“What is My Motive?”

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“No Mom, the watch works to track your steps throughout the day, not the week. And 1,000 steps is not really very many. You could choose to try for a few more.”

“Well, I think that the magnesium is a great natural help for stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness. You might want to try it. Here, I brought a bottle of it. I will just set it here on the kitchen counter for you.”

“No thank you. The cherry turnover looks delicious, but I don’t eat sugar for breakfast.”

“Here Dad, try lifting these weights. They may help you keep your strength up”.

If my motive was to be bossy, controlling, sanctimonious, pretty unaccepting and maybe unloving as well, I hit the nail on the head. Those phrases just popped out of my little mouth while I was home “helping”, “visiting”, “spending quality time” with my Mom and Dad over the past year.

When I visited them, was my motive to spend time with them, or to go to Walgreens and grocery store and run errands? Was it to help them find solutions to Dad’s physical challenges- middle of night bathroom trips, pants’ waistbands not quite doing their job of keeping his pants up, to find foods he enjoyed and would eat? I often fooled myself into thinking that, but deep down, my first reaction was always about trying to control the uncontrollable –namely Dad’s rapid decline.

The dog’s immediate insanely loud barking when nurses entered the room at night, scaring everyone half to death became the voice to my emotions. I wanted to scream. It was surreal to the point of frightening to need that stranger to enter the pitch dark room with her little penlight and say “Dr. Doud, I’m here to help you use the bathroom (or clean you up if I am too late)”. I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t imagine it. Wendy told me “You haven’t done anything more awful than clean up a parent’s mess in the bathroom”. It is eye opening.

When I take a breath, center myself, I do get a better idea of what my intentions are for my conversation. I can realize that a softer reply “No thanks, that looks delicious though!” is a potential reply to that honest offer of a cherry turnover.

When I balance myself and NOT try to handle contracts from work or vendor price increase demands at their kitchen table between Amazon searches for a wheelchair, I can more easily sense that the whole shitshow has and will continue to spin out of my control. It will. I am powerless to stop this ending. Furthermore, not eating the sugary turnover for breakfast may help me feel better in an hour; but I can cut the holier than thou crap and let people be where they are.

I wanted so badly to force my siblings to take part, connect with me, talk to me about this (and freakin’ give me a hug!). That I forgot to let them be where they are, and pay attention to where I am. My friend Mary who lost her young adult son in a brutal car accident kept telling me “Leave the where they are. They are on their own path. You pay attention to where you are. No one has to come along with you.. You do you.” She was so right. My sister needed to burrow in to her books and Netflix. She popped up with a smile and caring words for ten minutes every day, but at night she needed solitude. She took the armadillo approach and kept everyone at arm’s length. She wasn’t on my path and didn’t need to be.

My younger brother ignored everyone else in the room except Dad. He had cotton in his ears to everyone else’s words, actions, attempts to push Dad’s wheelchair (yes, that is a famous power struggle), or suggestions of a different TV show . He wanted nothing but to watch 3 days of golf with Dad. They were so glued to the set, it was like they were there together, on the golf course. My suggestions to play a card game, face each other for dinner, take a wheel chair ride (talk over the weather even for God’s sake!) got an energetic straight arm before the words came out of my mouth. My motives for that day quickly needed to be rearranged. I needed to be there to run errands, to clean the bathroom, to fold towels, to pass the ice cream. I wasn’t center stage that 4-day weekend visit, and I needed to get ok with supporting from stage left.

Motives for our short time together needed to be flexible as well. Dad wanted to talk one morning while my son and I were visiting their assisted living apartment. I was taking trash out, folding towels, choosing lunch from the menu and generally flitting about. He said “Anne, come sit down”. I said “OK, be there in a minute, and walked into the next room to arrange t-shirts in the closet or calendars on the wall. “Anne! Sit down. Now!” he said, pointing to the couch cushion beside him. “Oh, ok, I am here.” I said as I slinked down in the cushion. He began talking about two months hence, when he wouldn’t be around anymore. He described where he wanted his ashes spread (at his favorite fishing lake), and how (a sunny day in August) and with whom (the whole family). After a gulping silence, my son had the quiet peace of mind to respond, “Well this is all very sad to talk about”. I could only stare in front of me and will miracle drugs to work, disease to slow, time to stop. I wanted to scream at the same time as the balloon of life and air inside me deflated. The motive needed to be sit and listen. Maybe nod.

I did a lot of walking in the neighborhood and on the beach alone those last two months. I tried to meditate and it worked. Sometimes. I tried to keep asking myself “What is my motivation” for this conversation, for this car ride, for this hand holding? Am I strictly transporting information, moving bodies, steadying his arm? Or am I connecting with kindness and slow acceptance of him leaving us? Acceptance became my crux.

Acceptance is so hard, how will we show that to our loved one?

I didn’t want to say it, and it felt awkward and strange the first two or three times. But the fifth or sixth time, I actually finally felt it. “It is ok Dad. You can go. You can be with YOUR Mom and Dad soon. We will miss you terribly, but you can go fishing now, go play golf, go see your favorite dog Gus. It is ok”. By then he had stopped talking, and only nodded slowly at me with his big brown eyes matching my brown eyes back. “I think you will really like it there Dad.”

He left about 12 hours later.

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