grief

Bambi’s Story Rings True After 75 Years!

From Bambi. (1942)
Music by Frank Churchill
Lyrics by Larry Morey
Photo: Walt Disney Pictures

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the release of Walt Disney Pictures Bambi. It is a special film to me, and has become even more special during my experiences in caregiving and grief.

One of my very first posts was a reflection on the lyrics to “Love Is a Song That Never Ends.” Click here for that post. I frequently refer to that song. Here is the song clip to accompany the lyrics:

Love is a Song that Never Ends
Music by Frank Churchill
Lyrics by Larry Morey

Love is a song that never ends
Life may be swift and fleeting
Hope may die yet love’s beautiful music
Comes each day like the dawn.

Love is a song that never ends
One simple theme repeating
Like the voice of a heavenly choir
Love’s sweet music flows on.

Love guided us through even in the darkest and most trying times. The truth was that as much as we loved each other, when there was stress, we did not always show each other our best sides. We were scared, devastated and angry at what life threw at us. We were human. Now, nearly two years after Ben has left this world, I continue to sort through emotions, but the profound memories that I have – of the more carefree and healthy days as well as the most challenging caregiving and grief-filled days- constantly remind me that “love’s sweet music flows on.”

I wrote another post about the wonderful relationship between Bambi and Thumper.  The following most delightful scene took on a new meaning for me.

What I wrote in that post bears repeating:

Thumper was the very adorable and lovable young forest gossip, and he certainly didn’t always say the right thing. He was the one to point out that Bambi was “kinda wobbly, isn’t he?” and “he doesn’t walk very good, does he?” This is not exactly the positive reinforcement someone wants when struggling and self-conscious! And while his mother had to remind him that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all,” Thumper was a child making an observation, albeit tactlessly, but his heart was in the right place. He was quite devoted to his new friend, the young prince Bambi.

Thumper and his siblings (also incredibly adorable little bunnies) play with Bambi but also watch out for him. They anticipate where he is going to struggle and they gather around to help him so they can play together. Thumper was Bambi’s motivation. I especially love this clip, in which Thumper assesses the situation on the ice and tries to position Bambi’s legs, advising Bambi to “walk both ends at the same time.” It doesn’t go so well and they both end up skidding and falling. It reminded me of the way I had to work with Ben to help him up and figure out the best way to get around. We each had to trust each other and there were times we were nervous and other times it was fun. There were times that I managed to keep him from falling and got him safely onto the bed or a chair. There were also the times that we both ended up on the ground, fortunately unharmed. And, like Thumper, we often found ourselves saying, “Gee whiz, what happened that time?” I always loved this scene in the film, but now I see it in a new light.

Thumper never gave up on Bambi or their friendship in the same way that as caregivers, we never give up on our loved ones. And, Thumper was so happy when Bambi did have an accomplishment like walking steadily. Though Bambi is first learning to navigate the world and Ben was adapting to new ways to do some tasks and dealing with losing the ability to do others, I could relate to Thumper’s positive attitude of problem solving and encouragement.

Also touching was that he never left Bambi behind in pursuit of his own fun. ALS is known to be an isolating disease, particularly because you lose the ability to communicate. Thumper was determined to have Bambi join him with their other forest friends. It is an important lesson for all caregivers, friends, relatives and others to find some way to remain engaged with our loved ones. Visits, cards, texts, emails, photos, videos and a simple presence can all help a person feel remembered and included in life. Ben and my dad always enjoyed hearing that people thought of them.

Bambi was so frightened, confused and sad to lose his mom. He did not know what the future and the world held in store. But, time went on and winter turned to spring, and Bambi grew up. He reunited with Thumper and Flower and the rest of his friends and all their families, and none of them forgot the friendship they shared. Thumper and Bambi- and a dose of Disney- remind us that love never dies and beautiful memories stay strong and sustain us as we move through life’s good and bad times.

(f you haven’t seen the film, or haven’t watched it in a while, treat yourself. It is a beautiful story.)

Happy Anniversary, Bambi. And, thank you!

