A Shining Christmas


Contrary to the silliness that usually goes down on my Facebook page (I keep it pretty frivolous there; I’ve found that it’s not at all wise to be otherwise on that particular platform), I have to tell you all: I am actually really struggling with the whole “making merry” thing this year.

If you’ve been following along here for a while, you know that this is the first holiday season in which we are no longer the full-time, in-home, primary caregivers for my mother-in-law, which we had been since 2010. We have thus far had several months of not jerking awake at all hours of the night, listening for footsteps, running water, and other various strange sounds not coming from our cats. We are not responsible for getting her dressed, fed, and bathed. We are not washing soiled sheets and clothes.

The unbelievable pressure we had been under has been lifted, mostly. We are still her caregivers in that we’re regular visitors at the memory unit, checking her room to see that it’s clean, checking in with the staff to make sure she’s set for lotion, Depends, and non-binding socks. We schedule her hair appointments at the little salon on her floor (as I write this, she’s probably getting her perm right now). But this is manageable. This is done without the constant undercurrent of fear that marked the last year-and-a-half of our caring for her at home.

In the depths of my depression and anxiety during that period, I would try and look ahead to this very time. The first Christmas where I could take a deep breath and enjoy myself. I held it aloft as something that would, surely, be a shining Christmas, even with the sad understanding that my mother-in-law would not be actively participating in it.

And here we are and well, I’m just not having it. Any of it. I’m dressing the part and wrapping the presents and baking the cookies. My tree is up, decorated, and lovely. But I cannot muster the cheer. I get home most nights and can’t be arsed to flip on the lighted garlands or the little ceramic “village” on the sideboard. I’ve talked to a few people about this, and the general consensus is that I’m still just emerging from the trauma of that last year-and-a-half, and that feeling completely “normal” is still a ways off. I should go easy on myself, and stop feeling pressure to make this the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER.

So I’m going through the motions while feeling sort of sleepy and intermittently sad. I might also be overcompensating a tad by eating a lot of carbs. I’m sort of looking forward to January 2nd at this point.

And I feel shitty because of this. I feel guilty because I’m having difficulty with getting into this whole holiday thing while my mother-in-law is in a memory center having no earthly clue what day it is, let alone that it’s almost Christmas. And I fall into the trap of clobbering myself for not having perspective. And mostly I just feel stupid. I should have known better to load up on expectations.

As always, humor helps. I bought this mock-ugly-Christmas-sweater not too long ago:

10425438_10102734531932890_7391550646571351082_nA coworker posted that photo on Facebook, which started this whole…trend…where my friends started posting thematic pictures for me:

10418303_2554109775630_706734808926499292_n10850042_10204446332735102_2358759221660275175_n10849935_10154994466605085_2346307634257814993_nSo, as crummy as I’ve been feeling, it did turn out to be a Shining Christmas after all.

Ranting While White


One night, in the early 90s, I was drinking in a little bar on the campus of M.I.T. with my then-boyfriend and a couple of our friends. We were participating in an orgy of irony typical of the era: watching “Melrose Place” and drinking Knickerbocker in cans (which were ridiculously cheap – $2 each). I was buzzed and feeling somewhat out of my league, surrounded by all of these smart people, and what happened next is something that has haunted me for over two decades.

I started chastising Billy Dee Williams.

That sentence is utterly ridiculous, right? Comical, even. So hang with me for a few more sentences and I’ll explain why this is so awful.

I loudly declared that Mr. Williams was doing a “disservice” to “his community” by being the spokesperson for Colt 45, something that I personally had no problem drinking (because it was “ironic” – this was the early 90s, remember), but Billy Dee had no business promoting, because it was so abused in black neighborhoods and this was an act of betrayal that everyone should be aware of. And I, a twenty-something middle class white girl with a couple of Public Enemy records, was just the person to bring this to light, right?

(God, this is painful to write.)

All of a sudden, a young black man approached our table. “I couldn’t help but overhear what you’ve been saying about Billy Dee Williams.”

“Um, yeah?”

“Why do you think he doesn’t have the right to make his own decisions about how he wants to present himself?”

