Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful meditation

Today is our first Thanksgiving without Sophie's mom. Bandar died at home, Sept. 11, at 87.

She had a challenging year physically and then a two-week hospital stay. And then she was gone. It's quiet here now. Different. A little empty. Not just for us, but for all who knew and loved my mother-in-law, family, friends and those who've shared my journey here on these pages.

I started this blog when I realized my life changed profoundly, when she became a part of my world 24/7/365.

I never experienced just Tuesdays with Bandar. Rather it was Tuesdays through Mondays.

My blogging was largely interrupted in 2010 around the time when Bandar got well enough to go without around-the-clock care, and, by some arrangement seemingly pre-ordained, I became employed after 21 months out of work.

Today seems like a good day for me to revisit. Reflect.

As much as ever, I'm grateful for the three years we had Bandar with us in our home, for her gift of being with us and for the time we were blessed to serve her.


From summer of 2009 until she died, we fed and cared for her. Sophie especially. From up in the morning and getting dressed to the final brushing of the teeth and putting to bed and all the meals and cleanups and doctor visits and prescription refills and phone calls and house modifications and restaurant visits and trips to museums and gardens and visits with family in between.

She gifted us and our home with energy, uniquely her own. Every day with Bandar was a day of emotion, stressful and joyful, from frustrated (and mostly loud) family members who were beside themselves with not knowing fully how to care and comfort their dear mother, to the kind of ridiculous laughter that only resulted from something Bandar said or did. That's laughter with love.

Dinner at Sarava at Shaker Square, 2012

My mother-in-law came into my life and home when I needed her. I had no idea at the time. God knows I wouldn't have asked for this woman to come live with us. God was giving me a new purpose, to get out of my own head and to care for and worry about someone other than myself.

When Bandar became ill and required a lot of care, I was in a dark place. Down, depressed and out of work for months. Out of hope, out of shape and overweight. The World Economy was bleak. I saw little value for anything I offered the world, work-wise or otherwise.

Then Bandar broke her back (actually a spinal compression fracture), on Memorial Day weekend 2009. As broken as I thought I was, I could visit Bandar in the hospital or later in in-patient re-hab. Once she moved in with us permanently, I could take her to doctors, feed her breakfast and lunch, help her exercise to get well. I had the time to put in as I wasn't otherwise engaged and no one was pounding on my door looking to hire me.

As I was newly thrust into this unfamiliar role of caregiver, I didn't suddenly begin to feel better about my prospects, rather just annoyed that there was no one else available to put in these daytime hours. Sophie and everyone else in her family worked or had other obligations during the day. And no Lebanese family I've ever met was about to put a parent into an assisted living or nursing home.

My wisest friends at the time were telling me that the best cure for depression is to help someone else in need. No matter how far down we may have fallen ourselves, there is always someone we can help, and in so doing can feel better about ourselves.

But knowing this made matters worse. I wanted to find someone in my life I could assist, someone less fortunate than I, but I resented Bandar's intrusion into my life, because all the time I was spending with her was preventing me from finding someone I could help.

Yes, I am a slow learner. The irony of my faulty thinking was lost on me. But over time, I began to see things differently.

My life changed when I finally realized that perhaps God or the Universe or fate or just dumb luck was putting this woman into my life, if not as a gift, then as an opportunity to help another and to heal myself.

At first there was a glimpse. I might have found myself enjoying a moment in a waiting room or in the car on the way to pick up medicine. I saw the look of appreciation in Bandar's eyes when I toasted her waffles just right or remembered to put the TV on Channel 5 in the morning for her, the way she liked it. We traveled together from appointment to appointment, met therapists and doctors and nurses and compared notes on what we thought about people and places.

Bandar and I shared a few laughs at first, and then as we got better together, we shared much more.

I began to become aware that I was being useful, a far cry from the hopeless, helpless person I had thought of myself months before. I had an opportunity to be of maximum service to another. This was the beginning of my healing.

Reframing my sorry obligation as an opportunity to serve another made all the difference. It didn't happen overnight. And I had a lot of help from family and countless friends I depended on absolutely to help, guide and support me. 

I found myself in a completely new space with an opportunity to learn and grow and to find tools to address some of my own demons and let go of a lifetime of resentments.

In that first year and a half or so with Bandar in residence I lost 70 pounds, restored my faith in myself and in others. I learned how to love unconditionally. I learned about the power of just putting one foot in front of the other and taking a step at a time. I learned first hand the power of prayer and meditation, even without having understood fully what or who God is.

