Patience in Caregiving: Choosing Kindness
I remember one of the only times I saw my father cry like it was yesterday. It was during the summer of 1992. I was almost eleven. He was almost fifty, and his mother had just passed away. Sometime shortly after she passed, I was taking a shower and bumped into the shower wall sending a framed photo of her falling to the floor on the other side of the wall that was shared with our den. The glass broke. I remember him sobbing at the kitchen table as he pulled her picture out of the fractured glass shards. She had written a letter to him on the back of the print. As he read it, he looked at me through bleary eyes and told me to never fight or fuss with Mama.
My dad's regrets
He didn’t have a bad relationship with his mother. None of us did. We lived next door to her and saw her every day, but, in that moment, something was bugging him. I don’t know what spat he conjured up in his memory in that moment, but a few years ago I learned exactly how he felt.
Problems relinquishing control
Before Daddy’s brain hemorrhage, dementia diagnosis, and mental decline, we had a spat or two ourselves. Daddy had a lengthy and rocky medical history. He was mentally well for a long time, but he had slowed down quite a bit physically by the time I moved back home. As Daddy grew older, he had a very hard time relinquishing control of any sort. He wasn’t a mean man, but he had a temper and really wanted things done his way. Having had raised kids who sometimes shared his temperament, bumping heads over even minimal issues was inevitable.
As a predecessor to his obvious dementia, Daddy began asking where belongings were. He sometimes became accusatory and suspicious of us, his own children, at times. We laugh now about some of the hoops we jumped through to try to reassure him. He didn’t get out and walk around the property much anymore, so he didn’t actually set his eyes on every single thing he owned on a daily basis.
The arguments that ensued
At some point, my brother’s friend had borrowed a twelve foot long wooden trailer to move into a new house. Daddy, while returning from a store run with his sister, had stopped at the top of the hill to inspect the returned trailer. He got it in his head that it wasn’t his trailer. Arguments ensued.
He accused my brother of switching it with another trailer. My brother, exasperated, asked him why he would switch it with a trailer of the same size. Daddy argued that he hadn’t measured it. He didn’t know if it was the same size. Ridiculously, the ranting and raving ended with my brother and I parking the trailer right in view of the window where he sat so he could keep watch over it. No sooner had we moved the trailer through the yard did he call my cell phone to ask if I had seen his disc (disc harrow) in the field. He said he thought he had heard something being dragged down the road the day before. It was there. Nothing had moved or changed or been switched out.
These arguments peppered our days with Daddy for a while. I’m not proud at all, but I remember losing my cool with him a time or two. He could be maddening if things weren’t being done his way. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t tend to seek out confrontation or arguments. I’d rather walk away and let things go as much as possible. Those times that I didn’t walk away still haunt me, though.
I see a quote by the Dalai Lama often when I’m scrolling my phone or laptop. “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” I was kind and patient with Daddy about 95% of the time I lived with and cared for him until he died in 2016. It’s the 5% that still bothers me. It’s the same kind of 5% that bothered him when he lost his own mother in 1992.
So, guys, I know it’s hard. I know it’s tough. I know it’s maddening. I know your days may be riddled with accusations and hateful things may be hurled your way more often than is necessary. No matter how hard you have to clench your fists or bite your tongue, be slow to anger. Choose to walk away. Be kind. It’s always possible.
Are you feeling burnt out?