How to handle the anger and pain of emotional discourse between parents and caregivers. by francy Dickinson
Dear Francy; This is a review of many folks that write to me…that have had very painful experiences with their parents. It could be their mom or dad…or grandmother. Someone that raised the caregiver and had a solid relationship and then it was broken. The pain is not a small issue…it is felt long and deep.
I suppose it starts with me. My mother and I were very close. I was the ‘late in life’ baby that arrived after mother had raised three other daughters. She was older and going into mid-life issues and I really gave her a run for her money. But over the years, I was her escort, I took her to doctor visits, cared for her and her home…included her in vacations with my husband and really felt I was her friend. When she started having small strokes and could no longer live alone, she moved in with us and lived on the lower floor of our home. Her care was long and hard for me. She was with us for five years…and it was in the last few months of her life she began to talk through her personal history…and the more she talked…day by day…the more she decided I had been the pivot point of her life. She told me she could have gone back to work and made a better life for herself if I had not been born. One day, she spent the whole day telling me how she just never really liked me and it was so hard for her to be in my house. I understood that a woman of almost 100 years was working through things. But when your own parent tells you…they really just never cared for you, as a person…it hurts. I am a fully grown woman and I understand the pain of someone facing death with health issues. I understand the dementia that slowly changes the way an older person sees the world….but it still hurt. I also know that mother loved me…she was a caring person. But loving and liking a person are two different things. I am still working with those words she spoke. In little ways I think…that I did all I could to make her life rich and happy in the end. But I know that inside of me, I was just not the right type of person for her. I was outgoing…she was shy. I was independent and she was a person that needed her family around her. I was not afraid of life…she was cautious. But we never had an argument, or bad words, we would laugh and enjoy our friendship all through my adult life. So, those words…those feelings…they are still with me. Mother died at 100 years after living with us for her last five. She has now been gone since 2006 and yet…I am still mulling over her words.
What do you do…when someone that has been a life-long parent or parent figure decides that you are not the person they need or want in their life? Well its very hard. So I am going to use three examples of family caregivers that have sent me emails about their situations that brought them to a place of feeling deep sadness.
Mary was in her late forties with a great job. She had been divorced for three years and her son had just graduated from college when her father died. She had always been close to her parents and so she really stepped up and traveled to her mother’s side. Those trips to help her mother increased and within a year…Mary sold her small home, left her job, friends and son and moved two states away to be close to her mother. Mary found a small apartment, she got a lesser job and she began the three-year care giving of her mother. Her mother was suffering with kidney problems and they became very serious. Mary tried to keep her mom busy with things that brought her joy. They would shop, go to activities, do a bit of travel and gardening together. Mary would constantly think of how to help her mom over the pain of her health issues. Mary quit her job and moved in with her mother in the last year of her life. Mary was her mother’s sole caregiver. She tried to make each day include something happy to talk about and give her mom food she enjoyed and was constantly arranging friends and family to come and visit. As an only child, Mary was really shocked that on the death of her mother…everything that her mother owned, family pieces, property, money and personal items…were all left to the Humane Society. (Who promptly arrived on the door step two days after the funeral to ask Mary to be out of the house within 48 hours.) Mary has moved back to be by her friends and son, who is now married. She started her own business and is busy, busy, busy. But, she still harbors the pain of her mother rejecting her after her death. Never telling her that she was not going to receive things that belonged to her dad and her family history items. She has no idea why her mother made those decisions…but the pain of them haunt Mary. Mary and I have talked about it many times…she has gone on with her life, she is happy and comfortable…but she is wounded.
