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Blogs of Writer, Artist, Photographer, & Caregiver Joanne D. Kiggins

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Joanne has published more than 2,500 articles and was award recipient of the 1990 Woman of the Year for Beaver County, Pennsylvania, for her accomplishments and excellence in journalism and to the community. Her co-authored book, “Unforgettable Journey,” won fifth place in the Grand Beginnings romance contest. An excerpt from her WIP, “Unearthed,” placed her fifth in the Absolute Write Idol contest. Most recently, her essay, “Perseverance,” is published in the Stories of Strength anthology in which 100% of the profits are donated to disaster relief charities. Her most recent articles were published in ByLine Magazine, Writer's Digest, AbsoluteWrite.com, and Moondance.org. She has a monthly freelance writing column at Absolutewrite.com. Currently, she is the sole caregiver for her 85-year-old mother.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

2008--I Wish For Strength

One of my caregiver friends, Lori, is hoping for a better year. She hopes 2008 will be “her” year; A year of renewed life without pain, fear, tears, and hope of better things in her life. I wish that for her, too.

A writer friend of mine, Keith, asked what everyone had planned for New Year’s Eve. Keith said he stays at home, alone, and reflects on the past year and his life. He listed numerous questions that he asks himself each year to complete his day of reflection and those questions—extremely well thought out and excellent for reflecting on one’s life—really struck a chord with me. Not a bad chord in the respect that there was anything wrong with the questions, but in the respect that I felt worthless, hopeless, and lost when I reflected on those questions and answered them honestly.

Some of his questions were:
“What have I done with the year? Which goals did I accomplish and which ones didn’t I and why not? What am I willing to change about myself to accomplish those things? Am I living the life I want to live? Am I enjoying what I’m doing or did I just fall into it or am I living deliberately and on purpose or am I just taking everything as it happens and coping with it all? What’s been holding me back and how can I change it? What more could I do? Have other people’s needs and urgencies enveloped me to the point that mine, and my families, come second?”

These were just a few of some fifty questions he asks himself. The remaining questions were even more thought provoking, more deeply centered, and more heart wrenching to answer.

I haven’t done anything this past year for myself and I’ve given up any goals I’ve wanted to accomplish. I’m not living for me. I’m living for my mom, and her needs and urgencies have enveloped me to the point that mine, and my families have come second.

My life, this past year and the two before that, has been centered on Mom. That’s not saying that I would change it or want to change it; it’s just saying that I have concentrated so deeply on keeping her healthy and comfortable that my life has become unhealthy and uncomfortable. There is no life besides what I do with and for Mom. My life, as I knew it, has become nonexistent.

A feeling of worthlessness struck me head-on when I realized that even though Mom is doing fine, I’ve failed. I’ve failed Two Feather, my daughters, and my grandchildren. I’ve even failed myself. I’ve not been there for them during times they needed me most. I’ve not done things I would normally do and I’ve not lived life the way I would normally live. I’ve failed everything and everyone, except Mom.

My life is and has been hanging in the darkness of a disease called Alzheimer’s and, with each day, I hang on deliberately, yet I take everything as it happens and cope with it all. I cope with the explicit purpose that Mom lives on—only to die a horrible death. I feel worthless because nothing I’m doing will change the outcome.

As I reflect on this past year, there are probably many things I could have changed that would have given me and my family more time, more joys, and more life to live with each other, but had I changed what I’d done, I would have felt selfish. Nothing in this care giving role has ever been about me and never have I done anything for myself. I suppose I could change things in the upcoming year and think of my health, my family, and myself. I suppose I could take a long look at what I’ve done and what I haven’t done and try to decide whether or not it was all worth it. I suppose I could take my life back. But would that be me?

Someday, I’ll sit with Keith’s list of questions and answer them with myself in mind and maybe I’ll find answers that make me realize I’ve done something good. Someday, I’ll make plans and set goals for myself, once again, and no doubt accomplish them. Someday, I’ll live the life I’ve dreamed of, and do the things I’ve thought of doing. Someday. Someday when Mom’s life is complete. The last three years weren’t the years to do that. And 2008 probably won’t be either.

