Breaking my Silence:
It’s been a challenging season for my mom and me. We’ve found ourselves going through many changes and challenges–together. She has ventured into the realm of cognitive decline, health failure, and physical limitations while I’ve experienced what it’s like to grow older both in mind and soul as I adapt to the ever-changing reality of her not going back to the mom of old. I’ve begun to accept this and, let me tell you, it’s heartbreaking.
At times, it leaves me depleted, exhausted, and with everything in me wanting to scream, lash out, and cry out to a God who I know hears me, but often feels distant. I still have hope and, always will, as my faith demands such a thing but the skeptic in me has found more comfort in the practicing an old spiritual principle: acceptance of what I cannot change. I am accepting the fact that my mom is no longer the mom of my childhood and never will be again. She is an aging adult who is experiencing the many consequences of years of unbridled living, long-term psychotropic medication use, and poor genetics. My heart breaks for her.
I feel sorry for my mom. I really do. I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be for her to begin to lose her short-term memory, experiencing confusion when doing simple tasks such as changing the channel on the television or even remembering if she showered or took her medicine that day. I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it is when I snap at her, out of frustration, and tell her for the 15th time that day, “I already told you that..” in response to her saying, “Oh, I didn’t know that..” or “You never told me.”
It’s frustrating and it’s exhausting, but it’s the norm for many adult children caring for aging parents. Honestly, I thought this time would come a little bit later, perhaps when I was 52 rather than 32. It sucks, to say the least, but, recently, my mind and heart have changed a bit toward my mom and this situation that we both find ourselves in. I’ve been looking at her through a more compassionate eye and find myself feeling more empowered to show her grace and love on the days that are anything but graceful and loving—for both of us.
So, how’ve I done it? Well, I’m going to share with you a few things that have helped me immensely in this process. I am by no means sharing an exhaustive or even professional list of what to do if you’re caring for a parent with health issues. With that said, I still think I can offer some wisdom because I think we can really help each other when we open up, move past the fake smiles and bullshit responses to “How are you?” and into the realm of vulnerability and sharing our struggles.
So, it’s with this spirit of vulnerability that I share my journey. I hope you’ll find something in it that helps you or even encourages you. You may feel alone and isolated in your experience, but I’ve there are others around you that know what it’s like to want to scream, cry, and cuss but choose to remain silent. This is me breaking my silence. I hope it will help encourage you to break yours. You’re not alone.
This is the first thing which has helped me, changed me, and supported me throughout this difficult time in my life.
My community is the reason that I don’t drink myself into oblivion, numb myself with pills, or find other vices to pull me down into a deep depression and further isolation. My community happens to be my church. I am no way saying this must be your community, however, I believe we are all better with a community or tribe to support us.
Most weeks, I meet with a group of men at my church. It’s a group of older guys with ages ranging from 30-80 who have all walked this journey of life a lot longer than I have. This group has encouraged me through their stories of caring for their parents, empowered me through their honest and vulnerable moments that they share which make them look less-than perfect and even more human, and their given me on the bad days when they say, “We’ve been there and you will come through it, too.”
I’ve also experienced community through some mothers at my church. I have about 5 of them, who each seek me out, on any given Sunday, and embrace me with great bear hugs. One mom has even told me that she’s “not touchy feely” and, yet, she hugs with me such compassion and strength that I can’t help but feel loved, held, and supported. Even as a 32 year old man, it changes things to feel embraced by love and it has certainly given me strength on days that I feel anything but strong.
I’m thankful for a supportive community.
This one could go hand-in-hand with community but to me, it’s a bit different. I’ve got a group of friends, a small group, about 5 people or so, who text me, call me, or check-in with me on a weekly basis. I also do that for them. I find this to be helpful because it helps to me step out of my mind and situation and into theirs. They remind me that we’re all facing different challenges in our lives and we all need support and friendship. It’s nice to be able to drop the act, take off the mask, and be myself with people who’ve seen me at my worst and my best. I’ll be forever thankful for “Team Dan 6”.
