Grasping at Reason


I wrote a piece for The Flounce the other day about helping friends and loved ones in crisis. Kind of a “what not to say” thing. I’m only a year out from no longer being an in-house primary caregiver, so the feelings there are still very fresh, perhaps to the point of misinterpretation.

We went to visit my mother-in-law yesterday. She has her “lively” days, and this was not one of them. She wasn’t depressed or despondent (she seldom is, and we’ve found that it’s still fairly easy to redirect her when she does become upset), but she was listless. She was sitting in the “quiet room” when we got there, napping in one of the wingback chairs, but woke up when we said her name.

What was it like? It was like interacting with a sleepy toddler. She sat in the chair, kind of cooing and babbling.

Occasionally she can eke out a partial sentence that seems like it’s going somewhere, but then it fades off into more gibberish. There are no real conversations. We can ask her how she’s doing, and sometimes she’ll remember to say “Fine.” But mostly it’s acknowledging whatever she’s saying, and not trying too hard to decipher it all. She seems contented with almost mimicking the back-and-forth of a conversation: saying something and awaiting a response. Yesterday, though, her cadence was very sing-song, like a small child consoling itself at bedtime.

Eventually, I handed her a throw pillow to fuss with, as this tends to trigger the need to tidy something, which in turn makes her a tiny bit more lucid. She stroked at it and made little furtive scratching motions on the embroidered side. She managed to do a number on several pieces of furniture that way, back when she was still in the house with us. She’d rub and rub at imaginary spots until it left divots on her coffee and dining room tables. We couldn’t salvage the coffee table in the end, but did save the dining room set. In the quiet room, there’s usually a basket of towels for someone to fold, or a box filled with sand and small plastic objects, to satisfy the urge to do repetitive tasks. I think these things must have been moved to one of the activity rooms; yesterday there were just the big leather chairs and a little white noise machine. I digress.

When we go visit, we usually pass several folks who live in the regular assisted living community, sunning themselves in Adirondack chairs or reading. The ladies are always dressed to the nines in bright colors and accessories. And I never see them without lipstick. They are fabulous. They are always happy to greet and be greeted.

I love passing them on the way in and out, but this is also painful. There are no guarantees in this life. Some of us will get to be fabulous old ladies, like my own mother, who doesn’t dare leave the house without her giant Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses that she found at a flea market.

My mother is a fabulous old lady. My mother-in-law has been essentially infantilized by her own brain.

It angers me that she’s been cheated out of being as fabulous as I know she could have been. She’s broken most of the great costume jewelry necklaces I packed for her last summer, or twisted them the around the Lladro figurines I put in her room, creating strange little works of art that make sense to no one but her. She still gets her hair and nails done (there’s a little salon on her floor called “A Cut Above”), and when she’s freshly coiffed, she looks like she could say, “Get me the hell out of this place and let’s go to Rockport.” Instead she smiles beatifically and says, “Flibberty jipsum on the mo mo mah mah mah.”

So I leave after every visit with a heaviness that’s different from when I was with her every day. It’s a combination of remorse and relief. I know that I cannot do for her what the staff can. Every morning and every evening took everything that I had, mentally and emotionally. Getting her dressed. Getting her clean. The nightly ritual of lowering all the blinds and turning off lights so that something in her mind would kick in and she’d know it was time for bed. Fighting her over taking a bath, or even getting her to agree to a once-over with a washing mitt. Keeping her from dismantling another appliance. Keeping her out of danger. That’s no longer on my daily to-do list, and I’m grateful. But my own shortcomings were such that we had to move her out of her home. I still feel guilty about this.

I leave feeling such sorrow for her, and everything that’s she’s lost. What’s fair about any of this? I talk to others who are dealing with sick parents. Sometimes you find yourself comparing your situation to another’s. “It’s worse for my dad, because he knows he’s dying.” “It’s worse for my mom, because she’s losing her mind.” The thing is – it’s ALL watching someone deteriorate. It’s ALL confronting mortality and frailty. There’s no comparison. There’s only grief.

