Transcript of Episode 260, Meditations on September.
Spencer: 00:00 What does September mean to you? How do you handle times of transition? Welcome to episode 260 of the recovery show. We are friends and family members of alcoholics and addicts who have found a path to serenity and happiness. We who live or have lived with the seemingly hopeless problem of addiction understand as perhaps few others can. So much depends on our own attitudes and we believe that changed attitudes can aid recovery. Before we begin, we would like to state that though we at the recovery show may be in a 12 step program. We represent ourselves rather than the program. During this show, we will share our own experiences. The opinions expressed here are strictly those of the person who gave them. Take what you like and leave the rest. We hope that you will find something in our sharing that speaks to your life. My name is Spencer and I'm your host today.
Spencer: 00:56 I want to open with a reading from the book, opening our hearts, transforming our losses. This is from page 102.
Spencer: 01:03 Grief is not an orderly process. It is not logical, has no rules and disrupts our lives. While in the throes of grief, we may have a hard time imagining that we could feel any differently than we do at this moment, we might feel a certain devotion to our sadness, believing it to be a demonstration of our love. Based on this belief, we may struggle with allowing ourselves to feel happy. There are some losses we will never get over. We can trust that the Al-Anon principles are still at work in us. Even if we don't feel we have the strength to practice them, it can help to remind ourselves that just as our recovery is a process, so too is our grief.
Spencer: 01:40 We don't have to do it perfectly, nor do we have to handle all our feelings perfectly. The safe haven of our fellowship gives us the courage to face our feelings and to express our grief as we are ready. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we take an important step toward easing our pain. Likewise, when we take the risk to open up, we give hope to others who might be struggling with their own unspoken grief to simple yet courageous act of sharing. Our story can help others in ways we may never know.
Spencer: 02:09 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 that could happen, 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, you know. It's the end of summer at least here in Michigan and it's the beginning of fall, and sure we'll have some more hot days, but we know it's trending cooler until midwinter.
Spencer: 02:41 For children and many others, it's the end of summer vacation, but it's also the beginning of a new school year, a new academic year. September is a time of transition. It's a time of saying goodbye and a time of saying hello. ` The weather's 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 and, as it's doing this morning, cold rain. For many of us, it's a time to regroup, a time to put away our summer things, our summer clothes, our summer lethargy. It's a time to get the sweaters out of the closet, and time to get the snowblower out 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 room full of seventh grade youth, as we begin our journey of discovery and learning together next week.
Spencer: 03:33 It is the beginning of the new year in the Jewish calendar. This year, 2018 on the common calendar, it's September 10th to 11th. And it's the start of the year 5779 on the Hebrew calendar.
Spencer: 03:45 September also marks a transition in the health and the lives of my parents, in the way I perceive their health and their life, and the way I will be interacting with them in the future. The first weekend of September, I drove to where my parents live so that I could be with them for a few days. My mother's in rehab with a broken leg that she suffered in a fall a couple of weeks earlier. I've heard that stressful situations can worsen dementia, which both my parents have to some degree. This certainly seem to be true for them or else I just hadn't really seen the extent of their dementia on our visit earlier in the summer. They both seemed confused about what had happened and about what was happening. My mother, most of the time, did not understand why she couldn't just go home. And she wanted to go home.
Spencer: 04:34 We had to explain repeatedly 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 again. My parents have been married for 66 years and have rarely been apart for more than a few days, have rarely slept apart. Being separated was hard for them. My mother wanted to come home, my father wanted to stay. Neither of them could have their wish and we had to explain that to them. Seeing their confusion and their unhappiness is hard for me. Not being able to fix it is hard for me sometimes. Not knowing even what to say or to do is hard, which is not to say that it's all bad. She's recovering, she's regaining strength and improving her ability to stand up, to walk a couple of steps with the help of a therapist and a walker.
Spencer: 05:26 We had some pleasant times of visiting, looking at old photographs, identifying the people in them. I brought an old photo album to her room one day. It had tiny black and white photos. They were about two and a half or three inches the long way. She looked at the very first one, which showed some sort of public event and I didn't know what it was. And she said, that's Mrs Roosevelt. It's the White House egg hunt. She had been there and may in fact, have taken the photo herself. We don't know exactly what year it was taken, but it had to be some time in the late thirties, early forties, given her age at the time and the fact that Roosevelt was president. There were (also) photos of her and her brother with their parents, including a photo of her as a teenage girl posing in her bathing suit on the beach. She was a beauty. We marveled over that photo for a while.