“Well, because….because what he’s doing is dangerous. Colt 45 is, like, aggressively promoted in poor neighborhoods and…that’s…um……bad…”

“So you’re basically saying that it would be like Geronimo promoting Jack Daniels.”


“Yeah. Just checking. OK. You have a nice night.”

I squirmed in my seat, pounding another couple of $2 Knickerbockers, and stewed until the episode of “Melrose Place” was over and I could get my boyfriend to agree to leave. And I ranted at him for the entire walk home, and while we got undressed in his apartment, and even before we went to sleep. How dare that guy question my dedication to WHAT’S RIGHT. I was OPEN-MINDED AND AWARE.


I very much realize that I’m “uncomfortable” writing about this 20+ year old exchange because in doing so, I am outing myself as having engaged in some real smarmy, entitled bullshit. Because I know I am still on the cusp of doing so a lot of the time. Because in spite of my believing myself to be an ally, I understand that privilege drives the desire to make this about myself. Look at me. Look at how aware I am.

I tell this story because I am learning, from some really smart people whose writing pushes me to work through my discomfort and my increasing realization of my own biases and – yes – racist beliefs, that to be an ally is to listen, to share the space in quiet solidarity, and not to make what is happening right now a platform for MY opinions. It is not my place to monopolize the emotional energy. I’m not even sure that writing, and posting, this piece is the right thing to do. But I want to put it out there, to own my privilege and begin the work of unpacking it. I don’t want people cheering me on for being “brave” or assuring me that I don’t have a fuck ton of work to do on myself in the midst of all this pain and anger. That is REALLY not what I am going for.

I am saying: I have said some really dumb shit. I have been a self-styled expert on something that I personally have no experience with. I have ranted while white. I’m working on this.

To Megan.


I was directed to this painful read yesterday.

It’s heartbreaking.

Heartbreaking, because even 12+ years away from my last drink (a plastic cup of warm Chardonnay, which I couldn’t even keep down, because my body was fighting valiantly to keep any more alcohol from braying through my bloodstream), I relate to EVERY GODDAMN THING she writes here. And I suppose I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that I can still easily plug into the memories of how painful, awful, and shitsuckingly BORING it is to be an active alcoholic.

Yes, boring. When you are that dependent on something, your every waking minute revolves around it. Obsessing. Planning. Scheduling. Having “rules” for yourself which keep you from being a real alcoholic. Not drinking before 5. Not drinking at work. Not drinking more than ____ drinks a night (you can easily get around that by drinking out of really big glasses, or continually topping off your drink because – hey – if the glass isn’t totally empty, it’s still only one drink). It’s a second full-time job, one that reaps absolutely no benefits.

It’s lonely, too. This sentence jumped out at me:

I’m upset that I’ve yet again stayed up, alone in my apartment, until the wee hours of the morning, watching music videos on YouTube I’ve seen a million times and sending embarrassing emails, which I type with one eye closed, the other bloodshot and squinting, because I can’t see straight.

I stopped drinking before YouTube was a thing. I can only imagine how much time I would’ve spent watching videos of the drippier New Wave ballads from my formative years and dry-sobbing in front of my laptop, lamenting my lost youth. Or something. As it stands, I spent my time listening to these songs on my stereo, drunkenly fumbling with the 45 sleeves and CD cases, listening to them over and over again until I passed out. Alone. On the crappy little futon sofa while my husband slept in the next room. He actually bought me headphones so he wouldn’t have to listen to this, and thus have some semblance of peace in the midst of my emotional hostage-taking.

Alcoholism gets you where it wants you: alone. Isolated. I drank alone even in a room full of people. That’s the paradox of it – so many of us start drinking because we can’t function around people otherwise. Koester puts it this way: having a few drinks makes it “easier to interact with the world through a filter.” I, like many alcoholics, am wired for isolation. Most people who know me would find that surprising. It takes a tremendous amount of effort for me to go to a party, or to a show, or to any gathering of more than 3 people. Drinking made things easier. Drinking made me funnier, sexier, more creative. Until it just made me drunk. Until it made me prefer the company of my bottle (I certainly wasn’t enjoying my own company). Because to drink the way I wanted to drink required isolation. I couldn’t possibly drink as much as I was drinking around other people. Because they would know I had a problem. So fuck them. Fuck everybody.

