Category Archives: Family

Always Be Yourself, Unless You Can be Batman…Then Be Batman

I was getting a massage today when my massage therapist asked about my dad.  I’ve told her quite a bit about the situation with my father over the last six months because it is such a major source of stress.

Yes…I talk during massages, which I know is odd, but I fall asleep if I just silently lay there and I’m not going to sleep through something I paid for, so…

Did you notice the title of my blog is …because it’s hard to shut me up?

I talk…a lot.

But I digress…

My massage therapist asked about my dad and I told her all about my last visit with my dad, which was really good, and my mom’s last encounter with my dad which was not good at all.  My dad became very agitated and began demanding to know why he can’t live at home with my mom. We’ve explained this to him multiple times and he never remembers, and while explaining it again really isn’t a problem, he doesn’t want to hear it. No one wants to hear that they are so demented and feeble that they require more care than their loved ones can provide, let alone that they can’t come home because they are violent and uncontrollable.

My heart breaks for my mom, who bears the brunt of his anger. At the same time, I am beginning to wonder if frequent visits, originally meant to keep my dad from feeling lonely, are actually making him agitated and uncomfortable.

Mom and I discussed the situation earlier this week after he yelled and cursed at her for refusing to take him home. My mother worries that he’ll never get out of the behavioral unit at his memory care facility. I worry that we’ll never manage to find the right balance of visits and absences, which will force us to stop visiting just so that he can stop having episodes of agitation and violence.

There are times when I genuinely fear that I will never get to see my father again.

I realize that there is nothing preventing me from visiting my father. It’s not like the Lord posted an angel with a flaming sword at the door. (I mean, the memory care facility is nice, but it’s not that nice.)*  The thing is that I want my father to be happy, to have some modicum of joy in his life, and I am willing to give up my visits with him if that is what will make his life the most joyful.  If my mother’s visits are what is causing his agitation, I am willing to be the only one visiting him even though that increases the amount of time I will need to spend visiting him. And I am committed to supporting my mother in her partial or total withdrawal from my father because no one deserves to be pummeled with verbal abuse and threats of violence.

I explained all this to my massage therapist, and that is when she got a bit teary eyed and said very nice things about me. She called me thoughtful and compassionate and a whole lot of other very nice things.  I appreciated her words, but that has very little to do with my thoughts and feelings about visiting my dad.

What does?  Authenticity.

What does that have to do with my dad?

Let me explain.

Being authentic is about constantly embodying who I am and who I want to be in the world. I know who I am, both good and bad, and I know who I want to be as a pastor, counselor, friend, wife, mother, and daughter.

When I am trying to decide what to do about my dad and how I want to be with my dad, I ask myself: Who am I in relationship? Who do I want to be as a daughter? What do I believe that good daughters do and how should I express that?

Notice I didn’t say “What do good daughters do?” because that question gets answered with a lot of BS from culture, society, church, and all the other systems that I participate in that want to lay claim on the role of ‘daughter’. I am not interested in what other people think. I want to be a good daughter to my father, and that means that I need to remember what matters to me.

Again, let me explain. Society tells us that good daughters visit their dads regularly because not doing so means that you are abandoning your parent in their old age. Society says that good daughters encourage their fathers to eat healthy and exercise so that they live a long life.

I believe that good daughters love their elderly fathers enough to attend to their father’s needs, even if that means that things are not the way the daughter wants them to be. If that means that we visit weekly, so be it. If that means we only visit once a month, so be it. If that means that Daddy lives in his PJs and eats cookies for every meal, so be it. My vanity and my needs for things to look or appear some certain way is meaningless. My desire to have my dad be healthy and live as long as possible is meaningless. What matters is that my dad needs to have a little joy in his life again before he dies. He hasn’t had much joy for quite a few months now, so a little joy before he dies is my goal as a daughter, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else (except my mother) thinks ought to be happening.  And when it comes to my mother, I encourage her to think about her own needs and not just my father’s needs, because she has spent the last nine years as a caregiver, putting Daddy’s needs first, and that has to stop. My dad is in a memory care facility now. Someone else takes care of Daddy’s daily needs and my mom needs to return her primary interest to herself so that she can have a little joy too. My mom needs to find a meaningful life alone, separate from her husband, whom she has served for 54 years.  My mom and dad have differing needs, and I—as their daughter—need to be mindful of both so that I can be a good daughter to both of them.

Does all that sound exhausting? Sometimes it is, and many of you may be thinking that I have bought into the cultural BS of the ‘Good Daughter who Sacrifices for her Parents’. Of course, you are free to think that. Personally, that’s not where I am.  I want to know that when I look in the mirror at the end of the day, and it’s just me, my reflection, and my God, that I have been who God created me to be in this world. My job here is to be authentically me…and for me, being a good daughter to both my parents matters a lot, just like being a good mom to both my daughters matters a lot.

Thank God I only have one husband!

