Holiday time usually means the arrival of an unwelcome guest … chronic sorrow. This normal grief response was first identified among the parents of disabled children. I wasn’t happy to hear that mothers seem to experience an increasing frequency of ups and downs.
I’ve written about it before in this blog. Click here to find my former post.
These overwhelming feelings of sadness can visit anyone who experiences an ongoing, living loss … the emotion-filled chasm between “what is” and “what should/could have been.”
The husband of my dearest friend experiences it. My friend, his wife, developed early-onset dementia years ago. I can’t imagine the intensity of what he must be feeling. I miss her every day and recently the loss of the love we shared is particularly poignant. You know how comforting a long-term friendship can be. We were so in tune with each other, we usually understood each other’s feelings without having to name them. It was like being sisters … and we were … spirit sisters.
Because there is no predictable end to the circumstances, this recurring sadness is pervasive and long term. It is not the same as the finality that comes when someone dies. Susan Roos movingly describes it in her book I have as yet not been able to read.
Chronic sorrow … is about living with unremovable loss and unmending wounds. It is about losses requiring – and demanding – energy and persistent courage to cope with crises and making the adaptations necessary to live a life of one’s own. It is about year upon year of living with the inevitability of a loss that continues and of finding a way to achieve some balance between reality and losing one’s grip entirely. ~Susan Roos in the author’s forward to Chronic Sorrow: A Living Loss
For me, it tends to cycle through at this time of year when everywhere happy families are portrayed enjoying Thanksgiving and Christmas together. Even though I know this is not always the reality, my longing for what “could have been” … what is “missing” in my life is profound.
My Shadow Strikes
This unwelcome guest comes and goes but this year, chronic sorrow has moved in with a vengeance. Along with the sorrow, unsettling feelings descend upon me in waves.
Fortunately I know enough not to act out these dark feelings. I have learned to observe my “shadow self” and keep her in check. But I am unnerved when a wave hits. I try to spare others the worst of me.
Facing a Daunting Reality
As I ponder what could be contributing to its virulence this year, I believe it has something to do with aging.
Because I prefer to be proactive, years ago, as it became increasingly clear that my children could not care for themselves much less care for me, I purchased long-term care insurance with good in-home care benefits. Knowing that has been a comfort.
But, as one who prefers to age consciously, I witness the experience of friends:
- Even with the best of benefits, an advocate is a necessity
- Quality in-home care barely exists – agencies give minimal training and pay minimum wage
- Agencies are focused on their needs, not the needs of those they supposedly care for
- Even the best of retirement homes lack sensitivity to the needs of their residents
As each birthday passes (my 77th in July), these daunting realities come into stark view.
Preparing for the Duration
In mid-August, I consulted with a local retirement village just to see what the possibilities were. I really don’t have a desire to live in that environment, but because I have no family to care for me, I thought it wise to check it out.
However, it will not be possible. My daughter, for whom I am a caregiver, isn’t eligible until she is 65 (she is currently 48) and she won’t have the financial resources.
In addition to my fear of what will happen to my daughter when I am gone, I scared myself with frightening imaginings of how it will be when I am no longer able to care for myself. And so the vengeance with which chronic sorrow hit this year … this cycle … makes sense to me.
By September I started getting estimates on a bathroom renovation. As I write, tile is being applied to my bathroom walls. That huge old whirlpool tub that would be a challenge to navigate as I age is gone. I am preparing to be in my home for the duration … until I make the BIG move.
During the past couple of weeks, I wrote and shared with others about this unwelcome guest. As a result, I’m finding the intensity lessening. When the waves come, I dilute them with reminders of precious friends who listen and empathize and for the comforting power of contemplative writing.
I’m not feeble yet and my daughter’s health continues to be stable. I don’t need to be scaring myself. Maybe it’s time I order Roos’s book and read it. Just maybe it contains strategies I need to achieve some balance … especially this time.
Praying for a Miracle
In the meantime, I carry the memory of the miracle of grace that occurred when I could foresee only disaster awaiting us (the story in my memoir). Perhaps a miracle I can in no way perceive at this time will unfold.
For now, as I did twenty years ago, I wait and prepare as best I can.