Active alcoholism is also an inherently dishonest way to live. We compartmentalize our lives, being one person to one group of people (Wacky! Zany!) and an entirely different person to another group of people (Responsible! Considerate!), while being just one thing to ourselves: drunk.  And we manage this way for a long time, until we (if we’re lucky) come to the realization that we’re broken and in pieces. And then there’s that whole hiding the extent of your drinking from everyone (here’s an Inconvenient Truth™ for you: you’re not fooling anyone). To stop drinking is to face the horrible fact of having to be honest for the first time in…well…for however long you’ve been drinking alcoholically.

Here is the thing that I have learned time and time again in my recovery: DOING something (in this case, being honest) is never as bad as NOT doing it. Because while you’re avoiding the thing you’re afraid of, you’re prolonging the agony, and stacking up more consequences. A sober friend of mine put it to me this way: “When it gets too painful to continue, you WILL change.”

I wish I could sit across some sticky diner table from Koester and tell her that same thing.  But I’ll say this here:

Sobriety is not a death sentence, Megan. Taking away the drink will not take away the central parts of your identity. You don’t even know what those are anymore, because you’ve been drowning them. I’ve read this essay over and over again since last night. I so understand the terror you’re feeling at the very thought of not having that chemical escape hatch anymore. There’s a very palpable grief that happens when you know you have to stop doing this thing that’s NOT EVEN FUCKING WORKING ANYMORE.

You may very well not be ready to stop yet. I hope that changes soon.

It will be work, getting sober. It will absolutely fucking suck at first. But how much more work are you putting into drinking? Think about this.

I’m not the only person out there who read this and 100% related to it. We’re all over the place, and we’re ready to help you when you’re ready to be helped.

The Tale Of The Pantsless Clown


I was hanging out with my sister yesterday, as part of my weekend-long birthday festivities, when my nieces and nephew started clamoring to hear Stories About When We Were Kids™.

And perhaps this wasn’t the best story to tell, but I automatically launched into The Tale Of The Pantsless Clown.

It was around ’78-’79. I was eight, and Tina was six. At the time, we lived on Samoset Avenue in Hull. My mother had choir practice down the street at Saint Ann’s, and figured that Tina and I could manage for a couple of hours by ourselves without burning down the house. By today’s parenting standards, this would have been enough to have us placed in state custody. All I can tell you is that, hey, it was the Seventies. We ate terrible food laced with at least a soupçon of Red #5 on the daily, played completely unsupervised for hours on end in abandoned buildings, and had very questionable television watching habits.

I don’t know where our dad was. Probably away on a business trip. Our older brother was thousands of miles away on an exchange student program in Málaga, where he’d send postcards lamenting the preponderance of bad disco. All I know is that we were instructed to go inside once the streetlights came on, and that perhaps there’d be McDonalds in our future if we managed not to cause serious harm to ourselves or to the furniture.

We amused ourselves with the neighborhood kids, being mindful to glance up at the streetlights now and again. For some reason, the easygoing chatter of children turned very dark, and before long, we were being regaled with the story of a clown in a van. A clown that was naked from the waist down, only you wouldn’t know that until he beckoned you to come closer as he proferred….I don’t know….candy or a puppy or something. And you’d be so shocked at this pantsless clown that you wouldn’t even scream as he snatched you and tossed you into the back of his van.


As Tina and I grappled with the horror of this, the streetlights started coming on. And our friends were called in to enter their respective, safe, parented homes. Being all of two years older, I knew that I was responsible for Tina, who was perched in a tight little ball on the edge of the sidewalk, sobbing. I placed my hand comfortingly on Tina’s shoulder. “C’mon – we should go inside now.”

She looked up at me, huge blue-green eyes round with terror. “But…butbutbut…what if THE CLOWN IS WAITING FOR US IN THE HOUSE?!”