So for this week, being a good daughter means that I call the social worker at the memory care facility and discuss what to do when visitation seems to be the cause of agitation. I’m betting that the social worker will have some suggestions and that together we can figure out a plan to help both my mom and dad find a little joy in every day.  If not, well, at least I tried my best to do what I believe a good daughter would do. And at the end of the day, that’s all the comfort I have to give myself.

So far, it works for me.

And as for being a good Christian, I take my comfort from the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus appears to be cranky, impulsive, emotional, and irascible.  If the goal is to be Christlike, I do believe that I am almost there, which is probably a blog post for a different day.

Until that day…

*  Remember the Garden of Eden?  See Genesis 3:23-24.

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Cowboy Tears

I visited my dad today.

I visited him for the first time since he spent close to a month in a geriatric psychiatric unit, balancing medications meant to stop his volatile, aggressive, and violent behaviors.

I hadn’t seen him in over four weeks as visits to short-term residents of the geri-psych unit weren’t allowed. His transfer to a memory care unit that also dealt with behavioral issues had happened just a week earlier. I had been excited, looking forward to visiting him the day after his transfer when things took a turn for the worse and the staff sent my mother home to protect her from his temper and violent behaviors.

Another medication added, another week of waiting before I visited, another awful story stored in my memory.

I stopped at the administration building before I went in to see my dad. I didn’t want to just ‘drop in’ when I wasn’t sure if I was welcome, or if he was having a bad day, or if things were just too volatile to risk a visit.

Let me tell you, the poor guy in the administrative office was so busy that I wondered how he was handling it all with a smile. I waited with a man who was paying for his mother’s care; when all the phone calls and billing issues were finally completed, the gentleman in the administrative office walked me to the door of my father’s cottage while wishing me a good visit.

Visiting my father had filled me with apprehension. So many scenarios played out in my head, visions of uncomfortable visits with him before his transfer to the geri-psych unit; visions of the behaviors that landed him in the geri-psych unit; fears of how I would explain it to friends and coworkers if he got out of control and put his hands on me. All the fears of my childhood combined with the memories of recent events to torment me; together they made it very hard to visit my father.

And yet…

I couldn’t get the picture of him smiling and laughing out of my head. My mind was filled with memories of visits to my parent’s house in years past; mornings when we’d gone out for coffee and talked for hours; days that we had wandered together in Costco, laughing and talking about what we’d buy and what we thought my mother would buy. I have far more good memories of my father than bad, but my fears would rather replay every bad report I have ever received, every painful memory from my past and the all the memories of the last eight weeks. I finally decided to meditate on the memory of my father’s smiling face to remind me of all the joy I’ve experienced with him, all the laughter and warmth we’ve had together.

It was those memories I meditated on as I drove to my father’s newest memory care placement.

If you are wondering, the visit was a mixed bag of great moments and negativity. I didn’t have to quack (see my blog post from March 31, 2018), not even once!  My father could barely focus on his fears that my mother is out drinking, carousing, and having an affair for more than two or three minutes. Between you and me, dear reader, his fears are so ridiculous as to be laughable.  My mom is so in love with him that she hasn’t begun to get over her grief that she can’t have him at home with her. While the effects of his medications were evident—he drools and is slow of speech—he was calm and easily distracted from discussion of my mother. When I showed him pictures of my youngest daughter’s wedding, he remembered both her and my oldest daughter, asking questions about their careers, their love lives, and where they were currently living (both are out of state.) We talked about my daughters and at some point he smiled and laughed. It was divine!

He admitted that he has little memory of the injuries that forced my mother to place him in a memory care facility. He admitted that he has few memories of the last twenty years in Arizona, including the odd jobs that he worked after his partial retirement.  He has no idea how old he is and asked me about his age repeatedly.  He admitted that he knows that he has good days when he remembers things, and bad days when everything is a confusing  and frightening. He admitted to me that he doesn’t anticipate any significant improvement in his condition. He also admitted that he would rather die than live this way.

I shared pictures and memories with my father, and when he admitted his deficits I shared his sorrow and his frustration. When he expressed a desire to die, I granted him permission to go home to God and be freed of his dementia; I promised that I would not be angry with him for leaving me.

It was a great visit and I am truly glad to have shared a moment of my father’s clarity with him.

Just before my visit, I waited in the administrative office with another man who was paying the bill for his mother’s care. He is at least ten years older than I am, and was dressed like your average Arizona cowboy.  I asked him if he had a loved one in this memory care facility. He told  me that his mother had been there for at least seven months.  I asked how she was doing and he revealed that she was just now getting over her anger and beginning to forgive him for placing her there. I noted that my father had only been there for a little over a week and that he was similarly angry and volatile with my mother for not taking him home.

Let me tell you, it is hard to watch a cowboy cry.

His eyes filled with tears, and he promised me that it gets better after six months or so. He encouraged me to hang on, to push away the guilt and remember that we are doing the best that we can to care for my father.  I took his hand and said that I sincerely hoped that we both might remember these days when we became old and unable to care for ourselves; that we would understand that our family was doing their best by placing us in a memory care unit. I expressed the hope that while we might be angry about our lives, that we wouldn’t blame our family for our circumstances.

