Caregiver

Mulan’s Anniversary: Reflections of Caregiving, Grief And Who I Am Inside

Reflection
Music by Matthew Wilder
Lyrics by David Zippel
Performed by Lea Salonga

Mulan (1998)  Walt Disney Feature Animation

Today is the anniversary of the release of Mulan. It was actually the first Disney film Ben and I saw together when we began dating. It is hard to believe it was 21 years ago. At that time, Ben was not quite the Disney fanatic that I was, but he wanted to impress me so we made frequent visits to the Disney Store and he took me to see this film on opening day in what became our tradition of opening day viewings of Disney and Pixar films. As it turned out, Ben loved this film and he was very happy to find Mulan ornaments for our Christmas tree. He particularly loved the song in this clip, Reflection. I can relate to it, although Mulan was struggling with her identity within her family and I am struggling more within myself.

Somehow I cannot hide
Who I am, though I’ve tried.
When will my reflection show who I am, inside?

grief,ALS,Disney,Christmas

Ben loved Mulan and Buzz Lightyear!

I’ve written a lot about feeling like I was, and still am, floundering, because when I lost my dad and Ben, I also lost my role as a caregiver. Caregiving consumed my life. I did what I was expected to do but also what I felt in my heart was the right thing to do. Despite the emotional and physical stress, it was the most important, meaningful and loving work I have ever done. The attentive and devoted caregiver was who I was inside and out. Caregiving also revealed to me a strength that I never would have believed I possess, and that my often emotional demeanor would never have conveyed. Once that role was removed, I lost myself and my reflection was blurred.

Because caregiving was so much of who I’ve come to be, it is difficult for me when I realize that people I meet now do not know the story of Ben and my dad. I am no longer known as Abby, Ben’s caregiver, or Abby who was so devoted to her dad and her husband. Being my dad’s caregiver and his whole world, and being the person at Ben’s side throughout his battle with ALS are aspects of how I see myself, even though those actual days are done. Presenting myself apart from Ben, as a person on my own, seems incomplete, and almost disrespectful. I have to keep reminding myself that Ben is still a part of everything that I do and we will always be connected. However, I have to find my own way now.

Now, when I look at myself, I see much of the former, more eccentric and whimsical Abby, though I was changed by seeing my dad and Ben face death and by having the responsibility of caregiving. I still do struggle with compartmentalizing my caregiving experiences and losses. The truth is that I embraced my caregiving qualities as positive parts of myself.  It is an accomplishment to feel proud of myself, and caregiving did that for me, though it took a long time after the fact for me to realize it.  My struggle has been finding a balance of being true to Ben and my dad, and true to myself, while living in the present.  I want the Abby I am now to reflect all of those experiences without remaining immersed in only memories.

I have managed to integrate my caregiving into volunteer work, which is great. I did a small program with my local ALS chapter for children who are affected by ALS in their families. It was great because my background is in arts education and I care deeply about children. I also made a connection and volunteered for an organization called Hope Loves Company, which serves children who are affected by ALS in their families. I attended one of their family camps and did a scrapbooking workshop, which the kids (and I!) enjoyed. I know the importance of memories and I hope that creating a scrapbook leaves a lasting idea of ways to express their experiences and feelings. I look forward to continuing to volunteer. I am thrilled to see that my blog has built some new connections and provided support to caregivers and, in some cases, to people with ALS. I will continue to explore ways to reach out to this community and to the community of young caregivers. In this new phase of my life, my “new” and maybe somewhat “improved” self is exploring the possibilities for self-exploration and reinvention that will hopefully allow me to make a difference in the lives of others and maintain my tie to Ben, my dad and caregiving. I would love to know that they are proud of me and happy that they are continuing to inspire me. I know that inside myself, I hold all of my love and experiences.

All of our experiences help us grow and evolve. I will always see the people I’ve cared for, loved and lost in my reflection and I am proud and comforted that this will always keep their spirits alive and close. I hope that what others see in me honors them and our love and does justice to all of us.

