As I struggle with how to start this post, I here my blogger friend whispering in my ear, “Susan, don’t whine. People don’t want to read about your pity party.” And she’s right. So I will keep the background facts concise so I can get on with the amazingly, soul-touching lesson I learned two weeks ago. As Momastery founder Glennon Doyle Melton puts it…when I got my “perspectacles” adjusted.
I’m one of the sandwich generation; still raising a family while caring for an elderly parent. When my dad died seven years ago I knew that my mom would eventually need me to help care for her. My eldest brother passed early at the age of 53 and my other brother lives hundreds of mile away. I knew this responsibility would fall on me and I was always content with that reality. Although I would not say that my Mom and I are close, I love her with all my heart and respect the sacrifices she made for her family. I took on this task with devotion and love.
I expected my Mom to be excited to move closer to us, to get out of the frigid Chicago temperatures and all of the snow, and to be able to spend more time with her only grandchildren. I had visions of mother-daughter outings, her enjoying a vibrant social life and family dinners.
I was blindsided. I was completely unprepared for the resentment and passive-aggressive comments that deflated all of my good intentions. It took my out at the knees.
She was angry that I “made” her move. She didn’t like the condo we purchased; it was too sunny. She didn’t like the new washing machine; it was too deep. The microwave was up too high. The list went on and on. Not to mention her regular inquisition of my parenting techniques. I was devastated. I was trying to care for my mother the best way I knew how. I was trying to make her comfortable and worry-free so that she could enjoy her golden years.
That was four years ago. Her mobility has now decreased significantly and my level of daily involvement has increased. The passive-aggressiveness has softened a bit but the sting of the comments still needles its way into my head and my heart.
Which leads me to the “perspectacle” moment. The moment that keeps me “present” when I have to do my Mom’s laundry and clean her toilets.
I’m in a small faith group of twelve women, many of whom are in the same “sandwichy” place as me. We meet a few times a month and I have grown to rely on their friendship and hugs to help keep me in a place of grace and gratitude.
A few weeks back we were commiserating about caring for our aging parents. We weren’t complaining really, but looking for validation and empathy over what sometimes seems like a thankless task.
Then she said it. In her sweet, lightly southern voice Dianne said, “I wish I had been given the gift of time to be able to care for my parents during their end of life.”
Whoa. What? Did you just say that you are jealous of us because we get to care for our aging parents?
And there, with my new glasses on, I could see.
I could see that my mother is resentful because she doesn’t want to be a burden.
I could see that she is passive-aggressive because she doesn’t want to talk about her own feelings about growing old and feeble.
I could see that what I had been given was a gift. I could toss it out or I could unwrap it.
So now when I have one those challenging days with my Mom (and today was one of them), I offer God my gratitude, say a prayer for patience and try to just be present and compassionate.
And to dear Dianne, thank you for reminding me to rejoice in the present and be grateful for even the crappy moments.