Inspiring Women & Menopause Brain

This is one of those feel-good stories, but in typical Teri fashion, it’ll be long.

As I was cruising through my Facebook feed a week or so ago, I came across the words “inspiring women” and it caught my attention. It was an ad from Western & Southern Life asking for nominations of inspiring women. I turned to Jen and said, “I’m going to send in something about YOU!” So, I proceeded to type out the following:

“I nominate my beautiful partner, Jennifer. Jen put herself through college while working full-time, has broken through the glass ceiling in a male-dominated industry, is admired by not only her peers but executive management, is the first female materials manager in North America for her global firm, is an inspiration to our 12 year old daughter in example of what a strong woman can be, is on parish council at our church, co-chaired the walkathon for our daughter’s school to raise funds to support our students, is a fun and entertaining host for our backyard drive-in movie parties, a brilliant project manager in our home, a compassionate soul who is renowned for her hugs, loves our two fur babies, adores our kiddo beyond measure, and brightens this world with her light. I am blessed to know her and love her.”

I paid no attention to the dates of the prize package. The prize to be awarded was a 4-pack of tickets and VIP suite access to the upcoming Western & Southern Open 2018 held at the Lindner Tennis Center in Mason. There was also going to be a videographer there to interview both of us.

Meanwhile, we planned our trip to Panama City Beach, FL. Jen’s mom will be traveling from North Carolina to stay with the doggos. Maddie is bringing one of her adorable friends along. We purchased airfare for the girls to fly back for a volleyball tourney.

Yay! Vacation!

Then . . . I received the phone call . . . we won!

My reaction was similar to this 😍😮😵😲😳

I instantly called Megan at W&S back (from the hallway of AMC Theater as we prepared to watch Mama Mia 2). I left a message with all of the details. Apologizing profusely.

The next day, Megan and her just-as-sweet cohort Abby stepped into action. They tried everything they could to get us tickets to Sunday’s finals (as we’d be back in town by then) or a Friday night or Saturday morning event (we were willing to leave Florida a day early to make it back).

Nada.

Jen even considered flying back for a day. We found pretty decent fair ($200 each way), but she’d be operating on about 3 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. Plus time away from our trip, totaling 2 days out of our 7 (and with our deciding to drive instead of fly this time around that limits our actual beach time even more).

So, we decided our family time together was our priority. We both feel incredibly honored to have been chosen a winner in this “inspiring women” contest. How amazing!

Most of all, the words I wrote were heartfelt truth. I am truly blessed to know Jen and love her. Our home is filled with laughter, compassion, support, endless projects, friendship, sappy movies, goofy conversations with our dogs as if they are human, and the sweetest kiddo who knows she’s treasured, valued, respected and loved.

Thank you, Jennifer, for being my favorite “inspiring woman”! And, thank you, Western & Southern for honoring my submission. What a beautiful testimony to the story of us. Megan and Abby . . . if you read this . . . you rock! And, yes, you are totally invited to the dive-in movie party.

**** Update: I just received an email from the fabulous Megan/Abby team offering us suite access to a Cincinnati Reds baseball or FC Cincinnati soccer game since we cannot make the tennis tournament. I love these women. They have made this experience just . . . beautiful.

Codependency & Coo-Coo for Cocoa Puffs

My priest suggested I read “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie as part of my continued healing journey with my severely alcoholic mother. That was in 2016. I read the first thirty pages then set it aside . . . with good intentions of picking it back up “when I have the time”. Never mind the other twenty books I’ve read in between then and now. Insert eye roll.

Today I picked it back up. As I read through the checklist of characteristics many codependents possess (check, check, checking them off), I laughed aloud. I had made grandiose promises to myself to no longer “save the day” when it came to my mom. Yet I slowly found myself back in my roles of peace-keeper, savior and good daughter, helping her clean up the splattered messes left behind. Literally and figuratively.

Yesterday threw a big ol’ muthafugga of a wrench at my head.