I feel so hopeless sometimes. As much as I appreciate my life as it is right now – living in a house I’m happy to come home to, with neighbors who are engaging and funny and kind – it came at a cost. My faith in any sort of a just and concerned Universe/Higher Power/Flying Spaghetti Monster has been shaken to its core. I don’t know what or who I’m praying to, and I’m simply not at the point where I can accept entropy, or nothingness. I can’t make sense of any of this.

So I write. I talk to other people going through similar situations. There’s comfort in the similarities (“Your mother hoards paper towels? MINE DOES TOO!”). I wonder if some become sick because others need perspective, or more contact. I flail about for the right words to describe it all, hoping that in re-reading, it will make sense. I’m re-reading this now; it’s all over the goddamn place. It doesn’t matter. This is life in the shadow of illness sometimes: grasping at reason.

Sticking Up.


A post I wrote a couple of years back has been making the rounds again, and has brought with it a bunch more followers.

I always get a little nervous when this happens, like I’m being thought of as this Sobriety Guru, like a wizened Yoda-type sitting on a lily pad doling out sagacious tidbits about not drinking, when really I’m just another clown on the bus trying to stay on board. I mean, you’re dealing with someone who sticks her eighth grade picture into pre-existing photos and works of art. I am really NOT the person to look towards for sanity and wisdom, y’all.

So I feel a responsibility to let folks know that while I do a fair amount of talking about recovery, it’s not the ONLY thing I talk about, and a lot of times you’re going to also get stuff about Alzheimer’s, zombies, and garden variety potty humor. If that’s not your bag, and you want to bail, I will totally understand. But getting sober frequently means rediscovering other areas of interest, and one of the great things about sobriety is that while it’s still gotta be first and foremost, it doesn’t have to be ALL you talk about.

Something I will address today is sticking up for yourself and your sobriety. That can mean anything from shooting down overly-personal questions about why you quit to voicing your discomfort.

Case in point: I share a practice space with my bandmates. As someone who’s contributing to the rent, I think it’s fair of me to ask that people not leave their empties lying around after practice. It’s not like I’m going to run around drinking the dregs in said empties (although I definitely wouldn’t have been above that 13 years ago), but – you know – I also don’t particularly want to look at them, either. So the other night, I politely asked folks to pitch them in the trash can in the hallway. I’m not a Puritan by any stretch of the imagination, and I get that sometimes people want to have a beer at practice. I was able to express my discomfort about the empties in a respectful way, and everyone was on board with being a little tidier.

That’s maybe an overly-simplistic example, but I think a lot of alcoholics/addicts also have fallen into the habit of being really, really passive aggressive. Before I started really getting into the work of being sober, I just assumed that everyone would immediately sense my discomfort and summarily capitulate without my having to say a damn thing. And if they didn’t, then I’d find some insanely roundabout way of getting what I wanted. That’s exhausting for everyone.

But what I’m basically trying to say is this: you’re dealing with something that could kill you; it’s okay to protect yourself. You have the right to turn down invitations to parties if you feel you’re going to be uncomfortable in any way. You have the right to ask if a get-together can take place somewhere other than a bar (I’m usually okay in a bar if it’s also a restaurant, and I can occupy myself with nachos or fries). I’ve learned over the years to understand that this is NOT an outrageous proposition. If I know I’m going out to dinner with vegetarian/vegan friends, I will order vegetarian/vegan. It’s just common courtesy. I will say that it’s interesting that this is a courtesy that is very seldom extended to me as a non-drinker, even though I’m generally comfortable with someone ordering alcohol with dinner. I’d say less than 5% of the time I’m asked whether or not I’m okay with someone drinking in front of me, and maybe that’s because I’ve been pretty sanguine about it over the years. I don’t know. It’s nice to be asked, though.