I can’t say that I wish myself a better year next year. There is no better with Alzheimer’s. Death may be better than the pain and suffering that will ensue. But I’ll not wish for death. I know when Alzheimer’s takes Mom I’ll still feel worthless and hopelessly lost.

Have I lived my dreams or done what I’d really like to do? No, not really. I was just starting to do that before I moved in with Mom. I’ve put Mom in front of everything and everyone, including myself. Yes, I’d like to be sleeping in my own bed, living in my own house with Two Feather, spending time with my daughters and grandchildren anytime I feel like it, and submitting and writing my novels. Hell, I’d just like to be writing again. Other than this stupid blog, I don’t even write anymore. I’d like to be getting on with my life, living my life, and accomplishing all the goals I set for myself back in 2004, but my life is on hold. I’m feeling worthless and lost—waiting for a hopeless and dreadful end—giving Mom love and the comfort of her home in her remaining time on this earth.

As I sit looking at Keith’s list of questions, I feel a mixture of emotions take over and I wonder when my someday comes if I’ll still feel as worthless and hopelessly lost as I do now. Someday, I’ll have those answers, and my life. Just not right now.

Right now, and for at least the beginning of 2008, the only plan I have is to continue doing what I’m doing and do the best I can for as long as I have left in me. Worthless as that plan may sound, it’s all I know to do.

Have I done what I planned for 2007? Have I accomplished my goal? Yes, I have. Mom is still with us. I guess I can’t think of any better way to start a new year than that.

Whatever 2008 may bring, I’m sure I’ll cope with it as it comes. They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Whatever comes, I wish for strength.

Happy New Year, everyone. I wish you strength, too.

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Blogger nancy said...

powerful and thought-provoking post joanne. you got me thinking about what i wish for myself for 2008 - will have to think on that some more. thanks.

i understand your feelings about caregiving and your mom. you are so right, when we are caregiving, our entire life is put on hold. i wish though for you to not feel totally worthless. even though you are right and cannot change the outcome of your mom's life, you are making a difference in how she spends her final days until that time, and your impact has and will continue to be huge and positive. please try to remember that.

i can relate to what you were saying about not being there for two, your kids and grandkids. but two loves you even more because of how caring you are and you are setting great examples for your girls. i know it's hard to think that way sometimes, but i hope it's true, because that's what i tried to convince myself of.

many hugs to you my friend. i wish you strength as well for 2008. God bless you!

12/30/2007 11:34 PM  
Blogger ~Betsy said...

I don't think you are being fair to yourself, Joanne. You are beating yourself up for doing the right thing. Think about it. What was your alternative when your mom needed you?

I completely understand the guilt you feel when it comes to your family. But as Nancy has so eloquently said, you are setting a fine example. Two respects your choice and the girls are learning about respect for their elders. Living by example is far better than dictating how things should be.

As for your writing goals, this really hits home with me. My writing has been decreased to nothing more than blogs, too. But, as you are well aware, writing is a craft we must practice. By writing daily entries, you are still practicing your craft. You just aren't submitting right now. That's OK. Something tells me you still write those novels in your head - just as I did.

May I suggest you take 15 minutes per night after you get Mom tucked in and develop your characters or sketch your plot. Use a notebook. After the 15 minutes is up, close the notebook and forget about it. You will soon find yourself back on track and the writing will come. It's still in there, friend. It's just blanketed by this heavy burden you are carrying right now.

I am still struggling to find my way out of the blackness, but it is coming back - slowly but surely. It will for you, too. You just need to be patient with yourself. And you need to accept where you are in your life right now. When you emerge, you will be stronger than ever.

I wish you all the best in the coming New Year. I'm just a phone call away, Joanne. Call anytime you need to hear a friendly voice. I understand. Believe me. ((hugs))

12/31/2007 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Katherine said...

I wouldn't say you've been ignoring yourself while caring for your mom - Maybe you can look at it as your goals and life has changed through this time? It doesn't make you worthless, you've just had to lift yourself off the path you set for yourself and on the one that fate or God or whatever you believe in put for you. Perhaps there's a grand plan for you in this experience - a life lesson learned, an idea for a novel, a memoir about your mom... sometimes what WE want is completely different than what we are supposed to do at that moment... I would LOVE to look at that list by the way.