I had taken Mom to see her primary care physician on Monday. I nodded in agreement as the PCP alluded to alcohol-induced dementia, possible stroke, or brain injury from her multiple falls (into her fridge resulting in a broken ice-maker, onto the toilet, backwards onto the kitchen floor, out of her bed, and others she cannot remember but evidenced by bruises).

On Tuesday, I escorted her to the imaging center for an MRI. Then tucked her safely into her bed in her independent-living-retirement-community apartment afterward. Leaving instructions for the angels and saints to keep her from falling out of bed again.

Wednesday, I joined her for an assessment by a Council on Aging representative. Mom was a hot mess. She answered a phone that wasn’t ringing. Insisted my deceased father come out from the other room. Told me my nephew cut his right hand off and asked me if I was going to cut my own throat. Then later asked my sister if “Teri’s post office would accept my beans”. But, between those moments, she was lucid and funny and engaging. Her normal goofy, yet lovable, self. I was advised she qualifies for quite a few assistance benefits. Yay for that! However, she (meaning I) would need to complete another application, wait two months, and pray for the best in the meantime. Ah, the red tape of bureaucracy. Not that I’m not grateful for the help!

Later that day, I received the wrench-to-the-head call. Her PCP phoned me herself to discuss Mom’s lab and MRI results. The MRI results showed “moderate atrophy and shrinkage of the brain, indicating dementia” and lab work indicated “dehydrated and not eating” a.k.a. vodka-for-breakfast. No brain bleed, no stroke. Exactly as anticipated. And my internal reaction was: “Well, shit.” My good-daughter backpack just got heavier.

I am truly sorry my mom is struggling. Watching her spiral downward . . . quickly . . . is breaking my heart. But, there’s this other part of me that wants to have a little kid temper tantrum, stomping my feet and yelling, “You did this to yourself, Mom! Why am I supposed to make it better? I didn’t ask for this! I have my own freakin’ life to live. I was supposed to finish my book this week while Maddie was at Grammy’s in North Carolina. I have MY life to live.”

Just being real.

As her doctor stated on Monday, “The damage is done.” This is no longer about her making a conscious choice to poison herself with booze. Her liver is screaming, NOPE. Her brain is shriveling up. And her coo-coo for cocoa puffs is showing. I mean, Dad, my sister and I used to see that side of her, but now it’s a little more evident to the rest of the world.

So, how does one reconcile this conundrum?

My heart and soul is urging me to help her. This will leave me cocooned in my codependent relationship with my alcoholic mother. My hope is, when all is said and done, she will know she was loved and cared for, regardless of the pain she inflicted through her selfishly choosing alcohol over her kids (she literally said this to a counselor when we were teenagers . . . “If you are asking me to choose between alcohol and my family, I choose vodka”). And one day, I will wriggle my way free of the confinement, spread my beautiful butterfly wings and soar.

I might occasionally have a little whine-fest (different from wine-fest!) about it as I wrestle with her demons. But, then I’ll step outside, thank God for the gifts of nature as I mindfully enjoy the moment, take a few cleansing breaths, consciously release the tension, smile at the bright red cardinal singing to me from the treetop, promising him, “I know, Dad. I’ll take care of her.”

 

Confessions & Coffee

My eighty-two year old mother has told me five times in the past three months, “I have secrets I am going to take to the grave.” When I’ve prodded her for more info, she’s informed me she will keep the secrets into death and that was the end of the discussion.

After recording an amazing podcast interview yesterday for The Healing Place Podcast with Cissy White of ACES Connection and Heal Write Now, where we discussed the healing power of releasing our stories, our truths, I realized perhaps my mom needed an opportunity to shed herself of the burdens she’s been shouldering.

This morning, I headed off to visit this sweet little old lady I call Mom, promising myself I would do all I could to help ease the pain of these secrets. She was super excited by the new mini boombox I bought her for $29.90 on Amazon. We popped in a Patsy Cline CD and tears welled in her eyes as a memory swam up from the depths of her soul. She mumbled, “I love Patsy Cline,” and I allowed her a moment in the past.

