For the last month, I’ve been lying fallow. Things had just become too much, I took a weekend off for a getaway. And then just kept going. No meditation, no blogging, no writing at all. It’s hard to get back on my routine.

Every journey begins with a single step.

So what did I do while lying fallow? Went upstate for a weekend away with my husband. Visited our favorite winery. I wanted to get out, to walk in nature but hadn’t prepared for the rainy summer they are experiencing there. So we spent most of the weekend in the car (argh!) or the house, watching it rain. The last day is was beautiful, sunny, cool and we raced to the park…where we couldn’t find a parking space because everyone else had the same idea. But we also discussed a wonderful wildlife preserve, where you drive, very slowly, along a gravel road, observing birds. And we discovered a new place to eat. And saw a glorious sunset.

When we returned, I went back to the office. Many days, I’m the only one there. The air conditioning works – sometimes too well. My office is large and bright and uncluttered by abandoned bicycle equipment and old magazines and shredding that needs to be shredded and an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. I get out of the house every weekday and get exercise walking back and forth. It’s glorious!

The plan is that we will all return after Labor Day, in a hybrid-work schedule. Everyone who hasn’t moved out of the area — and who isn’t in direct consumer support — will come to the office 2-3 days / week. We’ll all have to mask all the time, since there are some people who didn’t get vaccinated and didn’t mask up when the rule was that the unvaccinated could go unmasked. So now that rule is gone, and we all have to mask up all the time.

I just got back from two weeks at mom’s house, spelling my sister who is the primary caregiver. On the flights out, the airline asked us to wear our masks unless we were eating or drinking, when we could take the mask off then put it back on again when we were done eating. On the flights back, the instructions changed: now, keep your mask on until we serve you, then take your mask off, take a bite, and put it back on between bites. Thank you, delta variant and everyone who refuses to keep everyone else safe either by getting vaccinated or by wearing a mask when around others.

The day that I got there, the hospice service kicked mom off hospice — not dying fast enough, I guess — which entailed switching mom’s oxygen compressor, portable oxygen compressor, and wheelchair off one medical rental agency to another. For the first week I was there, mom improved, starting to use her walker, making her way to / from the toilet to pee. She still needed help when pooping, and there is nothing like wiping your mom’s butt to depress your spirits. She was eating much healthier than the last time I was out there, when she was eating less than enough to sustain a baby bird. She still slept a lot but her energy and her confidence were up.

I covered the shifts that the home caregiver service couldn’t cover, ran errands, followed up on the equipment switch out. After mom had called the doctor’s office and the equipment supplier multiple times for a week, I got in the car, drove to the doctor’s office – it’s a small town, nothing in town is further than 10 minutes away from anything else – and cheerfully persisted until I connected with someone who could resolve the issue.

I also forced my sister to take two days off from childcare and parent care and work and get out of town. Paid caregivers lined up, my husband and I stayed the night at my sister’s house, watching the kids. At 7:30 the next morning, mom called. The service had sent a new caregiver to cover Saturday. The caregiver had just moved to town from a nearby town which has the highest Covid rate in the state, didn’t bring a mask for her shift supporting an elderly client with lung problems – and if she doesn’t wear a mask in this situation, she probably isn’t wearing a mask in day-to-day interactions – oh, and she wasn’t vaccinated. My husband jumped into his clothes and repacked his bag, I drove him, in my pajamas, back to mom’s where I told the caregiver there was a scheduling issue and sent her home, telling her she’d be welcome back two weeks after her second dose, if she wore a mask. I helped mom in the bathroom, then left her with my husband to get breakfast while I returned to my sister’s, showered, dressed, fed the kids breakfast, before returning to mom’s. We had planned a day together, going for a hike – instead I spent the day watching mom sleep. My sister’s comment: Welcome to my life.

It wasn’t all bad: mom has a beautiful home with a large backyard. When I wasn’t working – and the temperature dropped below 100 – I sat in the backyard, just enjoying being outdoors. Mom joined me a couple of times but the smoke from nearby wildfires clouded the sky, left the yard smelling like a bad BBQ, and drove her back inside. The heat and a warn, dry winter that impacted the snowpack, has so depleted the town’s water supply that they’ve switched now to well-water – something that doesn’t usually happen until late in August.

It was a good two weeks. But it was bittersweet: the cost of the caregivers is eating mom’s savings and soon she won’t be able to afford living in her beautiful dollhouse of a retirement home that she loves. And what then? What then?

So I came back from mom’s with a huge to-do list: find someone to repair the back gate and look into live-in caregivers which cost less than the service. It’s a challenge. Even if congress somehow passes a package to support caregivers, what does it do? It increases caregiver training and helps them get a living wage – which will increase the pool, which is threateningly low because most Americans don’t want to work in such a thankless profession and immigration is down – and it provides financial support to the elderly in the bottom financial tier. I haven’t seen that it supports the elderly in the middle financial tier, who cannot afford the new higher prices but are above the poverty level…for now…

The second week that we were there, mom started to decline again and, by the time we left, she needed assistance any time she left her chair, wasn’t using the walker, and slept more during the day and less at night. What happened? We speculated with my brother-in-law on our way to the airport. While we wondered, my mom called my sister – she had a UTI and needed a urine test to get a prescription. So my sister spent the day finding some place that could squeeze mom in on a Friday afternoon. And, over the weekend, my mom’s refrigerator – a custom size, built in – started making funny noises. So sis spent Sunday defrosting the freezer.

Appreciate those in your life who do such things for those you love.

So now I’m back. And picking up the pieces.

What did I learn? I feel a little braver, a little more confident about going out – masked – and doing normal things. I feel a little more determined – to recommit myself to improving my own health; and to helping my sister chip away at the things she does by researching live-in caregivers and calling gate companies to repair my mom’s back gate.

And a little more determined to get out of the city, to spend more time in nature. Those spare moments in mom’s backyard made me realize how much I need to get out and breathe and wander beneath trees.

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