Monday, August 19, 2019

Put on your own mask first

Growing up is hard.

Watching someone grow old can be harder.

The normal order of things is for a parent to raise their child. 
They take care of you. 
What do you do when the situation in reversed and you have to take care of them? 

My mother has been blessed with good health for most of her very long life—to the extent of being able to drive around town even when she was in her nineties.  But time takes its toll on a body, no matter how well you treat it. Eventually my mother got to the point where she was too frail to live alone. 

At about the same time, my employer decided to close down the site where I was working. They kindly offered to move me to the company’s main site on the east coast. To give them points for honesty, I should mention that they made this offer in January, when the average high temperature at their location was 5 degrees Fahrenheit.  I thanked them for the offer. But I decided these two events—my site closing down and my mother growing frail—could not be described as coincidence. Seemed more like Providence. 

I began submitting my resume to companies near where my mother lived. Usually, this is a long process. It can take weeks or even months before you hear back from a company. But within a day of sending my resume, I found a company that was eager to hire me. They flew me down for an interview within the week, offered me a job the week after, and then paid for my multi-state move. 

At this point, I figured everything was set. I’d be around in the evenings in case my mother needed help, and I’d save up the money I would otherwise have spent in rent. Easy peasy!

Um… no. I hadn’t counted on the physical toll it would take on an elderly lady to have to clear out a room so I could live there. Apparently, in the years since I’d moved out, my room had become the ideal location for things that no one wanted to use (but at the same time no one wanted to throw away). 

It is hard to get rid of decades of Stuff. Even with my brothers helping out, my mother still ended up in the hospital as a result of the physical exertion of lifting boxes and carrying them downstairs. (What is that, you say? Ask my sons to do that for me? Nonsense! I'm perfectly capable of picking up a box snd carrying it down the stairs.... until the point where it hurts too much for her to sit stand or walk.) 

Even once I’d moved in and my mother was able to come back home, things weren’t easy. While it made sense from my point of view that I do the heavy lifting when it came to household chores, to my mother this was incomprehensible.  For my mother, taking care of other people what was she was supposed to do. No matter what how much her body complained, this was her job and she did not want to give it up.

So in the past few months I have learned a lot:

  • I’ve learned that as we get older, while our bodies might age our minds still insist that we can do everything we used to do, thankyouverymuch.
  • I’ve learned what I see as helping can very easily be seen as taking away the last vestige of a senior citizen's independence and self respect. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk.
  • I've learned that caring for other people does not mean giving up what you need for your own survival.

If you’ve ever flown in a plane, you’ve had to sit through the lecture about how you should take care of your own oxygen mask before making sure anyone else is getting air to breathe. It feels selfish to take care of yourself, but in a crisis it’s practical to make sure that you’re still there to take care of other people. I’m starting to take time for myself to write and read and pray. These are things that help me renew my strength for the next day’s tasks.

Ultimately, we are all caretakers of each other. And we all need to find time to put on our own oxygen mask to survive. 

What do you do to make sure you have time to breathe?

Photo courtesy of Gerd Altmann


  1. Good morning, Evelyn. Thanks for sharing such an honest story. I've seen a lot of discussion of caring for our elderly parents lately, and it's hard not to think that eventually, God willing, we'll be the ones in that position. It's a reminder that should help with patience. It doesn't always, of course, because we're human.

    During times of intense care for others, prayer was my lifeline. Reading had always helped me relax, but after my husband passed away, I found I couldn't really relax enough to sink into any story. Hallmark movies took over then. They gave me temporary distraction with no effort on my part.

    I hope you continue to find time to write, read, and pray.

  2. This is so timely for me! Thank you for posting, Evelyn.My dad suffered a stroke in June and has been in rehab ever since. We have to make some hard decisions about next steps since he can no longer live at home! The whole situation is very sad and overwhelming.

  3. And yes! Your site closing was aligned perfectly with your mother's needs. No coincidence at all.

  4. Evelyn, your move was definitely not a coincidence. God had a plan. Bless you for heeding his call. And I'm sure your mother is grateful. Being a caretaker is difficult and being cared for is hard too. It's good to take time away to refresh and regroup. I take a breather by taking hot baths, going for walks and napping. I will be praying for you and your mom.


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