It broke my heart to watch him start to cry much harder.

He hugged me and wished my family well, reminding me that we are doing the very best for my father that we can do.

I don’t know what did my heart better: my father’s smile or a cowboy’s tears.

I can’t decide, so I’ll just praise God for both and pray that I remember this day when I am old, infirm, and entering long-term care.

From this page to God’s ears for all of us.

Now You Know

Mindfulness.

This is a word you’ve probably seen pretty often lately, as it seems to be the latest technique for dealing with all sorts of ills: anxiety, eating disorders, stress management, addiction, emotional dysregulation, and depression just to name a few.  Add meditation to the concept of mindfulness and you have just identified the hot, new trend for young, urban professionals.

There is nothing new about mindfulness or meditation. People have been practicing both for centuries. What has gained them both so much press is that medical professionals have come to recognize the power of both techniques for improving overall health (i.e. lowering blood pressure) and reducing pain; mental health professionals have long used these techniques to help their clients reduce impulsivity and act according to their values instead of the strong emotion of the moment, which is a powerful means of increasing self-esteem and the likelihood of choosing positive/effective actions.

All this to say, gee…this mindfulness and meditation thing sure is useful!

Despite the effectiveness of mindfulness and meditation, most of us are not using these techniques on a regular basis because they take time and effort to practice and master—and most of us don’t have enough time or energy to master even one more thing, so it Just. Isn’t. Happening.


My youngest daughter posted something on Facebook yesterday that really caught my attention. She said “If, when I was little, someone told me how much of life is going to work just so you can pay rent and taxes and be able to go to the doctor, I probably would have savored those years more.”

For just a moment I struggled with the urge to tell her that simple observation would have given her a clue if she had only bothered to pay attention to how much work her parents were doing!

I thought about accusing her of being bone-headedly stupid, but the truth is that I didn’t pay any more attention to the difficulties of adult life during my childhood than she did during hers.  I decided that the problem is endemic to childhood and especially to being a teenager, and this reminded me of a specific morning when I was teaching Sunday School to a bunch of high school students.

That Sunday one of the boys in the class was complaining that his mother wanted him to help her clean the house just because he was on Spring Break.  “If she wants to clean the house, then she should do it herself! Don’t make me something just because it’s what you want!”  Then he repeated the mantra of children everywhere: “I can’t wait until I’m an adult. I’ll do whatever I want to do all the time!

I kind of lost my composure for a moment and blurted out “Do you really think that your mother wants to clean the house?!” To my utter shock, he said yes. Still having no composure, I said “Are you on drugs?! NO ONE wants to clean the house! Ever!” He actually had the audacity to ask me why his mother cleaned the house if she didn’t want to do it, since she was an adult and therefore could do whatever she wanted to. So I explained to the class that adulthood is about doing the many things you have to do and need to do whether you want to do them or not…with occasional moments of ease when you get to do what you’d like to do. Then I pointed out that if their parents didn’t clean the house on a regular basis they would quickly be living in filth and unsafe conditions. Then I made it clear that neither their mothers nor their fathers particularly liked going to work every day, nor did they like paying bills, or doing yard work, or doing laundry. I told them that most parents would actually prefer to do the same things that their kids want to do all day: sleep in, play video games, hang out with friends, go shopping, watch a movie, and eat food that somebody else prepares. I made it clear that their parents were not getting to do what they wanted to do very often at all.  I wish I could show you a picture of their crestfallen faces. I think I might be personally responsible for destroying their dreams of an adult life of ease, and I’m not sure that it was the kind thing to do since they had so little time left to indulge that dream.


I did post an answer to my daughter, admitting that her father and I tried to tell her how difficult adult life would be, and revealing that she was consistently unwilling to listen to that truth. I also let her know that she would say much the same thing once her children were born, except in reference to her life with her husband before children. I also told her that she would say the same thing again in reference to raising her children, once her nest became empty.

It’s that old adage: hindsight is 20/20.  You only realize how good you had it after you no longer have it, whatever ‘it’ is.  This is not news to anyone over the age of 20.

Except that I’m not sure that that this is how it’s supposed to be.

And this is where I return to the subject of mindfulness.

Our culture is so focused on productivity and problem-solving that our lives have become driven by our to-do lists.  Each day becomes a marathon of trying to get it all done, with increasing levels of efficiency and task mastery as we grow older, which only lets us cram more onto our to-do list, at least until we reach our mid-60s and need to start slowing down a little.

You’ve heard this before, but I’ll say it again: we have become human doings instead of human beings.

I don’t have the solution to alleviate our busyness or our endless to-do lists, but I do have an idea about how to stop the endless cycle of looking backwards, longing for a chance to truly appreciate what good thing that we didn’t know we had, now that it’s gone.  And no, I’m not going to try and sell you a meditation CD that will increase your levels of gratitude or insist that you sit with a raisin for five minutes, focusing on its texture and appearance, and then five more minutes giving yourself a chance to truly taste a raisin.

