Wednesday, June 29, 2011

True healing

I am well. Not all well, but really well. I am still seeing my counselor. I have grieved my mother's death and dealt with much of the fallout.

I thought my brother and I were getting closer after my mother's death, but when I made an off-hand reference to one of several times my mother admitted to her part in the abuse when I was growing up, he verbally attacked me in public. When one of my very good friends stood up for me, he attacked her as well.

I struggled for months with what to do. I tried to reconcile, but I did not go to the lengths I went to with my mother--lengths that left me far more hurt than before my attempts. He clearly wanted to blame me, not reconcile. I was finally able to chalk it up to his own grief and let it go.

With a great deal of help and support, and with--I strongly believe--no small amount of spiritual intervention (I am one of those people who believes G-d is at work in the world, though maybe not in ways we'd expect, or even hope), I have a sense of who I really am, an idea of maybe who G-d wants me to be.

My counselor offered this in her interpretation of kibud av v'em--honor your father and mother: "Parenting, at its root, means helping your child become the best person s/he can be. So the best way to honor your parents is to be true to yourself, and become the person you were meant to be, the person G-d created you to be." I needed to hear that, right then. It finally clicked.

I feel like I am finally accepting who I am--who I really am--even with my flaws, my mistakes, the possibility that severe anxiety and/or depression may once again visit. And I am okay. Yes, I can do better; there's always a place for introspection, evaluation, and improvement. But my core, my essence, my Yiddishe neshama, is accepted and loved, and I am worth loving and worth acceptance. I don't have to disappear from my makom kavua because someone else is more worthy than I am. I can sit in my fixed place (where I have sat for sixteen years now) and invite others to sit with me.

This is all a huge change in perception for me. And for the last 17 days (it's that new) it has stuck. I pray it sticks forever.

In fact I have felt so accepting of myself that I have toyed with the idea of dashing my anonymity (whatever of it I have left) and coming out, so to speak. I didn't when I set up this blog because I feared what others would think, that I would lose my credibility, my job, my friends, if I owned up to what was really going on inside of me: the depression, the anxiety, the fear, the hurt, the wounded child.

Now, I don't worry so much about what others think of me because my opinion of myself is the one I have to live with (did I just say that out loud?). And for the past several decades, it's been a pretty negative one. Perhaps because it is a more positive opinion now, I am going through a sort of honeymoon period. For that reason, I will give the idea of "coming out" some time. There still may be things I don't want to admit publicly, under any name other than Rivka.

Any advice?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Sure could use / a little good news today"

I am sick today, but I'm not going to complain because I've been pretty healthy (physically, anyway) for a while now. I did, however, receive bad news. I found out that the father of one of my children's classmates died unexpectedly last weekend. He was only a few years older than I am.

I hear the news and immediately whisper the bracha "Baruch dayan emet." And then all I can think of is how this woman I've known for several years now has just lost her husband and has two young children to care for. It is, in a way, normal to lose one's parents. Better that one should bury one's parents than bury one's child. But losing a life pains and frightens me all at once.

I could not speak on the phone so my husband called the family to offer his condolences, child care, meals. I am still in shock. I spoke to this man less than a month ago. He was too young to die now!

This news brings up not-yet-healed grief of my own. I want so much to reach out to this woman and her children and at the same time I am so anxious. I fear that I will become overwhelmed by our shared grief and I will lose myself. I fear that my anxiety and depression will prevent me from connecting. I fear that I cannot step outside myself enough to be helpful to her.

I sent an email to my rabbi asking for suggestions. He said that she will need support not just for the short term but also for the long term. I know he is right. I had a lot of support for a few weeks after my mother's death, and then it trickled away. Offers to check in with me in a month or go for a walk or get together for lunch disappeared. I know they meant well, but I really could have used some of that support a month or two or even six months after her death, and it was not there.

I hope that I can use that experience to create a different reality for this woman. My mother-in-law still mourns the loss of her husband, ten years later. My mother struggled with severe depression and suicidal thoughts after my father died. That is my only reference for losing one's spouse. I pray that she has a strong support system through her synagogue and that I can find the continued strength to be there for her as well.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Moving forward

I'm sorry I have not written. I had no words. Everything was just numb.

