Dear June, Taking care of my mother is wearing me out!

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By June O'Connor

I am a 55-year-old widow, caring for my 85-year-old mother. When my father died, I invited, indeed urged, my mother to move into my home given her increasing physical, financial, and social dependencies. She refused to leave her home and suggested that I move in with her instead. So I sold my home in the Northeast and moved to the Northwest. It has been almost six years and things are getting more difficult by the day. My mother has no money and as a result, we are living on my income and savings. She can no longer walk and is increasingly dependent for the most basic daily activities. My desire is to be generous and faithful to my mother, and although I am doing both, I struggle daily with feelings of anger and frustration. How do I handle these negative feelings?

-A Northeasterner Struggling in the Northwest

What you are doing is noble, wise, and admirable. And difficult. Of course it is difficult. And even though you desire to be — and are — generous and faithful, it is no surprise that you also feel some anger and frustration. The dependencies and diminishments of aging are difficult to observe and can be very difficult to live with.

We humans are complex beings, finding regularly that contrary feelings coexist within us, feelings such as generosity and resentment, love and hate, patience and impatience. It often helps to remember that we all want what we want, that we are self-centered, and concerned about the ways life changes impact us. Your mixed feelings are completely understandable and even predictable. Notice them and accept them as parts of your generous self; do not fight them or you will give them more attention and power than they deserve.

Tolerate them as a feature of human life. But also take action and seek help. Ask questions of your mother’s health insurance agency regarding respite care for your mother, and help for you as caregiver. You need occasional breaks and these are good preventative medicine for your own health. Ask questions of the doctors who might know of resources in the area. Join a parish if you are not yet a part of one, for there you will find lay ministers and ministries of care to the sick and needy. Reach out, inviting others to join you in being present to your mother.

In brief, you need to make decisions that will create needed balance in your life so that you, too, do not become sick. When your mother enters her final decline, inquire about hospice in your area, for hospice offers a team approach to the dying and their families, enabling a community of concerned professionals and volunteers to be present to you and your mother.

You are doing difficult, noble, generous, and admirable work. Resentment and anger will come and go; say hello and goodbye to them as they do, knowing you are more than those fleeting feelings, knowing they are just part of being human. CD

Ph.D June O'Connor

If you have a problem for Dr. June O’Connor, write to: Dear June, Catholic Digest, P.O. Box 6015, New London, CT 06320 or email her.