“..and what takes up space in it.”

We all have responsibilities. And they extend out into our web of relationships. Sometimes they are family oriented, other times they stretch into our work life or social life, or service in our various communities. And sometimes they stretch so taut, we feel bound to them. I am feeling bound. I am feeling taut. And sometimes I want to break away. But I cannot. Why? Because I chose these responsibilities and if I walk away from them, I am not worth my word. We give our word to others, and that creates these responsibilities. Sometimes we take on far more than we should, because we cannot seem to say no to people, and we cannot keep up. Other times, things we have agreed to become much more than we expected. And that is where I am, today.

My mom and I were never really close. I moved out as soon as I could, at 17 years old. I wanted to be as far from my parents as I could get, yet still within reach. I went from living situation, to living situation. Roommates, living at my sorority house, even living with my brother as two adults. But once I left home for good, when I was 21, I never again lived with my parents. When my folks divorced, there was no home to return to. And I was 22 at the time. Mom and I did not move in the same circles. And my dad had remarried pretty quickly, so he was off in his own world, and rarely intersected with mine. The years went by, and mom fell in love with the love of her life. They traveled and lived all over the western half of the US, from Long Beach on their boat, to Utah and Arizona, and finally back to California. In the meantime, I was married and having my babies. Mom and I intersected on holidays and summer visits. But we did not speak daily, or even weekly. And it is the same with my dad. So when I chose to accept the responsibility of having my mom move in with us, I did not fully understand or comprehend what I was agreeing to.

Alzheimer’s is a rough disease. It is rough on the person who has it, and all those around them, who love and care for them. I thought I was up to the task. But my mom and I danced around one another and it was not a dance that was coordinated and it soon fell apart. Mom and I had not lived under the same roof for more than 40 years. She did not recognize me as an adult married woman with grandchildren. She just saw me as this teenager she had to control. And I was expecting more of a mother than my mom could be. It was not a good fit. And if you add in all the personality issues associated with Alzheimer’s, we were doomed to fail. Some days if all I did was breathe, I considered it a successful day. And mom, if she moved off the couch and could toilet successfully, well, that was a banner day. If she actually dressed and showered, it was like Christmas. She slept all day. She had no interested in anything. We tried. Crafting is not her thing. She had no interest in interacting with others her age (“Why would I want to be with all those old people?” she would constantly say). We were at our wit’s end. Our care coordinator asked me to consider placing mom in an Assisted Living home. God, I felt like a failure. I had raised three successful sons to adulthood. And I just could not manage this 89-year-old woman. At my rope’s end, where the safest space in my home for me was my walk-in closet because mom could never find it, I placed the call. I started looking for a place for mom. And because, I believe, I approached it with prayer, we found the perfect place for her. God answered our prayers.

Mom has been in the Assisted Living home since the end of October. It is now March. The transition was ugly, but she adjusted fairly quickly. Huge explosion. Over quickly. And we also took her off all her Alzheimer meds at the same time. She only takes an antidepressant and daily vitamin. She has been doing well. It is like she got her second wind. She is laughing and the life of the home. They all love her there. But her Alzheimer’s has progressed. At her last doctor’s visit, she told me mom was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. We cannot know how long she has to live, but her mental state is declining quickly. Mom’s stubborn personality, and her sense of who she is, is interfering with her safety. She is refusing to use a walker. She has now fallen twice within the past 60 days. The first time, she broke her nose. This time, she broke one and possibly two, fingers. She also cut her hand, which needed stitches. But her skin is too fragile for them. The stitches are stronger than her skin and pull right through the skin. So she had to have steri-strips and bandages, along with a glove and brace.

Well, mom pulled off the bandages, lost the glove and brace, and her wound opened again. The Assisted Living staff placed Tegaderm on her skin. It is a clear bandage that is like “saran wrap” with adhesive for wounds. It is great for younger skin, but in the elderly, when they pull it off, their skin comes off, too. But we have little else we can do her her. And in a bizarre twist of fate, the wound seems to be healing just fine. However, she refuses to let things alone, and refuses to use her walker. And part of that is because when she looks in the mirror, she sees her 20-something self, and not my 89-year-old mom.

