Saturday, December 08, 2007

Doing the Next Dumb Thing

I've become a master procrastinator lately. When I have time to write, I've been coming up empty-handed, with no inspiration. My book project, writing about my deaf uncle, who died when he was only 44, and I was 18, he gotten mired down due to a lack of information, and my own laziness/inertia. I need a creative boost, and wish that was available in capsule form. Doing creative work, when no one may be interested in reading it, is challenging. Still, I'll never know if anyone is interested in my subject matter is I don't' get it down on paper.

Meanwhile, my columns kept getting bumped in Bay Windows, supposedly due to space constraints. But finally, a few weeks ago, I was back in the paper with this column, about doing the next thing.....

Lately my life seems to be zipping along at a faster pace than I would have chosen, if only I had a deciding vote in the process. I often feel like I’m riding a Japanese bullet train rather than the more relaxed Amtrak local that I’m used to. Sometimes, rapid change and variety – several things going on simultaneously – can make life richer and more interesting; it certainly beats boredom. If I were basking in the light of writing fame, if I were auditioning several handsome men for the role of my new boyfriend, then traveling at supersonic speed might be an adrenaline rush.

But that’s not the way my life is currently showing up. Instead, during the past six weeks, I’ve had a sick cat (now thankfully recovered), and a sick mother – who is also recovering, slowly, unsteadily, with lots of starts and stops along the way. (She’s currently still at a rehab center/nursing home back in Ohio, but will be getting out soon). Meanwhile, it seems my small family lurches from one crisis to another, with barely a day of rest in between. My older brother, 55 years old and thin as a rail, was just diagnosed with a blocked artery and significant heart disease.

I wonder how to focus on my life here in Boston, and to stay engaged, when my mind constantly drifts back to Cleveland and my mother’s latest crises. I’ve been back home twice since my mother’s accident, (she fell and fractured her left femur, requiring surgery and a long convalescence). Still, sometimes I feel like a bad seed/bad son, especially when she reminds me that she has no family in Cleveland, unlike most of her friends. My Mom is high-maintenance at the best of times – she sees the glass as half-empty even when it’s three-quarters full – and these are clearly not the best of times, for her, or for me.

The recent change of seasons is not helping my mental state. I love the months of September and October, especially when we’re graced by the sunny, unseasonably warm weather we’ve enjoyed this fall. But now, after the advent of seasonal November temperatures and our shift back to Standard Time– it’s fully dark by 5 PM – I’m seized by the desire to hibernate, to burrow into bed and sleep until light and warmth return, along about mid-April.

Since hibernation is not a realistic option, the only answer I’ve found is to do, as a good friend has suggested, “the next dumb thing.” Sometimes, that ‘dumb thing’ is to pick up the phone and check in on my mother. Sometimes, it means I should turn the phone off and go to the gym, to turn my jumpy edgy energy in a positive direction. I can release fear and frustration and improve my muscle tone at the same time!

As a long-single gay man, I’m used to having a lot of free time. The rhythms of my life have been set by years of doing what I want to do, when I want to do it. But as an aging Boomer with an aged parent, my time is not always my own. In this in-between state, caught between my own sometimes-selfish desires and routines and my need to be there for my mother, I struggle to find a sense of balance like the Flying Wallendas, the famous aerialists, as they carefully tiptoed their way across the high wire.

After a half-century of living, I’ve discovered, through trial and error, a few things I know to be true. One is that, ultimately, my life is not fully under my control. Everyone faces adversity at times; now it is my turn. Another truism is that no one gets out alive; the mortality rate is 100%. Therefore, it seems to me that, as much as possible, one should enjoy the ride, while being attentive to and taking care of our friends and loved ones.

My life today seems to run along too fast, and the days merge, one into another. Sometimes, I lurch to a stop at a destination not of my own choosing. Then, I steady myself, make a silent wish or prayer for myself and those I love, and do the next dumb thing.


Blogger Bill Samuels said...

Your post struck a chord with me because I am also an aging baby boomer and also looked after an elderly parent and felt the same tug of war between living the life I needed to live and taking responsibility for a loved one.
Since the parent, my mother, and I did not live too far away and since I am a self-employed author, I was able to spend a lot of time with her, although it was never enough (do not let guilt drive you crazy -- you have an absolute right to your own life.)

There is a dumb theory that gays are cut out to be caregivers, which I reject out of hand (maybe some of us). I was not very good at caregiving, although I did my best. I suggest you investigate every resource you can find in your mother's area -- meals on wheels, senior citizen centers, and the like -- and get as much help as you can. I was lucky enough to have a sister and brother-in-law who were absolutely wonderful. Even if you don't have siblings there may be others you can count on to help you with your mother at times.

The unmarried and unpartnered are often unfairly given the burden of caring for an elderly parent. The trick is to be firm, take care of your needs, and do your best to compromise. There are even support groups for caregivers, where they can bitch about how their parents drive them crazy and the like!

And, inevitably, there'll come a time when you realize there's just so much you can do. No one has to give up their life to take care of a parent. Not only is it unreasonable, but without proper training, most of us -- gay or straight -- aren't very good at it. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and leave the job to professionals, which includes the staff of a nursing home.

I'm sure there's a lot of info on the Interent relating to eldercare. The more you're aware of, the less overwhelming it may seem.

My mother passed away last year -- she was in pain and losing her faculties -- nd along with sorrow I felt relief and, yes, a sense of freedom. Now I have an elderly roommate (not lover) who will need care and I'm not looking forward to it but I'm using every resource I can find. At a bar a friend asked if I was going to "look after" this man and I nearly bit his head off. "I am not an effin' caregiver!" (Yes, it can get to you if you let it.)

Keep your chin up! And best of luck to you!


3:11 AM  

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