Friday, August 22, 2008

Stateside and Back

We have a guest blogger for this entry. This posting is from Lisa's Peace Corps Blog, writing about her recent visit in late July. Rob

I tactfullly avoided mentioning to too many people that I would be making a stop in the states for a bit, just as I have been tactfully avoiding writing anything about my trip there. Well, I think it's about time I talked. It's strange to think of an experience as both rejuvenating and energy-sucking. B/c that was what America was. Essential and exhausting, wonderful and heartbreaking.We have all changed so much whether we were aware or not: Susan, me, Jon, Sarah, family and friends. It's amazing how distance can put such a real and invisible gap between what we all understand about one another. And how that enables us to just grow up more, i guess.Susan was my reason for going back where i came from. So I went. Things were different. Some of it was sad and real. But it was what it was.I saw both a different woman and the same woman in her. I saw a woman who still loves her crafts, who still wants to be with her friends and get her nails done and have the classic "Moody" conversation that we have at their dinner table, usually on the verge of politics or religion, or life in general. I also saw her frustration in losing her independence in all these activities as well. The ultimate reality that it will not get better, and wondering, just how the hell do you say goodbye to someone...for good? I managed to leave there with thoughts of not being sad for Susan because she knows what she wants and how to go about her plans as best as she possibly can. But plans are just hopes. And we hope we can carry them out against all odds. I cannot honestly say that i am not worried for her within the next few months, but I was happy to see that she is able to make her decisions, able to prepare herself and her family and enjoy what time has left to her. I saw her trying to embrace her own person, on her own, as well as giving what time she can to others. I think all of us would want to give this time to those we love. And I can see Susan doing this both because she needs her family, but also because she knows that we need her. What greater show of empathy for those of us behind her than to get time with her, cause that's all we got to work with. Jon, Patrick and Rob are a bit of another story for me. I do worry for these men and how they will cope. I also (saw) 2 different Jonathan's back home. A caretaker, all business at times and just as frustrated as his mother was. His trade-mark patience could wear-thin. He even found it hard to "please" me one time when I snapped at him for no good reason. That's when I thought that I am not so sure that he is aware of what he is doing exactly. And that is his very best. His best to love himself, the best to love his mom and take care of her, the best to alleviate any stress on the family. His best to hold it together as a part of his world changes before his eyes. And this all just made me realize, for only the millionth time what a good heart he has. And how proud I am to be a piece of it. And it would be a lie if I said that being in Uganda wasn't some sort of escape for me. It is. I have another focus here, another life, really. That is the best and worst part about being here, maybe: the separation from my point of origin. But, this is life. Everyday we all die a bit, we grow a bit, we lose something and replace it with something else. What is most important is that we learn a lot and play a lot, like my papa preaches and do what we can to connect to others. Can I end this on a morbid note? "Love is watching someone die"And I hope that I can get a chance to be with those I love when they end their time here. Life is nothing special if it does not hurt. And I am ok with this.
Created for your enjoyment by Lisa B at 7:31 AM

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Here's to Jon!

Our oldest son, Jon just turned 25 – an age when most people are focused on their own lives, their own future, and developing their own ways of meeting the challenges of life. Most of us did not have to deal with the reality of a dying parent as part of our early adult experience.

Jon graduated from Colorado State University in December of 2006 with a B.A. in History. His plan at the time, along with his long-time girlfriend Lisa, was to enter the Peace Corps and serve the world in a uniquely meaningful way for a couple of years. He and Lisa applied and were both accepted. The screening process was long, and even after their initial acceptance they each had to endure a multitude of psychological and health tests. Never-the-less, the process was leading them to Africa where they both wanted to go. They wouldn’t have been serving in the same place, but they’d have been on the same continent doing what they had long committed to do. But in the summer of 2007 after months of delay, Jon was finally informed of the Peace Corps’ reluctance to proceed while his mother was dealing with a terminal illness. At the time, we had no way of knowing where Susan’s disease process would take us, or when. But the Peace Corps has a great deal of experience in these matters and knew that the loneliness and isolation of an assignment in Africa would be arduous – and that any major family crisis, let alone her death, would threaten his experience and that of the community he would be serving.

While Lisa’s plan moved forward, Jon took the disappointment in stride and looked for alternative opportunities closer to home. He ended up joining an AmeriCorps program called the National Civilian Community Corps. He left in late January for what would have been a year-long assignment based in Maryland, just a week before Lisa left for the beginning of her Peace Corps assignment. She went for an orientation in Philadelphia first (where she and Jon were able to rendezvous), then went on to Uganda where she is currently serving. It was shortly after that when we found out about Susan’s brain metastasis and that we had entered a new chapter in the journey. After several months doing post-Katrina projects in Biloxi, Mississippi, Jon decide his calling was at home. He arrived back in time to join me in the emergency room on a day when Susan was dealing with the medical crisis that helped us decide to enter hospice two days later.

Jon put his life on hold and chose to be with Susan as a caregiver. He has training as both a certified nurse aide and as an emergency medical technician which has come in quite handy. Early in the hospice journey the going was relatively easy and his presence was simply appreciated. Now, looking back over the last three months I can’t imagine doing this without him.

Jon’s role is more complicated than it appears. If he were just being employed as a companion, he might be able to go off duty and retreat to his own living space. But he’s also a family member dealing with the end of his mother’s life. There’s no “time off” for that. Though he found being thousands of miles away very difficult, he’s now dealing with the challenges of being so close. At any given time, he’s taking Susan where she needs to go (he’s not very fond of the craft and fabric stores she frequents), doing chores around the house, helping her with her meds, or observing her symptoms and behavior. (Such observations are critical for the hospice team in order to monitor changes and make necessary adjustments for Susan’s comfort.) All of that has become much more complex and challenging in recent weeks. Susan, by her own admission and because of her brain tumor and meds, can sometimes be a pretty crabby patient. Jon usually bears the brunt of her physical and emotional symptoms because he’s with her so much. But Jon is also processing his own journey. He’s trying to figure out what to do and where to go after Susan is gone. He’s trying to keep up with Lisa and her separate experience in Uganda, both to lessen the anguish of her absence, and to be supportive of her. He’s experiencing losses and learnings that most young adults don’t experience until much later in life. And I know he has days when he wonders why he has to endure all of this.

We all have our ways of coping. Jon works out a lot. He plays with the dog, he has two part-time jobs that get him out of the house, and he is exploring future opportunities. At Jon’s Eagle Court of Honor in 2002, I said I had begun seeing him as my own role model, rather than the other way around. I don’t know how I would manage what Jon is handling if I were his age. But I admire the heck out of what he’s doing. I know that as difficult as this is on so many levels, that he’s been gifted with the unique ability to do this and do it well. I believe he’ll be an even better person for this experience, difficult though it may be.

When I told Jon I was writing about him, he asked “is it good?” He’s not looking for accolades. He’s not that kind of guy. But I think we all need support in dealing with this journey at the end of Susan’s life. Some of my support comes from him. He deserves our support too. So please raise your glasses and join me in a toast.

Here’s to Jon!