Today is my mother in law’s 96th birthday. She has no idea. She also has no idea there was a presidential election day yesterday or that we still don’t know who won officially at this moment on November 4th 2020. I would be lying if I didn’t say I envied her for that last bit.
For the most part, she’s pretty stable, health-wise. Some might even call her “robust”. But its her mental decline that leaves a whole lot of room for not so nice stuff. Yesterday an all-too-familiar sound wafted up through the floorboards of my office on the third floor of my home. My mother in law was crying. Hard. I could tell this one was a serious sob session.
At the moment, we’re without any extra help with regard to elder care. Our home health aide has been exposed to a positive case of COVID from someone in her household – so she’s not been here since Friday. For the immediate future we’re not allowing her to be here (even if her own COVID test comes back negative) to keep her from potentially spreading the virus to a very vulnerable Anita. This is why I must go downstairs and see what I can do to alleviate the situation when needed. Huz and I are tag-teaming the day parts so that we both can get our respective work done. Shout out to my clients for being super understanding of my level of distraction these past few days.
Daily sob sessions are routine now. There were times when they first started happening (after making sure she hadn’t hurt herself) when I would just employ the toddler distraction method to get her to stop. Seriously, oh look! something shiny! Or I’d give her tea and cookies or change the TV channel or tell her to sit up and go to the other room for a bit. This worked most of the time because it wasn’t anything linear – cause and effect – that led to the sobbing.
Her feeble, now 96-year old mind gets suddenly tormented by memories called back from long ago. She recalls times she was wronged. More often, she’d be remembering the times she wronged others. The weeping and wailing for past sins, long ago confessed, never lessening. The forgiveness promised and assured in dark, screened confessionals by whispering priests long ago went unaccepted. Perhaps, because she felt she didn’t deserve forgiveness. We know this is rubbish – yet, we can no longer convince her with mere words that everything is okay.
Thankfully I found a way to break through and make a difference. In a moment of clarity, I remembered my pranayama training. I stood in front of her and said, “just breathe”. I moved my hand up for the inhale and down for the exhale. The pantomime and gesturing is crucial given her level of hearing loss. She calmed for a moment and I went to the kitchen to make her a cup of tea. Before I could fill the kettle with water, I had to go back to the bedroom to remind her again, just breathe. This went on for four mini-pranayama sessions, until finally she had calmed down.
Thank goodness for deep breathing and its ability to calm. It broke through and made a difference, not only for her – but for me too.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Sometimes it is all we have.