Saturday, July 28, 2012

Trite and True

It’s trite, it feels kind of trite.  I find I am too often attracted to trite because trite makes the world a cleaner place.  “Stop and smell the roses”, “Live like you are dying”, “Be present in the moment”, all point to what I want to say, they all dance around the edges, but they don’t make the finer point.  I guess that’s what makes trite.

The pithy sayings capture a thought, they make a small point but they don’t really describe the very real importance of seeing the small moments of life as a finite and fleeting treasure that you want to cherish, remember and value.  Pithy sayings, as true as they are, don’t capture depth of emotion.  Marty’s life, Marty’s illness taught me to not only smell the roses but to take the time to caress them and treat them as if you will never be able to see them again. 

Most of my regrets have more to do with things I wish I had done, things not tried, wishes and dreams that died before trying.  I have plenty of sins of commission I wish had never happened; words said that should never have been spoken, actions taken that were stupid and thoughtless.  But, most of what I would change in my life has to do with spending the times of my life better, investing the time given on earth more wisely, seeing and realizing our time is fleeting and savoring the moments of life deeper.

I wish I had spent more of my time enjoying where I was and relishing who I was with, I wish I had not spent so much time obsessing about a career that should have been a part of not all of, my life.  I wish I had taken all of my vacation every year, I wish I had taken the time to see all of my kid’s events, I wish I had listened to Marty more, Marty who always was whispering in my ear or shouting in my face to spend the times of my life more wisely.

She didn’t always invest her time well either, but she knew, she talked all the time about living in the moment and enjoying life.  She has always recognized and actually kind of relished the fleeting nature of life.

Me, I was so busy looking down the highway trying to get to the destination that I blew off what happened on the journey.  I spent too much time worrying about the where we were going and how we were getting there and if it was the best way.  I spent too much time packing and too often I forgot about the reason for packing.

Marty and I taught our children to snow ski in Red River New Mexico.  It was small and often didn’t get a ton of snow.  It was not the greatest ski resort, but it was closer than most ski resorts to us flatlanders of Texas and it had a mountain, snow and ski lifts.   At the time Red River had one big chair lift to get to the top of the mountain, about 15 minutes to the top. 
Regardless of the cold, biting winds, the ice or the blowing snow Marty would always take off the mitten on her right hand, rummage through her coat pocket and pull out her cigarettes and lighter.  She had an amazing ability to fire up a cigarette in even the worst weather, it drove me nuts how she could sit back, relax, smoke and enjoy the ride while I worried about her dropping her ski poles or her mitten or the upcoming dismount from the lift.  As we bumped along, dangling 50 feet above the snow and thousands of feet below a biting blue sky I missed the moment. 

I wish I could sit on the ski lift with Marty one more time and look at that blue New Mexico sky with the knowledge that I would never sit there with her again.  I wish I could go back and replay those 15 minutes with the full knowledge that it was the last time I would see that particular scene of our life.  I regret not riding that lift one more time with Marty and etching the smells, the feeling, the sights into my brain so it would last forever.

For the last seven years, the years after the strokes, I have tried to change my approach to our life; I have tried to live a more conscious existence, one relatively free of missed opportunities with eyes wide open recognizing our moments together.  Marty, her strokes,  helped me find and focus on my priority; they insisted that I change my focus.  

The proximity to Marty’s death made me view life with more awareness of the journey and our time spent together.  We can’t do so many things, there are way too many road blocks for us, but we can embrace our time understanding our own reality, understanding that our time may not be long and soon we will only have memories of each moment.

I know when the inevitable end comes I will look back at these years and see mistakes, see sins of both commission and omission.  I know when the time comes there will be things I wished I had done, things I will have wished I had done better and with more awareness.  I don’t think it will be because Marty and I didn’t try to embrace our life and the moments we had.

I know it’s banal, it’s trite, but I guess stuff becomes trite because it gets repeated over and over again.  I guess it stuff gets repeated over and over again because they boil a simple truth down to the clean, the simple. 
What I’m getting at is deeper than the trite sayings.  It’s more than that.  It’s not about a “bucket list” or trying to get your jollies or a last adrenalin rush by jumping from an airplane or eating two gallons of chocolate ice cream or spending all of your retirement funds.  It’s a recognition that we live fragile, finite lives, we as human beings are frail and we should be present in the small moments and remember them because we “we may not pass this way again”.  

Trite, I know.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Emotions Came Up

I haven’t seen Marty shed a tear in seven years and brother; she has had many reasons to cry.  I haven’t seen Marty purse her lips, rub her chin and narrow her gaze with anger since the strokes.  Her emotions are tamped down, the fire that once burned is subdued.

After Marty’s first stroke she became placid, quiet, and too internal for someone who was always very external in her thoughts, words and feelings.  After the 2nd stroke, the woman who was once loud and brash became even quieter, more reserved and void of external emotional queues.  Her emotions are bottled up, seared over and sealed up by the damage to her brain.