I am, however, wicked uncomfortable around people who are obviously inebriated. That’s just plain no fucking fun at all, and it’s why I’ve sometimes either stayed home from a party, or bowed out early. As I get older, this becomes less of an issue, since most of my friends by and large aren’t into getting stupid drunk anymore. Me, there is always going to be that urge, however long it’s remained dormant. I am hard-wired for oblivion, and there are still days where I have to tread carefully, and it is 100% okay for me to ask my friends and loved ones to help me out when I’m on shaky ground. And it’s okay for you, too.



Here in Massachusetts, some of us are celebrating the fact that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has seen fit to make “Masshole” an official word:

Masshole Syllabification: Mass·hole

Pronunciation: /ˈmasˌhōl/


US vulgar slang

A contemptuous term for a native or inhabitant of the state of Massachusetts.

Now, I have a problem with this notion that this is a “contemptuous term.”  Perhaps outside of the Commonwealth, it’s used contemptuously.  Around here?  It’s a badge’a fahkin’ HONAH, kehd.

Further, I feel like it’s much better explained with visuals.  I’ve started a few:

10868023_10155795418315085_261118092144622192_n 10988517_10155795251745085_5075981381312476253_n

They really should’ve asked me first, that OED.

The Play’s The Thing.


Geralyn is convinced I’m going to kill her.

I have to say, I almost enjoy the idea that every Sunday I go from being a vaguely-old-gothy database administrator to a scheming murderess. I always smile at Geralyn, who holds court in the back row of rocking chairs in the day room, along with Nancy, Joyce, and a few of the other more lucid ladies, before I take a seat next to my mother-in-law. Geralyn always smiles back, but invariably – several minutes into my visit – I hear her tell the others that I’m going to kill her.

“That’s the one. She stopped me in the hallway and said she’s going to MURDER ME.”
“Which one?”
“HER. The WEIRD one.”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s true. She’s here very often. I think she might be married to that nice fellow there.”
“She’s going to KILL ME. I can’t sit here with her in the room like this.”
“She’s very strange, though. I won’t argue with you there.”

This goes on at full volume, like I’m not sitting mere feet away with my mother-in-law, who’s smiling beatifically and occasionally stroking my hand.

Edith is in her wheelchair, right in front of the television. I like Edith. She’s got a series of wigs that usually wind up askew on her head by mid-afternoon. Edith repeats phrases, words, and short declaratives by way of communication: “BillClintonBillClintonBillClinton.” “You’refullashityou’refullashityou’refullashit.” I think she likes me, too. She’ll sometimes creep up next to me and stare, before making kissing noises. My mother-in-law is gently protective of Edith, patting her on the knee and saying something like, “Oh, you’re the typewriter flibberty jipsum.”

Meanwhile, in the back row, the conversation seems to have turned from my homicidal tendencies to the temperature in the day room.

“It’s cold in here, don’t you think?”
“It IS cold, yes.”
“It’s ridiculous. I’m going to the front desk and complain.”

(A pause, then:)

“Aren’t you COLD?”
“I was always a very cautious driver.”
“She asked if you’re COLD.”

Friends and acquaintances frequently ask me if I’ve seen Still Alice. They’ve seen it, and/or read it, and it was “just devastating.” Have I seen it? I want to say, “I’m in the middle of kind of living Still Alice right now, thanks.” But what I usually say is, “I don’t think I’m ready to watch that.” Both are true; it’s just that the latter response is considerably less snarky, and I’m trying really hard not to be snarky, at least where this is concerned.

There was an article in the Boston Globe recently about the “trend” in theatre right now: the preponderance of plays about dementia. How many of them so accurately depict not only the fear and despair experienced by those who are losing their minds, but the despair and exhaustion of their loved ones. As someone who’s been immersed in theatre since adolescence, I understand the importance of telling these stories onstage. As someone who studied playwriting in graduate school, carefully crafting dialogue in workshops alongside friends who would go on to create amazing work, I feel as though this is something I myself could tackle, eventually, when it’s not so goddamn raw.

