Tuesday, November 6, 2007


What do you do when someone is driving you crazy? Do you put them and yourself out of your collective misery by spilling some blood? Do you walk away? Or do you suck it up, grin and bear it and hope that tomorrow the sun will shine?

My mother-in-law is 83 years old. Is blessed with good health, a loving family and a keen intellect. Her husband is 80, is confined to a wheelchair, deprived of the ability to enjoy life as he remembers, to live independently. But never a word of complaint passes his lips. Unlike his lady wife.

For the past week or so, everytime I show my face, I am subjected to the "poor me" litany. I'll breeze into her bedroom with her breakfast tray, all bright eyed and bushy tailed to be met with the, uncharacteristic, quivering voice, "Im feeling a little down, this morning, actually". I murmer something about the curative powers of tea and disappear downstairs to get Larry, the saint, up out of bed.

This man, who has had every activity and hobby that he holds dear, taken from him, who is totally dependent on other people for his very existence, is delighted to see a new morning and me. A big, cheery, toothless smile, and a willingness and enthusiasm to face the day, whatever it might bring. We have the banter, we do the necessary ablutions, we enjoy each others company. By 10am I have to leave.

By lunchtime, I'm back again. Summoned by her majesty, to deliver milk, or bread, or tea or anything else that can possibly be deemed a necessity. By 4pm she's on the phone, "I can't move the wheelchair, there seems to be something wrong with the wheels, can you come down and have a look at it?" By 8pm, the dog is missing, the back door won't open, the toilet is blocked or she has a terminal headache, all of which necessitate, yet another visit.

Each time I call, I do what I can. But its never enough. Will it ever be enough?

She's not always as needy as this. And I am not unsympathetic, usually.

But I am tired, physically, mentally, emotionally. I can't fix her life. I can't be responsible for her happiness. I am not a magician.

I'm human and, today, I'm a little bit frazzled.


Ian Lidster said...

My profound sympathies. It is a harrowing and thankless task being a caregiver and while I cannot suggest any answers, I can only offer empathy having been where you are in the past.

You asked what I liked about Ireland. I have travelled fairly extensively there, but not enough, on a couple of excursions through the years. I especially love the west coast. I fell in love with Killarney at first instant and thought I could spend a lifetime there.
But, I also loved the people, and believe that your small country boasts the most beautiful women in the world -- but that's another matter.

Molly said...

And I have the nerve to complain about MY in-laws. For different reasons, of course. You, my darlin', are a bloody saint. As the nuns would say, your reward will be in the Next Life. But a little less frazzlement in this one would have powers at least as curative as tea......Give my love to L and play a tiny violin next time M starts with the 'woe is me "litany.

Pauline said...

There's no cure for the frazzles - perhaps it's possible to take a page from Larry's book and try to act cheerfully even in the face of M-I-L's complaints - you could always pretend you're her professional caregiver and are being paid in reams of smiles for being unbelievably patient with her.

Tanya Brown said...

You sound like a saint. A very stressed-out saint. Is there any way you can get a break from this situation for a week or two and catch your breath? The other thing I'm wondering is if your area has elder daycare or community centers for the elderly, places where those of mature years and limited physical abilities can find companionship and perhaps a meal during the day. Alternatively, who looks in on your inlaws when you and your husband are on holiday?

Your mother-in-law's actions sound like those of someone who is trying to stave off fear or loneliness, so she looks for any excuse she can to call you and get your company. She may not even realize that she's doing it, much less that she's sucking you dry. But she is. And no, you're not a magician and you're not responsible for her happiness. My guess is that you've given her a great deal of happiness as it is.

sMC said...

how about, covering your face with white talcum powder. Buying a bandage and wrapping it around the whole of your leg (use padding underneath) beg borrow or steal a walking stick, or alternately use a strong branch, and hobble in all smiles,saying I knew you just wanted to see me even tho I cant make the tea, sit down and wait. Yes agree with Molly.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

I wish I could tell you something that would make it better. Maybe let the answering machine pick up and ignore it if it's not important. You'll be no good to either of them if you are too stressed to help.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

My mother is exactly the same. I realise now that in our role as care giver, we can do no more. However, the underlying problem is probably loneliness and our daily presence is not enough to cheer them up. They want more. They need others to come visit them, to agree and to say Oooo and ahhs to all their complaints. Even if you were the absolute best care giver, they would still need this. I have learnt to accept this and just do what is necessary but encourage others to do the "My poor thing" routine.

I hope I will remain more positive when I am that age but who knows. There but by the grace of God go I.

Take care of yourself first. God bless.

meggie said...

Oh Rise, I feel your weariness.

How does it fall to you, to be the only care-giver?

You really are a saint!

riseoutofme said...

I feel like a bit of a whinger for posting this piece .... I don't mean to whine, its just that, sometimes, just putting down in words what I'm feeling actually helps to dissipate the situation. Thank you all for listening.

ian ... the west coast is indeed very beautiful especially Clare and Donegal ... Kerry is lovely too but very commercialised now ... thats progress for you. Beautiful women, yes, but what about the men? Rogues, the lot of them!

molly ... a tiny violin??? I'm getting the blasted cello out as we speak!

pauline .. believe me, theres none so cheery as me in the face of the "woe is me" ... I think maybe I need to change my tack ... I'm working on it ...

tanya ...there is daycare but she REFUSES to avail of it! And you're right, she is lonely, she is afraid and I feel great compassion for her BUT ..... And, by the way, I AM NO SAINT ... believe me.

birdy ... maybe I'll just tell her that there are only ?? sleeps til the fat man comes and if she isn't a VERY good girl that she'll be getting underwear?

whim ..don't worry about trying to make it better ... this really is just "small shit" ... Its not terminal! And also, I have great survival instincts!

lgs ...you are so right ... it is loneliness ... and her own mortality staring her in the face, relentlessly. I think I'll have a little word with God ....

meggie .. no saint, just a whinger really!

Stomper Girl said...

She sounds bored and lonely. Hard for you to have to bear the brunt though. Is there a new hobby you could interest her in?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I'm so sorry, Rise. Of course you're exhausted. You need to give some of that lovely tea and sympathy to yourself.

I am often struck by how those who have the least seem to complain far less than those who have everything. We are indeed a most perverse species.