Four Moments, One Day

 

Eldercare stories from Pamela Price | RedWhiteandGrew.com
Photo credit Pamela Price on Instagram

• ONE •

This afternoon I climbed into my sweltering car and headed into town dressed in eccentric jumble of what passes for me now at mid-life as “business attire.” The destination? A talk radio station near the city center. The purpose? To talk about eldercare; more specifically what I said in this op-ed.

En route, with traffic swirling around me and the sun blazing above, I made the most of Bluetooth technology and placed a call.

A friend, you see, is at the point I was ten months ago almost exactly. Today she had “that talk” with her elderly mother’s doctor and primary nurse. She’s been summoned home. My friend, I mean, although I guess the same phrase applies to her mother.

On the phone my friend and I talked about the validation of what she’s been thinking–that it’s time to say the long, hard final goodbye–and how uncomfortable that can be.

Last year I wrote about the “gnawing knowing” that haunted me for weeks months. My friend is leaving that space now, that place where you know what’s coming and you’d kind of like for the medical team to say it. My friend is heading into that sacred, liminal ground between Ordinary Life and Whatever Comes After For The Survivors when a loved one leaves.

Tonight my friend prepares to fly home again, to help walk her mother Home.

Tonight I sit here with my feelings and memories and hold them both in my heart. The journey is hard. What can I do?

Tonight I write.

• TWO •

At the radio station where we recorded the eldercare podcast (details later, I promise), my son and I were invited to wait briefly in a conference room.

“There’s a wonderful view,” the cheerful reception said.

She was right. From high above a highway exchange my son and I could see for miles, right up to that point where the Balcones Escarpment rises up to create what we Texans call “the Hill Country.”

In that conference room, I momentarily lost my head in the clouds.

The blue sky and white clouds filling those giant windows was the same swirl of colors I saw last August in my mother’s irises. I’d never heard of someone’s eyes changing like that, as death loomed. I recall so vividly standing over her (death)bed, listening to her breathe, and hearing her sharing her visions of family, her confusion about what was happening to her.

I remember thinking at the time that those were the colors of Heaven reflected in her eyes. Today I found those swirls in the Texas sky.

I’m not sure it matters, the difference–sky or Heaven. It wasn’t so much the fact that I was standing on the twelfth floor of an office building that had me feeling closer to her, either. I feel like she ventured a little closer today, knowing that as the Veil between Here and There opens for my friend’s mother, she might have a shot at reaching out to me.

She took it.

Or did she?

Maybe I was hot and worried about my friend and more than anything I wanted my mother back, living in the Hill Country with me.

• THREE •

After the interview, I drove home with a vulnerability hangover. No regrets, mind you. Indeed, I have no regrets about things I’ve shared about eldercare with others.

Wait.

That’s not true.

There’s one regret, in a conversation I had with a friend, years ago.

We were catching up on our respective weeks and I’d just shared a hard-won victory in the hospital. He turned and said smugly, “You can’t save her, you know.” I’m pretty sure I gave him stink eye. As if I thought I could save her, as if anything I ever did as a daughter and eldercare advocate was part of some magical, misguided thinking, that I could help her escape the inevitable.

No, my job was to keep her comfortable and from unnecessary complications, pain, and frustrations.

I should have said that. That’s what I wanted to say today, when I remembered his words.

• FOUR •

In the midst of today’s vulnerability hangover, I opened my mailbox to find not one but two letters addressed to my mother’s estate. One was from her secondary insurance provider; the other, from a penny-pinching Medicare subcontractor that drove me crazy for years. Both companies say there might be more money to be paid, for things that happened over a year ago. The thought of this made me laugh. She’s gone, I whispered, and threw the letters where we kept the mail.

Before I took two steps away, I heard her voice again: You can’t get blood out of a turnip, and you can’t get money out of me anymore.

I paused, chuckled, and then I went to call my friend, the one who is preparing to say goodbye to her mother, while I fixed supper.