Spencer: 06:15 It's a time of transition for them and for us. This was a sharp, really sharp awakening to the realities of their life as they are in their late eighties. My father's 89, my mother is 87. Visiting their home, working to make it ready for her to come home, possibly in a wheelchair also opened our eyes to how much they've been struggling to just live normally. We cleaned and we cleaned. We washed loads and loads of clothes. We moved furniture and other obstacles to make a clear path between their bedroom, bathroom and living/dining room. It is clear that they needed help, but they hadn't asked for it. It's hard to ask for help sometimes you know, and when you've been living independently for so many years, I think it's even harder if you don't have the practice.
Spencer: 07:06 We, their children must now step up and start really being their parents so that they can enjoy the remainder of their life as best they can.
Spencer: 07:16 September is a month of transition for me today. With change, with transition comes a measure of grief for the day's gone by, for the things that we no longer have, the experiences that will not be repeated, the abilities that are lost as I enter perhaps the autumn of my life. My parents are clearly in the winter of theirs and I am grieving for the things that are no longer there, that are no longer true. My parents are no longer the rocks that they always were. 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 that I opened the episode with.
Spencer: 08:11 I've been reading this book recently. It's helpful because it also talks about how I can use the tools and the principles of the program to help move through that grief into my new life, through this transition. What are some of these tools that I either already knew or maybe rediscovered reading the book? One of our slogans: one day at a time. I had to live our experience visiting my parents one day at a time and even sometimes an hour at a time. I didn't know what was happening in the next few minutes sometimes and just had to be there and go with what was happening. The interesting thing is that my parents are much more in the moment, which I guess can be a good thing. But also because they don't remember from moment to moment. Sometimes is also a hard thing, but living in the moment, not dwelling on yesterday, not regretting yesterday, not fearing tomorrow is really important for me to be able to function in that, in that situation and that sort of situation.
Spencer: 09:25 A quote from the book: “When we're feeling overwhelmed, we can take a moment to slow down our thoughts and bring ourselves back to the present.” And you can believe that there were many times in the last weekend, the long holiday weekend, and I put that term holiday in quotes because it really wasn't much of a holiday for us, meant I could be there for three full days and there were times that I was really feeling overwhelmed and asking myself, what's the next thing to do? What first thing is first? What's the first thing I have to do right now? You know, and that might be sit with my mother, that might be get my father into the car so we can go visit. That might be ask one of the aides for Ginger Ale for my mother at mealtime. Whatever it was. It was something I could do right then and not have to feel like this whole situation is too big for me to to fix which it is too big for me to deal with, which is not because I can do it one thing at a time, one day at a time, one moment at a time.
Spencer: 10:31 Another slogan, “Let go and let God” is really important at this point because I am sure as heck not in control of what's happening. There's no question that I am not in control of what's happening right now and then I can't be in control of what's happening. I have to trust that their higher power will put the people in their lives and the experience in their lives that they need in order to recover from this. You know, this injury, this, I mean it is an injury, literally an injury, but it's also an emotional injury.
Spencer: 11:04 “Keep it simple” is another one with people who have dementia. I found over and over that keeping it as simple as possible is really helpful because if I even try to present two alternatives, sometimes they don't know. I would say, would you like a burger or fish for dinner? Blank stare. Would you like fish for dinner? Yes, I would like fish. That would be good. Keep it simple. Keep it simple.
Spencer: 11:33 Really helpful there is “Easy does it.” Don't push. Don't stress. Slow down and be gentle with ourselves. So slogans, even if I don't remember exactly the slogan, you know, I've been. I guess I've been around enough that some of the the principles, the actions that the slogans hold are more second nature than they used to be.
Spencer: 12:00 The serenity prayer. God grant me the serenity to accept that I cannot change this. Grant me the courage to do the things that I need to do right now. One of the tasks that we had as we were visiting was to help clean the house, to prepare it for her to come home. I was talking to a friend at church before we went. I was talking about the need to make the house accessible. I said, there are lots of sort of narrow passageways … and she said “and obstacles”. Which I had been thinking, how do I say, piles of stuff without making it sound horrible. She said obstacles and I'm like, yeah, obstacles. We were cleaning. We were moving obstacles, moving obstacles, moving furniture, making the space bigger, and it's actually kind of amazing how much bigger the space got when we took away some obstacles and moved them to places where they were at least less in the way.
Spencer: 12:56 Cleaning. We had not realized how much they're slowing down, I think to some extent their dementia had prevented them from being able to keep the house clean. There were dirty clothes piled everywhere. My brother had said he would ask, are these clothes clean? And the answer would always be, I don't know. So we assumed that anything that wasn't hanging up or folded in a drawer was dirty. We ran so many loads of laundry that we actually ran the well dry, which is a hazard there, but it had been a reasonably damp summer and we didn't think it would be a problem.