 

Happy Anniversary “The Incredibles 2”: Tapping Our Super Powers in Caregiving and Grief

July 2014 at Walt Disney World

Today marks the one year anniversary of the release of Disney’s The Incredibles 2. The Incredibles hold a particular place in my heart because Mr. Incredible was one of Ben’s top three Disney buddies, along with Buzz Lightyear and Sully.

Because of this, and since it was our tradition, it was especially important to me to see the film on opening day. I remember that I had my little cry in the theater as the film began. Where I usually feel Ben’s presence at these films, at this film I profoundly felt his absence. I was angry that he did not have the chance to see this movie. Grief had brought a lot of emotions, but until this point, I can’t say that I had felt anger, despite often feeling frustrated that he was cheated of so much of life. I went on to feel more anger later in the summer when I visited the Georgia Aquarium, another place that Ben would have loved. There are certainly more profound life moments that Ben is missing and will miss that I should probably be more angry about, but sometimes the little moments make a tremendous impact.

In the past year, there have been more Disney films. Each one comes with sadness and acknowledgement of Ben’s physical absence but spiritual presence. However, I have also seen some growth in my perspective and experience with grief. I have noticed that I no longer debate with myself whether I can and should enjoy myself. The experiences are a time to focus thoughts on Ben and good memories. This seems to, on some level, alleviate the deep sadness and loneliness. It’s respectful of him and maintains the Disney bond that was such a strong part of our relationship.

This blog is a clear reflection of the way I look to each Disney film for enlightenment, and hopefully a quote that will carry me forward or give me perspective. I like to be able to share these thoughts with other caregivers with the intention that they will validate, inspire or comfort. The Incredibles 2 did not disappoint. The film actually has a lot of messages about inclusion, diversity, fighting for justice, family and love. I do remember the audible expressions of agreement when Dicker said, “Politicians don’t understand people who do good things. That makes them nervous.“

Interestingly, the quote that resonated with me was very appropriate for caregivers, and for an opening weekend that included Father’s Day. Edna Moda told Mr. Incredible, “Done properly, parenting is a heroic act. Done properly.”  I was so fortunate to have had two devoted and loving parents. As a public school teacher, over the years I have seen many children who are not parented properly, in fact, they are barely parented at all.  Good parenting is indeed a heroic, selfless act of love. The same came be said for good caregiving.

As a caregiver, I often questioned my abilities, especially when I was struggling with exhaustion, sadness and patience with Ben when he was stubborn and demanding. But, like any other caregiver, I put my emotions and feelings aside, or, at least on hold, and trudged on because the immediate needs of caregiving are not negotiable. Phone calls abruptly ended, activities were thrown to the side, chores ignored (well, I can’t say I minded that very much) as I attempted to create order amidst chaos, calm when he was panicked, and peace amidst the devastation of watching Ben deteriorate and suffer, physically and/or emotionally. Like all caregivers, I also ran interference among medical professionals and other related staff, as well as family and friends. I provided spirit boosts and levity and also administered difficult doses of reality, as tactfully as possible.

It certainly wasn’t my goal as a caregiver to be heroic and I don’t think that caregivers generally perceive themselves as heroes. We probably spend more time following Dory’s advice to “just keep swimming.” As a crybaby, I’ve never seen myself as heroic- at any point in my life- which is why, I think, I was puzzled when people told me that I was brave. Ben was brave, I was along for the ride, trying to be helpful and, a good deal of the time, not sure if I was much of a success. My insecurities made me feel much less than a superhero. However, I can attest that I definitely earned the Wonder Woman t-shirt Ben got me after I managed to grab him and keep him from falling off the bed!

In the film we are introduced to new super hero, Voyd, who asks Mrs. Incredible/Elastigirl, “How do you balance the superhero stuff with the life stuff?” Indeed, that’s a very important consideration for caregivers. For me, I constantly struggled with balancing the responsibilities of caregiving against a full-time job, daily life chores, relationships with friends and family, the emotional strain of losing the life Ben and I had, and knowing that ultimately, I was going to lose Ben. In retrospect, I think the balancing act IS the superhero stuff.

