You didn’t think it would happen. Not to you. You had it all. You had a loving and supportive family. Siblings and cousins you saw or talked to almost every day. You had friends. Friends who grew up right down the street from you, buddies who had gone through thick and thin with you.
Slowly, so slowly at first, it seemed almost as if you might be imagining it all.
First, the words of condolences.
“I am so sorry you are going through this.”
“I heard about the diagnosis. I am so sorry.”
Next, they see you out and about, but instead of the happy greeting you would normally get, they avert their eyes. You sort of stop. Unsure of how to proceed. You see them look away. You clearly make them uncomfortable now. They are hoping you don’t call out or draw attention to them. They duck, they turn away, they do anything to avoid having to face you.
It seems awkward at first. You take it personally. You feel as if you have inconvenienced them in some way, but you aren’t sure how.. After a while, it becomes such a common occurrence, you do them the courtesy of simply not even looking in their direction.
The pain is less sharp with every ripped page of a calendar month. It seems that time has a way of helping you adapt. You adapt to the loss of mobility. You adapt to losing your independence. You adapt to losing camaraderie with co-workers you used to see daily. You simply adapt to losing something, each and every day.
You think you have managed to come to terms with all the changes, but then you realize that the changes never stop.
After your body has morphed into something you no longer recognize, and you only slightly look like the person you used to be, you must now adapt to a new challenge. The friends and family you hold so dear. have all just slowly dropped out of sight. You had no idea that this is the part that would test you.
You thought dealing with the disease would be the hardest thing you would ever have to deal with, but you discovered you were wrong.
The hardest part, in fact, would be watching everyone around that you love move on with their lives, and all you can do is stare at a screen and watch it all happen.
You do everything in your power not to click on that icon, you try so hard to stay away from social media.
You don’t need to be reminded of all the Christmas parties, the weddings or the birthday celebrations that you are no longer invited to.
You don’t get to be included in the phone calls, or the invites for a drink to commiserate a friend’s breakup or loss of their favorite sport teams championship game.
The connection is gone.
Funny that you didn’t notice at first. You were so focused on the loss of your legs, you hadn’t noticed that those friends who used to talk to you every day, haven’t reached out in almost a year now. No one has stopped by to visit in so long, and you don’t even bother asking for visitors. They all promised, but its been so long, you finally quit anticipating anyone knocking on the door.
The invitations you had gotten were either to someplace that cannot accommodate your new situation, or it was a pity invitation. At least, you assume it is a pity invitation, so you politely decline. You feel you have done everyone a favor by not going.
You thought the disease would be what caused your body to stop functioning. Now, you no longer believe that. Your heart is breaking, and you begin to imagine that it is possible to die from a broken heart.
If you had only known the disease would not be the hardest part to deal with. You found out the most difficult part of each day would be to live and then die from isolation, depression and sadness. The ability to see all those people you once had a connection with, posting pictures of their lives, their loves, and their ups and downs, but you somehow, realize that you were forgotten.
You want to turn away, but you so desperately need to feel as if you are still worthy of their time or effort.
Now, you scour the internet, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…anything that connects you in some way to the people you used to know. The anger is gone. Now, you simply want a connection with them. Even if the only link to them again is by pressing the “like” button.
Would you like to know what it means to be a caregiver?
It means always…ALWAYS putting them first.
It is the same process, every single night.
Mundane…sameness…always the same monotonous events that take place for bedtime.
- Brush his teeth, but don’t use the minty toothpaste. He doesn’t like that one.
- Wash his face, but only in certain spots. It makes him chilly to have his face damp.
- Use a q-tip and scratch the itches his fingers can no longer reach. He gets that look in his eye when you find that good spot, not unlike a dog feels when you hit the magic spot.
- Use a bit of tissue, and pick at his nose. (I used to feel squeamish getting up in each nostril, but now, my stomach doesn’t even do a little flip flop as my fingers go up and wiggle around, the tissue swiping at any loose snot balls.)
- One medicine for anxiety, one for sadness. One that is supposed to slow down his progression. We know two out of three of those meds work for certain.
- Pour a capful of white powder and swirl around until dissolved. (It helps him poop.)
