- What was happening? Describe the circumstances.
Where I live, there is an elderly lady I have come to know since she was widowed about 1 ½ years ago. To some extent, she is a recluse. We had lived on the same floor in our building for about six years and I had only seen her twice before her husband was hospitalized. She did not seem to want or need to interact on a social basis with anyone. However, quite surprisingly, she was quick to accept my assistance in the later stages of his hospitalization, just before he passed away. This poor soul had nobody in her life anymore! She was well advanced in years, she and her husband had never had any children, they were immigrants, and the only family that either of them had were a couple of nieces and nephews who still lived in Europe and were over 70 themselves. She truly was all alone in this world. She was very frail, with multiple health issues, though mentally competent and had a great desire to remain independent.
At the beginning of our interactions, she was overwhelmed with the situation that she now found herself in, and she eagerly accepted any and all assistance that I offered her…..interacting with the funeral director, taking her to various appointments, and handling all the various things that needed to be done to finalize his estate….pensions, income tax etc. As time went by, and things with his estate were eventually being finalized, I sensed that she was gradually withdrawing from me and trying to once again claim back her independence. This was a good thing, but the resulting solitude, not so much. A very positive step forward though, was when she accepted the fact that she needed to appoint a Power of Attorney for Personal Care, so someone could make medical or personal care decisions on her behalf when she was no longer capable of doing so. Not surprisingly, it was me she asked to do this for her, as she really didn’t have anyone else she could ask. Any of the friends that they had had earlier in their life had either already passed away, or were mentally or physically incapable and already in nursing homes themselves. I was happy to accept this role for her, but it is a bit of a two edged sword! I am happy to know that there is something in place to ensure that someone will be able to make appropriate decisions for her when she is no longer capable of doing so. However, she is a stubborn lady. Occasionally, she opens up a bit to tell me how she is doing and the help she needs as her physical limitations escalate. So, we talk about the things that can be put in place to help her out. She agrees, and we put it in place with the various social agencies. Then, she changes her mind and she cancels everything. And so the cycle continues. Her personal health and safety are a concern, but my hands are tied.
2. How did it / does it feel in my body (then, and/or now). Describe specifically or poetically. Include impulse (what I felt like doing). Name the feeling.
It is so frustrating and aggravating! This repeating cycle of complaints, problem solving, meetings with social agencies to put things in place to facilitate her on-going independence, and then her cancelling everything is so extremely exasperating. I feel so angry for my wasted time and energy.
3. What meaning did I / do I give to it? Includes how it fits in a current relationship, as well as recurring past patterns.
This change in our relationship where she now has withdrawn a bit and now has this recurring pattern of having me make arrangements for her care and then her immediately cancelling everything as soon as it is in place, has definitely affected my own perception as to my role in her life. Apart from the frustration of knowing that she is making her life more difficult and painful for herself, it has also resulted in me feeling a need to withdraw substantially from our day to day interactions.
4. What did I choose to do with the energy? … and what happened… Consequences can include how I felt as a result of my choice, as well as implications for others.
Upon giving it very serious consideration, and discussing the situation with friends who are in the health care industry and social agencies, I came to the understanding that this is far from an unusual situation with independent seniors who are experiencing deteriorating health, while still maintaining their mental functionality. Part of them knows and accepts the limitations that they are facing, but a part of them still wants and needs to resist the necessity of reaching out to others for help! As a result, they are constantly fluctuating back and forth in their decisions. I decided to respect my own physical and emotional needs and not allow her to waste my time and energy, yet still look out for her when she really needs my help. As I result, I chose to back off dramatically in our interactions, leaving it entirely up to her to contact me if she wants or needs something. By backing off, it reduced my frustration substantially, I have no feelings of guilt, and it has helped to protect my own personal energy levels, and to be at peace about the entire situation.
5. Gathering Wisdom: What do I learn about myself? How does the learning fit within major themes in my history? How does it relate to my life purpose? What does it tell me about a specific present relationship? What is unfinished?
In retrospect, my immediate response to jump in and help her in her time of need was a very typical response for me. I am a person who wants to help people in whatever manner that I can. However, from a variety of life experiences, I have come to understand that although many people may need help, not everyone is actually prepared to accept the help that they require. It is also important to remember that they have every right to make their own choices as to how they want to live their own life, while they have the mental capability to do so. As well, as my own health situation has changed dramatically since I agreed to help her, I have come to the realization and acceptance of the fact that I need to protect my own health and energy levels. This has to be my top priority. So, it is not only ok, but imperative to have taken the steps that I have to alter our relationship. There are social agencies and organizations that can provide her with the care and assistance that she requires. So, if I get them involved, I am still caring for her without me taking on the responsibility myself. A perfect solution! I have finally learned, and accepted, that it is perfectly ok to finally put my own needs first, without guilt, and that if I don’t care for myself, nobody else will. How freeing this is.
6. What do I choose to do now in response to my learning?
As a result of my altered circumstances, and my deeper understanding of my appropriate role in my own life and those around me, I have chosen to reduce my interaction with her and have changed how I see my responsibilities, not only in her life, but in everyone else’s as well. Now, the onus is on her to approach me with her requests for assistance. I will set the wheels in motion for interaction with the appropriate support agencies, but then I will back off and allow the professionals to interact with her without me. When the time comes that she is no longer capable of making her own decisions, and she really requires my intervention, if I am able to assist her, I will. If I can’t, I will ensure that there is someone else to take on that role, and be sure to respect my own physical needs and limitations and back off without guilt.