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Four Moments, One Day

The Hedonic Treadmill, Revisited: It’s All Fun and Games Until Somebody Gets Hurt

An Essay on Contentment and the Hedonic Treadmill | Heather Martin for RedWhiteandGrew.png

Editor’s Note: This is a response, by way of guest post, to my hedonic treadmill piece. The author is one of my favorite humans, Heather Martin of Mom of No Rank. (The photo of Woodlawn Avenue (above) is hers, too.)

When my older son had his first preschool party, which he was very excited to attend, he came home disappointed. “It wasn’t even real fun! We just had music and food, but that was it.” I’m not sure what he expected. Perhaps the cartoon version with crazed grins and confetti and balloons dropping from the ceiling? But it was the same room, the same friends, and the same teacher–only there was cake. I often wish that self-help books and life coaches and Buddhist teachings used the word “contentment” rather than happiness. Happiness is carrying a heavy burden on its back. That’s what makes the pursuit of it as an abiding state…well, a bit like being on a treadmill. There’s no finish line. It doesn’t exist.

Contentment is where it’s at.

An important point about this is that finding contentment in the present moment means just that – this present moment. Wholehearted embracing of the reality of the present moment just as it is, including your emotional reaction to it, and with total acceptance of it and all its causes and effects, may mean that you choose to attempt to influence the situation in the next moment.

Consider the example of unexpected rain.

If you are walking outside, and it begins to rain, your first response may be discontent. Perhaps you just don’t want to get wet, or it will be inconvenient. You may be carrying something important or on your way to a place where it will be less than ideal to be wet, such as a job interview or a very cold office. Your discontent, unchecked by the practices of acceptance and gratitude, may grow to the point that it overwhelms the actual implications of the situation. You may add feelings of victimhood and catastrophe – Why does it always rain on ME? Why did it have to rain on me NOW?  This will RUIN my job interview! — on top of the natural dissatisfaction with getting soaked. It can add nervousness, anger, confusion, and have real effects on the actions you take. This may even happen if you have an umbrella or a doorway to duck into. “Ugh! Now I have to open my umbrella and drag this wet thing around all day!”

If you have been practicing attentive and gentle cultivation of contentment, however, your second thought may be something along the lines of “Oh! It’s raining. Rain is a thing that happens sometimes to every being that has ever lived on Earth, or ever will.” This will lessen your discontent with the present moment. You will just get wet, and just be appropriately unhappy or inconvenienced by getting wet, without piling the catastrophe of victimhood on top. You might even find some gratitude. “I’m so glad I brought my umbrella!”

This can have a nice side effect. Sometimes, when I contemplate finding a way to be content, I wonder whether this will lead to complacency, but I think this is a misunderstanding of how the hedonic treadmill works; you may acclimate to discomfort as well as comfort, remember, and this is especially true if you aren’t paying attention. Complacency is not a function of contentment, but rather a result of letting things pass by for good or ill without turning the eye of acceptance and gratitude toward them. If you attend gently and kindly to your actual experience of the present moment, it can actually make you less likely to be complacent, whether you notice being generally content or very unhappy. As a result, you may find avenues you would otherwise have missed or discounted or feared, and take them in the next present moment. (Or, you might not. That is also okay.) This attention can also make you more compassionate the next time you come upon someone who is angry or sad about getting caught in the rain.

It’s all well and good when it’s just a little rain, isn’t it? If you’ve lost a loved one, or gotten a dire diagnosis, or your marriage is crumbling, contentment is pretty unlikely to be your hundredth thought, let alone your second. There will be hard times, times when you are not content for an extended period. When this is happening, it is so very important not to hurt yourself with the practice of equanimity. Be discontent. Rage. Cry. Mope. In short, be content with your discontent and disappointment and anger. When there are tiny breaks in the pain (and there will be), try to notice. Just notice the absence of pain, without judgment. Whenever you are ready, you can try zooming in during one of those little breaks to find gratitude in a tiny, tiny thing.

Find connectedness in the knowledge that countless others have felt exactly, precisely what you are feeling now. Find joy in a cloud shaped like a rubber duck. Find contentment in breathing in and out in a cool breeze, if only for this one present moment.

Thanks, Heather (a.k.a. @MomofNoRank), for this contribution to RedWhiteandGrew.com.

The Hedonic Treadmill, Revisited: It’s All Fun and Games Until Somebody Gets Hurt