Let me start by saying I’m not a therapist, psychologist or anything similar. You may wonder, if that’s the case, what on earth qualifies me to write this little missive. Well, I’ll tell you. What qualifies me to write this is my life in the last year. Without maintaining some level of positivity, delusional or otherwise, I might not have made it, in fact I still might not.
I know we’ve all been through the wringer this year, some have had it much, much worse than we have, and others have had an easier time of it. My point is not to compare, but rather to discuss, to share my story with you because maybe it speaks to you in some way, or helps. My husband and I have always worked from home, so that change was not one for us. But my beautiful and charismatic, 93 year old mother in law lives with us and while we normally had a companion care-taker in the house, starting in March 2020, we did not, we also didn’t have our usual person who cleans the house, or visitors (like everyone else).
That said, our quarantine was certainly easier than many, believe me I realize how fortunate we are. We have a stable internet connection, a warm house, enough space so that we’re not on top of each other, an outdoor space for when it’s nice out, we are very, very lucky.
We were strumming along, if not nicely, certainly efficiently. It felt somewhat like Groundhog Day, but time was moving, advancements in science were being made. We missed having family around for the various holidays, but we were doing ok.
And then it would seem the “you know what” hit the fan.
About 2 weeks before Thanksgiving, my mom called us and told us she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She had come across the lump herself and gone through all of the check ups (before mentioning it to us) and they had confirmed that it was cancer. It’s an aggressive type rarely seen among women her age (my mom is 77) but they caught it early and would start treatment right away – chemo, then surgery and finally radiation. Ok. We spoke to doctors and family and felt ok with the planned direction, but life had other plans. After her first treatment, my mom was exhausted, and couldn’t eat. We got her through it with some milkshake deliveries, Amazon deliveries and more. A close friend made hot cereals and we all did the best we could under the circumstances. But treatment number 2 was worse, my mom had lost a significant amount of weight because she couldn’t eat, and by treatment number 3 her body just gave out. Added to this was the fact that my mom and her cohort weren’t being honest about the true level of her incapacitation.
It wasn’t until another friend of hers came from Georgia to just “be there if she needed her” that we found out the true extent of my mother’s sickness. Her 77 year old body just couldn’t tolerate the treatments. The final straw came when she was unable to get herself off the floor, had her friend not made the trip and told me what was actually going on, things could’ve been much, much worse (and believe me I’ve done all of the guilt trips on myself about how I should’ve been there myself, but really what good is that?). We called an ambulance and my mother was admitted to the hospital with severe renal failure, dehydration, low everything and secondary infections. She’s improving daily, she will have a double mastectomy once she’s strong enough and she will make a full recovery. But the process of having her mail forwarded, paying her bills, coordinating and following up with her doctors has been quite an experience. My mother was always very self sufficient, clearly, to a fault…..A few days after we found out about my mother’s diagnosis, my husband started having vertigo. Something he was somewhat prone to in the past but hadn’t had consistently in quite some time.
Sometime in January I guess it was, we got a call from husband’s best friend of more than 30 years, out of nowhere, she had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, that we found out a couple weeks later was also in her spine, surgery was not an option, she would start chemotherapy along with immunotherapy as soon as possible. There have been great leaps and bounds in immunotherapy treatments. I leave that there because there’s nothing more to say about it, we hope and pray that it works for her.
On any given day, if left to think too long, you will find one of us in tears. Because these situations, on their own are too much, but together and in a pandemic, well it just becomes overwhelming. But we try to remain strong, when one of us is having a bad day, the other one tries (really tries) to lift them up and certainly not to be too down as well. Added into this mix of course is my mother in law and watching the slow decline of a beloved parent. And rather than love and light, she is “let’s count who’s gone” (and at 93 there are many) and we respond with how about let’s count who’s still here? Because there are several and what good is it to focus on the negative. My husband’s vertigo is still here, months later, it’s awful for him, and certainly caused by some combination of extreme stress, emotional fatigue and hunched shoulders and neck from working in terrible positions.
We will be fully vaccinated in a little more than 3 weeks. Months ago I’d have thought this would be exhilarating, and while in some ways it is, in other ways it fixes nothing.
The very real, and very important place that my husband (that doesn’t even seem like a strong enough word – my partner, my beloved, my literal other half) and I have come to is that no matter what we face, we have to try and remain positive. Because looking at things negatively, hell, looking at them realistically, is too much to bear. Now couple this with the fact that we’ve never been the type of people to stick our heads in the sand, this positive outlook is a very thin line. But we work quite hard to tow it.
I wish the very slowly, waning pandemic and slow climb toward reopening were all we had to look forward to, because while daunting in terms of changes and questions, it’s exciting to think about slowly getting back to some semblance of normalcy (whatever that looks like). But sadly that’s not all we have to see. That said even the difficulties that we know will be coming over the next several months, will be easier to face with flowers being planted, companionship for my mother in law and walks for the dog.
Here's to spring, more sunshine and the strength to carry on!