Why don’t toilets overflow when there’s substantial amount of time to clean up the mess? Or when you have a lot of extra money to actually spend on something like a plumber? Why does it always seem to happen when things are already going bat shit crazy?
We don’t choose when life gets hard.
The first weekend in January of 2019, changed the trajectory of my year.
My dad… the epitome of everything strong… my rock… my biggest fan… was admitted to the hospital, for reasons unknown.
And I am 5 hours away.
Simultaneously, my mom’s dementia was rapidly progressing. I discovered just how bad it was when my mom could not tell me which hospital Dad went to.
There are at least eight hospitals in the metropolitan area where my parent’s live. By the time I found my dad, I had called five of them.
I found out that he was being admitted to the Critical Care Unit and almost fell on the floor. I work at a hospital and knew that meant there’s something serious going on.
But wait!!! My mom is alone in their house. She cannot be alone!!!
Quickly, my husband and I went into planning mode. I had to call my boss because this was a Friday and I had to work the next two days. Then we needed someone to pick our son up from school. Luckily the other could stay longer at preschool if needed. Then I had to pack and decide if I’m leaving immediately or in the morning. We chose the morning for safety reasons.
When I arrived at my parent’s house the next day, I was faced with the sight of how bad things have been. Like I said, my dad has always been strong. And because of that, he had not been honest with me about how bad he was feeling. The house was 83 degrees. It smelled. There were dishes with moldy food and cups with curdled milk. Actually, there was even more that I just cannot mention because I might break down while typing.
Over the course of the next few days, I took care of my mom, cooked, cleaned, and removed countless bags of expired food. I drove back and forth to the hospital and talked to nurses about the situation. Honestly, I did so much over the course of four days, a lot of it is a blur. When my dad called to tell me that he was getting discharged, all I wanted was to get him home. Stupidly, I thought that his discharge instructions would supplement the fact that I could not be in the room to talk to his nurse and ask questions. I didn’t have the energy to drag my mom in a wheelchair back up to his room.
Luckily, a few days later, my aunt flew into town to stay with my parents so I could get back home. I missed my husband and my kids and plus I had to work.
So why the toilet analogy? Well, let me tell you!
Two weeks after I got back home, I found myself back at my parent’s house because my dad had to be admitted again. This time, our 4 year old made the treck to Pappa and Grandma’s with me. We walked into a much better situation than before. My aunt had been there for two weeks and my mom had a smile on her face.
Now, I was faced with taking care of my mom, who needs as much care as a toddler, and my soon to be 4 year old (we celebrated his 4th birthday during this trip). The stressors were a lot different this time. Imagine trying to coordinate two cats simultaneously. One cat who can’t groom herself anymore and the other who keeps chasing after birds. Getting those two cats ready to leave the house plus trying to shower and get yourself ready. Can you feel the chaos?
Then take a big ole shit and clog the toilet. Feel that panic starting to set in? Imagine how fast your heart would start to race when you’re standing naked in the bathroom with the shower running and water starts spilling over the toilet bowl. And the water keeps coming. And the clothes you were going to wear after the shower start getting shit water on them (by the way, you only brought one bra).
Oh! And add a dog to the mix! (Cause my parents have a little Boston Terrier).
So here we have my mom bitching from the other room about how she’s going to be late to her hair appointment. My son running around because that’s what little boys do. The dog trying to get into the bathroom to lick the water. Me, naked, trying to throw towels on the floor and stop the water flow. With 10 minutes available before I had to be showered, dressed, and get my mom and son buckled into the car.
What did I do?
Contained the mess until I could have time to clean it up later. There were too many other things that had to be done and not enough time to sufficiently do it all. Somehow, I was able to pull myself together and get on to the next part of the day.
If you haven’t figured out the correlation, here it is…
The toilet represents the shit that life sometimes throws at us. It’s never a good time for a toilet overflow as well as it is never a good time for a life changing circumstance to explode into your life.
We have a saying in the social work field, “just roll with it.” When you don’t have the time to process what is happening, you have to quickly make a plan and somehow be okay to come back to clean up the mess later.
The technical term for this is compartmentalization. Basically, if you shift your focus to other things, instead of the situation at hand, you can temporarily avoid the emotions that can consume you. That’s not the same as suppressing, or burying the emotions. This just allows you to revisit the mess when the time is more appropriate.
It’s been almost a week since we left my parent’s house. Right now, I’m in “clean up” and “fix it” mode. I’m completing intermittent FMLA paperwork, working with my parent’s insurance provider and family to arrange the care needed for my parents at home. I’m taking care of my kids, grocery shopping, getting back to my small business, and selling my old toys that I’ve brought back home with me.
The mess has been contained, and now, the emotions are bubbling up. This is definitely a better time for me to be able to process the situation and allow myself to feel the emotions. It’s totally normal to be sad. It sucks to see my parents struggle with their health. Coming face to face with the inevitable is… well… I just can’t find the words to appropriately describe how it feels. I only know that my life is different and will not ever be the same.
So, I have to take care of myself somehow. I’m seeing my therapist and I’m going to schedule that massage my husband got me for Christmas. I’m listening to Mel Robbins’s “Mindset Reset” YouTube videos to keep my head in check. I’m doing the best damn job that I can. And I’m putting things into place so that the next time the toilet gets clogged and overflows, the mess will be easier to clean up.
Thanks for reading.