The problem is that it would wind up being completely inappropriate, if not downright Ionesco-esque.

“Where is my room? Where are my clothes? “
“She flat out told me that she’s going to kill me in my SLEEP.”
“Can’t you report her to someone?”

An aide comes over, to fetch my mother-in-law. It’s time to go into the dining room for a snack.

“Marcia! Marsheeta! Happy Birthday to you…”
“Happy Birthday to you, happy birrrr…no, I’m not going to that place.”


Now We Are Thirteen.


Today marks 13 years since I had my last drink.

This morning I tried to think about what I was going to write, and I mostly kept thinking back to what I wrote last year. It was just about a week before my mother-in-law went into memory care, and I was just barely functioning. I was on auto-pilot, just trying to get through every day, trying to knock off the tasks in front of me and hoping things wouldn’t get too FUBAR, because I honestly didn’t think I had it in me to deal with anything other than just surviving.

In a lot of ways, that was like early sobriety. Only I wasn’t entirely stripped of coping mechanisms.

This year was better. Markedly so. It wasn’t without its stressors – emptying out her apartment so we could move in, and subsequently have our friends move into the downstairs apartment, was probably one of the most emotionally taxing things I’ve done. Sorting through the personal effects of another person, trying to assign value to these objects, and all the while doing so knowing that the person is still alive, yet unable to tell you to whom things should go…that is some brutally frustrating shit, you guys. I found myself fighting resentment left and right, because as a recovering alcoholic, I really don’t get to be resentful. At least not for very long.

The further I get away from that last drink (warm Chardonnay in a plastic cup, in case anyone was wondering), the more I feel like I have to really make a concerted effort to remind myself what a bloodhound for oblivion I was. How many hostages I took because I wanted an audience.

Three years ago, I wrote this:

I don’t want congratulations — I want understanding.

I want the people out there who are drinking themselves to death to understand that there is nothing romantic about being a drunk. It is not a cultural or artistic imperative to be a drunk. Drinking does not make you a better writer, a better artist, a better musician, or a better lover. It does not make you more in touch with the Universe, your muse, your emotions, or the person you’re trying to have sex with.

I want the people still out there, still trying to make it “work,” to understand that nothing is so terrible, no emotional terrain so unnavigable, that drinking will not make worse. I want them to understand that it’s not a balm; it’s poison. At the very LEAST, it is preventing them from processing their grief, pain, or frustration in a healthy way. It’s simple physics: you meet with a lot more resistance when you try to move through fluid.

I want people who don’t suffer from addiction, and the indignities it heaps upon those of us who DO, to understand that they need to stop making jokes at our expense. I want them to understand that we are not less deserving of grief or compassion when we die from our illness.

I stand by those words. We’re still living in a culture that celebrates drunkenness in the form of cutesy “wine humor,” yet looks upon the struggling addict as weak-willed and worthy only of derision. There is still so much willful ignorance when it comes to this.

And there are still so many people who won’t get what I have. I lost another friend this year to this disease. Brian was beyond kind and patient with me in my early sobriety, when I was just a blubbering mass of exposed nerves. We went out for bagels, we got ice cream, we went to the movies. He understood my need to fill those first days and weeks with all manner of stupid, banal shit. He was also the only person – EVER – to get away with calling me “Lee.” But he struggled, too. It happens with us. It honestly doesn’t take much to shove us off the straight and narrow and right into a ditch. As horrible as it sounds, I need to see what happens when we start up again. In a terrible way, that was Brian’s last gift to me. I am not immune, nor impervious.

It was another twelve months of loss and transition, but it was also a year in which I remembered how to take really deep breaths. It was a year in which my shoulders began the slow descent from just around my ears to where they more or less are supposed to be. I can actually start focusing more on my job, and my writing. I can write about something else other than being a caregiver. I can write about vampires. I can create ridiculous Photoshopped pictures of my 8th grade self.