Roger lost his mother when he was 10 and his dad did his best raising he and his brother. His dad was a professional man and spent very little time around the boys…but hired care givers. As Roger went through life, graduating from college, marriage and success with wonderful children of his own and a great business career…his dad often told him how proud of him he was so Roger always felt loved. It was when his dad had aged and lived alone a long time.. that things started to crack. His dad told Roger that his brother had been helping him more than Roger and he was disappointed in him. He would call and tell him that the brother was there when he fell or went into the hospital. Roger was really upset. He called his dad every other day. He lived about an hour’s drive away and would come if his dad needed him. But his dad never told Roger of his health issues or of any need…even when Roger asked and came over to check on him. Suddenly…it was like his dad was using Roger and his brother as bouncing balls. His brother always coming out ahead. This tension went on for five years…constant worry over his dad and his dad’s care…upsets between he and his brother…upset with what his dad wanted and needed. Then when his dad had his final heart attack and Roger raced to the hospital…his dad had put his name down as “blocked from visits”. When his dad died…he was even asked not to come to the memorial. Roger, a man with a family, grand children, money and friendly disposition…is suddenly out of favor. His own father rejecting him from his life and death. Roger has talked to me about this for many years…those actions of his dad…have caused Roger so much heart ache and feelings of failure.
Anne was the 8th child and the beloved baby of her family. They were all close and caring people and often gathered together in their parents large home for holidays. Family gatherings were filled with jokes, laughs and love. Stories of the family history, grandchildren running around and simple joy of being together. So when her mother died…it was not only hard to be without her…but the family gatherings stopped. No one really stepped up to take them over…the family slipped apart. Soon her dad was alone in a large house and none of the other siblings, but Anne, were coming to visit or give him care. No matter how often Anne would talk to the family members…they were busy and had their own lives. So she and her dad just forged ahead. At first Anne tried to keep the house and garden up like her mother did. But Anne had her own family and she simply could not do two homes. As the house became overwhelming…her dad started to get quiet and sad. Finally, his health was not good enough for him to be alone…so Anne and her husband had him come and live with them. Her dad sold his house and remodeled a garage at Anne’s place so he could have a place of his own, but be close. Then Anne began the high pressure care giving of someone with health issues and the running back and forth to deliver food and care from her house to the back garden cottage. Anne had three boys who had spent their life adoring their grandfather but now he wanted quiet and was always complaining about them. Her husband would go over and watch TV with her dad and then the complaining began that he did not have privacy. A lifetime of a quiet, loving dad had started to turn into a man who was mad and his own anger was directed at Anne. The rest of his kids rarely came to visit…no matter how much Anne tried to get them to come…so the dad felt it was Anne keeping them away. The situation was not just hard, but hurtful and three days before her dad passed…he had called a retirement center and told him he was being abused and needed to move in with them. Anne was too busy to think about the sadness when her dad passed…but now that her own kids are grown and out of the house she has more time. Anne cut ties to her siblings…she just could not deal with the thoughts that people she loved were not there for her when she needed them. She has worked through the anger over what her dad had done…at the end of his life…but the reporting abuse has left her feeling such pain. She still does not understand why her dad would say things so hurtful about her.
So, that is the review of issues between parents and their children…who have grown into adults and gave their love back to their parents. What to do? How to heal? I have talked this over with so many family members that I know that just saying it meant nothing…the hurtful words, actions or times…are just forgotten. But the hurt does not go away. You can tell yourself that an older person has fear of dying issues…but hurtful words and deeds take their toll.
What most of us have decided is that talking about our pain helps…even if we have to repeat the story a few times with a few different people…it helps hearing it in your mind and through your ears. Making a personal pledge that we will not do anything like this to our own family caregivers when the time has come is also helpful. But the most we can do…is to simply put the experience down as a sad life story…and try to move on through our lives.
Care giving is a gift…and just like any other gift…it can be accepted with grace and a thank you…or it can be taken and put aside and not appreciated. When you take a step back you see the bigger picture..but you can not step back far enough not to wonder why…the one person you loved and tried to help…took advantage of you. Just know you are not alone…and your own moral compass gave you the ability to help and love your family member at a time in their life when they needed to have someone to help them. That knowledge means you tried your best…and nothing more needs to be said. Even thou your mind and heart will never forget the slight from someone so loved by you.
I want to once again, thank you for all you have done and or are doing for your senior in care. They need you, even if the journey is not pleasant…they need your love. Blessings, francy