Mark visited his mom every other day religiously. Living close to the memory care facility that she resided, it was easy for him to stop by after work, during a lunch break or for brunch on the weekends. Marks father had passed away 6 months ago, and since then Marks mom had not spoken much. Not feeling the need to fill the space with useless chatter, Mark was comfortable holding his mom’s hand, brushing her hair and sitting in silence.
Marks sister, Diane, had only visited their mom once in the past three months. Diane lived 40 miles away and seemed to come up with a myriad of excuses as to why she was not available. Sometimes she would blame the bad weather, other times she would claim issues with her own children. Either way, Mark was frustrated with her lack of involvement.
Mark was beginning to feel overwhelmed with care plan meetings, the financial management, and doctor visits. He found himself complaining openly about the burden that he felt being alone in caregiving. What bothered him most was the lack of involvement by Diane. He could not belive how much she seemed to dread visiting, and when she did it was so awkward, even his mother was uncomfortable.
One afternoon Diane texted Mark to inform him that she was coming out to visit their mom and that he “didn’t need to be there.” The text outraged Mark. He could not conceive why she was being so rude. Why wouldn’t she want him there? He was the only one that knows how to be with her? Begrudgingly he didn’t visit mom that day, giving Diane the space she so clearly desired to fail.
The next day at work Mark found himself at the picnic table at lunch, airing his grievances to some co workers. One of his colleagues Abigail, pursed her lips in confusion as he spoke. His other coworker, Mary breathed a sigh and an audible “hum?”
Mark was taken aback by their responses to his complaints, “Don’t you understand. She is just so rude. That text is so obvious!” Both Abigail and Mary exchanged glances and then looked back at Mark asking for permission to speak freely of their own opinions on the matter.
Mark agreed with hesitation, rolling his eyes at the prospect of his colleagues giving him useless advice.
Abigail asked Mark how good Diane was when communicating with their mom. Mark chuckled sarcastically, “She’s terrible,” he began, “She has no idea what to say and hates the uncomfortable silence. She fills the space with useless chatter and questions.”
Abigail nodded, understanding completely, “Do you think she knows that? If she knows how bad she is and how good you are, maybe she is intimidated when she tries to visit. She knows she cannot deliver connection, so she is reducing her own pressure by asking for you not to be there. Have you ever considered that possibility?”
Taken aback by the idea, David shot his glance down towards his half eaten sandwich on the bench, “ I guess she could be uncomfortable comparing herself to me, but she is missing a chance to learn from me too.”
Mary piped in, “I see another possibility. Maybe she texted you to NOT to come because she wanted you to feel free for a few hours. Maybe she was giving you a surprise chance to recharge, a gift.”
David rolled his eyes in frustration, “… yeah, right!”
Later that evening as Mark drive home he considered the new perspectives. Although lunch had been frustrating, it had also been enlightening. Maybe there was more than one way to look at the current situation. Perhaps he was blinded by his own agendas to see clearly and consider other options.
That night after dinner Mark called his sister. Diane was surprised to hear from Mark, but listened to what he had to say. Mark explained that he had been wrong to judge how and when she would visit their mom. He apologized for his misunderstandings and any pain they may have caused her. He even thanked her for giving him a much needed break over the weekend.
Diane cried on the phone, she finally felt understood. By the end of the conversation they had set up a time to visit their mom together. It was the first time Diane looked forward to visiting her mom in over 2 years, now having someone there that could show here how to reach mom and make it meaningful…when all this time she had felt so alone, unsure and embarrassed.
Filed under: Aging Parents, Aging Space, caregiving, Communication, Dementia Care, Empathy, Family, guilt, Health Care, Make Your Partner Look Good, Memory Loss, Moving Parent to Nursing Home, Nursing Care, Parents, Patient Advocacy, Relinquish Your Agenda, shame