When I woke this morning I felt like I’d been backpedaling in time. My dominant sensation was aimlessness. I’ve been wrangling with that feeling ever since Michael died. The day sprawled out in front of me. The only event on my calendar was my usual swim. I was irritable. I headed out to the countryside which is usually a soothing destination when I need to recalibrate my mind. I’ve been going out that way since I was a college student.
I don’t like the way things are going. I feel mired down, as if I’m caught in sludge, unable to move forward. Am I still in January, 2018? That’s when I first started writing this blog, after the late December, 2017 celebration of life for Michael, which took me about six months to organize. I was determined to push ahead, to live every day as fully as I could, always mindful of how much Michael wanted to stay alive, to keep ticking experiences and projects off his to-do list. His desire would inform my actions.
Realistically, I know that I have gone forward with awareness. Despite the over-arching challenge of living in the dystopian political climate ushered in by the Trump administration, I started accomplishing the goals I laid out for myself on the personal level in 2018. By 2019, I’d had both my knees replaced. I’d struck out on my own, taking two trips, one to Sedona, Arizona and one to Glacier National Park. I had an Alaskan adventure planned for 2020 before the pandemic hit and altered everyone’s lives. That trip may never be rescheduled.
When the world slowed down in 2020 I adapted pretty well. After a number of quarantines, I was lucky enough to be close to my family, children and grandchildren, my sister, all nearby except during the periodic health concerns which intermittently forced us apart. Despite the dreadful governmental response to Covid, the hope of a change in leadership in the upcoming November election promised a new sane and sensible approach to the multitude of problems facing this country. When that political tide turned, I felt more optimistic, at least for a short time. But that didn’t last long. Here we all sit, with a significant segment of the population dug in to a false narrative, raucously supporting a shift away from democracy into totalitarianism. The pandemic, which seemed to potentially have turned a corner, is now back in another surge. Although I managed to squeeze in a somewhat harrowing, but still rewarding trip to Yellowstone National Park, the constant anxiety about rubbing shoulders with the unvaccinated and unmasked was exhausting.
Heading into another Covid winter feels like a tall order. Although my brain provides a steady stream of options for me to chew on, the repetition of this drill reminds of the movie “Groundhog Day,” when each day is the same, is the same as the last. I guess my patience is more frayed than I thought after this strange five years since the November, 2016 election. So I decided to dig back into my thoughts from January 2018. Here is one of my first blogs which addresses these repetitive issues with a coronavirus thrown in for good measure.
I don’t remember when structure started. I guess you’re born into it. By the time remembered cognition begins, there are people around you, and spaces which encompass you, and rules about everything. The structure seeps into you, osmotically, unconsciously and suddenly you have made contracts. Sleeping at night, eating at given times throughout the day, trying not to get in trouble with your parents, going to school. And over time, the structures define your life. Clocks and relationships and jobs. Time for exercise, time for fun, downtime, leisure time, Appointments for life’s little chores. Deadlines. At least that’s the way it is for most of us who operate within the social construct.
A normal part of the aging process is for structures to mutate, for priorities to shift in malleable hierarchies. There’s a big difference between a baby, a kid, an adult, a partner, an employee or employer, a senior citizen, a person alone. Usually. Things get really different when most of the structures disappear. The price exacted by being mortal and vulnerable, the price most of us don’t want to consider on a daily basis. If we’re lucky the pace of change is glacial. Small subtle alterations are constantly coursing through us, inside and out. Too many to count and many below our level of awareness. In essence, this is the kindest, gentlest way to proceed on this brief journey through life.
The past 6 years haven’t been like that for me. I left my job of 33 years and became a caregiver for my grandson. The plan was to do it for the next one as well. But life happened. My mother moved in with me. Michael and I were stunned by his cancer diagnosis. I suddenly had three people who really needed me. My knees went from creaky to bone on bone. I had to move my mother into an assisted living facility. She was mean and angry and treated me like a criminal.
Michael’s cancer advanced. He had 18 aggressive chemotherapy treatments and we ran off to what we thought would be our last trip. He stayed strong and on the eve of another journey to spend time with Henry alone in Panama, a guys’ trip, I fell into kidney stone pain. I sent him anyway. Got through that part while living with what felt like a golf ball rolling around in my left kidney. Then a close friend died with his wife abroad and I went through what felt like a dress rehearsal for Michael, at my friend’s deathbed with two of his children. My mother got the flu and developed dementia. Into the nursing home she went. The new baby arrived – Michael was so thrilled to meet him. Tristan Michael.
The cancer came back again. We had second, third and fourth opinions. We scrambled to get into a clinical trial and were turned away with the comment, go home and get sicker. Unfortunately Michael obliged. In 2015, the third in our struggle, my brother died in April and Michael hovered at the edge of death until he miraculously received Keytruda off-trial in June. Then my mother died in July, followed that same week by our dog, aged 14 and a half. My older sister and I, who were always a seeming accident of blood, cut ties permanently. And lastly, the family of the old friend who died, fell away, our friendship doomed by an accident in time which left me in their private space. Such a year.
In 2016, there were months of anxious peace and joy, each ordinary day exquisite in its normalcy. But always there was the underlying threat of disease and as the end of the year approached, it was clear to me that Michael was changing before my eyes. Last year, we journeyed through our final time together, ending first with his death, and then the loss of a second dog a scant two weeks later. Five deaths in two years and two significant living losses.
A short time after Michael died, I realized that all the structures in my life were gone. I am unemployed. My parents are dead. My husband is dead. My children are grown. I have no schedule. That was lost while caring for Michael. I have nowhere to be. An amorphous life. The structures of my days have vanished. I am like an amoeba, somewhat shapeless, floating around in the soup. Such a strange feeling. Separated from any framework other than what I create.
I’m trying to build structures to occupy. But I’m not sure what I want them to feel like. I bob like a cork in the water, somewhat buoyed by what was, and yet knowing that going forward is what is required. My new grand experiment. Will I rejoin the social construct or live in the periphery in this amorphous state? I guess we’ll see.
I hope I can dig up the energy and creativity I’ll need in the next few months to dig my way out of this daunting season. I’m dreaming of water and swimming outside. Nothing more exotic is required at this point. I’m trying to move along although I expect that there are times ahead when I’ll feel like I’m marching in place. Coping skills, coping skills. They’re about to get a big workout.