Running, Running, Running.

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A turquoise-clad bottle, perched on the counter beside the Keurig and the coffee pod rack, reminds me to unlace the running shoes and hang up the game.

Running, Running, Running.

I have stopped running. I have stopped running because of a water bottle.

For months and months and months, I have been running — not the healthy improve-your-time/improve-your-health running so many fit friends and family members engage in. No, my running has been senseless, fumbling, frustrating, mind-numbing, fill-the-hours, cram-the-calendar, jam-the-to-do-list running. Running, Running, Running.

It took a sweet little lady in a baby blue pantsuit with a car trunk full of water bottles to get my attention. Because of this water bottle. I have, finally…. simply. Stopped.

It has been a rough week at our house with my little mom not feeling or doing well. For those who don’t know — my mom, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease, congestive heart failure, COPD — lives with us, and I am her primary caregiver. I am blessed to have a helpful family and caregivers who stay with mom while I work, run errands, grocery shop and try to maintain some semblance of household normality. Running, Running, Running.

We moved mom in with us three years ago because she could no longer care for herself or safely live alone as Alzheimer’s claimed more of her dignity and daily life. We could not bear her spending final days in a nursing facility, so we bought a house to accommodate a merged household. Like new parents, we brought my baby/mama home and set up shop. Running, Running, Running.

These three years have been, truly, the best of times, the worst of times. Those who care for an aging parent know: The job of parenting a parent is not for the faint of heart. It is often during these frantic, frenetic days that we who care for others lace up the running shoes, start making laps, and never look back. We are Running, Running, Running.

Now, this water bottle on my kitchen counter is reminding me, I have to stop.

Mom’s caregiver and I had rushed mom to yet another doctor for poking and prodding, another antibiotic, another round of steroids. I had taken the morning off, and had planned on heading to the office after I got mom back home; planned on working late to make up the hours I had missed despite a restless night of breathing treatments and scanty sleep. Running, Running, Running.

As my mom’s on-duty, nighttime caregiver, I have learned to navigate on a few hours of sleep. I often feel like the parent of a newborn: stressed, sleep-deprived, concerned that I am doing things right, doing enough. I juggle the demands of a full-time job, family, household, mounting bills, piles of laundry. Running, Running, Running.

We were checking out at the doctor’s office front desk, and I was cramming my wallet back into my purse and fumbling for keys when I noticed the friendly lady, chatting amiably with the receptionist. She turned, took a look at me in all my frazzled, frumpled, no-sleep-for-days glory.

“It looks like you could use a water bottle, too,” she said.

“A water bottle?,” I asked, puzzled.

“She crochets water bottle covers,” the receptionist explained. “They are so cute.”

“Follow me out to my car, and I will get you one,” the friendly lady offered simply.

As the caretaker pushed my mom down the corridor, I took longer steps to keep up with the spry and sprightly senior in the baby blue pantsuit.

“Tell me about these water bottles,” I asked, resorting to my old Reporter Days ways.

“Tell me about your mom,” the little lady challenged.

I briefly explained our situation, relayed the days’ events, chattering about prescription pickups and worrisome doctor reports.

As we made our way down the long hallway, my companion shared her story, too. She is 82, living in Arlington, driving to a Burleson nursing home each day to spend afternoons with her 87-year-old sister, now paralyzed and bed-ridden. As they talk away the hours, she makes cozy water bottle covers in bright and cheery hues.

“My sister took care of me when I was a little girl,”  she explains. “I take care of her now, just like she took care of me. I take care of her like you take care of your mom.”

We paused at the end of the hall and the little lady in the baby blue pantsuit turned and took my hands in hers.

“You are taking care of your mom, but don’t forget to take care of you, too,” she cautioned. “Slow down. Go to a movie. Go out to eat. Spend time with friends. Do something YOU want to do. Sleep. Don’t work so much. Have some fun. Laugh. Stop rushing. Stop running. Start living.”

I nodded and felt my eyes well. I fought back a tsunami of emotion and exhaustion, feeling naked and exposed, standing in the middle of a hospital corridor.

