Letting go…

Lately I have been reflecting on when my mom last admitted she was powerless over her addictions, which was a few months before she landed in permanent nursing home care. This was in 2009. By then, she had 24 hour at home care for 3 years already. She called me late one night, about 10:30, which she often did when she was drunk.

She started with the usual niceties and small talk, asking about our day and the kids. Then, I gently confronted her, as I often did when she was in that state. She almost always denied that she was drinking, and would get defensive and angry, sometimes causing her to hang up on me.

For some reason, this phone call was different. Perhaps I was more gentle in my approach than usual (it was always a struggle), or maybe she had just finally had enough with it all. She began telling how she wanted to be done with this life, and how painful it all was. My dad had left, not able to cope with her addictive behaviors and the constant lies and game playing.

She had been dealing with hydrocephalus, memory loss, and various aches and pains related to her chemical abuse for a few years . In her stupor, she finally confessed that she was in real big trouble this time, “I think I am in big trouble with it, this time. I think I may need to do something about it. I might need help again.” It was one of the only times in 20 years that I heard her so clearly admit that she needed real help. The other times were when she was about to go into rehab, in rehab, or after she had just gotten out of rehab.

Looking back, I know I did all that I was expected to do, and more. Sometimes, you can do everything in your power to help those in trouble, and they still won’t choose it.

My mom was and is one of the best people I will ever know. She is smart, sweet, kind, funny, beautiful, charismatic, affectionate, and loving. The one thing she could never be enough was honest with herself. She had deep fears and insecurities that she tightly held on to, and probably will until the very end.

I suppose that is why I have such strong convictions, and why I have deeply committed myself to always be honest about who I am, and to keep striving to do so in my life. It isn’t always easy. Addictions can have all shapes and sizes, and almost always start innocently enough.

The key, I have found, is to try to always be mindful of keeping a healthy balance of everything good in my life. If a certain activity or situation starts to consume me or I am obsessing over, then I need to back off a little, and give my time to other things. With prayer, and the help of those around me, I can then push through those heavy feelings of loss, dread and stress. I always take it “one day at a time”, and try to never listen to the negative self talk that creeps into my head from time to time.

I get stuck sometimes…in my anger, in my resentment, in the sadness of it all. Dealing with dementia in a loved one is hard, yet it is harder still, when THEY DID IT TO THEMSELVES.

I am reading the book “Codependent No More”. It’s a great one (one of the BEST) for knowing your boundaries of loving those with addictions and those with dysfunctional patterns of behavior. It is basically about how to take responsibility for your own reactions to people and situations. It’s about knowing that it’s OK to let go of the guilt and anger of those who consistently try to drag you into their drama and patterns of dysfunction.

It’s important to try to not let their drama and chaos rob you of your peace and joy. It is about living in the moment, and attempting to detach from the tendencies to control people and situations, which were habits learned after years of living in uncontrollable situations.

I have had this blog for about 4 years now, and I feel like I’m almost ready to let it go. I started it as a way to help myself, and hopefully I helped a few people. I know what I need to do to be healthy and I have lots of tools to help me create the happiness I have always yearned for in my family. I will continue to rely on my deep faith to help me get there.

God bless

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I’m sorry

I’m sorry mom.

I don’t always return
the many calls
you make when
pacing those halls

I should reassure you
that I’m OK,

You’re worried
& not sure
of where I am,
or if I’ve found my way…

You’re surprised
I’m now married,

“You better not be!”,
you exclaim on
our machine

All those 15 years
just suddenly vanished
like the breeze…

I’m sorry,
It just hurts so much
to hear you lost
and wanting out.

It may be a selfish reason,
and feels a bit like
a cop out…

I pray your angels
keep you
close
& free of fear,
at least Until
the day
we can be near…

Dear Mama

I don’t often repost other blog posts, but this one was just too powerful not to share. It is written by a woman named Colleen Duggan, and the link is here:

http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2014/04/duggan-encouragement-for-struggling-moms/

It is an open letter to all of us mothers and women in the world. I see myself in many of these descriptions, as I am sure most of us women do.

