Caregiving is hard on relationships.
My mother’s Alzheimer’s lasted almost a decade and a half. During that time, my family and I faced crisis after crisis with her health, especially through the last few years of her life. Due to the stress of caregiving, I sometimes wondered if she might outlive me.
Early on, I learned that not everyone wanted to hear about my mother’s problems or how exhausted I was. Even I grew tired of hearing the constant stream of concerns and worries that poured from my mouth. I often felt alone and frustrated when it seemed like I was the only one dealing with such difficult life circumstances.
My mother’s condition became a frequent topic of conversation between my husband Joel and me. He needed me to step away from the caregiver role sometimes to connect with him; but too often my responsibilities swallowed me whole. I wanted Joel to be just as involved as I was, but it was also important to me for him to continue working and living his own life. At times, I had to make a special effort to pull back from my role as a caregiver so that I could be a wife.
I didn’t have much time or energy to foster relationships or keep friendships going during this period of my life. I rarely had the time to meet someone for coffee or the energy to attend an evening event. Not everyone understood this, and some people gradually drifted away. I did gain a few deeper relationships, though. There were a handful of special people who made an extra effort to connect with me when I was typically unavailable.
Perhaps the relationship I neglected most was the one with myself.
It’s easy to forget to nurture yourself when a loved one needs constant attention. I had given up horseback riding because I didn’t have time for it – but that didn’t mean I had to give up everything. I enjoyed nature and exercising. I could still take a walk down our country road and feast my eyes on the horses grazing in their pastures.
Being in nature fed my soul, and reminded me that, despite the losses I was facing with my mother’s Alzheimer’s, there was a bigger plan at work. Taking time for myself allowed me to notice the beauty around me. God’s presence was everywhere, and even if my relationships were suffering, His love would never fail me.
Next week: Lessons From My Mother Pt 5: My Faith Was Bigger Than My Mother’s Illness
This is the fourth of a 5-part series from Ann Campanella, the author of Motherhood: Lost and Found, an award-winning memoir that tells the story of her struggle to become a mother while dealing with her own mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s. For more information, visit: www.anncampanella.com