consequences of my social failures. He refuses to entertain the idea of my getting a new Scion FR-S sports car as a distraction - it goes too fast. Yet he insists that I go out more, and all I’m suggesting is that maybe a little speed is what I need.  Finally, he scolds me in a series of prolific text messages when he senses I am ignoring his advice. Admittedly, he is probably right in most instances, and I appreciate that he is acting out of love and with only the best of intentions, but I am struggling to find my new path, and right or wrong, I am feel I am old enough (and still young enough) to make my own choices.

Lately, this subtle skirmish between us has triggered familiar memories of my assisted living days.  So often there is a huge disparity between what an adult child thinks a parent should do and what a parent actually wants to do. Frequently, the pressure from the adult child takes precedence over the desires of the parent.  “Mom, you’ll never be happy in the studio apartment you chose.  Look, I know you’d be much more content in the lovely two bedroom the nice lady showed us. I told her we’d take the two bedroom.”  Or, “Mom, I think you should start playing bridge again.  You know you and dad always played, and I don’t understand why you won’t at least give it a try. So, I begged the activity director to take you to play in the community foursome.  It will be good for you.”  And this one, “I brought you several really good books, Mom.  I just can’t believe you don’t read anymore.  You used to always have a book in your hands, and now, you won’t even turn a page.  By the way, I just signed you up for library book club. You’ll enjoy it.” Ahhhh yes, these are just a few simple examples of how Mother no longer does or knows best.

During these conflicts adult children don’t recognize that they unconsciously impose hypothetical objectives on us rather than realistic ones. As we age, we may be intimidated by the space of a larger apartment, it can be difficult to muster the intense focus it takes to follow a bridge hand, and one may find reading can be a meaningless chore as eyesight fades and distractions thwart concentration.  As the years pass, our requirements change as well as our expectations, and often what we need and want doesn’t always conform to what others want for us.  And often trying to make everyone happy, we regress and do as we're told.

Unfortunately, there is a vast difference between the initial parenting role and the new one adopted by the adult child.  When raising a son or daughter, there was a memory of our own behavior when we were young, no matter how distorted or faint it may have been, there was usually some vague frame of reference. “Wow, I think I remember doing something almost as stupid when I was in school,” or “Yep, I recall my dad grounding me when I got my first speeding ticket.”  When we were advising a child, there was an ambivalent benchmark that guided our decisions and influenced our feelings. Not so when the son is under forty thinking for the mom who is 68.  He can’t say, “Mom, when I was 68 all I wanted to do was play shuffleboard, or “Ya, when I was your age I couldn’t wait to join the bingo game at the club house.”  No matter how he tries, he can only imagine how I should behave at my age – there is no recollection.

So how do we bridge this gap that exists between us at the moment?  Mostly, I listen, I smile, and I agree to everything he says, and then I tell him exactly what he wants to hear.  Then, once all is said and done, I proceed to do exactly as I please -  after all, it worked for him when I was the parent, didn’t it?

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Bitter Pill Indeed

A Bitter Pill Indeed

 In August of 2011, a man, who I will refer to as “My PC” (short for Prince Charming), “winked” at me, from out of the blue, on my Internet dating site, and in the time it took for my impulsive “return wink” to soar to its destination, I had changed my life forever.

Our friendship began with the first paragraph of the first email, and in a matter of days we had bonded within our personal cyber space. Our soulfully written journals confessing our failures, lauding our successes, clarifying our expectations and divulging our dreams introduced us from the inside rather than from the eye catching outer shell on the outside. We were honest and candid in our writings until our commitment to meet face to face was merely a formality - a visual confirmation that we resembled the photo shopped mug shots we’d posted online. 

Our first encounter, amidst a batch of traveling tourists and business executives smack dab in the middle of the Orlando airport, was a whirlwind of emotion.  Festooned in all black with a sassy straw fedora on his head, my PC sauntered toward me like a man with a mission. My heart was bursting with delight the second our eyes met and our hands touched, and with one long, strong powerful hug our future was cinched.  The Prince Charming I had set my heart on in my teens had walked into my life, and the bucket list romance that we had set out to find was headed for takeoff.

 Strolling, hand in hand, to the restaurant where we had agreed to have lunch, a non committal date just in case one of us needed to jump ship, I bonded instantly with this tall, lean person whose wide, handsome smile swept me off my feet.  During our lunch we laughed and teased, and sniggered between stolen kisses. The sparks flashed between us like static electricity, and if there were other diners within our immediate space, we were oblivious to their existence.  Our waitress, in her mid forties, sent amused side-glances in our direction.  After all, we were in our sixties (neither of us looked it, I might add), and her smiles told us it made her day to serve two seniors misbehaving with such frivolity.  

Now, I must clarify that Mr. Right was definitely from the wrong side of the continent.  He lived in Ontario Canada, (which is why we met at the airport) while I was a sun worshiper from central Florida.  And yes, we understood that a long distance romance is a vigorous challenge, but we adopted a nothing ventured, nothing gained attitude and bravely cast aside our misgivings. 

