Posts Tagged With: sisters

Sense and Sensibility

In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood sisters embody two opposing world views.  Elinor, the level-headed older daughter, is the reserved sister whose sense marks her as the responsible sibling who puts others ahead of herself.  Marianne, her younger sister, is all passion and feeling, all sensibility.  Elinor’s reserved demeanor is deceptive, for her repression of her true, deep and deeply felt emotions burst out of her, surprising others who have failed to see the depths beneath her surface control.  Even Marianne fails to recognize her sister’s emotional turmoil.

Though I prefer Pride and Prejudice (it’s one of the novels that I reread yearly), Sense and Sensibility reminds me of myself and Kay.  I’ve always felt close to Elinor.  I am the eldest and have had a similar sense of responsibility for others — for most of my life, indeed, I have had responsibilities that many people my age didn’t have to cope with.  As a teenager, I was wildly emotional — over Viet Nam, over imagined ills, over the kind of mother-daughter clashes common to adolescent girls.  My temper usually got the better of me.  I had to learn to control it, to subdue it.  By the time I was in my 30s, I think I was, for the most part, more like Elinor Dashwood.  Calm, thoughtful, sensible and practical.  I could be counted upon to plan and follow through.  I was, quite simply, an almost overly responsible member of the family.  Actually, I had been abnormally responsible as a kid — I mean even at 4 and 5.  Circumstances sort of demanded it.  And that continued.

Kay has always been the more fragile of us, more easily hurt and prone to hide in her room.  She’s the youngest, and inherently shy.  I think she came into the world with an inferiority complex.  She’s much more confident now, and continues to work on that.  But she’s still outwardly more Marianne Dashwood.  Her feelings are paramount — they are all on the surface.  They control her at times.

My feelings are there too — but my Elinor side seems to balance them.  At times, perhaps, to suppress them until I am alone and can deal with them alone.

Perhaps this difference has been most evident since Dad died.  I had been with Dad a lot more than Kay had, not because she didn’t want to be there, but because she is still working.  Weekends were her time.  And he was in the nursing home for a couple of months, too, so we visited him rather than lived with him.  During the weeks he was there, I supervised the house renovations.  I handled other issues.  I also got the irritated Dad more, I think.

But after we brought him home, it was intense, 24/7.  Kay had the first weekend by herself.  I had the two weeks.  I had the minute-by-minute nursing and caregiving.  I made phone calls to arrange ambulance transportation to dialysis.  She came for the second weekend and didn’t leave because Dad’s condition rapidly declined; I was supposed to go to Lake Charles, but didn’t because I was exhausted.  That was fortunate, since we took him to the ER on Friday night and ended up getting hospice on Sunday.  On Monday, hospice was there all morning, and he was in great pain.  Kay and Billie went to Lake Charles, doing some shopping and dropping a check from me off at my house for the repairman who was going to be there on Tuesday to fix my air conditioner; my friend Patty was to be there for the work.

Kay came back to a Dad who was basically asleep — after hours of my conferring with the hospice nurse and administering more and more morphine.  I still dream about those hours before she came back.

But when he died,  I did what I do best — crisis mode.  I do that by long experience.  Kay did well too, but there were moments for her when she broke down, when she said she wasn’t ready to let him go yet.  And that was after the funeral, too.  The many details of arranging a funeral kept us occupied.  But afterwards?

Reality had set in for her.  He was gone, but as she said, she wasn’t ready to let him go yet.  t think it had hit me much earlier.  My predominant feeling after his death:  one of relief, relief that he was now no longer in pain.

She is grieving now — emotions much more on the surface, much more in control of her.  Marianne, again.

Me?  I think I have been grieving for a year.  I saw Dad slip away in pieces.  Right now, there are times where I can feel the tears are there, and beneath the tears a gaping hole that is ready to suck me through.  It will hit me, I know, but right now there are other things I must do, business issues to take care of, and family problems to help with.  My emotions are private things, and I try not to let them out in public, which is another part of why I feel more like Elinor.  Her emotions are deep and when they are unleashed/released, they threaten to overwhelm her, and they surprise her as much as anyone.

