Acceptance, Expectations, Letting Go, Reflections

There isn’t a way things should be…

“There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.” Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett was a best-selling English author who died in 2015 of early-onset Alzheimer’s, so he knew first hand about the futility of thinking that things “should” be a certain way…but it is a lesson that I am still struggling with.

Yesterday’s Valentine’s celebrations, or in our case lack thereof, demonstrated that despite lesson after lesson, I have yet to learn the futility of having unrealistic expectations that my life will somehow mimic a Hallmark commercial.

After 30 years of marriage I know full well that celebrations like Valentine’s Day have never been my husband’s strong suit, and his recent cognitive challenges have only made things harder for him in this regard as for so much else.  I also know that, despite the Hallmark commercials  and the abundance of Facebook posts and Instagram photos showcasing Valentines celebrations, there isn’t a way Valentines “should be”  and that sometimes just being together is enough.

I tried hard to remember all of this yesterday, and to focus on all of the good things in my life and my marriage, but I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling of disappointment, resentment, and sadness that the holiday didn’t live up to my hopes and expectations.  It is true that there were things that Don did, and didn’t do, regarding the holiday that I was rightly sad about,  but it is also true that how I reacted that colored what could have been a nice, low-key, day of togetherness even if there weren’t hearts and flowers and Hallmark cards.

It feels as if over the past couple of years the universe has been trying to teach me what Terry Pratchett said so clearly.   I know that if I don’t learn to give up my expectations  of how things “should” be, the coming years will be so much harder than they need to be, and yet I stumble time and time again.  Yesterday was no exception.

The process is painful, but each time this happens it feels as if there is another crack in the hard shell of my expectations, opening me to greater acceptance of the reality of whatever situation I am in and a more compassionate, grounded, and accepting response.

 

Reflections, Retirement, Work

What I will not miss

It might have been the effect of last week’s full/blue/super/red moon but that past 10 days or so have been full of the kind of issues and activities that make me very glad I will be retiring in a few months…which made me think about things I  definitely will not miss:

Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Customer complaints.  I’m not sure which is worse – the ones that are unfounded, the ones where we actually screwed up, or the ones where the complaint is about a situation that we just can’t do anything about…and we had all of those over the past couple of weeks.
  • Sticky (or as I sometimes call them, stinky) personnel issues.  Had one of those last week too.
  • Unstable/belligerent/intoxicated customers.  Last week we made several calls to law enforcement about a couple of these…one of which resulted in an arrest.
  • Board members who do things you really wish they wouldn’t but have to be handled with kid gloves because they are public officials…and your boss(es) to boot.
  • Entitled people of all kinds – and my work community has more than its share.  This includes community members who feel that their career/educational/financial success makes them “special,” employees sometimes who seem to forget what a great place this is to work or how well they are compensated relative to the “market” for their jobs, and volunteers (fortunately not many of them!) who feel that their volunteer service entitles them to special privileges.
  • Union contract negotiations – fortunately those won’t come up again until next year, after I am long gone, but I have done way too many of them in my career and will not miss the tension and divisiveness that they create.  Actually I won’t miss dealing with unions generally.  I believe in their value philosophically and know they offer important workplace protections in some environments, but in practice my experience is that the presence of a union creates an unhelpful sense of “us and them” and makes it more difficult to create a culture where all employees feel part of the same team.
  • Mandatory social events.  Even when I know the people, making small talk is exhausting for an introvert like me….and I absolutely hate dressing up!

Reading this list it is apparent that most of the things I will not miss have to do with people!

At the same time, people are also what I will miss the most.  Community members who really value what the library provides, volunteers and donors who give generously of their time and treasure, employees who are creative and innovative, and who stretch beyond the strict boundaries of their job descriptions  to create innovative programs and provide great service to our customers, professional colleagues who are always willing to share advice and give support. So many of these people have become friends, and I hope those bonds do not fray once I am retired.