My mother died on Mother's Day, 2009. I was with her for the last two weeks of her life, and it was an emotional roller coaster that can only exist in a troubled, volatile, sometimes violent relationship. While I tried to explain away much of what she said as being drug induced from the painkillers, the truth is that her criticisms and insults, even in the last two weeks of her life, were the same things she's been saying to me all my life. She just couldn't bring herself to accept me for who I am, even as she knew death was only days or hours away. My brother confirmed this, too.

I learned much about my mother by talking to him in the days and weeks and months after her death. Things I didn't know he knew. Things he observed but never brought up, to avoid rocking the boat in his very good relationship with her.

I talked quite a bit with a social worker who spent several months with my mom in hospice. She said I was a "lightning rod" in the family, and that my brother was the one who smoothed things over.

I think I am finally starting to get it that the reason I was never good enough in my mother's eyes has more to do with my mother than with me. But it is still so very hard to feel like I am worthy of love and acceptance.

It was just this past Mother's Day (2010) that I finally was able to really cry and let go of some of the grief and anger and guilt I've been holding for over a year. It was not even something I could bring up in therapy because it was too raw, too painful to fit into a 45-minute session and then put my public mask on and go back out into the world.

There is more.

My mom's live-in boyfriend was emotionally and verbally abusing her. I didn't get it when she would tell me about their fights because she was always the instigator with my dad and I am sorry to admit that I thought she played some part in her fights with her boyfriend. But then he started in on me when I was there with my mom for those last two weeks. The nicest thing he called me was a bully. He threatened me with physical harm. He told me I was not welcome in the house and to never come back. He told me that my mom didn't love me anymore and that the only reason she didn't object to my being there was because she was too weak. He verbally attacked the hospice nurses and threatened to call the police. My brother finally convinced him to say his goodbyes to my mom and go on vacation until it was all over.

I knew even as he was saying these horrible things that it was him, not me. But it brought back all of the horrible things my mom said repeatedly to me when I was growing up and I wondered again as I had years ago, what if there's some truth to it?

My mom's rages always ended with my being beaten. Hearing her boyfriend rage at me immediately took me back to the same place, and I truly feared for my life. I also feared for my mom's safety and it was a very weird situation to see my mom as the victim.

I confided in one of the social workers who was at the house when the boyfriend went into his worst rage against me and the hospice workers. He noticed I was wearing a Star of David and asked, You're Jewish? I said yes. He said, But your mom doesn't consider herself Jewish? I said no. He gave me two thumbs up and a grin and said, Rockin'! He was one bright spot in an otherwise abysmal day.

It has only been in the past month, maybe, that I am trying to move forward. I am trying to treat myself better, eat better, exercise with mindfulness. I am trying to clean up the mess in my house and my life so I can have the future I want, the future I think G-d wants for me. I am trying to open up and talk about the past a little more, so I can finally let it go.

I wondered recently why we are in the world. Some would say we are here to honor G-d, but that is too simple and too ambiguous for me. I believe G-d wants us to be happy. I believe G-d wants us to help each other. I believe G-d wants us to find the best in ourselves and each other and make the world a better place. I think that's what the mitzvot are about, and believing horrible things about myself is not on the list.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mom update

I am so sorry I disappeared like that. It was not intentional. Everything is just so overwhelming and I am trying to cope day to day but some things fell off the back burners behind the stove and I didn't find them until I was cleaning for Passover.

My mom is still alive, but her health is declining rapidly. I can't believe I left my last update the way I did. I thought I had written one more.

Here is the update to bring you all current. It is possible that from this information, some readers may think they know who I am, or may be sure of who I am. I guess I can't do much about that anymore. My "secret" of dealing with depression and anxiety now seems so small compared to losing a parent slowly and painfully from cancer. Just don't post anything publicly, please.

My mom saw Dr. Norton, the surgeon who specializes in pancreatic cancer, in early December. He looked at her scan and determined that the pancreatic tumor had fully encapsulated her vena cava, I think it was. He could not operate. With no surgery, the only option was chemo. But before she could start chemo, she had to be assigned to an oncologist at her primary clinic.

