Reflective Moments

It’s the last day of a long weekend, and I’m up so the dogs can be fed. I’m also up to enjoy some solitude in my house. Everyone else is asleep. It’s the only time of day where there is absolute quiet and no expectations of me.

When I invited my parents to live with us four years ago, I had no idea how much work it would be. In my mind, I’d pictured fishing trips with my dad, working together in the yard, and going shopping with Mom when she felt like it.

Little did I know it would become an endless parade of medical appointments, that their health would decline so rapidly, or that Mom would die from a massive head injury sustained from a fall in our garage. In the past year, my Dad started to lose his vision and is failing before my eyes.

So much has changed in the past four years in addition to my parents. My marriage ended. My son graduated high school. I found a new partner. I lost my job, and found another. We’re also one year into a global pandemic.

There are days I’m overwhelmed. Most days, I’m grateful. As much work, and at times frustration it’s been, being able to care for my parents at the end of their lives gave me time with them I haven’t had for years. I moved away from home in my early 20’s and never again lived in the same city. Visits were three or four times a year and weekly phone calls.

The job loss was a blessing in disguise. It gave me time to take stock of where I’m at and where I want to go. I realized I’m not ready to retire, despite how much the idea appeals to me. I learned how much I’d ‘muted’ my true self to try to make the marriage work, and began to bring my ‘self’ forward. I examined what it was about me that made me choose partners who, in the end, were not good matches. I can go forward with new self-awareness.

I do not live a conventional life. When we realized our marriage no longer served us as a couple and acknowledged we were – indeed – roommates, my husband and I opened our marriage. Through that, we both found people who give us the relationships we want. When the pandemic hit, he invited my partner to stay with us on his days off so we didn’t have to rent AirBnbs. Both his partner and mine helped us build our deck.

Yesterday, Valentine’s day was marked by formally signing our separation agreement. We’ve decided to stay in the house together, but separate. I occupy the second floor, and he is finishing the basement to live there. We will share the main floor. This arrangement gives us an economical way to live independently of each other, keep the house we like, the yard we love, and our pets. How long it will last, we don’t know. It works for now.

My day is about to start. I hear Dad coughing in his room. Soon, he will need me to guide him to the kitchen, make his breakfast, and get his medications ready for him. The silence will be shattered by the sound of game shows and “The Big Bang Theory” coming from his TV. When my son wakes, he will start chatting and gaming with his friends. This will carry on long after I go to bed.

I cherish these moments of solitude where I can sit in a sunbeam, drink my coffee, and not have any immediate responsibilities. It’s a gentle way to start the day.

Midlife Sandwich

One thing our readers are sure to notice over the next few months is the different experiences Vanessa and I are having in our midlife journeys. While she’s experiencing all the ashram has to teach her, I’m at home learning lessons about caregiving at opposite ends of the life cycle.

One one end, I have an 18 year old son who is still living at home. He’s taking some classes towards a certificate, working part-time, and weightlifting. He’s developing skills and confidence I’ve never seen in him before. It’s a pleasure to watch him become the self-assured young man I always knew was within him.

On the other end, I have my 82 year old dad living with me. While my son needs less and less parenting, my dad requires more. Over the past four years, I have become Dad’s primary caregiver. He’s lost most of his vision and is no longer able to cook or bathe by himself. I take him to all his medical appointments, do his shopping, manage his money, and try to make life as interesting as possible for him.

I’m in a midlife sandwich. How I’d love to be able to leave the house for two months to go do karmic yoga at an ashram; to have the time to be in nature, learning, growing. Right now, I can barely leave the house for an hour. Dad can’t be left alone much longer than that.

At a time when I’m encouraging my son to find his independence, I’m watching my dad lose his. Just this week, Dad asked me to look into nursing homes. He’s starting to get lost in the house because he doesn’t have enough sight to help guide him. He thinks he’s walking in a straight line, but he’s not. He gets disoriented when he finds himself somewhere other than where he wanted to be. It’s frustrating for him and sad for me. This man who always seemed larger than life, who could solve any problem, who was so giving of his time and energy – he’s fading before my eyes.

It’s a time of such mixed emotions. I’m proud of my son. I feel sorry for my dad. I feel guilt that I can’t do more for him. I feel relief knowing he will be in a place that can give him the level of care he needs – and then more guilt because he won’t be living with family. I don’t know if he wants to move because it’s better for him, or if he’s doing it for me.

We all have our own paths to walk. My son is just starting; my dad is near the end. I’m somewhere in the middle.