Can you tell that I am just a little frustrated by the ways that we teach mindfulness?  I knew you could.

How about we just take a minute to pay attention to the good things in life?

I don’t mean the house/apartment/rented room you live in because that’s obvious, and if you aren’t grateful for the roof over your head, this blog isn’t going to do you any good.  I understand that we often forget to be grateful for what we have, but that’s not what I trying to say. I’m trying to shoot at the root of what my daughter talked about in her FB post: the habit of only valuing the fullness of our life after that part of our life has passed.

This problem…this is a part of the human condition. We like to identify our material possessions and our relationships as our blessings (because it’s so obvious) and consign everything else to the ‘meh’ category, wishing we didn’t have to deal with it.  But it’s the stuff in the ‘meh’ category that we will miss the most once it is gone.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

When you’re busy plunging, how often do you think about how fantastic it is to have a flush toilet that functions?  We don’t thank God for the sewer system often enough.

When your life becomes an emotional mess, do you ever think about the ways that your challenges and struggles illustrate to you exactly who your friends are? Trust me, you’ll know who your real friends are because they will show up (either physically or emotionally) to give you support in the midst of your difficulty.

When you are stuck at home with bronchitis or the flu, do you spend any time thinking about your body and how hard it works to keep you going…and how infrequently it breaks down? Ask anyone with a chronic illness how quickly they came to appreciate their previous health and what they now call their ‘good days’…and you might suddenly realize just how many good days you have in the average year.

When you are refereeing a fight between your children, or arguing with your teenager, or grounding your tween for bad behavior, do you ever stop to think that these moments—these frustrating, disappointing moments—are the grist in the mill that will help your child become a decent adult?

You can complain about the crap in your life—and broken toilets and bad breakups and the flu and disobedient kids are crap—all that you want to. It’s okay to call it like you see it. Crap is crap. I’m not asking you to pretend that life is all rainbows and unicorns.

What I’m trying to say is that we need to become mindful of the goodness that is inherent in the daily crap in our life.

We need to take a solid minute to be grateful for the obvious blessings and then another two or three minutes to be grateful for just how crazy life is, for the things that frustrate us, challenge us, and make us exhausted. Trust me…in their absence we will look back and say “If I had only known…I would have savored those years more.”

Well…now you know. Savor the life you have NOW…not just the obvious blessings, but the whole doggone mess.

This is your mindfulness minute for the day. Thank you for reading. I’m going to go clean the dog poop out of my backyard, and think about how I wouldn’t have to do this if I didn’t have two little Shih Tzus who love me, love me, love me!

I thank you Lord, for the crap. Literally.

Sing Along With Me

Last week, as I was leaving a family dinner at my parent’s house, my Dad hugged me and said quickly “We need to talk.”  He sounded concerned, and so I decided to take him out for coffee later that week so that we could have some privacy.  My Dad is retired and has dementia, so he is home with my Mom 99% of the time; because he can no longer drive, his life has become limited to the things he can do with my mother.  I figured that my Mom could use some time alone, and my Dad could use an excuse to get out of the house, so we set a date to go out for coffee.

By the time I could get to my parent’s house to pick up my father, he had already had two cups of coffee and really didn’t feel like having more caffeine, so instead we opted for a late lunch.  I gave him several options, but his dementia kept interfering with the conversation.  After about three rounds of asking him to pick what kind of food he wanted for lunch, I finally blurted out  “Tacos or salad?” and he quickly replied “Are you crazy? Tacos!”  I’m still learning how to effectively communicate through the fog of his dementia.

While we were still on the way to our lunch, I asked him what he wanted to talk about, and he opened by saying “You probably don’t want to hear this.”  My standard response to anyone who says such a thing to me is “It doesn’t matter what I want to hear, if what you’re saying needs to be said.”

I should have kept my mouth shut.

For the next 10 minutes, I had to fight to overcome the urge to put my fingers in my ears and loudly sing “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!”

What is it with older parents who suddenly start revealing deeply personal things to their children?  For several years now I have thought perhaps my parents were just unusually candid, but recently a colleague told me that her father has been making similarly shocking (and occasionally unwelcome) revelations to her.

It must be one of the provisions of joining AARP: Once you get over 65, you must overshare with your adult children.

The funny thing is that until recently, I thought that my parent’s habit of oversharing was simply an extension of their honesty with me when I was a teenager. My parents never hid the truth from me about their own teenage mistakes, challenges, and outright failures; my parents believed that I could learn from their life lessons without having to repeat them myself.  Even back then, before I realized how rare it was to receive such a gift of honesty from my parents, I greatly appreciated their candidness.  Please understand, I was not one of those saintly teenagers who never gives their parent’s any problems.  The truth is that I was an obnoxious teenager (especially during my freshman year of college) and I know that I tested the limits of their patience many, many times. Despite that, I valued my relationship with my parents and respected them. Hearing stories about their struggles with self-esteem, or the social cost of refusing to go out drinking with their friends, or the ways they were singled out as nerds because they valued learning…it made it easier for me to believe that high school only seemed like it would last forever. It made it easier for me to believe that one day I would find my group and discover that I was perfectly normal.  The idea that I would one day ‘fit in’ was balm to my incredibly nerdy, chubby, over-achieving, academically-focused self.

