Putting My Brain in a Box

Talking to my homeless, schizoaffective, and alcoholic brother is an exercise in futility. He bellows, doesn’t listen, is relentlessly and terrifyingly angry. I wouldn’t talk to him, but I’m trying to get him out of here, back to a place where maybe he can get a pension along with food stamps and Medicaid in a state where the pot he needs to help him sleep and to keep his psychosis at bay is legal.

The worsspeedt problem for me (besides his continued presence) is not letting his anger affect me. Sometimes when I am listening to his incessant nastiness and feel his fury coursing through me, I have to clench my fists to keep from beating him into silence. I believe this reaction is the accumulation of his fury assaulting my psyche rather than any innate violence, particularly since the moment I remove myself from his presence, my own anger disappears. I have to make sure I am more than arm’s length from him, because the closer he is, the more I feel the effects. Of course, my backing away infuriates him, so he advances, and we do a strange sort of dance.

The other day I tried to calm myself by doing the port de bras I learned in ballet class, bringing my arms into a circle over my head, opening them to shoulder height, turning my palms to the floor, and letting my arms gently float to my side. It did help me keep my calm, but my movements, which I’d intended to also calm him, only infuriated him further. He seemed to think I was doing some sort of clumsy Tai Chi or Yoga.

Today a friend told me another way of maintain equanamity — put my brain in a box. She counseled me to mentally construct a box. (Mine looks like a treasure chest with red plush lining.) Then open my head, gently lift out my brain, put it in the box, close my head, close the box. Finally, put the box in a closet and shut the door. That way I can get through times of pain or anger or aggravation without feeling anything because, of course, my brain is in the box.

Seems to work. After I put my brain in the closet, I was able to deal with my brother, my father’s needs, some siblings’ requests for information, the plumber, phone calls, and various and sundry other frustrations.

Maybe I’ll leave my brain where it is temporarily. It seems to be resting peacefully.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Becoming Matriarch

My father once teased me by calling me the matriarch of the family since I am the oldest living female. (I had to stop here to think. Am I? I’m still in middle age though I am sliding down the banister into the early years of old age, so it seems impossible that there is no older female, but I can’t think of any except some distant relatives.)

Today, however, I feel as if I have graduated into matriarch-ness. My father finally conceded (at least for the moment, anyway) that he can no longer do his accounts, pay the bills, keep up with house repairs and everything else that needs doing to make sure everyone is comfortable, so he “passed the torch” to me. (Those are the words he used.) I told him I’d continue doing everything his way, but he said as long as the accounts were understandable to the executor of his estate, he didn’t care how I did things.

spiderSo here I am, matriarch of our dysfunctional little family — one elderly father who seldom leaves his bed, one dysfunctional brother who refuses to leave the area, one sister who has come to help and leaves whenever she is free, and me who sometimes dreams of leaving and sometimes dreads it. Besides that, the house is so big that something always needs to be repaired. I feel like a black widow spider, sitting in the middle of my poorly-spun web, but instead of me twanging the web to attract insects, the insects twang me, keeping me trapped in the center of it all.

There are others in the family, far-flung siblings that I used to keep informed when my father was ailing, but for some reason, during the past couple of weeks I haven’t felt like sending out my usual emails, maybe because no one is contacting me to see how he is doing. The truth is, I wouldn’t know what to say even if they did. He is definitely declining at an ever-rapid rate, but he is peaceful in his isolation. If anyone wanted to come, of course I as matriarch would give permission even if he were not so disposed, but for now we’re just letting the days slip away, one after the other, taking each minute as it comes.

I’ve played many different roles in my life. Some roles, like daughter and sister, have been with me from the moment I was born, but this new role of matriarch will not be long-lived. When my father is gone, probably within a few months, I will slip off the mantel, turn everything over to the executor, and head out on my own, unencumbered by any responsibility. For now, however, here I am, doing the best I can in a strange and bewildering situation.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Dealing With Elderly Parents

A friend spoke to me today about our different reactions to the care of our aging parents. She seems to think I’m more accepting of my elderly father’s insistence on having his way than she is of her mother’s foibles. Maybe it’s true, but no matter how we deal with the problems that arise with elderly parents, it will always be difficult. To our parents, we are eternal children who lack the necessary skills to navigate through life. More than that, it’s difficult for them to see what is so obvious to us — that they are no longer the strong-bodied and strong-minded people they once were. All that is left is the strong will they are determined to exert even if they no longer have the means of assessing the situation.

icecreamAlthough my run-ins with my father do bother me at the time they happen, I quickly let the frustration go. For the most part, I don’t see that it makes any difference what he does, and besides, I’ve used up my cajolability. If he wants to eat ice cream for every meal, that’s his prerogative. I’m not going to cajole him into eating healthily. If he doesn’t want to do his breathing treatments, well, that’s his choice too. He’s 97 years old. His various medications can only help him be more comfortable. They can’t cure his congestive heart failure, his COPD, his prostate problems. Nor can they give him what he most needs — a modicum of youth.

