Don’t Be Mad

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I have a soft heart. It may not seem that this brash, loud person is vulnerable. A friend whom I love, who is occasionally abrasive, but a tell -it-like -it-is person, keeps a part of herself hidden. She and I are alike in that we seem to be extroverts, but I found I’m really an introvert pretending to be an extrovert and always out there. We have loud personalities. We take up causes. We have loud opinions. Hidden underneath that out-there personality of my friend is one of the softest hearts I know that gets hurt easily. She keeps that hurt hidden.

Going through the transition of my husband moving into memory care has brought much soul searching. I’ve never lived alone. Acknowledging that I’m scared is hard. It’s a secret to be kept inside and I realize over the years, especially the last five, I have run on fear. Fear of upsetting the person I lived with, fear of upsetting my children. That fear came out of me as someone that was always whining, asking for help from my family, and in desperation it came across to others as a person to stay away from because I wasn’t pleasant to be around. By being opinionated and verbal about issues that weren’t mine, and taking up some other cause, I could hide my fear or put it out of my mind for a short time. My behavior distanced myself from people I love.

I was breaking inside but on the outside I was pretending, trying so hard to be this I’ve got this person to those around me that weren’t family, this social person, the perfect grandma and good friend. And I complained and cried. Why weren’t family coming home more often to see us and help, to ease what was happening. The Pandemic caused isolation and loneliness but when it was over the visits still were sporadic. I knew it was because of busy lives, but still I suspected it was the drama our life represented because of the memory loss, and me being completely emotional and irrational. Maybe emotionally they couldn’t handle what was happening either. Don’t get me wrong, if it was an emergency they were there immediately for us. Now having some quiet and alone time I pretty much accept it was me that kept them away for the small things, for more frequent visiting.

I have spent the major part of my life wanting people to not be mad at me. I can just hear Dr. Phil saying, “And how’s that working for you?” Looking back I tried too hard, came out as over the top, giving mixed messages and being wishy- washy in my actions. I am always being told by my family , “ Make a decision.” And yes I have been very outspoken. I will tell you right now that those who are caregivers 24/7 don’t think rationally either. They are too caught up in the drama of their lives.

I now see it wasn’t the situation, but me and my crazy personality that made close ones stay away. And it was fear that made me act that way. Fear of being rejected, of making the wrong decision. Fear that I would never get out of the nightmare, and fear of saying I felt I was living in a nightmare, not being able to say those words to anyone because the person I lived with really was living a worse nightmare, so what he needed is more important. His fear was there but not expressed as fear, but anger. Who wouldn’t be angry? So I felt my fear was not rational because I was fine, the healthy one. .

I suspect I am not the only caregiver that doesn’t show who they are to their families, doesn’t express their true feelings, and what they do express comes out wrong because the stress turns their ability to verbalize their emotions, making the words irrational. Not only are we fearful but angry. We keep that inside too. Caregivers compromise who they are, withhold their anger and sadness about the situation to keep the peace, and not have their families upset with them. And yet it isn’t working.

Family is love and that love doesn’t leave because of discord, but it may be hard for all of us to remember that. Our kids live in a world today that is very stressful. They are busy just trying to live and excel and don’t have time for all the drama we may bring to their lives. They have learned to set boundaries to protect themselves. And because of that, we as parents may not understand. Us oldsters were brought up in an entirely different world. We didn’t know about boundaries and stress reduction. We didn’t have media telling us to protect ourselves by staying away from toxic people. The mental health help was not there.

The two worlds of the younger generation and the older generation today are having a hard time, in some cases, understanding the dynamics of the world growing us up differently.

My generation didn’t know it was acceptable to put the toxic people out of our lives, even if they were family. If my mom would have known that she might have put my grandma out of her life. My grandma was always yelling. You can ask her grandkids, we never remember her smiling, but because she was family she was taken care of until she died. My parents sacrificed a lot to take care of parents and brothers because that’s what you did in the olden days. The nursing home and mental health weren’t options.