- Place the pills in his mouth, his tongue is twitching again. Quickly lift the thickened water to his lips.
- Remove his lap blanket and place the hand-held urinal between his legs. Push his legs apart so that he pees in the urinal and not all over himself.
- Roll into the bedroom and start a machine. The clicking of air, pushing in and out, his cheeks puffed, as he coughs. (The cough is weaker now. Nothing much ever comes out. I can’t tell if I should be thankful for that or not.)
- He tells me he thinks he may be getting sick. His throat hurts and he feels warm. I tell him he isn’t getting sick and deep down I silently pray I am right.
- Grab the giant metal arm, attach the loops and hit the button. The arm pulls him up and out of his wheelchair. His ass scrapes along his controller, again. I seem to do that every night. He gives me a pouty face, as I apologize…again.
- My face turns red as I pull and twist the metal contraption over towards the bed.
- Grab the remote for the bed to lift the headboard up, as I simultaneously lower the metal arm down on the bed. Push with my shoulders, and pull his legs out straight, so he doesn’t cramp.
Pay attention, Theresa!
- Don’t sit him too high or too low. Keep the headboard at a little less than 90 degrees, just the way he likes it. Unhook the loops, pull the metal arm away from the bed. Tuck it back into the shower, where we can hide it and pretend for just a few hours that it is not a necessary tool for me to move him to and fro.
- Pull the straps and the sling out from under him.
- He winces.
- Place the bandaid over the bridge of his nose. It looks raw and sore again.
- The mask goes on next. Hit the ON button. It screeches to life.
- Find the remote for the headboard, which is now buried between his legs and blankets. The dog is laying by his feet. The dog isn’t much help.
- Laying him slowly back, there is one more thing. Scratches…
- Grab the baby powder by the night stand
- Dump it anywhere there is a crevice. (I’ll save you the embarrassment of describing all the places that baby powder goes.)
- Attempt to roll him onto his side. Not before he whines. He wants scratchy time to last longer. I do not
- Check for pressure sores. On the back of his legs and his buttocks.
I grunt again…I swear he is more square than he is round.
- Get his leg pillow just right between his legs. Adjust his head pillow to match. (He asks me to push him more. He isn’t on his side all the way. He will tip back over if he isn’t just so. Several more attempts. Several more grunts)
I give one more hard push…
- “OWWW, I think you did something to my back!”
I panic! My eyes scanning his body. I can’t imagine what happened. I pause looking him over, his butt cheeks out in the open, legs bent
- “I don’t think my legs work anymore!”
- Then he giggles.
- Rolling my eyes when I realize he was trying to be funny.
- “Ok, I am going to go lock up.” I say, as I pad barefoot out of the bedroom.
- “I’ll be right here!” He yells.
- “Don’t move!” I yell back.
- I shake my head with a little grin.
- It is always the same thing…every single night.
It was breezy. The smell of the salty air teased her nose, as the wind moved through the hair that kept escaping from her clip, whipping her hair in disarray. She kept trying to secure her hair away from her face. Ready to give up on any hope of getting her hair under control, she quickly grasped her hair atop her head, pinning it on top. With one last pat, she began observing her clothes.
A black t-shirt and shorts that were ragged and well worn is all she had. Still, she wiped her hands over her shirt, as if to iron out the wrinkles that the moisture from the sea had created.
She glanced down at her toes, wiggling in the sand. She lifted her toes upwards, trying to allow the cool water to rush in under them. When she lifted her feet up, the sand filled in, only to squish outward when she rooted her feet deeper into the earth. The foam from the ocean lapped around her ankles as each wave slowly rocked in around her. She noticed how deep the sand felt. It was coarse, and she could feel a tug from the ocean as one wave retreated, before steeling herself against the small waves that were edging first close, then slowly retreating back where they had came from.
Her head turned, looking over her shoulders. Each direction, she could see people standing along the beach. The sun was in her eyes, and she had to squint to see even those who were closest to her, standing along the sandy shoreline. They were all individuals, standing solitarily along the shore. She wanted to ask why but noticed that she herself was all alone. Her gaze lengthened further along the beach, noticing friends and family she recognized.
