The Importance of Proper Tire Inflation on the Road to Eternal Rest

In last weeks post, I began to wrestle with coming to terms with the degree of presence required to attend fully to mom’s departure. I was pretty sure I got the lesson about breathing and staying in the moment with less attachment to outcome. Evidently not, because an additional opportunity to deepen my understanding of the true meaning of conscious presence was required.

On Thursday morning my head was swimming with details and I was running late for Pilates – again. While backing out of the driveway I noticed mom’s wheelchair was still in the back. Knowing this left no room for groceries I pulled back up to the house. Cursing myself for being unprepared, I carelessly put the vehicle in park, jumped out, and opened the hatch.  While attempting to wrestle the chair which had become wedged, I realized the car was rolling toward me. Thankfully I knew enough to let go, but unfortunately that is where common sense ended.

I raced to the open driver’s side door and attempted to jump in, just as the car was picking up speed on the driveway incline. Rather than landing on the seat surprisingly, I found myself on the ground. The sound of myself screaming in pain was surreal, as the car rolled completely over the top of my left foot, caught the edge of my right, the door scraping across my thighs for good measure, and finally came to rest, like a demented bug carcass with weird appendages, in the middle of the road.

As I lay on the wet pavement, all I could think was how busy our street is in the morning, and how much more trouble we would have if the car was hit. Moving was agonizing but possible, so I forced myself up and ridiculously step-leap-slide-shuffled my way into the street to return the car safely to the driveway. My toes were numb, pain radiated up the back of my leg, and I could see my indented ankle above my left foot was already swelling. My right foot seemed to have fared a bit better but throbbed insistently when I put pressure on it. Ironically, the wheelchair glided out of the car, and into the house. I remarked casually to mom  – in what I hoped was a light-hearted voice, “OK, I’m off to Pilates now. See you in a while.” The nurses, X-ray technicians, attending physician, and I all had a good laugh at the nature of caregiving, so the morning wasn’t a total loss. Thanks in large part to properly inflated tires, neither foot was broken.

Not to underestimate the powerful metaphor contained in the message of a runaway vehicle and temporarily disabled feet, but in fairness, my entry into the Bigfoot hall of fame did occur after three completely housebound days spent trying to regulate Mom’s pain. Of course the pain meds caused her to spend those days mostly in bed sleeping, and me trying to find ways to distract her from her fears when she was awake. To add to the picture of what led to such recklessness, the Hospice social worker had spent a couple of hours Wednesday afternoon talking with mom about her wishes for the future, answering questions about how we would proceed, and reassuring her that she would remain comfortably at home. On the way out she had left me with a book about what to expect, that I casually tossed on my reading pile before heading into the kitchen to make a dinner that neither of us really felt much like eating.

The beauty of being off my feet for a couple of days gave me the luxury of an opportunity to do some research. Unfortunately, it also provided time for me to read  the pamphlet left by the social worker. “Gone From My Sight, The Dying Experience” by Barbara Karnes, an RN from Vancouver, WA. This is an excellent resource about the things one can expect through the stages of someone preparing for the experience of dying. I was shocked to discover mom showed many of the signs that appear about three months out. This is NOT to say she only has three months, but it did suggest that my timeline, was perhaps in need of a reality check.

At that point I made calls to mom’s immediate family. I talked to my brother about what was going on, the signs that I was seeing, and the possibility of him considering spending some time alone with mom while she is still able to communicate with him as her son. My aunt anointed me with her compassion and comfort. My uncle reminded me it was presumptuous make pronouncements about timelines. It wasn’t that I disagreed, but in the moment, his words stung. Embarrassed, I tried to justify that I was updating so bluntly because I don’t want anyone to come back later and say that I didn’t keep them informed.

After I hung up and had a good cry the truth underneath the shame appeared …. I think I was looking for someone or something that could take away the responsibility of being the primary, and in most cases, solitary witness to the majority of this journey. A journey that I no doubt expected in some abstract and distant future, rather than so blatantly and firmly in the present. I mean I knew there were no trips to Canada, but have we really made enough trips to Sunshine Dairy? Did we use our museum membership enough? Will I get her to the lake to see me row? Will we finish Sargent Marcia’s wheelchair boot camp?

Over the next couple of days the shock of this discovery was over, and the healing, created with the help of many loving phone calls, although not without sadness, had begun. That caused me to reach out in search of empowerment which came in the discovery of an ally,  Conscious Departures – Preparing for what ultimately lies ahead . This is an amazing blog written by a thoughtful, forthright, and intelligent former caregiver. As I poured over every word I became more confident in my ability to navigate, perhaps with a bit more dignity, what appears on the horizon. I felt calmer and more at peace than I had in days knowing there is an ever-widening circle of support, compassion, and wisdom to draw on.

