It is starting to feel like fall in our parched state that is ablaze in flame, and whose inhabitants cannot drive in rain.
The tween assumed I played the marching band CD from my alma mater because fall means football, and we are attending our high school and college games this weekend. But the song that streams through my car’s speakers is the repeated: quarter note, six eighth notes, two quarter notes, a dotted quarter and an eighth note that becks and calls between the low brass and trumpets. It is a simple song but the harmonies and incessant snare riff exemplify digging deep; played for the defense on a third down. Over the years, when I’ve needed to push through unpleasant tasks it is my “go to” motivational song. On YouTube I discovered a post that continuously plays this song for ten hours straight.
As I battled through traffic, in the rain with impatient parents, I clenched my steering wheel and quietly kept my tongue.
Why are you playing THIS song on repeat? asked my tween.
The words were out of my mouth before I had thought them. This is my defensive song and I’m on the defense. It had never occurred to me WHY this song resonates with me until I had vocalized the words.
I get it, was his simple answer as a parent driver cut us off; grinning back. I was defensively driving. The alto sax sheet music for this song sits upon my piano as he memorizes it for fun. I know this song is one of his favorites too.
The phone call came this morning and I paused the music. The matriarch of my husband’s family passed away this morning in her sleep; aged 89. On Labor day we had received the phone call that she would be placed in hospice and the family had sat around the pool in silence. My brother-in-law had just shared that his father would temporarily be placed in a skilled nursing facility (SNF) after arriving at the emergency room via ambulance. When the hubs asked if the placements in hospice and a SNF were good things, I pushed through the silence and tactfully searched for the words no one else would say.
Your grandmother is dying. The brother-in-law’s father’s placement in the SNF most likely will be permanent. His grandmother had been taken off of dialysis because it showed no indications of improvement. My brother-in-law’s father’s Parkinson Disease had progressed.
All things unpleasant.
My years as a gerontologist and of losing my parents as a teen and new mom, respectively, have given me perspective. As an intern in college my project had been to discuss advanced directives with the physician’s elderly patients. She had thought my plans were ambitious and had forewarned me that it would not be smooth sailing. She had been correct. The patients became defensive and angry when I broached any discussion of mortality and death and dying. Durable Powers of Attorney, burial trusts and getting papers in order were not topics people wished to discuss.
Later, as a county ombudsman who advocated for the elderly, the abuse complaints that crossed my desk were usually concerning a family member taking advantage of elderly clients. I used to think that blood was thicker than water but discovered that the almighty dollar was quite powerful in obliterating those ties that bind. To this day I advocate for this paperwork but this topic is still taboo; something I know all too well. For over two decades I continue this conversation with my in-laws; the paperwork yet to be done on another day.
As the bad things in life happened, I became bitter and angry and used these emotions as my shields. This would not happen to me again. I would control my circumstances and cut the ties. I had no immediate family and walked away from my faith. I would control my destiny.
After each of my parents’ deaths I became uncommunicative and would place headphones upon my head to drown out all sound; choosing dark brooding music. When engaged to my non-denominational fiance (now hubby) my mother had agreed to our marriage if my fiance promised to be married in the church. Ironically, it is my husband who returned me to my faith and continues to walk alongside. When disappointment in people darkened my door, recently, the earbuds went in. But as in all things unpleasant, time mends and the relationships that occupy my life bring me back; my fighting spirit returning.
Dwelling on the unpleasant things brings growth. I have rediscovered the person I wanted to be. I can now speak the words instead of simmering silently in a corner. But I also work through filtering and sorting; to be able to say the words authentically but with empathy. Tact.
Last evening I clenched my jaw as I sat in the back of a classroom amongst parents at a back-to-school night. One of the lessons learned from the internship in college was in finding tactful words. The other lesson was in keeping things confidential; particularly conversations that are unsavory where there are no words than can cover up the ugly. I simmered quietly at the artifice and dramatics of parents sitting in the room with me. They push their own agendas for themselves, in-turn, hurting the whole. When the bell rang it was all I could do to drag the hubs out of there before my unfiltered words could be spoken.
My song continues to play on repeat at work as I do some of the administrative tasks I dislike doing. I am digging deep to work through the unpleasant things. It is sometimes hard to march to my own beat; the relentless riff of the music having me fall-in-step with it to keep moving forward. I continue to fight on; to find the path I will choose to march. To do the morally correct thing confidentially, with tact and authenticity.