Sunday, February 01, 2009


While I will not pretend to never have delved into it on this site, it has never been my focus to dwell on my own emotions.  Instead, I've been focused on things that I'm doing, goals I'm working toward.  In the now, even.

Every once in awhile, though, the pot will bubble over and I'll let something slip, giving the reader some small glimpse into my feelings.

I don't know if the pot's bubbled over or if the soup is done but buckle in, kiddies, because it's sharing time.

In the months that led up to the completion of my university career, my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  My first memory of things turning down that road was when her eyesight started not being so great.  I remember one eye test she had that left her pupils frighteningly large and unfocused enough so I had to drive her there and back.  Meghan reminded me the other day of another episode, quite a bit before mom was diagnosed, when she had a Bell's Palsy attack. 

Funny story.  Not really, but - yeah, really.

I'm in my room, playing NHL hockey.  Mom comes in and says something about supper or something like that.  I notice she's kinda talking funny.

"Hey mom, what's with your face?  You're talking a bit weird."

"Oh, that.  I think I had a stroke."

Jesus fucking Christ.

"What?!  What did the doctor say?"

"I didn't go see the doctor," (well, duh, the sarcastic part of me thought at this point, just a stroke).  "It was just a small one."

I've always thought of these things as being binary conditions.  Either you had a stroke or you didn't.  If you did, you go see a doctor.  How there's a decision there, based on the size of the stroke, I don't even know. 

Still, mom got in to the doctor and they told her it was Bell's Palsy.  Meghan, most likely correctly, figures that it was the first-ish sign of MS.

Mom kept working through a good portion of her MS, until it became ...  I don't know, too much?  Too bad?  Too dangerous?  How does a woman who shuns the doctor over a stroke decide it's time to hang it up?  Anyway, she stopped working.

Fast forward a couple of years.  Mom's been at home for awhile.  I spend my time trying not to think about it.  (She's retired, I tell myself.  She's earned it.)  I've got a young family, Meghan has a young child, dad's in business for himself and Sean is finally out of truck driving, working as an electrician. 

A couple more years, and mom can't walk anymore.  (It's probably for the best, I tell myself.  She's not on the pain medication she was on before.)

Then she gets this bed sore and winds up in the hospital.  I don't think any of us knew just how serious the bed sore was but it got infected.  The infection tried sneaking around a corner and succeeded to a certain extent but she got into the hospital and got it under control. 

In the hospital, my mom suffered some pretty bad depression, fighting the boredom, the hopelessness and the displacement.  She wanted to go home and would alternate between anger and sadness; between trying to make sure we felt okay when we went there and needing us to know that she wanted to go home.

She went home.  And nearly died.  Quick action on Meghan's part saved mom's life but she was different.  It almost seemed like part of her was gone and the one night we went out to visit, when it was time to say goodnight, nothing the kids or I said would elicit a response. 

Then mom got another bedsore.  The mattress that dad got her was not good enough.  They caught this sore in time, though, and she went back into the hospital.  Thank goodness for this, since they found pneumonia in her lungs.  They caught this early enough, too, that they were able to take it down with antibiotics.  I spent the night with Meghan and mom at the hospital, then went back with Meghan to her house.  We talked for awhile and then it became apparent that I was going to have to drive home eventually and I didn't want to fall asleep on the way home. 

So mom's been in the hospital since then but they say that her lungs are clear, her sore is cleared up and dad ponied up for the good bed and when it arrives and is set up she can go home.


See what I did there?  I did what I always do with mom's situation.  I managed to go through the entire thing in 14 or so paragraphs and I managed to skirt the issue of how I felt at any point, other than incredulity. 