I’m beginning to not feel guilty about how much I enjoy weekends. I’m trying to give myself a break from thinking about all the things I could have done better, the things I could have done to – I don’t know – slow down the process of my mother-in-law’s disease. I’m trying not to put the ugly things I’m thinking about myself into the thoughts and motivations of other people. And I’m starting to take off some of the 30+ pounds I gained while being a primary caregiver.

I am really trying to better myself through simply listening. I’m also trying to avoid comments sections.

And I’m not drinking. Miraculous. Unfathomable. Fucking amazing.

The Standoff


I had today what I can only call a Ladies’ Room Standoff. Or Sitoff. I don’t know.

This has happened before. I go in, needing to….take care of business that’s a little more complicated than just a tinkle, and someone’s already in there, in the other stall. Fine. Maybe that person is finishing up; I’m thinking she’ll flush, wash her hands, maybe check her hair, and I can do my thing in peace and solitude.

So I have a seat and do, well, something else while I’m waiting. And there’s nothing. Just a stony silence. No rustling of toilet paper. No metallic “ting” from the feminine hygiene product bucket supplied so that we don’t flush anything that ought not to be flushed. I wait another moment. No shifting, no flushing.

And I realize that this person is not going to leave.

I am supposing it’s because she’s got a similar situation. She entered expecting to make a drop-off in relative privacy, got herself settled, and in I walked. I’ve ruined everything. Yet I, too, have needs.

Apparently we’re both just too dainty to let it go, so to speak. To do our dirty work without regard for the other worker, I mean. Neither of us is budging, but something’s got to give.

I’m a martyr by nature. When confronted with the last cookie in the jar, I’m the one who will say, in a somewhat loaded manner, “Oh, I’m FINE. YOU have it.” And then I will silently seethe. Or gloat, depending on who gets the cookie. In this case, I verbalize nothing. I get up, flush, wash my hands, and leave.

And then case the door.

On this day…


Facebook has been encouraging me to share “on this day” posts. Stuff I posted on May 13, 2014, or 2012. I’ve taken advantage of this feature a couple of times, noting how much different things are for us this May as opposed to last May.

I don’t feel a great sense of “relief” from visiting the sad, scared, and hysterically miserable me from May of 2014. My home situation is tremendously improved, but that’s because my mother-in-law is in a memory unit. And that’s not an entirely good feeling – I am more comfortable because I couldn’t take care of her anymore, if I ever was completely capable of taking care of her in the first place.

How do I feel? Generally speaking – stunned. I put on the cheerful mask for Facebook, but on occasion I have to crack and say, “You know what? I am still really struggling.”

I am still really struggling.

I put on thirty-five pounds in the 3 ½ years I was a primary caregiver. THIRTY-FIVE. And it’s been remarkably difficult to even get ten of those off, thanks (in part) to peri-menopause, but also because I acquired a lot of lousy eating habits that have proven hard to break. Make no mistake about the effects stress can have on every part of your body. I’ve got TMJ, digestive problems, headaches, and nervous tics that cause me to pick obsessively at my scalp. And I realize that all of this is nothing compared to what my mother-in-law is going through (especially when she was still more or less cognizant of the fact that she was losing her mind). I get that. But I think it’s important for me to speak up about what caregivers go through. We’re not always in the position to “buck up” and summon a little perspective, because we’re fucking exhausted. Mental illness, neurological disorders…these impact everyone in contact with the affected person in some way, and it’s necessary to point that out, and I think we should be able to without being made to feel ashamed or selfish.

So as all of this was happening, I kept moving the goal post ahead. I’ll deal with it once Mom’s in assisted living. I’ll deal with it once I get her apartment emptied and cleaned. I’ll deal with it once we’re moved upstairs and our friends are moved in downstairs.

