Note: The names in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent.
Just last week, my dear friend Julia and I met up for a long overdue visit for breakfast. Totally in sync, as usual, we bounced back and forth sharing the current events going on in our lives while sipping our coffee. There was so much ground to cover.
Always at the top of my list of topics to discuss is Julia’s dad. He is 70 years old and is in a slow and consistent state of declining physical and mental health. I can so relate to her struggle of trying to navigate the sometimes-treacherous path between being a daughter and caregiver. My radar is quite sensitive these days when it comes to situations like hers.
Me: (concerned) How’s your dad doing?
Julia: He’s doing OK. It’s just been difficult lately because he can be so negative about everything, which makes being around him a challenge. No matter what my family and I do or say, it’s never enough to make him happy. All we get from him is harsh remarks and a sense of ungratefulness. I just don’t want these last years of his life to be like this.
Julia: (kind and soft tone) I feel bad telling you all about this knowing you lost your parents. I shouldn’t be complaining.
Julia’s not the first friend to tell me this. I get that a lot nowadays.
Me: (insistent) No, No. It’s ok. I totally understand where you are coming from. I don’t mind you telling me. (As I said it, a rush of old memories came flooding back, and I remembered EXACTLY why I understood.)
As inevitably happens during these conversations, Julia hopped on my metaphorical nurse wagon. We got to talking about what could possibly be causing her dad’s negative outbursts and behavior. Could it be the unstable blood sugar resulting from his diabetes? Or side effects of his medications? Aging brain, possibly dementia? Maybe fear of losing his health and independence? Depression? All of the above? The list went on and on.
I could tell that talking about the issues in a clinical way and mentally checking things off alleviated some of Julia’s burden. Still, it was obvious that there was and underlying sense of guilt she just couldn’t shake off.
Me: Look, I remember feeling exactly like you during those difficult days of caring for my parents. It’s so easy for our loved ones to use us and other close family members as their emotional punching bags. We are safe to them, but getting hit with their feelings of fear and pain hurts. What also hurt me was beating myself up with my own pair of emotional boxing gloves. Julia, you need to take stop beating yourself up with guilt. Take off your boxing gloves and be gentle with yourself. It’s normal to feel the way you do. It’s ok. God knows your heart and knows you love your dad. Just pray in preparation rather than in desperation before your visits with him. Ask God to bless you with peace and understanding.
Julia: (nodding) True, you’re right. I just wish Dad would see the good- you know, the silver linings.
Me: (Spirit-filled expression) There is nothing you can do if he refuses to see the positive things in his life. Maybe instead of focusing on your dad finding his silver linings, you look for your own! Find it for YOU!
Whoa! Major Aha moment for both of us.
Julia and I high-fived over our table of empty coffee cups. We knew in our hearts that our conversation was guided by the Holy Spirit reminding us that daily dosages of God and gratitude is all we really need to get through each season of our lives.
Julia: (playful and direct) Girl, You need to write our conversation in your next blog! Just don’t use my name! (laughter)