In the case of caring for my elderly mother as she considers her mortality, it is difficult being the daughter.
My mother is small in stature but large in character. I would never imagine I am taller than she until I see a photo.
Being the only daughter, and having a powerful mother, inevitably, I run into her overbearing nature. I also experience nearly all the responsibility for her care and find myself available, albeit not always willingly, to fulfill her demands. I do more than I need to, frequently neglecting my own interests and responsibilities.
Eleven years ago, I witnessed my children's father, my friend and husband, as he left his body after his two-year struggle with cancer. I had thrown myself completely into his care. Dual blenders and tube feedings. I was there when he died and I remember that the room took on an energy, almost like electricity. Something indescribable, but definitely palpable. Not eerie, but mysterious.
This year began with the medical care for my mother. I find myself asking how do I prepare for her departure and how do I take care of myself so that I remain standing after she's gone. Among my thoughts is wondering if it is worth talking to someone about your grievances before they die. Since I've tried before, I may be setting myself up for disappointment twice. Based on my years of grieving for my own father, my children's father, and beloved friends, I might remember that there are likely to be things I wish I could have said. That's could. Not should.
I consider this woman who drove me to ballet classes and insisted I learn to ride a horse. The woman who taught me song lyrics and read all the Nancy Drew mysteries to me in my childhood. My biggest grievances? She gives away my stuff, intrudes where she doesn't belong, takes over every situation if she can, lies to get what she wants, and loves being the center of attention. She is a formidable woman. And from her I learned to be competent; not because she was competent, but because she forced me to be. I did, however, learn confidence from watching her. She doesn't let anything stop her.
Two things can simultaneously be true: My 90 year-old mother can drive me crazy AND I can admire her in spite of all her transgressions.
If I take the stress of caregiving, and the inevitability of her passing, and add the mother-daughter relationship challenge, it becomes quite a rocky road. I haven't been employed in a year; finances are tight, and that adds stress to the mix. I have done all that I think can be done: doctors secured, papers in order, I've built a coalition and now have allies to assist me. We have a plan. The rest is up to God.
Most of my life I've been taking care of somebody. I changed bandages on my dad when he was battling cancer. I was attentive to the medical needs of my in-laws for many years. Makes me think I attended nursing school, by direction of the Universe, just so I could help in an informed and skilled way.
But recently, my caretaking and overdeveloped sense of responsibility reached a fevered pitch. I had been tripping down that very rocky road of frustration, anger, worry, resentment and it had gotten me nowhere . In fact, I was beginning to feel crazy. I decided to trade my angst for peace. This was a conscious choice and I sensed it was the only choice that would leave me intact, even in the face of death.
My course correction started when I made a healthy choice to attend a yoga/meditation retreat for two days. Making the decision was the first step toward feeding my soul in the areas of my life that felt impoverished.
The second step, which needs to be taken repeatedly, perhaps daily, perhaps hourly, is to stop wishing for things or people to be different. Let's work with what we've got, shall we? Perhaps revise my perspective to consider that people who don't see boundaries and cross them frequently provide me an opportunity to clearly define my boundaries and set up guard posts. I might view this as my training ground, my lesson.
The questions I've begun to ask are: How much time of my life am I willing to not focus on the things in my life that matter to me? How much energy am I willing to put into thinking about anything other than my own creativity, my own spirituality, my own marriage? Is it possible, I'm just asking, to spend more time helping myself than helping others? Is it possible, I wonder, to let go of the frustration and resentment I carry around with me daily, and move forward with less heaviness and more optimism? Of course it's possible.
My inner voice asks me to be clear in my values and to make my assertions positive. What is it that I want?
OK. I want self-respect. I want to put myself first in terms of money, health, sanity, privacy, creativity, and control over my home. I want a healthy marriage that takes priority over the demands of others. I want to protect my happiness and sense of fulfillment. I want to conserve my energy for interests of my own. I want to have the tools to set limits on the inappropriate behaviors of others. I want the inner strength that causes me to pause before I am taken hostage by my emotions or by someone else's demands.
In meditation, I work on detachment. Not from love or caring, but from meeting the needs of others. Let them have their struggles. Let my struggles be mine.
I am taking the time I need to get clear about my relationship with, and how I feel about the inevitable death of, my mother. Now is the time to focus on Spirit, to recognize and honor the mystery that is life. To be at peace with what is.