It’s a cliche for sure, but at the end of the day, for better or worse, it really is all about the people.

 

 

 

 

 

Aging, Mild Cognitive Impairment, Retirement

Feeling positive

Don saw a new neurologist today and although further tests have been ordered we both left feeling better about his/our situation.  The new doctor is a good listener and observer and less inclined to leap to a diagnosis than the one we saw last year.  He has ordered a DATscan, which tests for Parkinson’s disease, based on his observations of Don’s movements and our report of his physical and cognitive issues, but says he thinks it will likely be negative.  He acknowledged the role anxiety can play in all of Don’s symptoms, and reaffirmed the importance of exercise, good nutrition, sleep, activities that engage the brain, and social outlets to both mitigate cognitive issues and manage anxiety.

We’ll see him again in about 6 weeks.

My guess is that the DATscan results will lead to more assessments and tests to get to the root cause of the cognitive and physical/movement issues, which we both know are real if fairly minor and seemingly quite stable at this stage.  In the meantime it is good to know that we are doing the right things to manage them, and to know that we are in the hands of a thoughtful and caring doctor.

It is also good to know that we are on the right track in terms of diet and exercise, and in our efforts to find more social outlets for Don.  What we need to work on is having him engage in more brain-stimulating activities – hobbies, games, learning new skills.  The neurologist said things that Don already enjoys are best.  When I told him about the Beach Cities Health District’s Memory Club he said that might be helpful, but not to do anything that requires spending money on special activities or equipment.

After the neurologist’s appointment I went with Don to his weekly restorative yoga class – definitely challenging for both brain and body and something I plan to work into my retirement schedule – and then we had lunch together before I went back to work.

All in all a good day, and one that has left us both feeling more optimistic about what at least the near future might hold.

 

 

 

Forgiveness, Gratitude, Love, Reflections

Second chances

Despite my resolve to be more patient with Don, yesterday again started with me being rushed to get to work on time, and him being slow….and unfortunately we again fell into the spiral of my anger and his distress.  I left for work upset and agitated, and although we talked by phone and apologized to one another shortly after I got to work, it was not a good start to the day.

But it got worse.

I was eating lunch at my desk at work when my cell phone rang, and a friend’s name flashed on the screen.  This friend attends the same exercise class as Don, which would have ended just before she called me, so I had a feeling it wasn’t good news…and it wasn’t.

She told me that they were doing stretches on their mats at the end of class and when they all started to get up Don could not get up, and was weak and disoriented.  The health club called 911, and when my friend called me the paramedics were on their way.

I spoke with the club manager, and with the paramedics when they arrived, and they said they were taking Don to the emergency room.  I dashed out of work and drove to the hospital fearing that something dire had happened – like a stroke or a heart attack – and feeling immense guilt about my behavior in the morning.

 

At the ER I learned to my great relief that Don was still on a gurney waiting for a bed to be freed up, which indicated that whatever had happened was not life-threatening.  His exercise class instructor met me at the hospital, and when they let us back to briefly seem him we asked if he needed anything.  His response was “a whisky sour” so we knew he was probably alright.

Four hours later he got a bed in the E.R. where they did a chest x-ray, took his blood pressure and temperature (which was over 100), and swabbed his nose.  A couple of hours after that a young and very harried doctor stopped by to say the EKG, bloodwork, and other tests done in the ambulance were all normal and their best guess was flu.  A few minutes later that diagnosis was confirmed (despite the fact that we had both gotten the flu shot!) and we were sent home with a prescription for Tamiflu and a cough suppressant.

After a stop at the pharmacy and at our favorite ice cream place next door we were home, and by 7:30 Don was tucking into a plate of pasta.

Flu is nothing to take lightly, but the diagnosis was a huge relief.  For me the whole episode was also a warning that life’s apple cart can get overturned in a heartbeat and I won’t always have the chance to make amends when I get crosswise with someone.

