My mother died five days ago at 6:15 AM. She’d fallen the week before and broken her hip. We knew the time was short and her passing was a sad relief. She died at home and pain free (thanks to morphine and the wonderful hospice caregivers). I stood on one side, my father on the other.
My parents had been married 64 years (that’s 33,000,000 minutes or so Dad says). As we sat at that hospital bed with her between us, he said, “She was good woman, a good wife.” Then he chuckled and added, “But she had her shiny spots.” What a relief to not pretend my mother was perfect.
Then he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “You were a good daughter.” It seemed the pretending had begun.
My mother suffered either from bi-polar (like me) or severe depression for at least sixty years. For the next several posts, I will write about my personal experience watching her pass. I hope someone will find this useful as I intend to be brutally honest with you and myself. I will be judged harshly but I will not pretend.
She broke her hip very early on a Saturday morning. I need to back up to the Friday before. I had planned to visit my parents that Friday. Visiting them (or her specifically) was always hard because I resented what she had become or what she allowed herself to become and her refusal to try to improve. Every time she went in the hospital (and we lost count long ago), they would send her to PT and then send a PT for home visits. She’d be given an exercise prescription that would strengthen her legs so she could take care of herself.
She didn’t do those exercises. And, to make matters worse, she lied about it. She also refused to eat and/or refused to eat anything healthy. Yet, she wanted to go to a gastroenterologist. As a matter of fact, she wanted to go to all the -ologists. Before we implemented hospice, she was on nineteen different medications and some weeks she saw a different doctor every day. *
We didn’t have a lot in common. She only watched TV and it’s very secondary for me. She never read and I only read. She cared about my kids, but “the kids are doing fine” only goes so far (seriously, they are great but there isn’t a lot of interesting “news” with them). So, what did we talk about? I had stopped asking her “how are you?” because I didn’t really care anymore. Okay, maybe I cared. I’m truly not sure at this point – but I am sure that I dreaded the possible “Wo is me” response. When I visited, they didn’t turn the TV off or even lower the volume. She didn’t ask me to do things for her because she understood I was so over that.
I guess I should also say my father has Parkinson’s and is declining so visiting him wasn’t easy either.
I also knew when I left she often complained or made negative comments about me.
As someone who suffers from significant depressive episodes, I understand how depression can manifest itself into physical pain. But I also understand that I can fight that by exercise, eating right, etc. I tried to be sympathetic but seriously, her unwillingness to even try a little bit just became a burden on the rest of us.
The Friday before, then, I found an excuse not to go. It was a good excuse. A valid excuse. Instead I agreed to come visit on Saturday and take her shopping. I hate shopping. She loved shopping. She would buy something she knew she wouldn’t keep just so she had an excuse to go back the next day to return the item. UGH! But, I agreed to do this anyway. You know what, I wasn’t doing this for her. I was doing it for my brother who needed a break (more about him later). I figured I could read a book on my phone while she toiled over which pillow to buy and then return. And my reading a book would give her a valid reason to complain about me later – fun all around.
Before I even got in my car, my brother called to tell me she’d fallen. Good daughter? Nope. I was relieved not to have to go shopping. Even when I arrived and realized she had broken her hip and I understood what that likely meant, I was relieved not to be strolling through the Kohl’s department store.
“Good” daughters might feel guilty about that and, on some level, I suppose I do. But, even eleven days later, I’m still relieved I didn’t have to go on that shopping excursion. When I try to rationalize it, I tell myself that had we gone on that trip our relationship would have disintegrated even more. But, come on, let’s be honest. I am relieved in a wholly selfish way.
I think I SHOULD feel guilty for my entire attitude. I can’t muster the emotion. And that’s what I feel guilty for.
* After she died, I found out that she used to call her cardiologist up to ten times a day. Finally, the nurses realized she just wanted to talk and whine. So they’d give her five to ten minutes of attention. What makes this so frustrating is that she did this behind our backs even after we told her there was nothing they could do for her. BTW, this was really sweet of the very-busy office staff who had many other things I’m sure they could be doing.
Are you expecting a blog about food? Sorry to disappoint you but I do think this is an important topic – owning the entire complement (pie) of our emotions. Let’s get started …
Imagine the last time you felt a strong (negative) emotion. Maybe you were angry with your partner or your kids or your boss or the idiot driver in front of you. Maybe you were anxious about a meeting, a confrontation, an important decision. Maybe you were afraid of rejection, a failure, a confrontation. Maybe your feelings were hurt. Got that event in mind?
Here’s my example: yesterday I was having lunch with a past friend – someone I haven’t seen in a long time for reasons I really didn’t understand – someone from my ‘past’ life – someone who has a faith that I no longer understand.
From this list, choose the primary emotion you experience: Anger – Disgust – Envy – Fear – Jealousy – Sadness – Shame – Guilt
My example: Since right this minute, I’m limited to these 8 words, I’ll choose Fear (anxiety is fear)
(note: if you want to make this more nuanced, print this and find the best words to describe your emotions: https://www.cnvc.org/sites/default/files/feelings_inventory_0.pdf) -- this is a GREAT organization!
