I find it difficult to admit that I found myself yelling at my mother, in total frustration, “Stop spitting out your food!”
I actually had to leave the room. I stood by the kitchen sink and screamed, shook my fists at Fate, and started crying. Then I swiped my tears with a paper towel, inhaled half-a-dozen shaky breaths, and returned to my mother where, with a façade of calmness, I continued spooning lunch into her mouth, apologizing profusely for losing my temper.
As much as I want my mother’s days to pass with as little stress as possible, I know that my temper may bubble up when she dumps her Coke on the carpet. I know that when she insists that she wants to get out of bed, Mom may end up yanking her feet in the opposite direction and pull back against me in unexpectedly forceful resistance as I try to lever her into her wheelchair. I know she may tell me she’s hungry, and then refuse to eat. I know she may squirrel her medications in her cheeks and spit them out into her napkin.
I cannot take on guilt for my failings. The weight I carry as a caregiver taxes me enough. I don’t need to add to the load by picking up bricks of self-reproach because I’m not perfect. I know a professional caregiver would never raise her voice at my mother, but I’m not a professional caregiver.
No one modeled the best way to clip my mother’s finger and toe nails as she pulls away her hand or foot in uncontrollable movement. No one showed me how to bathe her, or wash her hair, or comb it to keep the tangles out. No one modeled the best way to feed her to avoid choking. No one prepared me for how to help her move her bowels. No one trained me for ten to twelve hours shifts often spent in near isolation.
When other family members offer to give me a break, I never think twice about accepting their help. My husband and son, my sister and brother, have all taken up the duties of a caregiver. They each step into my world and provide the relief I desperately need by the end of a long day or week.
So if I find myself yelling at my mother, I’m not going to flagellate myself for being less than perfect. I will apologize to her, and I will remind myself that I am only human.
Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman