Me, Mom, and AHCA

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A mural in Dublin, Ireland, last month reminded me of how we’re all interconnected, from tender roots and shoots to the last green leaf on the weakest limb.

Having spent a few months processing my grief both privately and out loud (here and here and over on The Mighty [and now Medium] ) and a few weeks trying to bite my tongue about healthcare legislation, I finally grabbed a rock, a slingshot, and took aim at a modern day Goliath: the American Health Care Act recently passed by the House of Representatives.

This was something that I promised to do some day, to take what Mom and I learned about eldercare and use those lessons for good. She said to wait until I was ready, when an opportunity presented itself.

It’s time.

Thus, from the Rivard Report, our city’s news-driven indie, comes today my first published op-ed in over a decade:

Mother’s Day looms now, my first without her. As I work through my grief and memories, I catch stories about what Republicans in Washington think we should do to care for elders and other people with disabilities. I also find myself revisiting my darkest hours with my mother and wondering: “Could it have been so much worse?”

Yes. It could be worse. Not for my mother and I, because our time together is over, but it could become worse for families like ours.

Early reports indicate that the bill that the House of Representatives passed this week puts a cap on long-term Medicaid spending. Over time, this will lead to a widening gap between costs and funding, leaving people like my mother potentially endangered. I’m not surprised this passed. Fresh from “walking my mother home,” to riff on the words of spiritual leader Ram Dass, I’m sensitive to what lies ahead for Americans and our financial resources, especially as Baby Boomers age. Medical technology and intensive daily personal care helped extend my mother’s life, and Medicare/Medicaid funded it.

But can we realistically do that for everyone? And if we cap or draw down spending, who is most impacted?

Everything I have to say–including some grim truths I’ve never shared publicly about my mother’s specific case–is summed up in the rest of the piece save for this: The sustainable solutions that living, breathing elders (and soon-to-be elders) like her need will require forward-thinking, post-partisan (or at least bipartisan) solutions that I have yet to encounter in my reading about the bill. As Jimmy Kimmel said in the wake of his newborn son’s healthcare crisis, “Let’s stop with the nonsense, this isn’t football there are no teams. We are the team, it’s the United States.”

Amen. There is no need for political theatrics, either.

Here’s hoping the Senate does better than Congress.* In fact, both of my Senators (Ted Cruz and John Cornyn – both Rs) are reportedly part of the core group of 13 men looking at the Senate’s forthcoming healthcare legislation.

Read the full op-ed on the Rivard Report.

* For the record, my congressman (Will Hurd-R) switched his stance at the last minute and voted against AHCA. This is what I and many others in his purple district asked him to do the morning of the vote. Small victories matter.

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Me, Mom, and AHCA

Five New Year’s Resolutions for Anxious, Grieving Souls

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Last December my mother told me she’d not survive to see this Christmas.

Mom was right.

After twenty years battling rheumatoid arthritis, she finally succumbed to complications of the disease in 2016. Having destroyed her cartilage and joints, RA attacked her urinary tract. Then, finally, came the fatal assault on her lungs and heart.

The official cause of her death? Multi-organ failure.

She was 78 years old.

Her passing wasn’t pretty. Oh, sure, we had hospice, nurses, a social worker, and her “comfort pack” of morphine and Ativan. But in those last hours and days, even as friends and family pulled tight around us, she and I found ourselves saying goodbye under physically and emotionally painful circumstances.

Going into those last days, I’d read up on hospice care, what to expect when an elder dies—you name it. But none of it prepared me adequately for what I saw and heard those last days. I counted on Mom to go “gently into that good night,” but that’s not how it played out. It was rough stuff.

Nor did any of what I read prepare me for the impact of grief on my body when she died this summer. Expecting tears and low moments, I was blindsided by somatic ailments ranging from plantar fasciitis and tendonitis to breathtaking 3 A.M. panic attacks. My long-time endocrinologist, the same man who helped me put my Graves’ disease in check, admonished me to keep my stress levels under control lest I fall out of remission. He does this at every appointment, but this time he was extra emphatic.

Perhaps that’s because I broke down sobbing at my regular check up?

Grief on top of my anxiety issues. It’s been a struggle. Now I’m about to leave behind the year in which Mom’s took her last breath. Honestly, that prospect freaks me out more than thinking of this as the first Christmas I’ve ever had without her.

To help me manage the transition, I’m working on a list of resolutions that I hope will lift me up and out of 2016’s sadness. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Resolution #1: Keep up the self-care.
This one is vital. Checking in with my therapist monthly kept me afloat during the eldercare years, and thankfully she continues to keep tabs on how I progress through grief. My therapist is unafraid to help me touch some of the more tender spots of my heartbreak and coach me through them.

On a day-to-day basis, physical activity—especially when spent outdoors, in nature–help root me to the present. I’ve seen over the last weeks and months that when I feel disconnected both from my body and nature, then my grief can more easily lead my anxiety into a spiral.

Resolution #2: Keep and set emotional boundaries, especially online.
In the fall I trimmed my private Facebook connections considerably. That’s because I want to ensure that when I share the deepest, most personal stories about my grief, I’m only doing so with people who genuinely care. The most personal stuff? I will continue to only relate in person, via private messages, or over the phone.

My biggest weakness is that I am a current affairs hound, but the news can be a lot to take when you’re bereaved and anxiety-prone. I’m working on setting aside a specific time each day to wade into the news feed and then quickly back away. Dwelling on what I can’t change in the world tends to backfire, sparking another round of anxiety and panic. (Besides, for things I really care about, I can always make donations to relevant organizations.)

Resolution #3: Stay vulnerable with those whom you trust.
Curiously, staying honest about my grief work has deepened connections with others who have lost their own elders. There’s a gentleman at my grocery store who checks in on me routinely, having lost his own dad a few years ago. He gets it. Another friend lost her father a couple of months after my mom died. She gets it, too. Between us, we use a sort of shorthand, one that signals we’re doing as well as can be expected. We never have to pretend everything is great. That’s terrific medicine.

Resolution #4: Practice gratitude.
This can be easier said than done; yet each time that I’ve sat down to count the evidence of my good fortune, I do feel a bit of a lift. It also helps me to count my blessings when I wake up at 3 A.M. in a raging panic.

Resolution #5: Take a series of deep breaths several times a day.
Of all the things I’ve read about grief and managing one’s way through a personal crisis, the book that resonates most with me as 2016 shuts down is Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart {Amazon Affiliate Link}.

Given that my mother’s death brought an end to my identity as her emotional caregiver and a patient advocate here at midlife—just as my tween son asserts more independence himself, I’m learning that grief is an uncomfortable but illuminating call to understanding that suffering and impermanence are a natural part of life.

For this reason, I found Chödrön’s description of Tonglen meditation, a Buddhist practice, helpful. While I’m not Buddhist, the spiritual exercise meshes well with my existing belief system. Through the meditation, I’m learning to breathe in gently the suffering of others and myself while breathing out into the world compassion and love. This normalizes my grief and anxiety while getting oxygen into my cells and calming anxiety. It’s a win-win for my body/mind.

Those are my personal resolutions for moving forward with grief and anxiety, but if you, too, are dealing with anxiety and grief, I’d love to hear yours.

Pamela Price is a writer, author, and blogger. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Related and recommended:

Don’t Be Surprised By Suffering

Grief Woke Me This Morning

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Five New Year’s Resolutions for Anxious, Grieving Souls