And now I have to deal with it – the “comfort eating” and the lack of physical activity and the rewiring of my emotional circuitry so I’ll stop injuring myself. It’s not as if I don’t know how to rein in my various and sundry addictive behaviors. I just let myself fall back into some of them, because “at least I wasn’t drinking,” and – to be quite honest – at the time it HELPED, if only for a little bit. I wasn’t thinking long-term when I just wanted to get through another evening of trying to get my mother-in-law ready for bed. I was thinking, “Once I do this I’m going to sit in front of the television and eat cookies.”

I know, intellectually, that things are much better. But with nothing left to distract me, I have to face all the things I let happen to myself. And I will.

I have plans for this summer. I’m going to my cousin’s wedding. I’m presenting at a software conference in Orlando, and I hope to be able to see some of my friends from college. I’m playing at least one show with my B-52s tribute band. We’re going to Maine. We’re going to the Witch Museum. My niece is graduating from high school. I want to throw a big party. I want to do stuff with our yard. I want to feel as though all the shoes have stopped dropping, at least for a little while.

The View From Upstairs.


In looking over my stats here, I see that someone found me by searching on “Alzheimers poop in trash can.” Well. I hope you found what you were looking for. Also, yes – that is a thing that happens when you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Poop in the trash can. Among other places.

Haven’t checked in here in a while. The last couple of months have been a frenzy of boxes, packing tape, arranging pickups for donated items, and all the other unpleasantness that comes with emptying one apartment, packing up YOUR apartment, and then moving into the apartment you emptied.

We live upstairs now. We live in the apartment formerly occupied by my mother-in-law. Where we found poop in the trash can. Among other places. Where I also found, under her bed, a salad bowl containing a pair of her underpants. A small Corningware dish containing potato chips under the kitchen sink, behind a bottle of 409. Cat food in the washing machine. Where I’d sit with her every evening at dinner, trying to get her to use a fork and/or her napkin. I’d sit there and try to make conversation with her, even though we couldn’t understand one another anymore.

And I’d scan the walls and think that eventually I was going to be living here. I couldn’t fathom when that would be, but I knew that she was sliding faster into her dementia than we could keep up with. I knew that her needs had long ago surpassed our ability to fulfill them. I was terrified and depressed and exhausted, but I couldn’t show any of this to her, because even in her addled state she remained hyper-aware of the mood of those around her. Every waking minute was about keeping her calm and out of trouble. I couldn’t imagine a time when I’d be living in this apartment, and she’d be somewhere safe. But I’d mentally redecorate the place as I sat there, trying to comprehend the dying circuitry inside her head.

And here I am. I’ve done my level best to make it as not-haunted as possible. I’ve been through every room twice with a smoking bundle of sage, smudging and purging the place of all the bad juju and bad memories. And I’m mostly comfortable. We still have a bunch of boxes to unpack, but I’m giving myself permission to be leisurely about this; I’ve spent so many weeks now in a frantic push to get up here and get our former apartment at least slightly more than “broom clean” so that our friends Adam and Felicia could get in and settled by the end of March.

I’m adjusting to the notion of our house as a happy place now. Coombsie and Adam have been friends since they were boys. Adam even lived here for a few months in high school, my mother-in-law having always been unfailingly kind to Coombsie’s friends. And Felicia is the Ethel to my Lucy; the highly organized yin to my sloppy yang. I am seeing a summer of cookouts and planting and porch-sitting, of taking Adam’s daughter to breakfast at Donut Villa on the weekends he has her. We are headed into a new chapter where this house is a place we actually want to be in, where we look forward to weekends, and I’m struggling with that. We’ve spent the past 4 years waiting for the next emergency, the next giant shoe to drop through the ceiling and land on us, so this “relaxing at home” thing is new to me.

But it’s good, I know. I’m hopeful.

