Shopping for Change

Monday, November 21, 2011

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” ~Reinhold Niebuhr

When the going gets tough the tough go shopping. Or so I’ve heard.

I almost resemble that remark. I do spend a bit more money on things when I feel stressed. Or maybe stressed isn’t the right word.  It is stress, but it is the stress that comes from not being able to control what’s happening around me, as in Dave’s health. So I make buying choices. I control my environment.

Oh, yeah. I’ve been here before! Hodgkins’ Disease, meningitis, kidney surgeries (2), stroke… on the short list.

Gadgets have been finding their way home with me on my Costco trips. I look for all the Bed, Bath and Beyond 20% off coupons. I take the long way around the aisles when I go to Target for Dave’s Ensure. I wander around more than I buy, at least. Some of the activity is just getting out of the house. Then I get anxious and feel the need to return home before too long.

There’s a store theme here. It’s the house! My coping mechanism of choice is to decorate, move the furniture, or remodel. When Dave was on chemo for the year in 1998-99 I remodeled our kitchen. He went into the fog of the medicine and emerged a year later with a new kitchen. I deglossed all the stained wood cabinets and painted. I changed all the hardware. I had an eating bar built in, and replaced the stove. New flooring was installed. That kept me busy, and well, Leah was a toddler then. So I was forced to maintain a presence and routine for her.

22 years later I don’t have quite the same energy level I did then. But I still have the same coping defense. I still want to control my environment. I want to create. I want to express myself. I like the physical work of moving furniture around and purging excess. I like seeing the mixture of new and old when I finish. I like to plan and implement. I like finding purpose in form (and form follows function).

I was inspired by Hoarders this weekend! Hoarder is my guilty pleasure TV watching. That and Real Housewives of wherever, who don’t seem real at all most times. I’m glad to know that many others are addicted to Hoarders, too. I am fascinated by how the mind manifests this Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Many, many of the stories are exacerbated by loss. Fortunately, my inspiration is to create order after watching rather than holding on!

Our five bedroom house doesn’t have a guest room. That sound gluttonous, but the bedrooms are very small and I work from home, and Dave also has an office. OK, that sounds like an excuse!  I’m spoiled. (I’m fortunate.)

Leah’s room became the make shift sewing/craft room when she moved out, but really, I haven’t sewn a thing in years. Gift wrap, memorabilia and files and tax receipts in boxes clutter the room. Old outdated, video production equipment lines the hall to her room like a construction bone yard. That’s my hoarder instinct… there must be a use or proper way to dispose of everything. Recycle. Reuse. Reduce? I’m working on that one.  These days I tend to replace rather than add.

I have a purpose to turn Leah’s room into a guest room. I am preparing for “what if” or more likely “when.” What if someone, one of his kids, wants to stay overnight when Dave becomes more ill? What if I need some rest away from our bedroom while someone else keeps watch?  What if we need a hospital bed, would they bring it upstairs? Not likely. (I can’t fathom the hospital bed thought yet.) What if I have surgery next year and I need help for a few days?

A guest room gives me purpose to clear the way to change. I’ve had the project in mind for quite some time. And now is the time. I can control this environment. I’ll have to shop for bed and linens. I can make things pretty during an ugly moment. This is how I cope.

Coping with Grief.  With the holidays in full swing I’ve been sharing some tips through my Navigating Grief outlets. But actually in grief, holidays just place a magnifier on coping. Coping with grief can be every day. Holidays add an element of anticipation and anxiety and social courtesies regardless of how we feel. These days come with their good points and bad points and are part of the rollercoaster ride. I think a lot has to do with unspoken expectations from each other.

We are hosting the whole family for Thanksgiving on Thursday.  It’s been over 20 years since our house was the gathering place. For about the last 15 years, Dave, Leah and I have carried on a full dinner for just the three of us. Turkey has always been one of Dave’s favorite foods. He could eat turkey all of the time, all year long. We always use Grandmother’s china. It doesn’t match a thing around here and seems delicate, but that doesn’t matter. I drag out  the table leaf to accommodate all the fare. The cats always try to sneak into the kitchen for a taste of the turkey requiring a quick rise from the table to shoo them away. We’d start the meal with our personal thoughts of thanks. I always tear up. We developed our own tradition. Dave added Brussels Sprouts to my original must-have list of foods. It just isn’t Thanksgiving without Monkey Bread for me. And gravy.

(My first Thanksgiving away from home, I was visiting two of my brothers who attended Evergreen at the time. Dinner was pot luck  – also one of my first – in the pool table room of Dorm A. `Greeners keep the peels on the mashed potatoes. Weird.  I’m not sure we even ate together that day. I think we crossed paths briefly. My second Thanksgiving away from home I went to my college roommate’s home for dinner. Her mom was a nutritionist and did not make gravy. What, not even for one day of the year? I was appalled! That’s when I learned that I have definite ideas of how things “should” be.)

I know in my heart that the turkey is not going to taste good to Dave. Too many foods are strewn on the “can’t eat that” list these days. I dread the disappointment. But I will keep my fingers crossed anyway.

When Denise asked about me having dinner here she expressed concern about stepping on our threesome tradition. That tradition is already gone. Last year was our last. Dave doesn’t really eat, much less get downstairs. Somehow bringing dinner to the bedroom wouldn’t be the same. Maybe it’s a little too reminiscent of dinner after his stroke that came two days before Thanksgiving in 1998. That year we smuggled dinner from the large family gathering into the hospital to Dave. Having everyone here for dinner this year is appropriate and right.

I am actually looking forward to the big cooking day and house full of people. I do enjoy preparing and planning. I like getting out all the dishes and gadgets. I love the smells and warmth of Thanksgiving. I like the retrospective moment of gratitude. This is my favorite holiday.

On Thanksgiving one year ago I started my journal. I sat with pen and paper and a cup of coffee. I sat in my funky old cushy office chair and scribbled in a plain notebook. It was my beginning of grief reflection. I saw that I was walking into living through what I help others make sense of – grief and loss. I have traveled over 167 pages with 84,000+ words and what feels like a million tears. This has been one of the most difficult, yet enlightening years of my life.

I have a long list to be thankful for this year. Obviously, the first is that Dave is here with us, still capable of sharing his thoughts and love and advice. The second is the new definition of family and what it means individually and as a whole. I am grateful for home, healthcare, financial stability and good food. Friends, too, of course. Time is important. The insight to make the best of our time is pretty darn important, too. And in spite of getting my own degrading health diagnosis I know that my symptoms are not near as bad as some endure.

But for Dave and I, our conversations are changing, just like the purpose of some of the rooms in our house and the fall of long standing holiday traditions. We are reorganizing our lives and honing in on what is important. We find ourselves giving thanks to each other every day, if simply for having one more day together.

2 replies
  1. Christy
    Christy says:

    I have known your daughter Leah for a few years. I recently lost someone very close to me and I happened upon your blog today after I saw a link that Leah posted on Facebook. I just wanted to share with you that your reflections about your own life and struggle have been comforting. It’s nice to see that no matter who you are, what age you are, or how much you think you have your life together, grief affects everyone. I just wanted to share that your posts have made me feel better, at least for today. 🙂 So, thank you for being brave enough to share your life to help others feel less lost.

    • joan
      joan says:

      Oh. Thank you, Christy. Grief begins at a much younger age than our society ever acknowledges. It is very comforting to know we are not alone at any age.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.