Burdened and guilty…
In the words of a caregiving daughter…
I recently read that we often learn more about people we care for after they die — from the eulogy we write. How sad and how true, I thought. My brother, sister, and I had recently buried our mother for whom I had written a eulogy that poured from my heart. It explained so much to me about my relationship with her — about the bonds that united, the events in her life that had shaped who she was and what she needed from me and was well beyond my grasp and insight before she died. When I had cared for my mother, however, she seemed “difficult,” demanding precision in countless ways. She insisted, for example, that plates be heated before putting food on them, arguing that it was ridiculous to put perfectly hot food on an ice-cold plate. I can even hear her saying it, because those were her exact words.
My mother preferred to drink various beverages at certain temperatures: eight seconds in the microwave for V-8 juice, she said – and just when I thought I had mastered that equation she’d ask me to zap it for another five! The same went for water, while orange juice was left to warm up on the counter until it leveled off at room temperature. Once she was served, I would stand at her side waiting patiently for the nod of approval or an altogether new directive. More… less… more… less… then I would trundle off, rolling my eyes. My mother had other requirements as well, from pillow fluffing techniques to lighting to other daily routines, all of which I resented.
I am ashamed to write this, but it’s the truth: I often felt put upon. What I need to say now is that I desperately wanted to please my mother and even more desperately, I wanted her back as she used to be – hale and hearty.We were on a collision course of sorts, my mother and I. While there is some truth to characterizing her as “picky,” it’s also fair to characterize me as a spoiled baby-boomer who never quite toughened up, who had the world served to her on a silver platter, and who perhaps put too much stock in feelings and not quite enough in just doing what you’re supposed to do.
For the last many years even the media has fed the notion that baby-boomers are burdened by the responsibility of assisting their aging parents. Writing the eulogy finally helped me to understand my mother. She was a highly intelligent if not brilliant woman whose educational needs received short shrift. Born well before the feminist movement, her educational opportunities were slim, and when the “great depression” hit home she joined the work force to contribute to the family income. Later, being an intelligent under-challenged housewife of a certain generation, her energies turned to the rational art of running a household. I paid little respect to those efforts, shrugging them off as trite and eccentric. In her last years, I think I could have in a genuine way joined my mother in making science and sense of life at home - but instead, I quietly fought her on it and in so doing diminished the person she was and the caregiver I was.
My mother’s eulogy also helped me to understand her experience of loving and giving care to a family member. When she was 15, following her father’s death, my mother spent every waking moment outside of school caring for her mother who had become aggrieved to the point of suicide. For over a year, my mother did not leave her mother’s side.My mother’s last words to me were that we three children were the loves of her life. I included those words in my eulogy, and as I read them I began to understand just how my mother’s selfless devotion to people she loved had shaped her expectations. And finally… as I grasped those words… I felt deeply the honor it was to know and love my mother.
Custom Care Trust did not exist when I was caring for my mother. Had it existed, however, and had I had the opportunity to help her complete a Custom Elder Care Good Caregiver® Workbook, I believe that I would have genuinely shifted my attitude from feeling burdened to appreciating and respecting her right to voice her views and to shape her life. I also believe that my mother, who was as sharp as a tack until the day she died, would have happily completed the workbook. LCA