Caring for Our Parents

… a Sandwich Generationer's perspective

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Well this just answers everything. It’s that I’m a fenomenal leader!!!

Live & Learn

guilt v shame


Winston Churchill?  Well, not exactly.  Stanford Graduate School of Business research suggests that people prone to guilt tend to feel a strong sense of responsibility to others…and were considered the strongest leaderswhile shame-prone people tend to be less engaged.  On the guilt-o-meter, I’m a screaming 10 out of 10.  So, if you’re with me on topping the Guilt Charts – – cut yourself some slack.  You are in fine leadership company. 🙂

The full article can be found at WSJ.com: Plagued by Guilt? You May Be Management Material.

Here’s a few excerpts:

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Chill in the air

My mom has decided that she’s mad at me.  Therefore, when I talk to her on the phone I feel like I’m in one of those commercials for spearmint candies/gum where things freeze when someone blows their breath.  I can feel the temperature dropping precipitously as she tells me that ‘Everything is great… very relaxed… no issues… no issues at all here… doing great!’ in a crisp and calculated voice.  “What have I done now?!  I’m 5,000 miles away, not sure how I could have made her mad.”  These thoughts go through my mind everytime I talk to her.  Unfortunately, she hasn’t been getting over it and seems to be the norm when I talk to her on the phone lately.  I decide to see if getting the kids on the phone quicker makes her soften up.  Yep, while she talks to them, her demeaner changes completely and she becomes the sweet grandma she always is.  As soon as I get on the phone though… a Evil Frosty reemerges.

“Well, at least she is with it enough to be mad at you”, says my brother who is on his way to visit them.  “Don’t worry so much and don’t take it personally. She’s always been really tough with you anyway.”  ‘Has she?’ I wonder.  I guess I never thought about it but when I ask him, he seems to be convinced that the typical mother-daughter tension that existed between us is clearly me getting the short end of the stick.  Hmmm.

In the meantime, I hear from my father that I don’t call enough and that if it’s not too much of an inconvenience, to call and that he would be happy even if it was just once in a while.  ‘Once in a while! I call you every few days! What more do you want?!’  Talking on the phone does not keep him from sending me upteen emails with endless articles and requests to check out this or that or to see his progress on this website or get my thoughts on this business idea or… (you get the point).  Enough!

It is true that because I am the only daughter, my parents expect more out of me than they do of my brothers.  They believe my brothers have their in-laws to care for and I have them.  I guess I always bought into that and never had a need to question it.  Fortunately my in-laws are wonderfully healthy and, while there is no doubt that they have needs, the two will never compare.  Their motto is ‘live and let live’ – meaning, if you want to see us, you know where we live – We won’t bother you and you don’t bother us.  Their lack of dependence and my husband’s saintly status (really… got a letter from St. Peter a few years ago granting him a fast pass straight to heaven when he’s ready) has provided me with the opportunity to not have to question this assumption until recently.

Yet, when I heard my brother say it on the phone, so matter of fact, such an obvious truth… it really pissed me off.  Why should they be harder on me that on my brothers?  Why do they expect more dedication and attention from me than them?  How dare they?!  I was offended, angry and done.  ‘That’s it! No more!’ I yelled in my head.

Then my conscience helped me realize that while they probably did set the expectation, I did take on the charge and continued to feed the beast over the years.  Not really fair get mad about it now, is it?

So, continues the journey towards setting healthy and appropriate limits with them.  So continues the journey towards breaking the co-dependence and accept that it’s OK for my brothers to share in the responsibilities, that I don’t have to always be the one who comes to the rescue or sacrifices the most.  So, continues the journey towards not defining myself by the tone either of them uses on the phone.  One step at a time, one day at a time.

I am saddened by the fact that my mom is mad at me and I have no idea why but I can’t let that be a reflection of me as much as I need it to be a reflection of where she is and her disease.

I need to… yet I can’t

Mother’s Day

It’s such a wonderful day for us moms.  In our family, it always falls around my daughter’s and husband’s birthdays (they are a day apart in early May).  Actually, everyone in my family has a May birthday except for me so if it wasn’t for Mother’s Day, I’d feel a bit left out of all the celebration.

This year was no different and amongst all the celebration, the kids and hubby made time to let me know I am still a favorite in their lives.  They gave me cards and presents and helped me feel as loved as always.  I made sure I celebrated all the other moms in the family with hugs, emails and text messages.   We sent flowers to my mother in law (because she raised three wonderful boys and deserves them).  My kids made a card to send to my mom and we Skyped with her on Mother’s Day and wished her the best.  She dismissed it as she always does and told us not to make a big deal about it.

Planning for my blog entry last week was super easy.  I had to decide whether I would do a special post or tie it into my weekly entry. There was no question that I would be celebrating my mom on my blog for sure.  Yet Sunday came and went and I didn’t have time to write (too busy celebrating with my family).  No worries, I told myself, I would do it on my usual weekly entry.  Then the week came and went and I found myself too busy to write.  Weird since I didn’t have a particularly busy week.  It didn’t take me long to realize I was dragging my feet.

I dragged and dragged until today and here I am dragging again.

