Sunday, September 28, 2008

Looking Forward/ Looking Back


Leaving Alaska is always hard for me. Leaving my 91 year old father and 83 year old mother, harder yet. I can barely say goodbye as I hug them at the airport, and I always feel like I'm on the close-up cameras as I fumble my way through all of the security gates making one security suspicious mistake after another, while teary-eyed. And this time feels no differently.

Once you've walked a mile in someone else's shoes you can never walk in your own again without new understandings. I have spent a lifetime learning just how challenging life can be for others, how different from my own obstacles or my own challenges.
I have been blessed with opportunities to be a part of other's disease processes. I have spent daytimes, night times and even parts of lifetimes helping others transition from this life to another. I've been at sick beds and at death beds and at the side of a multitude of chemo chairs, as well.
I have had my parents live with me for 9 months as my mother battled the worse form of breast that there is. I have held hands before and after surgeries, watched poison drip into others' veins during chemotherapy. And now, I am having opportunities to see how others must battle their own aging processes......while fighting for life, the sanity, and the happiness of another ......while still trying to stay strong, capable and find some daily joy of their own.

The battle we wage against Alzheimer's and the inroads it makes on the hearts and spirits of those who suffer with it (and all of us who love and care for them) is a battle you cannot even begin to imagine until you walked the walk and talked the talk ...at the very same time.

Now, that I've spent the last three years coming to Alaska to help my father with my mother's losses to this terrible disease, I can see that it makes the 9 months that they lived with me in Oregon while my mother battled stage 3b (out of 4 stages) of inflammatory breast cancer pale in comparison.
Even chemo, radiation and surgery seem easy compared to watching someone you love disappear bit by bit......while still with you physically in this dimension. The moments of clarity, like moments when one's world makes sense, or is filled with beauty, only makes the day, like the moments..... even more precious.

Amidst the hard times, my family and I were still able to share priceless moments, still managed to find something......even if it was something hard and awful......to laugh about and days when the sun did shine that we absolutely did not allow that day to be wasted.

I walked down to the beach three times, to the Gastineau channel twice, drove myself all through town, chased a bear, shared a bear medicine power ceremony with candles and sage with my dear sister-in-law, went out both ends of Douglas Island as far as the roads could go, went to the Mendenhall Glacier and watched tourists with as much amazement as they watched us, and spent over a whole month with my own two dearly loved parents.
My dad tells me I saved his life by coming up with only two days notice as I did. I know he was stressed to the max, and my taking over gave him not only a break but new hope that he could continue this journey with my mom's disorder. I know we helped my mom.
After her 4 day collapse on the floor and an almost complete disconnect into what appeared to be final stage Alzheimer's, we managed to bring her back to the previous 'moderately advanced levels' and improve her diabetes levels, her blood pressure, and her coping skills. That alone, made this unexpectedly challenging month(and a quick ticket to a long journey) both amazing and worthwhile. I have promised to come back in a few more months, and to continue that pattern for as long as I am able and need to do so.

Here, I am up on one of the highest streets on Douglas Island...a new development that sadly fills my beautiful hillside with houses upon houses...but provides an awesome view of Juneau across the channel. It symbolizes and represents growth and change...and not always in ways that we wish for, or appreciate. But change is still transition and moving forward as opposed to deterioration ,which is change that moves us back.

It was a moment of great appreciation of size and depth and breadth of all that my eyes could see and my own heart could feel and the knowledge that as hard as it is to leave these people and this place, I know I will be back very soon.

2 comments:

  1. Michele,
    This is such a difficult journey you are walking right now. You are finding the way to walk with dignity and caring while supporting the ones that you love dearly. There are no easy answers to the complex questions one faces with Alzheimers. However, with time, the solutions become apparent no matter how impossible things seem to be at that particular moment. Hang in there - you are doing good things for you and your family.

    As for your adventure with the landing wheels in the next post - it must have been quite terrifying - that was quite a curve ball to be thrown on top of the demands of your visit with your parents.
    I hope that you have had a warm welcome at home and that you do something nice for yourself.
    Hugs,
    Anna

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  2. Michele, once again you have touched my heart. Your father must be an amazing man to be caring for your mother at 91! And I wish blessing upon blessing for you and your caring spirit.

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.