Faith vs Fear

Faith vs Fear

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Vacation

My Christmas vacation was everything I had hoped for. The weather was sunny and beautiful; the little resort town of McCall festive and friendly; we had amazing meals together; opened presents (the best part was watching my 10-year-old nephew's obvious delight with his gifts); and started the first ever family pool tournament (my brother's idea). All but one of my sisters was there, and we had visits from two of my stepbrothers and their families (something we had never been able to do before). There was lots of love and laughter and visiting for four glorious days.

I had developed some congestion in my chest as a result of the bad air quality at home (worse in the nation; not something to be proud of) before I left. The congestion quickly cleared up in the cold, clear, clean air of the mountains, but I ended up with laryngitis, and was reduced to mostly whispering. The only down side of the trip. But that didn't stop me from enjoying one of my favorite things to do with my dad and siblings: walking together in the snowy woods with my 84-year-old dad. Such a treat! We're grateful that he's still in good health and spirits.

It was so nice to get to put aside my role as wife, caregiver, and mother for a few days to focus on being a daughter, sister, and aunt. I came home feeling relaxed and refreshed (even with no voice).

David, unfortunately, didn't have quite as good a time. He was all right when I left, and was looking forward to some visiting and down time. He had a couple of unpleasant conversations where others vented their problems to him. Not a good idea at Christmas when he's sensitive anyway. When I came home he was mildly delusional, but trying hard to maintain his sanity. It took a day or so for him to work through it.

The change back to "normal" life after such a stress-free time has been difficult for me. I have a hard time going from being around positive-thinking people to someone who tends to be negative much of the time. I found some comfort, though, in talking to others on a forum for bipolar spouses. My family tries to understand bipolar disorder, and it helps that one of my brothers is a caseworker in the mental health field, but it's one of those things you have to experience to really understand.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Thoughts

One of my favorite things to do, especially during the holidays, is to listen to music that reflects the reason why we celebrate this season. It helps me keep all the preparations and busyness in perspective, and to stop and ponder the light of the world.

He has been the light in my life and gives me comfort and direction in good times and bad.

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (KJV John 14:27)

"I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (KJV, John 8:12)

May you feel of His peace and love this season and always.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'll Be Home for Christmas

For the first time in nearly 35 years I get to spend Christmas with my dad and siblings. I am beyond excited, even to the point of being giddy. I've been thinking about traditions while enjoying the holiday season and counting down the days.

Christmases when I was young were sweet, low-key family gatherings. We gathered around the Christmas tree, listening to carols playing in the background, while we laughed and talked together and enjoyed the goodies my mother prepared. The evening always ended with my dad reciting "Twas the night before Christmas," and reading the Christmas story from Luke 2.

Marriage to my first husband brought new traditions. His family had a large, very lively, fun Christmas dinner and party on Christmas eve with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Our twin boys were born the week before Christmas (what a surprise that was: "You've got another one in there," the doctor said ten minutes after tiny (5 lbs.) Ben was born. We looked at each other in blank astonishment. But sure enough, after ten more minutes, Brian (also 5 lbs.) arrived!) Christmases then became high-energy, lively affairs as I struggled to figure out how to be in charge of my new family traditions. My mother-in-law had the right idea: she went all out for Christmas Eve, then had a wide variety of finger foods and treats for Christmas day. She would say, "If you go hungry, it's your own fault." I still miss the close association with his family, especially during the holidays.

When I remarried, traditions changed again. Because both of our former spouses had big family gatherings on Christmas eve, we sent the children to their parties, and stayed home. We learned early in our marriage to be flexible with holidays, and most of the time we wait until it's convenient for everyone to celebrate. For example, we go separate ways on Thanksgiving day and then get together on the following Sunday for a pie party. It works well; no one feels stressed about which family they should spend the day with, and we still have a family party after everyone has recovered from the day of feasting.

David has struggled with depression during the Christmas season most of the time we have been married, and as a result I have learned to lower my expectations.  I remember several Christmas seasons when he was severely depressed and refused to take part in Christmas activities at all. We learned to carry on without him, but it did lessen the pleasure. Sometimes I couldn't wait for the holidays to be over with.

