Sometimes, It's Not a Responsibility But an Opportunity


Sometimes, It's Not a Responsibility But an Opportunity

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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Denise, This is a wonderful post. As caregivers I know it's hard to ask for help and easy to feel like we are imposing on others.\r\n\r\nThe post reminded me of what a good friend told me. Her son died of leukemia after a 4 year battle. I actually knew her son first, he used to come to work with her when he was not up for school. He would hang out in my office (he had a crush on my pretty young office partner.) He was the most amazing 9 year-old. But I digress.\r\n\r\nBack to the point. My friend said that over those years she learned that people want to help -- that they feel helpless and have the need to do something. So she learned to say yes and let others help mow her yard, fix her plumbing, trim her bushes. She learned to graciously accept food, let other's pay the restaurant tab, throw fund raisers and plan for fun trips for her son. She realized it helped her, her friends and neighbors, and most of all let Stevie know he was loved by many.


This is thought-provoking. I do this with my husband, though not my son. I don't want to push him beyond his comfort zone, but I tend to assume I know where the boundaries lie. I do feel like my mom's care is my responsibility, not his, and its his income and generosity about it that allows me not to work very much, or maybe one day not at all. So part of me feels like, how can I ask for more than that? But what opportunity am I keeping him from. . . ? I'm thinking about this now.