Sometimes, It's Not a Responsibility But an Opportunity

Denise
photo-256888_640I had a coaching client a few years ago who did whatever she could to keep the responsibility of caregiving off the shoulders of her husband and her three children. Her mother's care, she decided, was a burden she must carry alone.

Except she couldn't, especially because the six of them shared a home. Trying to compartmentalize the burden meant she isolated her mom, creating invisible walls she hoped sealed her mom and her declines from the family. Her husband and her children took their cue from my client--disengaging from their mother-in-law and grandmother. The six spent much of the caregiving experience splintered.

When her mom began her final decline, my client focused on spending as much time as possible with her. During her mom's last week, she canceled most of her appointments outside the house, except for one she couldn't. Her husband encouraged her to go the support group meeting she led while he got dinner together for the kids.

It also meant he had to give dinner to his mother-in-law.

Her husband assured my client he would be fine and that she should go. And so he sat with his mother-in-law, feeding her dinner, placing a bite of food on a fork that he placed in her mouth.

It was the last meal she ate. She died six days later.

My client worried so much about unloading a responsibility that she inadvertently withheld an opportunity. At her mother's memorial, my client's oldest daughter, a teenager of 16, regularly said to her mom, "I should have done more to help."

When her husband reflects on the 10 years his mother-in-law lived with his family, he can take pride and comfort in knowing he helped at the end. Thank goodness for the chance he had to spend those moments, moments of tenderness and love, with his mother-in-law. He has a story of how he cared.

Richard's post, "Caregiving Or Just Plain Fun?" reminded me of this. I love that @Trish took a break to spend time with her daughter and for her own self-care. I also love that Trish returned home from her time away to tales of how much fun her husband and her brother-in-law had.

Sometimes, we just don't have others with whom we can share the caregiving experience. When we do, it's important to remember that sometimes we're not off-loading a responsibility but instead creating an opportunity. And, that opportunity will evolve into life-long memories that will bring much comfort. When we look back, we want to remember that we did, in our way, contribute to the difference.

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