While all of this was going on, I met with my rabbi. He said he knew how this disease progressed, and I needed to get out there to see her one more time. And he said I needed to bring my children so they could have some happy memories of her too, and she could visit with them while she was still strong.

I was very anxious about how we were going to do that. We could not afford airfare or car rental or hotel rates. I did the only thing I could think of. I prayed. And almost out of the blue an idea came to me. I could drive. I calculated costs and it was doable. It would allow us to afford a hotel, and we wouldn't have to rent a car. But the children and I would have to go alone. My husband could not take time off work.

I pulled the children out of school and we drove across the country to spend two weeks with my mom. I am very glad we did. We had quality time with her and the children have lots of memories, both of the visit and the trip there and back. Once this idea came to me, I planned, packed, and we left within three days. I had so many things for the children to do on the drive and they used most of them. From a parenting perspective, it was very successful.

My mom had a biopsy in mid-January to determine whether the cancer had spread. The doctors biopsied tissue that was on her abdominal wall. We all hoped that was scar tissue from her hysterectomy when she had uterine cancer 2 1/2 years ago. It was not. It was metastasized cancer. The doctors determined it had spread to her liver, kidneys, and abdominal wall.

She started chemo late January and initially it did good things for her. She felt like she had more energy and was more upbeat. But it only lasted for two treatments, and after that it started wearing her out. She continued on, hoping it would do something. But her blood tests showed the cancer was spreading and multiplying and chemo wasn't stopping or even really slowing it.

Then she developed a blood clot in her leg and severe edema--swelling--in the same leg. When tested, they found one of her kidneys had failed. She was scheduled for a stent to try to jumpstart her kidney but then she had tachycardia and she had to be referred to a cardiologist to be cleared for the stent surgery.

She finally had the stent put in on February 12 and she continued with chemo. By Feb 18 she had to get a home helper in to assist with cooking and cleaning and laundry. On March 1, Mom qualified for Medicare, so now assistance that had previously not been covered was now available to her. She saw her oncologist who said that she could continue with chemo if she wanted, but it wasn't really beneficial. It was up to her. She decided to do one more round (three weeks).

On March 27, Mom turned 65. It was a bittersweet birthday for all of us. It was particularly hard for me not to be able to be there with her. Already December seems like it was long ago.

At the beginning of April, Mom went on home hospice. She has a hospital bed in her living room and a wheelchair and walker to help her get around. Her pain is generally manageable. She has little appetite and has lost half her body weight and is weak and easily tired.

April 10 marked five years since my dad died. April 12 (which was also Easter) was his yahrtzeit. April 19 marked nine years since my father-in-law died. It was a very difficult Passover, knowing that I am losing my mom and I am so far away and she is not just a phone call away, the way she was before she was sick. It is selfish I know, to want more time with her, to want her to be there for me, but I accept that it is also normal.

I used to call every other day but time after time she was too tired or crying too much or otherwise not up to talking to me. My counselor suggested I call twice a week, so that is what I'm doing now. I still only get to talk to her maybe once every two weeks. The rest of the time I leave voice mail or talk to her significant other, who has been a G-d send for all of us.

I talked to her on the 19th and she said, No matter what day I die, whether it's in weeks or months or years, I want you to remember the happy times. It's so important to remember the good times, not the date of death. She is right but it is easier said than done. It seems she knows the end is coming.

Every day I wonder if this is the day I get a phone call saying it is time to come say goodbye. I will fly out when it comes. A friend has volunteered their frequent flier miles.

I will try much harder to do better about updating. The hardest thing, actually, is that there are no words. I cannot seem to journal my way through this the way I journaled my way through my depression in 2007. The emotions are too deep, too raw. The best I can do now is report facts.

I really appreciate all of your support.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My mom: the scan, part II

My mom sent me an email this evening and said that she looked up her CT scan results on her online patient account. She said it was all highly medical terms, but from what she read, she was pretty sure it said that the cancer had metastasized to her liver and abdominal wall.

Then she said she'd wait to hear the doctor interpret the test results when she sees him on Friday. But until then, she seems to think there is now no hope. And other than say that maybe that's not what the test results said, I'm not sure what I can do for her.

I am bouncing back and forth between being okay and trying to stay positive on the one hand, and suddenly feeling sad when I see or hear about other families sharing, especially when it comes to children and grandparents.

Thanksgiving was very nice but also hard. After dinner, the friends who hosted dinner were sharing photographs with (their) family that was there. I had my camera with me and had just taken photos at my children's school, and I suddenly felt so sad that I didn't have anyone there to share them with. I planned to upload the photos when I got home so my mom could see them, but I could not help but think that this would not last.

Since she sees the doctor on Friday and we don't know what he'll say (immediate surgery to get rid of all the nasty cancer?), we are waiting until his prognosis before we try to find a way to get together.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My mom: the specialist and the scan

Mom had her more detailed scan today. She doesn't know much more than she did before. This CT scan focused entirely on her pancreas so that the specialist will be able to see exactly what is going on and what exactly he can do about it.

I am feeling much more relaxed, though, now that I know who this specialist is. His name is Dr. Jeffrey Norton, and he's the Division Chief of Surgical Oncology at Stanford Cancer Center in Palo Alto, CA (the same place Patrick Swayze is getting treatment).

In fact, I just found out tonight that Dr. Norton was reportedly the surgeon who removed the pancreatic tumor from Steve Jobs (of Apple fame) in 2004. Dr. Norton is one of the foremost experts in the field of pancreatic cancer. Fun fact along the "six degrees" line of thinking: a medical procedure invented by Dr. Norton to treat a rare pancreatic disease was featured in the TV show "House."

So I feel she is really going to be in good hands. She has an appointment to see him on Friday, December 5th.

Tonight she was tired but largely in good spirits. And I was glad to hear her say that she's kind of in information overload and intentionally taking a break from this when she needs to, and doing things that focus her attention elsewhere.

I am doing okay. Still going through periods of shock and denial and feeling like this is all surreal, like I'll call her in a few days and discover this was all a nightmare and she's fine. In the meantime, she's going to her brother's for Thanksgiving and I am going to work hard at focusing on what I do have in my life (including my mom right now).

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My mom

I have not written in a long time, and for that I apologize. I have been dealing with my feelings in therapy and talking with friends who live nearby. For some reason, it has been hard to write about it, but I don't feel like I am at the mercy of my memories the way I did even a few months ago.

Besides, I met with my rabbi today and he told me to start writing again regularly. Even if it is hard and even if I do not know what to say and even if no one is listening.

Because I just found out my mom is dying.

She has pancreatic cancer and the doctor said she may have only months to live. I hope the doctor is wrong and a specialist will say something different. I am currently going back and forth between shock and denial.

She found this out this past week. The cancer part was confirmed on Friday. On Wednesday (tomorrow) she will have a very detailed CT scan to determine if the tumor is operable. The doctor said the tumor partially or completely surrounds a major blood vessel in her pancreas and is partially or completely blocking the bile ducts. Her lymph nodes are also involved, but we do not know to what extent exactly.

After she has her CT scan she will see a specialist about treatment options, although from what her current doctor says, it is more a matter of putting off the inevitable than it is actually treating.

My mom lives 2000 miles away. I have a brother who lives near her and is very close to her emotionally. I hope that I and my children (my mom's only grandchildren) will be able to see her once more. Despite all of the challenges in our relationship, my mom and I have reconciled and pretty much figured out how to have an adult friendship without inviting hurt every time we talk to each other. I cannot fathom never getting to give her another hug.

I am scared and sad and hopeful and numb. I want to be able to share this with people I know, but I am unsure if I should post things twice, once here and once somewhere less anonymous. Or if it is time to tell friends that this is my blog, this is a part of me. Some friends already know about my struggles with depression and anxiety. Some might be shocked by what I have written here. I just don't know what to do right now.

My rabbi said I need to check in with him every few days even if it is just a quick note by email. He said this is going to be a difficult journey and one I should not travel alone. In my mind I thought this is especially true as I enter my "dark time" of year.

I will talk with my mom again tomorrow (Wed) night and hear about her scan. We will hopefully also talk about a possible visit and how we can make that happen in terms of time and money.

Right now I just want to curl up somewhere warm, eat something comforting, and not think about this.