Friday, August 15, 2014

Caregivers Can't Be Perfect

Today I was short-tempered with Mom.

I have excuses.  She isn't nice to me sometimes.  She feels rebellious in much the same way a teenager resents a parent who is strict.  For example, Mom doesn't remember why I insist she gets dressed by lunchtime. She feels she should be left alone and treated like an adult, and if she wants to have a "pajama day," she should be allowed to do so. Trouble is she would like every day to be a pajama day, and when she doesn't dress she doesn't bathe.  That daily sponge bath is a necessity.

So I insist.  And she resents.  And after awhile she forgets why she resents me but she still feels the negative emotion, and unfortunately she does not forget I am the one to blame for it.

Today she wasn't mean, and she didn't make little deprecating remarks to me as she sometimes does, but one of her comments triggered my irritation. On the surface it doesn't sound like it should have upset me, but I was having a bad day from stresses unrelated to Mom, and when she said reproachfully, "It's too bad you can't spend some time with me," I felt angry. 

I said, "Spend some time with you? Spend some TIME with you? All I do is spend time with you and on your behalf!"  I then listed all I'd done for her so far that morning (including a time of focused conversation). 

She listened calmly and with no sign of remorse or empathy. When I finished she fixed me with a stern, maternal gaze and said, "I have a question. What do you do for entertainment when you aren't yelling at me?"

It's ok if you are giggling a bit now as you read this. I'm smiling--albeit ruefully--myself.

As a caregiver I expect more of myself.  I expect I should be always loving and patient. I should never lose my temper, or speak harshly to my mother (even though she is not at all helpless in such situations, as the exchange above shows).  This attitude that because I am the caregiver I ought to be perfect reminds me of some lines from the movie You've Got Mail. 
Meg Ryan's character apologizes: "I was upset and I was horrible."

Tom Hanks' character takes the blame: "I was horrible."

Meg replies: "True. But I have no excuse."

Tom says: "Whereas I am a horrible person and have no choice but to be horrible, is that what you're saying?"  
A little of that sort of arrogance is at work when I expect perfection of myself while granting my mom full indemnity because she has Alzheimer's. Truth of the matter is, neither of us is sin-free. Mom was not perfect prior to her Alzheimer's, and her disease is not to blame for every instance of bad behavior since her diagnosis (although I do my very best to empathize and allow her plenty of leeway because she suffers from dementia). 

And, anyone who's read my devotional for caregivers is already aware I am far from perfect myself (the Lord led me to be transparent regarding my shortcomings in order to offer comfort to other caregivers who share the same sort of struggles).

God is gracious to both Mom and me.  Both of us require His grace and forgiveness, Mom no less now that she is fighting a battle with a disease that has robbed her memory, and I more now than ever before.

We all stumble along the way. If a person never speaks hurtful words...then he has achieved perfection--James 3:2 The Voice (VOICE) 


  1. You're only human! Don't beat yourself up about it too much :) x

  2. Thank you for sharing freely about the way it really is. I don't know if I'd have the courage to be that bold. However, I know through your sharing, you are comforting someone else who may sometimes "lose it". Blessings to you! Praying! ~ Abby

  3. My mother pasted away 8/18/2013. I have had so much guilt for having arguments with her for the silliest things. Tonight you have just lifted that guilt. I was her sole caregiver and I was beating myself up along with anger because she had this horrible disease. When it came toward the end of her life the anger of her not remembering me turned to a blessing knowing that she would not worry about me. Our favorite song was "Me and You against the world" by Helen Reddy. Thank you for making me feel that I'm not the only one that snapped at my mom because she was getting on my last nerve. God bless you.

  4. Carol, I praise God that this post was of help to you! The Lord has called me to the vulnerability of honesty in my sharing of adventures with Mom, and I know His purpose in this is so others who have suffered might be released from guilt and self-condemnation. I have often been misunderstood or even judged following a post such as this; but to know that just one person was helped brings such blessing. Thank you for taking time to post.

  5. I was a caregiver for my late husband for three years non-stop 24 hours a day, I never ever went out on my own, my husband always went with me, even when I went for my hospital appointments he went with me because he could not be left on his own. He would not have anyone else but me look after him. I lost three stones in weight and the specialist thought I had cancer, I then had chest pains and went to see a cardiac specialist who said it was stress. The trouble is that I now feel so guilty for shouting at my husband, telling him he was useless and I wished I had the guts to leave him. The Matron told me he could do more for himself but he wouldn't and that didn't help the situation either. Sadly he died 4 weeks ago and I am racked with guilt for not having more patience with him. I would give anything, to have him back with me and tell him how much I loved him and how I appreciated everything he had done for us over the last 50 years of a very happy marriage marriage. Will I ever get over this guilt. He once said to me, why do you hate me so much, I told him, I didn't hate him, I hated what his illness had done to us.

  6. For Devastated: My love and prayers are with you. I am praying the Lord gives me words that will help to bring you a measure of peace as you grieve your husband...1)In his lucid moments your husband knew he was being a pain! And in his suffering he didn't pay all that much attention to your stress filled responses. 2) Just because a person is sick doesn't mean he becomes sin free. In your grief for him the difficulties of coping with his sinfulness have been forgotten and only the sweetness is remembered. A portion of your reactions to him were reactions to coping with his sinful behaviors. 3. Remember that God knows what we are going to say before we say it, and He thus has plenty of time to make provision for those who may be hurt by our words. Trust that He provided for your husband. God's forgiveness is complete. Ask forgiveness and believe you have received it. 4. Pour out your heart to the Lord, be much in the Word, and pour out your heart some more. I pray the Lord's healing for your battered heart and body. Your sins have not negated the service you provided to your husband, your loyalty and love on the horribly difficult path you had to travel. God bless you, God bless you.