Let’s not discuss the fact that I am still nerdy, chubby, and a notorious over-achiever; the only reason I’m not currently academically focused is because I’m not in school anymore. I have, however, found my people and feel like I am relatively normal.  The fact that I found a husband who is almost exactly like me…except for the chubby part…has made a huge difference as well.

Back to my parents.

So there I was, in the car with my Dad, listening to him say things that in all actuality I did not want to hear. Let’s just say that his sharing was intensely personal.  All I could do was listen, because I didn’t have any good advice for him; I’ve never experienced anything like what he’s experiencing right now.  I’m 53 years old and in relatively good health. My father is 76 and he has vascular dementia; the stroke that brought this on happened eight years ago.  He has been slowly losing himself ever since, and the loss gets greater and faster every day.  That’s what dementia does: it steals your “Self.” You think you know who you used to be and who you are now, but what you think you know keeps shifting and changing and getting lost in the haze that fills your memory.  Dementia steals your ability to observe yourself and your performance; it keeps you from honestly admitting to all that you cannot do and from understanding how your deficit impacts those around you.  Consequently, my father cannot drive anymore and he blames my mother for that even though he failed to pass a driving evaluation designed to evaluate people with dementia. My father cannot travel anymore because he becomes disoriented and afraid in unfamiliar places, but he swears that he and my mom don’t travel because she doesn’t want to go anywhere. He doesn’t remember his own behaviors towards my mother over the last few years (or months, actually) and so he can’t understand why she reacts to him the way she does when he raises his voice.  Dementia has stolen the life my father imagined that he and my mother would have after he retired, and now dementia is even stealing his past.  During our lunch together I was stunned to discovered that my father is forgetting key details of his parent’s lives, which tells me how advanced his dementia has become. Any attempts on my part to jog his memory and try to remind him of the history that I remember (especially the things that have occurred in his family since I became an adult) only serve to frustrate and anger him.

I sat in the car, listening to all my Dad had to say, feeling helpless to relieve his emotional distress and helpless to stop things from getting even worse.

Just as we got to the restaurant my father turned to me and said “I know that I shouldn’t tell you these things, but I feel safe telling them to you.”  He could barely look at me.

So I looked at him and said “Daddy, you tell me anything you want to tell me. You get no judgment from me, no matter what.  I’ll always be here to listen to you.”

This is all my father has to give me now.  He can give me his truth, no matter how twisted and ill-remembered it is.  He can’t help me fix things around the house anymore because he can’t follow instructions.  He can’t give me good advice because he can’t keep his own wisdom from getting twisted up with vague memories and everything comes out wrong.  There is so much that he can’t do for me, and so many, many things that I cannot really do for him either.  But neither of us needs the other to do anything, really.

Maybe all that is left for us to do is to listen.

My Dad can tell me things that he knows I don’t want to hear because he knows that I am safe, and that word means more to me than I can tell you.  My Daddy trusts me, and that is the greatest gift he could possibly give me.

My prayer today is that God grant us each someone safe to share our truth with, and that God make us a safe space for someone who needs to say the words they know that no one wants to hear.

Amen.

The Full Catastrophe

It’s family disaster week.

Actually, there is nothing “family disaster” in what I’m about to say; in fact, what I’m about to say probably reflects the same family life most people have in their fifties. Some days are good, some days are bad, some days are both good and bad, and some days feel like Murphy moved into your house, took over your bank account, and decided that he personally has a vendetta against you.

I hate that Murphy guy.

This will serve as your one and only trigger warning: if you are already overloaded with family drama, I’ll see you next week. Otherwise feel free to read on.

So…the mom brag moment!

My oldest daughter called me and told me that wonderful things are happening at her job. Since she hasn’t told the world yet I won’t give you details, but let’s just say that the money is getting significantly better, she’s about to become very happy with her job and her commute, and she hasn’t felt this valuable to a company in a really long time.

It was so surprising that she was a little stunned and overwhelmed, but I’m here to tell you that she totally and absolutely deserves all of it.  Yes I’m her mom but dang that girl is bright and capable!

To put the icing on that cupcake, she told me that her partner (who is a professional photographer who does mostly BMX races) has been marketing himself a great deal in San Francisco because she travels there twice a month for work…so why not fly there together, you know? Well, after showing his work around town he got hired for a 3 day commercial shoot for a major fashion designer!!  Seriously, when I heard this I squealed out loud and he’s not even my kid.  Again…they haven’t told everyone yet and so I am keeping some details under my hat, but OMG a major (MAJOR) fashion designer!