In today’s day and age, more than ever, mothers feel pressured to do it all and to be it all for their families. More moms need to work outside of the home than ever before, all the while balancing house work while trying to successfully care for their children and husbands. Many mothers also care for their own ailing mother or father, as I do.

At times, it can get very overwhelming. At times, the duties that are expected of us feel or seem impossible to accomplish. We can get depressed or filled with anxiety. We can feel hopeless at times, not knowing how we can “do it all”.

For me, the grace, love, and peace that I have received from actively practicing my Catholic faith has allowed me to let go of many of those fears and anxieties.

It has enabled me to embrace the joys, as well as the struggles, giving me the peace of knowing that I am never alone in my trials. As long as we have each other, and the love of God, we will never be alone.
Here is the letter:

Dear Mama,

I’m talking to you. Yes, that’s right, you:

–the working mama who feels sick on Sunday afternoon because you report for duty Monday morning at 8:00 am and the thought of leaving your baby makes your heartache,

–the mama sitting in the oncology ward next to your sick child, helplessly watching while toxic chemicals are pumped through your baby’s veins,

–the mama whose husband just left you with a slew of hungry mouths to feed and a mortgage you know you can’t pay,

–the nursing mama who is so tired you fall asleep sitting up because that baby eats and eats and then eats some more,

–the overwhelmed mama with a house full of kids and school work and laundry and dirt and dishes,

–the mama who drives hundreds of mile a week to and from sporting events because God gave your kid a gift and you want him to use it,

–the addicted mama who wants to quit but can’t find the will or the way,

–the widowed mama who misses her best friend, especially when you look into the face of the child, who looks just like him,

–the mama with the handicapped child, who has learned more from your kid with “limitations” than from any “normal” person,

–the mama who longs for more children but knows you won’t have them,

–the dying mama who knows you won’t see your child’s next birthday,

–the estranged mama who can’t or won’t forge a new relationship with your child,

–the old mama who somehow found room in your heart and space in your house for just one more, and the young mama who has no idea that you are in for the ride of your life,

–the homeschooling mama and the mama whose children attend private or Catholic or public school,

–the worn-out, burnt-out, bedraggled mama who loves your littles so much it hurts, but admits they drive you crazy too,

–the worried mama with the Prodigal child you can’t stop praying for,

–the mama who buried your child, but yet can’t seem to bury the ache,

–the mama who grew up poor or abused or abandoned or neglected and is determined to break the cycle,

–the mama who conceived a child or many children but lost them to miscarriage,

–the mama who has no biological children of your own, but counts the blessings of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of spiritual children,

–the mama guilty of hurting your child with words or fists or neglect,

–the desperate mama who couldn’t see a way out so you aborted your baby,

–the mama who couldn’t have your own so you adopted and now your heart overflows with a love you didn’t think was possible,

–and the physically ill mama who wants to keep up with your kids but who is limited by your body.

You, mama, I’m talking to you. Here’s what you must know; here’s what all of the mothers of the world must know and why we should refuse to participate in those vicious mommy wars:

You are good, so very, very good and you are loved, so very, very loved — not because of what you do or how you do it but because of who you are. And you are a child of God, created in His image.

The care and concern you feel for the children entrusted to you?

All of that pales in comparison to the care and concern your heavenly Father has for you. His love is everlasting (Jeremiah 31:3). He has called you and you are His (Isaiah 43:1). How can you question your significant worth when He remembers to feed even the tiniest birds of the sky (Matthew 6:26)? You are precious to Him; He has counted the hairs on your head (Matt 10:30).

He has written your name in the palm of His hands (Isaiah 49:16). He formed you in our mother’s womb, knew you before you were born, and foresees all of your actions (Psalm 139: 13-16). Nothing can keep you from His love — not death, not life, nor principalities (Romans 8:38). If this isn’t enough, He gave you His only Son to save and redeem the world (John 3:16). You have a God who loves you passionately and intimately.