And just when Bandar could get along without my expert breakfast- and lunch-making, I found a real, paying job for which I am uniquely qualified and where I can continue to make a difference daily, but now in the lives of colleagues and constituents.

We never know how our trouble today will become the gift we rejoice in tomorrow. I am so grateful for my troubles. I am so grateful for the lessons I learned from spending every day with Bandar.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Gratitude Christmas

Sophie and I took her nephew David to dinner last night and then returned home to an empty house, save Siegfried and Sheba, our 7- and 5-year-old Jack Russell / children.

After David left, we sat together, just the two of us.

When was the last time, if ever, that we weren't with others on Christmas Eve?

We couldn't answer. And so we opened presents, listened to Handel's Messiah in front of the Christmas tree and fireplace. Never have I done so little on such a night.

We didn't hear from Bandar, a good sign that all's well with her and family in Virginia. We'll check in with her and my folks later today.

Soon, we're off to sister Amy's in Hudson for Christmas dinner.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a hope that you get a chance to take an appreciative breath and enjoy whatever goodness you may have in your life today.

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's a Bandar-ful life!

Season's greetings!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rest for the weary

Mission accomplished. Today we nervously put Bandar on a plane headed for Norfolk, via Philadelphia. This is the beginning of something special. For five weeks, Sophie's mom will get to stay with Sophie's sister and her family in Virginia Beach.

Yippee for Bandar! And her family in Virginia! And for Sophie and Steve!!!

Enjoying an adult beverage during our final 
night out together, this week at Friday's 
It wasn't easy preparing for departure. Long before today's ordeal -- arriving two hours ahead of departure, my accompanying Bandar to her gate and explaining over and again (and again and again) which ticket was which, how and when she would change planes and what we had written on her emergency note -- Sophie had to pack for her mom, take care of her mom's Christmas presents Bandar wants to give to family in Virginia, organize and stock up on and ship her meds, give her a final Saturday night shower and trim her hair. And to add extra challenge, Sophie came down with a flu bug yesterday. She got everything done despite being miserably ill. 

All along we lived in fear. Something else would go wrong, not an unreasonable worry in thinking about travel plans for a nearly 87-year-old.

Anytime this week Bandar sneezed or cleared her throat Sophie jumped.

"You're not getting sick, right? You can't get sick," she'd say.

A major cold or respiratory infection could screw up everything. We've been counting on Bandar getting on that flight.

And then we got a bit of a scare yesterday with our first major snowfall of the season.

All of this a healthy reminder of what's at the essence of the Serenity Prayer.


So this week we prayed. For good health and clear weather. No delays, no missed or canceled flights. And what do you know? God answered our prayers. Bandar's in Virginia!


Now that she's checked in with us to let us know she arrived safely, we can take a breath and begin our second Bandar-less break this year (the first was a one-month respite in July). Aside from two other short breaks since Bandar moved in with us in June of 2009, our life has been every day with Bandar. Morning. Noon. And night. Every. Day. With. Bandar.

Caregivers need these breaks. We are so grateful to have family to help share the load, that Bandar's well enough to travel and stay elsewhere and to have friends and family to keep us in their prayers. Now, we're praying again for good health, clear weather and a happy five weeks for everyone in Bandar's life.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chillin' by the fire

At a recent dinner, holding court.
"I don't have much to say tonight, not like last night," Bandar warns. 

She's right. There will be no repeating last night's performance.

At 8:30, I light a fire, the second of this young autumn, and begin some work on my laptop, Bandar sitting to my right, in her Bandar chair, a Bandar blanket on her lap. True to her word, she's not talking. At least not much. I'm not complaining. The fire is pleasant. I hear a distant train. 

Last night was different. Same fireplace and seating arrangement. But my Lebanese houseguest faced the fire and reminisced nonstop, apparently for the benefit of our dogs and me. For two hours, she chattered about her life, her country of origin -- the "blad" as she calls it -- about her father, mother, sister and brother. About her late husband and their kids including my wife / Bandar's daughter Sophie. About St. Elias and the annual church carnival. And about her house. Whatever got into her last night was something I hadn't seen in months. She lit up. I enjoyed seeing her enjoying herself.

David Murad, who would have been 100 this year had he lived this long, married Bandar in 1955 less than three weeks after they were introduced in Bandar's hometown of Machghara, a Beirut suburb. Following the arranged marriage in Lebanon, the first-generation, Lebanese-American, Youngstown native and his bride moved to Cleveland to start a family. 