I suppose it’s possible my blasé attitude comes more from exhaustion than acceptance. I’ve been here for four years watching him deteriorate at an increasingly rapid rate, and there’s not much I can do except watch.

This particular wage of daughterhood is so hard that some days I want to run away, but running away won’t change the situation, just remove me from the equation. I suppose if I had somewhere to go, I would go, but as of right now, only emptiness awaits me when I leave here. I’ll have to start rebuilding my life, and I don’t really have any strong inclinations to do one thing or another. I’d like to keep taking dance lessons, of course, but other than that . . . nothing.

And so I stay, answering my father’s summons when he wants something, checking on him when he doesn’t, and dealing with the other strange elements of my life the rest of the time. (My dysfunctional brother and the sister who has come to help with our father.)

Some day there will only be me to consider.

People tease me and tell me I will miss all this. I doubt that I will miss any of it, and yet there has been so much insane drama during the past fifteen months that the emptiness of my life afterward will seem even emptier by comparison.

I’m trying not to look to the future, though. For a while, dreaming impossible dreams helped me feel alive and made me believe that one day things will be different, but for now all I can do is hunker down and survive each day the best I can.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Gathering Forces

My sister is here helping take care of my 97-year-old father who seems to be declining. (I say “seems to be” because so far, every time I thought the end was nearing, he managed to find his way back to life.) A bit of a mystic, she claims benevolent spirits are gathering, though they aren’t telling her what they are doing or hope to accomplish.

It’s entirely possible that benevolent energy is in the air. Normally I spend quiet weekends running errands, walking, doing housework, but this weekend, I’ve been invited to four different social events. I feel like the belle of the ball, especially since my sister agreed — Cinderella-like — to look after our father while I am out gallivanting.

windThe forces of entropy also seem to be gathering. A window broke. That my brother has been banging on it for most of a year seems to escape him, and he can’t understand why it disintegrated. “I don’t know how that happened,” he told me. “I’ve been banging on it for a year, and it never broke before.” Decorative masonry is falling off the entryway supports. The two air conditioners broke down, each with a different problem. And now the hot water is gone.

I’m doing what I can to make the benevolent spirits feel welcome and at the same time staving off the destructive powers that are swirling around, though to be honest, I don’t really believe anything out of the ordinary is happening. I’ve made good friends, and the outings we have planned simply landed on the same weekend, and things do break down. (So do people break down, though I am holding up well considering how little sleep I got last night.)

I am worried about the immediate future, though. My father asked the urologist to take out the catheter, and now he gets up frequently to go to the bathroom. He is very frail, and we are afraid of his falling, but we can’t be with him every minute. Besides, if we were to get up every time he did, we would be worn out after just a couple of nights and would be no good to anyone. (Dealing with an aging parent, especially the authoritarian sort, is always difficult because to them, we are eternally the minions, and not very bright ones at that.)

Perhaps those benevolent spirits are here to give us all strength. Perhaps the forces of entropy will win in the end as they always do, and we will wind down like those old-fashioned mechanical toys. Or maybe I’m simply feeling the effects of sleeplessness.

Only the coming days will tell.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Wages of Daughterhood

I am so exhausted I can hardly think straight. I keep hoping my life will get easier, but so far that hasn’t happened, not even after my sister came to help with our father. I thought my sister would be a great help when he got out of the hospital after a recent bout of pneumonia and prostate infection, and she is. I also thought her being here would make it easier to meet my own needs, but what I didn’t take into consideration is that there would be another person’s needs to juggle, and this juggling act is already too complicated.

Thjugglingere is a chance my brother will accept my offer to drive him back to Colorado and thereby lessen the stress. There is a chance my father will get better temporarily and won’t need so much looking after. There is a chance I will get all the sleep I need and so be able to handle the immensity of my task with a bit more grace. There is a chance . . . oh, heck. There is a chance of a lot of things, I’m just too tired to list any more of them.

