Saturday, June 23, 2012

Blaming the Victim

It is human nature to attempt to separate ourselves from the misfortunes that befall others.

Car accidents (she wasn't careful enough), illnesses (he didn't exercise), identity theft (she shouldn't have shopped online); whatever the difficulty it is instinctive to attempt to distance ourselves to a place of safety by casting some sort of blame on the victim. We want to maintain an illusion of control over our lives.

 I've come to recognize that all too often my way of separating myself from Mom's Alzheimer's disease comes perilously close to casting judgment. And you know what the Lord says about judging others:  Don't do it! 

Yesterday my mother punched a hole right through my judgmental thoughts with a heart-rending entry in her journal. She had called me nine times during the afternoon for trivialities, and when the ninth call came (she asked me to fetch a diet coke for her from the refrigerator ten paces behind her chair) I am ashamed to admit that I lost my temper. I tried valiantly to explain to her that she was well-cared for, that she didn't have to phone for things that she was able to do for herself, and that she needed to stop thinking she was living in a luxury resort and acting like she didn't think the service was up to par. 

Mom just looked at me as I vented and when I was done said, "Well, my dear, I do hope you feel better."  I left the room and I am sorry to say I slammed the door.  But here is what Mom wrote in her journal:
The problem must be my Alzheimer's--Lord, is there a way for me to know and do what is proper? It is frustrating to know my reasoning is not as it should be. Lord is there some way I can know how to speak and treat others?  Lord please guide me to be right in your eyes. 
Well, this made me cry.  However, when I rebound away from a judgmental frame of mind, I am in danger of suffering such an anguish of compassion for the difficulties my mother faces that I'm left just wanting to indulge escapism to avoid the heartache.

One of the readings in my book addresses this issue:
I felt as though I was walking a narrow beam labeled Godly and Loving Caregiving Behaviors, and was constantly in danger of falling off. On one side was the hazard of hardening my heart to my mother’s situation so that I didn’t have to feel grief over her or fear for my own future. When I fell off on this side of the beam, I became callous and tended to blame Mom for having become infirm. On the other side was overwhelming pathos and grief over the so-called tragedy of Alzheimer’s. When I erred to this side I felt anguish of spirit, terrible pity for my mother, grief over losing her, guilt, and a hopelessness that was not of the Lord...this was an unholy grief that blinded me to the fact that God was in control and had provided richly for us.
Oh I remember the grief of those difficult early days of caregiving. When I cried out to the Lord over this issue this is the answer that came:
The sensations of hopelessness felt by a Christian are quickly laid to rest when we look at our Savior’s face. Our hearts do not become hard, and we do not fear the grief of dying and death because we know we don’t have to bear grievous events alone. Our grief is temporary, but oh the tragedy of hopelessness suffered by those who do not know Christ, or who have refused Him. Now, for just a little while, the Christian may endure suffering and grief, but we look forward to a future free from sorrow and pain. Despair is not the portion of those who hope in Christ.
I don't need to drown myself in pity for Mom; God has provided richly for her as he has for me.  I do need to guard my heart and my words, and to realign myself with the Lord daily.  

An interesting postscript; Mom has not called me one time for a trivial request since she prayed that prayer above.  Since she blessedly has no memory of my remonstrances I can only assume that for this time the Lord is helping her to understand and to do what is proper--just as she requested.


  1. I think God should take people home rather than leave people here to suffer from this condition. It's a burden to everyone.

  2. @Anonymous: I've cared for Mom in my home for 8 years, and can honestly say that as time goes forward I am increasingly grateful that the Lord allowed us this journey. I think of it as the difference between a short but very painful labor versus a longer travail with less intense pain...this long goodbye is wearying, yes, but the Lord knew my heart and that an abrupt ending to my mom's life would have been devastating for me. I have to trust God's wisdom in this. However--I manage to be grateful that Mom is still here while simultaneously praying fervently that I don't linger as a burden to my own children!

  3. It's the lucid times that are the hardest for me, when she knows that something is wrong but doesn't know what it is.

  4. @Maddy--oh yes, that is so difficult. Bless your heart.