I confess: I complained.
To my husband, my sister, and my close friends, I complained. Sometimes with loud, angry words; sometimes with quiet, hopeless words; sometimes with wordless tears. I whined about being too tired to enjoy an evening out or too sad to plant my annual vegetable garden or too stressed to relax, even when I wasn’t taking care of Mom.
The people I complained to were also the people likeliest to visit Mom and Dad—my husband, my sister, and one or two other close family members. Dad discouraged visits from almost everyone else. Actually, he pretty much told them not to come.
Dad could say “No” to company in a plethora of ways. “The house is a mess. I can’t find time to do much cleaning. We’re in and out a lot. Marie might be asleep at any hour of the day. We don’t have any kind of schedule.” Dad stored all his reasons right on the tip of his tongue and they were, eventually, very effective. Although early in Mom’s illness, a few neighbors and friends tried to ignore his words and visit anyway, they surely noticed, even from the sidewalk, the front windows barricaded by the blinds Dad kept closed for just that circumstance. Still, he complained, some persisted. They knocked and/or rang the doorbell, but after waiting in vain for someone to open the door, they finally gave up, stepped off the porch, and didn’t return.
Dad would have his way, no matter what.
What he called protecting his privacy became, for me, isolation. Every morning, I arrived with a heavy uncertainty of what the day would bring. And at the end of the most difficult days, I spent much of my drive home preaching to myself: “Do not carry this frustration home with you. Don’t spend your free time complaining. Mom can’t help her behavior. Dad tries his best. You at least get a break. He’s there all the time. Don’t criticize him for wanting to do this his way. And don’t complain and whine when you get home. There’s nothing anyone can do about it. Just forget about it and relax.”
My preaching seldom worked. Almost every night I filled my husband’s ears with grumbling and complaints, his mind with the difficult scenes of my day, his spirit with the weight and the cruelty of Alzheimer’s. Later, as I lay in bed, I spent sleepless hours beating myself up for dumping my pain in his lap. “Wrong! You’re so wrong to whine and complain. What good does it do you to help when you make other people miserable with your pain? You’re weak. You must be the weakest daughter in the world. The weakest wife in the world.”
I was correct in saying I was wrong. Wrong in so many ways. But not in the ways I thought.
- I was wrong not to challenge Dad about visitors. Seeing more familiar people might have kept Mom engaged in the family—more engaged, for a longer time.
- I was wrong to think that because Dad was there with Mom all the time, he knew better than I what would work and what wouldn’t, what would help and what wouldn’t. The uninterrupted stress and anxiety he dealt with clouded his vision and interfered with his judgment.
- I was correct that Mom couldn’t control her behavior, but I sometimes forgot the truth we had observed in so many circumstances: Dad and I could influence her reactions. We might have learned that Mom enjoyed visitors, even if Dad didn’t.
- I was wrong to believe that talking to other people about the caregiving problems we faced was a bad idea. Talking to others was a good thing, if I did so believing that something good could come of it. People able to look at situations and behaviors more objectively than I could make fresh suggestions. Thank goodness, I learned that truth early enough to benefit from it.
- I was wrong to think that talking about my pain was weak. Again, if I could share my frustration, anger, hurt, and sadness with someone who knew me well—if I could do that in the belief that something positive could come from it—then sharing was a good thing. A very good thing. There’s something about talking, just talking, about a problem that gives us relief. I can’t explain it, but I know from experience it’s blessedly true.
- I was wrong to think I was the weakest daughter, the weakest wife. Good heavens and thank goodness, there’s no scale to measure such things. I was just feeling sorry for myself. I was saying “I must be the weakest, because no one else has to deal with what I have to deal with.” And of course that was wrong, too. There’s no scale by which we can compare our pain with someone else’s. What we can do is look at our own situation and choose: Will I continue to fight this battle or not? We all choose; we just decide.
- Finally, I was wrong to call myself weak. Alone, I was weak, but I was never alone. God, almighty Creator of the universe, was with me every second. He strengthened my spirit, and He sent me people with knowledge, experience, listening ears, and kind hearts to fight at my side. Some of those people were friends and relatives. Some were medical professionals. Many were fellow caregivers I met and talked to in Alzheimer’s support groups. And many were people I didn’t even know who prayed–and still pray–every day for caregivers. Like the presence of the Lord, those people were with me; they kept me from the weakness of feeling alone.
I pray you remember:
- Trust yourself.
- You have options.
- You can choose. You can decide.
- Share your feelings. Share your experiences. You may keep someone else from feeling alone.
But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (1 Corinthians 12:9-11 NIV).
Yes, Lord, I believe that Your power is sufficient for me. I am comforted by the vision of You standing beside, fighting for me, for my loved one. Thank You for reminding me: I am never alone.