Unlike Elinor, I know only too well how deep my emotions run.  I also know that I will let them loose sometime.  Just not now, when the practical Cheryl has her list of what must be done.   There will be times, in my house or my apartment — or my car — when I let them out and bawl like a baby, sobbing with my loss.  But that’s not for public display.

Even at the funeral, when I felt that void start to open and the sob caught my throat, I gulped, grabbed some TicTacs and started munching.  At times, I was afraid that the sound of pouring out TicTacs was audible and might disturb the service, but I kept chomping away so that I didn’t just lose it and really distract everyone.  That would be unacceptable.  I kept remembering what Dad told me at his brother’s funeral, years before, as I started to sob — “Wares don’t lose control in public”.  There’s the key:  in public.  Emotions are private, and to be released when appropriate.  So I channeled Dad’s voice telling me that even while I was at his service, looking at his casket.  Closed, might I add.  Funerals are difficult enough, and an open casket makes them even more difficult.

At the funeral, I kept worrying about my sister, about my Aunt Mildred (Dad’s sister), and my Aunt Jean (his sister-in-law).  Dad would be proud, I hope, that we all were teary-eyed but not out of control.  That would be horrible.

And now, almost three weeks afterwards, I work my way through the lists of to-dos.  I’ve seen a lawyer.  I’m getting repairs on the house before we put it on the market; I’m waiting for the appraiser’s report.  Kay and I are working this coming weekend on the hundreds of tools that are neatly housed in the double-garage.  They will get boxed and moved into storage.  I hope to go to the bank to the safety deposit box.

There’s so much to do.

Kay is working through this, trying to find her way through the changes that include Dad’s death and how we shape our lives without him.   We talk daily, often several times a day.  We talk about our own plans to rebuild at my beach lot in Crystal Beach — and I think it’s important for us. This is our family house that we’re building, our future.  We’ll create our own memories there, but we’ll carry others with us.  The new house will be furnished in part with things from Egan.  We probably won’t need anything at all for the kitchen.  We’ve got chests of drawers.  We need to buy new chairs for the table that Phil found and refurbishes.  We’ll need a new sofa (one that is a sleeper).  I want a new rocker for the living room.  We’ve got televisions and a stereo.  Our grandmother’s stereo cabinet from the 1940s will become the DVD storage, placed beneath the living room television.  It may also be the bar, something Kay and I find appropriate. We’ll have 3 bedrooms, one for me, one for Kay, one for Rachel, my niece.  One bathroom.

Channeling my Elinor, I keep going as I work through the list.  I help Kay as she occasionally breaks into her Marianne side.  At home, I let my own emotions out at times, but so far, nothing of epic magnitude has emerged. At times, though, I admit to feeling overwhelmed — not by Dad’s loss as much as by the sheer number of chores that await me.  Panic attacks threaten, but I’ve avoided them with deep breathing and grounding techniques.

Emily Dickinson speaks to me at this time as much as Jane Austen does:  in one poem, Emily D says

XXXV
I CAN wade grief,
Whole pools of it,—
I ’m used to that.
But the least push of joy
Breaks up my feet,         5
And I tip—drunken.
Let no pebble smile,
’T was the new liquor,—
That was all!
Power is only pain,         10
Stranded, through discipline,
Till weights will hang.
Give balm to giants,
And they ’ll wilt, like men.
Give Himmaleh,—         15
They ’ll carry him!

I taught that poem for years, and it speaks to me constantly of how I myself feel.  I’m so used to grief that I can wade it easily.  But comfort — “balm” — that and joy are less well-known to me and threaten to make me slip.  Yes, Emily, yes.  I agree.

Sense — me — and Sensibility — Kay:  We manage.  And that’s positive, good, desirable.  We work together.  Day by day, step by step.  I count our successes.  They make the troubles– the griefs that threaten, the new crises that crop up– survivable.

Not that we don’t bicker.  We do.  Don’t get me wrong — our essential sibling relationship remains.  But both of us are conscious that Dad, our mediator, is gone, and it’s up to us to find our way together.

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Saturday night, Week Two

A tiring few days, these last days of the week.  The fall on Sunday, even without anything fractured or broken, has led to a noticeable change for the worse in Dad.  It’s been strenuous, and tough.

Certainly transporting him by ambulance was the first major change after the fall, but not the only major change.  Prior to the fall, he was able to get up at times and walk with the walker and help — but no more.  Now he needs help.  Now he has muscle spasms — even with the muscle relaxers I got on Wednesday.