How did I feel?  How the fuck should I feel?  I dealt with it.  I got from one day to the next, not thinking about it.  It pisses me off that I wasted so much time trying to avoid how I felt instead of actually fucking feeling it.  I've seen my mom in such extremes of pain and despair and what fucking good is it doing me to pretend it hasn't happened - that I haven't seen or felt the things that have happened?  What honour does it do to my mom, the woman who made me the man that I am today, to push her hurts, her sadness to the side because it makes me fucking sad?  How fucking full of shit am I to preach to my kids about compassion for each other when I spend every day denying my mother my compassion because I'm not emotionally equipped to deal with it?  How fucking hypocritical is it of me to cry at a movie or a piece on the news when I shove the emotions down about something that is really happening and has bearing on my life?  Even now, I am hiding a big part of it from myself.  Why?  What the fuck am I waiting for?  It's pushing me around right now, this feeling, whatever the fuck it is.  It's exacting its revenge for six-plus years of denial.  I don't sleep.  I eat until I'm full and then I keep going because I need something to fill me up.  I vacillate between playing NHL hockey real late and staring at the computer screen, refreshing Facebook and Twitter in some savant-like compulsion, praying for something to distract me from whatever moment I'm in.  Things pass me by.  I find the biggest joys in life - Nick and Lilly - to be my biggest annoyances.  I apologize to them right here and now for the way I've acted.  I've been impatient, unforgiving and downright insulting to the people to whom I should be the exact opposite.  I want to say that things are going to change.  I want to say that I'm going to work my way out of this.  I'm a guy who solves problems.  I want to say that I can just come up with a plan, put tab A into slot B and everything's going to be better but there's no guarantee of that. 

I ask again, what am I waiting for?  Kim has told me I'm good at falling apart after whatever crisis it is has passed.  Is that what this is?  Can I not glory in the life gave me mine now?  Can I not mourn what is lost, what is being lost before it is gone?  Is it pride?  Is that what it is?  Am I so worried about how people will feel about me that I can't let go of whatever it is I'm holding on to?  I don't fucking know.  But I need to let go.  I need to allow myself my grief.  I need to let my kids see that it's all right to be sad and not hold everything in.  If not, I do myself, my kids and my mom a disservice.


Kyle said...

I don't really know what to say Liam, I feel like maybe my experience can help, but everyone who has advice seems to think it will be good advice and sometimes it isn’t. After writing my response and putting this disclaimer up above all I can say is: Take anything from this you want, throw away the rest, delete it if you want, just know that I care, that while I was writing this at the dining room table Erron came out and she had also read your blog and she will be writing back too because she cares, and that there are a lot of other friends out there who care too.

Second year of undergrad, what was that... 95? I remember my Mom had a couple biopsies for some lumps on her back. I think it was about November when she told us that it came back as cancer. I was just starting to date Erron so I wasn't as at home or in the situation as maybe I would have been otherwise. When Mom was finally admitted in to the Cross Cancer Center (probably late Dec?) I was spending more time away from home than at home. I remember getting a call from Mom in the morning a few days after new years to tell me my grandfather had died. Mom was in pretty bad shape by then. She had a wig for the funeral because of her chemo and the burning incense at church made her really nauseous. When classes started up again I used to go visit her during my breaks. If I had 2 hours off between classes I would go on over and have lunch or whatever. I remember thinking she would be fine, that people got cancer, got treatment and then got better, at least for a while. She got pretty bad starting in Feb and her lungs started filling with fluid, thinking about it I think the space around her lungs was actually filling with fluid and squeezing them, but that is something I had to sort through. They put a tube in to draw off the fluid so she could keep breathing. I still thought she would make it. Feb 5th... 12 years ago in a few days... I got out of lab and went over for a visit, my grandmother was there, Keith was there, my brother was there. Things didn't seem too bad, Tyler went home to get something or other. It seemed sudden to me, I remember Mom was in a lot of pain, she was probably on morphine… I was sitting at the foot of her bed and she started calling out for her Dad, my grandfather, who had died 31 days earlier. It happened so fast, suddenly she wasn’t talking anymore and we were crying, she was dead, just like that. Nobody came, I expected nurses and doctors to come in to save her, surely they would do something heroic, surely death didn’t come so easily, where were the attempts to thwart death shown on every tv show? That was it… she had died… I tried to call my brother but couldn’t remember the number of Mom’s car phone (he had taken her car) and he wasn’t home. He showed up maybe half an hour later, he hadn’t made it home, something had made him turn back, just a little too late.