Young Dash tells his dad, Mr. Incredible, that he wants to fight bad guys because “It defines me.” I can say that caregiving defined me for several years and I found that it is a significant part of who I am and how I see myself. I have written about how I floundered when I was no longer a caregiver, until I found myself again through blogging, volunteering and trying to support other caregivers. Although I would rather not have discovered this through the illness and loss of my dad and Ben, I feel like I have identified caregiving as my super power. Unfortunately, I was not able to defeat cancer or ALS, but my dad and Ben always felt cared and advocated for and loved, and that is incredibly powerful. I did not see it while I was actively caregiving, but time and distance have provided valuable perspective.

Mr. Incredible at Walt Disney World’s parade, 2014.

Mr. Incredible summed up well the life of a caregiver when he said: “How do I do it? By rolling with the punches, baby!” I can picture Ben smiling and nodding, because, in actuality, both he and I rolled with the punches. I am still in awe of how well he rolled with the severe punches dealt to him by ALS. I guess we were both super heroes, albeit without the cute costumes.

I highly recommend The Incredibles 2. It’s quite fun and fantastic and offers unexpected words of wisdom for caregivers and everyone else. Post your thoughts! I look forward to reading them.

ALS, Caregiving, The Incredibles, Disney, Pixar, Caregiving, Grief

Ben as Mr. Incredible- Part of a birthday collage that I made for Ben. When it came to battling ALS, Ben was indeed a super hero!

Where Do I Go From Here? What Would Pocahontas Do?

Where Do I Go From Here?
Written by Marty Panzer and Larry Grossman
Performed by Judy Kuhn as Pocahontas

The earth is cold
The fields are bare
The branches fold against the wind that’s everywhere

The birds move on
So they survive
When snow so deep
The bears all sleep to keep themselves alive

They do what they must for now
And trust in their plan
If I trust in mine, somehow I might find who I am

But where do I go from here?
So many voices ringing in my ear
Which is the voice that I was meant to hear?
How will I know?
Where do I go from here?

My world has changed and so have I
I’ve learned to choose
And even learned to say goodbye

The path ahead’s so hard to see
It winds and bends but where it ends
Depends on only me

In my heart I don’t feel part of so much I’ve known
Now it seems it’s time to start
A new life on my own

But where do I go from here?
So many voices ringing in my ear
Which is the voice that I was meant to hear?
How will I know?
Where do I go from here?

May was a bit rough for me. May is ALS Awareness Month. Milestone dates and occasions are always significant. Even though it is not a milestone in Ben’s personal journey with ALS, it is an important time for me. I want and need to participate in the month to raise awareness of ALS, but I never feel like I really make a difference. I’ve been questioning so much about where I am and where I should be in my life. I feel like the sharpest pangs of grief have begun to subside and I have wanted to think that things have been steadily improving. And they have been improving in many ways. Unfortunately, the questions haven’t really ended, they are just different. Now, I question what I should be doing in terms of moving forward, in terms of my relationship with ALS, in terms of grief. Where do I go from here?

There is so much that resonates in this song. Since Ben “left,” as he referred to dying, I have grappled with where to go with my life. I stopped questioning how I survive after I lost my mom, which was my first major loss and was especially earth-shattering because we were so close and it was sudden. The first year, I went through motions. Just like animals Pocahontas described how the bears instinctively know what they have to do from season to season, I just kept going through motions, sometimes instinctively, sometimes lead by others, but never really thinking. Now, it is nearly four years since I lost Ben, and although I have gotten back on track and know that I have much to be grateful for, the setbacks  really throw me and I am frequently anxious about my plan for the future and I rely on a wealth of wonderful memories to sustain me. When it comes to the future, there are people who are fine to say that they put things “in God’s hands.” I have never been one of those people, despite being a person who does have faith.

