Note from Elizabeth/Heartspoken: One aspect of the Power of Connection that we haven't explored is the notion that connections can change, and when they do, the connection tools that we need will change too. This personal story from my guest, Lynn Goodwin, is one that many of you have—or will—experience. She uses journaling as a way to connect with herself, her feelings, and her situation. I'm grateful for these life lessons.
From Adult Child to Parent's Caregiver
One Saturday morning in June, I got a call from my mother who said, “The strangest thing just happened. I was standing in the kitchen, and then I was in the dining room, and then I was back in the kitchen, and back in the dining room, and back in the kitchen, but my hand never left the refrigerator door.”
I knew immediately that something was very wrong. My suspicions were confirmed when she added, “Can you come up here?” My mother was a proud, feisty, independent woman. She never asked for help.
“I’m leaving right now,” I said, while I pulled on my pants and searched for a shirt.
I grabbed my purse and keys and drove my Geo Prism to my mother’s condo in Rossmoor. I found her sitting on the white sofa in her breakfast nook. She was still wearing her favorite red robe, and her body leaned slightly to the right. “Are you all right?” I asked. “I’m fine as long as I’m sitting here.” Her forced smile was askew. Her body leaned to the right.
“I called an ambulance.”
“Good,” I said, though it was anything but good. Responsible maybe, but not good.
She leaned towards me and whispered, “I need to go to the bathroom before the ambulance gets here, but I can’t walk. Do you think I could hold on to you?” “Of course,” I said, hoping she could not hear my heart thundering in my chest. “Can you stand up?” She braced herself on the counter next to the sofa, and together we got her up. “Can I put my hands on your shoulders?” she asked. I should have thought to suggest it, but I had never helped my mother walk before. I didn’t know what I was doing. I only knew that I was needed. It was a simultaneously heady and scary feeling.
I didn’t know very much about the power of connection back then. I had never been a wife or mother. I had never even owned a pet. I wanted to help without trespassing on my mother’s independence. With her hands resting lightly on my shoulders, I guided her through the kitchen, across the living room, into the hall, and onto the toilet. I expected her to lurch and fall, but she never even gripped me tightly. I wasn’t sure I was helping. I couldn’t figure out my role….or hers.
I did not realize that our connection was changing, and I was moving into the parental role. I wasn’t even sure I was needed. That puzzling walk, in which my old role as daughter fell off and the role of caregiver began to slip on, became a metaphor for our new relationship, which lasted over six years. My task was to lead her so gently that she did not realize she was being led. I had just been laid off from my job at Ohlone College. I’d planned to train for a career writing computer programs, but first I had to take care of my mother’s needs. I believed they were temporary. So did she. Even after carotid artery surgery that summer, my mother insisted she did not need a caregiver. She was fine to live alone, as long as I came by every day, took out her garbage, drove her to her appointments, did her grocery shopping, picked up her mail….
Aging and caregiving sneaked up on us insidiously. She had needs. There was no one at home waiting for me, and I twisted my thinking until I believed she was doing me a favor when she begged me not to get a job because she needed me.
Journaling: Connection and Self-Care Tool
I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my resentments, so I turned to my journal. It let me vent, process, analyze, and find hope. It showed me the bigger picture. It helped me see what was beyond my control and see my mother and me in a new light.
I wish I had known that my mother had Alzheimer’s. It would have explained her inability to use the new microwave. It would have explained why her legs didn’t receive the messages her brain sent. It would have explained her endless grasping for the word “nectarine,” which she called an apple with a tiny core.
Eventually, my journaling helped me understand that I was an adult daughter doing the best she could against insurmountable odds. As I continued to journal after her death, I accepted my choices. Journaling provided a record. It was my place to reflect, discover, and forge a new connection with myself as well as my mother. Journaling was my own, private, gift to myself. If you are a caregiver, it’s okay to ask for help. It’s important to acknowledge that you have needs.
If you take care of yourself first, you’ll have the strength and energy to be a gracious caregiver for your loved one. Journaling can help you care for yourself. I could make my mother comfortable, run her errands, and help her out, but I could not stop the undiagnosed disease that was taking over her mind. After she was gone, journaling helped me see that I set unreasonable goals. It helped me forge a better connection with myself. When the doctor insisted she move to assisted living with five other aging people whose offspring didn’t check in daily or weekly, she realized how devoted I was. She began thanking me repeatedly. We forged a deeper connection.
I am grateful that she trusted me enough to put her care in my hands, and I am grateful for the insights I’ve gotten from journaling.
Has journaling ever been a helpful tool for you? I'd love to hear your comments below or join the conversation on my Facebook Page.
B. Lynn Goodwin is the author of You Want Me To Do What? – Journaling for Caregivers (Tate Publishing) which you can order from Amazon by clicking the image below. Her stories and articles have been published many places including Voices of Caregivers; Hip Mama; the Oakland Tribune; the Contra Costa Times; the Danville Weekly; Staying Sane When You’re Dieting; Small Press Review; Dramatics Magazine; Career; We Care; and The Sun. A former teacher, she’s conducted workshops and written reviews for Story Circle Network. She also writes for StudySync, and Caregiver Village. She facilitates writing workshops and publishes Writer Advice.
Click the book cover image below to get more information about this book or order from Amazon. As an Amazon affiliate, I will earn a small commission if you purchase from my link. This helps me defray the cost of operating this blog. Thank you!