My twin Judi sent me a link to a blog last week. It’s theme was Best Lent Ever. Though I’m not the fervent Catholic she is, I appreciated it because it is a reflection on happiness. Not the “great steak dinner” kind of hedonistic happiness, but the kind of contentment that emerges from doing the right thing. Best selling author and articulate Aussie, Matthew Kelly, called resistance the slayer of dreams. I was intrigued, and it got me thinking.
Millions of family caregivers carry the hod of support to what we all assume are “their loved ones.” But hey, there must be more than a few resisters in the crowd. For those reluctant caregivers, the job never stops feeling like drudgery, an obligation they fulfill out of duty rather than love. And for them, everything must be harder. “Your mother is so lucky to have you!” sticks in the craw, I bet.
The first blog post of The Best Lent ever surprised me because comments poured in from all over the world and all sorts of family caregivers and all twisting in knots with their resistance and stewing in their feelings of guilt.
A guy named Darren said he was giving up negative responses for lent and instead would feast in the joy of the moment. Susan admitted she was jealous of the time she had to spend with her dwindling mother. But she was going to be happy, darn it! After all, hadn’t mom cared for her once? Then there was a twist. A mom being cared for wrote in. She felt worse because she felt so guilty for being so needy. So she was going to pray for patience, but also do drop her resistance to the help her daughter offered. Her being bitchy about being needy made everything harder. Hmmm….
Guilt affects us all, caregivers and cared for, at at one time or another. We didn’t do it. We didn’t do it right. We didn’t do it enough. We were impatient on the giving or receiving end. We were snarky. In our heart of hearts we wanted to offer less or wish for more than we are getting.
This was all about the guilt trap. So the comment I liked the best was the one that summed it up by saying the biggest thief of happiness is regret.
My conclusion? We need to allow people to be reluctant caregivers. We have to honour them because, feeling as they do, they still don’t walk away. Loyalty and duty count for a whole lot in this caregiving conundrum. A sadly now defunct blog in the New York Times called The New Old Age, written by Paula Span hit the nail on the head. “Elder care can be a wonderful experience, satisfying and meaningful, but guilt and resentment are also standard parts of the job description, at least occasionally.” The New Old Age is now a twice monthly column at the New York Times.
So lets clear out the guilt by naming our resistance. Let’s talk about our real feelings when we can. Let’s seek support for ourselves whether we are eager or reluctant caregivers, or somewhere in between, depending on the task or the day or what we’ve had to give up to do that be the designated provider.
it's about the journey
Caregiving was my first and finest journey. Writing this book about it was the next. It lends support to other caregivers who say, "that happened to me too." I'm on another journey now, advocating for caregiving and an activist to bring on better ways of thriving as we age. It's all brought me purpose and meaning, Come along and get some of that too! I'd love to share your stories. Boldly speaking out about our experiences makes us all part of the change we want to see. So
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