I have done a good job of reclaiming the things I always loved to do. I have resumed active theater-going, socializing and I even travel a bit. Still, there is an anxiety. I feel like I don’t have a strategy for my life. There’s a lot of worry and emotional analysis. There is also judgment. I have had to deal with the judgment of others, to my face or behind my back, but I also judge myself. Am I balancing past, present and future? How do I effectively help others? How do I best help people with ALS and their caregivers? Does that keep me in the past? How do I maintain my connection to the past and to Ben’s journey with ALS while forming a new life and hopefully finding love again? Will I find love again or will I be alone? As much as I would like to find a new relationship and have that kind of love, I don’t seem to have found a good strategy for getting there. Each night, I look at my photo of Ben that is my laptop background, I say good night to him, and wonder if I will ever find someone who “gets” me the way that he did. He doesn’t have to be a Disney prince, either. No matter how good I feel about the strides I’ve made, and no matter how many happy days I have, there is an uneasiness that keeps me from feeling contentment.

While some people think I should put more distance from the past and focus more intently on my vision for the future, being by Ben’s side as he bravely battled ALS changed me. Just as my dad’s cancer began to progress and Ben was diagnosed with ALS, I was launching a pet souvenir business, Pets en Voyage. I slowly put it aside because I couldn’t juggle full-time work, full-time caregiving and building a business. The business was a dream come true for me, and one Ben and my dad, the consummate dog lover, were so excited about. I always said that I would come back to it, but whenever I begin to revisit it, I find it a painful reminder of those days of illness and chaos. I am not letting go of it, but cannot seem to fully embrace it again, either. Not yet.

I was profoundly influenced by my role as a caregiver, and when I lost my dad and Ben, and I lost that role, I did lose a big part of myself. I feel most comfortable when I find ways to tap into that side of myself. This blog has been one way to sort out my experiences and spread the word about caregiving and ALS. I have been touched by the connections I have made and comments I have had from cALS (Caregivers of people with ALS) and pALS (people with ALS) in response to my posts. I was inspired by earn my Certification as a Caregiving Consultant but have not yet figured out how to use it more effectively, though I participate in various online ALS and grief support groups to lend an ear, share my experiences and persistent questions, and offer ideas to those currently struggling with caregiving.

When I was a caregiver, my role was clear: the goal was to keep Ben comfortable and get him the help he needed. There might have been twists and turns, and a lot of curve balls, but I had to come up with plans, and then back-up plans! Now, I’m just not sure of where to go and what to do for myself. What I know, and what I learned as a caregiver, is that I am a born teacher and caregiver. I also saw that I could be a strong advocate for my dad and Ben, but I did not seem to know how to use those skills for myself.

As a teacher and someone who spent more than 30 years in the field of arts and education, I love kids and could not help thinking about how difficult it must be for children to watch a parent or other family member navigate ALS and take on caregiving responsibilities. I have felt that my background could be useful to children who are affected by ALS in their families. A while back, I was able to collaborate with my local ALS chapter to conduct a small workshop for kids who had a parent with ALS. We did crafts, ate pizza and ice cream and talked. Click here to read  my post about that experience.

Earlier this month, I had the supreme privilege of working with Hope Loves Company, an organization dedicated to supporting children whose families have been affected by ALS (click here to visit their web site). Hope Loves Company runs camps for children and their families- it’s a special opportunity to get away, participate in all kinds of activities, from hiking to fishing to music and crafts. Also, it is an opportunity to be surrounded by other people who share, understand and can commiserate about the experience of ALS and its impact on our lives. I was a facilitator of a workshop where the children made scrapbooks- some brought photos from home and we also printed photos from their activities during camp. I believe that going through photos can be a very valuable process- it’s a time to relive memories and remember our important relationships- and I was happy to hear the stories that the children shared with me. It was fun and meaningful, and it felt like I was exactly where I should be. I look forward to continuing my volunteer work with this wonderful organization.

It feels good to me to work children in this way. I want and need to follow a path that lets me discover ways to reach out to young people affected by this disease, but also to young caregivers in general. I’m just not sure exactly where to go or how to get there.

Now it seems it’s time to start
A new life on my own

But where do I go from here?
So many voices ringing in my ear
Which is the voice that I was meant to hear?
How will I know?
Where do I go from here?