I’ve also stumbled upon a small degree of Tumblr fame here. I, with the help of my more Photoshop-savvy friends, have created a strange little corner of the internet where my 8th grade picture has gone from a source of embarrassment to a glorious experiment in learning to love one’s self. I have something like 3,500 followers, garnering certainly more attention than I’ve ever gotten here, or with my writing in general. I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this, but I’m running with it. Do have a visit.

The Places That Scare You.


If you haven’t been watching the news or following the Twitstagrambook feeds of your friends and loved ones in New England, we’ve been effectively hobbled by repeated “significant weather events” for several weeks now. We have been buried under many feet of filthy, dog-pee-and-car-exhaust-riddled snow. It’s not Currier & Ives; it’s the Apocalypse. Roofs have collapsed, snow emergencies and parking bans are everywhere, and public transportation has become a terrible, terrible joke.

Because of what I’ve learned in recovery, I am grasping onto a precious few straws of gratitude in the midst of all of this. One is that we have not lost power during any of the meteorological pummelings we’ve received. Another is that my mother-in-law is snug and warm in the memory unit of the assisted living facility she’s been in since late June. I cannot even fathom how awful all of this would have been had we still been in daily, on-the-premises charge of her care. I frequently have to stop and remind myself of this as I start to complain about the 10’ piles of snow outside our house which are obstructing our view of the 10’ piles of snow across the street.

But in the midst of all of this, we’re trying to move. Granted, we’re just moving from our downstairs apartment into the upstairs apartment formerly occupied by my mother-in-law. But this has required Herculean amounts of organizational skills which I do not possess. Purging a three-bedroom apartment of possessions and clutter acquired over a period of decades, when the former occupant is still among the living, is emotionally trying and just plain shittyawfulhorrid. It is constantly second-guessing and attempting to determine value, both sentimental and monetary, of these things. What goes to charity? What gets saved for the grandchildren? What gets thrown out? I try to be efficient, and wind up wandering weepily from room to room, overwhelmed to the point of distraction.

I have, however, managed to get most of this packed up. There are boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff that can go to charity at any time, except that it can’t really, because of the aforementioned piles of snow. They have turned our fairly wide street into a barely-plowed-out path flanked on both sides by pee-stained, icy behemoths. No truck could idle there for even 10 minutes without drawing the ire of our neighbors and those who use our street as a throughway to get onto Route 1 more quickly.

I am beyond stressed about this. We have to be completely moved upstairs in a matter of weeks; our friends are moving into the downstairs apartment and must do so by the end of March. The whole shebang requires trucks. Big trucks. If I think about it too much I start getting wheezy and unhinged. I mean, more so than usual.

So I’ll talk about one thing I managed to do which I’d been putting off for a long time, and that’s empty out the cabinet under the bathroom sink. Most people would think, “What’s terrible about that? You toss a couple of bottles of Drano and a few old hairbrushes, right?”

No, friends – that cabinet was filled not only with the things you’d expect to find in a bathroom cabinet, but a whopping load of real bad mojo.

As some of you know, the final year of in-home caregiving for us was pretty bad. My mother-in-law’s mental state had deteriorated to the point where she could not/would not care for herself in the most basic ways. Brushing her teeth. Bathing. Properly disposing of toilet paper. Her Alzheimer’s had also ramped up her pre-existing OCD, causing her to scratch and pick at her skin, leading to a constant threat of cellulitis and other infections. Mornings and evenings were spent donning latex gloves and coating her hands, arms, and ankles with both prescription and over-the-counter antibiotic ointment. Because she would slap at me and yell if I tried to get her to take a bath, many times I had to give up that particular battle and use pre-moistened washing mitts, which she would permit, up to a point, when she would then threaten to scream if I came near her with them. And when incontinence became an issue, the cabinet was then the home of the flushable wipes and Depends.

