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.