Over the past few months I have witnessed my friend’s culture change from international traveler/ sage adviser / leader to care giver. He language has shifted, her shopping habits have shifted, and her raison d’etre has shifted. She moved home to care for her aging mother.
Been there, done it. I admire it. I respect it.
Culture shifts come at a price. This one is costing my friend “her life”. She is sacrificing her own life to give better quality of life to her mother. How can that be anything but “expensive”.
For me, when I shifted my culture to be my parents’ care-giver/ care coordinator, I believe it cost me my health. I would not change anything that I did – I know in my heart it was the right thing to do. My parents had always taken care of me, and, in exchange, they deserved help from me.
I watch my friend as she marginalizes herself from her former culture to fit in to her new one. It is a quiet transition. It is a role that she is slipping into without even knowing it. Yet, there is frustration. Only a hint. She will not speak of it. She does not complain. I wonder, how long it will take to reach a point of culture shock?
I observe this transition with tremendous insight. Funnily enough, I just recently found a note I had written about my situation when I was immersed in the beginning stages of care-giving for my aging parents. While reading the note from 2009ish, I sensed the angst I felt then. I sensed the desperation I felt then. I sensed the grief I felt then.
Mom and Dad, as they aged, become more intolerant of each other’s declining health. They each needed care and love and understanding – but at times at the same time. This, sometimes, created hard feelings. And I was caught in the middle. “I feel pressure – I love my parents, but I have three children, a full-time job, and a husband. I cannot be there all the time – it is not fair. I have made it clear I can be back-up care, but not primary. I visit and enjoy visits at least three times a week and I call every day. I’m not sure I feel guilt? I am just desperate for them to be at peace.”
“Mom indicated she was on the verge of a nervous break-down. From her perspective, she doesn’t know how much more she can take in terms of people coming and going from her home and interfering with her privacy, and also in terms of my father’s demands and grumpy mood. My dad had tears last night too as he would like to be greeted with a “cheery” hello when he wakes up instead of criticism – from his perspective mom i s very negative. Mom’s solution for her troubles is to put Dad in a nursing home. My dad does not want to be in a nursing home and is doing well at his home – with care. ” (From my letter to me, 2009)
My suffered burn-out. She experienced care-giver fatigue. How sad to end a very long life together, feeling on the edge of a break-down.
Yet, what was she to do when she also craved privacy?
She was a proud nurse. No one else’s care was good enough for my Dad. So she tried to do it all herself. In the end, it stole her own good health. Was it worth it? I guess to her it was.
Was taking care of my Mom, and then Dad worth it? I think one of the impacts that full-time care had on me was cancer. Those days were stressful. I was not a nurse, but I sure learned about geriatric care quickly. I had to. No one else’s care was good enough for me, or so I mistakenly thought. I wanted the very best for my parents.
So – along came the angels…. the PSW’s in our lives. Having them eased my load. I became a daughter once more. Yes, there were many days when I had to slip back into care-giver role, but I could remain their “daughter”. My culture returned to me. Not fully, but at least I could navigate between the cultures I faced so that there were moments I could rest comfortably and retreat to recharge my batteries.
“I wonder if my Mom now sees that time is passing and she regrets what she has to now endure? My Dad is second-guessing himself and is losing his will to live.” (Letter)
Those were difficult days – it was a “season”. Now, that season has passed. It is odd to witness others navigating through the seasons of their own parents’ lives. It is odd to hear them speak another language as they learn the vocabulary of old age and maladies.
Been there, done it. Here we go again. I admire it. I respect it.