Susan’s messages tell my story in a beautiful way and I will never forget her wisdom and love.
My story with Susan began in the beginning of 2008 when she encouraged me to speak to my brothers and let them know I was overwhelmed by my parents’ care. I sent her this message:
Hope you are well. Ever since seeing you, my situation with my brothers has been gnawing at my insides. I decided to start seeing a therapist to help me deal with my frustration over my brothers. The disappointment is overwhelming sometimes, yet I’m still so afraid to ask for anything from them. Asking for something monetary makes me feel badly, and I feel would upset my parents, as well.
I remember you said you could “talk” to them. Would you feel comfortable writing something for me? I would be forever grateful. Thank you again for your supportive gesture and compassion that day I saw you.
It was great to see you and your parents, and I’m so glad your mom is doing better. I must say it was a bit of a shock to see how much they had aged. I guess I will always think of them, as they were when your brothers and I were little kids – before you were even born! At any rate, my mom had a wonderful time spending the day with them, and she couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful you were with their care.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t stop wondering how you do it without going stark raving crazy yourself. Standing there in your kitchen and taking it all in, I was horrified to learn that your brothers don’t share any of this responsibility with you
I just can’t believe it. I know every family has complicated issues around caring for the parents in their old age, and I also know that it’s a little easier when you are single and don’t have spouses and your own children to deal with at the same time. But surely you and your brothers could have some kind of an arrangement where they helped out with some of the planning or the decision-making or just spending time with your folks to spell you for a while. You can’t go on doing all this yourself. You will get ill, and then you won’t be able to care for anybody.
What do your brothers think would be happening to your folks if you hadn’t stepped in to keep them at your house?
It’s always easy for an outsider to have an opinion about how to fix things, so forgive me for mixing in on what I’m sure is a painful subject all around. But it just broke my heart to see what pressure you were under, and I hope they will step up and do the right thing.
I didn’t send your amazing letter and decided to set up a therapy session with my brothers. The anticipation for this meeting was tough; I am very relieved that it’s over! Was it successful – did I achieve anything? Those questions are hard to answer. Both my brothers are business professionals, and I fault my parents for raising them with that being their highest priority.
Their response to my being overwhelmed was for us all to ask my parents to leave. I explained that I didn’t see them surviving very long in another temporary situation; but at least it was open for discussion.
I hugged them both after, and that was worth it. Although I’m disappointed that they couldn’t help me more, I’m not surprised. If I weren’t around, they wouldn’t do anything differently. I am proud of what I am doing by making a difference to my parents’ lives. I accept my brothers’ limitations.
You helped lighten my load by encouraging me to seek their help. Hopefully, if things get tougher, they will be more emotionally supportive (if nothing else) since I’ve started a dialogue with them. Thanks again for everything. I appreciate you so much.
Eventually my parents went into assisted living. A year later at the end of 2009, my mother fell and broke her shoulder. While in the hospital recovering from surgery, she contracted pneumonia and was put on a respirator. Her ordeal lasted six weeks. I wrote a lot of emails to my friends and family to gain support.
Judy, my prayers are with you and your family. I’m thinking only positive thoughts. Love, Susan
When I didn’t send an update for a few days, Susan wrote:
You see how dependent I’ve become on your twice-daily news feed? Hope quiet means your mom is doing uneventfully well. She is in our prayers. You have created an amazing support group, and I’ve learned a ton just hearing the stories from your friends in the forwarded emails.
Hope tonight is another peaceful one for you and your mom. All the best from the Rasky clan, especially from my mom to your parents. Love, Susan
After my mom was weaned off the respirator, Susan wrote:
You are totally amazing, and I’m glad that emailing is an outlet for you. I realize you don’t have time or means for vacations, but if you and your husband ever want a weekend getaway up here, I have a den with private bathroom that makes very nice guest room and you would be most welcome. Keep me posted. I’m counting the days with you. Love, Susan
Susan shared how much she learned from my experiences with these messages:
All of this makes me so scared about my own mom, especially since she doesn’t live close by. You are the canary in the coalmine, Judy. I’m learning from you every day. Take care of yourself, and keep sending email. Love, Susan
I always felt her indignation at the horrors I experienced with my mother’s hospitalization.
I know it must be hard not to doubt yourself in this, but I swear Judy, you are not off the deep end. What you see and report are real issues in the care of older people. I shudder to think about the care or results for those who don’t have care managers like you. Your parents, and brothers, are very, very lucky.
Susan always gave me concrete advice to help me cope with my stress:
I think a personal caregiver is a great idea – you might tell your dad that care of your mom is not your responsibility; it is his, and if he can’t handle it (as he tells you he can’t) then he needs to spring for a personal caregiver. Tell him you are overwhelmed with issues affecting your own children. Tell your brothers that they need to make this pitch with you and that you need to work out a shared schedule with them so that you divide the responsibility of the parents among the three of you. Ask your therapist to help you work out the way to say this to your parents and your brothers.
And ask your husband to help you figure out how to talk to your dad. It is also his house and family, too, and every minute you devote to arranging the parents is a minute you take away from your own marriage and kids. I know I’m speaking without knowing all the details, but Judy, you are entitled to your own life, and some of this stuff your parents have to work out for themselves.
It’s ok to be human. You can’t always be superwoman. Something has to give. There is enough stress to it just being a regular daughter, why do you have to be the best, most burden-taking daughter in the universe?
Much love, Susan
Susan was always concerned about the burden I carried. Very little changed for me as I continued to feel the weight of the world upon my shoulders.
Can your husband step in on some of the responsibilities for the kids? You haven’t talked about him at all through this, and I don’t want to pry. I find sometimes that when I feel like the whole burden is on me and I get sick or falter, other people surprisingly step up to the plate. Maybe time your Dad did. Maybe he could help at home?
Your brothers and Dad have essentially placed this responsibility on you, and so far all of your instincts have been a/spot on and b/pretty damn selfless. It kills me that you should have to work in spite of the medical professionals, rather than with them, in keeping your mom cared for properly. You have a hell of a book to write if you ever get a moment to think again.
Eventually, I insisted upon hiring a companion for my mother even though my father was against it. That decision ultimately saved me. Miriam was a miracle in my life.
My music and blog sustained me throughout.
And my wise friend, Susan, was always there in the wings to offer her support.
Judy, you are an amazing role model for your children – and nieces and nephews. Certainly you’ve been one for me. How I wish I could do something to help you more concretely. Just know that you have my support and love, and when your mom is ready to hear some of what you went through, I will be there to tell her.
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