Well, it’s been some time since my last post. Mostly, I’ve been swamped with work and my new chauffeurring responsibilities since Dad has lost his license. It’s been a very difficult transition for both of us, and we are (I should say, “I am”) only now marshaling the energy to explore new options. One that I’m hoping may work out is getting Dad to agree to pay for a companion to get him out and about a couple times a week. We talk with one highly recommended possible candidate next week – fingers are crossed.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of blame/fault during this whole process – I just want to shout “It’s not my fault” at him, sometimes, when he tells yet another stranger the sad tale of losing his license and how it just didn’t need to happen, with me sitting 3 feet away. It did need to happen, I want to say – and maybe, just maybe, if you’d eaten more (or, for that matter, any) vegetables and less steak, bacon and Scotch, your body wouldn’t have betrayed you in this way.
More recently, I’ve been working at stepping back and ignoring, which helps limit the explosive arguments the two of us can get into with each other. But removing myself that way and emotionally disengaging feels almost as harmful to the relationship as a go-for-the-jugular blow-up. In a way, it feels like a kind of abandonment.
So, I’ve found myself working my way through a progression of realizations – or, maybe, a realization of the realizations I need to pass through to get to a point of peace these days. It is, as the therapeutic community loves to say, “a process.” But I’m going to share these waypoints, as I see them, more as a way of talking them through for myself than as any sort of prescription for anyone else going through the process.
It’s not your fault. The person you’re caring for just got old, or got sick, or got sick and old. It’s not your fault. Getting comfortable with accepting this one has helped me a lot in the last few weeks – because, if it’s not my fault, then I’m also not responsible for making everything better. I can do my best to listen, help out and present alternatives, but I’m not on the line for making it all o.k., again.
It may be, at least partially, his/her fault. People don’t like admitting this one, I don’t think, because it can come across as blaming the victim, or hitting a guy when he’s already down. But the fact of the matter is that life choices today can affect quality of life tomorrow. People who keep smoking may well have serious issues with COPD 20 years from now. And people like my father, who refuse to change their fat-, salt- and Scotch-laden diets, despite serious kidney disease and congestive heart failure – well, they’ll probably pay a price in mobility, energy and presence of mind going forward.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. I don’t mean that you have to go back to thinking you actually can make it better – I just mean that, if you’re there, you still have to deal with the situation at hand, whatever that might be. You just can’t turn the fact that it isn’t your fault into a position of placing the blame for all current difficulties onto the person for whom you’re caring, or you’ll end up eating yourself up with anger.
Whenever possible, strive for kindness. (Note the caveat “whenever possible.”) This is much easier if you can get to the “it doesn’t matter” point in your head. But, even if you can’t, working toward a point of kindness might help you slowly ease toward that direction – sort of like how smiling when you’re unhappy can sometimes actually turn your mood around.
So, I don’t want you readers to think that I’ve gone through some zen-like transformation in the last six weeks. The anger I described in my last post is still there, I’ve just begun to realize that I can’t keep holding onto it and maintain a workable relationship with my father at the same time. This is one reason why, next week, I’m going to be seeing a therapist who has a sub-specialty in working with caregivers. As has been said in a completely different context, recognizing you have a problem is often the first step in solving it.