Horne: Taking that next step in caring for an aging parent
When I jumped into the caregiving role of looking after my 92-year-old mom in my own home last year, it was simply a leap of faith.
I hadn’t thought at length about the decision, but acted more on intuition that it was what I needed to do.
I have shared much of the journey with you and all that I have been learning as I ventured along the emotional and physical process of caregiving as the weeks unfolded into months and the months into a full year.
I have been witness to many clients who are stepping into the decision of making a change away from a full-time caregiving role of a loved one and considering placement into outside care.
It is always easy to see in another that this is wise and that there is no need for guilt, as you have watched the loving attention that has been so freely given from a son or daughter to a parent or from one spouse to another.
But as with most experiences, when you are walking in the shoes yourself, the emotions and thoughts that are present in your body, mind and spirit feel all too real and overwhelming.
As the day-to-day stress of managing the ever increasing needs of caring for my mom began to take a toll on my own health, I was faced with diving deep into the well of my own psyche to understand why I struggled so with letting her go.
Ma Deva Padma writes in the Tao Oracle: An Illuminated New Approach to the I Ching about this: “The journey toward self-knowledge requires that we willingly enter the darkness of uncertainty. Becoming more aware has its own timing, profound in its perfection that has nothing to do with our personal preferences. Insight only ever comes from totally living your own experience and being guided by your own heart.”
I have now moved mom into being cared for by others until she is ready to take her final passage. It has seemed like an agonizing process to get to where I could let go of the vision that I had created in my mind of keeping her with me until the end. She has her own intricate life process to follow and only she is in charge of how that will unfold.
The question was becoming: What was my life journey and how could I make a decision that in a sense put myself first and released this overwhelming sense of responsibility that I felt for caring for my mother?
This was a responsibility that had started, not just in these aging years, but when I was only 10 and her mental health became tortured by depression and anxiety. Two souls entwined together, as caregiving became my role at an age that was much too early to take on.
And so, yet another transition unfolds. Once the difficult decision and arrangements were made to move mom, I felt a great sense of relief.
My husband and I would look at each other over the days that followed with a twinkle in our eyes, sensing the anticipation of having a more normal life together again.
Other nights I would leave his presence and go into the quietness of a bath to be alone, where the tears freely flowed as I thought of letting mom go and felt the guilt and sadness that were also ever present. It wasn’t what I had planned, but then I really never knew what the plan was.
I entered willingly, but had created my own ending that felt comfortable and right for me.
Becoming attached to an idea always brings emotional difficulty. We really have no control and the pain of letting go of an assumption that we do, is what really causes the pain.
Adapting to this external change will take time. I do feel like I have abandoned her and the emptiness of the house is surprisingly difficult.
It is hard to relax and just do things for myself. It is hard to leave her after my visits, wondering if she will be taken care of properly.
So I go back to the well.
As Ma Deva Padma goes on to say, “The well symbolizes the place within each of us that is a deep and ever-present source of renewal, its serene depths uncorrupted by the personality. It is the source from which intuitive knowledge springs. Wisdom is drawn out of its depths, from the darkness of the unconscious into the light of understanding. In order to receive the refreshing benefits of the well, you must dive deep, turning your attention inward and bypassing external influences. Approaching the heart of wisdom requires humility: You must go naked, carrying no props for the ego, wearing no masks of persona; unencumbered by the weight of fears or doubts, you can plunge in.”
It is sometimes cold, this water, but relaxing until the warmth comes seems to be called for. As I move forward, this past year of experience will forever be treasured for all of the gifts I have received, the insights that I still am learning about myself, relationships, sacrifice and unconditional giving. Mom continues to give me the strength to come to a greater place of being whole and accepting that this often comes with the letting go of doing.