12/31/2007 12:28 PM  
Blogger stay4real said...

Mommy, mommy, mommy!!!! Unlike several millions of people in this world, you have accomplished a goal that some folks should consider more than losing weight, making money, or getting that nip and tuck... you've accomplished what the God intended for all of us... SELFLESSNESS. The only reason you feel worthless is because of all those that practice the opposite and are selfish. Your character makes you feel that way because you don't want to place blame on people that should be less selfish and realize that you need time for you and your family (aside from Grammy). Although even in 2008, you may not get that help, you will hold strong and unchanged by what others do to you and what you go through daily. You will always be my goal. I don't have to want to be like you... I already look like you, act like you and think like you... I simply have a different name, but live with the same heart as my mother. So, there is one top thing on my list for 2008...(as we discussed earlier this week)... is to continue to be like my mother and that alone will keep me strong! LOVE YOU!!! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

12/31/2007 2:31 PM  
Blogger nancy said...

just checking in on you joanne and now i have tears streaming down my face. PLEASE listen to what stay4real wrote, she said it all. you should need no more proof to realize that your life is not worthless. what a wonderful tribute to you, WOW!!! how blessed you are!

12/31/2007 3:38 PM  
Blogger Lori1955 said...

Oh sweetie, you worthless? never!!!!! You have been intrusted by God to take care of one of his children. Just think how much God must believe in you to give you this task. It is not your job to fix her, you just have to take care of her. You have been a great success. Don't expect more from yourself than God expects from you. I pray that in this new year, you will see yourself as we do, a wonderful, loving, giving, caring person.

12/31/2007 4:58 PM  
Blogger rainbowheart said...

I agree with Nancy and stay4real. This post has me wanting to re-evulate what I have accomplished in the past year. And your post are your writing for now. I find strength from your writings. So please, don't ever think that your blog is stupid. I believe that the only thing that I have accomplished is taking care of Mama. Nothing more. I think that I'm good with that one accomplishment. Am I satisified with that one thing? I have to be. I too wish for so much more for the coming year. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, then I will put in on the list for 2009. I hope that my children and grandchildren realize that this is the job that I have given to do for now and that I'm never far from them. I would hope that my family and friends know that I'm never far from them, just a phone call away. Have a Happy New Year!!!!!!!!!!

12/31/2007 5:33 PM  
Blogger flintysooner said...

Happy 2008 to you and Two, your mom and your family. Blessings all around. You're an exceptional person doing extraordinary things and I bow to you in admiration and respect.

12/31/2007 6:32 PM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

You're right, Nancy. I realize I can't change the outcome, it's just so heart wrenching watching her decline each day. You're right about Two as well. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't have the strength I have to do what I do. He encourages me every day and helps with everything around the house. He is affected by this every day as well. He met Mom before Alzheimer's took over, so he's watched the decline the same as I have.

Betsy and Nancy, you're both right about Two and my daughters. Two shows his respect by allowing me to live here with Mom and take care of her and giving up so much in the process. Not too many men would respect an elder so much to give up living with their spouse. And my daughters totally understand the respect I have for Mom. They grew up spending every weekend with her.
Betsy, I like your suggestion about writing for 15 minutes each night. I've tried that and sometimes let it go by the wayside and I'll need to be a more diligent writer to keep that going. A friend send me a journal for Christmas, so I guess I have no excuse now. :)

Katherine, Thank you for visiting. Two and I do look at this journey as a new path we've been placed on. I'm sure there is a lesson in it and I'm beginning to see what that lesson might be. I've always been a care giver, so this isn't really anything new to me, but each path I've been sent on has taught me something. You may be right about that memoir. Having experineced this disease with both my dad and mom, I'm sure there is plenty to write about. ;)

Oh, Stacey, I love you, too! Once again you have me in tears. After reading what you wrote, and the tears stopped, your words reminded me of one of the most important things I learned in life--to respect my elders. Give back to people what they have given you. I learned that from my dad and mom (your Pap Pap and Grammy). Everything they taught me was passed on to you and Angel. I'm glad we all listened. You're much stonger than I ever was at your age. You've always been strong. I'm proud you're my daughter. Thank you!