So this cabinet was something I’d been trying to avoid, even with the knowledge that I no longer was responsible for any of these things on any significant level. I just didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to open the scary bathroom cabinet and deal with the physical and symbolic throwing away of these things. I felt guilt, remorse, sorrow, fear, and resentment, in varying order and degree. It felt very much like avoiding looking under the bed, or into my psyche, really the same thing if you think about it.

But one afternoon about 2 weeks ago, I grabbed a trash bag and did it. Out went the prescription ointment, the latex gloves, the Depends. What I could handle saving, I saved (boxes of gauze pads and BandAids, hand sanitizing wipes). I tied up the bag when I was done and brought it into the room where we’re storing all the stuff that needs to be thrown out/trucked away.

Here’s where I’d like to say that I felt as though a great weight was lifted, that I was washed clean in the light of my bravery or some such bullshit. It didn’t feel great. It felt sad. It felt crappy. I have to do this. When faced with any seemingly insurmountable obstacle, my mantra has always been “It’ll get done because it HAS to get done.” You’d be surprised how calming this actually is. It’s much more of a soul balm than “You don’t have to do it alone!” or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle!” Because I’ve found that neither of those things are necessarily true. Sometimes you do have to do it alone. You have to go to the places that scare you, even when it’s just under the sink, and you have to do it alone. Because you HAVE been given more than you can handle, and this is one less thing you have to worry about.

Comfort Food


We had to take my mother-in-law’s 22-year-old cat, Sam, to the animal hospital to have her cremated.  Our plan had been to bury her in the backyard under a little statue of Saint Francis, but the cold snap made that nigh on impossible.  So we took her to the animal hospital where we’d been taking her for years, explaining that we’d been caring for her after my mother-in-law became just too addled by Alzheimer’s to do it herself, and that we’d continued to look after her when my mother-in-law had to move into a memory center.  And Sam seemed to know that it was time to check out, and just went to sleep.

I sat in the car and cried.  I’ve been doing that a lot over the past couple of years.  Crying for my mother-in-law.  Crying for my husband.  Crying for myself and the gradual, insidious emptiness we’ve been experiencing all this time.  And through my tears, I asked Kevin if we could go to Lendy’s.

Lendy’s is a “New York Style Deli & Restaurant” improbably sandwiched into a strip mall of dollar stores and nail salons.  We discovered it one weekend, a couple of years ago, when we had a couple of days “off” from caregiving.  My God, it’s fantastic.  Blintzes and knishes and half-sour pickles and waitresses who’ve been working there since the Reagan administration.  After we moved Mom into the memory center, we found ourselves going there after visits to break up the sadness just a little bit.  The waitresses all know us, and ask after Mom, even though they’ve never laid eyes on her.  Comfort.

And so this is where I needed to go after bringing Sam to the animal hospital.  Our favorite waitress was there.  I dried my tears and tucked into my breakfast-for-dinner and noticed a very well-dressed woman sitting with her friend in a booth across from ours.  She got up, went to the counter where they keep the macaroni salad and corned beef, and yelled into the window for the cook.  “I just wanted to say – your food is awesome.  This is the first time I’ve been here.”  Then she tottered back to the booth on her very nice boots, grabbed her very nice handbag and coat, and left with her friend, after shouting fond farewells to our waitress, like she was an old friend.

Our waitress came over to clear our plates.  “That lady there?  She just lost her husband.  55 years old.  She hadn’t eaten in FIVE DAYS.  Her friend made her come here.”

“Wow,” I said. “You know, her friend was right to bring her here. I always come here when I’m sad, and then I feel better.”

“You’re SAD, hon? Why’re ya sad?”

I explained about Sam, and what we had to do, and how we always come here when we’re feeling a bit crushed and like we can’t draw any nourishment elsewhere, like near-dying plants.  How the cases full of cream soda and pickles and day-old bagels comfort me, and how I know the waitresses here will take care of me.

She sighed.  “To do this job ya gotta be something of a psychologist, I’ll tell ya.”