This hadn’t occurred to me. I mean, Jesus, we were total clownbait, weren’t we? Desperately, I tried to suss out my options. Run to a neighbor’s house? No, I was acutely conscious of not interrupting dinner. Stay where we were? No – the thing was to keep moving.

“Get up. We’re going to Saint Ann’s.”

We ran all the way up Samoset Avenue, crying hysterically, checking over our shoulders for headlights that appeared vaguely hostile. Like they’d be attached to a van driven by a pantsless clown. And we arrived at the church shivering and scared witless. I managed to pull open the huge mahogany door and was immediately hit with the smell of incense and floor polish. The sound of the organ and the choir, my mother’s pristine soprano ringing to the rafters, abruptly stopped and I heard: “Betty – aren’t those your girls?”

My mother raced down the front aisle, her brick-red polyester pantsuit fwisk-fwisk-fwisking as she approached us, face pinched in maternal concern. “What’s the matter? What’s wrong? What happened?”

Tina and I exploded in a cacophonous din of explanatory wailing:
“There’s this clown….”
“…in a big black car…”
“…and he’s not wearing anything…”
“…and he’s really mean and he puts kids in the van…”
“…and he…”
“We WANTED to go inside like you SAID.”

My mother looked at me, then looked at my sister, then looked back at me. “JESUS H. CHRIST,” she muttered, then directed us into a pew, where we sat quietly ashamed until practice was over.

There was no McDonalds for dinner.


Chain Drinking


The other day, while slogging through the rain on Huntington Avenue bearing take-out sushi, Dan and I passed the UNO that has been on the corner of Huntington and Gainsborough for – I don’t know – AGES. Certainly as long as I’ve worked at the theatre, and that’ll be 22 years in January.

Dan: Ugh. I wish that place would GO AWAY.
Me: It’ll never go away. It’s a mainstay for the matinee crowd.
Dan: I guess.
Me: I used to drink there. When I still drank. I would go there and drink after work.
Dan: Oh my God. That’s sad. That is SO SAD. The only thing sadder? Drinking down the street at The Cheesecake Factory. On Christmas Eve.
Me: Bah ha HA! No, wait! Drinking at…at…okay, drinking the night before Thanksgiving in your hometown. AT APPLEBEE’S.
Dan: Yes. That is the saddest of all.

(Actually, the saddest place I drank was not a chain restaurant bar. While there is most definitely something quite sad about drinking in those kinds of places, there are sadder places. Like, oh, supply closets. Public restrooms. Your own couch, in front of your stereo, listening to the same Jayhawks album over and over again. Not that I would know anything about any of that.)

I think I drank in chain restaurant bars because there was something comfortably anonymous and cookie-cutter about them. Whether you’re in an UNO in Boston or a TGI Friday’s in Orlando, you’re staring blearily at the same faux stained glass panels, listening to the same Bryan Adams songs, and squinting to read the same nametag buried amongst all of the same “flair” advertising the same unlimited salad and breadsticks or the same new deep-fried something-or-other. Pudding in a shotglass. Radio Flyer wagons nailed to the walls. Yes, another. Please.

When I drank in these places, I typically stuck to beer. I could count on most of them having Sam Adams on tap, which was the least offensive draught beer in general. Because I wouldn’t go near Budweiser, I felt that I was discerning enough to not have a drinking problem.

Unless I could coerce a coworker into drinking with me, I drank alone, and socialized with no one. You don’t go to the bar at UNO to make friends, or I certainly didn’t. I would typically make a show of having something to read or do. I’d grab a file from my desk and sort its contents, then sort them again. Taking my work with me to the bar meant that I took my job VERY seriously. Or that’s what I thought the bartender thought. In reality, the bartender knows what your deal is, or doesn’t care what your deal is. This was all part of the elaborate system of appearances I spent most of my time obsessing over. How to drink without looking like I needed to drink.

Since getting sober, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been inside that UNO. I’ve gone there after taking family members to a matinee. Doesn’t bother me in the sense that I am not seized with an overwhelming desire to sit at the bar and drink Sam Adams while sorting paper. It’s not my first choice when it comes to dining out, but only because I feel like you may as well order a salt lick and a tub of Crisco than choose something off the menu. The effect is the same.



