I have been writing a blog on this site for over two and a half years now. Sometimes I click onto "archive" and read back over the blogs expressing my past angst and frustration. I am surprised by my anxiety about something that later turned out not to be a disaster but happy to see that acceptance and even serenity is reflected in some of what I have written. By reading the comments as well I can see all those invisible hands holding me up when I was in danger of falling, Jean, Pam, Sandy, Sarah then Bonnie, Trina, Ellen, Kristen now Shirley and the rest of the chat group that keep me stable and connected. Thanks to a lot of thoughtful imput I have been able to utilise what I have experienced and turn it into valuable knowledge. I would never have done that without the help of a lot of you here.
Ray's and my life over the past three years since the last stroke in May 2005 has been one of gentle undulations, there have been hills and valleys but not the steep slopes of the earlier years after the 1999 major strokes. We no longer define our lives by the strokes so much as by Ray's invalidity. There is no denying that he has had strokes, that he has been left with deficits that will never be overcome and that his life is maybe what one would expect in his early eighties rather than the mid-sixties. But this has to be accepted too. I am through knocking my head against the solid brick wall of what might have been. It doesn't matter what I THINK it is what is practical that I must follow. There are things we can do and things that we cannot do and I have to balance our lives using those as guidelines.
Belonging to groups of all kinds helps me add width to our experiences. Our Lions Club, full of mostly older fellows who are still active in the community helps us to be a part of that wider community. Our barman, in his sixties, just got an Order of Australia medal for 37 years of working in the Surf Club teaching kids to become Life savers. How many good citizens has he set on the right path in that time? What a wonderful role model he has been. And there he is on our dinner nights serving drinks behind the bar as part of the fund rising to buy the next surf boat or the rescue gear they need to keep a popular beach on our lovely coast safe. Our Lions Cub helps out by giving donations in return, as well as paying the rent to use the clubhouse facilities. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Our craft group of older ladies also sometimes helps out through the Samaritans group housing project. Last year we cut up squares to make quilts for the local women's refuge so that some woman could walk into a room that looked homely and maybe for a few days forget her hurtful past and learn to live again. Last Christmas we packed parcels of personal hygene items, soaps, deodorants, body talcs etc to give out to the residents of local "guesthouses" and hostels for the poor. To some of those men that Christmas dinner and that gift was the first they had had in many years. One volunteer described how she cried when several men came over and thanked her profusely with tears in their eyes for "the best Christmas dinner ever". Ray and I couldn't be there handing out the meal but we were there in the packing and knew what we were doing was to contribute to anothers well-being.
We have to try and find a balance this far into our life. We have had friends drop away, I've blogged endlessly about that, and family memebrs shun us and disappointments and disasters as everyone has. That is part of the human condition. But we are growing older and can now be philosophical about issues that once would have caused angry outbursts and tearful moments. It IS easier the further down the track you go. Ours is not the slippery slope of trauma but the gentle slope of ageing now.
I think the last visit to our northern family gave me a bit of thinking time. I have realised that I no longer need to dash about as I once did. I was always a bit hyperactive and had to fit a lot into every day. My friends would say admiringly: "I don't know how you do it!" and I would take that as a compliment. I don't need that kind of praise now. For the caregiver there is little praise that means much. Of course some folk say: "You are marvellous the way you look after Ray." I used to hate this at first but now take it as if they are saying I do a good job which I think I do. If they continue: "I would never be able to do what you do." I always say that they won't know if that is true until the time comes. None of us do, read you own early blogs and see how far you have come in that respect.
So I am willing myself to take things slower. As Sally said in chat tonight we, as caregivers are no longer able to keep up with the house and yardwork as we used to do. We have to hire help, accept assistance when it is offered and get by as best we can. We cannot allow our pride to get in the way, if we NEED help we have to accept it from whatever source it comes from. It is all a learning experience. Just like we had to have help when we were small now we have to have help for other reasons. And if there has to be a cheerful giver there has to be an equally grateful and cheerful receiver. To those of us who are used to helping others this is a bit of a turn-around but we can do it. It is just a different way of looking at life. Maybe in a way a less selfish one.
I am willing to walk this gentle down hill slope with Ray for as long as he is able to function at home. I am no martyr, I know I have my limitations. I know when I am tired and cranky and not coping the load seems more than I can bear. I know that when I am rested and refreshed the load seems light. I need to be sensible, take breaks when I need them, keep myself fit and healthy so I am able to go on looking after Ray. I need to start building time off and time out into my routine.
Ray and I have travelled a long way together, forty years and more since we first met, we will be celebrating our fortieth wedding anniversary on July 26th. Ah!! what dreams we had back then. Of course some, like having a family together have come true. And that is good. The trip around Australia? No. But we have camped under the stars and flown half-way round the world and done so many things together.
Now, earlier than we expected in the hot summer of our youth, we have reached the twilight of our days together. This is the sit and enjoy the sun time, the remembering time, the time of mutual contentment and enjoying the peaceful silence before the sunsets. This part of our life is painted in softer, fading colours. We are travelling at a slower and quieter pace and I hope will be more at peace with ourselves. But maybe not, there may be snow on the mountains.....
But Hey! this is not the end, life hasn't finished dealing with us yet!