Those imperfections you worry about it, the moments when you fail with your kids, the burn out you often feel?

God knows. He knows all of it and yet, He loves you anyway. He never asked you for perfection, He asked for you — your heart, your mind, your soul, and yes, even your children.

Give those things to Him. Give it all to Him. He’ll make good what you can’t.

He sees you trying. He sees you fumbling and falling and He sees you getting back up. If you clapped and cheered and celebrated when your baby took her first steps, He’s cheering for you because He knows what it takes to get up from the mud and take another step.

Like you, He’s so proud.

Mama, he knows the heavy burden on your heart and He has not abandoned you, even though others might. Turn to Him; beg Him to be your food, to comfort you in your pain and your worries because He will.

Don’t listen to the voice, taunting and tormenting with lies:

“You are a bad mother.”
“You are worthless.”
“You are lazy.”
“You’ll never change. “
“It’s all your fault.”
“Your work and service are pointless. No one cares.”
“You don’t work hard enough, try hard enough.”
“You’re family uses you, manipulates you to get all they can. “
“They never listen. No one ever listens.”
Lies. These ugly words are all lies. The Father speaks love; listen for His voice.

Beg His mother, the only Perfect Mother there is, to help you. She loves the child most in need — you. She bleeds for her children when she sees them cut open and gushing–you. When she hears your voice, she won’t be able to stop herself from running to her Son and begging His grace for — you.

I’m praying for you, Mama. I’m praying you experience God’s love in a way that transforms you forever. Please, pray for me, too?

With much love from another mama in the trenches,

Colleen

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Time

I wrote this poem on the beach in Florida, while watching the power of the surf and admiring the extreme beauty of the ocean.

My parents have lived in Florida during the winter for about 20 years. My parents built their dream house there about 15 years ago. I traveled there frequently when I was in college, first married, and when my first born was a baby. It became a second home to us, and we treasured our time spent there.

It all changed when my second born was a baby. My parents had separated (due to my mom’s addiction problem) the year before he was born, and 2 years later, in the the summer of 2006, was when mom became very ill with hydrocephalus, just after our last trip with her in Florida. We stopped going to Florida after that, for a few different reasons. We were very busy trying to get mom good care and manage her healthcare, as that was the year she started needing full time nursing care.

Another reason is that it was to emotionally painful to spend time in the paradise that mom helped build, knowing that she would most likely never get to experience it again. The other was that we started going on yearly trips with my dad instead, which I feel was a way of escaping from the painful memories & loss we were experiencing. We had amazing family adventures together all around the world, and the memories will last a lifetime.

We recently started going back to their home last year. It has been great for my kids to spend time with their grandpa & have fun exploring his beautiful home. It feels like the start of a new chapter, and we are very excited and grateful to embrace it. Life is to short to live seeping in grief for to long. If it is one thing the pain of loss and illness has taught me it is…life and love are precious & that life is made for living.

The erosion
Of time,
Steadily
streaming
across
the years

Beneath
the relentless
weight of
silt and sand,
and
lies,
so grand

Creating
caverns
deep,
and grottos
of secrets
to keep

You thought
you built
your love
to last

On strong
solid rock,
not
brittle
sinking sand

Broken promises
and deception
again and again

Were to much
For this towering
fortress
to withstand…

http://youtu.be/CYxFEFklMPA

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Holding Pattern

Living with dementia or addiction within the family, often feels like you are flying within a storm. The air is rough. Yet, you have unexpected calm periods, which you joyfully accept.

Learning to peacefully live within the chaos is a sort of learned skill; which takes much patience, courage, faith, and perseverance. It is a continual quest trying to hold the tension of uncertainty and fear, and also learn how to not only accept the pain in the journey, but to embrace it.

Every time I visit mom, I never know how she will be that day. She may be having a good day, like last Monday, where conversation came easy and she was content to live in the moment. I treasure those moments. Because I am not sure how many more we will get.