I have one friend, a brother, who has made it his sole purpose to help me have fun during this stressful time. Once or twice a month, he will invite me to his apartment for a weekend of video games, wrestling, and eating more pizza than God knows two grown men should eat, but it’s helpful, heavenly, and has saved me from soul crushing isolation more than once. My “brother” probably doesn’t even realize what this has done for me, but this separation and break from the constant barrage of stress and pressure has saved me from going backwards on more than one occasion. If you’re reading this, thank you, brother.
Creating something is my way of letting the steam out of the pressure cooker of my body, so to speak. At least, once a week, if not more, I take a walk and take photos. I don’t have any expectations of this walk other than creating pictures. I take my phone and shoot. I look for things that inspire me, things that ground me, and things that encourage me. I open my eyes and see the world around me and realize that there is more around me than what is going on in my head.
As I step out of my hurried and busy mind and into the world around me, I am awakened to the creative process which fuels my heart and soul. It renews me with vitality and gives me the strength to go on. I’m reminded that you cannot pour from an empty cup and being creative fills mine.
I’m thankful for the creative process.
For me, this takes the form of meditation and writing. I do both a few times a week. I’m not up to the point where either is a daily practice but it’s the end goal. I make sure to make time for both because, frankly, they help me gain perspective. Anyone who cares for an aging or elderly parent knows how taxing of a time this can be.
For me, both practices balance not only my heart and mind, but also my soul. Both practices have also helped me remain more mindful which, in turn, has helped me show more compassion and patience to mom on the bad days.
They’ve also helped me show compassion to myself, because as many of you know, you can be the least-compassionate with the person in the mirror and, at times, that person is who needs it the most because he or she is trying their best.
I’m thankful for my spiritual practice.
Exercise and Eating Well:
Nothing releases my stress and gets me out of my head and into my body like working up a good sweat. To be honest, since the end of March, I’ve lost around 44lbs (19.5 kilos). It’s a significant weight-loss and while I haven’t been trying, per se, but I have been focusing on giving my body a fighting chance while living in a constant state of stress. I’ve improved my eating including more lean protein, vegetables, daily vitamins, as well as cutting way back on things, like sugar, which usually only leaves me feeling good while I’m eating it and a moody jackass when leaving my system. I’ve started listening to my body and trying to give it what it needs. It’s a practice worth investing in if you haven’t.
Speaking of listening to my body, it has been screaming for years—MOVE! So, I’m listening. At this time, my two biggest activities that I enjoy are walking and weight lifting. I like walking because it reminds me that I’m always free and freedom is just a walk away. As a person very prone to anxiety and feeling the walls closing in, it’s good to get out, take a breath of fresh air and let my feet hit the pavement or, better yet, take off my shoes and feel the earth beneath me. It really does ground me. No pun intended.
As for weight lifting, I like this activity because it’s a visual reminder that, at times, life will put more and more on you, but if you’re willing to push through the extra weight you will come out stronger because of your resolve. Sure, you will be exhausted in that moment, but you will inevitably come out stronger and better because of it.
I’m thankful for the strength and resolve that I didn’t know I had but am finding.
Lastly, I rest. This has proven to be my most challenging practice because I always hear in my head while trying to rest “You’re being lazy..” “this needs to be done TODAY..” “Get moving..” etc.
I come from a pretty high-strung family who constantly stays busy, right Sis? Rest has never been something I’ve been comfortable with. It’s probably why I drank like a fish for years because I was unable to rest and relax on my own. I’m finding this practice to not only be helpful but necessary because if I am not well-rested, I see my work suffer, my relationships suffer, and inevitably increase the likelihood of a mood episode.
I’m thankful for rest and rejuvenation even when my body tries to fight it. It’s a meditative practice, of sorts, because everything in me screams not to which is how I know it’s very important.
As I said above, this is not an exhaustive list of “To Do’s” if caring for an aging or ill parent. Really, this list could apply to anyone caring for anyone, be it a parent, a child, a friend, etc.
This is what has helped me and is working for me, but your list may look much different than mine and that’s OK. Do I get it perfect every single day? By no means! But I find that if I spend some time doing the things that fill my cup and feed my mind, body, and soul then it is much easier to deal with the darkness that inevitably will come in this crazy experience we’re all in called Life.
I’d love to hear what you’re doing to fill your cup, how you’re coping with the role reversal in your lives of caring for aging and/or sick parents, and any advice you might have to offer others to help them take care of themselves.
Be well my friends,