I have my day planned, and this plan will tick off all the boxes:
- morning ritual
- worship service
I wake early, bright, crisp morning. I’m watching the live stream of my church’s service (middle of my second checkbox) when dad and mom pop in.
“The sitter didn’t show yet, and I need to be at church early for sound check. She should be here in about 30 minutes to take mom to church.”
“No problem.” Really, not a problem. And I get it. Dad can’t move around independently when mom is there.
But this is the first of several events that hijack the plan for my day.
- for second day in a row, my garbage is strewn from the highway to the fields
- the sitter shows but misunderstands me and leaves without mom
- my ex texts that he’s coming to the farm to make lunch
- my battery dies when I’m in town
Consequently, my checklist shifts:
- take mom to church
- pick up trash
- run to town for new trash bins
- visit with mom and ex while he makes lunch
- late family lunch at the big house
The items on the new list are all good, easy, and (except for the trash bit) happy things. But a hissy fit brews in my heart: How can I get back to my list?!
While my ex is cooking, mom and I walk down to my house to retrieve a couple of things. In my rush that morning, I can’t remember, “Did I leave Rosie in or out when I took mom to church?”
“What’s wrong?” mom asks. She senses my distress.
“I can’t find Rosie.”
I check every hidey-hole I know, open cabinets and closets. No Rosie.
“Did you find her?”
“No.” But we need to get back with the cucumber and mushrooms.
As lunch is being prepared, I return to the house two more times, with the excuse that I have something my ex needs to make that lunch.
I’m the first to admit I’m overly attached to this creature. She’s rare (only 15% of gingers are female), but that’s not why I’m over-the-moon for her. She’s a healing cat. At night, if I have a pain, she’ll curl up on that ache: across my arthritic left knee, along my abdomen next to the hernia sleeves that sometimes throb, against my neck if I have a sore throat. It’s magical.
When I leave my house after my third failed search, I’m falling apart.
Did she get through the fence? Did the eagle get her? My head is a bramble of all the possible predators and dangers, and my own carelessness. Did I leave her outside?
On my walk back to the big house, my right shoulder catches.
I know this pain. It’s been fifteen to twenty years since I last had a cortisone injection in that shoulder. Dang! Letting it hang, lifting it, twisting or rotating, it all hurts. I try the coffee cup move to prove to myself: Yep. It’s back.
Pain colors the rest of my day. I am a miserable table guest at lunch. My heart hurts (Where is Rosie?), my shoulder is burning, and my personal, “important” to-do list was left cold and mostly unchecked. The frustration and grief are a lead ball in my belly.
I clean up after lunch and dash back home as quickly as possible. Tears burn my eyes. Grief? Anger? Fear?
How can you be so upset over a cat and Sunday plans!?
I’m furious that I feel these things. This never happens to me. I’m rarely emotional, safe behind my heart wall, a wall that protects me from this: stupid emotions! My wall is my superpower, the reason I can cope.
What happened to it? What is happening to me?
I scan the fields as I walk down, tour the back yard, look up in the trees, check the spaces between the gates (could she have squeezed through here?). Inside, I look in every hidey-hole for the fifth or sixth time. My voice has carried her name through the fields, into the branches, under the beds…
I don’t like this!
I can’t decide whether to collapse or tear the house apart. I can’t remember feeling this distraught.
If I can’t cope with losing a pet, how can I face what’s happening to mom? How will I cope with losing her? Or dad?
This is why I built a wall around my heart! Emotions are hard.
Finding my center
I can barely use my right arm now. The pain pierces up my neck and into my bones. I’m in the darkest room, the box room. On top of one stack of boxes is a pile of dog beds. I look up there for the fourth or fifth time. The bedding is just above my head. I did tippy toe before, but this time —maybe the bedding sunk a bit under her weight, maybe she shifted positions during those six miserable hours I couldn’t find her— I see her ear!
I’ve left out most of the details of this story, and I honestly don’t know that I have any wisdom to share. Except maybe this. Caregivers are wired to help, to be flexible. But our fuses are short. When a caregiver carves out a bit of time for themselves, holds to a thread of something they want to keep, flexibility is hard. I think dad and I keep a tight grip on parts of our routines because losing mom is hard. But the stiff grip backfires. When we don’t respond with softness and flexibility, the burden of the moment wrenches us, and we don’t win. And sometimes, we throw ourselves into fits over something that hasn’t even happened.
Rosie was asleep on a six-foot pile of boxes and bedding all along.
At the end of my Sunday, I didn’t check off most of the things I wanted to do, but worse than that, I didn’t embrace the joy the day had to offer:
- having coffee with mom in the morning
- putting make up on mom before church
- listening to dad sing a solo
- receiving a jump start and a hug from my cousin
- sharing a delicious lunch I didn’t have to cook
- enjoying the blue of the sky and the cool of the air
- finding Rose… finally
On the other side of the day, my body and mind were worse for the wear. I pulled out my You Can Heal Your Life book and looked up shoulders: shoulders “represent our ability to carry out experiences in life joyously. We make life a burden with our attitude.” In other words, if we’re experiencing shoulder pain, we may need to check our attitude.
It’s been three days and my shoulder still hurts but it’s better. I have a doctor’s appointment for it on Monday, some Tylenol-Arthritis, and most importantly, an attitude adjustment. I’m still sore that my to-do list was hijacked, but who’s to blame for that if I don’t make it clear that I have a plan?
I woke a couple of times in the night and then this morning to find Rosie snuggled on my right shoulder. When I shifted a little, she snuggled more insistently against that joint. I believe healing comes from many sources. I embrace the science of medicine, the grace of attitude shifts, and the magic of a kitty cuddle.
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021