Following the death of my father in November 2007, we brought Mom home to stay with us for awhile. Here’s a journal entry from that time 10 years ago.
January 8, 2008. The Christmas holidays have done me in, and I’m trying to recover from burnout. It’s not a pleasant place to be when others are depending on you. But I must practice what I preach and take care of myself before I can successfully care for others.
In my self-righteousness, I criticize others for allowing themselves to get into this position, but now I find myself wallowing in the same mire.
Interesting that I just recently attended a seminar on being a caretaker for the elderly. The first thing that was emphasized was to take breaks and take care of yourself. And I failed to do that. I failed in the first rule of thumb, and now I’m paying for it.
Can I give myself permission to recuperate without feeling guilty? Without accepting the accusing fingers that I’m not giving others the time they need? How does a counselor maintain distance? Once you become the counselee’s only lifeline, you get accused of abandoning, neglecting, ignoring, being selfish, and blamed if their needs aren’t being met by you.
Where does my responsibility to myself, my family, my friends and my counselees begin and end? Balance and priority. It’s easy enough to tell someone else what to do and how to do it. Harder to practice what you preach.
The key? Listen to Jesus and listen to yourself. Obey God no matter what. And then find out what it is that you’re feeling, what’s driving you to this point. I failed to do that during the seven weeks Mom came to live with us. And so, belatedly, I’m going to try to work through this.
First, I’ve noticed some similarities and differences between child-care and elder-care.
- You can tell/train a toddler. You must give dignity and respect to the elder.
- A child may not understand. An elder can (if she has all her faculties).
- Both are driven by emotion.
- A child needs more supervision. My mom needed more diversion.
And that, I think, is where I felt the push-pull. I became Mom’s sole source of diversion. Mom is an out-loud thinker and therefore, by default, I became her primary target. Because I’m an inside thinker for the most part, I can’t function too well with the distractions of chatter that expect a response. I have a hard time focusing and thinking about my task at hand. I spent much of my time reading to her, playing games together (Scrabble and Rook), or doing crossword puzzles.
Mom could not enjoy the TV or movies because of her macular degeneration. She missed her independence at home with her CCTV (a device that enlarges print). And so I became very attentive to her need to be listened to. Her one and only diversion was to listen to books on tape—her default if I was preoccupied.
I love my mother, and I’d do anything for her. I felt sorry for her loss of her husband, her home in California, her forced move to Florida. I felt bad leaving her alone or not including her in all the family activities, and so I isolated myself with her sometimes while the family watched TV.
Where did this feeling of responsibility or obligation come from? Because she is a guest in my home? Because she’s the weakest link right now in our family? Because I feel sorry for her that she’s trapped in an old person’s body with poor eyesight, in someone else’s home? Funny. . . Mom never complained or criticized me. So what was driving my behavior and emotions?
Visual: I’m carrying Mom on my back. I get tired and have to put her down to rest. I keep carrying her past the point of my exhaustion. And I shouldn’t have because then, if I fall, we both get hurt.
Today I lay my burden down—not a burden in a negative sense, but as in a load. From off my shoulders, I set down my mother, my children, my husband, cooking and house cleaning, friends, counselees, and my entire to-do list. Today I give myself permission to rest.
January 9. I feel 100% better after resting yesterday. I have my energy and drive back. Sometimes mental rest is as important as the physical.