Carol Bradley Bursack, Published June 15 2008
We can take comfort in knowing we did our bestDear Readers: The time between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is always introspective for me. Mother’s Day, in my mind, was a special day for my mother and mother-in-law. Even when I had children and my mother would say, “You need to remember this is your day, too.” I’d agree with her, but the day still seemed to be about the older generation. They were the mothers and fathers.
Now that generation of parents is gone. My kids make Mother’s Day special for me, and somehow, these days, I feel more like “the mother.” Could it be because I am no longer “the daughter?”
Father’s Day and my birthday are close together, sometimes even falling on the same day in June. It’s hard not to think often about my dad at this time. These holidays aren’t painful for me, just poignant.
Many of you know that I cared for a total of seven elders over the span of two decades. Needless to say, there was a lot of grieving over losses. There was a lot of scrambling to handle emergencies. There were a lot of difficult decisions to be made. There were times of major physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.
However, as a primary caregiver, there was a lot of joy as well. When caregiving is looked upon as part of our spiritual journey, I feel we caregivers are more able to see the joy that accompanies the sorrow. This isn’t a religious feeling for me, as in “my religion tells me I must honor my elders.” It’s spiritual in that caring for others touches that which connects me to God, to other human beings and the universe.
Knowing that I made a difference in the lives of these people I loved still gives me great comfort.
If I allow myself to wallow, I can struggle with guilt over not doing every little thing just the way they wanted, over misunderstanding a request, over having to say “No, I can’t do any more.”
However, I know that is foolish. I did the best I could, and I knew that on some level, they understood. I need to be as kind to myself as I am to those I care for. My best has to be good enough.
Now, unless I mess it up by second-guessing myself, I am able to feel joy. I am able to feel them with me, cheering me on in my new work. They have moved on from their physical lives, each of which ended with long, slow declines. But they have moved on. So must I.
What I dwell on is my choice. I can dwell on their painful last years. I can dwell on my own shortcomings as a caregiver. Or I can be grateful for the opportunity to give back to those who cared for me. I can remember the gratitude and the joy that was mixed with the sorrow and loss. I can remember their lives as whole lives, and I can do the same with myself. I can come out of this time of introspection feeling content that I did my best for all of them.
Bursack is the author of a support book on family elder care. To submit questions to “Minding Our Elders” and view past columns, go to www.inforum.com and click on columnists.
Readers can reach Bursack at firstname.lastname@example.org or write her
at The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.