Thursday, 16 October 2008

A few bricks short of a load.

Two blog posts came up on my 'following' list this afternoon that at first reading seemed very different. One is a heartfelt but semi tongue-in-cheek complaint by a mother about whining kids. The other is a sad and serious report by a daughter of her mother's misery and helplessness following a severe stroke. I thought about them most of the afternoon as I slogged along making a brick border around a flower bed. And the two voices met in my mind and became one voice, the voice of a woman trying her best for dependants under her care. I heard in that voice that the task of making those dependants happy is thankless, unending, almost impossible. Yet most of us, at some time in our lives, identify it as something that has to be done and that we have to do.

I've been there. Whining kids? For sure. As much as we try to laugh it off, that whine is something we have to deal with. I think that the whine is innate in small mammals; puppies for example, as well as human children. It's a sound that does not carry well, making it safer to use when there are predators around. It gets attention, that's for sure. Because it is innate, training the offspring out of it takes a lot of time and effort And telling the child to defer or change tone does not work because her woes are immediate and serious, trivial as they seem to adults. A small child lives in the moment and one Brussels sprout on the plate is an overwhelming tragedy.

Adults who have suffered damage to the brain, whether it comes through a stroke or dementia or trauma, returns to that same state where small things become mountains of misery and everything, once again, is immediate and tragic. Like the children, they have no sense of proportion. Like the children, they turn to what they see as a source of relief. But there is no relief and so the misery they feel gets directed onto the caregiver. I've also been such a caregiver, putting every skill and every effort into trying to alleviate that pain.

That pain is the pain of the caregiver as well as that of those in her care. When the child is tired and stressed by a big family party, removing the offending vegetable will not solve the problem. Something else will soon become a tragedy. All the patience and vigilance in the world will not prevent the next whine. Nor, when your loved one has suffered an irrevocable decline in health, can you restore the health and the adult competence that would allow the sufferer, and you, some peace of mind.

We all feel guilt over this. If I were only a better, more patient, mother/daughter/sister/wife, we say to ourselves. If I had more strength, if I didn't let it bother me. It's exhausting, this task of mothering, caring, tending. None of us can step back, either, and let it go, because they need us. They need us.

I've been in both these wonderful bloggers' shoes. If my experience is worth anything at all, it taught me that I didn't have to be perfect. It turned out that it was okay to be a good enough mother, a daughter who did her share but left some things for others to do. If I kept my own sense of proportion I could, and can, live with that and be at peace with myself.

I haven't said this as well as I had hoped to, but I am going to post it in the hopes that it is good enough.

And tomorrow I will go out and redo the bricks around the flower bed in a more frugal pattern because I ran out of bricks before I finished.

8 comments:

  1. (taking deep breath)

    yes. this is a lesson i need to learn.

    thank you, mary.

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  2. Oh the pressure of the neediness... it's so hard but it's also exactly what I signed up for *big sigh*. Thank you for this post, we are all in it in one way or another, aren't we? BTW you summed up the situation so well in just one sentence "A small child lives in the moment and one Brussels sprout on the plate is an overwhelming tragedy." WORD MARY, WORD. Thank you :)

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  3. "If my experience is worth anything at all, it taught me that I didn't have to be perfect. It turned out that it was okay to be a good enough mother, a daughter who did her share but left some things for others to do. If I kept my own sense of proportion I could, and can, live with that and be at peace with myself."

    I love this. I long ago resolved to not aim for perfection, because I'm hard enough on myself as it is without adding THAT into the mix, but I wonder about it often.

    I like your perspective and am going to be thinking about that paragraph for a while...

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  4. That was beautiful, Mary. What you wrote speaks to so many of us.

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  5. This was insightful and beautiful, Mary.

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  6. You hit it on the head. But the thing that occurs to me as I navigate my new responsibilities is this: with your children, you know that all your efforts will one day pay off in (hopefully) happy, well adjusted adults. With your parents, it's all downhill.

    Thanks for the post.

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  7. Sandwiched, you are so right. The second is harder, sad instead of happy, debilitating. And in many ways harder to let go of. I've looked after my mother and two of my aunts, all with dementia and serious physical problems, until they died. I learned the hard way that it was okay to step back part of the time and just accept that there were things I couldn't fix. That hurts, but it's the only salvation I found.

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