When my kids were little, we had a book titled The Giving Tree. I can still see the cover of that book. It was mostly green with a black and white picture of a tree and a human figure. The storyline is a tree that meets a young boy. The boy wants to play so the tree gives him his branches on which to swing. The boy grows and the tree always offers him something. Soon, the tree has given everything–all that’s left is a stump. The boy is now an old man and can no longer play anyway. The tree tells the old man to sit and rest on what is left–it is all he has to give. Although I understand the premise of the story, it is a sad read.
It is also sadly true.
It seems life goes by quicker as we grow older. We spend our current season wishing for the next one. When the next one comes along, we are no longer satisfied and are looking ahead to the next one. I know I have been and am very guilty of this. When my children were babies, I couldn’t wait for them to sleep through the night. When they were big enough to do that, I couldn’t wait for them to understand how to sit on my lap and actually listen to a story. When that time came, I couldn’t wait for them to be big enough to play on their own…I could go on and on.
But back to the tree.
Right now I feel a little like that tree. For over twenty years, I have given to my husband and children. There were days I literally thought I would drop over from exhaustion, especially in the years where all four kids were under five years old. I also felt that same exhaustion when the calendar was full of soccer schedules, softball schedules, band schedules, etc. The majority of my days were spent in the van. I kept food in the glove compartment for the times I would inevitably be waiting for a kid. Regardless of the busyness of the day, dinner still needed to be prepared and I still had a husband who needed me. Oh. And a house that needed to be cleaned–and I didn’t live with neat people nor did my people clean! I remember thinking that when all the kids moved out, I would finally be able to get some rest. The kids did all eventually move out and I have been able to have days of rest. While the physical demands have decreased, the emotional demands have increased. That may not be an issue given normal circumstances. If you have read much of what I’ve written, though, you know I do not live under normal circumstances. My body has been invaded by two diseases that feed off of each other. Many days it’s all I can do to convince myself to get out of bed to battle the pain another day.
I am still a mom and a wife. I am also a grandma now. And I don’t want to let anyone down. I do my best to make sure my family gets everything they want from me. Like the tree in the story, I will give and give until there is nothing left to give. If for some reason I cannot, the guilt that weighs me down is indescribable. Last week, for example, I had told my daughter that we would keep our grandson overnight and the next day so she and her husband could have some much needed away time. In the days leading up to that time, I was not doing well. I was battling a huge cloud of depression in addition to physical symptoms from MS. I wasn’t confident I would be able to follow through with my promise. The guilt and self-hatred hit hard. I hated what this disease had done to me and what it had taken from me. Mistakenly, I took to Facebook to vent my feelings. I should know better. People read a sentence or two of raw emotion, not knowing the entire back story, and quickly make a judgment as to how I should feel or not feel. MS and depression are lonely diseases. The raw emotion that forces its way out during times of guilt and stress pushes people away. One piece of advice I have learned from people who are farther down the road with this illness than I am is that illness will show your true friends–expect to lose people as you walk the road of illness. I sat in my chair and sobbed at the thought of disappointing my daughter. There was no way I could let that happen. Knowing that fatigue could be relieved a little by rest, I retreated to the bedroom to take a nap, hoping that upon awakening I would feel the strength to keep our precious grandson as promised. In the end, I did get to keep him. It was so much fun! We went to the park and played and read books…and made precious memories that he won’t remember, but I will treasure forever! Was I tired? Definitely. Was it worth it? Oh yes!
I wish disease was not a part of my life. I always wanted to be a younger grandma so that I would have tons of energy to do all the grandma things I never got to experience as a kid. I want to go to the park, play catch, cook in the kitchen–make memories with my grandson that he will treasure long after I am gone. I get angry that MS has taken some of that hope from me. Sometimes I feel like the stump of the giving tree. No one has any use for an old stump. Thankfully, the squeal of delight when little man sees me, the smile when I sing You are my Sunshine, the way he holds his arms out for me to take him–all these things make me feel that maybe, even though I have little left to give most of the time, I still serve a purpose.
I hope I can continue to be all my family needs me to be. I also hope that if a time comes when I cannot, they will understand that it affects me in a much more profound way than they could ever imagine.