Where is the advice in this? I don’t know the specifics about your Mom and her MS prognosis, maybe if they keep a handle on the little things she will be here for years to come. Maybe not, I don’t know. Between my brother and I, I think he took it harder, I think he blamed himself for not being there. Does this mean you should seize every moment to be there for her? I don’t think we can live like everyone is dying, even when there is a reason to believe they are. We have to make use of the time we have, no matter what there will be some kind of guilt for fretting away time that could have been better used, a conversation you should have had, a question you should have asked. You can’t hide from your emotions, you can mask them and work around them but they need to have some outlet. Be thankful that Kim will be there to take whatever burden you need to share with her, that is how Erron was. I think that helped me to deal with things better than Tyler could, he pushed it all in because there was nobody to help him let it out. Life isn’t fair, we don’t have the time to just deal with a situation like this the way could in an otherwise perfect world. Work continues on because bills need to be paid and kids need food. Somehow being the man in a crisis-stricken family is like having the “deal with this later” card. You don’t get the luxury to do what you would like to do because you’re trapped in what you think you have to do: be strong, be supportive, detatch your emotions from your daily deeds, keep it together…

If you feel like you are running away from things, my advice would be to stop running. If you are worried that your Mom won’t be around much longer try and think about what you would really regret not doing because I know I have those of my own because I didn’t see it coming. I’m not sure if it was as unexpected as I thought, maybe I was just deluding myself all along. When you are hurting some days are better, some days are worse, denying the hurt just makes the worse ones last longer.

Arie said...

I'm sorry, Liam- but I am glad you shared this, publicised it. Grief is like quicksilver...I think simply acknowledging it's fact lets it slip in wherever it will.

El Cliff said...

I will preface everything I'm going to say with the fact that...I'm a blithering idiot. I don't have all the answers, and everything I HAVE managed to in some basic way figure out about things has basically been from screwing something up and then trying to learn something valuable from a mistake. I in no way claim to know everything and have all the answers or even necessarily know a single thing that can help you.

I'm glad you did share all of this for the simple reason that you clearly needed to. I don't know how you've been just holding all of that in for as long as you have, but hopefully it feels a little bit better just having opened up that release valve and vented some of that out. As someone else who always used to try and 'lone wolf' my way through every damn thing before learning that that isn't really dealing with anything, it's just hiding from dealing with it, I can somewhat empathize with that side of it.

You cannot go back and change or alter what you've said/done/didn't say/didn't do in the past. Maybe you wish you could, maybe you're glad you can't, but regardless of how you feel about past actions there is absolutely nothing you can about them. The only time you have any control over whatsoever is the present and the future. Try not to fall in to that trap of beating yourself up over the past. Just figure out what you want to do from this point on.

Yeah, I know, I'm throwing that in there like it's an easy thing to do, which it obviously isn't going to be. It seems like you realize that you want, or maybe need, SOMETHING to change in how you're dealing with this whole awful situation, though, so listen to that voice. Pain exists for a reason. If you break your arm, it hurts so that you don't go on using it for 3 months like everything's okay (Uhhh...maybe not the best example to use with you). Anyway, it's the same thing here. It hurts so that you CAN'T just go on ignoring it forever and pretending everything's okay. So listen to what you're pretty much trying to tell yourself...what you're doing now doesn't seem to be working for you.

I have no idea what you should do differently...I doubt anybody does. The only person who can really figure that part out is you (isn't the human condition just awesome?) All that I can do is try and be a sounding board for you, and everyone else around you who cares about you is there to do the same thing. Maybe you CAN figure this all out by yourself...if you can't, don't be afraid to let other people try to help. We might not be any help at all with coming up with any answers, but it usually at least feels a little bit better to get it out of your system (one of the few things I HAVE actually figured out in 32 years of existence).

Liam J. said...

Thanks for the thoughts, guys. It's true, it had been bubbling in my brain for awhile. I wasn't sure that I wanted to post it but I figured if I did that, then there's no takebacks.