Thank you, Lori. I guess the most difficult part of this is exactly what you said. It's not my job to fix Mom, just to take care of her. I guess we all felt that desperation to fix things and make this disease go away. I think you hit the nail on the head there.

Gale, You're right as well. I have accomplished what I set out to do and that is take care of Mom. I know it won't get any easier, but I do know that when my time with her is complete, I will have no regrets. I will have done everything for her that I can possibly do and I've already told her everything I feel in my heart.

Thank you all. I hope your New Year is filled with brighter tomorrows.

12/31/2007 7:23 PM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Thank you,Terry. You and all the others are exceptional people who also did extraordinary things. Each and every one of you have my utmost respect for the courage and strength you've shown during your journeys as well. Happy New Year to you, too.

12/31/2007 7:30 PM  
Blogger ~Betsy said...

Ah, Joanne - the words of a loving daughter make it all worthwhile. Stacey is a gem.

If you can't manage 15 minutes, shoot for 10 or even only 5. Just free write and see what comes of it.

I wish you peace in 2008. You have already displayed incredible strength and courage to all of us.

12/31/2007 11:11 PM  
Blogger steflovesnonna said...

Thats a really good thing to wish for. I hope we all have it. One thing is for sure no year is perfect! No matter if 2008 is better or worse I know it wont be exactly what we want because thats not life. So I guess if we just have the strength to get though it and on to the next year we will be ok. Thanks for this post friend and I hope you get the strength your looking for.

1/01/2008 1:21 AM  
Blogger Bhaswati said...

Whatever you say, please don't call this blog "stupid." Ever. You don't know how much strength and poise it reflects. You will see Joanne, all this that you are doing just to ensure your mother leads as comfortable a life as she can...all this won't go to waste. The good karma will come back manifold for you. Until then, you have the solidarity of all your friends here. :-)


Happy New Year to you, Two Feathers, and your wonderful family!

1/01/2008 2:51 AM  
Blogger rilera said...

Joanne, yo have an incredible gift for writing. This is one of my favorite posts and it did get me thinking too. My sister was just discussing my 'lack of a life of my own' with me this morning. You put my feelings so eloquently into words. Thank you.

You are not worthless as long as one person in this world depends upon you and loves you. You have that, Joanne.

1/01/2008 3:57 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

This one brought me out of lurkdom. Very powerful post; you've expressed my feelings exactly, once again.

Thank you for that.

Peace to you and yours in 2008 and always.

1/01/2008 4:14 PM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Thanks Betsy. Stacey is a gem and her words always make everything worthwhile. I've already started my journal for 2008. The first entry went in at midnight. :)

You're right, Stef. Life may always be what we want but it does always somehow give us a run for our money. I guess that in itself is the Creator's way of making us put one foot in front of the other.

Sury, You are so sweet. Thank you for your kind words. Happy New Year to you, too!

Robyn, I really do appreciate you reading and your kinds words about my writing are very sweet. I can't take credit for the thought-provoking questions at the beginning; they were made by a writer friend of mine and the answers to just a few of those questions is what brought out my feelings. I'm going to ask Keith if he minds if I post his entire list of questions for everyone. He certainly made me think.

Annie, I'm so glad you came out of lurkdom from Maple Corners. It's sometimes good to know you're not alone in how you feel. ((hugs)) Do come back and Happy New Year to you.

I just want to let all of you know that each of you has contributed to the strength I gained in 2007. I don't doubt you'll all be there adding strength this year as well. ((hugs)) and love to you all.

1/01/2008 7:02 PM  
Blogger *(¯`·¸*Chris*¸·´¯)* said...

Yikes, don't be so dang tough on yourself. You are doing what you feel you need to do. Worthless? Um, not in my book. Far from it. I think you are an awesome person. Many beautiful blessings to you and Two for this year.

1/01/2008 11:37 PM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Thank you, Chris. You're very sweet. ((hugs)) Many blessings to you and yours in the New Year as well.

1/02/2008 4:56 PM