For six months we commuted between the two extremes of hot and cold.  My PC for obviously reason traveled south during the colder months, and I planned my visits north around the warmer weather.  Our world rocked.  We shared a love of writing, laughed until it hurt, and marveled at the physical chemistry between us. The word snowbird took on a whole new meaning - Life was good.

Then, one day during a Florida stay, I rushed home from work (I was an Executive Director at that time) expecting dinner on the table and a cold beer, but instead I found my PC pacing the kitchen, the shimmering twinkle in his eye dulled by anxiety and fear.  Earlier that afternoon, he had discovered blood in his urine, and his anguish was cemented across his face like an effigy.  He tried to rationalize the symptom as the result of a morning run and for all practical purposes; we both felt that a ruptured vessel was a reasonable explanation.  But, the traces of blood continued, and we knew in 48 hours, it was time for him to return to Canada to at least confirm that we were overreacting.

Ten years earlier, my PC had been cured of prostate cancer (if anyone is ever cured), and occasionally there is a reoccurrence of the disease that is frequently detected through hematuria (blood in the urine).  Although I refused to admit that cancer was a possibility, my PC feared the worst.  He had fervently scanned the Internet, and his research led him to believe he was a prime candidate for another cancerous setback.

Sadly, my PC was right, but the malignancy did not originate in his prostate. No, it was an ugly distended tumor in his bladder.  We were even more devastated to learn he had a stage IV with numerous enlarged lymph nodes stretching from his bladder to his lungs.  The prognosis was deadly, and in a matter of minutes our sunny future tumbled to a rolling stop like a top on a tile floor running out of spin. 

Our lives entered the persona of the cancer world…. The carefree, frivolous days were gone, as were our dreams of becoming aging, sassy residents in one of my ALF’s.   After the initial lab results were in our hands, everything we did from that millisecond forward - exercising, eating, reading, researching was to thwart the demon, and we concentrated and focused on little else other than saving my PC’s life.

We married as soon as Florida could issue a license, and with my heart full of love and commitment, I packed my bags and moved to Canada. From June through August, my PC struggled to survive the ravaging effects of Chemotherapy. Each week was a test of his commitment to living. He challenged the nausea and the mind-altering fatigue with true optimism, and day after day he fought the depression to focus on our future of golden days and velvet nights.   

Despite the suffering and the physical turmoil, he ultimately became the Poster Child of the Chemotherapy Department.  He clung to his quick wit and innate sense of humor. His body was fighting to heal itself, but he still managed to crack a smile before each round of treatment and say,  “With a crowd like this, you’d think they were giving out free beer instead of deadly chemicals.”

When we learned the results of the CT scan in August, we were thrilled.  My PC’s response was better than the experts expected, and it seemed as if we were given a new lease on life.  We began to live our lives as if we had a future.  Although, looking back, the elephant was always in the room, and the “what if” of the dormant cancer never strayed far from our thoughts.

And then it happened.  It started with a slight dry cough, but as the days passed, my PC's lungs became so weak he had to fight for every breath, and at night, his chest gurgled with excess fluid.  To avoid the teeth chattering winter, we had migrated to Florida, but I insisted my PC pack a bag and return to Ontario and his awaiting medial team.  After a CT scan at the London Sciences, the prognosis from our close friend and doctor took our breath away and shock replaced our threads of optimism; my PC’s time had narrowed to months, maybe even weeks.

I lost my PC on February 26th in 2013, and my pain is no longer acute, but chronic. For over fifteen years I comforted residents and family members who had recently lost loved ones, but at the time I hadn’t yet experienced a level of grief so intense that it scars your gut.  Now, after my PC’s death I get it, and the empathy I have for others is no longer impersonal but sincere and heartfelt.

I returned to Florida (the Canadian snow almost did me in after only one winter), to continue my job of living.  Stuffing boxes and suitcases getting ready to move, a close friend of my PC’s, who was grieving as well, passed on the advice her doctor had given her.

First, she asked me,  “If you were able to take a pill that would eliminate your pain, take away the loneliness and restore your to a women full of joy and happiness, would you take it?  Don't answer until I finish,” she warned. “You must understand that there are permanent side effects.  Once the pill is swallowed, all memories of the person you are grieving would be erased.”

In an instant, I recalled the loving image of my PC smiling as he leaned down to kiss me, and I replayed in my head the sound of his loud, hearty laugh while he teased me unmercifully.  I remembered the electric sensations through my arm as he held my hand and the feeling of security in his ferocious hug.    I would loose what was most dear to me in exchange for a smattering of tearful mornings and weepy lonely nights.

I answered without a second’s hesitation. "NO."  My memories of loving and teasing and living in tandem with a man who showered me with the wholeness of an unconditional love (I never even felt that from my parents) were too precious to be lost.  My PC enriched my life with his intellect, his humor, his creativity, his optimism and his energy.  His family of friends became mine and for the first time, I felt the acceptance I had craved since childhood. I never want his memories, or on some days his transcendental presence, to disappear, even if it meant I would live life free of the nagging sadness.

I have come to realize, that in the end, grief is unavoidable, and I had to ride the crest of emotion and pain like a buoy in the surf, or my PC would not only be lost to me physically, but spiritually.  I know, for me, it would not be an even trade.