I have lots of ideas, but I’m a worrier by nature, so I tend to identify the obstacles before I see a clear path. While it’s probably not terribly realistic that I will resolve everything during my summer vacation from teaching, it’s my plan to address ways to expand my work and relationship to ALS. Summer is always strange because it marks another year that Ben spent in the hospital and then left the world, so it’s good to have a focus. It’s especially meaningful to make that focus something that relates to him. Yes, I keep the dating thing on my mind, too, but that kind of strategizing seems to be more daunting to me.

I do welcome ideas and brainstorming, so please feel free to comment or email if there is a project you’d like to consider or implement.

 

 

 

What Baymax Knew About Tears and Grief

Last night, I watched my recording of an episode of The Aquarium (it’s on the Animal Planet channel). I was so excited about this series because it features the Georgia Aquarium, a very special place that I visited for the first time last summer. In fact, it is so special that I am returning in August.

Penguins were featured in this particular episode. Ben and I loved penguins and last summer, I was fortunate to be able to meet two of them during encounter programs at the Georgia Aquarium. It was a bit unnerving for me because doing a penguin encounter was something I had tried to arrange for Ben and me, but the weather was terrible when we were supposed to go and Ben was afraid to venture outside. Sadly, we never had another opportunity, since he passed away about six months later. It felt simultaneously right and wrong to do an encounter without him. I felt like I did it for us and participated through his eyes. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, maybe it’s justification, but it gives me peace and lets me feel him at times when his absence is suffocating.

In this episode, a baby penguin was born, needing help to hatch and then he was not thriving. They did a lot to help this sweet baby and ended up intubating him. Ultimately, they euthanized him. I was already in tears seeing the tube in his mouth- so tiny to go through this. It summoned memories of when Ben was intubated, which was terribly frightening. Loving penguins as we did, I know that watching this scene also would have devastated Ben. I was hoping for a happy ending and it didn’t happen. The Aquarium wants to present an accurate portrayal of what goes on. I watched the staff cry as they watched the baby leave the world and I sat on my sofa bawling as I have not done in a while. Even today, I have not been able to compose myself. I am back in the saddest and most frightening of memories.

I know that I cry easily and I accept that about myself. I love animals, so seeing a little baby born and then not able to survive is heartbreaking. Having had to put Disney to sleep just a few months ago, and my cat, Tiffany, ten years before that, I know the heartbreak of letting go despite knowing that it is the best thing for your furbaby. Maybe because this was a penguin- the animal Ben and I made ours- made it that much worse. I often talk to Ben, especially if I feel his presence, and I kept looking at his chair hoping for him to console me and knowing that he would feel and share my pain. That may not seem logical or reasonable, but it works for me. Sometimes.

I certainly think about our days in the hospital, but I haven’t relived for a while the intense fear of when Ben had to be intubated. It was done in such an emergency that they performed the procedure in his hospital room rather than bringing him to an operating room. The frenzy was scary. I busied myself by updating his family, but a texting drama was begun by a couple of his family members who were never present but seemed to think that judging me compensated for their lack of attentiveness. Although I refused to participate, I can’t say that it didn’t weigh on me when I still felt that it was responsible to text updates. After the procedure, Ben had to go to the ICU, which I was told was protocol but was still terrifying. Unlike the penguin, with ALS, we knew that Ben was going to die, but these were crises and where death loomed over us, now it was like a flashing neon sign. Listening to the Aquarium veterinarian talk about euthanasia brought back all of the memories of Ben ultimately deciding that he was miserable on the ventilator and choosing to leave this world. So, here I was on my sofa crying for the penguin and for Ben, remembering not the music and the love that surrounded Ben on the day that he left, which I try to keep at the top of my memories, but instead, reliving all of the fear and devastation of that time.

I am drained. I was unprepared for the setback. I looked forward to seeing this episode with my little friends from the Georgia Aquarium. I was happy to recognize some of the staff members who led the encounters I did with the penguins, dolphins and sea otters. Now, I am back among the worst memories of Ben’s battle with ALS and the tragic choices that he had to make. August will mark four years since Ben left. Some people would say that I should not react as emotionally. Maybe I shouldn’t. But I did. I am always wary of when I will have a setback. This was a particularly bad setback, but I’ve learned that I will bounce back. It’s grief. On a daily basis, I’m actually doing fine, but that doesn’t erase my experience and the loss. So, I accept that just as I smile when I think of the wonderful and loving memories- even those during Ben’s ALS days- I will cry when reminded of the pain and loss. It is unnerving and exhausting, but as Baymax so astutely says, “It is alright to cry. Crying is a natural response to pain.” If I want to put a positive spin on it, it’s because I was fortunate to know and give so much love and caring that I feel the pain so deeply. Grief is never easy or predictable.