The universe has been sending me all kinds of signs from blog posts to horoscopes that I need to change how I respond to Don’s lapses and yet I haven’t been able to change.  yesterday the universe decided to hit me over the head with a baseball bat. to get my attention.

I am lucky to have more chances to respond with love rather than anger…and I hope I don’t squander them, because the next sign from the universe might be the last.

 

Aging, Change, Grief, Letting Go, Love

Letting go of expectations

After a holiday break that was both restful and productive I have had a tough re-entry to work…but it is not the job itself that has been tough.  The holiday lull in professional activity has lingered longer than usual, there aren’t any big issues to be dealt with, and overall things are running really smoothly…and yet I’ve been stressed and out of sorts.

Some of it is just that I really am ready to move on to the next phase of my life, so being at work feels a bit like wearing clothes that don’t quite fit any more.

A bigger part is that I am feeling really torn between work and my responsibilities at home.  Don’s overall health and attitude have been good, but there is no denying that he has mild cognitive impairment and memory loss and that is shifting more responsibility to me.  I’ve always managed our finances, and done pretty much all of the planning activities (from meal planning to travel planning to retirement planning) since that has never been a strength.  He has done a lot of the cleaning, yard chores, and meal cleanup and he still does help with those things, but now I make a weekly and daily schedule and daily to do lists, remind him where he is supposed to be and when he is supposed to be there, follow up on tasks to make sure they have been done and respond to multiple texts and calls each day when he needs has lost something and needs me to talk him through retracing his steps to find it, needs technical help with his devices, or just wants reassurances.  I also find myself redoing things he has done, putting things away that he has left out, hunting down things he has put in the wrong place, and answering the same question multiple times…not to mention being constantly interrupted.  It can be frustrating and exhausting.

I also find that increasingly, doing the things that I need to maintain my sanity (swimming, learning all I can about memory disorders and dementia so that I can prepare myself for what the future might hold, spending time alone, journalling, blogging, counselling) and even doing the things I need to maintain our household (grocery shopping, managing our finances, contacting tradespeople about home maintenance, going with Don to doctor’s appointments) are carved out of work time…and that makes me feel guilty and resentful on top of tired and exhausted.

This morning I snapped.  We woke up to the sound of rain which meant we wouldn’t be able to take our usual 3 mile walk before breakfast, and I know that without that early morning exercise my whole day is usually off kilter.  I decided that instead of a long walk I would go to the gym on my way to work.  I told Don this and asked him to cut up our morning fruit and get the breakfast stuff out while I walked the dog around the block  so that I could grab breakfast and get going.  When I got back he was sitting on the john looking at his phone, and nothing had been prepared for breakfast except two eggs were sitting on the counter.

The trigger of Don’s slowness in preparing breakfast seems so insignificant, and yet it meant I would either have to leave without eating, or skip the morning workout because there was no way I could incur even a 15 minute delay and make it to work on time.

I flipped out, and then we were into our usual vicious cycle.  Don got flustered in the face of my anger, which made him even slower and more disorganized, and when I asked him to just go in the other room so I could cool down while cooking and eating breakfast he would not leave me alone but kept coming back to try to apologize or do things in the kitchen which just made me angrier, and my anger was exacerbated by his apparent refusal to listen to what I was asking of him.

In the end I left angry and upset, with myself as much as with him.  I was cranky all morning and knew I needed to do something to work out my stress, so I made plans to leave work after a lunchtime meeting so I could have a long swim, and then have some time to myself by working in a coffee shop for a couple of hours.  It was the right plan to make given my mental and emotional state and the lack of anything that really required my attention at work, and yet I feel guilty because it is another afternoon when I am not in the office and available for face time with my staff.

I also feel guilty for how I reacted to Don.  No matter how many times I tell myself that he can’t help that he has some kind of (as yet undiagnosed) brain disease and that I need to be understanding and patient and respond with love not anger, I still get triggered way too often.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why this is.  I’ve also been thinking about a question our therapist asked me last week when I got teary when talking about the weight of my responsibilities, which the more I think about it the more I realize is related to why I get triggered by Don’s lapses.  The question that got me thinking was whether the weight of my responsibilities is really any different than if I were single and living on my own.