Her arm raised, waving frantically, as she smiled and called out to them. Faster, her arm, outstretched, pumped from side to side. Still, no one glanced her way. She cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted. Laughing, she bent over, her arms wrapping around her waist, giggling that she was alone, yet could see so many she knew and loved, but they could neither see nor hear her.
The smile on her face froze, as she realized that although there were so many she recognized and knew, some she even loved, she was all alone on this small area of beach and sand. Her head still turning from one shoulder, towards the other, she saw individuals, much like herself, standing and bracing against the waves. Some were standing back up after having been knocked down by waves. Others appeared to be bracing for waves that seemed to engulf them. She stood with bated breath, wondering how these waves were not hitting them all along the shoreline.
“Strange, I don’t see any waves near me.”
Again, the woman glanced out towards the horizon. The darkening clouds were billowing and building upon each other. She looked down at her feet, as another wave rocked against her legs. This one forced her to take a step back, as she hadn’t been braced or ready for it. She was still standing, and for that she was thankful.
She turned to walk away, but her legs wouldn’t carry her. Her heart raced. She realized that there was no turning away. With some sort of invisible guidance, her body was held tightly facing forward.
She tried lifting her legs against the heavy sand, but each step only pulled her feet deeper and deeper into the wet, rough beach. She saw the water pull away, and as her eyes raised in question, the wave hit her, knocking her to the ground.
Surprised at its strength and intensity, she looked for others to come help, but no one seemed to notice. She stood up, this time, bruised and bit battered at the strength of the wave.
Again, she tried calling out to those around her for help. Why couldn’t they see her struggling? Why did they leave her all alone?
Each person seemed to be fighting their own waves, some higher and some more gentle, only lapping at their ankles. Again, she glanced out towards the horizon.
If a wave was going to come towards her again, this time she would be prepared.
She bent her knees, leaning heavily on her right leg, as she stepped her left foot backwards. She would be ready this time. Chin raised, shoulders back, she was ready for the water as it pulled further away, adding height to an already powerful wave coming towards her.
The sun forcing her to squint, she tried leaning in, as the wave came roaring towards her. Her focus was intent, looking solely at what lay before her and this time, she refused to look beside her. She knew she needed to brace against what was headed her way.
The wind in her face, blowing tendrils of hair across her forehead, stilled for just a moment. The mist moistened her face and arms, as she had closed her eyes, too scared to see what was coming towards her.
It was shocking how hard it hit. The air from her lungs was forced out on impact. The wave forcing her backwards. The water, now over her head swirled above her, and she kicked, lungs burning, as she tried to reach the surface for air.
She was sure her lungs would burst from the pressure building, and still she kicked harder and harder, hoping the surface was found just above her fingertips.
When she thought she could no longer hold on, the wave subsided, and she found herself once again, standing…toes wiggling in the sand.
Again, she glanced up. The sun, that had just warmed her skin only moments before was over shadowed by dark clouds that were moving in.
Her eyes perused the horizon. The clouds moved slowly towards her, ominously warning her. She wanted to run away, but she knew it was futile. This storm was meant for her, and only her, and it was headed directly for her.
She watched the speed of the clouds moving. She tried to gauge how fast it was approaching, and she was also trying to prepare. She knew there would be no one to help her, she had long stopped expecting to find someone to lean on. She had no choice but to face what was coming, alone.
She could dig her heels in. She could brace herself as best as possible, and plan for whatever may come…but in the end, it was up to her to decide if she would find the strength to beat this storm.
I would like to take just a moment and explain this short story. This story has many metaphors, and I hoped they were easily discovered. The inability to run away. The waves are problems that we must all face alone on our journey through life. Often, when we think we have support and help, when we look around, we find that, we are all alone.
This story is not necessarily a story about my hopes and dreams, it is something that I struggle with more and more as time marches on. I know what is in my future. I know it looks bleak and sometimes terrifying. I also am fully aware that this journey is mine, and mine alone.
I can only hope to make it through to the other side, without drowning from the sorrow of what life has chosen to throw in my path. Maybe, although I cannot turn away from my path set before me, or the storm that is clearly coming my way, I can at least prepare for it, brace for it. Really, that is all any of us can do on this journey called “life.”