Some days we go, and she has her bag packed, ready to go “home”. She is fixated on getting out of there, wanting to experience a sort of freedom she once had, even though she doesn’t quite remember what that was like. She no longer remembers where her home used to be, she just knows that where she presently resides, is not it.

On those days, I do a lot more redirecting and talking of the past (not of “home”!) to help keep her mind on pleasant things. On some days, it is easy to do, and on others, it is very emotionally exhausting and depressing. I focus on the love we share, and gratitude for the things we still have.

Lately, I have found much comfort in my convictions and beliefs in redemptive suffering. As a Catholic, I firmly believe that suffering offered up for the good of others (mine or another’s) can have real redemptive power and strength. I found an easy to understand explanation of that here:

http://www.fisheaters.com/offeringitup.html

II Corinthians 4:8-12
In all things we suffer tribulation: but are not distressed. We are straightened: but are not destitute. We suffer persecution: but are not forsaken. We are cast down: but we perish not. Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake: that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us: but life in you.

Waiting
In the wings,
Living for each day,
Never knowing
What time will bring

Living within the tension,
Striving with intention,
To seek
New meaning in the pain

One day,
Soaring above
Holding on
In smooth skies,

The next,
sudden
Turbulence,
And we are all
Taking a dive…

Though,
Surely
Knowing
His grace will catch us,
And we’ll never
Just fall out
Of the sky…

Eloping and Teddy Bears

A sad, yet funny conversation with my mom:

My mom called me the other day. Here is why I don’t always answer the phone:

“Mary, I was looking at my numbers in my address book and saw the number for Mary and Eric Snustad, and I thought, that SNEEK…she went and got married and didn’t even tell us!”

“Why didn’t you tell dad and I that you got married? Did you elope?”
She has no memory of me marrying Eric almost 14 years ago.

So, I proceed to take a deep, deep breath and calmly, yet, gently explain that Eric and I have been married for almost 14 years, and that we did not elope. I tell her all about the many details of our wedding, hoping to refresh her memory of our very special day.

It can be very difficult to repeatedly have these types of conversations, yet it helps tremendously to try have a sense of humor. My husband and I chuckle about how awesome it was when we eloped (we actually had a church wedding).

I bought her a teddy bear a few days ago. She absolutely loved it. It is interesting how the more forgetful she gets, the more small comfort items like this seem to make her happy.

I remember the same thing happening with my grandma. During the last few years during her journey with dementia, I would also bring her stuffed animals. There are so many times where I am with mom, and it’s like being with Nana again. They look alike, sound alike, and are both ending their lives in very similar ways with dementia. Talk about “history repeating itself”, and only about 10 years later.

Last week she left a completely heart-wrenching message, that left me broken hearted.

“Mary, I can’t remember anything…my memory is going…please just call me, so that I know who I am…so that I know I have family and that I am not alone. I don’t know what to do.”

I rely heavily on my faith to get me through. The grace of God carries me…through going to mass a couple times a week & receiving Him in the Eucharist. Confession is also very cleansing and helpful to feel his love in a much more tangible way. After participating in these sacraments, I have no doubt of the power of God’s mercy and grace. His love and strength is almost palpable…giving me a warm peaceful feeling. When celebrating the love of Christ with our church “family”, I no longer feel so alone.

It strengthens me and gives me hope to live a joyful life, even amidst this long journey of heartache and pain of loss. I offer most of my masses for mom, or those who are suffering with similar illnesses. The redemptive power of prayer and sacrifice is at the core of the Catholic faith, and those prayers can go a long, long way….

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A favorite song:

I Forgive You

My mother has early on-set dementia, which was mostly caused by years and years of chemical abuse. She has lived in a nursing home now for almost five years. Prior to that, she had at home nursing care for three years. She just turned 71 years old.

It was my mom’s birthday this past Monday. My young kids and I took her to dinner in the upstairs dining room at her care center, and had a nice time. When we got there, she was franticly waiting in the hallway saying that she has been lost in the airport all day. She had her bag all packed to go to Florida, and she said she
just needed help to get to the car. She broke down when she saw us, relieved to see loved ones to help her.