On Mother’s Day: What Disney and I Know About A Mother’s Love

We were always Mickey Mouse fans!

Today is Mother’s Day. My grandmother believed that every day should be Mother’s Day. And, the truth is that when my mom was alive, every day WAS Mother’s Day. We were so close that we did not need an actual holiday to celebrate that fact. After I lost them, I can’t say that this holiday was like other milestones in terms of evoking much sadness. There was a feeling of not belonging, and the sting of realizing that I didn’t have the close and unconditional love of family anymore. Yesterday, I saw a lot of people carrying flowers and celebrating the occasion, albeit a day early. It hurt more than it has because I realized that I have lost all of the people whom I had celebrated throughout my life. I never forget all of the love that I currently have in my life, but there are times that I don’t like to face that the people I loved the most only exist in my memories now.

I think about the importance of mothers in Disney films. Often, they are not present, having died at some point in the childhood of our favorite characters. Who can forget the pain of Bambi’s realization that he has lost his mother? The power of a mom’s life remains steadfast in the lives of our beloved characters. The films show us that people we love and lose stay close in our hearts. This is such an important message for children who are caregivers and are grieving.  I previously shared this clip from Disney’s live action Cinderella, where Cinderella’s father advises her that they must always cherish their home because her mom was the heart of it and they must honor her. This scene touched my heart. I cherish my memories to keep my mom’s spirit alive and honor her. I get my childlike enthusiasm from her and, I believe, my natural caregiving skills, which even extend to my students. Of course, I embody her love of Mickey Mouse and all things Disney, but I hope that in some small way I have followed her example as a person. I do know that she is always with me. But, as I have also said before, as fortunate as I am, sometimes memories aren’t enough. Today kind of feels like one of those days.

My mom and I were very close, or, as everyone said, attached at the hip. My dad always said that he loved to listen to us giggle. She was a child at heart and I get that spirit from her. She loved Mickey Mouse and Paddington Bear and she loved children. Children loved her, too. She was a teacher at our local early childhood school and she loved when kids would greet her around the neighborhood. People laughed that we spoke on the phone many times every single day. We went to the theater and ballet together. Our excursions to NYC from Long Island for the holiday windows and the after-Christmas sales were epic, strategically choreographed events. We loved each other unconditionally and had so much fun. Frankly, I could not imagine living after she died.

Grandma and I were also very close. From the time I was a child, I was in awe of Grandma and her elegance. I loved her sense of fashion. She had a wonderful way of putting together colors and fabrics and styles. I still have some of her clothing and jewelry. The best shopping I ever did was in her closets and drawers. When I’m feeling lazy about dressing up or putting on make-up- it happens rarely, but it happens!- I hear her warning me that I never know who I am going to meet and I should always look my best. Clearly, she was hoping for a nice, Jewish Prince Charming. My fairytale was not quite exactly her idea of the “tale as old as time,” but Grandma always seemed to understand that I danced to my own beat. Sometimes we frustrated each other, particularly when I challenged her ideas of an ideal life. But, we had a special bond and an unconditional love for each other.

Grandma doing my hair. She crocheted my dress. She was very talented! I get my creative streak from her.

Grandma had four brothers and a sister, my great-aunts and great-uncles, and I loved them all dearly. I loved spending time with my great-aunts and great-uncles. Losing Grandma and my older relatives left a huge void in my life. However, through our loving relationships, I developed a tremendous appreciation of and compassion for elderly people that I have to this day.