I gathered her garbage and recycling. Paid some bills and shredded stacks of envelopes asking her for charity donations. Then I sat in a chair and said, “Mom, I want to talk to you about something important for just a minute.” She put the newspaper down and gave me her full attention. Unusual for her.

I proceeded to talk to her about the podcast I had recorded and the studies surfacing on the healing powers of releasing our truths. I told her I believed she kept mentioning her “taking certain secrets to the grave” because on some level she wanted to set those secrets free. I asked about her childhood and she opened up about a long-carried traumatic incident and I thanked her for sharing after acknowledging her pain.

Then I pushed a little more. It was as if someone was tapping me on the shoulder, whispering in my ear. I started to ask questions which opened us up to a conversation filled with brutal honesty, tears, compassion, understanding, love, support, and forgiveness. It turns out, I already “knew” her deep, dark secret. It had surfaced in one of my EMDR therapy sessions as a memory for me from a very young age. I was there when it all transpired. We were able to connect over something she had let haunt her for almost fifty years.

My mom had released her secrets. And I released tears and understanding.

As I left my mom’s today, after giving her a kiss and an “I love you”, she told me, “Your dad was here this morning. I couldn’t hear what he was saying though.”

Today would have been my dad’s 81st birthday. Now I know who was whispering in my ear. We’ll keep working together to help mom heal as much as possible in this life before she comes to join you, Dad. Katie and I hear you. We’ve got your back.

 

She called after me as I was headed out the door, “TT! I need more coffee!” So, off to Kroger I ran for her favorite Gevalia K-cups.  We’ve got her back, too.

Honoring My Mother’s Journey: Next Time

As I sit here listening to my twelve-year-old daughter and her tweenage friends splash about in our pool, after a night filled with water balloon battles in the front yard of our quiet little cul-de-sac home and off-key singing of “Happy Birthday” while tiny purple candles dripped wax onto the cookie cake decorated with a giant basketball and birthday wishes, I smile in the knowledge that this kiddo’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) has been little to none. A far cry from my own childhood.

I will be visiting with my mom in a few hours, a trip to the grocery store and vacuuming her apartment are on my daughterly duty list today. I thank God I still have her here with me. Even through the torment of growing up the child of an alcoholic – a mostly distant and sometimes violent consumer of booze and pills – I loved my mom. I longed for her to teach me how to play those card games she’d laugh over for hours on end with friends, or help me with advice about the bullying I was experiencing at the hands of a fellow Catholic school girl, or even just listen when I’d excitedly approach her about my science fair project. Instead, I was told how disappointed she was in me for the 93% grade (still an A, mind you!). “A ninety-three?” she slurred. “God gave you the gift of a brilliant mind. You’re wasting it. Why didn’t you get a hundred?” As I turned to make my way back to my sanctuary of a bedroom, shoulders slumped a little more than usual, my soul held onto hope . . . next time she’ll be happy with you, Teri. 

I kept trying. Continuing to hold on to hope. Continuing to remind myself . . . next time.

And here we are, ages 82 and 52, my mother and me. We’ve reached a place of acceptance, both in our own ways. I accept my mother’s addiction, having learned to put healthy boundaries in place in order to protect my heart and soul. Her new hearing aids allow her to listen a little more than she did in my childhood years.

Last week, I excitedly told her about my new website, www.teriwellbrock.com, and all of my grandiose plans for helping others traverse their healing journeys. I grabbed her by the hand, dragging her in a toddler-esque fashion toward her front door, convincing her with each shuffled step, “Mom, come on! Let me show you!”

We stepped into the game room of the retirement village where she lives, two antiquated computers sat at desks along the far left wall and three antiquated little ladies sat at the round card table in the middle of the bright room, each a puzzle piece gripped between arthritic fingers and thumbs. They smiled in our direction as my mom announced, “My daughter, Teri, is showing me her new web-thing.” I laughed. They nodded in understanding so I left it uncorrected.

