Spilling and Sorting it Out

If I'm in the sandwich generation, these are the pieces of bread that hold me together.

If I’m in the sandwich generation, these are the pieces of bread that hold me together.

This is therapy. This is me just spilling it all out, like the contents in an oft-used yet rarely cleaned purse. I’m going through some heavy stuff at the moment, and I need to get it all out there before trying to put it back neatly in place. I remember my mom doing just this with her sensible leather purses. Always the same style. Long strap, multiple pockets, some neutral shade like black, taupe or navy blue. Every so often, she’d pull all the contents out onto our long dining room table, and I’d watch with fascination as she sorted things into piles. The lipstick, nail file, loose change, wadded up tissues, checkbook, and other items of her daily life would wait patiently until it was time to place them back in neat order. I can still remember the way the inside of her purse smelled. A little like economically priced lipstick, a little metallic like coins, and always, somehow, the same.

My mother. How my heart is heavy for her right now. Laying alone in a rehabilitation hospital bed, no doubt snoring, as she does, but I wonder how peaceful her sleep really is. Does she dream of my father? Does she just soldier on for the sake of her children, when really, deep inside, she just wants to disappear into a soft, warm place where no hurt can find her? She fell and broke her hip a little less than two weeks ago, and while she’s recovering quite nicely (and probably better than we all expected), I hate that’s she’s going through this.

She’ll come live with us in a few days, and honestly? I’m excited. I look forward to playing a major part in her recovery to independence. Soon enough, she’ll be back in her own home, although we’re not sure what that might look like yet. But I can’t pretend it’s not stressing me out. My anxiety level is dangerously high at the moment, but it has less to do with feeling burdened by another person to care for, and more to do with my ability to weather the deep emotions this situation has delivered. I am a feeler. One whose nerves are always exposed.

Will she ever have her full independence back? Will she be able to remain in her home as long as she’d like? Will she fall again? How long will we have her?

How long will we have her? This. This is the question that haunts me, that causes my neck and shoulders to raise with tension, that wakes me with a jolt when I’m drifting to sleep at night. This experience has brought me to a place I dread. Accepting the inevitable truth all children must face. Someday, we will lose her. I’m not pessimistic. I’m hopeful she will recover fully and have many more years to enjoy with us. But how many? 10? 15? Quite simply, it’s never enough. I will always need her. I need my mommy.

A week ago, I was able to summon these words as a Facebook post:

“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m going to throw away this pepper shaker. My daughter licked the top of it.” The hospital cafeteria worker gave me a strange look, shrugged his shoulders, and then smiled at Erica. I’m not sure if he felt sympathy for me, belly swollen with baby and two rambunctious little children in tow, or if his limited understanding of English prevented him from completely understanding what I’d said. Either way, I’m grateful to encounter kind souls as I traverse this difficult season. Taking the girls to see mom tonight was crazy as usual, but well worth it.

“Will she sleep well tonight? Will she try to get out of bed when she’s not supposed to? Will she eat like she should?” These are things I’m worrying about on both ends of the caretaker spectrum, for both my children and my mother.

I’m exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. My candle is burning at both ends, but someday I’ll miss the bright light. I am needed. From all directions, I am needed.

Until we are old and alone, we don’t know how terrifying it feels to not be needed. I’ve heard it in the desperate voices of the elderly, who wish they had the strength to be in the position of provider.

Not once have I felt put out by the needs of my mother. How many would love to hold their mother’s hand, hear her sweet voice on the phone, and feel the comfort of her presence once more? Someday, she’ll be gone, and I’ll cherish the extra hours her unfortunate circumstances have given us.

These words are true. All of them. But here’s what I didn’t say: I’m FREAKING out. When I realized the enormity of what had happened to my mother, I felt like I was once again standing in the casket room of our local funeral home, tasked with the impossible job of choosing which vessel my father would be buried in. I don’t ever want to have to make this decision for my mother, or anyone else I love. I’m not okay with death. And I’m not sure I ever will be. I need to fix that, but I’m unsure how. It should be simple. If I believe in an after life, if I believe in a loving God who will carry us home, what’s the worry? Where’s my faith? Death is my weakest point. Death is where I avoid eye contact.

This is hard. Putting this all out there. Yes, I’m strong, and yes, we’ll be okay. But I just can’t keep pretending this isn’t really getting to me. My body has always shown me before my mind. The muscle tension, the pain, the shortness of breath. I will take care of myself the best I’m able, but if you’re a praying person? I could use some divine intervention here. I need to hold it together, I HAVE to hold it together. I have a little one kicking and growing inside me, oblivious to just how tough this world can be. I long to hold him in my arms, take deep breaths of his little baby head, and let the bursting joy of new life warm me to my soul.

So there it is, and yet I realize it’s only a small portion of what I have crammed into my mind at the moment. So many other things I need to spill out and sort through, but time and energy won’t allow. So here it will sit until I’m ready, or more accurately, it will be stuffed back inside because life goes on, whether or not we’ve found the time to sort through all our problems.

11 Responses to Spilling and Sorting it Out

  1. Melissa doffing says:

    Cat, I will keep you in my prayers. Your feelings, concerns and anxieties are valid. Don’t minimize them or feel guilty about freaking out. Your mom is strong and so are you. This is a great opportunity to show your girls how to help and support those who need our help. You are so blessed to have a relationship with your mom where you can give back just a smidgen of the care she gave you. I guess this is just a bunch of random thoughts, but please know you and your mom and family are in my prayers. I have always admired your mom and hope she makes a speedy and complete recovery.

  2. Amy says:

    Praying, my friend. You are stronger than you know, and your mother is so very, very blessed to have you. One breath at a time, one day at a time…you’ve got this!

  3. Janelle says:

    Good Morning Cat,
    I just read your post and wanted to reach out to you.
    I too am sorry you are going through all of this. Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share with us your journey. I’ll continue to keep your entire family in my prayers.
    Love to all, Janelle

  4. Kenja says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. I’m right there with you. My father is gone, and I’m watching my mom, who has always been my rock and strength, grow wizened and stooped before my eyes. It’s so very hard. Hang in there, and know that I’m praying for you.

    • cpoland says:

      Kenja, it’s good to know I’m not alone, although I’m sorry you’re feeling the same pain. Please know I’m here should you need to talk!

  5. Jodi Pyle says:

    Cat, you are in my prayers. I have also struggled with how to reconcile my belief in eternal life with the absolutely overwhelming heartbreak of losing a loved one, especially my mom. The idea that has helped me is that I understand and welcome the peace, love, and pain-free existence that my mom has gone on to experience yet I also mourn her absence to me in this realm here and now. I can feel both things and not have one blot out the other.

  6. Ashley says:

    Catherine,
    I’ve been there. Know what it feels like. Make sure you lean on your brothers and sisters. I didn’t have that. It was just me. They can be your support. If you need to vent, I’ll listen.

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