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  • Writer's pictureMaria Daversa

One Woman's (and One Dog's) Search for Meaning



This post was originally published on OCT 18, 2023. Periodically, I will make public issues of my newsletter. If you are a non-subscriber, you enjoyed reading it, and you’d like to receive it in your inbox, please scroll down and sign-up!


It’s no longer September, but change still dominates my life.

My mom answered last month’s burning question (if you remember, I spent some time pondering whether or not I'll recognize when to bring in more help for my care-defiant mother). She suffered a fall not a day after I posted this newsletter. Without going into much detail, she got up from the couch and landed in the lazy boy across the living room—with the arm of the chair jammed into her hip. She’s still not sure what happened, except she thinks her ankle gave out. At her age, I have no doubt it did.

Her neighbor, a retired nurse, took her to the ER where they took x-rays and determined, thankfully, nothing was fractured.

But it was close.

I got up at two that morning and drove to CT to pick her up from the hospital, since that was when they discharged her. Crazy, right? Who discharges patients at that hour—let alone elderly patients? Yet when I walked into the ER, and she woke up and reached for me—happy she was safe, sound, and going home—it was worth it.

You might think this would be it and that she’d get some rest, heal, and both of our worlds would go back to normal, but that would be wrong. 

Normal just moved the goalposts.

I ended up moving in and spending more than two weeks with her—traveling home twice to grab my dog, his food, and some extra clothes. Initially, I thought I’d be there only for a few days. But as the weeks wore on, I learned just how much she'd been struggling. On a daily basis. In so many areas of her life.

In last month’s newsletter, I mentioned how fiercely independent she was and how it was hard to know how much help she needed. Once I was there, however, living with her under the same roof, I got a bird’s eye view, so to speak, and I have to admit, she hid her limitations well.

I’m embarrassed to say, I had no idea just how pervasive her problems actually were.

Should I have stepped in sooner?

I’ll let you decide, but please understand this—my mother wanted to be a mother more than anything else. In fact, she told me years ago that it had been difficult for her and my father to conceive, that she and my father had really wanted to have children and had gone through many medical procedures. Then they had only one. Me. 

So, always knowing how she felt about motherhood, I knew any task I took from her was also snatching away her dream. Yes, even at nearly 99-years-old, it was still everything to her to be a parent. A mother. It’s all she has left. Or, so she thinks.

I guess when you’ve made it to 99, and you’re losing your hearing, your eyesight, your mobility—your husband—and the tiniest thing can throw a monkey wrench in your day, what the hell else is there?

Anyway, without boring you with all the details, I’ve also made some changes to her situation, incorporating better, safer ways for her to get around her house, have her meals, and remember to take her meds. Did I step on her toes? A little. Is she okay with it? So far, it seems she is. I think this fall truly scared her. Enough that she’s finally willing to admit there just might be other ways of handling things (besides her way) that work just as well.

I’ll keep you updated.


Me and Bono in CT

DIY

I have no DIY projects to present this month unless you consider the massive organizational effort I conducted at my mom’s house! But how about this for a DIY project? This has raised many issues about that eternal human question: what is the meaning of life? A project in and of itself. A project in and of itself.

Is there anything more meaningful in life than caregiving? Is there anything more intimate or loving than providing care for your elderly parents (or anyone else, for that matter)? Seems like it should be about as meaningful as it gets.

Only, there’ll come a time—because I’m human and have my failings—when I won’t want to do this anymore.

It was the case when I cared for my dad several years ago. And I loved my dad (I still do). And I loved Simba, the old dog I had then that also needed so much care. (I still miss him, too). 

But at some point, it hit me how the only time I was ever alone was when I was traveling back and forth from my parents’ house to my own house. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop crying, and it’s then—in those sorts of solitary moments—that you ask yourself, when will I get my old life back

It’s also in those moments, when you realize the level of hard you’re facing is real hard, and if you don’t force yourself to dig deeper, you won't get through it. You know what you’re doing is meaningful. It’s the most meaningful thing one living being can do for another—human or otherwise. But in that moment, it doesn’t feel like it. It doesn’t feel like anything except exhaustion, despair, and hopelessness.

Caregiving is difficult, particularly when you’re caring for the elderly. It’s because you already know the endgame.

Here are articles that raise similar questions concerning caring for aging parents—questions such as, is it a privilege or a burden? You can find them here, and here. They're both worth a read.

Then I went down the rabbit hole. I found myself on a tear trying to answer the question, what IS the meaning of life?

What I discovered is it depends on who you ask.

Except for one aspect of it. It's the part where we each need to discover the solution for ourselves.

“Meaning requires action. Meaning is something that we must continually find and nurture. Consistently.”

This comes from a post on Mark Manson’s website, and you can read the full article here .

So, with this in mind, I decided rather than present all the different approaches in their narrative format (boring), I’d include those viewpoints that inspired me, hoping you might find one (or two or three) that inspires you. Enjoy!

And if those weren’t enough for you, here are fifteen additional quotes from such individuals as Anais Nin, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jim Henson.

This is Cool

Keeping with the theme of searching for meaning, I’ll give you one last anecdotal story without (hopefully) belaboring the point. This time the story is about my dad.

At several points during his life, after the stroke and before he passed, he asked, what was the point of living if he had to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life?

I get it. He was raised during a period when men had to be certain things, like tough and rugged. He was a Marine for God’s sake. He didn’t believe that he could still be these things if he no longer had the use of his legs (I often told him it didn’t matter, but I couldn’t change his mind).

And so many times when he asked, I remember thinking, isn't the point to just be able to wake up every morning? Doesn't it bring you joy knowing you're alive, and you can hear the birds singing outside your window?

So, I leave you with this wonderful website I discovered during the pandemic: Dawn Chorus: A worldwide birdsong concert for the sciences and the arts. Head straight for the Sound Map where they've posted almost 40,000 one-minute recordings of bird songs. It’s pretty cool.

WIP Update

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.” Oscar Wilde

While I am sooooo far behind my original goal of having a completed draft by January first of 2024, surprisingly, I’m freewriting more so than I thought, considering the circumstances. And since my next book involves a middle-aged adult who moves back in with their elderly parents, my present situation has given me a better idea about what this might look like.

However, it hasn't eased my panic about not meeting my deadline. Then I stumbled across a Substack post by Junot Díaz titled, "A Book is Never Late to the Party." In it, he addresses feeling pressured when you think you’re not producing enough or believe you’re lagging behind in your writing career because this is how I felt. I began to ask myself, am I churning out enough? Or am I falling behind? Here’s what Díaz says about it: 

“Careerist fear puts undo pressure on the artist.  Competition and comparison are at the core of careerism and also happen to be, by any metric, abysses of despair.  

Careerist fear puts undo pressure on the art, making it more challenging to produce — sapping it of whatever delights might have arisen from a less burdened process (hard to do a thing well, much less enjoy it when you got a temporal guillotine hanging over your head).

Careerist fears tend to drive the art towards greater instrumentality, forcing it to do or be something practical, thereby robbing it of the vital quality art most needs to fully realize its full potential, to burst transcendent:

Play.”

You can read the rest of the post here.

I like the idea of playing. It’s the whole reason I wanted to write in the first place—for the art. I’m going to take this to heart and (try to) relax. :)



Until next month! Cheers!

Maria

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