Caring for Our Parents

… a Sandwich Generationer's perspective

Archive for the tag “caretaking”

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.

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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.

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