And his mental state has really shown a decline.  He is more confused, wandering in time and space more.  He calls for his mother, or my mother (Irene), or his sister (Mildred).  He gets more agitated, is more restless.  He’s more like he was in the hospital when he was hallucinating.  He tries to climb out of the bed.

And he succeeds in that, too.  He has gotten out of bed and fallen twice in the last two days.  Yesterday morning about 8:30 I heard a small thump — got up — and found him sitting on the floor, the walker turned over on its side and him sitting with his back to the bed.  I had checked him not 10 minutes before.  I was in the next room.  I was awake.  He insisted he’d called, but he hadn’t, and he managed to get out of the bed.  I got Charles to help me get him off the floor and back into bed.  He had no noticeable injury.

Just after 11, he was off to dialysis.  I went to bed, too tired to do anything else.  I’d been up all Thursday night, basically, checking on him every two hours or so.  By Friday morning, I was just out of any energy at all.

He came home from dialysis — had slept through it — and my sister got here shortly afterwards.  He slept for a while, but then woke up and was highly agitated, despite pain pills and muscle relaxers.  I slept through the night, while Kay stayed up checking every couple of hours.  At 6:30 a.m. this morning, though, I heard another thump and we both got there at the same time.  Once more, he’d managed to get out of bed — without the walker — and fallen, though again, very luckily, not hurting himself. He’d managed to get out of bed despite the side rails.

It reminds me of how he was when he was in the hospital with hallucinations earlier this spring, after the kyphoplasty for the L1 compression fracture.  He was stronger than I’d thought possible, and I stayed awake for 48 hours watching him.  This has been very similar.

Since he fell on Sunday almost a week ago, his downward slide has been noticeable.  Physically, he can no longer walk with the walker for the physical therapists.  Yet he has managed twice to get out of bed and try to walk.  His pain is greater because of muscle spasms, and even with the Flexeril I got on Wednesday for him, he has had problems.  Today, we got the Ambien refilled — maybe that will help him sleep through the night.  It’s not that we want to medicate him into Never-Never Land; it’s that we want him to sleep without disturbance, and we need to as well

I stayed in Egan this weekend after Kay came — just too exhausted to drive even 45 miles.  Yet that was fortuitous.  Certainly the second fall this morning required both of us.  Last night, though, was the time when it took both of us to work.

We’d fed him supper.  We were lying him back in bed — and at the same time Kay and I noticed that his left arm — where the dialysis graft/shunt is — was bleeding.  It was spurting, in fact.  I grabbed a towel and immediately applied pressure.  She called 911.  We got him to the hospital, and the arm had pretty much stopped bleeding by then, but they called his surgeon anyway.  They kept us until the ambulance could return to take us home — and it was nearly 10 before that happened.  His shunt has been problematic, and now it is again.

Today when the home health nurse came to check it, it began to bleed again as she unwrapped the pressure bandage.  A nurse will come tomorrow to check it as well.

In the meantime, he has been quite restless.  He has talked a lot — most of it not understandable.  He has been agitated and restless.  He ate supper though and then slept for a while.  Just now, Kay and I gave him the Ambien and a pain pill and now we’re waiting to see how that works tonight.

Our friend Billie has been shocked today, I think, because she’s seen for the first time how disoriented he is, heard him talk and seen how out of it he is.  For her, Dad is the last friend of the Sun Oil group still with it.  Now he’s slipping away from us.  I know that has to really hurt her.

Kay and I are surprisingly calm about it all.  We have talked a lot today and tonight about what we want and don’t want, about what we will do.  It’s a sad time, certainly, a heart-breaking time, but a time when the two of us are able to be together and on the same page regarding everything.  That’s a comfort, truly.  If we weren’t, that would be a problem.

So here it is, a Saturday night in Egan.  I slept a few hours this afternoon.  I needed that.  I got up while Billie was still here, sat and talked with her and Kay.  Since she’s been gone, Kay and I have shared a bottle of Prosecco and talked.

Now it’s a bit after 10 p.m.  I think I’ll grab a snack and read for a while.

And hope that the Ambien helps Dad to sleep through the night.

My generation was right:  Better living through chemistry.

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