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love spilling over

by Judy
December 6, 2015

Someone asked me the other day how taking care of my mom changed me. I told her I had never been a mother, but felt like in some ways I have had that experience. No matter where I was physically - near or far - I felt like my mother was always in my consciousness. There is an interesting balance when that happens, especially with someone who is very fragile and whose health can change at any moment. On one hand, I think there is always in the background of one’s consciousness a kind of tension, knowing how delicate and unpredictable life is and at the same time there is a letting go of concern so that one can live as freely as possible. But the fact is someone else’s well-being takes precedence over anything else and that is quite an awesome fact, as mother (or father) or as a caregiver. It is a shift away from being center stage, from self-centeredness.

I became quieter in myself as I had to tune in and slow down to my mom’s state of being. Often when she seemed to be sleeping or resting quietly, I would look at her, like one might look at a child sleeping in bed filling one with soft serenity. I also had to hold back my responses at times. We are human and it’s natural that our interactions were not always harmonious. Sometimes, not very often at all, what my mom said upset me, but I usually held back responding aware that what she expressed was a reflection of her discomfort and not to be taken personally. And there were times when I reacted, being human, and then I would apologize to her. That also was new to apologize when in reality it might not be my fault, but for greater harmony and peace, I responded.

Living so close to a loved one nearing death also recontextualized my priorities. One just can’t get upset or worry about things in the same way. It’s too petty, too small in the light of life and death matters, and consequently one begins to “sit back” more. I don’t mean being passive, but less reactive, less dramatic, less needlessly engaged in matters that are ultimately not that important. Now was I perfect in that? No. But there was a change and that has continued.

Being a caregiver really does change one and I think the change continues even after caregiving is over. It’s like the caregiver now lives in me. Since my mom died, I have so much more empathy for other caregivers and for those who have lost their loved ones. I connect in a way I didn’t before. When I meet someone who has lost, for example, their mom, I want to know the circumstances. I really do. It’s not pretense or just being polite…I really want to know.

And I notice also that this care begins to happen more with friends, not just family. I am more sensitive and tuned into the difficulties of others and know how much it means to be in touch, show some interest - show genuine interest.

While I was a caregiver, I had time to reflect upon my relationship with my mother and began to see her in a much more multi-dimensional way. As a daughter, we often maintain certain “child-like” images of our parents even after we have grown up. I began to see and appreciate more of her qualities of humanity, her care and sensitivity to others.

And that reflection continues after she died. I had always thought of my mother before she got ill, as the Rock of Gibraltar. She was so strong, even physically strong, but strong in the way she faced life and life’s challenges. That was an image I held of her for a long time. Now it was not untrue, but I realized recently that it was not the whole picture. In many ways, she had no choice but to be strong, but inside I have no doubt that she didn’t always feel strong - she felt scared and very vulnerable at times, but like so many of us, she had no choice if she was going to “move forward,” not cave in or escape, and be there for others.

It’s interesting now because I don’t miss being a caregiver, but I miss my mom and the love that we shared together. And that love still fills and nourishes me and spills over with others. So maybe the caregiver learns what love is; a love that does not demand, but gives... and after a while it doesn’t even feel like giving; it’s just loving spilling over.


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