It's been an interesting couple of months.
In the tradition of the old movie serials...
In September I was excited to announce that I would retire in June. I saw the
STRS advisor, and confirmed it was a go. I chose not to ignore the little niggle at the back of my neck, the little flutter in my gut, and eventually figured that I'd overlooked an expense that could not be overlooked. Retirement was out, at least until I could sell the pretty lot in Utah that had been on the market for six years.
It was OK. I don't hate what I do, and would be OK with another year or two.
I was disappointed, though, that I would not be FREE to experience my Masteryear as I'd hoped.
Meanwhile, the Christmas season was upon us. I planned to host it, but not as usual. Usual means that I cook a big traditional (in our family, anyway) turkey dinner. Stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, side dishes after too many chips and dip and followed by too many dessert options.
Problem is, I hate to cook at the best of times, and had built a significant resentment at being in misery for my favorite day of the year because I had to spend it cooking. Then cleaning up. While everyone else kicked back and enjoyed the day.
So, this year I was going to pre-prep a sandwich bar. I would stuff and bake a turkey, then bake a ham on Christmas Eve. I would slice them all up and add several types of pre-sliced cheeses. Side salads if guests wanted to contribute. Queso and chips, onion dip and chips.
I was debating cinnamon rolls for early guests when all hell broke loose.
A few weeks after learning I would have to postpone my retirement I had concluded that I did not want to do so. The contract with my real estate agent would be up in December, so I decided, when I re-signed, to drop the price of the lot. Again. Another eight thousand dollars. I wrote to the agent with the news, and she revealed that they had shown the lot to a couple. They weren't sure whether they wanted a lot to build on or a house that had already been built, but the agent was going to let them know of my willingness to reduce the price in hopes that it would inspire them to choose the lot.
They did not.
And so, on December 6, the agent changed the listing.
That very day another agent called mine. A couple in another country was interested. They were working through a relative who lived in the valley and who had been watching the market. We spent the next week with offers and counter offers. I accepted less than I'd hoped, but it was cash with closing in a week. It was enough to pay off enough debt to not only make up the money I was short to retire plus some to have fun on. The money would be in the bank by Christmas.
I started making happy plans on how to tell my family. I would treat my mom and son and his girlfriend to a happy dinner at my favorite restaurant. I would buy myself a bouquet of balloons and give myself a drumroll to announce the happy news.
I accepted the offer on the 11th. The week of closing would start when the papers were signed on the 13th.
In the wee hours of Monday, December 12 I checked my phone messages. My sister had taken my mother to the hospital. Mom hadn't been able to breathe. A friend accepted my sub request at 4:30 in the morning, and I spent that day at the Kaiser hospital in Woodland Hills. We were not terribly concerned.
Mom has been in heart failure for a few years now. Her heart is not pumping efficiently enough to prevent a build-up of fluids. One of the symptoms is difficulty breathing. She was hospitalized Mother's Day weekend, 2015, and they drained nearly three gallons of fluid. It was like a miracle. Once she was released she had much more energy, her thinking cleared and she was rarin' to go.
So, we figured this time they would drain fluid again and she would be ready to enjoy the holiday. Sis and I even joked that we should set her up with bi-annual spa days at Kaiser. I went back to work Tuesday and arranged a sub for Wednesday, as they were prepared to discharge her then. When I arrived, though, they told me that although they had drained eight pounds of fluid, there had been no improvement in her breathing. Fortunately, her attending was on the ball and ordered ultrasounds that showed she had a blood clot in her leg that had migrated to her lung and was causing the breathing difficulties. They were still going to discharge her later that day, but she would need someone at home with her for at least a couple of weeks.
Just in time for my winter break.
I took her home, attached to oxygen and with a handful of instructions. When you take someone home from the hospital these days, you bring the hospital with you. We arrived to a house full of oxygen tanks, concentrator, refiller and the constant banging sound of oxygen production. We had to set up a new system to track her meds, and another to coordinate visits from home nurses, physical therapist and phlebotomist (she is now on Coumadin and needs constant monitoring).
Meanwhile, I was still in that closing week on the property. The hospital waiting room had no reception for phone calls, so I wandered the halls looking for spots where I could conduct business with agents, title agents and escrow officers (or are they title officers and escrow agents?) My sister lives with Mom now, and so I would drive the thirty miles home each night to docu-sign what had come in email that day. I had had plans for that winter break, some of which I had to cancel and some I moved into the weekend when I expected my sister and brother to cover my mom.
The sale closed on the 20th. The check arrived by FedEx on the 21st. I had just pulled the check out of the envelope and allowed myself the first real excitement over the possibilities opened by this sale when the phone rang.
Three weeks before I was born, my mother's sister gave birth to a baby girl. Every three years or so, Dad would drive us all to northeastern Kansas to my uncle's farm so that my mom and her sister could have a long visit. My dad would help with the harvest, and my cousin and I would hang out. Two little girls, then two teens, then two women content to sit quietly and share a spiritual space that was profound for both of us. We used to laugh over our ESP experiences. One that I remember vividly was the day that I decided it had been too long since I'd written to her. I wrote a long letter, put it in an envelope, added extra stamps and walked it out to my mailbox. Later that day I went out to collect my incoming, and there was a letter from my cousin.
The phone call to my brother was from my cousin's daughter. My cousin had died that morning. Massive heart attack. She had retired only a few weeks earlier. One of my first trips in my retirement would be to visit her again. My son held me.
"I don't think I can do this, " I sobbed, "it's too much."
I'll never forget what he said.
"You will do it, Mom. You're strong. The others, the weak ones, won't, but you will."
Gotta say. It's been a rough few years, and I'm getting plenty tired of sucking it up. But suck it up I did.
Fortunately, Christmas Eve and Christmas were on the weekend this year, so I was able to do the cooking as planned (sort of) and then pack the whole thing to Mom's for the day. I had shopped and wrapped presents early, but Mom hadn't so I tried to squeeze in a little shopping so that she wouldn't fret too much about not having gifts for everyone.
My mom has a recliner that I always sit in when I visit. After just a few hours my feet will start to cramp, so I know this chair doesn't fit me and isn't good for my circulation. But it was where I sat for five days taking care of my mom. By Christmas Eve I had a new pain in my leg, and by New Year's Eve I was pretty sure I was experiencing my first bout of phlebitis.
New Year's Day proved more eventful than I would have liked. My sister, Mom and I were pretty exhausted by the end of the two weeks. Mom wasn't needing the oxygen all the time and we expected the physical therapist to discharge her from home health services the Monday after New Year. Sis and I were ready to cancel the traditional German New Year dinner and I was looking forward to at least New Year and the day after pretty much off. But, ultimately, Mom decided she wanted the family to come over anyway and she would order delivery. We hadn't been there more than ten minutes when she said some things that hit me pretty hard. Not doing exercises, not taking meds on schedule.
I'm still not sure I'm done processing it, but got this far at least. Mom has been my focus since my dad died in 2010. In fact, I realized one day a few months ago that I felt married to my mother in some ways. And here I was, having given up my winter break, even developing a painful condition in the process, and there was Mom choosing to go right back to the very behaviors that got her into the hospital in the first place.
It was like being hit with the two-by-four.
My perception of our relationship has changed. She will always be important to me, but it's time to let her make the decisions about her life while I switch my focus to myself.