The death of Robin Williams has almost everyone I know shaken. People are talking about how “shocking” it is.

The sad thing is – it’s not shocking. It’s tragic, yes. But to me, and to countless others who struggle daily with the one-two punch of addiction and mental illness, it’s not shocking when someone succumbs to it.

Williams had always been open about his issues. He maintained sobriety for 20 years, then relapsed. It’s an altogether too common story, but the public at large only hears about it when a celebrity stumbles, falls, and can’t for the life of him pick himself back up.

And this is what so many people fail to understand. Mental illness and addiction are still looked upon as matters of “willpower.” And when we are active in our addiction, our brain chemistry is so profoundly fucked up that reason and willpower have nothing to do with correcting it.

“Cheer up.”
“Get over it and move on.”
“Things could be so much worse. Try to have a little perspective.”

This is the advice we invariably get from people who don’t understand the depths that we can find ourselves in.

When a celebrity dies from the complications arising from these illnesses, there is a period of online hand-wringing. How we wish he could’ve gotten help. Depression is bad. Addiction kills. We post updates begging people who are depressed to get help. And then we go back to taking the “How Crazy Are You” quiz on Facebook. 53%! LOL.

Because it’s still misunderstood. It’s an issue one minute, and a joke the next.

My friend Kay put it this way last night: “Addiction and depression walk hand in hand into the mouth of hell.” As an addict in recovery with a mood disorder that requires regular and carefully administered medication, I am well aware of how close I can get to the mouth of hell, how many times I’ve dipped a toe into it and felt the blast. I am not waxing overdramatic here. This has brought me to my knees and has destroyed friendships, relationships, and trust. I know what to do to take care of myself now. But I also know how easy it is to go on autopilot and believe that I no longer need to do those things.

You hear this a lot in recovery: “Your disease is doing pushups.” It’s always there and always ready to take control. And when it does, it is exponentially stronger and subsequently exponentially more difficult to get out of its grasp. This, I believe, is what happened to Robin Williams. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Vic Chesnutt. My friend Caroline. I have watched people I know and love circle the drain and all I can do is stand there, holding out my hand. Some grab hold. Some don’t. This is the reality of it.

There’s help. There’s hope. And it begins with understanding.

Be My (Facebook) Friend.


If you’re not following Mara Wilson on Twitter, you need to be. She gives really good tweet.

She’s a former child actress. I mean – she’s considerably more than that, but a lot of folks remember her as Matilda, or the heartbreaking wee bairn in “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

(An aside – just now I tried to find a clip of her in that movie saying “Diarrhea FOREVER?!” If someone could loop that for me, I’d be ever so grateful. It fills me with a lambent happiness that probably makes everyone else question my sanity. Whatever.)

At any rate, yesterday Ms. Wilson tweeted this:


AMEN. I would amend that to include junior high and grade school.

I get friend requests from all sorts of people. People I played in bands with, or acted with back when I was acting, or worked with…and people with whom I went to school, at all levels. Sometimes I’m puzzled by these requests, particularly if I didn’t regularly hang out with the person making the request. But by and large, I’m pretty sanguine about accepting the requests. Why not. Certainly I deal with enough rejection issues myself to know what it’s like when someone declines MY request.

Here’s a story: Years ago, I was on Friendster. Remember Friendster, oldsters? Friendster was what us social networking types used before MySpace and Facebook. (Now that I think about it, I actually preferred it; it had a much cleaner interface than MySpace or Facebook. I digress.)

So – there I was on Friendster, being online friends with my real-life friends and thinking YAY TECHNOLOGY, when I decided to start poking around for people I used to know. Because we all do it, right? And I found this guy from my high school class. I was not real-life friends with this guy. I was not engaged with him in any capacity, really, except that I WANTED to be. He was smart and he was cute and he played in a band. But I knew in my soul of souls that I was just too much of an oddball and not smart enough to hang out with him. And by “not smart enough,” I mean that I lacked the drive and ambition to be in the Smart Kid Classes™. I’m pretty sure I could’ve held my own with him at lunch.

