Last week I had coffee with two women who, inadvertently through their conversation, helped me gain insight into why I have such difficulty asking for help.
Both of these women were—I’m guessing—twenty to thirty years younger than me (I just turned 72 this past March). Each woman had, for at least the past eight years, been the primary caregiver of her widowed mother, and both shared remarkably similar descriptions of how life was going in their “reversed” roles.
Their mothers had many similarities as well. Each daughter described her mother as mentally and physically “quite healthy and active” for her age. Each mom lived in her own apartment, did minimal cooking, and had given up driving.
While it was evident both daughters loved their moms and graciously accepted their roles as care givers, they each offered the same grievance: “I get so frustrated when Mom complains about some food item she ran out of, or needed but didn’t have; or speaks of an event or place she would have liked to have seen or done, but missed because she didn’t want to bother me. She knows I will take her anywhere or gladly pick things up for her. All she has to do is ask!” the daughters offered simultaneously.
As I listened to the exasperated exchange between these two women who sincerely wanted to help their mothers, I heard my own daughter Beth’s voice echoing the same complaint about me. “Mom, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what you need,” she often scolds me.
I sat quietly as the conversation continued. Internally, however, I was doing my best to identify just what causes me to resist asking for help? What keeps me from voicing what I need? Why do I continue to remain silent; when I know my daughter wants to help? Am I subconsciously trying to be a martyr?
No. Absolutely not. I don’t want to be martyred or pitied. In fact, I want just the opposite.
I want to be self-sufficient. I want to be independent. Self-reliant. Make decisions. Have options. Exert influence. Have control. I want to feel confident, smart, capable, and independent—AGAIN.
Asking for help—repeatedly, consistently, and often for something that seems trivial—is humbling. It’s not something I want to do. It feels demeaning and sorrowful. BUT IT IS THE REALITY OF MEMORY LOSS.
I hope this essay doesn’t come across as if I’m a glass-half-empty person. Instead, I hope you feel my honesty and transparency of how I experience MCI at this point in time. It would be impossible for me to not have feelings of self-pity at times, to not feel angry, frustrated, embarrassed, ashamed, or not to ask “why?”
As the children were growing up and began to experience various disappointments, and would pout, rant, sulk, wallow and feel sorry for themselves—I would tell them: You have every right to feel all of these emotions. What has happened does not seem fair, right or perhaps not even just. But it has happened, and you can’t change that—nor do you have the power to reverse it. But you do have the power to decide how you are going to move forward. You of course need time to feel sorry for yourself; to acknowledge your emotions as valid. Sit with them for a time, then let them go and move on. These are the only two choices you have. To stay stuck or to accept and move forward.
Writing this piece has let me acknowledge, vent, feel sorry, and now I’m ready to move on.
Thanks for listening.