Drama-rama

Life Lessons from a Former Drama Queen

It began five years ago as I helped my father through his third wife’s death. Almost simultaneously, I plunged headfirst into to the muddled Alzheimer’s world my mother had newly inhabited. Both parents lived on the east Coast and for the next few years I cared for each of them in their separate island homes, leaving my immediate family to fend for themselves three thousand miles away.

When it became clear my parents could no longer live on their own, so began the process of packing up each parent, selling houses, and moving them into their respective senior living communities.

In the midst of that chaos, the Universe decided I could handle more, hurling the sudden suicide of my husband’s daughter into our lives late last year.

Together, we ride the waves of grief—random and epic, with no expiration date—and again unwittingly find ourselves in a trajectory of trauma: a hip injury complete with an aggressively virulent blood infection.

My husband, a fitness trainer, is the healthiest, most active person I know. Suddenly reduced from teaching three cycling classes a week to being housebound on a walker and relying on me to give multiple injections of antibiotics for two months is the uninvited guest at our party, much like my recently-acquired career in caregiving.

It would be easy to resume the role of drama queen, one I relinquished long ago. After years of swimming through the murky haze of an alcoholic life and navigating the even rougher waters of early sobriety, I finally learned that when I stop running the show, I’m free to accept life on life’s terms.

Today, I remain open-minded and willing to do whatever comes next. My caregiving resume has expanded over the years and I continue to engage the essentials of drama-free life: Self-care. Rest. Support Groups. Meditation and exercise. Compassion. Find humor wherever you can. Because, in the immortal words of the Jimmy Buffet song:

“If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.” 

Word Wizard

4:00 am, Sky Harbor. Gate agents, harried already, check in bleary-eyed travelers. The sky slumbers in the curious blue-gray of first light.

I’m in panic mode, as lost as a wizard without a wand.

Because somehow, with all my careful summer vacation packing, I forgot a pen. Newsstands, most offering more snacks than periodicals, have yet to open.

And neither the lone restaurant, where bored passengers wait in line for day-old sandwiches and coffee, nor the gate agent can locate any form of writing instrument. Pens are fossils now, as dinosauric as the newsstand.

We’re boarding in three minutes, the robotic voice says over the PA. Writing radar strong, I spy a ballpoint, its French blue cap poking out of a cup of paper luggage tags. The nod to old-school irony is not lost on me.

Mightier than the sword of technology, I shove the pen in my backpack and pray it’s not out of ink. It’s not. The magic from my PaperMate wand flows before we reach cruising altitude.

From the disconnected solitude of 35,000 feet comes the wizardry of words: an essay, short story outline and flash poem.

And I am free. 

Ties that Bind

We were both only children, John and I, united as siblings in our pre-teens when his mother married my father. For while, I chose this family, mirroring my father’s departure as I left my childhood island home and my mother on her own.

But, like so much of the future I envisioned for myself, this idyllic second family was as transient as I. At sixteen, I moved in with a boyfriend and soon after, my father and stepmother divorced.

John and I have stayed close all these years. We’ve shared our own divorce woes, visited each other across countries and continents. We spend summers together at the family lake house; I’ve watched my nieces go from cartoons to college.

John has also kept in touch with my father, the man who raised him. He’s nearing his nineties, insistent on living alone in his island cottage. He still drives, although his macular degeneration worsens each year.

Over the past five years, I’ve spent more time with my parents in the than I have in my entire life, and what I’ve found is this: it’s easier to be patient toward a mother with Alzheimer’s than a father who, in his ruthless determination to be terminally unique, is stubborn and quirky to a fault. He recalls very vehicle he’s ever owned in vivid detail. He prefers befriending the mice in his house to a visit from the exterminator. Often, his dinners consist of dark chocolate and a handful of peanuts.

Recently, John and I took our father on a riverboat cruise along the Seine. At first, I was a basket case. Dad complained. A lot. He slept through the whole excursion to Normandy. His breathing was as labored as a freight train going uphill. It took a week aboard that ship and John’s patient reassurances that I was a good daughter to finally accept my father for who he is.

Like the recent death of my husband’s daughter, I’m doing my best with a situation I’ve never been through: being a parent to my parents. Although his legs may be slower than his thoughts, my father’s mind is still razor-sharp.

And for that, we’re all grateful.