Now we start to divide the pie. Ask yourself, what else did I feel? Rarely are our emotions encapsulated in one simple word. As I tried to “sit with” my anxiety, I also tried to understand what other emotions were stirring and possibly feeding the anxiety.
My example: First, because this person is from my past life, I started to feel the usual shame over how the school closed. In other words, all of my history got brought into the present. There is also some guilt here.
Second, I was envious that she still had her faith.
Third – and this one is hard to admit and therefore may be the most important – I was angry that she still had her faith and mine is gone. Not angry at her. I need to try to understand who/what about that makes me angry. I suppose, if I’m honest, I’m angry at God. Which makes me revisit what I really believe about God … a whole new pie.
Fourth, sadness because she was one of the few people from that life that I wanted to keep. And, I thought I would keep. I thought I was important enough to her that she would try. I think this makes me a bit angry too J.
Create the slices. Basically, all you’re doing is deciding how big each piece is. I’m going to create an actual pie.
Do you see how much more complex our emotions are? As I did this analysis (and it only took me a few minutes), I was able to identify something that needs to be addressed more seriously so it doesn’t grow roots: my anger with God feels very raw. I would not have identified this if I hadn’t taken the time to own the entire pie.
Now you get to own the whole pie. Take a few seconds (and that’s all it takes) to jot dot a sentence for each emotion – giving yourself permission to feel this way! It’s easy, it’s releasing and it’s even relaxing:
I sat in a group yesterday and one of the participants talked about her disappointment in a decision her son made. Within her explanation, she made two seemingly innocuous statements: “It’s not about him. It’s about me.” And “It’s not about the money, it was only $100.”
It dawned on me then that at least part of her upset was about him and it was about the money. AND THAT’S OKAY! It’s okay for our emotions to be about a lot of things. When I pointed this out, it was a revelation to her and to me. As soon as she said, “You’re right, at least part of my problem is that I’m angry we’re losing that money. I feel like I was manipulated and taken advantage of.” I asked her was it okay to feel angry about that? Her eyes lit up when she agreed that it was okay.
That’s the point of the pie.
Disclaimer – it’s okay to feel what we feel – it’s not necessarily okay to act in any way we want!
If you took the time to do this, can you feel that the strong emotion has diffused? You’ve made it manageable and acceptable!
Over the least 3 days I’ve had several people say something like …. “But, what will people think?” I personally have thought the following at least 20 times: “I’m scared to do it because of what people will think.”
I know what people think …ready? Please think _______________________________________. NOTHING!
Let me prove it!
Take a few seconds and think of all the things in your life that take your energy: your goals, responsibilities, aches and pains, dreams, regrets, worries, to-do lists, tasks that should be done but aren’t, habits you want/don’t want, that bowl you want to buy, what’s for dinner, those extra pounds. Go ahead and add your immediate family’s goals, dreams, worries, to-do lists, etc. This list is quite long and we will call it your Me-Myself-Mine.
Yesterday, I went to lunch with a sometime acquaintance and she told me a couple of things that had my eyebrows rise. Here is what I thought:
That’s kinda weird – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – I don’t think that’s a good idea -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – she’s just odd -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – I think that’s just wrong - ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – this person may be a bit crazy -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – this might be my last lunch with this person -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE –
Get the idea? In a 90-minute conversation, she got about 45 seconds of my thoughts/judgments/assessments. We talked the entire time but with almost every topic, I re-wrapped it internally into my own me-myself-mine world. Certainly I’ve thought about our conversation since but only as it relates to how her ideas support my own needs and goals. I haven’t wasted time on judging HER … I’ve spent my time only thinking about MY desired role.
Now, this makes me sound like ALL I think about is myself …. I do think of others …. It looks like this:
I hope Sue’s doing well and she’ll call if she needs me -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – I hope Devin is safe and getting my letters -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – I wonder if Terri is still going to South America -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – I think De might like this book -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – Ohh, I need to share this quote with Lisa -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – I hope Misty is taking the time to get those supplies – I can’t wait to read Jeff’s first newsletter -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – I hope Joan comes to the pool -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – Jamie should have kept her mouth shut -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – Oh crap, I forgot to do that thing for Sandy -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – that bathing suit should not be on that body -- ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE – ME-MYSELF-MINE
Be honest – isn’t that what it looks like for all of us?
The point is that we spend so much time worrying about what other people are thinking …. BUT, other people are thinking about their own me-myself-mine. We have a limited amount of thought space and it’s easily filled with personal crap. As a matter of fact, even when you want people to think about you, they probably aren’t. There just isn’t time or capacity.
Next time you get wrapped up in worry about what other people are thinking, consider what you thought about each of the last several hours – it was about me-myself-mine, wasn’t it?
Today, I have to face my own “what will people think” fears – I have to put myself out there in a very vulnerable way! And, yes, I’m panicked about it --- even that worry, though, is really a me-myself-mine thought! I accept that I’m worried about it, I will continue to remind myself that people have bigger things to think about, I will ACT anyway!
Just after I hit save, I opened my email and found this:
“Most of us are experts at solving other people’s problems, but we generally solve them in terms of our own and the advice we give is seldom for other people but for ourselves.”Nan Fairbrother, The House in the Country
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