The short but superficial answer is no, it isn’t much different.  If I were single I would be doing all of the financial management, cooking, cleaning, and household chores.

But the longer, more truthful answer is… I think it is a lot different.  If I were single I would only have myself to worry about and be responsible for.  I wouldn’t worry about getting a nourishing and balanced meal on the table every night and could just eat an egg on toast if I felt like it.  I wouldn’t be responsible for helping plan someone else’s days or weeks, for making schedules and to do lists for someone else, for scheduling medical appointments for someone else and then having to find time to go with them and to follow up afterwards.  I wouldn’t feel guilty for needing time to myself.  So yeah, it’s different and yeah, I often feel that it is unfair that I have to do so much more, which makes me both sad and sometimes angry.

The other reason thinking about all of the responsibilities I am shouldering makes me sad, and sometimes angry, comes down to that old bugaboo – expectations.  I got married because I wanted a partner.  Someone who would share the responsibilities of daily living, who would lift me up when I needed it as I would do for him, who would be my co-adventurer, who would participate in planning our lives and our adventures.

The reality has been somewhat different.  I love Don dearly, and he has been my co-adventurer and partner in fun and my best friend for over 30 years, but he has never really been an equal partner in planning and managing our lives.  His inability to meet my expectations in this area has a source of tension throughout our marriage…and secretly, I kept hoping that if I just nagged and noodged him enough, he would change.

 

I’ve always known in my head that trying to change someone else is a fool’s errand, but my heart kept hoping and I kept trying.  His cognitive impairment has made absolutely clear what my head has always known.  Not only is he not going to miraculously become a planner and organizer, he is almost certainly going to get worse in this area.

When I get sad about this it is because I am mourning the loss of a vision of life that only ever really existed in my head.  I need to let myself mourn…but I also need to remember that the life we do have and will have is pretty darned good.  Don is still able to travel and we have several trips on the horizon.  We live in a beautiful place, so when travel becomes too difficult we will enjoy our home, the beach and ocean, the ability be outside all year.  We have friends and family that will stand by us even when things get tough.  We still laugh together.  We still like spending time together.  We still desire each other.  As our therapist keeps telling us, it is obvious that we have a deep love for each other. We are blessed in so many ways, and these blessings will not disappear no matter what the future brings.

I think I am ready to start letting go of my expectations of what my life should be like.  What I need to work on is accepting the life I have and not letting Don’s every lapse trigger my hurt and anger.  I can’t have another morning like this morning…and the ball is in my court.

 

 

Family, Friendship, Reflections

Make new friends but keep the old…

Last night as we sat by the fire and enjoyed a quiet New Year’s Eve at home Don and I were talking about the year just ending and were struck by how many connections with family and friends were rekindled throughout the year…which was truly amazing in hindsight.

Early in the year Don’s childhood friend found him on Facebook, and we have since enjoyed a couple of get-togethers with Ted and his wife, who now live only an hour or so away from us.  Don and Ted had not seen each other since they were 11 years old!  Ted’s mother was an artist and we have long had a small photocopy of a painting that she made of Gould’s Landing, the family home in Maine, displayed in our home.  Ted gifted Don with the original painting, which now has pride of place in our living room and brings Don great joy.

Then, after a gap of several years, we reconnected with Don’s maternal cousin Chuck and his wife Michelle, and then caught up with several members of Don’s extended family at Chuck’s 80th birthday celebration in May.

In June we were in Maine and spent time with several friends from Don’s young adulthood and with extended family that we had not seen in many years.  It is amazing how you can pick up without losing a beat!