So there he was, on Friendster. And I decided to be bold and request his “friendship.” Because even though we didn’t hang out in high school, SURELY he would remember me. I was quite unforgettable, after all. Surely we would become INSTANT ONLINE PALS, trading barbs and witticisms, and he would see me as the delightful, quirky bon vivant that I was.

His response? “I’m sorry – who ARE you?”*

Devastation. Yes, Lord.

And so I am very careful about making these sorts of requests now. I learned a hard, yet necessary, lesson from the Would-be Friendster Friend: I am not nearly as memorable as I think I am. I’ll even take it a step further and posit that not everyone thinks I am as charming as I think I am. My rule of thumb is: if I am reasonably certain that I had positive interactions with someone from my past, I make the request. Otherwise, I am to sit on my hands and remember that I am not a special snowflake lady.

Now, on the FLIP side, if I get a friend request from a former classmate, I apply much the same thought process. Did I like this person? Was this person friendly? If I didn’t know this person particularly well, is it to my advantage to be “friends” with him or her now? Is this person interesting? In most cases, I accept these requests. If they turn out to be psycho hosebeasts I can always UN-friend.

I will say that I am at my MOST guarded when it comes to friend requests from people with whom I went to grade school (which was actually a private, K-8 Catholic school). It’s no secret to those who know me or read this blog regularly that I had a terrible go of it in that school, during the last two years or so that I was there. The bullying got so out of hand, and the school’s administration so apathetic regarding the bullying, that I left in the middle of 7th grade.

But I tend to accept friend requests from those classmates, unless they were perpetrators who flat-out don’t acknowledge what happened. Maybe this is wrong. Maybe this shows a lack of forgiveness on my part, or an inability to “get over it,” some thirty years after the fact. But ultimately my thinking is – if you can’t remember or acknowledge how bad this was, then we probably don’t need to be friends. Or “friends,” even.

It’s a complicated thing, being “friends” with someone. Maybe I should go live in a yurt.

* – Actually, I’m pretty sure he accepted my request once I explained, but probably thought I was absolutely batshit Fruit Loops crazy.  Also, I looked and he’s on Facebook, but I am totally not putting myself through that again.



(FUN FACT: I auditioned for my ninth grade production of Bye Bye Birdie with this song, proving how really deadly serious I was about the whole thing.  I still got Chorus.)

So what’s new?  Well, hopefully a return to some lighter subject matter, now that I’m emerging from the stress and depression of the last year or so of caregiving.

I’ll tell you what’s new:  this being able to say “YES” to things.  Kevin is starting sailing lessons tomorrow.  I’m able to meet friends after work.  We’re getting another tribute band up and running with our friends Adam and Bo.  We’re gonna be X for a night!

We said “yes” when we were asked to move in and take care of Marcia, and in doing so, we understood that this meant saying “no” to myriad other things over the past 4 years.  We became very used to it, so this is strange, this being able to say “yes” to nearly every “frivolous” and/or social outing or engagement that comes our way.

People are telling me we “deserve” it, which makes me uncomfortable, in a way.  We “deserve” to go out for Mexican food on a whim because we did something that countless others have done, and are still doing.  As bleak as it got for us in the last year or so, it wasn’t a unique situation by any stretch of the imagination.  I don’t know; I just have trouble grasping the concept of deserving a reward for doing what had to be done.

My therapist is big on reinforcing the “yes” thing.  Yes, you can take a nap.  Yes, you can go to Michael’s after work and buy ridiculous amounts of Sashay yarn.  Yes, you can leave your house in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday.  Yes, yes, yes.  Furthermore, I am not to feel guilty about it, any of it.  And that’s something else that I’m struggling with.  I get to say “yes,” because my mother-in-law is now in a place where I imagine she’s hearing “no” quite a bit.  No, you can’t move that couch.  No, you can’t go out and pick up that bag you see on the lawn.  No, you can’t leave.  Now, granted, we were telling her “no” just as much when she lived in the house with us, but still.

