A gift wrapped in sandpaper

Naturally, I have been thinking about things for which I am thankful these past few days. There are many things. Too many to name. I really am a very fortunate person in many, many ways.

And even in the context of Mom and her illness, there is no shortage of things to consider gifts. This blog, for example. Deciding to write it has been helpful to me, and the return on investment is huge. The writing itself gives me a chance to vent, to reflect, to organize my thoughts. To share information and stories. To stay in touch with people who care about Mom, or me, or both.

And the feedback I receive is just so wonderful. The support I feel from the comments made by people near and far warms my heart. It is amazing how meaningful it can be just to know others are thinking about me and Mom. Some people think that’s just a little thing – to say ‘I am thinking of you.’ That is a BIG thing. There are lots of things to think about all day every day. To know that I might occupy someone’s thoughts means a lot to me. People who call me a hero or amazing are, well, exaggerating, I think, but to be told that feels very good. I can’t deny it. My Aunt Nancy sent me an Avon care package and a card thanking me for taking care of Mom – that was such a sweet surprise. I also appreciate hearing from people who are experiencing similar issues with their own parents or other family members. I am not alone; we are not alone. Things could be so much more difficult. Perspective is a powerful thing.

My relationship with Mom stands as the biggest gift of all. I heard an author on the radio today talking about her book about change, and how people adjust to change, often gradually. She described some change as “a gift wrapped in sandpaper.” (Edited to add: the author’s name is M.J. Ryan.) Sometimes, it takes a long time to peel away the sandpaper to see the fruits of the gift. I thought that was very applicable to my experience with Mom.

I was so frustrated with her when her symptoms began to surface and I didn’t understand her behavior. I was positively angry and felt hopeless when she was diagnosed. I felt doomed to be her primary caregiver, and was just sure it would be the most miserable experience possible for potentially years and years and years. There have been periods of misery, for her and for me. I have felt resentful about being saddled with this job. There is bound to be some serious difficulty ahead, as she gets sicker.

But I would say the sandpaper is gone. I do not dread spending time with Mom. I don’t consciously feel stress every time I think of her. I absolutely no longer dwell on the negative parts of my past with her. And being with her on this unfortunate journey she is on has given me a chance to establish a new relationship with her based entirely on affection. Patrick says I have become Buddhist when it comes to Mom – I am able, now, to live in the moment with her, appreciate the present, let go of the past, and not worry about the future (at least not constantly). We visit and enjoy the simple pleasure of being in each other’s company. We laugh. We hug and kiss. She is at a place now where she is aware of the gratitude she feels about having me around, and she expresses it to me regularly. While there once was a time when I felt that I could never do enough to satisfy her, I now receive words of praise just for walking in the door.

Yesterday, when I arrived to visit her, she seemed very glad to see me. She was sitting in the lobby, and I walked up to her to give her a hug. While still sitting, she took my hand and put it against her face, and she said, “I love you.” I honestly don’t recall the last time she said that to me. She may never say it again. But for that moment alone, I am so thankful.

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