This is a post I wrote in 2011. In honor of my recent change in age, I thought I’d share it:
I’ve been thinking more about days lately and less about months or years. Maybe it’s because Mom’s ninetieth birthday is coming up. When you’re ten or twenty years old, being ninety is something you can’t imagine, but when you’re next birthday will bring a Medicare card, imagining it is a little easier. Realizing that your days are numbered and that number is dwindling makes you look at them a little differently.
Maybe another reason I’ve been thinking about days is that I have leukemia. Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it. Actually, it’s pretty boring. I have a form of leukemia call CLL or Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. That’s an indolent form that has few symptoms and fewer treatments. The only reason I know I have it is that my PCP was concerned about a perpetually high white blood cell count and sent me to a hematologist. Since then I’ve been poked, dyed, scanned, and tested regularly just to make sure nothing is going on. I don’t know what the half life if of those dyes, but considering the amount of radioactive material that has been shot into my veins in the last two years, David and I probably won’t be having any miracle babies like Sarah and Abraham did. My disease remains dormant, though, and my hematologist tells me that, like older men with prostate cancer, I’m more likely to die with CLL than of it. Still, with an invisible time bomb ticking inside my bone marrow, it makes me contemplate my mortality a bit and value each day a little more.
What makes one day different from another? What makes Christmas, New Year’s, or your birthday different from the day before or the day after. David’s motto is every day’s a holiday and every meal’s a feast. Maybe it’s a matter of attitude and focus. How many days have I wasted focusing on me, feeling sorry for myself, worrying about things I can’t change, wishing it were Friday. How many times have I come to the end of a day only to realize that it’s over and I missed it.
When I was approaching the I-can’t-do-this-anymore limit in my caregiving experience, I started a gratitude journal. My goal was to write down at least three things a day for which I was grateful. It wasn’t an earthshaking idea or even an original one, but for a few minutes each day, it made me change my focus from the negatives in my life to the positives. In spite of my best efforts at positive thinking, there were days when I went to bed thinking the only good thing about today is that it’s over. I wonder what good things I missed on those days. How often did I focus on the stopped up toilet and miss the chance to laugh with Dad when he told a joke I’d heard a hundred times. How many times did I focus on Mom’s clothing malfunctions and miss the love in her eyes when she had a moment of clarity. How many sunsets did I miss while David stood on the front porch alone as I focused on the mess in the kitchen.
Psalm 90:12 tells us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Saturday was my sixty-ninth birthday. We celebrated, and I received cards, gifts, and lots of Facebook birthday wishes. Several days have passed since then, so I guess this is my unbirthday. Maybe if I pay attention and watch my focus, I’ll enjoy today more fully and even be a little wiser at the end of the day. By the way, happy unbirthday to you, too.
A LONG AND WINDING ROAD: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos
Available in paperback and digital versions.