The Sound of Memories

Ben playing the drums at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. He loved listening to and making music.

 

In a post last week, I wrote, “I’m learning to be here in this world with the knowledge that Ben is a part of everything I do- as are my mom and dad- and they will never leave me. I am creating a new way of relating to them and they are here, without physically being here, evermore.” I’ve also written a lot about things that matter because they represent Ben and our memories. It has been so difficult to even consider parting with things that he loved, that he frequently used, or that were important to us. I’ve written about his table breaking and needing to be replaced. In that case, I never liked that table and until faced with how substantial a part of Ben’s life it was, I would not have imagined it to be something that mattered. Then, there is his shabby desk chair that became his makeshift wheelchair, filled with some lousy memories, but which is still the chair that I choose to sit in, despite my new and lovely Mickey Mouse chairs.  Yes, they are things, but they give me a sense of peace and security. I feel Ben when I am surrounded by these things, even though I also know that he is in my heart evermore.

A few days ago, Ben’s desktop computer crashed. This was something I dreaded because Ben’s computer was his lifeline. Almost every single day, I would get him dressed and wheel his chair out of the bedroom to his desk and computer. He used the computer all day–paid bills, watched movies, texted, surfed, and, most memorably, listened to music. I especially loved to arrive home and see him with his cute little smirk, singing along to our Disney soundtracks, recounting our visits to Walt Disney World. Ben’s face lit up when he listened to music and he loved to talk about music and orchestrations. Without wanting to resort to many clichés, music was essential to his being. During his last weeks, I came home from the hospital each night and turned on his computer just to listen to his playlists. It kept him close and present in our apartment, where I felt very alone as I grappled with the knowledge that he would never return home. I have continued to use his computer, almost exclusively to play his music. Since music was so important to him, it has kept his spirit vibrant to have his music fill the rooms.

The Dapper Dans were very cool! Ben always loved them.

When suddenly his computer would not boot, I went into a complete panic. I tried to remember things he taught me about working with computers, but nothing resolved the issue. I was completely devastated at the thought of losing Ben’s music and not being able to play it on his very own computer. The fact that this happened in August, with the quickly approaching second anniversary of his “leaving,” amplified my emotions. I remembered the many times that he set up a video and music for me as a surprise for my birthday, Valentine’s Day or our anniversary.  I remembered the song lyrics he gave me over the years to express his thoughts about our relationship and love. Even at Walt Disney World, he loved the barbershop quartet, the Dapper Dans, and the live bands that performed at the England Pavilion of Epcot, especially when they played The Beatles. Of course, I had some of the same music in my library and I could get any music, but I wanted things to be the way he had them, with the sounds of the iTunes playlists on his computer coming from his speaker. I tried to listen to music from my laptop and iPhone with a different speaker but it was too unsettling. These are the setbacks that bring back all the pain, just when I think I’m beginning to manage things pretty well.

In addition to the potential loss of his music library, I was also upset about possibly losing the inventory data for Pets en Voyage, my pet travel souvenir business, though I was pretty sure there were back-ups. Ben had painstakingly set up the inventory for me, and he was masterful with this kind of thing. He was so proud of what he had done, and of my business, and the data was invaluable not just for the information but for the memories it held of something that we worked on together and that gave us joy and hope. Although I had to put the business aside when caregiving responsibilities became overwhelming, planning and designing when I had a few minutes here and there, or even brainstorming in my head, kept my mind active and gave me some sort of focus for positive thoughts of the future, which generally seemed very bleak. Using Quickbooks to utilize the information has kept Ben a part of my activities and that has been such a comfort and inspiration to get back on track. I could not imagine losing that.

Caregiving,Grief,ALS,Memories

Ben’s birthday, 2013, seated at his table. He loved peanut butter M&Ms but shortly after that photo was taken, he had to stop eating them.

