I've been thinking about September. I guess it started with my wife commenting, as we walked to the car, “This is the first sweater day.” She had that tone of voice, like it was the worst thing. But then she said, “I can be grateful that there’s a whole season yet to enjoy before winter.” And, that’s the thing about September. It’s the end of summer, at least here in Michigan. Sure, we’ll have some more hot days, but we know it’s trending colder until midwinter. For children (and others), it’s the end of vacation, but also the beginning of a new school year.
September is a time of transitions. It’s a time of saying goodbye and a time of saying hello. The weather is getting colder, and the trees will start turning beautiful colors. The sultry heat of summer will give way to brisk days with bright blue skies.
For many of us, it’s a time to regroup. A time to put away our summer clothes, and our summer playthings, and our summer lethargy. It’s a time to get the sweaters out of the closet, a time to get out the snow blower and make sure it works.
At my church, it’s a time we celebrate coming back together for another year. I will greet a new roomful of 7th grade youth as we begin our new journey of discovery and learning together. It is the beginning of the new year in the Jewish calendar (September 10-11 this year, 2018 on the common calendar, which is the start of year 5779 on the Hebrew calendar).
This year, September also marks a transition in the health and lives of my parents, and in the way I perceive their health and life. The first weekend of September, I drove to where my parents live, so that I could be with them for a few days, as my mother is in rehab with a broken leg that she suffered in a fall a couple weeks earlier. I have heard that stress can worsen dementia (which they both have to some degree). This certainly seemed to be true, or else I just hadn’t perceived the extent of their dementia in our visit earlier in the summer.
They both seemed confused about what had happened and what was happening. My mother did not understand why she couldn’t just go home. We had to explain that she was in the rehab facility to get better, and that she needed to stay there until she had healed enough to go home. She seemed to understand for a little while and then it was gone. My parents have been married for 66 years and have rarely been apart for more than a few days. Being separated is hard for them. Seeing their confusion and unhappiness is hard for us. Not being able to fix it is hard. Sometimes not knowing even what to say or do is hard.
Which is not to say that it’s all bad. She is recovering, regaining strength, improving in her ability to walk a few steps (with the help of a therapist and a walker!) We had some pleasant time visiting, looking at old photographs and identifying the people in them. I brought an old photo album to her room one day. It had tiny black and white photos (about 2 ½ inches the long way). She looked at the first one, which showed some sort of public event, and said “That’s Mrs. Roosevelt at the White House egg hunt!” She was there and may have taken the photo herself. We don’t know exactly what year it was taken, but it was likely in the late 1930s or early 1940s. There were photos of her and her brother with their parents, including a photo of her as a teen, posing in her bathing suit on the beach. She was a beauty.
It is a time of transition for them, and for us. This was a sharp awakening to the realities of their life in their late 80s. Visiting their home, and working to make it ready for her to come home, possibly in a wheelchair, also opened our eyes to how much they had been struggling to just live normally. We cleaned and cleaned, we washed loads and loads of clothes, we moved furniture and other obstacles to make a clear path between bedroom, bathroom, and living/dining room. It is clear they needed help, but they didn’t ask for it. We, their children, must now step up and start parenting our parents, so that they can enjoy the remainder of their life as best as possible. September is a month of transition for me today.
With change, with transition, comes a measure of grief for the days gone by. As I enter, perhaps, the autumn of my life, as my parents are clearly in the winter of theirs, I am grieving the things that are no longer there, no longer true. My parents are no longer the rocks that were always there. They are no longer people to whom I can turn for support. Instead, I must now be a rock supporting them. The Al-Anon book Opening our Hearts, Transforming our Losses talks about grief and about living and dealing with grief, as in the reading I opened the episode with.
It also talks about how we can use the tools and principles of the program to help us move through grief into new life. What are these tools? How have I used them?
Our topic for next week is enabling. Please call us at 734-707-8795 or email email@example.com with your questions or experience, strength and hope. Or just leave a comment right here.
Music from the show
Green Day – Wake Me Up When September Ends
Willie Nelson – September Song
Fiona Apple – Pale September