My mother wanted to teach in Alaska. She wanted to travel the world, but gave up her dreams to stay home and take care of her mother. Others did the same. Family came first. I always thought that was why she was crabby, now I surmise she was crabby from Caregiver burnout, not because she sacrificed her dreams. I did not understand how hard her life was. The generational difference. But the one thing I understood was that family was everything above work and even money. Both my mom and dad financially helped out family members when they had a need. Occasionally supporting them financially until they could get back on their feet. They helped both sides of the families. They helped friends. I still have my dad’s billfold with all the IOU notices from people he lent money to. Their brothers and sisters were the same way. Before her death my mom told me what she had wanted to do with her life, but that she did not regret giving up her dreams to help her family. I believe that. It was the caregiver burnout that caused the crabbiness and I didn’t understand. It was a different generation.

I think my generation has a hard time understanding the difference of today’s world and where the shift is. So we hurt, we hide it and we don’t make sense to our kids because they don’t understand that our expectations come from our past. And we don’t understand the world they live in and how stressful and time consuming the reality that is their life is.

We have a communication gap between what our hearts feel and what we say. If we choose to share, how we say it because of our emotions, it comes out wrong. Emotions that we keep hidden and don’t always recognize ourself such as fear.

Caregivers have so much fear hidden inside of them. Their world is changing. The people that love them don’t always see that their needs are getting lost in the abyss of whoever they are taking care of. A caregiver wakes up in the morning, if they’ve gotten any sleep, and puts one foot in the front of another and takes a step, and occasionally that one step is all that is holding them up. If you know a caregiver ask them what they fear. Do they feel their security is gone and they no longer feel safe? If they are that tender hearted person with a brash exterior, you may have to read between the lines because if they let all the hurt out that they are hiding, they might break. Or they may be that soul who doesn’t want to make anyone mad for fear they will disappear from their life and they will be totally alone, and so the decisions or words they speak may come out as complaining or whining, but really it’s a cry for help, for you to help them be who they are. And love them anyway.

Back to the 50s

As I sit here and contemplate all that is going on in our world today I am reminded of growing up in the 50s.

Our world has come to a standstill. Now that I am over the initial panic my thoughts are somewhat rational unless I listen and watch social media and the news 24/7.

I woke up this morning with the thought that for my husband and I there is no place to go. We have been grounded by our kids. There is no shopping, no restaurants to visit with our friends, no coffee hours etc. I don’t have to worry about work and so I took some time to try and put things into perspective. My main thought was all our lives are about to change. Most of us are not used to going without. We are used to fast access. We are used to having food readily available or taking a day out and away to somewhere fun such as sporting events etc. We are used to having the money to be able to buy what we want when we want it. Our kids are on an endless journey of sports and activities and are rarely home.

This morning I was reminded of my childhood. I told my teenage Granddaughter she was lucky she could at least keep in touch with her friends on social media where if it were in the days when I was a teen we wouldn’t have had that available.

I feel like today is a Sunday in the 1950s. Nothing was open. Stores were closed and life stopped. We didn’t worry about food because there was plenty of jars of canned meat in the cellar and fruits and vegetables too. If we needed eggs we went to the chicken coop or someone would come in from the country and sell us their eggs.

Every week the milkman came and we bought our milk and dairy from him. Groceries could be bought and delivered if needed. And of course at my house we had pretty much every thing we needed if something would happen, because my parents lived through the depression and that lesson never left them. People lived simply.

We read books and played outside or in the evenings talked with our neighbors. We kids were also kept busy helping in the garden or with the chores and yes, there were still things to do in winter. I lost all those simple pleasures and thankfulness with having those experiences living in the busyness of today.

I realize what we are facing now is different. People will be hurting because of lost businesses and lost jobs. Our younger people have never known this or a recession and it is very tough to get through. But I know we have generations behind us oldies that are strong and will figure it out. I have faith in them that they will emerge stronger.

