For all the writing I’ve been doing about the experience of helping my mother end her life in the way she wants, I’m finding that I’m frustrated by my inability to convey what this is really like.
I’m sure that most of that is due to the fact that, for as rich and expressive as our language is, it has some pretty significant and sometimes crippling inadequacies. How does one adequately describe the conflict of wanting – but not wanting – your loved one to pass? What words do we use to express the feeling of wanting desperately to do everything within our power to make the patient feel comfortable and safe while at the same time resenting the fact that, in order for that care to happen, the care giver’s life has to be almost completely set aside? How does a woman reconcile to herself – never mind express to others – the King Solomon-like pull between her roles as daughter, mother, and wife, and the feeling like she’s failing miserably at all of them?
I really do think that, like childbirth, this experience can only be fully appreciated by those who have gone through it – or something similar. I’m even finding that my attitudes and thinking about this whole process is entirely different than they were before I found myself neck-deep in it. I remember feeling quite smug while I listened to Ellie warn, in our very first family meeting on the occasion of Mom’s admission to the hospice program, that care givers burn out very quickly. “That won’t happen to me,” I thought; “I love my mother and I want to do everything I can for her. My family is supportive, I’ve got the time and the skills. I can totally do this.”
I often find myself taken aback by some of the things I think and feel as this progresses. All the feelings (at least, those that I’ve copped to thus far) that my friends tell me are “perfectly human” are often shocking to me, and I would never in a million years have thought myself capable of any of them. I’ve experienced almost vicious feelings of resentment and ire, I’ve been blood-boilingly angry, and I’ve had to deal with crushing guilt over all of it. How can I be angry and resentful at my mother – this woman who loved and cared for me and who certainly didn’t choose for any of this to happen? And yet, that’s sometimes how I feel.
Despite all of it, I’m grateful for the experience; I’m learning things about myself that I would never have had the opportunity to see otherwise. I am, regardless of my conflicting feelings, confident that I am doing an astounding job; I will know that I did everything I possibly could and that it was good enough. For all of that, though? I will be so relieved when it’s all over.