After our phone call was over I was so excited that I danced all around my house as I got ready for my Zumba class, where I danced rather exuberantly and with great joy.  I had to let the energy out somewhere!

It has been a good couple of weeks for my girls. My youngest passed her certification exam and now is a certified Pharmacy Tech (hello, big raise!) and my son-in-law got a great job at an airport with benefits and everything.  Considering that he is thinking of going into aircraft maintenance, this is a good job to have.

Some days are good. Some weeks are good.

And then…

I have written previous posts about the challenges of aging and how important it is admit and accept that you are going to require someone else to take care of you. I have written about the importance of working through the emotions of becoming more and more disabled before you come to that point, and understanding that aging doesn’t have to be about loss.

Yeah, my parents don’t read this blog.

My dad is 76 years old and has dementia; my mom is 70 years old and chronically ill.  Both of them are slowly losing their ability to be independent, although neither of them wants to admit it.

My dad is unwilling to admit that his dementia has reduced him to the point where he cannot live independently and needs a caregiver. My mom has been filling the caregiver role for eight years, with increasingly less and less physical ability to do so, and more and more emotional and mental stress related to my dad’s decline.

I feel like we are at the breaking point.

I talk to my dad and he unloads about his frustration and overwhelming confusion in combination with his anger with my mom.  You see, he still believes that he is capable of independence, and he keeps trying to live his life the way that he used to. He thinks that it’s my mom’s anxiety that causes her to stop him from doing maintenance around the house or driving. Sadly, my dad’s dementia has made it impossible for him to evaluate his own functioning, or lack of it. And he does keep trying to function, despite the fact that the results are consistently bad.  Over and over he’ll try to “be of use” and do the things he used to do around the house, but since he no longer remembers details or how things function he ends up breaking or destroying clothes, appliances, fixtures, you name it. He has lost or destroyed so many things that my mom is at her wits end, so she tries to stop him or she ends up criticizing him because he is doing it wrong and refusing to receive instructions on how to do it right. This causes him to become belligerent and angry and then he becomes aggressive and things just keep escalating until there is a huge confrontation.

That’s when I get frantic, emotional phone calls from my mom telling me just how bad it is, how agitated and aggressive my father is becoming, how exhausted and overwhelmed she is…and I gather resources and try to offer help to her…which she refuses most of the time.  Recently she revealed to me just how aggressive my father becomes when he gets agitated, and the last time I was at their home she had me take pictures of the bruises. It broke my heart to think that my father has become that guy and that my mother feels trapped in the situation.

Disaster.

Believe me, I have tried all sorts of things, and I have gathered all sorts of resources including an elder law attorney. Nothing is getting either of them to realize how explosive this situation is becoming.

I was up until almost 2am last night running it over and over in my mind, furious with both of them for the choices they have made and are making. I have a huge list of fears, with each one more terrifying than the other until the final one involves such a horrible occurrence that I would lose both my parents at once: one to death, and the other to the criminal justice system.

All morning I have been trying to interject more logic and less fear and anger into the discourse in my head, and I have realized that no matter how much I want to, I cannot make their choices for them. As much as I love and want to protect them, every attempt to help them make a decision that would admit that they need help because of their increasing debility seems to create a backlash of resistance and petulance out of my dad, which only serves to increase my mother’s anger with him.  I don’t want my desire to “fix things” to become the reason they end up in the next screaming, violent confrontation.

I fear that the best course of action is to sit back and let their choices drive what comes next and hope that none of my fears comes true. But I’m telling you, I’m going to get a hold of that elder law attorney and get papers that would allow me to file for conservatorship and get them filled out in advance. I’m also going to ask her for a referral to an attorney that deals with criminal charges against compromised adults. I can’t save them from themselves, but I can arm myself with information, prepared paperwork, and referrals.

And then I am going to sit back, close my eyes and meditate on raises, promotions, new jobs, photo shoots, and the incredible joy I feel when I think of what amazing women my daughters have become and what amazing men they have chosen as their partners.

In the movie Zorba the Greek, one of the characters gets asked if he is married and he says “I have a wife, children, house, everything…the full catastrophe.”

Life is a catastrophe, indeed. A wonderful, excruciatingly painful and beautiful catastrophe. I would complain, but then I think of Jesus’ life and all that He went through and I realize that even my Savior lived the full catastrophe, even if he never had a house and may not have had a wife and children.  It turns out that this is the nature of incarnate life, and I don’t know that I would honestly want it to be any other way.

 

I Promise

For all the parents out there…hang in there. It gets better. I promise.

Parenting is a thankless job that requires you to act wisely and lovingly even when you don’t feel very wise and you’re starting to wonder why you chose to breed at all.

Parenting requires you to do the right thing no matter how inconvenient, exhausting, or expensive doing the right thing is going to be.

Parenting requires you to hold firm to boundaries and rules even as your children scream that you are ruining their life.

And of course, you are ruining their life…at least the life they think they should have.