A kindred spirit in baby blue recognized my Achilles’ heel: My need to make my mom well, take care of her, fend off disease and ultimately, death, has kept me running like the proverbial hamster on the wheel. I thought if I could only go a little faster, do a little more, try a little harder, work a few more hours, fold a few more towels, I could turn back time, hold off Fate, and keep my mom, my family and myself safe. Running, Running, Running. In my arrogance and ignorance, I was running too fast, missing the whole journey, the scenery and sights along the way. Running, Running, Running, I was missing it all.

I took a deep breath, caught up with my new friend at the end of the hall. Together, we headed across the parking lot, stopped at the car, and she opened the trunk. A mound of beautifully covered bottles peeked from a box, resplendent in their jeweled- and rainbow-toned hues.

“Pick out one for you, dear, and one for your mom. Pick out one for her caregiver, too,” she offered, gesturing to the bottles inside the trunk.

“Oh, no. I can’t let you do that. Let me pay you — let me buy them from you,” I stammered. “Let me at least make a donation for supplies so you can make more.”

“No, dear, no.  I don’t do this for the money.  I see someone who needs their day brightened, and I give one away. They are my gift. You needed one today. These are for you. Take care of your mom. But take care of you, too. Remember to live, too. Stop running.”

We walked back to the building where my mom and the caregiver were waiting. I handed a blue water bottle to my mom, a purple one to our caregiver. We thanked our new friend for her kindness and asked a passing nurse to take our picture. We huddled under the hospital awning around my mom’s wheelchair and smiled faintly for the camera.

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The little lady in the baby blue pantsuit turned and walked to her car.

“Going to see my sister. You all take care now,” she said. “Remember what I said, dear. No running.”

I stood beside my mama and watched the lady drive away, the white sedan zipping across the parking lot. She rolled her window down, waving a final farewell before disappearing into the bright, morning sunshine.

That afternoon, I did not rush to work. I sat in a booth at my mom’s favorite diner and watched her munch French fries and a cheeseburger. When she napped, I napped, just like I used to do with my sleeping daughter in the bassinet beside me. I rubbed lotion on my mom’s arms and looked into her eyes, capturing the moment in my mind’s eye to save for another day. I went to dinner and to see a play with friends, pelting strangers with popcorn and laughing like impish children. I hugged my husband a little tighter. Looked at my grown-up daughter in a new enlightened way. Texted friends I had not seen for weeks, giving them an update on my mom, admitting, finally, that I can no longer keep up the facade of Running, Running, Running.

A turquoise-clad water bottle sits on my kitchen counter — this tangible reminder of a chance meeting with a special lady who reminded me that it’s okay to be human. It’s okay to slow down and not get everything on my “to do” list done. Most days, it’s okay to not even make the list. No more Running, Running, Running.

Yes, I take care of my little mama. Yes, I do it gladly, and will continue to do so, giving freely and loving without reservation all the days of her life. I would not trade this time I have with her. But, I have stopped running. Stopped running. Stopped. Running.

A turquoise-clad bottle, perched on the counter beside the Keurig and the coffee pod rack, reminds me to unlace the running shoes and hang up the game.

I have stopped running. I have stopped running because of a water bottle and the sage words of sweet little lady in a baby blue pantsuit.

Running, Running, Running. No more.  I am choosing to live.

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About barriepagehill

A former print and broadcast reporter, I am blogging to document my experience as primary caregiver to my mom, who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease. I find writing cathartic and find it helps me order some of the chaos of my cluttered life. My writing is reflective of my experiences with my mom and matters I find important as I navigate the New Normal of living with a family member tormented by this devastating disease. As my mom's condition worsens, I am grateful for the many blessings in my life. I hope my writing chronicles some of our experiences and documents this bittersweet journey.
This entry was posted in Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's Disease, Care for the Caregiver, Caregiver Burnout, Caring for a parent with Alzheimer's Disease, Caring for aging parents and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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