I’m working on it all.  I really am.

Hey!  Did I tell you?  I met MOVIE STARS.  I met Russell Streiner and Judith O’Dea.

It was, no lie, one of the GREATEST DAYS OF MY LIFE.


The Visit.


Yesterday we went to visit my mother-in-law for the first time since we moved her into assisted living on Wednesday.

I’m sure this sounds callous and uncaring to a lot of people:  “You didn’t see her for THREE DAYS?!”  It’s difficult for some to understand why this is actually recommended, and necessary.  If we’d shown up the very next day, it would’ve been brutal for all of us.  She would’ve wanted us to take her home, and been upset and confused as to why we couldn’t do so.  We would’ve felt even worse than we already do.  She needs to adjust.  We need to adjust.  Our roles as caregivers are changing.  And also?  After the events of the last week, we needed to decompress.

The visit went about as well as we could have hoped for.  She has not magically happily settled in, and is not blithe and serene about her new home, but she wasn’t upset by our being there, and didn’t demand to be taken home.  She was sitting in a sunny window seat with her new friend, Terry (who told us that nearly everyone on the floor was expecting twins).  They were annoyed by the fact that they couldn’t just leave whenever they wanted (something we would hear from at least three other residents during our visit), but when we got up to leave, they were engaged in folding up the paper towels I’d gotten for them, and accepted our hugs goodbye with no questions or hysterics.

She was neatly dressed and clean, as were all the other residents we saw.  She is getting physical therapy, she can muck around in the garden, she’ll be kept busy and stimulated all day. The nurse on site reported that Marcia was adjusting well, although she was quite grumpy on Friday because they wouldn’t let her move the couch in the common area.  Which, you know, was pretty much what was happening when she lived with us.

As for me – I am slowly trying to adjust to this new world in which I am not preparing her meals, getting her dressed, and trying to get her to agree to bathe.  I am not used to waking up and not having to listen for her footsteps, not rushing upstairs and keeping her from rummaging in the trash and the litterbox.  I no longer have to keep on top of her constant scratching and picking at herself, pulling her hands away from her ankles and her face.  I stand in my bedroom, helpless, not remembering what it’s like to be able to leisurely dress myself.  We were able to mow the lawn and trim the hedges this weekend without having to keep her from wandering into the street because every tiny twig or stray piece of trash throws her into a fit.

I don’t know when I am going to stop feeling like a selfish git for doing what we had to do for ALL of our sakes.  Taking a nap feels like the most goddamn selfish thing in the world.  Intellectually, I understand that this was not a “selfish” decision in the classic sense of the word.  It most definitely was, in part, an act of self-preservation.  I simply was not going to be able to go on the way we were without breaking.  Kevin, too.  We were exhausted and stressed out and grief-stricken.  We still are, to an extent.  It is going to take us a long time to heal from the effects of dealing directly with this illness on a daily basis.  We did it for nearly four years.

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating:  you truly learn who has your back when you’re in the midst of a huge crisis.  Even a simple Facebook message letting us know that we were being thought about/prayed for meant so much.  Then there were the people who went above and beyond – bringing us meals, offering to sit with Marcia so we could run errands, donating to our Alzheimer’s Walk page…but everyone who reached out and made some kind of connection helped.  It’s going to take me a long time to double back and thank everyone who has been so kind to us.  Alzheimer’s is a scary, horrible disease and to know that you’re not completely alone means everything.

I owe everyone hugs, heart emoticons, Starbucks gift cards, bags of Mint Milanos, and shoulders on which to sob.  I’m getting there.



I’m not sure if I can get any of this out in a coherent way, but here goes…

To start, my mother-in-law is now in assisted living. She is being looked after by professionals. She will be kept active and well-fed and clean. This was the plan.

What didn’t go according to plan? The transition.

Beginning last week, things got real bad, real fast. She was losing control of certain bodily functions. I have never done so many loads of laundry (sheets, blankets, mattress protectors, pants) in so short a time span, ever. At times, we had both washing machines – hers and ours – going full throttle. We took her to her doctor, who gave a vague diagnosis of gastrointestinal distress. We fed her bananas, toast, tapioca pudding, and by Sunday evening, it looked like she might pull through.

