Two things can be true at the same time.
It’s raining yet the sun is shining its beautiful self.
One can be frail and not broken.
One can be resilient yet soft.
One can have melancholy while filled with gratitude.
One might be young yet seem old.
One might be old but seem young.
One may have troubles yet appear calm.
One might be vulnerable but is strong.
One can know hope yet feel hopeless.
One can have friends but be lonesome.
One may be dying yet be fully alive
One may love but also be loved
Two things can be true at the same time.

 

Most days I run, in the morning, on a treadmill, inside the house, in my office. Sometimes I run outside in the early morning, I like that best.

I lift weights, light ones, nothing too strenuous, just enough to give some pump to my muscles, some definition, some strength to rely on when I need it. I like how much it makes me sweat.

A few times a week I take an online yoga class, it’s gentle, it’s stretchy, it’s mindful. It helps with balance both physically and mentally.

After the day’s caregiving chores are done I meditate for fifteen to twenty minutes, to re-set, to breathe, to get lost in my head, to breathe, to cleanse the day away. To breathe, to breathe, to breathe…

It reads like I have all of the time in the world to exercise and breathe. I do not. I fit it in, I make it happen, I discipline myself to make the time.

It took years to figure out how to care for me while not diminishing the care I provide for someone else.  For a million reasons, it’s easier said than done.

Self-care is an overused phrase. It’s easy to lose sight of its deep significance, its power to take us from feeling burdened to a sense of well-being. Manicures and pedicures are easy self-care offerings, they are more like candy than a nutritious meal, they just scratch the service. Rich self-care, taking care of ourselves with as much love as we do for those we care for, will sustain us through our most challenging times, it is our oxygen.

 

Me: Hello Grief. Why are you inside of me today?

Grief: There are several of us lurking around. Which one are you referring to?

M: I have no idea because, quite frankly, I didn’t know there was more than one of you. What I do know is the ache I feel hurts, like a dull physical hurt inside my chest. Sometimes you are a dark cloud floating inside my body. Why don’t we cut to the chase and you tell me which grief you are and get it over with? This way I can figure out how to feel better.

G: First of all, there is no guarantee you will feel better by putting a label on it. Labels only tell us the name of something. They aren’t informationally dense. Grief can be complicated. In my family, the family of Grief, there are several variants of us that can lay on top of one another and sometimes merge together and then pull apart. Grief isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Grief is fluid. It can change how you feel by the minute, hour, day, weeks, month. It can keep you on your emotional toes. It can lay dormant for long periods of time. To learn about us you must be ready to acknowledge, understand, and work with whatever version of me is inside you at any given moment. Are you ready for this? Or do you need some time to think about it?

M: I’m not sure. I feel scared about this process. As much as I want to get better, I am also used to you being here. What will it feel like for me to learn about the different kinds of grief? Will they always be with me? Will I cry? Will I learn to cope? Will my heart heal? Will I always hurt?

G: You have asked some good questions. Some of us have been with you for a long time. Years. At least one has been come and gone. You did good with that one. Because of what is happening in your life you will have some of us around for a while.

M: That seems a bit unfair to hang around for long periods of time. I feel like I would be happier if you weren’t here at all. Sometimes you are like a pebble in my shoe that won’t come out. Sometimes you are like an eyelash trapped in my eye forbidding me to see clearly. Sometimes, though not often, you are a boulder that drops on top of me squeezing the breath out of me. When will you finally leave?

G: It’s so cliché but I’ll say it anyway life isn’t fair. Life is life with solvable and unsolvable problems. Know this I do not like being inside of you. I’m necessary. The Grief Family exists to help humans cope with losses – death, disability, trauma, tragedy, major life shifts. When we are rejected, we only come back later and sometimes with a vengeance. Others can help but only you can do the work of resolving feelings of grief. Allowing yourself to be open to the emotions of us is a healthy pathway for you.

M: Will you be gentle with me as you teach me which ones you are?

G: I will try. My gentle may produce some of the greatest pain you have ever felt and you will grow more than you can imagine. It will be worth it for you if you are willing to put in the work . Let’s ease in with the one you have resolved. Let’s get started.

ALS can steal and steal and steal in ways that can’t be prevented…at least not yet. It can’t steal hope, desire, and plans for the future.
Tom’s Marine Corps garden. He has desired a garden with Marine Corps colors since we moved into the house 8 years ago. He loved to garden. He was our gardener for all of our life together until #ALS. His hope was to have this garden one way or the other before it was too late. The past few years he would plan it out. I’d carry out the plan and zippo, no Marine Corps garden.

Tom has this philosophy that a garden should give back. It should give color or fragrance or both. A garden full of green shrubs is like asking him to eat broccoli. Anyone who knows him well knows he was born with a genetic dislike for this veggie (and now all of you know this as well).

I have done nearly all of the gardening since moving here. Gardening isn’t exactly my favorite activity. Potentially this dislike was a result of me nearly having heatstroke while planting. However, over the last two years, I have given space to it in my mind in a more positive light. I’m friendlier to the experience than I used to be and more physically fit…that’s got to help, right?

I haven’t been totally alone doing this. Kate has helped when I’ve needed it. Sean put up the flag pole a few years back. It’s become a family endeavor at times for our guy.

For a while, Tom had a Marine Corps flag flying under the American flag. One day, a few years ago, we had this crazy burst of a storm come through, tornado-ish like a microburst, and it took the flag pole and some of the fence panels down. Our fantastic neighbors helped get the panels upright and shored up until we could have them fixed. We had to have the flag pole re-set as well. Last year, one of our neighbors, a Marine himself, gave Tom a new USMC flag. The USMC flag has finally found its rightful place.

Every year I have tried to appease Tom with the Marine Corps garden of his dreams. Year after year it’s been a dismal mess. This year, through no effort on my part, he has the garden he’s wanted.

The yellow Iris’ were tossed there by a guy who was doing work on the driveway. They were in his way. He dug them up and dropped them in the garden. Despite my neglect they survived. They should all be dried up and gone from my black thumb. This is the first year they have bloomed. The roses that are flourishing appeared out of nowhere. I had most of the roses taken out of the garden a few years ago because they didn’t do well back there. They were a nuisance to care for with mold, mites, and Japanese beetles having orgies for weeks on end. I never planted the ones growing in this photo. They are wild and beautiful.

I guess the moral of the story is he got what he wanted without any help from me. I think there is a lesson in this but I haven’t figured it out yet.

May is ALS Awareness Month and the Month of the Military Caregivers. Tom is service-connected for ALS and I am his caregiver.

P.S. – he has this big idea that soon twenty-nine palm trees will be in and around the garden to complete it. I hope he has some marines to can call in and get it done.