But, emotions, feelings, are not to be denied forever.  They build, even for the most placid among us, like too much water in a balloon until they have to escape, until they have to erupt like ash and stone from a volcano.  I didn’t see it coming.

When I first got word that Marty’s mother had started to really deteriorate I told Marty what was happening.  It was a weekend we were at the lake and I could tell the news was on Marty’s mind.  She doesn’t always retain things she hears, those things she hears and remembers are a big deal.  She remembered about her mom, she was bothered, you could see it in her eyes and in her demeanor if you knew what bothered looks like for the new Marty.

When I asked her about going to Dalhart to see Jean she was immediately all in, yes, she wanted to go see her mother, yes, she wanted to go, yes she wanted to go right now.

We made the trip; we arrived in Dalhart late Saturday afternoon.  After we got settled I wanted Marty to rest a bit before we went to the world famous Bar H grill for dinner.  I also wanted to go to the nursing home and see Jean and kind of reconnoiter the situation, hoping I could see what was real and brace Marty just a little before she saw her mom.

Jean was in the dining room pulled up to a small table with another resident of the memory lane hall.  A nurse was trying to get her to eat just a little.  I watched as Jean sat there without any interest in the food, closing her mouth and shaking her head when it was offered.  Jean was sitting up in her wheelchair, good news; she wasn’t interested in eating and had lost too much weight, bad news. 

My ego wants me to think she recognized me as I knelt beside her chair in the dining room but I don’t really know if she knew me or just accepted I was someone safe.  She grabbed my hand, smiled just a little as I got close to her ear and reminded her who I was.  She didn’t say anything as I told her we had just made it to town and I would bring Marty to see her tomorrow.  She looked at me, clutched my hand tightly and said, “If she wants to.” 

She didn’t want me to go; she held my hand tightly as I stayed beside her chair for a few brief moments.  When the nurse came to move her back to her room she kind of forgot that she wanted me to stay, so I left with a heavy heart. 

I reported to Marty what I had seen; she didn’t seem fazed by it too much, she probably was too overloaded by the trip and the different surroundings to care what I said.

The next morning Renea, our steadfast caregiver, Marty and I went to Coon Memorial to see Jean.  She was in her bed, dressed, curled up, sleeping, sort of.  It wasn’t a deep sleep; it wasn’t a restful sleep as she continually moved around in the bed, moving her legs, pulling her right leg up under her left leg.

I tried to get Jean to come full awake but just didn’t have the heart to nag her too much.  I asked Marty if she wanted me to roll her closer and she nodded yes.  I pulled Marty’s chair next to the bed and sat beside her as she watched, upset, bothered, distraught over her mother’s condition.  “Skinny,” was all she said.

We had been there about ten minutes and I asked Marty if she wanted to go, she didn’t.  Jean had rolled over on her right side with her right hand resting on Marty’s chair, then she rolled on her left side with her back to us, that’s when Marty started to gag and heave just a little.  I immediately stood up and asked her if she was all right, a head nod, followed by continued gagging.  I asked her if she was about to throw-up, she shook her head no, and started to spit up a little bit of  phlegm. 

I don’t know why I do it, I’ve done it once before, I immediately cupped my hands under Marty’s mouth to keep whatever vile stuff came up off her shirt.  I hate vomit, it makes me sick, I don’t know why I would do that.  I nodded to Renea who was already getting a trash can, just in time to catch the morning’s breakfast. 

We left.

If you look you can find it.  There is something called sadness vomit, or at least that’s what Renea found and called it.  We went to the park by Lake Rita Blanca and decompressed, me fussing over Marty, badgering her with, “Are you okay?”, “Do you feel sick at your stomach?”  She probably thought, “Yes, at you.”

I think all of the sadness, all of the grief, all of the feelings of helplessness simply overwhelmed Marty.  The old Marty would have been at the nursing home all day and all night, she would have been looking at the charts, asking questions, challenging people.  She would have been talking about how sad everything was, she would have been dealing with her grief, with her worry, with her angst in tears, words and anger.

The new Marty, the Marty who has been changed by strokes could do nothing to help, she couldn’t adequately express or address the fear, the anger, the sadness she felt.  She simply got sick; the emotions erupted in a simple bodily function.  She vomited.

We got back to Waco Monday afternoon.  We were all exhausted from the emotions of the trip, the brief time away and the drive, the seemingly interminable drive across Texas.

Tuesday Marty and I talked.  It had occurred to me maybe when it was time for a funeral she might not want to return, she might want to avoid the emotional upheaval that is a certainty with a return trip to Dalhart.

Me, “I think it’s going to be a real simple funeral, is that okay with you?”

Marty, “Sure, it makes sense.”

“Do you want to go back?”

Resolutely, defiantly, emphatically, “Yes, I want to go.”

“But it made you sick, I worry about that.  What if you get sick again?”

“I might,” she said, not trying to reassure me, “You might want to bring a trash bag in case I do, I’m going to the funeral.”

That’s the Marty that wouldn’t worry about expressing her emotions.  That’s my Marty.