Ordinarily, Ben would have been able to troubleshoot and solve his own computer problems. He did teach me many things, but I was unequipped to deal with a hard drive failure. It felt like another loss. As much as I did not want to ask someone to take on tasks that were integral to who Ben was, I also wanted to preserve those things that were Ben. So, yesterday, I hired a computer tech consultant, Carlos. It felt very strange and sad, and yet, I think Ben would have enjoyed working with him. He was fantastic, and although the hard drive was corrupted, thankfully, he was able to recover the data. He made a couple of copies of Ben’s music library, and I will also upload it to the cloud. Although he suggested putting the music library on one of my laptops, I asked him to set up a desktop computer that Ben had purchased but had never used.  Carlos understood that although I did have to change the computer itself, emotionally, I needed it to still be Ben’s, with the identical files and structure, and the same monitor and speaker. Thanks to Carlos, Ben’s music will still play as it always did, with the sounds still coming from his speaker. The first music I played on the restored system was The Beatles’ “Love Songs” album, as it should be.

As I have written, I have been ready to make some changes in my apartment, but definitely not this one. I’ve written about what we know from Bambi, that “Love is a Song That Never Ends,” and, thankfully, it will sound just right, as I continue to sit in his chair, peruse his playlists, smile as I remember his love of music and know that I have honored him and our life here.

Here is a tiny video that I took during our last trip to Walt Disney World, with Ben watching the live band at Epcot’s England Pavilion. He was so happy to listen to live bands and I wanted to capture the memory and he didn’t want me to miss the music!

With Me Evermore

Listen to the song while you read the post! Performed by Josh Groban, from the Beauty and the Beast (2017) soundtrack.

 

It’s been a year since I launched this blog. I’d spent what feels like a lifetime collecting Disney inspirations and insights that helped me sort through the many emotions involved in caregiving and grief. I have learned a lot as I have written blog posts and corresponded with caregivers and those with ALS and other illnesses. I am grateful and humbled to have made new good friends through bad circumstance. I am also coming to a more peaceful understanding that the people I’ve lost are and will be with me and part of everything I do and everything I am, evermore.

My very first post began with one of my very first quotes, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think,” which Christopher Robin told his friend Winnie the Pooh. I continue to remind myself of this and often to be surprised at just how true it is in caregiving, grief, and life! Wise little boy, and not so silly old bear!

I do reflect on my experience in grief, and on the judgments I’ve felt from others, and have made of myself. Last week, I wrote about how Ben was not defined by what ALS had done to his body, that he was still Ben inside, and he needed, and deserved, to be related to as he always was. As I wrote “What Aladdin Knew About Appearances,” I thought about how grief is not always displayed on the outside.  I have sometimes altered my outside to cover what is going on inside, so that people who care about me will feel relief that I am doing well and not find me to be a drag.  I will admit that sometimes acting cheerful on the outside can help cheer me up on the inside. Unfortunately, that does not always work, and sometimes it has backfired, leaving me drained and even sadder. I will always be grateful for waterproof mascara!

Even before I was ever in grief myself, I heard people comment that a particular period of time had passed, and someone should have “moved on.” If you’ve read this blog, you know I don’t like that phrase because it feels like it is saying that I have left my loved one behind. Maybe it’s just semantics, but that’s the way it resonates with me. I never understood the concept of a designated amount of time for grief. Did people think I was over the loss of my dad too soon, since I had returned to my caregiving routines quickly? Or, since I didn’t get to grieve my dad’s loss, was it two for one grief or did I get an extension on my time to grieve after Ben died? Ridiculous, indeed!

After I lost Ben, many people rushed to tell me that I had my life back so I should be happy and make this time about me. Happy? Really? Telling me I have my life back was not helpful. Yes, I did understand that they meant I had more freedom. Note to self: I have to be less understanding of people who tell me what and how to feel rather than asking me how I’m feeling. The truth was that after caregiving for my dad and then Ben for more than seven years, I did not know what to do with this life and freedom that had been returned to me. And, there were many times that I did not want to know. I was simply having a hard time without them. But, it was easier not to argue the point, and, I either kept my distance from these people or superficially put on a happy face. Those people never really saw what was going on inside my head. I don’t even think they would have understood, but the potential frustration was not worth it to me.