And now that she has had two incidences in the past 60 days, local agencies are noticing. And for that, I am very appreciative. Because most of the time, we think these agencies are so overwhelmed, they do not noticed each person in their care. So, on the one hand, I am very grateful. Her care coordinator had me sign some release of information forms and she is now able to intercede with these agencies on mom’s behalf. And it is allowing us to stay ahead of deadlines. Recently, one of her care providing agencies (which I will not name) sent me two notices. They both said they were second notices, and they both had past deadlines. To say I panicked is putting it mildly. Because when I took on the responsibility of my mom, I needed to fully realize that I am it. There is no one behind me. (My husband, but he is not responsible for my mom, just for my sanity with his continued support). And I realized that if all this paperwork were not completed in a timely manner, it could literally mean my mom would have to live with me once more. And I realized that I just could not move her back in with us. My sanity has just started to settle in, and I am once again feeling me to be me. So the thought of my mom living here again sent me into a major panic. I was not sleeping. Literally. I was barely eating. I was an emotional wreck. I had to contact people and play phone tag. I had to gather an inordinate amount of information in just days. Thankfully, I am one of those people who keeps copies of everything I send out. So I was able to dig through mom’s immense stack of paperwork and find information I did not realize I needed, or had previously submitted. I finally had to walk the paperwork into this agency. They proceeded to stamp it received, looked into her status, and told me everything was fine. Everything was in and it looked great and for me not to worry. So how did I react? I stood there, in this public agency, at the counter, and just wept. The tears rolling down my face. I felt like an idiot. But I had seriously been on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I was holding all that inside and did not even realize the huge pressure that had been on my shoulders. They were so kind, handing me tissues, and assuring me everything was okay. And two days later, my care coordinator called to confirm she was approved for aid for another year of care. Thanks be to God.

So now, things are settling. And this agency is requesting a review. The timing stinks for me, because I am having to cancel plans I had made for travel and some events (I am so sorry) I will be missing. But I am also grateful they are paying attention – for my mom’s sake. But here is where the rub is – I am the sole responsible party for my mom’s welfare. I am her POA (Power of attorney) and the only one who can legally represent her with these agencies. Her care coordinator stands with me, and she advocates for her, too. She speaks their language and understands all the myriad of forms they throw at you, and she knows how the system works. That is a wonderful thing. Long term care for the elderly is not something anyone should take on without being fully aware of what that really means. And the fullness is now hitting me. And it is so very different than taking on a new child or baby. It is just different, because I think it partially has to do with role-reversal. I mean, moms are supposed to care for their kids, and not the other way around. It is tossing our relationship up into the air and the pieces are falling all over the place. And it affects everything else in my life. Everything. I am hanging on by a thread.

Once upon a time, mom took care of me. And now I am trying to take care of her. In the meantime, I need to take care of myself. I have cautioned loved ones that if you give too much to others, you have nothing left for yourself. This is a harsh reality. And every once in awhile, we need to admit we cannot be in more than one place at a time, nor can we continually say “yes” to every request of our time, treasure, or talent. We sometimes have to say “no” and just take care of ourselves.

The Lord gives us Lent every year to reevaluate ourselves – our lives and the way in which we allow things tp pull us. And I am taking this time to say “no” more often. No to things, to events, to places I am asked to go. Because sometimes all I can see in my cup is barely a drop. To quote from the Lenten study I am participating in (“Songs of Praise” by Sylvia Leontaritis), “Every so often I like to sit down and examine my life and the things I allow to take up space  in it. I discover activities that don’t really need to be there, for the simple fact that they don’t contribute to anything needful.” And that is more than true in my life. What do I allow to “take up space in it”? There are basic needs and responsibilities I need to attend to. But I am deeply pruning my responsibilities and activities. And it makes me healthier. All the way around.

So when we say, “yes,” to things, we need to dig in and make sure it fits into our lives, is able to be fully supported, and is something we truly want to do. Because sometimes, there is no going back. We have made commitments and we need to honor them. This Lent, I am realizing there are things, situations, and people I can walk away from. There are things I cannot. So I prune where I can, and water what needs my attention. Spring is on the way…what will the future hold? Where will our time be spent, and with whom? We only have this one life…what will we allow to take up space in it?

 

 

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“Gladden the soul of your servant…”

I don’t know if you have this same thing or not, but I have this constant dialogue with myself. I mean 24/7. I spend a lot of my time alone, and with no one around to talk to, I guess I have developed the habit of talking to myself. LOL. The problem? It does not stop. And I have found that I dread going to bed and I start to get agitated as I approach the evening’s preparations to go to sleep. The dog goes out, does her thing, and gets a little nighttime treat and we settle her into bed. The dishes are done and kitchen is clean; quite often the dishwasher is quietly whirring away. I check door locks and outside lights. I take my stomach meds and chew my Immunpro. And then there is nothing for it but to get into bed. As I sit there, I feverishly apply Lavender Essential Oil to my feet, temples, back of the neck, and brow. And I pray, begging for a quiet night’s sleep; a full night’s sleep.