I sat her in the stationary chair next to my swivel seat, while my fingers typed away the web address in anticipatory glee.

Ta-da!

“Here it is, Mom. My new website. It has my book summary, podcasts, videos about my speaking engagements, meditations, Sammie Doodle therapy dog info, all kinds of cool stuff!”

“That’s nice. Hey, Margaret, I made vegetable soup. If you stop down I’ll give you a container of it.”

Ah.

Next time, Teri.

As I tucked her into her faded forest green chair, held together on the right arm rest by neon green duct tape, I kissed her on her forehead and reminded her, “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too, TT. Don’t forget my doctor’s appointment is at noon on Wednesday.”

“I got it, Mom. I’ll be here.”

Maybe on Wednesday at noon, Teri. You know . . . next time.

However, as I drove off, I reminded myself of insights I read recently in the book, “Change Your Thoughts-Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao” by Dr. Wayne Dyer. In his translation of the 41st verse of the Tao Te Ching he stated, “Apply this same insight to the times you feel unloved: When you see what appears to be indifference, know in your heart that love is present. Allow it to work its magic in your life.” Then in the 49th verse, “I see myself in this person, and I choose to be in a space of goodness rather than judgment. I honor the place in you where we are all one.” And I took pause.

My mother’s spirit cheers for me even when her ego-based actions cannot allow her praise to surface.

I called her this afternoon, this 2018 Mother’s Day, asking what time she wanted me to head to her place for our grocery shopping endeavor. “Oh, you don’t need to come today, TT. Just enjoy your Mother’s Day. You deserve a day off. We can celebrate tomorrow instead.”

“Mom, it’s not a problem. Plus, I’d like to see you.”

“No. I’m tired. I think I’ll just go to bed.”

“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

As I was about to say good-bye, she interrupted my thought . . . “Teri? Thank you. For everything you do for me. I’m so proud of you. I told all of my friends about your book and handed out all of your business cards. Will you bring me more?”

“Yes! Next time I see you. Thank you. I love you, Mom.”

Short Story: Final Moments

 

“Dad, can I get you anything?” I asked, as he struggled with the flat, lifeless pillow beneath his shoulder blades.

“I would love a Whopper, Jr.,” he breathed. Pausing to catch his breath again, sucking the oxygen from the plastic life lines crookedly falling from his nostrils, he turned his sunken blue eyes to mine. “And I would like to watch . . .” again he rested his thoughts in order to draw in more air . . . “Christmas Vacation”.

His once strong hands, now thinned and shaky, slowly lifted to the nasal tubes, attempting to arrange the hissing air hoses more securely. The tubes fell away, askew once more, as his arms collapsed back at his sides. “Let me help you, Dad,” I said, as I leaned over the bed rail, trying not to tangle myself in the snake nest of monitor wires. I slid the nozzles into his nose and ran my fingers around both sides of his face, the bristle from his normally close-shaved skin pricking at my fingertips, pulling the tubes tighter until my hands met behind his head. I fastened them in place, then pulled that useless cardboard pillow from behind his back and guided his head gently back onto its stiffness.

“Boys, run to Burger King and get Papa a Whopper, Jr. and a Coke,” I said to John and Jake, as I fumbled through my purse. Having found a twenty and my keys, I handed them over to John, now 16, and gave him a feeble grin as our eyes met. I engulfed my baby boy in a hug, having caught the heartache in his eyes, as I urged him to run home, too, and find the DVD Papa wanted to watch.

As the boys shuffled out of the room, I turned back to Dad. His eyes were closed as I studied the man lying before me. He had aged so much in the twenty-nine days since his low-blood-sugar-induced fall into the kitchen table. I absorbed every detail, wanting to remember each crazy grey eyebrow hair; the wrinkled collection of pale skin gathering beneath his chin; his frail six foot six body, sinking closer to the ground with each gulp of air; and his hands . . . ah, those hands . . . enormous, creative and strong no more.

