I recently took a walk with a friend whose mother is ninety-four years old.
While our dogs ran and played, she shared her recent experience of trying to purchase three roundtrip airline tickets: one for herself, one for her mother, and one for her brother. Her goal was to set up a series of family visits this coming summer. But the details of the arrangements were mind-boggling! And it struck me that the resulting crazy travelogue is symbolic of the tender dance her family is doing in this era of caring for her extremely aged mother.
The thing my friend most wanted to talk about was her struggle to reconcile past and present where her family relationships are concerned.
She shared her awareness of a kind of higher moral consciousness she feels is guiding her choices and decisions now in spite of her ancient childhood hurts which, not surprisingly, are coming up again. She’s been going out of her way to try to improve the quality of her mother’s life even though it’s taking a huge toll on her own time, energy, and emotional wellbeing.
The worst thing for her is that she’s not feeling appreciated at all.
Her mother’s lack of acknowledgement of her efforts is triggering familiar hurts that date back to her childhood.
And even though she knows that her mother has never been forthcoming with expressions of appreciation or warmth, she’s lamenting it all over again, and even somehow more so, now.
The time has come for her to let go of her lifelong yearning for the mothering she knows she did not and will not receive in this lifetime.
Amidst such heartache, how is she, or any of us, to accomplish this delicate, poignant task?
From the logistical to the emotional, caregiving is a daunting task which often puts our best coping skills to the test.
What then are we, poor souls caught between the rock of our present-moment demands and the hard place of our filial obligations, to do?
The dilemma is both existential and practical.
But if you are suffering the cumulative toll of caregiving and struggling for relief, healing, and restored wellbeing, the good news is that the practical question has a surprisingly simple answer.
ABC stands for Acceptance, deep and complete, one Breath at a time, with Compassion for self and for others.
“Acceptance, deep and complete” of everything and everyone as it is, as they are, right now, without judgment. Because the vast majority of the suffering we experience in these situations comes from non-acceptance.
One Breath at a time because the more deeply and regularly we breathe, the less vulnerable we are to anxiety, the more clearly we think, and the less likely we are to feel quite so exhausted and overwhelmed. Even if we have to repeat our deep breaths many times in the course of a day (or even an hour), the truth is that even just a few of them really can make a huge difference.
With Compassion for self and others because caregiving scenarios are inescapably difficult, whatever their details. Everybody is vulnerable in one way or other. It’s hard for everyone involved.
Equally important is the fact that this kind of compassion is highly correlated with the reduced stress and improved emotional wellbeing you’re trying to achieve. It’s that simple.
Therefore, you’ve got to muster the kind of kindness you’d be inclined to offer anybody else and then treat yourself, and others too, that way. And you’ve got to do it even if you don’t feel it. You’ll be surprised what a difference it can make.
The path through the caregiving experience is not a straight line or a superhighway.
It’s a winding road, or a snaky mountain pass, and it’s definitely a country mile. The thing to remember is that it goes where it goes and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The trick is to be able to support yourself along the journey that is uniquely yours. The better you can do that, the better you’ll fare at those times when the going gets tough.
You can practice ABC anywhere, anytime, whenever you need it. So it makes you less at the mercy of whatever is happening in the moment. And that’s empowering.
However your heartache came to you, ABC really can get you moving again toward restored serenity, peace, and the kind of emotional wellbeing you want.
All you have to do is practice. Moments a day is all, more is better, and anything is good.
Click here to listen to the podcast I recorded for you about “The ABCs of Caregiving.”