The problem with parenting is that there is nothing to give you that smug sense of assurance that you have made the right choices, held firm at the right times, and bent the rules in the right ways. There is no way to be sure that the parenting choices you have made will lead to a happy, healthy child.

In so many ways, parenting is a crapshoot.

Maybe you throw a 7, and maybe you crap out. ***

And the big fear that hangs over every parent is that your child will grow up, look back at their childhood, and declare you a bad parent.  The fear is that they’ll remember the discipline and not the lessons, the punishments and not the good times, the fights and not the nights spent at their bedside when they were sick.

Hang in there, parents.  It gets better. I promise.

Today my oldest daughter called me to thank me, saying that she had recently read that children gain confidence in themselves from their interactions with their parents.  She wanted to let me know how much she appreciated her father and I and how much time and attention we gave her.

I want to make this clear: I was not a stay-at-home mom, and her father wasn’t a stay-at-home dad.

We both worked full time.

Then Phil started graduate school just before I got my call into ministry. I quit my job and went to seminary full-time while Phil worked full time and attended one class per semester at ASU in pursuit of a Master’s in Computer Science Engineering.

Five years later, we graduated within 7 days of each other, having done a ton of creative things to get through the grueling 5 years it took for both of us to graduate.

My seminary was in California, so I had fly to school every week. I was gone for two days each week while Phil had to do everything and I do mean everything: he had to deal with both kids, his job, and all of his homework. It damn near killed him and there were many semesters when he was so busy that he felt exhausted and on the edge of tears almost every day.

And the kids?  They don’t remember how tired and emotional their father was. They remember that when I was gone at school, their father would pick them up from aftercare program and take them straight to the library where they would return last week’s books, pick out new books, and then listen as their father read to them for a good hour. Then they would go the park next to the library and play on the playground, where Phil would morph into the Tickle Monster. He would chase the girls and they would run (and scream…you can be certain that they screamed enough to drive a grown man crazy) until they were tired and hungry. Then he’d take them to Taco Bell for tacos or burritos and then home for a bath, more reading, and bedtime.

Trendy parents might scoff at the quality of the food he fed them for dinner, or the repetitiousness of the playtime. Other parents might complain that dad seemed more like a babysitter doing the “good time” stuff while mom got the laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping.

What my daughter told me was that while I was away, she and her sister soaked in their father’s undivided attention and adoration.  They became dyed in the wool “Daddy’s girls”…and both of them still idolize their father to the point that I actually apologized to my son-in-law when he married my daughter.  That might explain why he almost immediately moved her to Oregon. Hmmm…

ANYWAY…

You might wonder if my relationship with my daughters is tense and distant considering that I’m the one that kept leaving the state to go to school.

Nope.

In fact, I am very close with both my girls.

My oldest daughter said that she remembers spending summer breaks with me. I took her and her sister to swim team and dive team every day and then we’d rush home to watch I Love Lucy while we ate our lunches.  They’d spend their afternoons playing inside while I did laundry and cleaned house in between spates of doing homework.  When I had free time, we would make homemade jam or bake brownies together. Basically, I made food while they made a mess and then I got to clean it up.  My daughter said she could not imagine how I didn’t go crazy sitting there for hours in the heat and humidity (hello indoor pool) waiting for them, while they got to swim and dive and have fun.  Then she spent twenty minutes going on and on about how much fun it was when we would buy bagels from Einstein’s, and then go home and make homemade veggie cream cheese.

Listen parents: what I’m trying to tell you is that you are harder on yourself than your children will be when they look back. They won’t remember how crazy busy you were, not if you took a minute or two to braid a friendship bracelet with them, or to be the Swim Mom, or to be the library Dad. They will remember the times you danced in the Walmart aisles because a good song was playing, or the times you played nail salon, or the times you watched their favorite movie again and again.

You don’t have to be a perfect parent.

You don’t have to give them everything they want.

You don’t have to let them break the rules and get away with murder.

All you have to do is…

Be yourself.

My husband and I didn’t do these things because we are such spectacular parents. We did what we did because it made it easier for us in the midst of a very difficult time of our lives. It’s what helped us smile even as we were crushed under the load of work, kids, housework and homework.

Hang in there, parents! I have good news!

You are enough after all, and the likelihood is that your kids will one day tell you so, right to your face.

Hang in there. The good stuff is coming, I promise.

 

*** In case you’ve never heard of Craps    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craps#Rules_of_play

My Curmudgeon Speaks

Yesterday I drove a friend home from her chemotherapy appointment. She was starting a new regimen and wasn’t sure how she’d react to it, so she wasn’t sure she would be able to drive herself home.  I was grateful that I was able to help her, considering there isn’t much else that I can do to help her deal with having terminal cancer.  She, on the other hand, was sorry that she had to inconvenience me.  She is uncomfortable with the ways that cancer has forced her to rely on friends for help with stuff she used to be able to easily handle on her own.  I think anyone in her situation would be terrified of just how helpless they could become and how much they might have to rely on others to care for them and for their family before the whole thing would be over.