By total coincidence we also bumped into the son of Don’s favorite cousin, and long-deceased cousin) when we stopped by Gould’s Landing (now a public park) on the spur of the moment, and Don struck up a conversation with two guys pulling a boat out of the water…one of whom was Rob Gould, who Don used to babysit when he was a college student! Don and Rob have since connected on Facebook, and we look forward to spending some time with him when we are next in Maine.

July saw us hosting a “mini reunion” when the sons of another of Don’s cousins visited us.  We had connected with Josh and his wife Rita several years ago (again through the miracle of Facebook), but Don had not seen Scot in several decades and I had never met him.  We had a fun afternoon of visiting and reminiscing while Josh and Rita’s kids enjoyed the beach and the pool.

We also had a visit in July from our friend Logan from Australia, who we hadn’t seen for about 10 years.

In August the sad occasion of my Aunt Lydia’s memorial service also gave me a chance to reconnect with several cousins that I had not seen in years.

In November Australian friends that we had not seen in nearly 20 years spent several days with us, and we had fun remembering good times in Australia and catching up on each other’s lives.

And as the year drew to a close we were blessed to attend a gathering of my father’s extended family hosted by my great-uncle Jerry.  All of my father’s cousins were there (although my father was not), along with many of their kids and grand-kids.   I have such fond memories of these Segar family gatherings growing up, and it is so good to see everyone still connected after all these years.

These past few years we have been blessed with new friendships that we cherish, but 2017 was a reminder of the importance of people who have known you for many years and with whom you have a shared history.  In every case it was as if we had seen each other yesterday, not years or decades ago.

While we often curse social media for its fake news and the way it isolates us from people who don’t share our views, this year we were also really grateful for the way technology can bring us together.  If not for Facebook the rekindling of so many longstanding relationships would not have been possible, and our lives would have been so much less rich as a result.

At the same time, I am very aware that social media consumed way too much of my time in 2017 as I got sucked into scrolling obsessively through Facebook, posting pictures on Instagram, and letting the political noise distract me from what is most important.  This year my goal is to put technology in its rightful place – to use it to strengthen and maintain healthy relationships and to disregard all of the noise that it generates.  Wish me luck!

Christmas, Holidays, Reflections, swimming

The only time I’ve got

After succumbing to my inner Grinch last week, it feels like I am turning a corner.  While I can’t say I am really feeling the Christmas spirit, I am looking towards the next couple of weeks in a much better frame of mind.

My gifts are bought and mostly wrapped, I sent Don off to the post office this morning loaded down with packages for our East Coast family and friends, and after two really fun holiday parties this weekend we can now look forward to a couple of weeks of quiet evenings at home and a low-key Christmas with my nearby family.

After talking it over with Don, and with my sister (the only other person who understands the dynamics), I have bowed out of my stepmother’s family holiday party – something both Don and I face with dread each year.  While my step-brothers and their families are always very nice to us, it isn’t much fun spending hours with people you see once a year at best, who have a shared family history that excludes you, and with whom you have very little in common in terms of interests or beliefs.  For an introvert like me situations like this are really uncomfortable, and even extroverted Don struggled to make conversation with my foot-ball loving, politically right-leaning, evangelical Christian stepfamily.  Making the decision to bow out has lifted a  weight off my shoulders, and Don was so very grateful that I know it was the right decision for us.

Even better, the pool at our gym reopened three days early, so I will be able to get back to my lap swimming routine this afternoon.  I badly need the stress-alleviating feel of water on my skin and the meditative state induced by counting laps.

A quiet week at work this week will be followed by extended long weekends for both Christmas and New Years.  I’m looking forward to sleeping until after the sun comes up, taking care of a lot of year-end tasks, and spending time reflecting on 2017 and planning for 2018.

I’m also being mindful of this quote from Art Buchwald that I saw on the Execupundit blog recently –

“I don’t know if this is the best of times or the worst of times, but I assure you it’s the only time you’ve got.”

So true – and so wasteful to spend the only time I’ve got being the Grinch.

Wishing everyone peace and joy in the coming weeks, whether you celebrate these particular holidays or not.