There’s a lot going on here on Rainbow Mountain, both within and without our walls, or a little farther away but connected to one or more folks living here, and some days, I just don’t have time to write. One of the boys came home to live; another came home for a visit, though I was away teaching for most of it; the third is doing well, working in the city, living on his own and supporting himself. The baby, who’s not much of a baby anymore at sixteen and a half, is awaiting her Barron’s SAT study guide, the idea of which, I admit, brings tears to my eyes. My husband and I eye our garden daily, especially our tomatoes. I said a prayer earlier today thanking God for the grace to weather the many seasons of our lives, but please, could the late blight skip our tomatoes this year? I’m still trying to decide if it’s a selfish prayer. Getting late blight could infect our neighbors’ gardens, too, and spraying poisonous fungicides could leach into the groundwater and harm the critters down in the stream below our property.
The biggest “outside our walls” event happened during my last week of summer teaching. I put my mother in a nursing home.
Four years ago, after my father passed away, I talked with my mother about choosing a Power of Attorney. She was clear thinking then, though she was beginning to get a little forgetful, mostly in relation to words. She could describe something, but she couldn’t always find the appropriate word in her vocabulary to name it. She has three children, and for reasons that aren’t really important here, she chose me to assume the POA. It hadn’t been an issue until recently, though a few times, my siblings brought it up to me. Once, I considered permitting one of my brothers to assume it, even though I had to be reminded it wasn’t mine to give. I could feel an old familiar defect of character – wanting others to like me, not be mad at me – rearing up in conversations with him and his wife.
Two weeks ago, when I was hours from having to return to the city to teach (and remain there for three days), the situation with Ma became critical. She couldn’t be left alone, and though we had aides during the day, we had no one to stay with her at night. With one brother in another state, asleep, I assumed (he works the night shift) and another out of town for the day, I made the decision. This was, I felt, and the law recognized, part of the responsibility I assumed four years before. For her safety, I made the decision.
The following week, I got blindsided by the feelings of my two brothers. I’m much younger, two decades or more, than both of them. One is wanting to take over at least partial control of my mother’s affairs. The other is telling me I don’t spend enough time with my mother and I should put aside other things in my life to do so. I felt cornered, and I felt the urge to defend myself – which meant, of course, in my old, alcoholic way of thinking, pointing out to them their own shortcomings. A chemically or emotionally drunken me would have done just that. But God often does for me what I can’t do for myself, and my first impulse was to pray, which I did. God held my tongue. God didn’t hold my tears, or my desire to be seen in a favorable light, so I said things and promised things that later on became 10th step issues. I agreed to a lopsided visitation schedule. I live four times farther away than one of my brothers, and I’d committed to almost eight hours of driving a week plus the time I’d spend with Ma. I also promised to talk with my spouse, who’s an attorney, about shared decision making.
In prayer, I remembered a conversation I’d had with my mother about the Power of Attorney. She had her reasons, as I said, for wanting me to have it, and I didn’t have the right to disregard those reasons now because I selfishly wanted to deflect any ill will. And voicing her reasons would be breaking her confidence, not to mention further hurting a sibling’s feelings. So I prayed again. My brothers insisted the greatest concern was my mother’s health and health decisions that may need to be made when I was out of town. I called the nursing home only to be assured that the consent-to-treat papers were enough in routine situations; any serious issues, and I could be back from the city in two hours. I told the youngest of my two brothers this the following day and he seemed satisfied.
It continued to dog me, though, so much so that I felt resentful and still defensive enough to bring up ‘resentments’ as a topic at a meeting. I wrote about it, a sort of narrative fourth step, saying on the page all the things that I didn’t say when I surrendered my tongue to God. What I was leaving out was my part. So I had to go back to work and admit a few things that belonged to me, including withholding my forgiveness. I also thought of my husband’s words, when I expressed my desire to let loose and defend myself (“How will that help your mother?”) – so at one point, instead of speaking from my own limited point of view, I found myself asking my younger brother to tell me stories about Ma before I was born, which was pleasant for both of us.
Today, the three of us got together and pre-planned my mother’s funeral. Thinking about it last night, my head began to ache. I woke with the same headache, which persisted as I drove to the funeral home. I realized I was tensing up, waiting for another meeting like we had the weekend before. I had said to my husband this morning, “I’m not a child, and if I allow the actions of others to make me feel like a child, that’s on me, not on them. I will honor the commitment I made to my mother, and I won’t compromise that commitment because others expect me to do something other than what I know she wants or trusts me to decide for her. I’ll be mindful of their feelings, because I know they love her, not so they won’t be mad at me.” I thanked God for bringing that affirmation back to me.
There was no incident at the funeral home. There were no disagreements. When we parted, the brother from another state was going to visit Ma. I have the long-distance trip to the doctor tomorrow. The younger brother will receive a call from me if my mother agrees to attend a “coping with change” group on Wednesday, and we’ll both attend. And then, I’ll take care of some things that need taking care of at home for a few days before my next visit. It’s enough for me to know that if I lived seven minutes away, I’d visit every day.
I remember learning the definitions and distinctions between the words constant and continual when I was younger. Continual means occurring frequently and regularly; constant means without ceasing. If I prayed in the morning and again at night, I’d be praying continually. In difficult situations like this, with an aging parent and three siblings who never were very close, I accept that I can’t know anyone’s heart but my own, and even then, it’s only through prayer and constant conscious contact with my Higher Power that I can know and see the truth in my own heart. Do I maintain constant conscious contact? I wish I could say I do. I know that when I invite God into situations that are difficult and fearful, when I ask for my consciousness to be guided by God rather than by me, those situations are a lot easier to deal with.
And in the last month, in the above situation and many others, I have yet to find it necessary to get drunk at anyone. Knowing the “me” of three quarters of a decade ago, that’s pretty significant progress.
Peace & Love,