Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Self-Compassion Comes Full Circle

Dearest Tribe,
Julie’s post about compassion struck a chord with me.  Many of you have heard me say- "Life comes full circle - the patience you need now with your little ones is the patience you will need later when caring for your elderly parents"

Well I am living those words, People!  I am knee deep in that place now- caring for my Dad who is terminally ill with cancer.  As you love your children and only want the best for them, I love my dad but I find my “emotional thermostat” is near bursting at times. 

My dad needs all the help a small child does- bathing, dressing and nutrition. Safety, security, shelter & love. There are some things he requires that can only be done by a nurse (me) so we are now "attached at the hip".  He prefers only me as well- sound familiar?!

You know how your baby has a huge "blow out" right before you are getting in the car? When we go out, (no, he doesn’t have a “blow out”-Lol, at least not yet- yikes!) but my dad inevitably has to “pee” right as we are leaving and/or have to stop frequently to prevent embarrassing accidents.

 Older folks are messy, picky eaters.  They can’t help it just like your child can’t help it but none the less- it can be annoying and unsightly.   Frequently, his clothes are permanently stained but he would wear them just the same, no different from your little ones. But what am I supposed to do, never take him out?

How about all the paraphernalia you have to lug around? Well, it is necessary I have all his stuff with me as well: glasses (reading, distance & sun) hearing aids (otherwise we scream at each other in public) dentures with accessories (or else he can't eat),cane (we walk very slow- I help him up & down stairs, buckle him in & out of the car) jacket or sweater ( he's always cold) medications & various medical stuff.  Velcro sneakers, soft, cushy clothing (sweat suits- easy to put on & off) - sounds familiar, I reckon :)

Seniors have issues with sleep similar to your little ones.  Unable to fall asleep, stay asleep or sleep at night but at least old people nap during the day.  I mean, how many drugs can you give someone before anyone becomes suspicious?!   Let me add, “elder-proofing” the house is a must, as trips and falls can be dangerous and deadly.   Who enjoys going to the ER?  Anyone?!

Like children, one of the hardest things is dealing with their changing emotional state.  Children are exploring, pushing, testing and constantly challenging their environment and the people around them. Seniors lose their ability to effect change, leaving them feeling dependent, burdensome, inept and melancholy.  Creativity, distraction and humor are tools I pulled out of my parent repertoire to help combat much of his negative self-imagery.

So I imagine that I painted quite the picture for you.  Can i tell you, it is truly uncanny that my range of emotions are so similar to when I was a young mother? I am not talking about the pleasant emotions – I am talking about the crazy, scary ones.  I bet most of you can relate. Here goes:
Prior to my dad being sick I had my own “little life”.  I came and went as I pleased, didn’t have to answer anyone. I am not solely responsible for anyone as my children are all grown and on their own.   So where do I suddenly myself?  In a sea of irrational thoughts that sweep me away more frequently than I care to admit.  Trapped! Cheated! Resentful! Angry! Vulnerable! Anxious! Sad! "How long can I keep this up?" I ask myself. "Why me?" I ask.  Sometimes I wish I could just run away - keep driving and not come back!
My life as I know it is -disrupted - gone - possibly over. I have "no life now and never will!"  Not to mention, the awful guilt that goes along feeling that way.   This is my crazy self-talk.   

But guess what?  I did recognized it.  It was unexpected and took me by surprise but none the less, I recognize it and know what to do to help myself.   Which is,  I need to "check in" with myself and with those around me who love & support me.  Take advantage of the hospice services offered to me as well as my dad.  Stay present in the moment, take it one day at a time knowing “this too shall pass” (no pun intended). But most of all, I need to have great compassion not only for a sweet man facing death but for the devoted daughter caring for him.
Hugs to you & me,

Dad & Me, St Patricks Day 2013
My dear friend, Carol replied to this post with a very powerful story:
"I think I told you that the social worker at my mom's assisted living facility encouraged me to ignore her phone calls ( sometimes 4-6 times an evening). Her exact words "just treat it like you would your crying baby". And that's when the penny dropped. Ignoring a crying baby is the beginning of a lifetime of thinking it's ok to ignore a loved one in need.  
I can't always take my Mom's calls but why wouldn't I when I can ?  And I never told the social worker that I NEVER left my babies to cry. It was chilling that she assumed that everyone does that."