Dance classes remain my savior, both the dancing and the friendship, but despite my trying to keep those lessons sacrosanct, I can see (and foresee) the gradual encroachment into my private time.

Still, no matter what happens on a daily basis, the truth is that my father is 97 years old, very frail (more so because of his recent hospitalization), and does not have many years left. Probably not even a year. His doctor is going to monitor the situation for another month, and then maybe advise hospice, something that up until now he has refused to even discuss.

If my father does go on hospice, the wages of daughterhood would be almost over. (Paraphrasing a quote from The Florist’s Daughter by Patricia Hampl.)

It seems as if most of my life has been spent paying those wages, from taking care of younger siblings when I was young enough to need care myself, to helping when my mother was dying, to looking after my aged father.

On this blog, I spin dreams of epic walks, of living on the road, of being nomadic, but the truth is, I have no idea who I will be when I am no longer “daughter.” Maybe I will crave a place of my own. Maybe I will embrace spontaneity and uncertainty. Maybe I will arrange my life so I can take dance classes three or four days a week and be mobile the rest of the time.

Maybe I will just be.

Meantime, I’m still juggling as best as I can.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Change

My father came home yesterday, and today we met with a visiting nurse who will be helping us through the next couple of months. I’m glad to have the help, both of the nurse and my sister. My father has been flat on his back for almost three weeks, more because of his disinclination to sit in a chair or walk rather than any medical issue. (“I have patients’ rights,” he told me smugly. “I have the right to refuse any treatment.” My explanation that sitting did not constitute a “treatment” did not sway him at all.)

nurseHe has the idea that he will immediately resume his normal life, and gets furious at me for suggesting it will be otherwise. (I have a hunch his fury stems from the fear that I am right.) I’m to the point where I simply smile at him and keep my reservations to myself. Maybe this time won’t be like all the other times he’s gotten out of the hospital and found himself helpless to do what he wanted. But the truth is, even for the relatively healthy, it takes a while to recuperate from a lengthy hospital stay.

Luckily for me, I won’t be the only one around to cater to his demands.

His homecoming and the nurse aren’t the only changes. My siblings are trying to get my insane and insanely drunk brother evicted from the garage, but supposedly they aren’t going to go against my wishes. I don’t want him forced out on the dusty streets of this hellishly hot and devilishly windy desert town. He needs to be in northern Colorado where perhaps he can get signed up for various social services.

I must be as crazy as he is — I have agreed to drive him back. 1000 miles with someone constantly bellowing in my ears is not my idea of a fun trip, but it’s the only alternative I can think of to legal hassles.

My sister came up with a brilliant idea. Rent some sort of SUV with plenty of cargo area for his hoardings, but take possession of it a few days in advance. Give him the alternative of loading up his stuff and being driven to Colorado in comfort, or staying and dealing with the repercussions of my siblings’ efforts to remove him.

Either way, with him or without him, I take off. If he’s in the vehicle, I only have to deal with him for two days, then blessed silence. If he doesn’t want to go, I take off for a weekend by myself. Sounds wonderful! The days off will also break my father’s psychological dependence on me, so that when I return, I won’t feel so burdened by his neediness.

Lots of changes in the air. I’ll let you know what happens.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Casting Off Old Family Patterns

I’ve been crying on and off for the past few days, mourning the loss of my brother. He’s still alive, at least physically, but he is so very lost to schizophrenia, alternate personalities, alcoholism or some combination of all three, that it seems as if he is gone forever.

I remember him as a bright twelve-year-old — bright as in joyous, bright as in super intelligent, bright as in the favored child, bright as in open-faced, eagerly awaiting all life had in store for him. Family stories indicate I idolized him, but that was so long ago, I can barely remember anything but being wary of the angry, frightened, intolerant, relentless, bellowing man he has become. To most of my siblings, the neighbors, even the cops who have come to the house, he is, at best, a nuisance and at worst, an animal.

And yet, whatever he has become, he is still a human being.

In June, Robert Wilkinson wrote about the retrograde Mercury: Some will see what contributes to hesitation or insecurity about a life corner that’s already been turned, preparing to reshape their expression before moving forward boldly in July. Others will take a look back, say goodbye, and cast off the old family patterns forever. This can give us a new look at fluid ways of moving with life energies.

