A life lesson

Last night at support group, one of my friends there said I have come a long way. When I asked her to explain, she said I just seem more at peace with what’s going on with Mom, that I talk about her with such affection, and that I talk less about how lonely I feel sometimes as her caregiver. I seem less angry. I’m glad it shows, and I think, after the week I’ve had, that maybe I have turned a corner (or at least started turning a corner) on the anger front.

Something very bad – very sad – happened on Monday at work. Someone I care about, someone who has been a mentor to me for many years, is out as the result of a reorganization. I have been telling some friends that I feel like I’ve experienced the phases of grief over the past three days. And then today, I woke up thinking that the best thing to do is accept what is going on. Remember that I love my job, and make the best of it. Don’t live with hate in my heart. Spending my days full of anger isn’t good for anybody, I reasoned. And it’s certainly not good for me. It has been liberating to feel this way, and I admit, it’s unexpected.

It makes sense to think that my evolving approach to Mom’s illness has influenced other aspects of my life. I spent months – years, probably – full of resentment about being stuck as her caregiver. Her need for my care and attention revived in me all sorts of negative memories of my childhood, when she often wasn’t around to give me care and attention. After the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, I looked to my future, and to Mom’s, full of dread. I have learned over time that plenty of caregivers get stuck in this place of resentment, anger, grief and dread. And I am so relieved that I didn’t get stuck.

It has helped that Mom is content, and that on most days she is so sweet to me, and feels moved to tell me that I am beautiful, or wonderful, or both. I might have completely different emotions if she were mean to me. It also has helped to learn that when she is not at her best, she is still doing her best. She has a diseased brain, and reason and negotiation mean nothing to her. So when she feels a threat and lashes out, she is taking care of herself in the only way she can. And it’s not personal.

I still have lots of anxiety about lots of things, and I am still inclined to react emotionally first and with a more level head sometime later to virtually any old thing that might be said or done. When I am dissatisfied about something, I have an unfortunate tendency to make my displeasure known. On the road, I feel genuine rage sometimes. I don’t suck it up as much as I think I should. I am still working on being the person I’d most like to be.

Who would have guessed that Mom, in her current state, is helping me become that person? Through her, I’ve learned that even the most damaged people can still find pleasure in life – often from the simplest things. What many consider to be a bleak existence can be marked by endless laughter, dancing and singing, and consistent and comforting social interaction. When something bad happens, it doesn’t have to define the rest of one’s life. Something so bad, and so sad, has happened to Mom, and to our family and her friends. But we carry on, we learn to live with it, we make the best of it.

My relationship with Mom is as warm as it has ever been. So what if she doesn’t know I’m her daughter? Her instinct is to trust me and to hold my hand and to tell me story after story. This future of hers, and mine, has turned out brighter than I ever could have imagined.

7 comments so far

  1. Nancy Ahrens on

    Bless you indeed. With Care.

  2. 2011days on

    Emily, I reacted to your “bad news” with genuine anger also. My first thoughts were how this was even possible, after such effort has been given, such commitment has been shown. I have to tell you, I also thought about you & the others – how you all would be affected and it reminded me of the time I was in a similar situation as yours. You are so right about the anger not being productive – and not surprisingly, it was your “mentor” who made me see that.
    Your blog has helped me so much, as our Moms emotional & physical caregiver. First, I see how fortunate we are that she, at 93, is so very fragile, yet functional, I look for the positives and I strive everyday to keep my fears of the “what ifs” at bay. Some days are easier than others, especially with my own medical limitations, and I wish I could be the perfect person for her. I try to not resent having very little “me time” and instead, embrace every moment I have with her.
    Most importantly, after reading your thoughts and experiences all of this time, I have gained strength from your strength. Thank you for this which has come from you sharing. You have made me feel like my emotions are acceptable and understandable in a caregivers life. I will continue to look forward to what you have yet to write, and I too, will continue to teach myself to accept what is and to focus on the brightness which is always there if we choose to see it.

  3. momsbrain on

    Nancy – Thank you. Great to hear from you.

    2011days – Your brother and my mentor will keep sharing his wisdom, I expect… At least I hope so. Thank you for your kind words – especially about making emotions acceptable. The ups and downs are so intense, and there is too much potential for guilt. So I try very hard not to feel guilty about how I feel… We can try to remind each other to be accepting – I feel certain I will have plenty of relapses back to anger over a variety of things.

  4. jennifer jayhawk on

    Great message Emily and one I certainly needed to hear right now. As always you express what we are all going through beautifully. It is certainly an emotional roller coaster.

  5. Megan on

    Loved this writing. Your reflections are powerful and make a lot of sense to me.

  6. momsbrain on

    Jennifer – Thank you for the compliment. And yes, the emotions are up and down all the time. It’s exhausting!

    Megan – Thank you. I know this isn’t the case for everyone, though. I am lucky when it comes to Mom’s mood, which makes a huge difference.

  7. patwhite67 on

    Emily, I have been out of town and missed reading several of your recent blogs – am enjoying catching up. This one is bursting with wisdom. Thank you for sharing so much with your readers.

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