Grandma was very artistic and I inherited her abilities and passion for crafts. She crocheted many aphgans and sweaters, skirts, dresses and ponchos. I remember choosing wool colors with her and how each item had to represent the gift recipient, yet had to be timeless and classic. I can see my own shifting tastes as I look at my childhood aphgan in its pastel colors and then the gray, maroon and cream colors in my college aphgan. I remember waking up in the morning covered with the squares she made while I was asleep.  My dollhouse and dolls even got aphgans! I still have many things that she made. They hold such beautiful memories of time spent watching her and learning how to crochet. Eventually, she helped me to make an aphgan of my own. Ben used it often. Grandma’s talents extended to the piano, and she inspired me to learn how to play. I never played as well as she did, but she helped and encouraged me to play, and I’ve kept some of the sheet music.

When I was a caregiver, juggling responsibilities for Ben and my dad, I realized how hard my mom worked, at a time when there was no real acknowledgment of the role of caregivers. My mom was at her core a natural, nurturing caregiver. She took care of my dad, brother, our dogs and me, as well as Grandma, but was also responsible for looking after my great-grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, and even my cousins. She even knew the treats that my friends liked and made sure to have them on hand at all times.  She took care of everyone in myriad ways. My mom was the most selfless person I have ever known.

My mom visited my great-aunt, Tanta Rosie, with our Standard Schnauzer, Dulcie, almost every day.

I realize now that in many ways, my own caregiving days started when my mom died. I followed her example and began looking after Grandma, my dad, my great-aunt who was in a nearby nursing home. I was constantly on the phone with Grandma and my dad and helping them tend to various chores. I also loved and kept in close touch with my great-aunts and great-uncles.  I went home every weekend to help in any way I could, and sometimes that was simply keeping everyone company and making them laugh. My grandma did not want to be cheered, and I understood that. I don’t think that anyone fully comprehends the loss of a child unless they experience it. My aunt, my mom’s older sister, also visited every weekend. But, after a sudden death, everyone floundered and tried to pick up pieces while still in shock and feeling profound sadness at the loss of the key person in our family. And, as in any family, the dynamics led to tensions that were, at times, explosive. I found that, just like I believe my mom would have done, I spent my time with them being a cheerleader and my private time at home collapsing in grief. Sometimes I came home, sat on the sofa and cried, and at other times I dropped my bags and took myself to a movie just to escape.

When Grandma was ill, I helped with her caregiving, and, although I was not her primary caregiver, I was the one she usually relied on for comfort. At the same time, although I was in my thirties, she wanted to protect me from the fact that she was dying.

As time has passed, I think mostly of the wonderful memories of my mom and Grandma and our time together. So much who I am and what I do reminds me of them. I get my Peter Pan-like inner child spirit and love of Disney from my mom. You won’t be surprised that one of my favorite memories is when my mom called me from Walt Disney World exclaiming, “Abby, I met Mickey!” Every time I bake I feel Grandma with me, and she is a part of all of my creative and artistic endeavors, as well as my fashion choices.

Making humentashen is a tradition that started a long time ago!

Ben and I had no children together, but he had three daughters, so I suppose I can say I was a stepmom, though I only had a brief relationship with one daughter that I believed was closer than it turned out to be. I would like them to have been there more for their dad, but I knew that interfering would have added more tension to Ben’s already stressful life. I made no demands and have never had any expectations of them.  It’s a shame, because I would have loved to be an active stepmom and would still like that.

Now, I am a devoted mom to my cat, Tinker Bell, as I was to Disney and Tiffany. My mom- well, my whole family- loved our pets, so their influence was present even as I cared for Disney and Tiffany as they coped with several illnesses. Tinker Bell has been with me for almost three months and she has realized that hers is a home full of love. Today, as on most days, she is curled up next to me, napping and then waking up to chat and, I imagine, say “Happy Mother’s Day!”

My mom and our Standard Schnauzer, Dulcie. Miss them both!

On Disney’s “Gotcha Day,” February 18, 2019 at NYC’s Meow Parlour

There is not a day that I don’t think of my mom and Grandma. I am proud to honor them on Mother’s Day, though in truth, I celebrate, treasure and miss them always. I wish a Happy Mother’s Day to mothers of all creatures, great and small, human and otherwise.