Thursday, November 20, 2008

Walking On Glass

You know how uncomfortable it is when you go to someone’s house when they’re fighting? That’s what it’s like here. No one is saying anything provocative, but the tension is palpable. My husband and I are not looking at each other. We’re staying way out of each other’s comfort zone. It’s like walking on glass; trying to take the right steps, but one false move and you limp away hurt and bleeding with a wound that takes a long time to heal.

My face is blotchy and my eyes are red from crying. I just put an icy cold washcloth over my face while I was in the bathroom to calm down the color. I don’t want my Dad to ask if there is something wrong. He’s hard of hearing and I would have to yell the answers to his questions. My husband wouldn’t appreciate being talked about so loud that the neighbors got the gist of our fight. Neither would I.

I’m so overwhelmed every day with the regular routines. This is so much harder than I thought it would be. The work is doable with minimal training, but doing it daily without a break is so hard. Every morning I get up, get dressed, then launch into two hours of work (laundry, sponge bath and toileting for my mother, help her to get dressed, fix her hair and brush her teeth, take her blood sugar and give her an insulin shot, give her the first of three rounds of medicine, fix and serve breakfast, wash dishes and do what I have to do to prep for dinner) before I can sit down and get a moment for myself. The TV blares so loud that my ears hurt, but I have to stay in the same room with my mother, in case she has to go to the bathroom or needs something. My father always finds another thing for me to do, but most of the time, he doesn’t come right out and ask. He’ll drop a hint, so I will ask and it will look like it’s my idea to do it because it came from my mouth first.

I’ll write the checks and pay the bills with his checkbook, even though he can do it. He complains about not being able to write like he used to. Yeah, abilities change with time, but he is still capable. My mother always did the bills. That’s why he’s giving it to me. It’s women’s work.

I’ll call to straighten out bills with errors, negotiate settlements with bill collectors and set appointments at the various doctors that the parents need to see so often. I keep the dates on two calendars, one on the wall that he can check and the other in my purse so I don’t overbook appointments. His partial deafness makes the phone work too difficult for him to do, so I do it.

My mother will dose in her easy chair and I will start to write, focusing despite the blaring TV. He’ll pick up the remote, mute the sound and launch into the tenth retelling of a story about something he did with someone some time ago. I enjoy his stories, but we used to get backhanded for interrupting him. I mean, he can see me with the laptop on my lap, looking at the screen, fingers flying over keys as I write the story aching to be told. Why doesn’t he read my body language? Geeesh!

Soon, it’s time for lunch. I make sandwiches or cook soup, pizza or quesadillas and serve the food to all of us. Afterwards, I do dishes, take my mother to the bathroom and then put her down for a nap. If I’m lucky, she’ll sleep for three hours. Most of the time, she sleeps one to one and a half hours. She’ll wake on her own or my father will stop on his way to the bathroom to talk to her, waking her up. I guess he misses her. I, on the other hand, am trying to write while tuning out the various cop and detective shows that he watches at full volume. Or I take this time to go grocery shopping or to my own doctor appointments. Husband and I used to go out for a drive, but the rising gas prices and our low income keep us from doing that very often.

Once my mother gets up from her nap, finishes her toileting and takes her second of three rounds of medicine, she wants a snack. As soon as she’s done with the snack, she starts asking about dinner. What is it? When is it? Who’s cooking it? I answer her, only to have to answer her again ten minutes later. Sometimes the constant questioning forces me out into the kitchen to cook before dinnertime, just to put a stop to it.

After dinner, I wash dishes and sit down for family TV time. We watch a movie or a segment of a TV series on DVD. Around 9:00 p.m., my father goes to bed, but my mother won’t be ready to sleep for another hour or so. I test her blood sugar, give her the third and last round of medicine of the day and top it off with 10 mg. of Lorazepam to help her stay asleep through the night. She’s needs physical support to get around and dietary choices to manage her diabetes. It’s dangerous for her to wander at night. Thank God for Lorazepam.

Around 10:00 p.m., I help my mother to brush her teeth and get ready for bed. After she’s down for the night, I lay on the love seat while my husband lies on the couch, running his fingers through my hair. Together we watch a recorded show. The new season has started for Ghost Whisperer, Supernatural, Heroes and Survivor. There are new shows to add to our favorites list. True Blood is one. Then there are the numerous political shows that help us to make an informed decision on Election Day.

Around midnight I shower and head upstairs to bed. While my husband drops off to sleep, I write. After midnight is the magic hour, when I can hear my thoughts and let them become concrete stories on the computer screen. Around 2:30 or 3:00 a.m., I started stressing about how functional I will be in the morning and I save my work, turn off my computer and snuggle under the duvet and into sleep.

One day is pretty much the same as the others, unless there is a poopsident or an emergency. It doesn’t sound like it’s hard, but try being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without a break.

I tend to lose who I am and just become the one who serves others. Not without resentment: there are things I want to do with my life. I want to write and be published. I want my books to be made into screenplays and then into movies. I want to travel. I want to get a hot rock massage at a spa. I can work on my writing, while I’m the caretaker, but everything else is on hold until after I’m done here. Last year, my mother’s doctor told me that Alzheimer’s victims typically live five to seven years after their diagnosis. My mother was diagnosed about four years ago. My father has heart problems and a slow growing cancer somewhere in his body. He thinks he’ll go before my mother. So, if I had to make a guestimate of how long I will be caretaker, I would say about three to four more years. That’s a huge investment of time. I try to take it day by day, so I don’t feel too resentful about putting my life on hold. I’m no Pollyanna, though. Some days I just want to cry, because I know I can’t quit this job.

Like today. My husband is upset. I’m not quite sure why. I know it’s because of something I did or didn’t do. We don’t often fight, but when we do, it’s hard to pinpoint just what started it. Usually, it’s a build up of a whole lot of things: communication problems, financial woes, not enough us time. Today I think it’s all three.

I wish he could step into my shoes and feel how I feel. I really need him. Most of the time, I can talk to him about the things that frustrate me and he totally gets them, commiserates with me and makes jokes about bizarre solutions to the everyday problems. He helps me purge my resentments and keep going. When we fight, I feel like I’m in this all alone with no end in sight. I feel hopeless and helpless. That’s the feeling I wish he could tune in to. I think if he felt it, he would do whatever he could to keep me from feeling that way.

I know this is hard on him, too. He gave up his union job, his family ties, his film school and Hollywood dreams to follow me to Oregon to care for my folks. His life is on hold as much as mine is. It’s us against the situation. We need to work things out if we want to make it through this together.