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Archive for June, 2009

The subtitle to my book , The Caregiver’s Choice,  is:  Find Strength and Serenity by Changing Your Mind.   It is true that I did manage, while in the midst of double caregiving, to reach a place of  fair serenity by changing my mind, and I do wish for you to be in that same place.  But I can’t change your mind.  Only you can change your mind, because only you know what’s in there.  And it takes some serious, private honesty to look at what is in one’s mind.

Consider the title of the first chapter of the book:  Accept Your Choice.  People are very quick to say to me, “I didn’t have any other choice.”  That’s not true, but it’s almost easier to believe than to look honestly into our own thoughts and emotions and see why we took an action or started on a particular course in our lives.  It is very easy to blame other people and external circumstances for the results of our own choices. Every choice we’ve made along the way has led to the outcome we’re living with now.  From adulthood on, we have always had the option to stay or go, to act or not, to accept or reject.  It’s hard to think that some choice we made years ago has brought us to this present place, but it certainly frees the mind of all those resentments toward others once we accept the fact of our own will’s operating to drive us to a particular choice.

When I made the difficult decision to invite my crazy, angry mother to live with us and to become her guardian and to be there through all the rest of her demented life, I had to sort out a whole mixed-up basketful of reasons–some thorny, some blurry, some as heavy as a load of stones, and some very loving and admirable.  Trying to be honest with oneself about a whole lifetime can be painful.  You pick at scars from old wounds until they bleed again.

Why have you made this decision, Elaine?  Is it because you’re the oldest daughter and it is expected of you?  (Well, I did have that training and place in the family whether I wanted it or not.)  Is it because you want to be the eternal “good little girl” and do what the world considers to be right?  (Sure, or at least look like I’m doing what’s right.  It’s hardly decent to abandon one’s mother to strangers.)  Do you feel that this will somehow make you a saint?  (I’d have to be out of my mind to think that.  I’m doing this because it needs doing.)  You’re not giving me any reasons that will see you through to the end of this ordeal.  Can you come up with something better–something that is true to your real self?

And so it went until three reasons became clear and gave me comfort and serenity in my choice:  1)  I believe that we are all responsible for the structure of our society–for decency, honor, and integrity.  In an honorable world, we care for our own.  2) Mother earned this care.  Through the Great Depression, she washed on the board for five children and her husband; she went to work to help us get through college; she set aside her own goals to make sure we reached ours.  3) I love this old lady.  Difficult as she may have been with her complicated personality, she was always my friend.  I know her yearnings and her longings.  As she continues to lose words, she won’t have to tell me how she feels, because I know. 

Those reasons gave me strength to take on the job.  I chose to make my mother’s final years as pleasant as possible in the most unpleasant circumstances.  I’ve never regretted the choice.     …   I’ll continue my thoughts about your thoughts in another blog.

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Sometimes I think that we should all be quiet for a while.  The clamor of the outside world invades our thoughts until we don’t know what we hear.  Battered by the sound of words, we close down our minds.

It is not easy to find silence.  During the years that I was a caregiver, it felt to me at times that everyone wanted to tell me how to do what I was doing.  Well-meaning people added their advice to the load of information and instruction I was getting from the medical commuity.  But very little of that information was directed toward my well-being as a caregiver.  No one ever asked, “Is this too much?  Is this what you need?”  Words swirled in my head like hailstones.  Busy as I was each day, I could not find silence in any spot in the outside world.

At last, in a local cafe/bookstore at the corner table that I began to feel was my own, I used my short hour of respite between my two caregiving stints to try to find a way to silence.  I had to begin with words because they needed to be cleared away.  I had to slog through the mess in my head, tossing words and ideas out the back door, or in this case, into a dog-eared notebook I carried in my tote.

I began to think of this activity as “Writing Down to Silence.”  I cleared the surface stuff–inane thoughts and useless resentments about current situations at home or at the care center.  Then I stirred the waters idly with whatever words came to mind.  I jotted them down and let them make their own noise until they floated aside and let me go deeper.  Some of the ideas for  The Caregiver’s Choice began to bob around, but I wasn’t ready for them.  It did help me, however, to name a chapter.  The chapter names were signposts toward silence.  They didn’t babble.  They stated something and let it be.  Accept Your Choice.  Release Your Relatives.  Because I am a writer, I could see that those chapter titles were going to lead somewhere, and that gave me a renewed sense of direction toward that deep inner quiet space from which– in the past before caregiving took over my life–  my novels had arisen.

One day, writing vainly toward silence and remembering that quiet space, I felt sudden tears and realized how lonely I was for myself–my real self.  How long it had been since I had descended freely to that wonderful white space deep in my mind with no thought of another’s needs to draw me back.  I cherished the sense of duty and honor that one brings to caregiving for a spouse–a mother–a child.  But the tears continued.  I wiped them away quietly, not wishing to draw to me any kind words from other people.  Then with deep yearning I thought about duty and honor to oneself.  Yes, I was wife and daughter and nurse (and mother and grandmother and friend and all those other roles I played in the noisy outer world,)  but like each of us, I was also that private other person, my ownself.  And suddenly with that thought, I slipped downward into a deep and beautiful and private silence.  And there were no words at all.  Just silence.

And all–the most, the best—that I can wish for you is that you may leave this cluster of words and rest in your own silence.

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