My inner voice is a worry-wort. My anxiety grows and I get the same exact feeling each time, so I recognize it very quickly. I am working so very hard at silencing this voice at night. I get myself so worked up, I wake up in a complete sweat – head to toe. My hair looks like I haven’t washed it in weeks. It is insanity. Why do I listen? How do I make it stop? Why is my inner-self not at peace? I acknowledge and see the blessings in my life. I am loved by an amazing man, I have 3 incredible sons, and amazingly, I am overwhelmed with the love for my 6 grandchildren. I have a couple of friends I know I will have my entire life and I am a better woman because they call me friend. I have an amazing home I love. I look outside at the pouring rain and know Spring is about to show itself. The Lord is my God and I rejoice I found my Savior and I know He loves me. Why can I not silence this stress and worry-filled woman at night?

My sole comfort in this anxiety is the Jesus prayer. And when I run out of that mantra, I will start praying an Akathist to the Mother of God, or the Rosary. Whatever prayer I can recite without thinking about it, and just set my sights on God and His needs for these prayers. And I can usually get my heart-rate back down to normal, and my sweating will ease up. I will usually re-apply my Lavender and drift back off to sleep. Sometimes I am awake for hours; some nights it is just minutes. But I rarely sleep through until morning.

I was chatting with a friend at a fundraiser this weekend. She expressed to me how tired she is because she is woken up every night, and knows someone needs prayer. So she gets up and prays hard. Like she said, “This world is a mess and so many are hurting. We need to pray hard.” And I am thinking that I need to start this when my nights are disrupted. Get up, pray hard for people, and when I am drained, go back to bed. Instead of just laying there, stressed to the max, and exhausted, I will intentionally get up and pray for intentions.

And God, being the One of Infinite Wisdom, every year gives us Lent. And tomorrow I start my Lenten daily reading of the Psalms. Each year I join a Psalter group. This year, the organizer is now published! And what we have been doing is now in book form. I am so excited to start. The book is called, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women.” It is written by Sylvia Leontaritis. (You can get it through Ancient Faith Publishers). Don’t let the title fool you – it is not just for women who are Orthodox. Any Christian woman would be blessed by using this devotional, especially during Lent. The first year I participated, it rocked my world. I love reading the entire book of Psalms during Lent, and really pondering them. I journal in my Bible, and now I have this book to journal in, as well. And just thinking about it calms me. Lent calms me. It is my favorite time, liturgically, of the year. We have more services at Church, we get to pray these amazing prayers we use during Lent. (I actually pray them during the year, too, because I love them so much. I even carry a holy card with one of them on it). And I realized all the stress I have, I can lay at the Foot of the Cross, as we make this Lenten journey with Our Lord. And truly, the tension across my chest just lessened as I typed this. What a blessing Lent is. If you have never done any prep for Easter, start now. Devote yourself to reading the Psalms or the Proverbs for Lent. It will change your life. Promise. And start praying. Hard.

I am looking forward to praying St. Ephraim’s prayer. It makes me quieter and more humble. I once had it hanging on my desk, below the counter of a customer service job I had. I would read it as people approached me for help. It never let me down!

Some of the other prayers I just love are:

“O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth, Who are in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life; Come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord. Holy God, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us….(3 times). Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen…. All Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from all our sins. Master, pardon our inequities. Holy God, visit us and heal us from our infirmities for thy Name’s sake. Lord have mercy. (3 times)….

And so this year, I have pretty much cut myself off from social media. It has become such a barometer of my moods. And as I advised a young lady this weekend, about an ex-boyfriend showing up to an event, “Don’t let him have that power over your joy and your life. Do not let him steal another moment from you.” And that is my prayer in avoiding social media. I cannot let it control my life, or allow what is put out there determine my life. In the book, “Our Thoughts Determine our Lives” by Elder Thaddues of Vitovnica, he tells us:

“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture.  If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind then that is what our life is like.  If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.”  He further shares that “everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality…when we labor in the fields of the Lord, we create harmony.  Divine harmony, peace, and quiet spread everywhere.”  He then tells us what the opposite things can do to us: “However, when we breed negative thoughts, that is a great evil.  Where there is evil in us, we radiate it among our family members and wherever we go.  So you see, we can be very good or very evil. If that’s the way it is, it is certainly better to choose good!  Destructive thoughts destroy the stillness within, and then we have no peace.” (Page 63).

And so we enter fully into Lent with a joyful heart, knowing the path we walk, the one we choose, leads us to Calvary, and the Cross. Which leads us to Salvation and conquers death. Sigh. It is such a blessing to be able to go over our lives, re-evaluating them like this once a year, and this year, Lent has come at the perfect time. God bless you! I pray all of us find this journey through Lent one of joyous reflection and anticipation.

“Incline Your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am godly; save Your servant, who trusts in you. You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord, for to You I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of Your servant, for to You, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. (Psalm 85)

Pray hard, my friends. Pray hard.