Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Mid-life (if I'm lucky) crisis

 I'm reluctant to put this admission out in the world, but then again, there probably aren't a half dozen people who read this blog, especially outside of December. 

It's been a hard spring, centered around my birthday back in early April.

In the first place, it's just busy: I work, my wife works, and we've got three kids in school. Our oldest is a seventh grader who's busy with a million things. And I love that. I was the same way, at least by high school. But often she would have a track meet (and track meets are the worst--they just go on and on and you barely see your kid) and then need to be ferried immediately to choir rehearsal. Besides her school choir she's singing in the Cleveland Orchestra Children's Chorus--and I'm so proud of her and grateful that she has this amazing opportunity. But it's a lot. And then there are two other children who need to be picked up at various times. I don't want to belabor it, because it's definitely not the big stressor here.

Our 16-year-old dog Beaker was though. It's been a tough six months or so, going back to just after Thanksgiving when my wife broke her ankle and had to sleep downstairs. We knew before then that Beaker was often having "accidents" overnight, but with her sleeping down there it became clear that she was having them multiple times a night, and instead of ignoring them because we sleep on the third floor, I would have to come and clean them up 2 and 3 times a night. Things got better with the help of a mobile pet vet for a while--some medication to lower inflammation and mildly sedate her, but still she was going downhill rapidly: falling frequently and being unable to get up, sometimes combined--quite literally--with one of her potty accidents. She didn't seem to have any joy or even much comfort left in life, just cycling between really anxious and only a little anxious. 

Finally in early April we made the difficult decision to have her euthanized. This was our first time having to make this choice and it was terrible. Even though we knew it was the right thing to do, it felt like killing my dog. My dog who's been with me for over a third of my life, who predated our children. It was hardcore adulting and it sucked. I will say, that it probably went as well as it could have, thanks to our vet who does house calls. She was able to leave this life in the familiar surroundings of home, held and petted and soothed by the people she loved the most. I'm tearing up just writing about it. 

At the same time, Beaker isn't the only one who's aging and declining. My mom has also taken a sharp downturn that became particularly salient in early April. I handle her finances, and that includes getting her taxes done. In the past, Mom was always very anxious about her taxes, and would usually get them done shortly after all the documents arrived, like in February. Even last year, when I was handling her taxes, she was still pretty involved, asking questions and worried about everything getting done correctly and on time. This year, in early April, I called and asked her if any of the tax documents had come to her, since I was missing a few. She said "I think I might have gotten something last week..." which of course was unlikely, given that it was April. But she was also supremely unconcerned. It would turn up. 

Which, all in all, I guess that's better than remaining her old anxious self and also having huge lapses in memory and cognition, but it just really hit me how much she's lost. 

And then on my birthday I called her, and I know she wouldn't have even known it was my birthday if I hadn't answered her question of "what are you up to?" with "Going out to eat for my birthday." Even so, she didn't actually wish me a happy birthday. I'm not upset with her, of course, I'm just deeply saddened to see my mom slipping away like this. And deeply anxious because she spent the last several years steadfastly denying her mortality and being uncooperative about getting things in place. Now I don't know if it's too late or what I'm going to have to do. 

Two of her sisters visited her recently, and they discovered that she hadn't paid her rent at the assisted living facility in 3 or 4 months. I was pretty surprised that the place never contacted me. Mom said she tried to take her check down to them several times but they were always busy and told her to come back later. I'm sure there's some truth to that, but with her cognitive decline I guess that's getting to be a hard problem for her to solve on her own. 

I turned 45 last month, so it shouldn't be surprising that I have all these adult problems, raising children and taking care of an elderly parent. But I thought I would actually feel like an adult by the time all these things hit me. If anything I feel less sure of myself than I did half my life ago.

But that's life I guess--you're never ready and you have to do it anyway and there's a lot of sadness built into it. A lot of beauty and joy, too, don't get me wrong. I can still see and enjoy all that too, but some days are hard.