I grabbed ahold of Dad’s hand, sliding my palm beneath his chilled fingers. My thumb caressed his pinky and he gently squeezed my hand, saying “thanks” with the short-lived grasp. His eyes remained closed as mine released their anguish.

The boys returned with their Papa’s wishes as I was wiping the final remnants of sorrow from my cheeks. He must have smelled the burger in his dream, his eyes fluttering back to consciousness, as they pushed open the heavy oak door. Jake found a seat on the mauve sofa near the window. He was quiet, as usual, lost and unsure, a boy in a man’s body. With death lurking and unwanted, he had no clue how to save his Papa (and himself) from its inevitable arrival.

John took my spot as I wandered over to join Jake in staring blankly out the window. After a few bites, Dad raised his shrinking hand, shakily waving off John’s gesture to feed him another mouthful of bliss. Death danced merrily back into the room, our smiles faded, as Papa dissolved, smaller still, onto the rigid bed.

After sending the boys home, quiet gasps of snores escaped from Dad’s slouched mouth, as I half-heartedly lost myself in the movie he had asked to watch. Normally, quoting nearly every line, I would have been snorting with fits of laughter. It didn’t seem right to be cackling, even if it had tried to escape my bereaved body.

“This is my favorite line in the movie,” he muttered, startling me from my trance.

 Holy cow! How did he suddenly wake up from an unconscious state for his favorite part of the movie? I mused, half alarmed and half seriously impressed, as Dad began quoting movie lines. I looked at my Dad, laughter brightening his dimming eyes, a smile breaking through, his pale skin radiating a moment of elation and I joined him . . . I set the laughter free. Death stood frozen in the corner of the room, wanting to partake in the merriment but duty would not allow it. So it watched; studying, waiting.

Dad giggled off and on throughout the rest of the movie. My hand and his intertwined in a moment of harmony. A squeeze here. A kiss on the knuckles there. A final farewell in the touching of a hand . . . a hand that had held a tiny bundle of joy on the steps of Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati in March of 1966 as Mom climbed into the red Volkswagen beetle, a hand that had pushed my pink bike with the flowered banana seat as I learned to ride without my training wheels on the Mt. Washington Elementary School playground, a hand that hovered too close to the steering wheel as I pulled out onto Mears Avenue for the first time in Dad’s new silver 1982 Plymouth Horizon, a hand that twirled me around the dance floor in the undercroft of Guardian Angels Church to Al Martino’s “Daddy’s Little Girl”, a hand that gently enveloped my baby boys as he gazed at them in awe, a hand I knew would always be there to hold if ever I needed it.

Death, who had been impatiently hovering, had taken over holding his hand when I made my way from the room. When I arrived back in that chilled room a few hours later, his hand was icy still. The hiss of the tubes silenced. The laughter faded. As I placed a kiss upon his cool forehead, my hot tears cascading onto him, I felt the warmth of his hand upon my shoulder. The spirit of his enormous, creative, strong hand.

Stop Thinking, Just Love

Facebook post from January 20, 2017:

I know this sounds dramatic, but this is the truest statement I have ever shared: yesterday forever changed my life. I cannot go into great detail as I would violate the trust of several others. However, I do want to share my experience with a semi-synopsis.

I discovered yesterday that prayer and love combined are the most powerful force in the universe. If we pray for those who have hurt our hearts and souls and do so with an abundance of love in our hearts, miracles can happen. Miracles will happen. Without a doubt.

We are surrounded by angels and guides and God’s light. I know this without reservation now. I have prayed my entire life, but it wasn’t until these past few months that I prayed with so much passion and from a place of utter desperation (not for myself but for another), that I finally understood the connection.

My heart and soul have been freed via a profound and beautiful experience. Perhaps some day I can share the details. Maybe in a future book.

A beautiful friend was once sitting in a dark church all alone, praying, when my deceased father gave her a message for me. I know I’ve shared this message before, but it begs repeating:

“Stop thinking. Just love.”

I get it now, Dad. Thank you