Sometimes I wonder if my father hadn't died so early in my life - I was 6 - if I would be as acutely aware of my mother's mortality. The truth is, though, that even though my father's death did provoke a steady level of anxiety about Mom's health and eventual death (I think I held my breath on some level until my 18th birthday because I was very nervous about where I'd end up in the event that she died before I was of legal age), I was always hyperaware of my parents' age and the fact that some of my friends had grandparents who were the same age as my parents (it didn't help that my mother actually did come to grandparents' day at school one year, either).
What I'm getting at is that, even though I always knew it was inevitable, I'm living smack-dab in the middle of my own personal sandwich and finding some semblance of balance is more than a little tricky. I'm a stay-at-home Mom, and Josh is absolutely fabulous about being involved pretty much from the moment he walks the through the door at the end of the day, but Mom needs more and more consideration, for lack of a better word. She has enough nagging, nuisance health problems that can knock her out of commission at any given time - nothing that in and of itself is fatal or even life threatening, but issues that are constant and keep her functioning at less than 100%. And, really, at almost 77 years-old I'm not quite sure what "100%" would really mean. Lately, I've found myself describing it to others as "85% would be her 100%," but I might be being generous even with that.
Mom has Meniere's Disease, a condition of the inner ear that can cause her to lose her balance, have intense vertigo and nausea. Unfortunately, the attacks are random and increasing in severity as she ages. She can be confined to bed for up to a week or more when hit with symptoms - seriously, bending over to pick something up from the floor can land her in bed for days. Afterwards, it can take up to another week for her to really feel "normal." Her most recent attack, only a couple of weeks ago, brought her to tears (not the first time, but perhaps the most poignant) and made her realize that she shouldn't be living alone. Additionally, Mom suffers from intense postherpetic neuralgia following a nasty bout of shingles in late 2001/early 2002. She seems to have won the lottery for nuisance conditions, because this one really takes the cake when she has an attack. Rather than break out in another case of shingles, she develops severe pain on the left side of her head, radiating down her scalp and over her left eye. Again, another condition that can render her bed-ridden. Fortunately, these attacks seem to be brought on by stress, so she can try to prevent them but isn't always successful. The constant unknown of when another Meniere's attack will happen is something that provokes a great deal of constant anxiety for her and, coupled with the stressors of everyday life as the matriarch of a large family (some of which are greater than others - ranging from the death of a husband, two sons and a son-in-law to somewhat petty, though justified at the time, squabbles amongst us kids) and she can develop a case at any time. On top of all of this, Mom's got Type II diabetes, but really we don't worry all that much about this one. Her numbers aren't so out of whack that it requires major intervention but it is one more thing to always keep in mind.
We do have some health victories, too. This past January, Mom marked 5 years free of invasive breast cancer that, fortunately, did not require chemo or radiation following, her partial mastectomy (not that it wasn't recommended, she just refused both options). And, the fact that her diabetes is pretty much under control is a good thing.
So...Mom's constantly on my mind. Constantly. As J and I try to navigate the waters of preschool parenting (yes, still planning to homeschool but to also enroll the kids in activities this coming fall...dance, gymanstics and some sort of martial arts are high on the list right now), we (read: mostly me) are also trying to negotiate the path our lives should take as a family with the increasing demands of parenthood and parent care. Granted, I have other siblings who are not out of the picture when it comes to Mom's care, but it's more than a silent understanding among us that I am the one who'll be her primary caretaker.
Take today for instance, Mom had an appointment to have what she described as "a little something" removed from the side of her right breast. Well, turns out it was a rather large sebaceous cyst that required 8 stitches to close up and was "deeper and much larger" than even her surgeon realized upon first examination (Mom is a deeply private person, so, even though she understands the importance of maintaining good health, for her to even allow someone to look at "a little something" on her body is a Big Deal).
Late last night, Mom decided she didn't want to go to the appointment alone and asked me to take her. First stop: can J work from home? Nope. He had a meeting that he had to attend in person. Second stop: verify that Cait's working on Friday and therefore can't watch the kids. Yep, Cait's working and there's a special event at the store, so not able to call in. Third stop: see if my sister, N - the sibling who lives closest to me, and her kids are around and open to the idea of having L & E over. Success!
After a round of phone calls to figure out if I'd bring the kids to N's or she and the kids would come here (we settled on my bringing the kids to her house), the plan was set. She'd asked that I leave car seats when I dropped the kids off, so J dutifully removed the seats from his car. Fast forward ~ an hour later: J calls from work to relay that his meeting had been cancelled and he can come home to be with kids and work from home the rest of the day. Cue another flurry of phone calls to figure out what to do - ultimate decision was made to just have J come home and that Liam and Ella could play at N's another day.
Today went fine enough. The doctor removed all of the cyst and she didn't have too much discomfort. I picked up some groceries, visited for a while and got Mom settled comfortably before I left. Right now, everything's A OK. But, there'll be something else, more likely than not in the near future, and I need to figure out how to best be available to my family and Mom. Lately, J and I have been toying with the idea of moving, but we can't go too far because we're already 20 minutes away from Mom and, in the event of an emergency, getting to her could take anywhere from 30 to God-knows-how-long, depending on any number of factors.
Add to all of this the fact that, though J's parents are currently in central New York (a 5 hour trip), a few serious health scares over the past 5 or so years have really made their situation uncertain, too. And, we'll most likely end up being their caretakers, too.
So...how to find balance? How to make our own life, raising our children the way we like (we'd like to simplify our life - hence talk of moving, but that's an entirely different post), while simultaneously being available to Mom and J's parent (if/when needed)? I'm not complaining about this situation at all. Just trying to find my (our) way.
How do we build this ever-changing sandwich?