My friends know that I cry easily, so to cry in front of them was nothing new. But, I tried to enjoy myself with them, particularly shortly after Ben left. They felt relieved to see me smiling but they were very sympathetic, too. However, I was very conscious of and uncomfortable with my smiling and laughter because they did not match what I was feeling inside. For at least a year, and still at times, I arrived home in a puddle of tears. It is very stressful to fight your emotions. But, I had to test the waters and slowly ease myself into the land of the living. Fortunately, I did have some wonderful people supporting me.

From the time that Ben “left” (his word), I have also judged myself in my grief. Am I doing enough? Am I getting out? Am I crying too much? Dwelling on the loss? Am I OK? What is  OK? When I joined a support group and said that I’d cleaned out our storage space after a few months, and another woman said that she had not cleared out a thing, I immediately felt guilty. I thought about how my dad never removed my mom’s bathrobe from their bathroom- time stood still. What’s right? I have come to believe that everything and anything can be “right” if it feels that way, and it might feel that way in one moment, but wrong in another- that’s the hard part.

As I look back, I think that it was the man I hired to repaint and carpet my apartment who genuinely understood what I was grappling with as I tried to reclaim my life. He spoke little English, but since I speak Spanish, we communicated pretty easily. But, he seemed to understand my struggle as I explained things about the apartment and what I was changing. He saw the conflict between excitement about the changes and painful memories of ALS, caregiving and loss. He did not know me, he did not judge me, but he supported me as we respectfully changed things together.

At each instance where I have done something for myself, I have been so touched by the support I have received. People want me to be doing better. I want me to be doing better! My visit to London after many years, my theatergoing, my increased socializing, and now, my dating, has made my friends and family so very pleased for me. I have to admit that I am proud of myself. But, sometimes I put that information out there almost to convince myself that I’m okay. This is a strange summer, in which I’m back in the land of the living while in my head and heart I am reliving all of my memories of my last summer with Ben. My emotions are “Inside Out” now, and I wake up every single morning thinking about my summer in the hospital with Ben. I put my posts on Facebook with all of the Broadway and ballet I’m seeing, and the lovely times with friends. I feel unsteady because my moods fluctuate quickly from happily engaged to distraught and in tears. But, I’m still living, and more and more often without guilt. Some people quickly move beyond any mention of Ben and my dad to remind me that those days are over. Well, the days are over, but the emotions are not and the memories live on. It’s a juggling act. The sadness does not bowl me over as frequently, though on the anniversary of the day Ben went into the emergency room, I stayed in bed crying and watching “Monsters, Inc” with our Sully dolls. And, no matter what anyone says, I think it’s okay.

ALS,Caregiver,ALS Awareness Month,Walt Disney World, Sully, Monster Inc

2012-Ben was so happy to meet his favorite buddy, Sully, at Hollywood Studios.

My experience with grief has shifted. From barely being able to grieve the loss of my dad to losing Ben and feeling like I was grieving the loss of both of them, what I have learned about grief is that my emotions are my own. I don’t have to explain or defend them. I do not have to listen to judgments from anyone, and I need not judge myself either. I’m doing okay. Sometimes, smiling and engaging in life does help me smile more on the inside, but sometimes it doesn’t. That’s the lousy side of grief- it’s unpredictable. These days, I am not as vulnerable to the judgments of others. People may have a timetable for grief, but my own timetable is all that matters to me.

In the past nearly two years, some people have commented that they are amazed at how much I handled when caring for my dad and Ben at the same time and losing them within a short time of each other. Some people have commented that they think it’s great that I have reached out to offer support to others who are dealing with ALS as patients and/or caregivers. Some people feel like I’m caught in the past. Some people feel that I can’t really begin dating because Ben is still so much a part of my life. I know that the judgments are usually grounded in a desire to see me thrive. I want people who care about me to feel like I’m doing better. And, I am, but it has to be on my terms and in my way. It’s not easy for me to say that, but maybe reflecting on my caregiving experiences has revealed to me my resilience and given me a bit more confidence.

