Monday, January 09, 2012

Elder Care and an Anniversary

I've been responsible for my mother for at least the past 12 years, with a couple of less-intense years before that.  The care has steadily increased, as is always the case with eldercare, reaching what I thought was maximum velocity a year ago.

She was in an assisted living facility at the time.  I got the call about 2 am.  She had fallen and was taken by ambulance to the E.R.  I drove through the deserted streets, that  much I remember, and I know I had to have parked somewhere and gotten myself into the E.R., but that's all a blur.  As are the next several days, with medical tests and decisions battering me from all directions.

She had broken both legs and, at 91, two doctors told me it would be a "terminal event" and wanted to know if I merely wanted her heavily sedated with morphine for the few days or weeks it would take for her to "pass."  Knowing my mother, I was 100% sure that she would survive the surgery and go on to live for a long time.  Seeing as how we are now approaching the one year anniversary of her fall, I feel fairly vindicated at the decision to have surgery and complete rehabilitation. 

Wants vs Needs

The year of her recovery has been, however, a major contributing factor to my year of debridement. I have always had a difficult relationship with my mother.  Not that we ever argued.  Or that there was anything visible on the surface.  I simply did whatever she wanted whenever she wanted my entire life.  There was never any conflict, because she got her way in all things.  Now, however, I couldn't give her what she wanted--which was a totally pain-free recovery with me at her side 24/7.  And in realizing that I couldn't give her her wants, I became aware of my own needs. Actually, for the first time, I realized that I did have needs and they were just as important as everyone else's wants.

You'd think that by age I'd have learned that lesson, but I was raised with an incredibly strong mother who doled out equal doses of parental and Catholic guilt, heavily seasoned with Catholic teaching on the need for self-sacrifice.  So it had to have been a God-thing, that just as I was becoming aware of my needs, I was writing a book on Facing Adversity with Grace, stories of saints who had to work through suffering.

Telling Myself Stories

I began the book just about the time she fell and I finished it just as she was leaving the nursing facility.  I think if I had written the book any other time, it would have been a far different book, because as much as I was telling the stories of Mother Teresa and St. Helena, I was also teaching myself lessons about what suffering is, what it isn't and how it can either shape or destroy our lives. I just reread some of the passages and thought, " is it that you knew these lessons but weren't really applying them?"

So now, on this mid-January morning, my mother is still alive and doing remarkably well.  We are coming up on the anniversary of her fall, which is also an anniversary for--the anniversary of the day that I began to learn that self-sacrifice isn't self-immolation and that taking care of one's own needs isn't selfish--it's essential.  Afterall, we have to have our own oxygen masks in place before we can assist others.  For too many years, I tried to help others with their masks while holding my breath. And, as I said a couple of days ago, one of the major lessons I learned was that breathing is important to life!

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