Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Peace in the passing

For years I've thought about writing mom's story. Not just her story, but a collective story. Her life impacting my life, my life impacting her. The lives of others.

For more than ten years I've made journal entries on the computer and for the past 18 months I've written on this blog about what this journey with her has been like. But I hadn't yet made the decision to actually write a book. It was just something I talked about, rather than actually did.

Instead, I embarked on another writing adventure, one that involved telling the stories of the people of the Lower Yakima Valley, a place where five distinct cultures met and coexisted for generations. Yakama Indian, Japanese, Filipino, European, and later on, Hispanic, comprise the population of Wapato, Toppenish, White Swan and Harrah. But Wapato was the primary focus of my venture.

I had cards printed as a calling card, different images of the valley on each card.  I interviewed people. I met a Japanese man who suggested I write a fiction piece, using it to tell the Japanese story in the valley. He even had a book title. 

I got side-tracked from my original vision,. As compelling as the Japanese history is, it's not the story I set out to tell.

Backing off a bit, I realized that I had lost my way. I wanted to return to my original, theme of Faces of the Valley inclusive of all cultures, but narrowing the focus to women: Five Women, Five Cultures. Shaping a Valley. Talk about stories!

But then, in the quiet of my thoughts one evening, I knew. First I wanted to write a personal story, the one already in my head. It's not really my mother's story, because it's told from my perspective. But I have recordings of her telling her story that I will use.   The rest will be my story, my experience with my mother, and the story of others who have been a caretaker to an aging parent. 

The gift of the story, fiction or non-fiction, is to impact another person's life. My goal is to help others understand guilt before it descends, set boundaries before they are broken, and still live their lives in the midst of caretaking another life. It is a story of loss, healing and forgiveness. 

It is a practical story, designed to help others navigate the life of a caretaker: the hiring and firing and supervising caregivers, advocating for a loved one in medical settings, learning to take charge without appearing to take charge when they are in danger, but not wanting to lose their independence, the role of compassion and patience in the face of changing roles and watching a parent become someone you barely recognize. These are just a few of the topics.

I've worked on this project for a very long time, mainly because I have lived the project, but it feels like I'm just starting. It fills my mind night and day; themes and topics and events and conversations and feelings occupy much of my thinking, whether I'm actually writing, watering the yard, talking to Ben, walking the dog, and especially when I see mom and a myriad of emotions surface, each and every time.

I talked to a woman this weekend who had her dad living with the family the last three years of his life. He had cancer and after living in a garage apartment next to the house for a few years so that he could still be independent, but she was there to check on him. One day she and he realized that he could no longer take care of himself.  She moved him into the living room, where he eventually died. Her husband and two teenagers also lived in the home, although one daughter went to college when the grandfather had moved into the living room.

Her father has been gone two months. She said she hasn't cried since the funeral. She has peace. She said someone once remarked that she looked sad in a photograph of her while her father was still living.

"Now," she says,"I just feel relief. I feel happy, like I no longer look sad. My brothers, who weren't around that much, are having a harder time."

I want that peace when mom is gone. 

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