Why can’t I write about my mom? She was a wonderful mom and an incredible person.  It should be easy to write a couple paragraphs.  Yet I can’t.

When I was a kid, for years, I would always write my mom a letter for her birthday or special occasions telling her how wonderful she way and how lucky I was to have her as a mom.  Even as an adult, I’ve written her many sappy letters.  I even made her the topic of a college paper about who I admire most! Writing to celebrate her should be quite natural.  Yet I can’t.

I thought this entry would be it but clearly it has turned into something else. (I think you are witnessing an example of ‘blog procrastination’!)  When I put my fingers on the keyboard, I get sad and a wall comes up.  My eyes get teary and I have to remember to breathe.  So many mixed emotions… so much to say… so hard to say it…

I need to celebrate her.  Yet I can’t.

And then it hit me…

Not often do I turn to my favorite TV shows for a source of inspiration.  In fact, I specifically choose my shows to escape my crazy life so there is usually little for me to relate to.  Nevertheless, last week’s Gray’s Anatomy episode raised an incredibly thought provoquing situation which hit home with me.

For those who are not familiar with the show, the hospital’s Chief’s wife (well… he’s actually not Chief any more because he had some issues and this cool military guy with… I digress…) has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and she is now residing in a home.  The Chief (I honestly can’t remember his name), visits her daily and is completely devoted to staying by her side through this disease even though she rarely remembers who he is.  During one of his daily visits she shares with him that ‘she is in love!’.  Unfortunately, it is with another man.  He even catches them fooling around at one point.  As you can imagine, he is not happy that the facility has allowed this to happen.  After much turmoil and some changes that make his wife really unhappy, he realizes that he is no longer part of her ‘new life’.  He chooses to let his wife go back to this new life and continue her romance with this other man.  He chooses to let her be happy with someone else and ‘get out of the way’.  (He then chooses to hook up with another doctor but that’s out of scope for this discussion…)  =)

I have sometimes thought that things might be easier for our family once my mom is so far gone that my dad will be forced to put her in a home. I thought it might make things easier, especially for my dad and he would be able to go back to living his life. In watching the episode I realized how lonely and displaced the Chief was after making his decision. I was surprised to see how hard it was for him to do it, to let go and put his wife’s happiness ahead of his own ‘duty and obligation’ to be a loving and faithful husband in ‘sickness’.  It hit me then that my dad is not putting his life on hold to take care of my mom.  He is very much living it and that there is nothing for him to ‘go back to’ because he’s never known life without her.  The time will come when he will have to make these tough choices.  I hope he chooses to make her happy as well but I know it will devastating for him to put his ‘duty’ and his ‘ego’ aside.  He’ll also have to balance the guilt of relief with the grief of the loss. I wonder if that time will come before she passes away.

And there it was… hitting me in the pit of my stomach like a ton of bricks.  I grieved a little bit more the gradual loss of my mom.

Grounding

Thank you for reading my blog and for sending me information on this topic. I started this blog because I know I’m not the only one out there going through this experience. Yet, I have learned that it really helps me organize my thoughts and maintain a positive state of mind, specially when I start to spiral down into navel gazing despair. Like an airplane spiraling to the ground, writing helps me kick in the rudder and lift the airplane back into level flight. Now I realize that regardless of how many people read this, I will continue to write for my own well-being. This takes the pressure away from thinking I have to please an audience or be funny to ensure that people will keep reading. Phew! (I have an amazing ability to turn even the most carefree and liberating tasks into stressful monsters, huh?)… self-awareness is the first step to recovery… or so they say!

I wanted to comment on a couple of articles that you sent my way. The first is a CNN article on the Sandwich Generation. Take a look at it, it’s a great read:

http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/09/living/baby-boomer-caregivers/index.html?hpt=hp_c3

Many of the articles I read on this topic deal with caregivers who are significantly older than myself and my brothers with parents who are much more advanced. It confirms that my parents are way too young to be having to deal what they are going through and reminds me that they have a long life ahead of them. These articles help me feel that there is a community out there but also give me a bit of a foreshadow on the journey ahead. Not surprising, I’m already thinking about these issues and trying to plan and contingency plan if plan A doesn’t work… plan B… plan C… plan Z…. Then I remember planning as a teenager/young adult when I was watching my mom care for my grandma who also suffered from dementia. The reality is that all the planning and reflection I did back then and my plans of how we would handle things were not applicable. Not because they were bad solutions but because we have been faced with different and unforeseeable issues. What I thought things would be like never came to be and what came to be was not in the realm of my potential scenarios. So why all the planning? Good question… but what now?! Just let everything go and flow with what comes like I do when I float on the waves at the beach? Sounds scary for a type A personality like myself!

Enter a great diagram that was sent to me by another great friend:

http://visualnews.columnfivemedia.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/things-you-should-focus-on.jpg

What a great reminder! I spend a lot of emotional energy in my life trying to push these two circles together. I will try to remember that it’s OK for them to not overlap and let go. I will stop spending my energy trying to merge them and focus it on the little I can control. I will welcome the uncontrollable with God’s grace. Hopefully, He’ll grant me the wisdom to handle it all well. At least, I can be sure that I will have the energy to handle it to the best of my abilities. That is all I can ask of myself and with that I should be content.

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