These past two years have been heartbreaking, revelatory and soul-changing. It has also been stressful, exhausting and confusing.
I have been through several heart-wrenching and life changing times in my own life - divorce, depression, difficult relationships, stressful work situations - and yet I have discovered that a painful experience in your own life is nothing like watching someone you love going through trials.
Even after so much turmoil in my own emotional life I have discovered that being a daily participant in the end-of-life struggles of my beloved parents has been much more stressful.
I keep asking myself why I am not handling this better. Why it has completely consumed me and I cannot separate myself from what they are going through even when I am not with them. My life revolves around their needs, physical and emotional.
The natural reaction seems to be to try to keep something of your own life intact. Try to find stress relievers, a little joy amidst the sorrow. That in itself is a huge effort and one that constantly gets slapped down as needs change, as unexpected crises arise. You can never truly get away from your grief and concerns.
I began canceling out my own life because I couldn’t be counted on to fulfill any commitments. I did it willingly and said to myself - this is my life now and it’s ok. I am grateful every day that I am now retired and yet that sense of constantly being torn between my life and theirs has not changed.
I feel like I am lost, unfocused and starting to slide into a depression. Depression, I learned many years ago, happens when something is too much for someone to handle.
But this can’t be too much for me. I have no choice but to care for my mother now. I am extremely fortunate to have one other sibling to share the care-taking. How can it be too much when I am so willing to devote myself to this right now?
But on those days when I am off-duty I flounder. I still feel sad. I miss my father and want him back to help us through this. We didn’t really have a chance to grieve his loss before we were consumed by my mother’s needs.
The stress comes not from chores and visits or from advocating for her welfare everywhere we go - but for making choices for someone else’s life. It is heartbreaking telling her she is once again going to the hospital or the rehab facility. We spend a lot of time encouraging her and the rest of the time agonizing over how we will deal with the next need, the next change in plans.
There is not enough money to provide 24 hour a day home care and yet, that is what she needs right now. Even though my father planned well for these years the money is quickly dwindling and we must make decisions about that as well.
I believe what is needed now is to embrace this experience for everything that it is. To stop the battle between her life and ours. Some of the effort is in trying to avoid the most difficult situations. Times of indignity and humiliation, times when nothing goes as planned.
I have a praying family and I pray as well. Yet, one of my biggest life lessons has been that God does not make anything easier no matter how many prayers are sent up for you. What will happen in this world will happen. He does not make the elderly young again. He does not make care-taking pleasant. He does not heal the body when it is worn out. He does not follow our well thought out plans, or even give us what we are so sure we need ( which is usually to make it easier).
I have thought a great deal about prayer in these years because so many people say they are praying for you. Even in my life-long faith I began to wonder what good prayer is when the situation never gets better or even clearer. What exactly are we praying for? We can pray all we want for someone to be healed, but if they have a life-threatening illness they will not heal. They will die anyway.
I have honestly not felt uplifted by prayer at this time in my life even though I have at other times. So what am I missing? I am not blaming God for anything. This is life on this Earth and sometimes I long for heaven myself - something better than this. Why is the journey to get there so difficult? Why do we never stop grieving those we have lost?
Then I think about how I have changed as a human being during this process. How much I have accepted, how much I actually have handled. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been tears (buckets-full) or anger or frustration - but we have made it through so far.
We kept our Dad in his home until the end - and that was the plan. We spent two beautiful days surrounding him with love. My mother knows she is loved and cared for and that we will do whatever we need to to help her through this transition in her life. My own children are seeing and experiencing these years, which is something I never saw in terms of my own grandparents - and maybe they will do better than I have in the future. I was given a beautiful, joyful grandson in the midst of the sorrow to brighten every moment I am with him. He was and is a gift beyond measure and has probably saved me from true desperation.
I am more compassionate to others that have gone through these same trials (and most people have or will at some point since so many people are living longer). Maybe in the future I will be able to help someone else through the same thing. I have a husband and friends who listen and care and when I am at the end of my rope. I have learned that my life is not really mine after all. Surrendering to what is has been an on-going learning experience for me in life. Service to others is something that is part of a rich and full life. Compassion is a divine goal. Love is always the answer.