Somehow all of this led to an incredible opening. After a sleepless Saturday night, checking on mom at 15 minute intervals due to breathing difficulties, the last check finding her breathing a bit easier, at 4:15. At that point I guess I fell asleep, but a moment later it was 5:30 and mom was standing in my bedroom. She seemed so lost and didn’t want to go back to bed. Not knowing what to do, exhausted, and unable to tolerate the start to a day of weight baring, I invited her into my bed. I covered her with my special yellow afghan, the one she made to match my yellow room when I was a girl. She patted my head and told me, for the second time in under a week, that no matter what I would always be her little Bethie. I put my head on her shoulder and covered her cool small hand with my warm one, and listened to the sound of her breathing until she fell asleep. While she slept, I thought about how long it had been since I had experienced such an outpouring of mother love. I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer she will have these periods of lucid clarity, comforting me, as I attempt to comfort her.

The truth is, there is never enough time, regardless of age or health status. THIS really is the only moment. May we be blessed to recognize, treasure, and spend it wisely.

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19 thoughts on “The Importance of Proper Tire Inflation on the Road to Eternal Rest

  1. Wow! Beth, this was truly a beautiful piece. I could actually feel the pain, love and understanding that just flowed from your heart. My thoughts and prayers will continue to be with you.

    • Thanks for taking the time from your own healing journey to respond. I am appreciative of your attention both here in this world and in the land of prayers. I treasure your continuing support. much love to you.

  2. I don’t know how you made it through last week, Beth; you continue to amaze me. You did the right thing by calling your relatives. They may not have been ready to hear what you had to say but you had to say it. Those poignant moments as you put your head on your mom’s shoulder and heard the sounds of her breath will be there to call upon in the future for comfort. May you continue your journey with your mom with peace and love in your heart.

    Amy

    • Thanks for the validation about calling my relatives. I think it ended up ok although it was tough in the moment. I know these memories of my mom’s tenderness will comfort me all the days of my life. Your blessing means so much to me. Thanks for traveling along.

  3. Beth, may God continue to guide you in this journey. You so beautifully capture the moments in time with both compassion and humor. You are blessed with many gifts; thanks for sharing them with us. I also am traversing the path with aged parents and step-parents. You are a guide to do so with compassion and humor. I most times forget those ingredients. Thank you.

    • Debbie, your comments made me smile. First, thank you for acknowledging my contribution however small, to the wealth of info about such things that life does not prepare us for. More importantly though, thank you for your candidness about your path with your parents, and step parents. I have not known you so well for many years, but, what I have experienced and judging from my dusty memory I always have felt you to both compassionate and humor filled. I am sure you are doing it more often than you may be giving yourself credit for, and if not – at least you are having this awareness now. I think the most difficult struggle has been allowing myself to recognize the moments when these ingredients ARE present as enough, and letting go of the critical judging voice that is always quick to point out the times when I haven’t done it so well. I mean really who would say such horrible things???? Be kind to yourself. Thank you for being here for me, and remember I too will be here for you if and when the time comes that you are in need. Blessings and peace. Z

  4. Dear Beth, I don’t know about tire pressures and the levels of pain associated. I just know it must hurt. I liked reading this. In my mind I can hear your mom calling you “her little Bethie” and I felt very happy for you inside. I took some time off to visit family in Florida so I’m a bit behind on reading your posts.

    Robert v.

    • Yeah, it hurts and is a general buzz kill but only when I am walking around … Good news – I have so many things to distract me while I am walking around – oh wait a sec… isn’t that what got me into this mess in the first place?
      I love the way we did not really know each other much growing up, but now make each other smile and feel happy on a regular basis. I love following your family along on Facebook and delight in all your, and their travels & triumphs. Wishing you all much joy, continued laughter, and growth.

  5. This comment was so valuable – it had to be posted.

    Hi Beth, Good morning!

    I just read your middlescapes. I am so sorry about your accident. It sounds just awful and it sounds absolutely like someone who is under a lot of stress, distracted. I hope you are still able to get away to NYC, you need a break. If I were there I’d come help out. Even hiring a babysitter NOW would be a good thing, just to give you a few more hours here and there or to give YOU some companionship. (I know, easier said than done). It is too intense an experience for one person Beth, I agree it would be nice if other family rose to the occasion and helped.
    Maybe there is no way around that, but if you had a little more help maybe it would keep you safer. The anxiety and responsibility is a huge mental distraction, and you know this now, but please be extra careful with everything.

