Tag Archives: Caregiver

The Two Women

The young woman on the inside is strong and vibrant. Self-sufficient and capable. Beautiful and lively.

The woman on the outside, with her greying hair and thin skin, is tiny and frail. She breathes with the help of oxygen and spends her days confined to bed or chair.

Most of the time, they co-exist peacefully, each unaware of the other’s presence.

The discord comes when the two meet. When the woman on the inside tries to stand, but finds she’s unable. Tries to answer questions about herself, but gets even the basic facts wrong. Tries to place food in her mouth, but instead finds it in her lap.

Frustration sets in, because the woman inside knows she is able. But her physical body is no longer in synch with her mind, and the two do not cooperate with one another.

“How are you today?” asks the nurse. “Fine,” she replies, unaware that oxygen is flowing through a tube beneath her nose.

“Do you have any pain?” asks the doctor. “No,” she answers, not remembering that she can no longer stand after breaking her hip.

It’s hard for us to know how to feel. Because of the woman on the inside, anxiety levels are lower. But it frustrates the woman on the outside, because she doesn’t understand. And the two can swap places without any warning. So you never know which one you’re with at any given moment.

The rhythm of her breathing is comforting. It is a reminder of her physical presence. But everything else creates unease. Each new report from the doctor, each change in her physical status brings more questions. But since she is unable to contribute to her own care, others must make decisions for her.

Others must also bathe her and feed her. The lively young woman lies helpless in a bed. Long gone are her dignity and privacy.

Occasionally, the woman on the outside perks up. She watches television, or replies with one of her signature quips. Those moments are rare gifts. And every week there are fewer of them.

At some point, she will need peace. And we will be left with memories of both women. I hope the memories of the woman on the outside fade quickly, leaving us to reminisce with joy about the woman on the inside.

The woman on the inside, with her handsome, young man.

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Full Time Daughter

My mother-in-law moved in with us.

If you’ve been following for a while now, you may remember that we don’t get along.  But circumstances are what they are, and despite our challenging relationship, moving her here was our only option. I’ll spare you the details, but here are the facts you need to follow along: her husband is in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimer’s. She broke her hip in December. She is an insulin-dependent (Type 1) diabetic. Her dementia has advanced to the point where can no longer be left unattended. Ever.

So here we are.

The decision was a hard one to make. My husband and I both knew what we had to do, but because of our past, I don’t think he felt like he could ask that of me. So I let him off the hook, and I posed the question. The answer was an immediate “yes,” and we set about preparations immediately, before either of us had a chance to really think about what we were doing, and change our mind.

We cleared out a room, converted it to a bedroom for her, and moved her in to our house.

I was angry. For years I watched her deal with her husband’s dementia without an ounce of patience, belittling and demeaning him in front of others (even my children), and now I was rolling out the red carpet for her. She was given beautiful accommodations, home cooked meals delivered to her at the table, and was spoken to with kindness and respect. It didn’t seem fair. It wasn’t fair.

I tried, I really tried, to open my heart and put my feelings aside, but I just couldn’t. When she asked the same questions over and over, I flashed back to the way she treated him, and even though the words I spoke were calm and non-confrontational, they were filled with bitterness. Karma hadn’t gotten it right.

(Thanks, Enlightenment Ain't for Sissies, for the Karma Wheel.)

Then one Sunday, the story of Jesus and the lepers was read in Mass, and the homily centered on Jesus loving the Unloveables. “Who are the Unloveables in today’s world?” the priest asked. He talked about loving, in an active way, those who are hard to love. He pointed out the obvious – the homeless, AIDS patients, those who are different from you, those who scare you. Then he challenged us to think about our own world, and who our Unloveables are. And to reach out to them. To love them anyway.

I tried. I tried to be more patient. I tried to speak more gently. But I just wasn’t there yet.

I was still waiting for her to love me back.

As days turned into weeks, I knew I needed an internal reconciliation. Something had to change, and the change had to be within me. I prayed. I sought counsel from friends. I wrote thousands of words, trying to put them in the right order to get me where I needed to be.

I knew I was getting closer, but I still wasn’t there yet. I continued to search the archives of my mind and my heart for some reference to give me what I needed.

Along the way I thought about an old blog post from my friend Mike. (Mike, send me the URL so I can link it here!) He wrote of Sacrificial Love, and his reflections mirrored that homily a few weeks prior, that we as Christians are called to love beyond what’s easy, to love sacrificially.

And then it flashed through my mind. I thought about the Golden Rule, the philosophy so universal it exists in Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

And the Truth I had been searching for hit me. I was still waiting to receive. And that had held me back from giving. Whether or not it was ‘fair’ was not for me to consider. My duty – to God, to my husband, and to myself – was to treat her the way I wanted her to treat me, not the way she actually did treat me.

For twenty-six years I had shown her love, and had been waiting for her to return it. On that day I accepted the fact that it wasn’t going to come. The time for that had passed. In her condition, she was no longer capable of opening up to anything new. It was all about me now, and how I behaved towards her.

It was time for me to give love in its purest form, in sacrifice, expecting nothing in return.

For only then could I turn to God and say that I’d done my best. Only then could I ask Him to do unto me as I had done unto others.

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This post was submitted for the Yeah Write #51 link up.

http://yeahwrite.me/51-open/

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