Shakespears – To thine own self be true.
DEFINITION: It means to first know thyself, who you are, why you behave, act, speak and react in the way you do. Know all that lurks in your subconscious driving your will at times to your destruction. To know your own mind and conquer it with mastery of will is to be true to oneself without compromise or egotism.
I started watching Still Alice last night and had to take a break. The movie really resonated with me on many levels. The movie is about a woman in her late 40s (I’m guessing) who is diagnosed with an early on-set of alzheimers. She is an accomplished college instructor with a husband and three grown children. It is the story of her quick demise from a terrible disease.
My mama had only been retired for a handful of years when she was diagnosed with cancer. She spent her first year in chemotherapy and I was running up and down I-5/Highway 99 assisting with her care, cooking, whatever I could do to make things easier for her and her husband. Nine months before she passed, she came to live with us 50% of the time so we could give her husband a break.
There were days being a caregiver was rewarding. Things I could do to bring a smile to her face. Watching her eat something I cooked or brought her when food was the last thing she wanted. Our new house no longer had a downstairs bathing facility. I got innovative and built her a shower curtain enclosure from PVC pipe, painting it sunshine yellow with a Del Coronado knock-off shower curtain so she could shower in a kindergarten-blue kiddie pool, with a shower chair and retractable hose that attached to a $50 adjustable shower head.
There were other days where being a careagiver was hard if not impossible. Thank God I was in therapy. All of the unconditional love shown to me throughout my 40 something years was now being returned with boundaries, adjusting to role reversal, depressed fits of sadness and frustration (both hers and mine). Having my own business and trying to work from home. It didn’t matter how I tried to compartmentalize my day, the minute I sat down and shifted attention from caregiver, she needed me.
The only peace throughout the day was at night or when she napped. That’s actually not accurate. When she napped, it was both a time for us to meditate on how her life had shifted 180 degrees in a terminal direction and how there was only one way out of it. There were days that the sounds of her walker were like dreaded sounds from a Stephen King movie. She had a habit of adjusting her walker when going to bed so that it was exactly parallel to her bed and could hold her phone, her water, her book. This was a science and repeated until perfect. Brakes off, left, right, roll, roll. Brakes on left, right. Brakes off, left, right, roll roll. Brakes on. Then she would get up. Brakes off, left , right, roll, shuffle shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. She would make her way down the hallway in her shortie nightgown that was most often hiked up over her hips with her panties showing — completely oblivious, but determined. I would hear these sounds in my own bed upstairs and be filled with dread. The bad caretaker. Imagine how she felt. My mama was always young for her age. Now, her 62 year old body that once behaved like a 55 year old had morphed into a 90 year old form over a matter of months. What little hair left on her head in stubbled tufts. Her eyebrows gone, but the tattooed new eyebrows took their place. Steroids took their toll adding 60 pounds to her already failing form.
EVERY morning, she got up. Sometimes it took her three tries. By the time she finished her bathroom routine, her meds, her breakfast (tea and one piece of toast with one piece of cheese and a ½ apple or orange), her clothes on, she needed a nap exhausted from nausea and other chemo side effects. This person 70% of the day was not my mother, but a body snatcher, from a POD grown in a green house known as an infusion center.
She wouldn’t quit. Her doctor, upon her brain cancer diagnosis, explained that her chances were one in a million. THAT is what my mother clung to. SHE was going to be THAT one in a million person. The doctor didn’t have the balls to explain to her that her odds were better to win the lottery. I couldn’t help but think that Siamese twins were one in a million and I most certainly would never want to be a Siamese twin.
It is a very adult like experience when you realize in a matter of less than two months you have given the two most important adult figures in your life permission to leave you.
The first, of course, was my mother. She came home from her latest hospital stay and was planning her next chemotherapy visit on her calendar. She was sitting in a chair in her dining room at the table. Her arms were black and blue from the needle sticks and IVs.
Planning, my mom was always planning. In Still Alice, Alice was a planner. My mama’s phone was her life line. Alice’s phone was her sanity check. Alice’s attempt to end her life on her own terms was tragically blown by her own mental illness and the unfortunate scattering of her sleeping pills, all of them to be taken at once, spilled across the bathroom floor. My mother was living life on her terms believing that she was going to be THAT one in a million…an equal form of scattered chaos. Alice spoke of being afraid of how others viewed her. In the midst of her own disease, one she had absolutely no control over, she was afraid of what others thought of her in her demise.
I got down on my knees in front of my mother. Her husband was sitting across the room. I’m sure he was thinking something awful about me. He always did and I frankly didn’t fucking care.
Me: Mama, Remember when you became a partner in the insurance company and you took that test (that you feared and put off for years) for your insurance license. Remember you passed the test and became a head insurance sales representative in your company? You worked hard. You brought in a six figure salary. The little girl from Orland made her own destiny. You amassed a legacy that you have set up for your grandchildren to an amount of $1 million dollars. That’s what YOU created. When you did all that you set out to do, it was enough. It was enough and you retired.
Me: You have taken on cancer as you did your career. You were determined to take THAT test (chemotherapy, radiation treatment), you feared it, you feared the journey. Nonetheless, you conquered your fears and you worked hard. You got up and got dressed every damn day. You have done the very best that you could in your fight. It’s enough. It’s time to retire.
My mama sat there just listening to my words. The words weren’t meant to be special or poetic, they were just meant to let her know that was wasn’t her biggest fear — a quitter. She nodded her head and agreed.
She passed shortly three weeks later. I found myself within the next month giving my husband permission to go. He struggled, similar to my mother. The circumstances were different, but the thinking patterns were the same. Afraid his absence would leave me abandoned, like my mother feared. Afraid people would think we were quitters, like my mother feared. The fear of judgment.
Why is it so hard for us to be true to ourselves? To have faith in how we behave, react and speak. Why are we often afraid to have confidence in our own mind and why are we often our own most destructive enemies? I think it is because we are afraid of what others will think. Societal approval or Societal suicide, if you will. Slowly killing yourself mentally and spiritually, and in some cases physically for social approval.
It is like quicksand. The harder you struggle, the more you sink. We weren’t put on this earth to sink. We were put on this earth to love one another to the best of our human ability. What is a bit of a balancing act is knowing your own boundaries. What is acceptable to you may not be acceptable to others. Everyone has their own compass – it contains the direction of each individual’s morals and boundaries. You don’t have to bend your own compass to follow the compass belonging to someone else. Take heart and confidence in your compass. It is what makes you who you are and it is what allows you to have respect for yourself………..To know your own mind and conquer it with mastery of will is to be true to oneself without compromise or egotism. Shouldn’t that be enough for society?
To Thing Ownself Be True.