Oh, friends. I am tired. Exhausted to my bones – as I told Ian this morning, having an infant will seem like a breeze compared to our lives right now – he agreed. And since we HAD an infant, we know of which we speak.
A week and a half ago, my in-laws moved in with us so my mother-in-law could get a back surgery she desperately needed. They chose to have the surgery in Pittsburgh instead of the rural area they live in upstate New York because of the expertise of one particular surgeon here, as well as the support Ian and I could provide post-operatively. For vague, confusing insurance reasons the operation had to be scheduled for October, during one of Ian’s busiest travel months and during Breast Cancer Awareness month, which is my busiest month of the year.
With Ian traveling until hours – literally- before the his mother’s surgery, I developed a care-taking philosophy I thought would see us properly through this recognizably stressful situation. My mantra went something like this: rest first, healthy food second, everything else, third. To that end, Grace and I chopped and diced for various stews, baked Smitten Kitchen’s excellent apple cake, took naps, and cleaned in between.
Ten days later, with my mother-in-law just discharged thanks to surgical complications, things have devolved around here to the point of take out pizza and store-bought cupcakes, and nobody is getting a good night’s sleep. It turns out no amount of stew and apple cake can combat the stress of long days at the hospital spent worrying and waiting, waiting and worrying. Ian and I were able to anticipate what my father-in-law was not – that the really hard part would begin when she came home and needed assistance with everything from going to the bathroom to washing her hair, and we were right, and now our days and nights are a chaotic stream of trying to make sure this woman we all love properly cares for herself (something she is quite resistant to) – and this work includes encouraging her to eat, rest and properly recuperate. Her definition of these things is markedly different than, well,let’s just say, what western medicine would probably recommend, and, well, let’s also just say compliant isn’t a word any medical professional would use to describe her right now.
I can only imagine how frustrating and isolating it must be to be stuck in your son and daughter-in-law’s house when you would infinitely prefer being in your own home. There is nothing like being in your own bed, eating the meals you prefer (no matter how much I try to replicate them here!), feeling in control of your own environment and healing. And I recognize that we all bring our own preconceptions to this kind of stressful situation – my father-in-law has been taking care of my mother-in-law for years, and his exhaustion is coupled only with a blinded optimism when it comes to her health; my mother-in-law remains steadfast in her belief that at her age she shouldn’t have to change in order to improve her health; my husband is caught between work, his parents, his wife and his family life and Grace has experienced a significant intrusion on her life, with everything from how and what kind of dinners are prepared (full-course, proper dinners are expected and demanded every night) to her bedtime routine, no matter how we try and keep it the same. I’m far from perfect, and often severely frustrated by the situation as well. I also having a burning desire to tell her exactly how I think she should take care of herself which – trust me – I understand nobody wants to hear!
We are all walking raw nerves right now, sleep-deprived, overwhelmed and invading one another’s personal space. Those of us with addictions we’ve managed until now are turning to vices – cigars for Ian, too many desserts for my father-in-law, too many cocktails for everyone (don’t worry, pregnancy followers – I’m doing none of these although, rest assured, I probably would be if I weren’t pregnant!).
My shameful truth is that care-giving, for me, is harder than I ever could have anticipated, at least for family members outside of my own family. Even when my mother-in-law was staying IN THE VERY HOSPITAL I WORK, I had to gather all my gumption to become brave enough to visit her, as unnerved as I found myself by words like “incisions,” “damp bandages” and “flat gingerale.” The generational divide is causing us many problems since my in-laws are so terribly far removed from having children of their own, so I fly around the house collecting rogue laxative pills and beta blockers that they don’t think to keep out of Grace’s reach, while they remain appalled that I don’t keep anti-bacterial products in the home because of potential drug resistance down the line. I’ve been told I need to “bleach everything” – I’ve told them they should stop drinking. So, you know.
I know hundreds of thousands of people do this as long-term propositions – and I know my time may come where that is a very real possibility for us. I hope between then and now I am able to grow more flexible, patient and understanding, or, at the very least, if that isn’t as likely, I hope I have delivered this baby before the next round.
I guess this post is part update, part venting, part marveling at the work regular caregivers offer their loved ones on a day to day basis. I will say this – I’m going to start paying more attention to when my friends are struggling with their own sandwich days – the texts, emails and offers of support I’ve received have been incredible, and I am determined to pay it forward.