If you’re a caregiver, remember to lean on your tribe. A tribe helps you survive a storm. And while your tribe can’t save all the things around you—not even your heart—from breaking, your tribe will buoy you and save you from drowning.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2023.

I don’t think this is elder abuse. Sure, she’s pulling my weeds, but she likes to pull weeds. Give her a weed in the garden over a western from the recliner any day!

Mom is the doing (not the sitting) kind, and this is something she can still do.

We’re in the weeds.

My tribe is stoic. But this year has chipped the veneer from our stoic stones. The last time I cried in the car alone like I did tonight was the night I knew my marriage was over. I was on my way to meet mom at the halfway point to pick up my kids, a 45-minute drive. I was talking to my husband’s uncle. We both knew. We were both heartbroken. I pulled over to collect myself before I met mom at Wendy’s. I didn’t want her to see it. She saw it. I could see it in her face.

Tonight, the tears are for her. Her face is mostly empty now.

Letting go of someone you love is so damn hard.

I knew I was more frazzled than usual this visit to the farm, but I didn’t expect the tears. I don’t cry. That’s a lie, but you know what I mean. It’s rare. There was a sunset before I left. My phone camera didn’t capture all the magnificence, but I snapped the image anyway. I wanted to capture the moment that I knew would hold me during this shift. A shift south.Sunsert

Maybe it was the song playing, maybe the shift I saw, maybe because earlier today she spent thirty minutes trying to explain something on the floor that… fell? she lost? she saw? I’ll never know.

I’ll repeat it because I need to remember: letting go of someone you love is so damn hard. It’s OK to suddenly ugly cry.

I considered arriving home after three weeks away with swollen eyes or pulling over before reaching home to regroup, but Rosie, my cat, was periodically hurling in her crate next to me, Venus and Bernice were panting (ew, dog breath) in the back.

I’d have to regroup, calm down as I drove. In that very thought, my friend texted me. I had Chiara (my Subaru) “read” me the message.

“Hey. I’ve been thinking about you. Missed you today.”

I’m with my friends in the weeds.

I hit the call button on the screen.

Five minutes in, she asked about mom.

“It’s bad… I don’t break down…”

But I did. Again on the phone.

I hated it at first, but, you know what? It was exactly the moment I needed.

I was about an hour away from home when I called her. We didn’t fix anything over the phone. My mom’s still broken. But I was able to arrive, dry faced, no swollen eyes, and present. Sure, we talked about the difficult week. I was a little stoic and a little vulnerable. But the chat helped.

I also arrived home to two packages. Gifts from friends! One high school friend. One work friend. The best part: absolutely no occasion.

Leading up to falling apart as I drove, I spent a week with friends on the beach in a friend’s home. They were in the weeds with me. I don’t always know it in the moment, but I know… my friends save me.

Don’t underestimate the impact your friendship has on your friends. My friends buoyed me during a difficult spell.

When I take mom to my weed-ridden beds, I know that’s what I do: she bobs up for a moment. She has something to do. Even if she doesn’t understand why, I know, we know, she feels better pulling the weeds.

I asked her yesterday if she ever swore at the weeds when she pulled them.

She looked at me with clear eyes (that’s a thing when an Alzheimer’s patient buoys, you can see it in their face):


There was a “Doh!” lilt to her answer.

I think the words I use to swear at the weeds are more colorful than hers, but I feel a little better about myself knowing she at least says, “Dadblameit!” as she yanks at the stubborn ones.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021.