The major unresolved family pattern in my life is that of my father, older brother, and me. Those two shaped my adolescence and early adulthood with their fighting and the inability of both to ever see any side but their own. Both used my love as a rope in their tug of war, and it was only when I met Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, that the pattern changed. But not forever. When he died, I went to look after my then 93-year-old father in an effort to restore the Karma of my early life, and fourteen months ago, my brother showed up. And the pattern repeated itself, with each using me as the rope in their tug of war.

Perhaps neither of them could help what they became, but I hoped I could change the pattern of our relationship. My father kicked my brother out of the house when he was a teenager, and when he again wanted to kick him out last year because of some innocuous offense, I counseled against it. And yet, as soon as I left the house that day to run errands, our father tricked his son into leaving and locked him out.

Such patterns seem impossible to change, but a week ago, my sister came to help take care of our father and perhaps to do what she can to help relocate my brother. This constitutes a major shift in our dysfunctional threesome.

I seem to feel the change more than anyone, weeping at what might have been, never was, and never will be. I know now that whatever I hoped out of this insane living situation will never come to pass. My brother will never again be as bright as the youngster I once knew, nor will he ever be the adventurer he was as a young man, where the whole world was his backyard. And my father will never be anything but what he is.

It is I who will have to change, and weeping, apparently, is how I process change. I always hoped that when my responsibilities here were finished, that those patterns of the past would no longer haunt me, but I expected it to be a joyful change. I suppose at some point, when I am truly free, the joy will irrupt, but for now, all I can do is cry for the loss of that bright, sane older brother, and a wise father who could fix anything, even himself.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Becoming Dance

Of all the strange places my recent life has taken me, this has to be the strangest. I am sitting in lobby of a convalescent home, waiting for my father to wake from a nap. He’s only here for five days to get intravenous antibiotics to help treat a bout of pneumonia, but the few hours I’ve spent visiting him have made me realize how incredibly lucky I am.

I can walk with a straight back and easy gait. I can breathe unassisted. And oh! I feel so very young. I know this is a temporary condition. If I live long enough, I’ll be as old and decrepit as these folks, but for now, I’m thankful for what youth I dancehave left, for the joy that now comes at increasingly frequent intervals, for the capacity to taste what I eat and drink, for the ability to write and laugh and dance.

Strangely, not only do I feel good, people often mention that I look good, too. Some even say that stress becomes me. The wonder is that I can deal at all with the horrendous stresses of my life — an ailing, aging father and an insane and insanely drunk brother who has spent the past several hours bellowing at me. I am blessed to have wonderful and patient friends who will listen to my horror stories, sometimes for the second and third time, and who will offer hugs when I need them. I have this blog, of course. But mostly I have dancing.

We all need vacations from ourselves and our problems, but when we go on trips, we take ourselves with us. When we dance, especially choreographed dances, we leave ourselves at home. We become the music, the motion, and something else — part of a dancing whole. As the teacher keeps reminding us, we need to do everything in unison — one body, one mind, one soul. When it works, when we know the dance and are in perfect sync, it’s magic. For just one moment, we become more than we are. We become Dance.

Of course, after dance, we become just ourselves with all our attendant problems, but we still have the memory of that moment of freedom to sustain us, and hopefully we’ll still have it even when we’re too old to dance at all.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Chaos to the Nth Degree

My chaotic and unreal life continues. I’ve written before about my out-of-control abusive brother, and readers have given me much advice, which mostly centered around calling the cops. My few dealings with the cops when they came in answer to neighbor’s complaints led me to believe there was nothing they could or would do, so I never called. My inability to follow this course of action bothered many people, but the truth is, as horrific as he is, I couldn’t see throwing him on the street for strangers to deal with.

But as it turns out, there is nothing I could have done, anyway.

badgeMy sister came to help with our 97-year-old father who is failing. He’s been in the hospital for the past two weeks, and is currently in a convalescent hospital for a short stay to get over a bout with pneumonia. When he gets home, he will need someone here all the time, and obviously, I couldn’t do it alone.

It took her a single night to get fed up with our demented, delusional, dissociative and very nasty brother. She called the cops. They came out but did nothing, simply told her he could be evicted but that neither of us could do it since we too are guests. And of course, my father is dealing with his age and health issues, and only wants me to keep his son away from him.

She spent yesterday and this morning trying to line up people who would be willing to get him back to Colorado, and once he was there, to chauffer him around and help him get all the benefits to which he is entitled. Of course, he wouldn’t go along with that. He claims to want to go back to Colorado, but seems unable to make the mental leap. He screams that he wants help, but won’t tell me what he wants me to do, and when I ask, he shrieks “Get me a beer, bitch.” As I said, not a nice man, at least this personality of his isn’t. He has one vulnerable, almost shy personality that seems to have all but disappeared during the past few months.