Spencer: 13:37 Yeah, lots and lots of cleaning and that's, that's emotionally hard for me to see that my parents had been living in such mess in, in such dirt, you know, mouse turds in the drawers. It's hard. And realizing that, you know, they really had lost the ability to care for themselves properly. They really do need help. That's gonna be a challenge for us, you know, getting them to ask for help to maybe hire somebody to come in and clean a couple times a month. I don't know what it takes because they've never done that. Never. You know, I'm used to that. We've had somebody coming in to clean, at least since our kids were born, when we discovered that we did not have the energy to keep the house as clean as we wanted to just in the moment when we had introduced two new chaos makers into the house.
Spencer: 14:37 They never did that. It's going to be new for them. And things that are new are really hard when you're old, when you have that dementia. So the courage to go in into their private part of their life, and they've been fairly private people and I've never felt really comfortable prying into their life and now we have to have the courage to do that. The wisdom to know the difference. You know that serenity prayer, that's a big one.
Spencer: 15:06 “Not isolating.” The books says going to meetings. We made it to a meeting on Monday while we were there. It was a good meeting and I'll talk about that a little more later.
Spencer: 15:18 The book also talks about our feelings, what feelings we have as we're moving through this grief process. Anger and denial. I denied the reality of their situation for a long time. You know, only visited for a few days at a time, maybe twice a year. And so I didn't have to see where their life was, how they were living, how they were acting for very long and the rest of the time I could kind of forget, deny that, that they really were getting a lot worse. And my brother and sister, my brother lives with them. My sister lives nearby, would say really worried about this. And I would say yeah. Okay. Okay. Denial.
Spencer: 15:58 And anger. You know, “Why?” Another section of the book is titled “why me?” My question is “why them?” and why, why both of them, why are they both suffering this disease. My mother had feared dementia for, I would say the last 30 years of her life because her mother suffered it and she didn't want to. And there she is and I don't know if she even remembers that anymore, but I remember that.
Spencer: 16:24 And you know, why, why, why? And my father, I mean as far as I know, nobody else in his family had that problem and maybe they just didn't live long enough. I don't know why. I'm really mad at, at the world and accepting that you know, this is what it is, but the anger is there and I need to say it. I need to not stuff that, I need to not isolate it.
Spencer: 16:47 And then there's numbness. I could give up. I could say this is too big. I'm not going to feel it. I'm just going to put one foot in front of the other. And you know, not engage, that actually doesn't feel good, but, but it happened a couple of times. I was just like, I just need to go lie down. I can't deal right now. And you know, grateful that other people were there so they could go down. I could pretend I was taking a nap. So they wouldn't say, Hey Spencer, come come help with this. Yeah, it happened.
Spencer: 17:19 Regret and guilt. I feel like there must've been something, something I could have done sooner, something I could have done so that it didn't get as bad as it got. The book talks about regret and guilt. Regret, it says, is wanting, wanting the past to be different. Wishing the past could be different and guilt is feeling like there should have been something, there was something I could have done. I don't know what it was, but there must've been something I could've done that, that made things different, that would have made things better.
Spencer: 17:52 When my mother's back started curving, when she was 70, we suggested to her she should do something about it. And she said, oh no, it's fine. And we didn't insist. And sometimes I get this feeling like we should have, we should have made her go to the doctor. But, I think she did go to the doctor. I think she went to therapy. I think they gave her things to do and she didn't do them. And you know, that's not on me. I am not in control. She is her own person. You know, step one tells me that I am not in control of her. I can try, I can encourage but I'm not in control. I can't make her do something that she doesn't think she needs to do, that she doesn't want to do. It's what it is. Recognizing that powerlessness, recognizing that I am not her higher power can help me to work through those feelings of guilt, to work through the regret of not having done what, what? I don't know. Not having been there more often. It's a full day's drive to get there. I go when I can. Could I have gone more? Maybe so. Should I go more now? Maybe so. Yeah. Avoid future regret.
Spencer: 19:06 I want to close with another paragraph from Opening our Hearts, Transforming our Losses. This is from page 104. Our lives will never be the same after our loved one's death. Nor should they be. Moving forward does not mean we forget about our loved one or that we have finished grieving. Though moving on may seem unlikely for us, we've seen it happen for others. Fortunately, our higher power's plan for us does not depend entirely on our agreement to it. Even if we are unable to believe in a future for ourselves, we can trust that it will be given to us.
Spencer: 19:38 And that speaks to me now. And you know, my parents are not dead. They did not die, but in a very real way, the people that I knew, the parents who raised me, the adults who were companions and advisors in my adulthood are gone. Their bodies are there, their new personalities are there, but a lot of what they were is, is not there. And a lot of what they were is still there, but it's there in a different way and it's sometimes hidden. And what I have learned in this program is that when things change and when I am grieving those changes, that I will be okay. You know, things won't go back to the way they were, but I will be okay.