The challenge has been how to adapt to his need for quiet (he doesn't like all the commotion and socializing that goes with the holiday), and my desire to enjoy the season to the fullest. I learned to do things to keep the spirit of the season with me. I read the Christmas story and other holiday favorites, with David or by myself. Sometimes I would take the children to look at the lights and go to a Messiah sing-in without him. It also helps that the building where I work goes all out with decorations and music which adds to my enjoyment of the season.

And now that we are officially empty nesters traditions are bound to change yet again. This year, because of changing circumstances, I get to spend the holiday with my Dad and siblings, while David is going to spend the time with his mother. We debated about what to do, but he felt strongly that I should have this trip with my family. He doesn't travel well or like cold weather and lots of people, so we felt that he should stay home. He says he can handle me being gone for a few days since it's with family, and that this trip is his gift to me. He's also looking forward to being able to choose how much socializing he does. And I've let the children know what the plan is so that they can check in and spend some time with him.

David's mood has been reasonably sunny with only occasional blue days so far during the holidays. He even insisted that I put up the Christmas tree earlier than usual and he strung lights on the tree and house with only token amounts of protest. I think it's because of reduced stress and a better understanding of his disorder and triggers. I don't know how long this mood will last, but I am grateful for his efforts to stay upbeat and involved. That is the true gift, not just to me, but to himself.

I hope that the traditions that you have for this season will bring you joy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Here's Lucy! (and our other therapy pets)

Yesterday we watched an episode about therapy pets on "Wild about Animals." It got me thinking about the pets who grace our family's life.

When our dog Riley was killed by a car last May, we weren't the only ones who went into mourning. Sunny, our toy poodle, sat by the door looking mournful and not eating. Tootsie, our gray tabby cat, looked all over the house, calling for him. We decided a short time later it was time to get another dog.

Our daughter Katie found an online ad for a 5-month-old lab/pointer mix, and when we saw her, we knew she was the dog we were looking for. Her previous family had named her "Daisy," but the name didn't fit. After vigorous debate about a new name, we settled on "Lucy," although Katie insists on calling her "Ruby." LUCY fits her much better.

Her previous family kept her in a small outside pen, and had not taken the time to work with her. She was unruly and undisciplined, to put it politely, for the first few weeks, but Sunny (who is the alpha dog), and Tootsie (who REALLY rules the house) taught her good manners and how to behave. We enjoy watching them chase and play together; it's cheap entertainment. And the grandchildren love our pets; Tootsie makes it a point to come out and let them maul her when they're at the house.

Each of the animals has adapted to David's moods: Lucy is really good about walking by his side and coming when called and Sunny stays close by. On days when David can't cope, I frequently come home to find David sitting in his favorite chair with the cat sitting on his lap and purring. They are an important part of David's therapy and sense of well-being.

We recently added a small fish tank with two fish and a snail to our menagerie. For the first week we were like over-anxious new parents watching their every move. We've calmed down, though, and the sound of the pump in their tank and the movement of the fish is soothing for David. Although it does drive the cat to distraction (we saw her crouching on the couch, measuring the distance to the fish tank. She finally decided it was too much effort and walked away).

I couldn't resist this one. Tootsie has amazing patience with the grandchildren!

We have had several other dogs over the years, but the story of our family's therapy pets would not be complete without mentioning Cindy, an important part of the family for 12 years. We still miss her ten years after her passing. Cindy was a beautiful, sweet-tempered Swedish shepherd who was also a bit eccentric.

Out of all the Cindy stories we tell, my favorite involves the ladder in the picture below. The ladder went to a tree house about seven feet above ground. One day our older boys were playing there, and decided to see how far up the ladder Cindy would go. To their surprise, she made it the whole way! Then the problem became how to get her down. A frightened 75-pound dog is not easy to budge! We eventually put a large garbage can with a plank on top of it under the tree, and lured her down with her favorite food: hot dogs. I wish I had a video of that moment.

Cindy with our grandson Zachary