I am reminded that there are people in our country that live with these fears every day and now I imagine they are living with the fear of not having access to a health system to help those without insurance or a safe place to self quarantine. Yet we have been fighting tooth and nail to not make these things available to them before this happened. Maybe we actually have been made to now walk in their shoes. I can’t imagine living with this fear daily. The response of most of us who could afford it is to stock up and hoard because of our fear we are not going to have enough. We need to count our blessings that we could afford to do that.

My hope is that the lessons we learn from this pandemic and how we cope as Americans are remembered. There are some positives. We are coming together helping one another. We are not divided in this but uniting to get through these times. Maybe life will slow down and we will be kinder and more caring to one another and realize that we are more the same than different.

There is an old Bible School song that says it best.

Reach out to your neighbor

Reach out to your friend.

Reach out to the people on the street.

For those of us that are grounded by our kids we can still reach out by phone, text, FaceTime and positive messages to keep up our spirit. It is hard to stay positive but together we can do it. Support your local businesses. They will need us now more than ever and so will those whose jobs are in jeopardy.

There is also the fear of getting sick. It is gut wrenching fear. We look into the future of the next few weeks and we panic not knowing the future. Do we ever? But today, what about today? Can we stay in the moment? Today I am fine. This moment I am fine. I, as much as anyone panic if I let myself think about the time frame and the people that are sick. But today I am fine, my loved ones are fine. I am going to try and go moment by moment, day by day, which is what Alcoholics Anonymous asks of us. And though tomorrow may be different, it may not be. If it is I trust we will work together to get through it and help each other with our panic and fear.

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

A Yearning For My Front Steps

This morning I have an inexplicable yearning to go outside and sit on my front steps and breathe in life.

It is the appearance of the sun in what has been a cold and bleak and cloudy Minnesota which brings to mind spring and thoughts of flowers and warm weather. However, I can’t explain my feeling that I need a front step sit. I have a perfectly good outside porch to enjoy but something in me tells me I need steps.

Though the sun is shining today my front steps and porch are crusted with ice. It is still winter and there is still snow on the ground. I like the beauty of winter as long as I don’t have to haul my old body outside. The pull is real to feel the fresh air on my face so I may dash out, raise my face to the sun and dash back inside to the warmth of my fireplace. Still, I feel the call of the front steps or the back steps for a peaceful sit.

Outdoor furniture awaits my porch sitting so why would I abandon that in place of the front steps? I think it has to do with my past and memories.

Living at my grandmothers and then when my family moved, we didn’t have fancy outdoor furniture. We would go outside and sit on the steps and talk and enjoy the evening. The front steps were better than the back steps because you could chat with those passing by or you could wave at the cars going by. Occasionally they would stop and talk.

There were interesting views. At my grandmother’s house I sat on the front steps and watched the trains go by or watched the animals. My mom or uncles would come in from the chores or the garden and we would talk for hours on the front steps. At our house my dad would sit with me as we watched the neighbor kids play or visited with those in the neighborhood, sometimes calling across the street. There were no cell phones or outdoor phones to distract us.

I do sit on my front concrete steps occasionally in this day and age for a quick moment when I am shaking out a rug or waiting for someone to pick me up, but most of the time I sit on my comfy chair on my outdoor porch or my patio. I have to say that for some reason it isn’t the same. Perhaps because of the front step memories.

I have no good explanation for yearning for my front steps unless it is perhaps missing those that used to share my experience. I also shared many front step conversations with my best girlfriends. If those steps could talk they would reveal so much about the past lives of the step sitters.

Perhaps when the ice is gone I will forgo my porch and patio for an occasional step sitting. I have a feeling it will be a good way to breathe and appreciate the simple life of the past,

“A journey to a thousand miles begins with one step.” –John F.Kennedy