Sunday, June 05, 2011

Caregiving and Truth Telling

How are you? I am fine.

Oh, we're telling the truth, are we?

Well then, I am truly, madly, deeply fine for varying values of fine which on some days means I've survived the day intact and not done any of the hundred and one uncivil, unhealthy, or violent things that occur to my tired, angry lizard brain when I'm under a lot of stress. 

I've been working on a large and complex project this year and wearing a lot of hats. I am trying to use my best skills and not work from my negative sides, which as a child of an alcoholic, the survivor of a dysfunctional family, religion and culture, and a recovering addict and alcoholic myself (1), I have in spades.

The project in question calls for discernment, not judgement; tact and truth telling, not harsh blaming and resentment; hard work and wise delegation, not being a door mat or a martyr. Most of all, I need to lead by example. I need to exhibit creativity and flexibility, not control. In dealing with people of all types, I am working to present my best self, the one with a wicked sense of humor, who shows a calm presence under pressure and who knows how to best use the skills of my team and how to support, appreciate and reward their great work.

I keep my Inner Eye out for the lessons here, knowing that life never lets us focus on just one thing, that Her timing is not the same as mine, and that spiritual wisdom is most often (for me at least) to be found in paradox.

My mother has been ill again, unexpectedly (although it is never really unexpected these days, which is why I keep a bag packed). When I got The Call We Dread I jumped in the car with dog and drive snack,  and headed out on a half-day road drive to see her.  As I pulled out of drive I thought of that old joke: "What's the secret of comed-TIMING!": I was leaving home just as my husband was coming back from a long business trip. 

I adore my Mom. She is strong, funny, smart, creative and kind.  She also makes me crazy.  I make her, crazy, too, so we're even.  I was at Mom's place for a week. We were both glad I was there.

I was blessed with sunny weather on the drive, and took joy in seeing the varied beauty of my state in spring time.  I've learned to look for joy amid the worry  (survival tactic #3) and the sight of clean, sparkling rivers, the profusion of color from spring blossoms, and a drive that took me past small family farms filled with lambs, calves and playful colts showed me the joyful life force I needed to get through that day.  Madame the dog approved of the unusual sniffs at all the rest stops and made some new friends. I had a great book on tape, and so by all these things the drive was blessed.

When I got there Mom was out of the hospital having refused an overnight stay.  She was breathing better than she had all week and was glad to be back in her home.

We spent a week doing tests, talking to doctors and getting her what she needed, including a nebulizer for her COPD, which she hates. She hates having that machine in her home just as she hates taking all those pills; to her they are a sign of weakness.  To this we have added a blood test kit to her medicine cabinet as we are told she now has diabetes. Happily, she only has to use the breathing machine on really bad days.  She can still be active and mobile, which is vital to her.

Whoever said that "getting old is not for sissies" had it right. 

I updated her friends and my husband on her status, and did whatever was needed, sneaky or otherwise, to deal with this new state of affairs and keep her cheerful. She has six major things wrong with her, any one of which could kill her. The doctor says that she could be with us another five months or another five years. My meditations now are around acceptance and I take it this roller coaster ride day by day.

I am not alone in this, and I take great comfort in talking to friends.  I need the perspective I gain by sharing the joys of people I love, cherishing my own joys and in knowing that there are many, many people in this world who are hurting and a great many, too, who are healing and helping.  The people I admire most are doing all three: helping others while healing their inner selves even as they're hurting.

Sick people are grumpy and often angry. Wise Elders can turn bratty and difficult when they feel less able and under threat. I knew that going in. The trick was not to match these moods with more of the same, which, by and large, I avoided.

I bought her an iPhone while I was there (the 3g on sale for $49) and taught her how to use it. She now has a lot of fun texting me photos and messages and getting them from us. If you have an elder, I recommend it. They are so user friendly that lots of older people have them now.

Despite all the stress of dealing with her when she was upset and ill and the constant tongue biting, tooth grinding frustration I encounter whenever I  deal with the American medical establishment, I stayed on my food plan. I cooked for us both - or took us out to places where both of us could eat - and (I'm learning) I brought my own food from home.  Like a lot of older people, she stocks her house full of cookies and junk food so eating healthy there is a challenge. My mother is a size 2, always has been. I ... am not.  It wasn't an issue when I smoked cigarettes and used drugs but those days are far behind me and midlife hit my waistline like, well, like a ton of cupcakes.  Like many people from dysfunctional families I've used food to stuff down anxiety and anger for most of my life.  I gave up sugar and flour this year and it's been the best thing I've ever done in terms of my mood, my energy and my mental clarity so it was important to me that not to let the stress of caring for my mother make me care for myself any less.

I found other, simple ways to cope. I took our dogs to the dog park and we enjoyed long morning walks by the river. I spent spent time in my mother's wonderful garden, wrote in my journal, and made sure that I saw every sunset I could. I meditated for brief periods, which helped me listen to my mother with my heart and not my head.  I listened to myself, as well. So often my own form prayer is to go outside and say "Thank you" and for me, that is enough.

I do not need "martyr points" for this. (We collect and trade them in my family).  I gave all that up long ago.   Nor do I need the anger I used to feel when I'd look for support from people I'd helped in the past only to be disappointed.   In other words, I no longer go to a hardware store for a loaf of bread.  That fact in itself is freeing in the best possible way. When I look for support now I go to the right places and I get what I need.

Again and again I went back to my Gratitude List. My husband is at the top of this list. He loves her as I do, and is as involved equally in her care. He has taken time off work to be with her as often as I have. Because he's not her daughter, she actually listens to him so he sometimes has to be the one to give her the respectful but firm reality check she does not wish to hear. He does that willingly with great love and grace.  How lucky am I?

I am lucky in so many ways. I am lucky to be loved, befriended and have choices. I have my own health and enough personal freedom and abundance to allow me to do this. As frustrated, overworked and powerless as I sometimes feel, my life contains, if I would but see it, beauty, creativity, laughter, love, joy, connection and meaning, as does my mother's.  The older I get the more I see these things as some of the greatest gifts this life has to offer.

Go well, stay well


(1) Clean and sober since 1987

Art: Brian Froud's Lady of the Waters 


Clare Slaney said...

Lovely post, Sia. I've linked it to the Pagan Chaplaincy blog. Thanks xxx

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I, too, am a caregiver for someone, a situation that has grown more intense. Let's see, on any given day: stress, anger, resentment, fear, panic--and it's only 9am? Yes, but there is also beauty, joy and wonder. I just need that little reminder. Thank you.

Greenconsciousness said...

Well Done. I did not do it well. Your post is much needed in the world.