My weekend in West Hampton was filled with less guilt for a good time (click here for that post). The Fab Faux concert was filled with much more smiling than sadness. In the lyrics to “Evermore,” Beast was talking about Belle, and I feel the same way about Ben, and the loved ones I’ve lost. The grief process has led me to a place where having them close to my heart in so many memories is always a comfort, even if it comes with tears and missing them. I’m learning to be here in this world with the knowledge that Ben is a part of everything I do- as are my mom and dad- and they will never leave me. I am creating a new way of relating to them and they are here, without physically being here, evermore.

If you are in grief and you feel that you need additional help, join a support group, seek therapy, or contact an association working with you or your caree to see if social work services are available to you. If you are dealing with someone in grief, ask them how they are feeling, let them have their emotions, and let them know that they also have your support.

Early in our relationship, Ben gave me this frame with his own picture inside. It’s a good memory that still makes me laugh.

Twist and Shout to the Memories

2010- Shortly after Ben’s ALS diagnosis and still standing, albeit unsteadily. In his favorite Beatles shirt at a fair with my Pets en Voyage products.

These days, I find that I spend a lot of time reliving the memories of Ben’s last summer, which we spent in the hospital. The memories are often difficult, and there are many tears, yet, I also do remember the profound love that we showed each other. I am beginning to be able to honor his memory with more of the joy I experienced with him, despite the overshadowing realities of ALS and losing him.

This weekend, I was invited to my friend’s home in West Hampton, NY. It was absolutely beautiful. For several years, I was not able to have a weekend getaway. I could not and would not have left Ben.  Though I did think about that while I was away, and about how Ben and I loved to go on little getaways, I felt less guilt this time, and I was able to really enjoy myself. At times, I enjoyed myself through Ben’s eyes. He would have loved the water views, as I did, and he would have had so much fun at the farmer’s market and outlet shopping. Knowing these things does sometimes bring much sadness, but it also keeps him close, and that lets me embrace life more easily.

The event Ben would have loved most of all was the concert we saw by the Fab Faux, a Beatles cover band that is absolutely amazing. I had never seen them before last night, and the concert was THE place to be in West Hampton! The seat next to me was empty, which was unusual given the sold out crowd. But, to me, it was as if that seat was there for Ben. I listened to and loved that concert for both of us. At the end, the band played “Twist and Shout.” This was the first song that Ben and I ever danced to, starting when we were at a gala for the organization where we worked and met. It became one of “our songs.” When the Fab Faux began to play the song, I actually felt a sense of panic as all of my  emotions converged, and I didn’t know how to react. Ordinarily, a memory that dear to my heart would make me cry- happy to hear it but missing Ben and thinking of the dances that we will never have. Last night, however, the song made me smile and, yes, to twist and shout. I was lost in the smiles and laughter of those memories. I felt Ben there with me and I enjoyed the live performance in his honor, with the tremendous enthusiasm that he would have felt. I know that he will always be dancing with me.

Amazing band! Check them out!

July 6 and True Love’s Kiss

ALS,Walt Disney World

A PhotoPass photographer caught this moment in front of the Castle at Walt Disney World. It was actually the first time we returned after Ben’s ALS diagnosis in 2010

The beginning of July should be a great time for me. After all, I’m a teacher, and school ended on June 28.  On the last day of school, I did my annual Snoopy Happy Dance and left the school building with a big smile on my face. The thing is, for me, summer is now filled with a lot of sad memories, even though I am reshaping my life and do have more joy. Today, July 6, marks the second anniversary of the day that Ben had a respiratory crisis and we ended up in the Emergency Room at Mount Sinai Medical Center, where we were met by Ben’s hero and doctor, David Muller, who would, over the course of that summer, become my hero, too. Today was the date when everything changed for us, because this was the summer where Ben succumbed to ALS.