"No house like my house," she boasted. "It's brick!" she shouted, rolling her Rs. This past summer with the aid of her children, she sold her house, another rite of passage.

"I know, br-r-r-r-r-ick!" I yelled out of habit, attempting to out-do her R-roll and her volume but failing at both. I've heard this love of house and brick several dozen times before. She says br-r-r-r-r-ick! I say b-r-r-r-r-ick back!

The stories continued as I sat and surfed, read email, scanned the news and reviewed my calendar. They went on as I opened the door to let the dogs out, escaped to the kitchen to make some tea, went upstairs to chat with Sophie. It mattered not if I was in the room, within earshot or out of range. Bandar's regaling didn't stop. Like the Rs of her beloved brick, she was on a roll.

She's back to quiet tonight. I'd say she's content looking at the fire. I know better. Bandar's tired. And she's in pain. 

Bandar moved in with Sophie and me just more than two years ago. Her back healed as well as it's going to. She's a little more mobile and a bit stronger. But she lives with pain every moment of every day. For a couple hours yesterday, she escaped.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

iBandar

Sophie's new iPad2 got a workout yesterday.

Bandar checked out some Lebanese cooking Youtube videos. And wanted to watch a few more. And a few more.

Sophie didn't get much time with her new toy.

"That's not a computer," Bandar said.

I don't know what she thought it was. But Steve Jobs made an old Lebanese woman happy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Every day with Bandar, to be continued

"I'm still living."

That's the classic Bandar way of answering any form of, "How are you?"

She's still living. And she's fond of reminding friends and family. Especially me.

She says it with a twinkle. As if to tweak me. Maybe it's my imagination.

"I know I'm a pain," she says anytime we're doing something for her like preparing food, taking her someplace or doing any of a dozen routine tasks for her.

"I'm sorry I'm so much trouble," she sighs.

We hear that a lot, too.

And she has another response to, "How are you?"

"Har-uhm, Bandar."

Or sometimes, "Bandar, har-uhm."

She means, "Oh, poor me. Feel sorry for me."

We prefer, "I'm still living."

Despite her occasional protestations and apologies, Bandar's in the best shape she's been in in quite some time -- physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

I think she's more surprised than anyone that she's doing so well.

Hence the declaration, the realization almost in bewilderment, "I'm still living."

She's at her best since before the Great Fall of 2009, when she sustained a spinal compression fracture. Since moving in to CadMur Manor and getting a new regimen of care, nearly 24-7.

Bandar's recovery has been spectacular. In the past year she got out of the house occasionally for a dinner at Applebee's or at Phnom Penh, visited her sister and her family and even checked in on her own house in Brooklyn. She no longer requires PT at Metro. She exercises regularly.

(She has also given up any hope of returning home to live on her own. She needs continued care.)

Bandar was well enough in December to do a little traveling.

For Christmas, Sophie, Bandar and I visited Sophie's sister in Virginia Beach. When it was time to say goodbye, Bandar stayed behind. If all goes well, she'll enjoy the company (and care) of grandchildren, daughter and son-in-law, in a slightly warmer climate until returning here in March.

Big adjustment for all concerned.

After 70 weeks and three days of every day with Bandar without a break, Sophie and I awoke in our house Dec. 28 with only the two dogs and ourselves to care for.

Seventy weeks and three days. Four-hundred ninety days. Eleven thousand seven hundred sixty hours. The spell is broken, at least for awhile.

For about two months and with God's grace, it should be just us with no mother-in-law.

We can go to a movie, dine out or go away for a weekend unencumbered by thoughts and worries.

Last night we enjoyed dinner out with friends and neighbors and didn't get home until almost 10 o'clock. (I know, I know. But we could have stayed out even later if we wanted to!)

I can set the house temperature at something below 71 degrees.

Sophie doesn't have to put her mother to bed or dress her each morning.

No weekly showers.

We intend to take full advantage of this break, for like all things it, too, shall pass. Come early March, it'll be time for another adjustment.

Thankfully, all of our lives and everything in the Universe worked together over the last year or so such that we've been given ample resources to manage. We could not have gotten by without them.

When I started a new job in March last year, friend Pam stepped forward to make Bandar breakfast most work days. Brother Morris, Sophie's older sibling, changed his life and work schedule around to bring Bandar lunch and visit briefly five days a week. We had additional help from friends and neighbors.

Lots more happened during the last nearly 12 months. Sophie continues to be busy with work and life, and my job has been a perfect complement to all of my experiences over the last couple of years.

We are blessed. I'll try to provide more frequent updates going forward. Thanks for checking in.