Disasters in Celebration: Coping with Change
The last summer vacation with my mom was out in the country, at a beautiful house with ample space to roam around. While we pretended we were having fun and tried to watch movies and enjoy being away from our responsibilities, we were also blocking exits, running in and out of the house whenever she decided to do so, and unpacking things as she packed them back up. On the way home, as we were driving 45 miles an hour down Rte 29, she decided to reach over my dad while he was driving, and slam the car into Park. The car made a crazy sound, but my dad corrected. I wedged myself between them in the front seat but she kept trying to reach over. We pulled over, and I drove the rest of the way with my parents in the back seat, my dad calming my mom and holding her back.
The last Thanksgiving before my mom moved into full-time care, she spilled soupy sugar pie that she made (unclear of the ingredients) down the wall behind the dessert table. We were too tired to oversee her on this task. We spent the last hour after dinner fighting with her to stay in the house, because she wanted to leave, and we were trying to have a civilized dinner and ignore the fact that she was ill and could not function in social settings.
The last Christmas we shared with my mom before she moved out, we spent 15 minutes watching a Russian music concert, because the other 45 minutes were spent chasing my mom around the theater. Thankfully, a kind usher took pity on our obvious holiday breakdown and lead us to an empty private box where my mom could be more contained.
Celebrating with someone who is very sick is really hard. My dad, sister, and I tried our best to keep some aspects of holidays and birthdays intact and stable. We thought we were doing things for my mom, but really we were doing them for ourselves - so we could keep a shred of sanity in the face of pure chaos. We missed her so much, and we wanted to preserve the small parts of her that remained, despite the obvious changes that were happening. It was our way of coping.
Celebrations changed once she was in care. We were calmer about it. We were less panicked to hold onto the way things were. We knew her needs were being met, so we could be more careful. We also really knew things had changed, so it seemed silly to try to recreate things. Instead, we brought special meals of chocolate mousse and milkshakes to her room, we played quiet family films all cuddled on her bed, we took her outside for short walks. For gifts, we gave her pajamas, flowers, and her favorite albums. Friends sent slippers, lavender oil, and soft scarves. We made Christmas trips to California, sharing a festive cookie with her the day before we left. We allowed ourselves to stray from our tradition - to rest from the stress of planning and feeling that heavy loss from the way things were.
Her birthday is coming up on September 28th. Last year, I made her favorite Apple Crisp recipe with my sister and dad, and posted our experience on my blog. This year, I am getting a haircut and going into work late. I will be thinking about her all day! I will honor her by doing something kind for myself. Holidays, birthdays, and other anniversaries will always feel empty without her there, but there is joy in remembering her as she was - vibrant, beautiful, loving. That will never change. I can forget all the rest.