I cannot help but think back to how that summer of 2015 began on a difficult note. Ben had decided, without conferring with me, that he would let go his private home health aide on the last day of school  and that I would take care of him 24/7 for the summer, with a few hours of assistance during the week from a home health aide provided by hospice. To be honest, I was upset and I was also worried. Logistically, how would I even run any errands? Emotionally, I could not understand, and was hurt, that Ben did not realize how difficult-physically and mentally- it was to be his caregiver around the clock, or that he did not think it was something that we should discuss. Although, two years later, I can rationalize my thinking and my reactions, I still feel bad about it, because I would do anything to have him here and healthy today. As it turned out, that summer was spent at the hospital, I was at his side day and night, and I did not want to be anywhere else.

Yes, for me July 6 was the beginning of the end and the memories are still vivid. I remember being in the Emergency Room and meeting with teams of doctors, while also contacting our ALS chapter. I had spent so much time in Emergency Rooms with my dad that they were sort of my normal, but Ben being in crisis was not normal. I remember Ben having different masks on to try to find the most comfortable and effective one, while we struggled to communicate because he couldn’t speak and I could barely read his lips through the mask. And yet, I remember sweet moments, and laughing, too. I remember that I couldn’t kiss him when he had the Bipap mask, so we blinked our eyes tight to show a kiss. How ironic that July 6 is International Kissing Day! But, as the song from Cinderella goes, “So this is love” when you are dealing with ALS- a different kind of true love’s kiss.

Ben had always said that he wanted to do anything to stay alive, but once in the hospital, he wanted to rethink that choice. Many visits and emails with Dr. Muller helped us sort through a lot of that. I’ve written about this a lot on the blog, but it is worth repeating that I told Ben that I would support any decision he made, because only he could decide how he wanted to live and die with ALS (click here to read Sometimes the Right Path is not the Easiest One). It was not easy to grapple with the complications that arose during his hospitalization, and to have doctors explain that these complications were indicators that this would be life with a feeding tube and tracheostomy. It was heart-wrenching to have Ben say he was miserable and then, having made the decision to go to hospice, ask me to help him choose a good day to die. I don’t think those memories will ever become easier. I was not prepared to lose him because his drastic decline was so rapid. For the same reason, he was not prepared to have to make the decision to separate from the ventilator and leave.

It is touching and consoling that music proves to be so important to my healing and to my memories. Every single morning, I listen to a playlist of songs that Ben loved and that were significant during our relationship and that summer. Ben would love that. I cannot forget how the song “One Dance” was my reality check, and the song during which I completely gave in to the devastation.  I am reposting the video with that song. To read my post about the song’s profound significance, click here.

Last summer was my first summer in many years without caregiving responsibilities. I felt lost and conflicted about all of the sadness mixed with the potential to actually enjoy the summer. The first anniversary of losing Ben loomed over the whole summer. I launched this blog during that time, and it has been invaluable in terms of thinking through my own emotions and feelings, dealing with grief, and interacting with so many incredible people who are also taking journeys with ALS or other illnesses, caregiving, and grief.

As I faced the beginning of summer vacation, particularly today, I have dealt with tidal waves of emotion and difficult memories that are woven into my glee at the summer freedom from school. I wonder if the approach of summer will ever come anxiety. It helps me to reflect on memories and events, even though my emotions are Inside Out. Intellectually, I can see that despite being someone who cries easily, I have grown a lot in the past two years, in terms of my perspective and my devotion to caregiving and caregivers, with an especially deep connection to people dealing with ALS. I think that would make Ben and my dad happy. I do find comfort in my conviction that Ben is in a place where he is free from the constraints of ALS, and he is talking, eating, dancing, walking and playing his music. At the same time, I miss him and still find myself talking to him and seeing things through his eyes. These mixed emotions have become a way of life. I chose to write this post because although it has been two years and there are still, and always will be, tears and broad spectrum of memories, I know that this is the unsteady rhythm of life and death and love and loss, but it’s all okay. Summer will be okay. Ups and downs are okay. I’m okay, even if I don’t feel that way at this exact moment. My Disney connections still keep me focused and able to deal with the sad times and the loss. After all, “Love is a Song that Never Ends” and, as Belle’s father Maurice said, “It is love we must hold onto.”