    When the end gets closer, the anxiety about losing this person who has known you all your life, all those questions you asked (did I do enough?) become so much more intense. You have done more than enough Beth, you have done everything a daughter could do and so much more. don’t question that. It’s amazing what you have done and are doing. I don’t think anyone understands that except the one who has done it. And the feelings of loss are intense because your relationship has been so intimate, for so long. No one else has that experience. I was a wreck the last 3 days as my father died, already worn down emotionally after a year of dedicating my life to his medical needs, nursing him, feeding him, making sure he was safe, watching him go. I slept on the couch and listened night after night to his breathing and moaning, something that still haunts me. I did not have enough help – medical or otherwise – and still suffer when I think those sounds were pain that I did not recognize. I think you are on top of that and that is so good.

    i totally relate to trying to go to sleep and then….there is mom/dad….up and wandering around. Your solution was so beautifully touching, to take your mama in bed with you.

    Keeping those intense feelings in check is more than a full time effort — I think that is a huge component of caregiving stress. First you don’t realize how intense and nonstop those feelings are. People who become caregivers are not good managing intense feelings anyway, that’s my take on it. That’s why you are doing what you are doing – you love deeply, you have deep empathy, sense of responsibility. Please be extra careful. Remind yourself that you are distracted, move slowly! It won’t be forever. And that is sad too. But for now you are doing a wonderful job and need to shift your attention to yourself a little bit more — slow down, be safe.

    Would getting a babysitter help so maybe you could walk more or have more prep time to get out of the house?

    Sending you hugs, understanding, and admiration. I know what you are going through. Your mom is so lucky to have you with her and I know how you feel about her. And, I am lucky to have you met you. together, we put president Obama in office. We can do anything!

    say hello to your mom for me.
    love
    Alice

    • Alice what can I possibly say to this, except thank you. A million times thank you. YOu have brought so much to my life – rowing , my beloved, campaigning and now this. Of all that we have shared so far on our journey this is by far the most precious gift you have shared. What can I possibly offer you, besides my eternal gratitude and the knowledge that no matter what you can always count me in your corner. much love my friend. much love.
      z

  6. I want to say this is a gorgeous piece of writing but I don’t want to demean such a sincere glimpse into the reality of caregiving someone you love and who loves you.

    The timing thing you mention is a tough one and I went through the exact same thing. I had this sense that our loss may be a month or two out based on behavior, what I had read and my intimate sense of Kris. I hesitated for only a moment but then contacted close relatives. I framed it carefully letting them know I could easily be wrong but I couldn’t in good conscience fail to communicate my concern.

    After that Kristin’s family all paid her a visit from different parts of the country. Kris had already done, what I can see now, a farewell tour some months earlier, but seeing them all again was so much fun.

    When one brother and sister-in-law came over Kris insisted I take all of us to see the Cirque du Soleil Elvis show at the Aria Hotel, a fancy new beautiful hotel here in Vegas. I didn’t believe she could handle it no less have the energy to even request it. By this time she was so weak I had to move her around in a wheel chair. The hotel was incredibly gracious and took great care of her. But that wasn’t enough. After the show she wanted me to take everyone for desert at this great French pastry shop also in the hotel. She took a little taste of what we were eating but as soon as she hit her energy limit she looked up at us and said, “Okay. It’s time to go home!”

    Kris passed away exactly one month later. Thankfully her brothers and sister all had that final opportunity to spend time with her. If I had been wrong, and she had gone on 6 more months, everyone would have been very happy.

    • Thank you for this gift.

      I knew at the time, it was important to make the calls and let go of whatever response I got. Your sharing this beautiful example validates what I know in my heart. Mom is still able to rally for people on the phone somewhat and occasional events, but no one else sees what I see AND she pays dearly for these efforts with exhaustion and pain. I don’t push her to do things but try to be flexible to go places when she is still able to do so.

      It sounds like granting wishes with careful attention to details is well worth any effort. These words give me courage to find more ways to let the process unfold. I am so grateful to have found the comfort of your strong resource, at a moment of intense vulnerability. I am still shaking my head – in a good way – Cirque du Soleil AND French pastry! Kris sounds like a woman after my own heart, who surely had the right priorities in life.

      Thank you again for today’s correct dose of courage.
      Z

  7. You know Beth…… You can always call me any time. If I happen to be at work , I will call back asap. Just lettin’ you know

  8. Oh Beth,
    Sorry to hear about your car incident and pain and suffering. I wish I could be there to help you out at times like these. Your journey amazes me and for you to be so gifted in conveying your experience with words always makes me smile. You are a strong person but definitely ask for help. You should not be doing this alone as others have suggested.
    Congratulations on your accolades. It’s nice that so many other people are sharing your story. You will remain in my thoughts and prayers always my friend. Sending lots of love back your way! Bob..

    • Thanks Bob. Your encouragement is like a warm hug, and believe you me right about now I could use all the hugs I can get. I appreciate your prayers and good thoughts. I am still in pain but actually doing a whole lot better now. The visit with my girls really helped a great deal and I think our ms. margo is coming over memorial day and that will be great too. Right now just knowing I am not alone and people care really is a great feeling. Much love to you. How are this years tomatoes coming along????

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