She was very confused, but many times when she is with us some of that extreme confusion dissipates, as things feel more familiar to her. But on days like that, I wonder if her dementia is progressing even more rapidly. Perhaps she has had more mini strokes. We played UNO with the kids and she could not match the colors together, and seemed to have no idea how to play the game. Even though it is a game we had played a thousand times together when I was a kid.

It is those little moments that make me the saddest; When she suddenly has no recognition for very common things. Like how at dinner she looked at Colin and said, “Him…you know…that one”, as she struggled to recall my eight year old’s name.

It is difficult, because I know that eventually she will lose recognition for most everything. One day, she may not recognize me and that terrifies me. It is the fear of one day walking in her room and her blankly staring back at me void of recognition or acknowlegment. Although, A part of me feels that she may know me until the end. My own grandma forgot everyone except her children. It wasn’t consistent recognition, but her memory would recall them the most.

On the way home the song “Forgiveness” by Matthew West came on the radio. It is a song that has helped me heal and find peace with the painful moments in my past with my mom.

Forgiveness is difficult, especially if the one who did the hurting never seeks forgiveness. And some people get stuck in their resentment, because they feel that recognition and a sincere apology are necessary in order to forgive the other. What they are unable to see, is that forgiveness doesn’t justify the wrong done or get the other “off the hook”. It sets themselves free instead, from the anger and toxic resentment. Without all that negative weight, the person who forgives, can finally begin the process of moving on and healing.

Forgiveness is key in any Christian’s life. Jesus was ALL about teaching to forgive others, no matter what. I always think of the passage from Matthew 18:21-22:

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

Forgiveness was so important to our Lord, that he included it also in His prayer,
“…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”

It all comes down to His golden rule of “treating others the way you want to be treated”. We must try to put ourselves in another’s shoes. How would it feel or make a difference to be forgiven? How would it feel to a person who knows he or she doesn’t deserve it?

There was one moment since my mom has been in the nursing home during these past 5 years, where she seemed to be seeking forgiveness. I was telling about a friend going through a hard time, and she looked up at me and said with emotion, “I am sorry, Mary, that I could not be the mother you needed me to be”. I choked up and said, “It’s OK mom, we have now and that is enough right now.”

A part of me wanted to go in to a tirade of, “It’s about time!” And proceed to tell her of all her bad and hurtful choices. But, a bigger part of me thought and felt “Why? She knows, deep down, the hurts she has caused. Why rub her nose in it? Especially when she has lost it all anyway?” Instead, I took a shaky deep breath and asked God to help me to take the much higher road…and forgive.

I would be lying if I said it isn’t a daily battle to forgive. There are moments that are almost to painful to even talk about, and it is torture to have to relive that pain in my heart again and again as I remember. But It is then I remember that no matter how deep the pain, God can heal it. I am not alone, and never have been. Today, and tomorrow are new days, and the pain has helped me grow, and has given me much strength.

I found a post that clarified this well for me yesterday from this blog post:

http://liturgicalyear.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/seventy-times-seven-2/:

“I would make that decision to forgive and pray for healing – sometimes over and over. Out of nowhere it would rear its ugly head again, and I would need to do it all over. I found that the more I surrendered the hurt to God, the more I was likely to come to peace with it. Really that’s what I wanted – freedom from the hurt. But before I could experience that freedom, I had to let go and release the anger and unforgiveness so that I could make room for God.”

And so, for the 100th and something time…”I forgive you, mom….for all of it. I only have hundreds more times to go, but I know He will be there to help.

It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those
who don’t deserve

It’s the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused
Is just too real
It takes everything you have just to say the word…

Forgiveness
Forgiveness

It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It’s always anger’s own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
It’s the whisper in your ear saying
‘Set It Free’

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible

Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness

It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what
it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness

I want to finally set it free
So show me how to see
what Your mercy sees
Help me now to give what
You gave to me
Forgiveness, Forgiveness