Last week was April Fool’s Day, and I was in sunny San Diego, visiting friends. The picture for this blog was taken at Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach on April 1st. I’ve been having trouble writing this blog because I’m not totally sure what I want to say. It’s not about April Fool’s per se, it’s just the irony of this day, I suppose, as it’s no joke. For me, it marks the 20th anniversary of my homecoming.
What is a fool? When I looked on dictionary.com, the word of the day happened to be “fool”…no surprise there. But they defined it as a dish made of stewed fruit and mixed with cream. I thought that was an April Fool’s joke, so I asked google. True enough, it’s a British dessert, much like a trifle. But the appropriate definition for this day is a person who has been tricked or deceived into acting silly or stupid, or a person lacking sense or judgment.
It was the end of March, 1999. I packed up my apartment in Los Angeles, and with the help of my bestie, we loaded up a rental van and drove across the country. I landed on my parents’ doorstep in Massachusetts on April 1st. I remember my mom looked a little shocked when she opened the door. She wasn’t so much surprised as she was flustered. What I didn’t know was that she had early onset Alzheimer’s. She was still at a phase where she was able to pretend, to play along without having to disclose how confused she was.
After being with her on a daily basis, I could tell things weren’t right. It was then that I discovered she didn’t know who I was. She knew my name was Lisa, but she didn’t know or understand our relationship. I noticed a lot of other odd behavior. And so, when I accompanied her to a doctor’s appointment that May and was told flat out that she had Alzheimer’s, everything instantly made sense.
We had a computer, one of those big clunkers with dial up internet, but accessing information wasn’t as easy as it is now. So I went to the bookstore and bought a couple of books on Alzheimer’s. She was textbook: from getting lost, hiding money, personality changes, not being able to perform normal tasks, confusion, you name it. I thought back over the last few years…since we lived on opposite coasts, I wasn’t around her enough to notice things. But the times I did see her, there were definitely red flags. But she was only in her 50s…who would have known?
I became her primary caregiver for over two years as her disease progressed, at times rapidly. It got to a point where it was no longer safe to care for her at home, and so she spent the next nine years in a nursing home until her passing.
As any caregiver knows, you don’t always have the luxury of grieving. I know in my case, I moved home to a situation where I instantly had to roll up my sleeves and take care of business. For the most part, I put aside my own feelings, my needs, in order to care for her. I can only speak for caring for a person with dementia, but they depend on you as their lifeline. I became my mother’s connection to reality, and as such, I lived half my life and half hers.
Even after she went in the nursing home and I was free to live my life, it was hard. I would visit her as often as I could, and just seeing her motionless in a chair, knowing that would be her existence for her remaining years, was hard for me to reconcile. I took it upon myself to suffer on her behalf. How could I be happy with my mom in this condition?
It’s been twenty years since I moved home, but I realize there’s a part of me that’s still stuck in some time warp. I have done a lot in those twenty years: moved back and forth from California three times, had a variety of jobs, traveled…but where am I emotionally?
We’ve all heard of the fight-or-flight response to stress. But no one really talks about the third option: freeze. Maybe because it doesn’t fit into the rhyme? There are animals in stressful situations that play dead, like the opossum. I see how physically I jumped in and “fought” for my mom, but emotionally? Yeah, I froze. I just turned off.
I had my tarot cards read a few weeks ago. It was brought to my attention that I never got to fully grieve the loss of my mother and all that entailed; that I “never got to scrape the bottom of the barrel.” I actually thought that it was just a slow grieving process over the years, but I guess the psychic was right. I have been carrying the weight of my mom’s illness on my shoulders, as well as some other family obligations. It was a major turning point in my life, and I allowed it to consume me. I have been stuck in this emotional bubble…just ready to pop.
Grieving is a personal matter, and perhaps deserves a blog of its own. And grieving is not only about death, it’s mourning any loss in life. It is a process. And in the final stages, there is acceptance. Acceptance of what IS. For me, there is grieving the loss of my mom. But there is also a grieving of the life I left behind, the dreams that never manifested, and as time marches on, the loss of my youth.
I don’t necessarily think of time as a straight line; I like to think of it as a spiral. Every year is a new beginning, every birthday is a fresh start. And this being the 20th anniversary, well, I’d like to think of it as a sign to let it all go. While it’s been a defining point in my life, I don’t need to let it define me. It’s time to release myself from the heaviness, the baggage I’ve been carrying around, the guilt…just grieve and move on.
At this point, I would be a fool to waste any more time in this holding pattern. As they say, fool me once, shame on you…fool me twice, shame on me. Now that I KNOW, it’s time to LET GO!
Challenge for the week: Who da fool?
When I was little, I sent away for a rock collection from a cereal box. There were about a dozen different stones glued to a cardboard box and labeled. My favorite was always pyrite, also known as fool’s gold. I didn’t care if it wasn’t real gold; I liked it because it was shiny.
I’ve been a fool for love many times. I’ve blindly followed my heart, not always thinking things through. I’ve chased the shiny object more times than I’d like to admit. And I’ve lost. Things didn’t always turn out the way I hoped or planned. But it’s when you can look back and acknowledge, whether it was gold or pyrite, that you can’t expect anything (people or situations) to be something they are not. That’s acceptance.
We’ve all encountered losses in life. We’ve all had challenges. Are you in a holding pattern? What in your life are you ready to let go of? The ordeal may be over, so why keep it alive by giving it more attention and energy than it may deserve?
When you can look back and smile; when you can recall a situation and not feel yourself falling into the same old story, or not beat yourself up, then you’re on the right path.
Have a great week! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below.