June 2, 2022
Blues by Hedda Pessin
Blues,  Photo by Hedda Pessin

Dad passed away on October 1, 2021. On October 15, 2021 I was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer called a choroidal melanoma. The combination of dad passing away and subsequent logistics (I’m good at logistics!) followed by switching my focus from caring full time for my parents to caring for myself (I’m not good at putting myself first in line), has kept me quite busy. This week, for some reason, seven months after dad passed, and three months since my tumor was treated with radiation therapy, I find myself weepy, moody, cranky. I am lethargic, enervated, with brain fog and put off by any request from anyone for something they need from me. I went to the doctor. I thought something must be wrong with me. She sent me to a grief counselor. Apparently, it is not unusual for people to have a delayed reaction to loss.

For me, the loss of my dad is one thing. I had started mourning his loss when Alzheimer’s took him from me. When he couldn’t have conversations with me and then when he didn’t know who I was anymore there was a sort of grieving process.

I thought I had mourned the cancer in my body. I was positive I would beat it. I thought of my cancer as a sign from dad that I needed to take care of myself. I had my first full round of imaging tests and I should be thrilled because everything from top of head to bottom of feet seems to be completely free of disease at this point. ‘Not growing’ is what we want to hear and I got that great news. So why am I mourning? Why am I so debilitated?

I talked to my siblings and they suggested moving mom up to New York where they could care for her so I could care for myself. That was a superb idea. I can take care of my health without worrying about what would happen to mom if I got sick or needed to be in treatment. I could go back to work and earn money again so I could pay for whatever might come. I could, in my dreams, when Covid is over, go to Italy for a few months and do some writing. This was going to be great. So again I ask… why am I so blue? Why is everything so depressing? Things are good for me. I should be excited about rebooting my life.

I actually feel guilty being depressed when other people have so many more challenges than I do. Don’t I have a right to be depressed? We do that to ourselves, don’t we? We deny ourselves the right to feel what we feel. We think about what we “look like” to others when we care for our loved ones, and when we stop.

I’m looking to move on. I’ve set up my life so I have a plan for “after caregiving” and its time to put that into action. My mother has come to understand that having five people to care for her in New York is better than having one who has an 85% risk of cancer spread within three years according to genomic biopsy in Florida. Even if it is warmer in Florida than New York, she will be in a better place. I won’t have to worry about her when I need to take care of me. And my siblings are delighted that they will have her back in their neck of the woods for holidays, parties and milestone events in their lives.

Could it be that I’m scared? Could it be that I’m afraid of what happens now that I am not that awesome daughter who cares for her parents? So selfless. Such a blessing. Who am I if I’m not caregiver?

I’ve been told it’s a combination of things. I am doing some catch-up grieving about the loss of dad since most of the logistics have been handled and I’m left with emotion. Mom moving is maybe triggering a bit more of the “loss” emotion. While I welcome the freedom, I have become accustomed to daily interaction and being able to visit when I want. She’s moving far away from me. It’s not up to me to keep her safe and healthy. This is not a bad thing but if she gets sick, will I blame myself? Am I losing control of my mother’s health? Did I ever really have control over that?

I’m selling the condo I’ve been living in and paring down all my “stuff” and my parent’s stuff to the live a more minimalist and thus flexible lifestyle. I keep coming across things that trigger memories. What to keep, what to discard?

There are a lot of changes happening all at once in my life and therapist says I need to take time to breath deeply, meditate if I can, focus on one thing at a time, and don’t let all the people around me push me to work on their schedule. I do NOT have to get everything done in record breaking speed. I CAN set my boundaries and format the parameters under which I will get everything accomplished.

It’s time for me to prioritize me-time. I can see it’s not as easy as flipping a switch when the logistics of my day change. It’s going to take a lot more attention on my emotional being. Thankfully I have friends and family to offer me a shoulder to cry on, advice, respite. My goal is to go back to dancing to the Blues instead of feeling blue. Are you with me?