Monday morning was chaos. She was hysterical. We couldn’t get her to leave with us to go to the emergency room. We had to call an ambulance. I rode with her, trying to distract her by pointing out that she was in a vehicle full of handsome men. She semi-leered. “HELLO THERE.” We laughed. What then followed was 12 full hours in the emergency room, trying to keep her from bolting, trying to get the staff to understand that she had dementia, she couldn’t directly answer their questions. At one point, she’d soiled herself, and we tried to get a nurse to help. The nurse looked at my mother-in-law and asked, “Are you wet?” My mother-in-law said no. The nurse looked at me and said, “She says she’s not wet.” I said, “She’s STAGE SIX ALZHEIMER’S. If you’d asked if she had kids, she would have given you the same answer.” The nurse smirked at me and left. SHE LEFT. My husband had to get quite loud to get someone in to help us. That same nurse came back, and my mother-in-law gave her loads of attitude. A brief moment of justice. This is what I’m told; at this point I’d retreated to the waiting room, where I had a complete meltdown.

After seemingly endless administrative hurdles, she was admitted to the geriatric ward. She stayed there, being treated by a couple of very kind and patient nurses, until Wednesday.

Tuesday I was in charge of packing what she’d need for assisted living. I had to go through a whole house, a whole life, and distill it all down to a half-dozen boxes. What did I remember her handling the most? What clothes to pack? I had to stop several times to cry.

I don’t remember when I’ve cried so much. When my grandfather died? Keith’s funeral? I don’t know.

Wednesday we packed a small moving truck with her bed, her dresser, and the boxes I’d packed. I spent that morning in the memory unit, in her room, getting it set up and making her bed the way she likes it made. I knew that in a matter of hours, she’d be brought in here. She would recognize these things as her own, but not the room. Not the view out of the window. Would she even question it? In all the time at the hospital, she never asked about “home.” When she was discharged and got into my brother-in-law’s car, she didn’t question the fact that he was taking her in the opposite direction. She arrived at the assisted living center and immediately complimented the carpet. We left her having cake and ice cream with her new neighbors.

Yesterday she had an accident and wouldn’t let anyone near her. My husband got the call from the center. In hindsight, this is what they need to do in the first few days – let us know if something is going awry. But at this point, my emotional circuitry was completely stripped of its insulation. I had a full-blown panic attack and had to leave the office. I was quite convinced that they were going to make us take her back. They eventually convinced her to change her clothes. But she is now going to be at another “tier” of services. Incontinence maintenance. Or something. That’s going to cost us more. Okay.

She has been there almost two full days now. I have been instructed to keep my distance for a couple of more days. Because by the end of our caregiving stint, she was calling me “Mommy.” I cannot be her mommy. I need to be her daughter-in-law again, or – barring that – a familiar, friendly face.  I am her advocate now.

To channel my inner Yoda: feeling all of the feels, I am. Yeesssssss.

I have these brief moments of panic – I have to be upstairs with her – followed by the understanding that she’s not upstairs anymore. Then, relief. Guilt at feeling relief. Sadness. Fear that something is not going to work out and she will have to move back upstairs. Guilt at feeling afraid of this. Overwhelmed by the change in guard and the new responsibilities I will be taking on as a result.  I want a break from all of these feelings. Just a little goddamn break. As I told a fellow caregiver friend, “I don’t get to have a chemical commercial break.” After they’d gotten her mother-in-law safely placed, she’d gone into a field with a bottle of Scotch, and drank and cried for over an hour. And I won’t lie – for a second or two that sounded really fucking good. But I have to remind myself that I wouldn’t be able to stop drinking and crying. It would be pretty solidly miserable all around.

I don’t know when I’m going to feel “normal” again. Here’s something: today I put on the Creepy Rabbit Mask that I keep at my desk and scared the shit out of my friend Dan. He jumped up and ran away. That felt good. About as close to “normal” as I’ve felt in months, however briefly.