After my mother suffered her stroke, I subscribed to all kinds of forums and discussion boards aimed at caregivers. It was definitely helpful to hear other people’s perspectives on the issues I was encountering. I learned some valuable, practical information. Knowing that other people struggled with the same feelings helped me tolerate the conflicting emotions I had misfiring all throughout my sympathetic nervous system.
There was one recurring theme that kept coming up in different posts that I just couldn’t get behind, however. So often a participant would write to encourage someone in the throes of caregiving by saying that the day would come when the caregiver would be grateful for the experience. While I was living it, I don’t know that I could ever really say I was grateful for the experience. It wasn’t that I thought the well-intentioned commenters on the discussion boards were lying. The term “Pollyanna” might have come to mind. On the whole, I accepted that those people were being honest about their own experiences and their feelings of gratitude, but their experiences just didn’t seem to apply to me.
People said that caregivers end up triumphing over the drudgery, exhaustion, and sadness. They said that it is common to transcend the difficulties of the long struggle so that providing care becomes easier. I didn’t see how that could happen with me, as inept as I was. They said that the difficulties of caregiving take a backseat to the benefits the caregiver receives, like the satisfaction of providing for a parent’s comfort. I didn’t see myself really providing for my mother’s comfort, just witnessing her decline. They said that a caregiver can consider any additional time with the dying parent to be a gift. I often felt like this gift came at too high a cost to both my mother and me. They said that, no matter how painful and difficult it is to walk with a parent on this final journey, the caregiver is rewarded by a closer, more intimate and loving relationship with the parent. I didn’t see how this could be possible with my mother and me. Our relationship has always been closer than that of any other mother and daughter I know.
So, all in all, I could not find much for which to be grateful while slogging through the tragedy of my mother’s last thirteen months of life. I admit that I found the folks who posted about the “gift” of being a caregiver to be somewhat suspect. When I read those posts, I remembered the saying, “If you can keep your head while everyone around you is losing theirs, perhaps you don’t understand the situation.” In other words, if the posters who were touting the joys and benefits of being a caregiver were sincere, perhaps they didn’t really understand the situation. I admit that this was probably a bit of misplaced anger on my part. Still, I also knew that I was not finding caregiving to be a gift. I felt that I was somehow fundamentally flawed because I couldn’t get past the pain to grasp the joy.
Now that my mother is gone, I am beginning to understand a little better. I can look back and be grateful for the time we had together at the end of her life. I was not a very talented caregiver, but I did learn a lot of the skills necessary. I see that my mother did derive substantial comfort from my presence. Yes, it was very difficult for me to observe my mother’s decline, but I do now appreciate the time I had with her in the last months. Even though we have always been exceptionally close and our ability to communicate verbally all but disappeared in my mother’s last months, I feel our intimacy grew richer and stronger and more honest as we took this journey. No, I never did get completely past the drudgery and exhaustion and sadness, but I do now see the gift. The gift was loving my mother through it all and letting her love me. Now I am thankful for it.
Gratitude deferred is not gratitude denied. Gratitude deferred is growth.
Have you ever had an experience that you hated while going through it, but came to appreciate it after it was over? Please join the conversation and tell us about it! Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a thankful day!
P.S. Special programming announcement…. I am going to be on a trip around the world (Disneyworld, that is) for a few days next week. I’ll be posting on Thursday evening instead of Wednesday morning.