I’m fairly certain my husband’s favorite part of all the shite that is going on with my mom is the period of transition he gets to enjoy when I arrive back home from an extended stay at my parents’ home. Did I say favorite part? That’s not what I meant. I meant I see him peering out from behind a tree far away from the house as if he’s gauging the category of an incoming hurricane. And, in some ways, it’s justified. I’ve never excelled at transitions. Period. Of any kind. This is the long story of my life. Going to college, the end of my gymnast life, changing jobs – all came with days of feeling sick and sad and dealing with sometimes debilitating anxiety. And while I have come quite far from the days of driving to a new job praying that I didn’t cry on the first day, some things…I’m still working on. I admit to being the worst returner-from-vacations in the past, spending days caught between wanting to be back at the beach (or on a ship, or at the mall Hyatt) and barking orders for a house to return to immediate normalcy. I’ve gotten better at that one. Then there is the bi-weekly (is that right? Or is it ‘every other week?’ Whatever, this is a blog not a grammar lesson) return of the kids from their bio-mom’s. Again, hello, I’m caught between coming off a relaxing, kid-free weekend and wanting life to be back to normal immediately, though I know it takes hours for the switchover to settle. I’m better at that, too, thanks to a realization that if I have something to do upon their arrival, my mind will not automatically go down a long and winding road.

So, there’s hope, my sweet husband.

There’s hope that, eventually, I will figure out the transition from being a daughter offering support to a father living in his own transition back to being a wife who is allowed to skirt responsibilities and just take time to be sad. There’s hope that I will figure out the transition from being a daughter with a front row seat to her mother’s deterioration (oh, right – there’s a transition happening there, too) back to being a mother trying to dig into my own well of support for my children as they face losing their grandmother. There’s hope. But, so far, I haven’t figured it out.

I’m starting to wonder if I should just set up camp in the garage for a few days upon my return and have my meals brought to me circa a roller-skating server – prolong the inevitable arguments and anger by binging on cheeseburgers and popcorn in the emotional safety net of my car. It’s not going well. I guess the upside is that this was only my second trip south. That it’s only been six weeks since this all began. And, though it feels like a lifetime – it’s probably too early in this new chapter to expect perfection. It’s not going well.

I’m an avoider of my own sadness. I really don’t know why. I’d rather bitch and nitpick and offer a list of wrongs than admit to ‘oh, hey, I’m just spiraling into a pool made of my own tears.’ It’s only hilarious because I just spent a week telling my dad that it’s perfectly fine to cry. What I didn’t tell him is that it feels way better to slam the dishwasher shut and then peek inside to make sure nothing broke. I’m told that’s not how to grieve. But it is a way to earn a trip to Homegoods for new wine glasses. I feel a bit weak and a loss of control when I say oh, you know what? I’m just really small and lost and scared. I’d rather organize the pantry or make a spreadsheet or paint a room – all done with an eye roll of geez, I can’t believe I have to do this, too, even with all that I have going on. Amazon had just delivered a third shipment of containers dedicated to our pantry. This batch is to organize our nuts and other snacks. By the time this is over, my pantry is going to resemble a card catalogue of sorts. Rich basically goes back behind his tree when he sees all the baking contents sitting on the table, awaiting their sleek new, labeled homes. But then he realizes that as long as I’m labeling containers, he is in the clear. He knows I’d never throw my chalk marker at his head.

I’m still trying to figure out the best format to update the world on the status of my mom. For the first weeks, it seemed that the less people who knew the real truth, the less likely it was to remain the real truth. That does not seem to be working. Then there’s the part where I cannot focus or remember or who did I tell this to already? So yes. There’s that. Mom is not well. Something shut down in her brain on August 17th and the race to turn it back on is one, we are finding, that is measured in inches. She never lost consciousness – she just lost all abilities. Unable to speak. Unable to stand. Unable to eat. Unable to hold it. And test after test after test showed nothing – no sign of stroke, no signs of lesions, no sign of seizures. Mild infections? Yes – diverticulitis, but not serious enough to be considered a candidate for this change in cognitive ability. UTI? Often. But, again, resolved quickly and not likely to create such a drastic and seemingly permanent change.

This all happened while at the beach with the whole Johnson/Barlow gang. She spent two weeks hospitalized before a medical transport back ‘home,’ Dad and I following, heads spinning with too many hours to think about what was next. It’s been 28 days since Mom arrived at an Acute Rehab facility where she was met by a team initially overwhelmed at what to do with this person who couldn’t even offer her own explanation of symptoms.

I don’t like this transition. This is not going well.

We receive great reports on progress, she’s taking a few steps with a walker, she’s able to stand if holding something, she can lift the phone to her ear – and it sounds so good! But then we remember – these are the feats of a toddler. This race is in inches – a recovery lasting years, assuming something else doesn’t pop up during that time. Assuming mom doesn’t just get tired and throw in the towel – and who could blame her? We have words in our vocabulary now like long term prognosis and CNAs and plateaus and after care. After what? Is there more? What could be after?

I blame a lot of this on the bitch that is 2020. But then I’m reminded of the blessing of this year. Rich has transitioned to a life without traveling. Zoe has transitioned to life away at school. Zack has transitioned to life home at school. With Rich on watch, I can go south. With Zoe away, we don’t have to juggle her whereabouts, teen drama and the whole what/where/when of potential colleges. With Zack in a learning pod, I have two generous moms at my disposal to help at the drop of a hat. So, yes, 2020 – you’re awful – but, also, thank you for the timing. Nice that we are rounding the corner to the end of our time with you, though, as I’m assuming we’ve all suffered enough in the last twelve months to carry us far into the next decade.

I am sad. I am freaking out. I can’t even conjure up an answer to the old let me know if I can do anything! It’s not that it’s not appreciated, it’s that I don’t even know where I am. A friend said it perfectly – I’ve never been here before. This place is new. And this place has so much. Pandemics, political unrest, schools on germ lockdown, an inability to make any plans, racial tensions, a grotesque national mentality – why not throw in one severely compromised parent and another who you just want to hug and console and find some way to convince that it’s going to be fine, we’re all going to be fine – but, also, how the eff are we going to be fine?

I was already running close to empty. This entire year has been an exercise in spurts of adrenaline for everybody – I’m not unique in that. There’s not been a solid period of clean breathing since February. My bucket sits full – waiting for something to drip, drip, drip one more thing into it before it just gushes over. I’m so bad at transitions. The truth is, I didn’t camp out in the garage upon my return home. I came in hot – full of misplaced anger and unfair accusations. I don’t even know why. I watched Rich dodge and weave and throw some of it back at me – trying to work me through the routine that he knew would end with the arrival of the tears. Just be sad. It’s fine. You deserve to be. And I did get there eventually – a good old fashioned cry fest, leaving him with a soaking wet shoulder and leaving me in a somewhat ‘oh, that’s better, I feel better’ state of mind. Of course, now I think what a moron, I should have just started with the sadness and skipped the crazy lady routine. Maybe I’ll figure out how to approach this transition from that angle in the months to come. The bucket drained a bit – like a spout opened at the bottom, spilling out some of its the contents right alongside my tears.

It’s going better today.

I don’t like this transition. But maybe there’s hope.

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