Three years ago, setting out on what felt like the first of many ‘Chopped’ episodes in the caregiver odyssey season, I opened the appetizer basket. At first glance, key ingredients, like starting life in a new community, discovering local resources, and delving deeper into my passion for rowing, all appeared well within my menu comfort zone. I could easily imagine them arranged as a clever amuse-bouche that was tasty.
Peering back into the basket, revealed an unexpected element that had been previously overlooked. Finding meaningful work to do in the hours mom didn’t need anything created a somewhat bitter undertone as I struggled to make sense of a ‘professional’ life that was dramatically different from the previous twenty-five years. Dwindling options led to isolation, shame, and anger, to the point near overwhelming depression.
Recognizing the warning signs, it became apparent that the only way to remain connected to the world and survive the elimination round, was to open the door and invite people in. But how? Turning to the pantry in search of a flavor that would pull the first-course together, I found it overflowing with options. My eye lit on the ingredient that since the age of seven has been sprinkled, or poured over every helping of life’s more arduous meals – journalling with flair. Reveling in the success of round one, my ramblings became Middlescapes.com, and a celebrity panel of judges began to slowly assemble.
Inherent in each made to order daily special such as, When Tears Are Not An Option, Baking for Death and Other Houseguests, and Mango Lessons were the layered flavor profiles of secret hopes, that the platings might resonate, offering inspiration to the journeys of others.
Just as I was getting comfortable turning out small dishes, the entrée basket of Hospice Care, arrived. It contained, exotic spices like managing memory gaps or re-invented events, breathing difficulties, pain, and uterine bleeding all requiring stretches of culinary skill and technical dexterity, that managed to inspire more imaginative dishes like Caregiver Breathing and “A Love Letter to Marcia – Memorial Day 2012“.
Chock one up for resiliency instincts – as all diners have served at one time or another as witnesses, midwives, neutral observers, peacekeepers, spiritual advisors, resources, and friends. As the months have gone by I have enjoyed your comments, support, and empathy, yet frankly, (and embarrassingly) have continued to wonder about the direction of my culinary point of view. I am hoping this does not offend you, for it is not my intent to insult your loyalty, or diminish in any way the love and visibility that I have experienced. I know your time is valuable and finite and I appreciate that you have chosen to dine here.
On rare occasions, unusual ingredients, like confusion about the feelings that rise as a result of mom’s continuing ability to present so well to others (although I am grateful she still has this capacity), seem to come out of left field, and initially appear unusable. Yet it is these, the rarest of ingredients, that lead with wild abandon into heart pounding experimentation, based on your comments and borrowing from your most mentioned themes.
It is my intent create a more complete menu for this blog to serve as an experimental buffet where all of us can sample ways to allow death to come out of the closets of fear and isolation, where it has resided for too long, and return to it’s rightful place in family life. Whether we are facing the death of a loved one, friend, co-worker, relative, or our own, this is something we all face from time to time. A natural, necessary, confusing, and sad part of the life cycle that when appropriate, can occur in our homes, supported and integrated into our everyday lives.
Last week, mom turned 91 and many of you cared for, called, or supported her celebration in some way. In addition to the amazing staff from Home Instead Senior Care, special thanks to Mike & Maia Zwecher, Erin Martinovitch, her entire family, and Lynne Rome, for contributing to her feeling safe, loved, and special. Coming home from New Media Expo, finding her uplifted and energized brought a heightened sense of joy to my having had an opportunity to recharge low batteries and consider things from a number of new perspectives. It was a fabulous experience that opened doors and windows I never knew existed, but more importantly provided a list of new ingredient components.
Opening the dessert hamper has revealed the secret ingredients as, the apex of my social work career, passion for writing, and love for communicating intimately with people from varied cultures and backgrounds, as an opportunity to form the future direction of my life. Supporting, nurturing, and celebrating the peaceful mysterious transition that inspires us to live fuller, deeper, and richer lives – now… I hope you will weigh in on the discussions and take greater risks along with both of us. To that end, mom and I are considering the possibility of professionally documenting our transition through photos, and videos, as things continue to unfold. Ultimately, this growing past previous limits of creativity translate into a sense of chopped championship.
I look forward to hearing about the special ingredients in your wicker baskets that create dishes of curiosity, safety, and terror as we move together, beyond our ‘demystifying death’ comfort zone.