After we broached the subject of getting him back to Colorado, he slashed the tires on my sister’s car. (He claims he didn’t do it, and is outraged that we accused him, so either someone else did it, or he had a complete psychotic break.) She was so angry, she locked him out of the garage where he is camped, and he broke down the door to get back in. She called 911 again, told them he needs to be taken in on a 5151, which is the code for having him detained and evaluated for 72 hours at a mental facility. It took her at least thirty minutes to get them to agree to send a deputy to “assess” the situation, and another hour for the deputy to come out. (Interestingly, the deputy already knew part of the situation because he was one I had spoken to before.) My sister showed him her tires, the broken window (brother had broken the outside of a double-pane window about six months ago and the inside of that same window just a week or so ago), the broken door, the obscenities on the garage wall (all directed at me, I might add), and in the end, nothing was accomplished. According to the deputy, our brother wasn’t a danger to himself or to us, and so the system could do nothing. Even if our sibling got us so upset that we wanted to kill him, that wasn’t considered a threat, though, with a straight face, the cop warned us against such an action. Then, like the previous cop, he suggested we get my brother evicted. When we admitted we were guests here, he said there was nothing we could do. “Well, there is one thing,” he said, then hesitated. “What?” I asked. “You could let him badly hurt you,” he responded.” Yeah, right, like I’m going to on purpose let him hurt me in order to get him out of here so he doesn’t hurt me.

As for the tires, he said she could file a complaint, and both she and my brother would have to show up in court. I explained that he wouldn’t show up, and the cop said the courts would swear out a warrant, and if they found him, would simply set a new date. I said he already had warrants for not showing up for court dates, and the cop shrugged. (He’d come wearing a bullet proof vest, which made his shrug very stiff.) Apparently, if my brother is ever arrested again, the old charges and the new charge would be combined and a new court date set. This could go on for years until he racks up more than $500,000 in warrants. (He’s only up to perhaps $10,000.)

So, here we are, barricaded in, the doorbell muted, while our brother roams around outside the house, like some sort of insane Wee Willie Winkie, “rapping at the window, crying through the lock.”

I had always held the thought of calling the cops as a mental safety net, knowing there was something I could do when he went totally out of control, but that mental safety net disappeared when the cop drove away.

The one interesting aspect of the conversation is that the cop said he never had guests. Never. His brother wanted to stay with him, and he refused. In this state, there is no way to get rid of guests who outstay their welcome, even if you’re a cop.

[For those of you who are following Ms. Cicy's Nightmare, don't be surprised if you see a truncated version of this post in the story.]

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

My New (Temporary) Relationship

A couple of weeks ago my car broke down, and for a week, the mechanic kept promising to fix it, but all sorts of emergencies got in the way, and he had to take care of those cars first. Emergencies? My car is the only one I have, and during the time it wasn’t working, my 97-year-old father had to go to the emergency room, doctors, and again to the hospital to take care of a medical crisis. How much more of an emergency could there possibly have been? Still, they did fix the car. For a couple of days, anyway.

Two or three days ago, the accelerator cable got stuck when I was out doing errands, and I had to drive back to the house at 5 miles per hour in second gear. I called the mechanic, thinking I’d try to make it to the repair shop, but he said to go home and he would come out and look at the car. I got back to the house, and waited. And waited. And waited. He never came. Never called.

The nknightext day I called him again, and he said he’d stop by after he finished for the day. Again, I waited. And waited. Made sure I had my phone by me so he could call if he couldn’t make it. Never came. Never called.

So this morning I called him again, and asked if he had forgotten me. He admitted that he had. He promised to come by in an hour or two, and said he’d call when he was on his way. So I made sure I had my phone. And I waited. And waited. He never came. Never called.

Finally I left to go to check on my father (luckily the hospital is within walking distance), and on my way, it occurred to me that this little contretemps with the mechanic seemed remarkably like a relationship, always waiting for him to stop by or call.

I know all relationships aren’t like that, but enough of them are to make me glad that my foray into online dating didn’t work out. I can just see me, sitting by the phone or the door the rest of my life, waiting for calls that never come, for visits that never materialize. Ouch.

Luckily, this particular relationship is a finite situation. One day the car will be fixed and I’ll have my life back. And that will be the end of waiting for men folk who so easily forget that I am alive.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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