Saturday, October 25, 2014

Choosing Your Family

My uncle in Houston recently passed away and his funeral was being planned on the same day as a planned trip to Dallas to watch the red headed David Beckham, my five year grandson, Noah, play futbol. 

I called my son Matt to check on start times and talk to him about my choices.  Should I go see the grandson ply his soccer skills or should I do the right family thing and make the trek to Houston to pay respects?

I wasn’t completely flummoxed, I knew what I should do, I was caught between doing what I wanted to do and doing what was the right thing to do.

Marty was always my go to person when I was dealing with a conundrum, when I wasn’t flummoxed but needed a push in the right direction.  Marty had an internal compass to help point the way and she was never reluctant to tell me where to go and how to get there.  

The strokes really burned out that compass.  She’s a good listener and incredibly supportive of whatever I decide but she is not so much for the advice anymore.

I have a core group of people I turn to when I need to intellectually bounce things around, when I need to check my own moral compass.  My daughter is great to talk to about dealing with people.  She has her mother’s intuitive approach to humanity.  

My daughter-in-law keeps me in line socially; she helps me navigate the rather strange waters of being polite.  My son-in-law is the out of the box thinker, the one that sees a different way to approach a problem; he keeps us all from group think.

This one was for Matt, our son.  He can be my moral compass.  It’s not that he is “better than” or even thinks he is “better than”, he just has his mother’s compass.  Like everyone else I know he doesn’t always go where the compass points, but, like his mother he knows where it’s pointing, and, like me, he feels appropriately guilty when he ignores the needle.  He is an amalgam of his mother and father.

We talked and I told him my dilemma, which really wasn’t a dilemma; it was a case of want to versus an important need to and I already knew that.  He told me a story (that technique sounds vaguely familiar) about Noah, his five year old not wanting to get up for school.  The kid likes school, he just doesn’t want to get up and do the morning get ready hustle.  Matt told him that sometimes in life we have to do some things we may not want to, but we do them because they are important.  Again, it all sounds vaguely familial (not a typo).

Family, my family has become central to Marty and me.  In living my very important ego driven pre-stroke life I too often neglected family.  I talked a good game but my follow through kind of sucked.  That has changed; Marty’s illness has taught me the importance of family.

Sometimes a family fragments when something catastrophic occurs, not mine.  My entire family, our kids, their spouses, my parents, my brother, my sister, their kids have all rallied around Marty.  They have loved her, they have loved me, and they have unconditionally supported both of us.  Marty, in her own way has taught us all about the importance of closeness.  She, at least in my mind, has helped me find my family again.

I went to the funeral; I will go to one of Noah’s soccer matches another time.  I didn’t go to the funeral because I am a helleva guy, we have covered that before.  I didn’t go because of some sense of familial obligation or even because we sometimes have to do some hard things.  

I went because Marty taught me the importance of family; I went because, as my little brother said, it’s family.  Family is a big deal to me.  I admit it wasn’t always so, I now understand why it is a huge deal.  

I know what Marty would have told me to do because her legacy, her children told me.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Three Massively Brilliant Thoughts

It’s always a little dangerous to look back, but when I do, when I go back to the days after we first came home from Marty’s second stroke I am aghast at how stupid I was.  I knew nothing about caring for the needs of someone like Marty.  

The good thing was I knew how stupid I was.

The next good thing, I learned.  I read, I watched, I talked, I learned from my mistakes.  And there were mistakes and there was a lot of anxiety and sweat.

Care giving is not my native skill.  Care giving is not something I thought I could do.  I told one of Marty’s physical therapists about my lack of skill and she said, “Don’t worry, you will figure it out.”  She was right.  It takes time and you never stop evolving, but you do figure out some stuff.

As a virgin care giver I was constantly worried about when to call the doctor.  Before Marty got sick I had never worried about when to call the doctor because Marty always knew when to call the doctor, now I was tasked with that responsibility for someone who could not self-diagnose or even say, “I feel shitty”.  I didn’t want to overlook something real and I didn’t want to be one of those guys that are constantly bugging the doctor’s office with nonsense.  I didn’t know how to do any of that.

My doctor gave me a great prescription, “Don’t worry about calling too much, just follow your instinct, listen to your gut”.  He was right; there was no one who knew Marty better.  Even if I was a novice and trying to understand the new Marty, I knew her the best and was with her the most.  That’s what I did, I followed my instinct and it turns out my instincts have been pretty good.

Follow your instincts, listen to the little voice in your head (just don’t talk to it out loud, that makes you sound nuts).

Not long after we got home after the first stroke Marty got sick again.  We were home in mid-June, at the ER at the first of July.  I was overwhelmed; I just couldn’t see how I was ever going to live like this.  I didn’t care that others had done it; I knew I couldn’t handle the pressure, I knew it was only a matter of days before we were back in the hospital again and that every cough, sneeze, or stretch was a harbinger of the next major illness.

My friend Judy, an old friend, sent me a note quoting her doctor.  She wrote that her doctor once told her, “just because you hear hoof beats doesn’t mean its zebras.”  As humans we too often have a tendency to look to the worst case or make something into something it isn’t.  Not every cough is pneumonia, not ever stretch is a seizure, not every grimace is another stroke.  

There’s a fine line between maximizing and ignoring, just remember there aren’t that many zebras in the world.  Don’t immediately assume the worst.

The last piece of brilliant advice I have is live it day to day, procedure to procedure, illness to illness. It’s so easy to say, it’s so hard to do.  I struggled too often and still do with what I would call “burying Marty”.  I must have planned Marty’s funeral a hundred times.  When my gut told me she was sick, my gut, too often said she was dying.  It is brutal and futile to live the death of someone you love every day.  

It kept from participating in life because I might be planning a funeral.  The truth is, I was planning a funeral and it was crazy making.  The plain and simple truth was and is Marty might out live me, I just don’t know and to pretend I do is crazy, isolating and a little dangerous.

When I finally made the transition to taking things one at a time my life, our life, got better.  I became more engaged with the outside world and I got Marty more engaged in everything.  We didn’t hide from the world, we started trying to meet life on the new terms we had.  It wasn’t great, it was hard, it is still hard, but so very much better.  I hate funerals.

Live your life, live your life day to day, one issue at a time, it’s not quite as overwhelming and you still get to the end, and the ride is much more enjoyable.

I’m not going to self-righteously say I am successful at doing these three things.  I’m not; I struggle with all of them.  

But, I do trust myself and my instincts about Marty and we have a doctor who asks, “What is your gut telling you.”  I consistently remind myself of my friend’s message, it’s probably not as bad as it seems and I work really hard at not borrowing trouble from the future and living our life on a day to day basis.  

These things make the terrible and deeply rewarding job of care giving and learning from Marty better.  These things make me better for Marty and that’s really a big deal to me.