As I was piling the laundry into the basket this afternoon my mother, who was lying on the bed, said to me: “Oh–Happy Birthday.” Today is my birthday, actually, and I think she first remembered it at that moment, but the setting was comic. It’s silly of me to expect the day to be a little different, especially in the present situation, but I do, and it was. Today was different because I was a little more disappointed than usual, despite my best intentions. I’m trying to chip away at my expectations until nearly everything beyond the necessities is a pleasant surprise, but it’s not working. I was hurt that my sister–who has quite a bit of free time, being between jobs–did not so much as mention my birthday or get me a card. I had even fantasized that she might offer to do just one of the weekend chores that keep me busy on Saturday and Sunday, to give me time to go to a movie or to get out by myself. No money would be involved, just a little time–but apparently still too expensive.
The result of all this was that I might have actually gotten disappointed enough to reach, temporarily, what I will call “Caregiver’s Nirvana.” I don’t know if I’ve ever achieved this before, or ever will again–maybe you have to be supremely and justifiably disappointed to reach it. But it’s the state where you let go of both the need to please and the hope of being pleased–you realize that you are not responsible for someone else’s problems or for alleviating them–even a problem like Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s not an angry or bitter realization, and it doesn’t mean that you would refuse to throw a lifepreserver to a drowning person. But it means that you become disenchanted with the idea of being “the good one” and clearly see yourself as a person with needs, too.
I imagine that every caregiver’s nirvana would be a little different–depending upon what she is most attached to. I’m learning how attached I am to being the Caregiver, and maybe that’s not a good thing. Oddly enough, it puts me, rather than my mother, front and center all the time. It’s all about how I decide to handle things, what I am going to do and what I am going through. A small example: I turned on the television and for once, did not ask my mother what she wanted to watch. She usually says, “I don’t care,” but will express her dislike of anything I choose that she becomes bored with. But today I turned on PBS’s “Mystery,” because it looked interesting and despite the fact that I know any show featuring actors with British accents is as appealing to my mother as exhaust fumes. Predictably, she began to fidget and then disappeared. She returned briefly, only to disappear again when I did not ask her if she wanted me to change the channel. Usually this outcome would mean that I had done something wrong, as if my mother were just an expression of my own psychic health. But I thought, “Why shouldn’t I watch ‘Mystery’? And what if my actions disappoint her?” So I watched it, and the show after it–the first time I remember watching “my” programs before my mother had gone to bed.
So that example might put into perspective my nirvana episode. My nirvana is probably what the theoretical “well adjusted” person feels all the time: a balance of needs and a healthy tolerance of what is beyond her control. Which brings me back to my sister–although I do feel that she could spend more time with my mother, especially since she has nearly every day free, I probably also expect her to feel the way I habitually do about caregiving, which isn’t fair.