What Doesn't Kill You…

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. It’s a saying we all know. It’s a saying we think about when tough times come. But what most people won’t say is: sometimes we just wish it would kill us. That’s not the most Christian thing to say but sometimes, the truth isn’t pretty.

She can’t remember…

I’m digging myself out of a hole. With my mother in the throes of dementia and suffering with COPD, every moment is wrought worrying if the next moment will be a call from her for help. A couple of months before, she thought that her brother and sister-in-law had been killed in an automobile accident. It was a wildly-developed hallucination. Of course, neither were dead. Before that, she believed that electricians were entering her house and stealing checks out of her checkbook. She can’t remember things that happened only 5 minutes before. Last fall, we took her car away from her. She can’t remember if she’s eaten, if her dog and cat have eaten, or if she’s taken her medications. Her house is unclean and we know there is a rat problem brewing.

Yesterday, mom’s birthday, the phone rang and, only 6 feet from her, she couldn’t find where the ringing was coming from. Needless to say, we’re working to get a place ready for her at our house. She now needs closer assistance. Last week, she tried to buy another car but being in a small town, they refused to sell her one.

Not only that but, over the past four months, I had been waiting for a dear, dear family member to die. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer mid-January. I found out around that time and flew to Phoenix, my old hometown, to see her a few weeks later.

Now, she weighed 75 pounds…

My sister, brother-in-law and I visited her together. When we drove up, her son was waiting for us outside of her home. After maybe 10 years since seeing him last, I was struck by how he looked like he always looked, albeit with snowy hair–just like his mom and dad. After hugging and saying our hellos, we walked up to the front door. My aunt’s son warned us how different she now appeared. She used to be tall, nearly 4 inches taller than me, and formidable–buxom some might say but she was in good shape because of the clogging. Now, she weighed 75 pounds and most days stayed in bed. And when visitors came, they could only stay about 15 minutes before she excused them to get back into her bed.

When we walked into her home, her husband was leading her across the room. Her little dog, Missy greeted us with the appropriate amount of barking but quieted soon after. My aunt was using a walker and was making her way from the bedroom toward a recliner. I remember waiting in the foyer and thinking she must be in a lot of pain to be walking that way, hunched over, her head down. Every step was purposeful and took so much out of her. I felt selfish, in a way, that we were sapping her storage of strength on this visit.

Finally, she sat and we gathered up a few chairs in a ragged semi-circle around her. When she spoke, it was only a whisper. We laughed and cried and asked if she wanted anything, anything at all. The request felt cheap and meaningless until she began to weep. I’m worried about Missy, she said. As it turned out, no one could keep her in her immediate family. It was her last request and both my sister and I told her that we would take little Missy. And after bargaining for about a minute, my sister got my aunt’s strand of pearls and I got my aunt’s other treasure, her little dog.

Why did I fear?

I didn’t flinch in responding, I spoke fast so my aunt wouldn’t worry. And over the coming 2 months of my aunt’s survival and subsequent passing, I worried to the point of never telling my husband until the week before I was going back to retrieve the dog. Why did I fear? I had my reasons but as usual, my fears were self-made and baseless. He was a gem about it. He was surprised, of course that I hadn’t mentioned it to him but knew I was scared about bringing one more animal into our household.

So, in April, I flew back to Phoenix for my aunt’s funeral service. It was a beautiful service at a beautiful church. Many of my family showed up. It was a sad reunion but there was so much to be happy about–seeing my other family members and in such a familiar place. It was the first time in 17 years away that I felt like I could move back. I picked up Missy and flew her home with me. I’d never traveled by air with an animal which, if you haven’t, causes its own goodly amount of stress.

Today, with Missy, we have another family member at home and she’s precious. She’s well-behaved and fitting into our routine like a champ.

With all that is going on in my world and how upset I can become, I try to look outward–to Baltimore, to Nepal, to friends who have adult children who are very ill, to other folks with troubles much more dire than mine and I do find the strength to say, “Thank you” to God who gives all blessings–even ones wrapped in crinkly aluminum foil. Because at the end of the day, He is my strength. I have so much more than the troubles. I have a beautiful husband who cherishes me. I, we, now have 3 dogs, 10 cats and 9 birds. I have the fingers with which to write my stories, a beautiful home where I create. I had a great dad. I have a great sister. And even though she remembers little these days, I still have my mother.

I am blessed.

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