Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Memories and Mournings

I think part of the reason I started this blog was for it to act as a sort of self-therapy. Before my life went a wee bit nuts nearly two years ago, I was in regular, twice-a-month therapy, but even after my life slowed down again, I didn't go back to it. Why? Oh, there are probably a dozen reasons (most of them probably not legit, but you'll have that), but I did feel as though the progress I'd made was substantial and real.

A bit of background...

Starting in August of 2008 and ending last November, I lost both of my parents to illness. Both of their deaths were prolonged but sudden nonetheless. My parents and I were relatively close, but circumstances in our respective lives led the three of us to drifting apart somewhat. Oh, I still came over for dinner and to mow the lawn, but for the most part, we all led separate lives.

My mother had been in and out of the hospital her whole life, and a little over ten years ago, a medical mishap left her paralyzed from the chest down, making her totally dependent on others. You have to understand that my mother was perhaps the most independent person ever, so having to constantly rely on others proved to be a strain on her mentally. My dad, God rest his soul, pretty much waited on her hand and foot, 24/7/365, and ultimately, it was part of the reason he went to an early grave. You know what they say about caregivers and those they care for - more often than not, the caregiver goes first. That was the case with my dad.

He never got a chance to enjoy his "freedom." I had big plans for us - I wanted him to come to spring training with my friend Mike and me. I wanted us to spend time together like we'd never been able to before. But by this time, his health was already in decline, and I never got the chance to do these things with him.

Two years ago July, my dad, my mother's brother and I decided it was time to put her in a nursing home. It was probably the hardest decision of my life, but I knew it was the right one. My dad physically (and mentally) couldn't take care of her anymore. Unfortunately, my dad didn't know how to deal with life without my mother around. I think he thought he had failed her in some way, especially because she had always said she'd go into a nursing home over her dead body. Not three months after my mother went into the home, my dad ended up in the hospital himself. He never made it home. A combination of pneumonia, MRSA and a stroke ultimately did him in. He somehow lingered until the following August before finally succumbing to his maladies.

I'll never forget the call - I was at work. My cell phone rang. I knew it right away as the number of the nursing facility my dad was at. I thought it was a billing question. It wasn't. I was in a daze for most of the rest of the day, even after driving down to Washington County to see him. I didn't know how to react. Hell, I still don't. It still haunts me sometimes. I often have dreams with my parents in them, but they're rarely pleasant.

As I grew older, my dad and I formed a good friendship. He could talk to me and I to him. We'd share beers and wings down at the Kennedy Tavern once a week and just hash out the problems of the world. God, I miss that. I miss him. But am I still mourning him? Is there a set time you should mourn someone for? I sometimes feel bad when I don't think of him in a given day, but is that natural? I struggle with this a lot, yet when I do think of him, it's fondly. Sometimes, little things he used to say or do will make me smile. I wish... I wish I could just talk to him like I used to. He was a man of few words and the most selfless person I've ever known. There will never be another like him, and if/when I ever have a child of my own, I'll be sure to tell him all about his Grandpa John.

But my mother? Well, that's another story. Y'see, though my mother and I loved each other, I don't think we ever really understood one another. She would often accuse me (sometime rightfully so) of being selfish. I would (internally) accuse of her trying to mask her problems and insecurities by being a control freak and buying things she would never use, often spending large amounts of money in the process. I could never understand why she was so fixated on keeping up appearances. I often would refer to it as "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic," because that's how fruitless it was. Even bedridden in the nursing home, she would still obsess over certain things - like where her water cup was on her table or always having a folded tissue ready for her. It drove me nuts, but I bit my tongue and did what she asked. I didn't always do that, and it often led to arguments. We butted heads quite a bit over the years, mostly over really stupid stuff. Her "eccentricities" got worse after she ended up in a wheelchair, and somewhere along the line, I think she just snapped.

It started one day when she called me out of the blue to say that she and my dad were divorcing. She claimed to have a new husband named "Mike" who was a doctor. Just as an aside, her doctor at the time was named Mike, too. This threw my dad and me for a loop because it never went away. It ended with her totally denying my dad, which I think was one of the reasons for his eventual downfall. It even extended to me. She started to form this alternate reality in which I was married with identical twin sons. After months of just arguing with her about her delusions, I just gave up and went along with her when she would bring it up.

My mom passed much as I expected - alone in a hospital bed. After a lifetime of pain and suffering, her heart just gave out finally. Much like my dad, she never was able to take advantage of her later years. She never got to hold her first grandchild or travel or putz around the house, cooking, baking and gardening - things she loved to do before her paralysis robbed her of those parts of her life.

I reacted to my mother's death much differently than my dad's. It was more of a sense of relief than anything else. I really didn't mourn her in any way and still haven't, I think. Is this wrong? I wasn't glad she was dead, but I was happy she wasn't suffering any more. Selfishly, I was happy I didn't have to make my thrice-weekly trips to the nursing home anymore because it just depressed the hell out of me to go there and see her like she was at the end, a literal shadow of her former self.

Thanks to therapy, I no longer dwell on the past like I used to. Believe me, I used to drive myself nuts with "woulda, shoulda, coulda." I don't do that anymore, but I'll always wish that I could have done something more with both of my parents before they died. I'll always feel that emptiness because I never really got a chance to tell both of them how I felt and what they meant to me. They raised me right, and though I'm not perfect by any means, I am the person I am because of them, and I'll always be grateful for that.

M & D - I miss you. I hope that wherever you are, you're together and happy. I'll always love you.

Unsolicited Plug of the Day - to the makers of the anti-depressant Lexapro. I never used to believe in relying on medication to help bring some balance to one's mental state, but ever since I started taking Lexapro, I've been a much more relaxed, content and even keeled person, and that's without feeling like a zombie when I take it. I'm still me, just a more relaxed and happy me. That, my friends, is a good thing.

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