And you can’t really blame someone for feeling like that.

I don’t think anyone likes to ask for help from others. For some of us, asking for help makes us feel weak and incapable. Here in the US, we like to think of ourselves as independent and resourceful; we don’t rely on others, they rely on us.  How that equation is supposed to work is beyond me. If everyone relies only on themselves, then being reliable for others is impossible.  The math of this equation is beyond me, and I have two master’s degrees, so I’m not going to try and figure that one out. Instead, let’s deal with the assumptions that come with asking for help, one at a time.

Here we go, folks:

The truth is that humans are weak and incapable— every day, all the time, in one aspect or another of our life and health we humans are weak and incapable. Get used to it. No matter how healthy you are today, your body is ultimately frail and bound to fail.  Eventually we will all need the services of a surgeon, a physical therapist, a mental health counselor, an oncologist, a rheumatologist, or a neurologist (just to name a few.)  Eventually the frailty of our body will cause us to rely on our family, our friends, hired help, and even skilled nursing facilities just to be able to attend to our daily needs.  Our bodies are fascinating machines, capable of so much but they are also capable of terrible amounts of sickness, frailty, and failure.

Get used to it.  It isn’t a pleasant thought, but it is important to remember that birth is a terminal disease, as the mortality rate for human beings (as it is for all other living creatures) is 100%. If you are born, you will eventually die, and the majority of people will not come on their death suddenly but instead through a process of decline and increasing disability that will require the assistance of others in order to meet simple daily needs.

Having said that (rather bluntly…but I was hoping that we could talk turkey here on this blog)…

As a counselor, I frequently ask my clients why they have not asked friends and family for assistance when they are really struggling, and I get a host of reasons:

“I don’t want to be a bother.”

“I can never repay them for all their help.”

“I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.”

For my thoughts about the first one of those reasons, see the section above.  You will be a bother occasionally, and that’s the way life works. Get used to being human for the sake of everyone who loves you, please.

But what is our issue with needing to ‘repay’ the good that is done for us?

We seem to view assistance from others as if it is a loan we receive from the bank, requiring repayment with interest.  This is especially evident in the statement “I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.”  This betrays the belief that any assistance we receive is like a debt held over our head to be called in at random when it will be most painful or perhaps even destructive.

Folks…our friends and family members are not loan sharks lurking around, hoping that we’ll need something from them so that they can squeeze us later for whatever we’re worth. If the people who supposedly ‘love’ us behave like that, perhaps it’s time to consider finding a new group of friends and putting some distance between ourselves and our extended families, because there is no love in behavior like that.

The other thing that this attitude betrays is a transactional sense of friendship and love. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”  There is nothing wrong with reciprocity; it gets a lot done in this world. The thing about reciprocity is that it creates a closed system where you only ever give to someone who can give back in equal amounts.  The implication of such a system is that we often end up refusing to give to someone who cannot give back in equal amounts, and that puts service and random acts of kindness out in the cold. It also reduces all of our most loving relationships to simple transactions where we give only so that we can receive in kind.

And that seems to be a huge problem in our society these days: many of us refuse to give to others unless there is something explicit that we can receive in return.  And don’t start on me about how giving to others “feels good”, because the people who refuse to be beholden to others only give for the “good feeling” when their giving is to faceless others like the poverty-stricken folks in Africa.  It’s easy to give to faceless others, and so much harder to give or receive when the face before you is not only known, but in close relation to you; giving like that creates the emotional debt of “beholden-ness” that these people are trying so hard to avoid.

What would happen in the world if we simply abolished the concept of repayment when it comes to kind acts? What would happen if no one was ever beholden to the one who helped them?

I would remind you that Christ, who died so that we might know eternal life, did not expect a payback for his love or his sacrifice.  You cannot give God anything as God possesses everything.  God is not ever in need. Christ did, however, expect that we would take the grace and forgiveness that we received because of him and pass it on.  He asked that we go to all corners of the world, making disciples and teaching them everything that he taught us…basically he asked that we give away all that we’ve learned from him and all that we’ve received from him, and then teach the next recipient to pass it on just as we have.

Jesus…turns out he’s the guy who invented “Pay it Forward.”

Perhaps that’s the answer to our feelings of indebtedness when someone helps us. Don’t pay it back! Take the grace that we’ve been given and pay it forward to the next person who needs us. Give to others as we have been given to. Help others as we have been helped.  And give without thought of repayment because we have been given to by Jesus without any thought of repayment.

And when that day comes that we can no longer give to anyone—on the day that we find ourselves helpless to pay anything forward ever again—let us pay back the service we receive in humble thanks and genuine gratitude, something else that is in short supply these days.

Thank you for enduring my curmudgeonly frustrations.  It isn’t often that I want to use this space to rail against human foolishness.  You are a generous, giving reader and I intend to pay your kindness forward with a less curmudgeonly post shortly in the future.

That is all.