During the earlier half of this past week, I realized I had been really struggling emotionally for a while. And it wasn’t just because the January skies have been so gray and the air so cold, or the fact that daylight takes so long to arrive and darkness falls again so quickly this time of year. I couldn’t seem to shake that same old, same old feeling. And worse, I was constantly battling off feelings of anger and resentment, and not doing a very good job, I might add. As someone who feels she’s made great strides over the past few years to keep a positive mindset, it was almost scary to realize how deeply dark I was feeling inside. I wasn’t liking myself very much, and I was certain others were seeing a side of me I’d prefer they didn’t, though my closest friends kindly assured me that wasn’t so.
Logically, I know the reasons behind my feelings. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my mom. And that in itself is not the problem. I’m not complaining about the amount of time we spend together. In fact, I supremely enjoy it. Since my dad passed away seven weeks ago, my relationship with Mom has deepened and evolved in beautiful ways. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But I’m fully aware that there’s not a great amount of balance in this area of my life.
I often find myself dropping everything for Mom’s needs, even when I know she would understand if I said, “Yes, I can do this but not until I take care of that.” She would be perfectly willing to compromise if I said, “I can’t do it today, but how about tomorrow?” She’s not demanding or selfish. She’s aware that her needs are greater since Dad has been gone, but she doesn’t expect me to be at her beck and call. I guess I’m doing what I do because most of the time I know that if Mom has a need and I don’t take care of it, no one else might. But I might also admit that deep down, I get a great sense of satisfaction in being the person on whom Mom can really depend.
So it’s really just me creating my own problems.
To be fair, my sister is in this with me. But she still has kids at home, with busy lives and activities, and the problems that accompany that stage of life. It’s harder for her to be there for Mom than it is for me, the person with an empty nest. It’s my two brothers with whom I’m so frustrated. After Dad passed away, I thought things would change. There was a lot of love and togetherness in the days following Dad’s death. But in the past few weeks, we’ve gone back to the old normal. My brothers’ lives are apparently just too busy for them to commit to seeing or helping Mom on any regular kind of basis, or even call regularly. I don’t expect them to be able to be there as often as I am able. But it bothers me that Mom sits all alone in her house all day long, with little company but the dog, and my brothers can’t seem to carve out a bit of time for her. Worse is that she openly admitted that she doesn’t hear from or see them as often as she’d like. She told me she misses them, and it hurts to hear her admit that she feels neglected by some of her kids.
Mom can manage hanging around the house on her own, but her health prevents her from getting out without assistance most of the time. She doesn’t have the stamina to do regular cleaning, grocery shopping or any real cooking. Someone has to do those things for her. My sister and I are doing a juggling act in managing the upkeep, as well as making sure Mom has a decent meal every night of the week. I’m grateful for my niece who goes almost every Tuesday to make dinner and eat with Mom. Still, I’m at Mom’s or having her over to my house a minimum of four days a week. Meanwhile, my to-do list continues to grow and be neglected.
I’m trying desperately to remember my resolve not to be so unforgiving, and to know that not everyone sees this situation in the same light. I keep reminding myself that I can’t hold everyone else to my standards, and that I don’t truly know what it’s like to walk in my brothers’ shoes. I guess it’s just that once in awhile, when Mom needs someone, it would be nice if I thought I could lean on someone else to step in. Oh, I can ask. But experience tells me that such a request is likely to be met with a sort of disdainful disbelief that I would even ask. The sense is that their lives are just so much more overwhelming than mine.
And to top it all off, the most disconcerting thing happened when I woke up one morning last week feeling angry at my dad. Who gets angry at a dead person? Well, apparently it’s a very common and normal stage of the grieving process, but that doesn’t make it any easier to admit I was having those feelings.
I think it stemmed from the fact that my parents were scheduled to move into an assisted living facility in December. The move was planned because after Dad broke his hip last year, his health and care needs upon returning home were greater than Mom or the rest of us could accommodate without professional help. My dad was adamantly opposed to the move, insisting he and Mom could manage fine on their own, even though it was obvious to the rest of us that he was fooling himself. And when he passed away one day prior to moving day, everyone sort of joked about how Dad had made sure he didn’t have to go to that damn apartment.
Mom immediately decided she just couldn’t make the move in the aftermath of Dad’s death. She wanted to stay in their town house. She said she only wanted to move in the first place because she needed to be where she could have help caring for Dad’s needs. In the midst of my fresh and raw grief, I agreed that this was the right decision for Mom. But as we’ve settled into our new normal, I find myself wishing she’d had a chance to move before Dad passed away. If things were different, she’d have had the opportunity to get settled and familiar, and make new friends before Dad left us. And these cold, dark days might not be so lonely if she were in a community where she could be with others her age, with daily social activities, and where three square meals a day are guaranteed when one of us couldn’t be with her.
I guess I was blaming Dad for taking away those opportunities that might have made all of this a bit easier.
I spent a day carrying around that confusing anger at my dad. I was angry even though I knew that my feelings had to do with Dad’s human nature, and that since he passed away, I believe he’s shed all of the ugly facets so common to our humanity.
The next morning, when I couldn’t take being down any longer, I had a good cry and asked God what I was supposed to do with all of this darkness. I soon realized that’s all I needed to do. I needed to give it up. It wasn’t something for which there was a black and white answer, and it wasn’t in my power to fix it.
It’s amazing how quickly my heart and mind settled after that. Nothing externally had changed, but I was reminded to just take each day as it comes, to stop worrying about tomorrow, and the next day and next month. I remembered to stop obsessing about what others were doing, or not doing, or what I assumed they were thinking or not thinking.
It occurred to me how long religion and spirituality were such a question mark in my life. And I realized what a gift it has been that my desire to have a greater understanding of God has resulted in a serious deepening of my faith in the past few years. This is what is carrying me through right now.
A day after letting go, I was invited to go out for happy hour after work with a bunch of coworkers. It just so happened that this particular day left me free of responsibilities to Mom. My sister had it covered. But I left home that morning thinking I’d pass on going out after work. I had a lot of things to do, and though happy hour might be more fun, I really needed to catch my breath at home.
When I shared these thoughts with my closest coworkers, the ones who know my life inside and out, I was sternly and playfully informed, “Not acceptable. You need this and you’re going with us.”
That’s all it took. I was in and haven’t regretted it for a minute. I got to spend some down-time with good friends and coworkers. We laughed and had really great, deep conversations. There was no worry or resentment hovering around me and I remembered how good it is to lean on those around me sometimes to create a better balance.
And it helps to have done a little research on the stages of grief. It seems I’m experiencing a mix of several of them all at once, but knowing it’s all normal and part of the process, and that I’m growing in positive ways as a result makes it easier to keep moving forward.