It’s not you …

Well, maybe it’s you…

I had to break up with Mama J, just a little bit. I’m sure there is some kind of official name for this — caregiver syndrome, or something like that — but the day I cracked was Hallmark Ornament Day, aka Big Deal Day 2016.

Each year, Mama J buys Hallmark ornaments for friends and family for Christmas. It’s not really my thing, but so much love and care and thought goes into it that it’s become quite meaningful, both for donor and recipient. It works something like this: the customer gets a “wish book” and places his or her order months ahead of time. Then, in early to mid-July, the ornaments come in to a local Hallmark store. This is a Big Deal of a day in the Hallmark ornament world.

So Big Deal Day arrived, and my job was to take Mama J to the Hallmark store to pick up her ginormous ornament order, and then we would go back to her apartment, take everything out of the boxes and ooh and aah over them, then repack all of the ornaments. The first part of this went off without a hitch. It was even kind of festive and fun. The Hallmark store had a photo booth of sorts, and snacks, and lots of excited people picking up their ornament orders. Mama J carefully checked off her two bags of ornaments against her list, had me push her wheelchair around the store while she added a few more items to the pile, and checked out her small fortune’s worth of ornaments.

All finished, we loaded up in the car and headed out. Then, Mama J wanted to go to the post office. This was totally fine; she had everything ready to go, and we got through it relatively painlessly. Now, please understand that Saturdays (did I mention it was a Saturday?) are pretty sacred to B and me. We go run in the morning, have breakfast, and then settle into the business of errand-running and spending precious time together since it’s really our only day that we typically have to ourselves. So, since Mama J and I were on our big Ornament Day adventure, B and I had postponed hanging out, but we did have a much-anticipated lunch date.

Back to the post office. Mama J and I finished up, and I had started pushing her wheelchair back to the car when she said, “I need to go to the grocery store.” I can’t explain what happened next, really, except I felt everything in me go absolutely flat. I didn’t know whether to cry or yell at her. I was filled with both anguish and anger. I know that seems like a perfectly reasonable and appropriate request, to go to the grocery store in the midst of running other errands, but I was suddenly stricken by the fact that I had allotted a certain amount of time on my Saturday, and now Mama J wanted more of it, and I just didn’t think I could give any more. For the past eight or nine months, I have given and given and given — every spare moment I can spend with her — and this one simple request was just too much.

My voice trembling, I said, “Mama, you’re going to have to help me.” Instantly concerned, she asked what was wrong. Somehow, I managed to choke it out. I know this is hard on you. I know you don’t get to go out much and when you do, you try to make it count. But I’ve allotted a certain amount of time to these errands. I have a much-needed lunch date with my husband. I can’t go to the grocery store and ooh and aah over ornaments. We’ll have to choose the grocery store over ornament unpacking.

This is what it looks like to break up with your mom a little bit.

I felt awful. I felt like the worst human being on the planet. I stood my ground, and it made me feel incredibly selfish and small. My feelings were hurt, and her feelings were hurt, and we somehow got through the grocery store and back to her apartment, and I went off to my lunch date, and she sat there later and unpacked and labeled the ornaments all by herself, and we never spoke of them again. Even now, writing these words, I can still feel our mutual pain in that moment.

But I have “broken up” with Mama J a little bit. I have let her sitter’s role grow a bit more, getting Candace to take her to the grocery store and hairdresser. Every once in a while, I don’t see her for lunch or dinner. Some nights, Mama J is responsible for her own medicine and turning down her own bed — letting her do the things she can still do. B and I just returned from a glorious, Mama J-free weekend at the beach, a time to reconnect, to spend time together, to just be.

Despite the difficulty of doing so, I know with certainty that standing up for myself was the right thing to do. I cannot be a good caregiver to Mama J if I am not giving care to myself, and to my own little family, B and the dogs and me. And in the coming months, as things get harder, I am going to do my level best to do both … even if it means breaking up with Mama J every now and again.

PS If you want to read our journey from the very beginning, start here: And Mama J makes 3 or click the blog title at the top of the page.

Next post: Gifts



19 thoughts on “It’s not you …”

  1. Hang in there, sweet friend. You are doing an amazing job and I am in awe of you. Your mom doesn’t love you any less. She may even love you more for making yourself a priority, even if she doesn’t tell you so. Love you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t do this without you, my friend. Whether it’s just our morning runs/vent sessions, or you swinging by to check on her, I wouldn’t be able to get through this. I’m grateful for and to you, every single day.


  2. Finding that balance is so very difficult. You and B are doing an amazing job. Working in your time is just as important as getting her the care she needs. Letting go and trusting others is not easy, but necessary for your own sanity. You’re and amazing daughter doing an amazing job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s been a hard lesson, but I’m trying to be a willing student. Thanks for always being so sweet to me, Bonnie — I know you know how this is … love you!


  3. This made me cry. Three weeks ago, I took my mom and our two dogs to the beach for the weekend. It’s a 3 hour drive, so halfway through, I stopped at a Farmer’s Market for a bit of a break. What was supposed to be a 15 minute stretch turned into an hour and a half shopping spree with her coming back with a cart loaded down with fruits and vegetables. We were headed to the beach! Where in the world was she going to put all that food?
    The whole weekend was filled with me getting frustrated with her, then feeling mega-guilty. My thoughts and prayers are with you, my sweet cousin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been SO GOOD, too! So very patient. But it is wearing a bit thin, and then I feel guilty for it. I know you get it, and I’m grateful. Love to you, dear cousin.


  4. Ahhh…. tears in my eyes for you, but… Good for YOU! I am not yet in that position (yes, I said yet), but I know it will be here someday. We watched my parents take care of my Dad’s parents and my MIL take care of my FIL. I know it’s hard. You are nurturing her independence as much as taking much needed time for yourself! I’m very sure she cherishes the time with you to get out and do regular things, but I’m sure she understands that need for you and Brian to do these things without her too. But I’m sure it’s especially hard!
    Having Matthew has changed things for us in many ways. We love him endlessly, but there is always, always the need to take care of him present. He will not just graduate HS and find his own way in the year after that like Ryan will. He will always need watching over even if he moves out. I know what a toll it takes on my marriage and it’s hard to find and keep the balance for Michael is way more fierce in his protection of Matthew! So, he is with us way more often than not. We cherished our Monday’s for 6 weeks this summer while Matthew was at camp.
    (((Hugs))) to all of you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, the hardest time I’ve ever known, the last two years of my mother’s life. There were times when I wished she would die before I came to hate her. That’s a stupefyingly awful thing to say, but it’s absolutely true. You are doing a lovely, graceful turn at a miserable job. No one who has not been there can understand. I love you.


  6. I had a moment like this once with GDavid.
    For me, and maybe for you, it’s not that you didn’t want to do these things. It’s the surprise of doing those things. Had you known up front that she wanted to go here and there, you would have discussed it before you left and no one would ha e gotten their feelings hurt. Set up the new guidelines. If I do t have 24 hour notice, there’s a good chance the answer is going to be no.
    If she didn’t know about your day plans, she may have assumed it was a mother daughter day. This is all good stuff for ANY relationship ship. Keep going, your learning soooo much♡♡♡

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I understand I have been taking care of my dad for the last 4 years and it gets tougher. You are right for standing up for your rights, I didn’t and I now regret taking time from my family. It is so hard and I had a sibling that wants to criticize everything I do, even though they can’t be found to help out which makes it even more difficult. Hang in there, it is a rough road but take time for yourself or else you and your husband will suffer.


    1. Oh, girl — I don’t think I can take four years of this! Bless you and your dad, and I’m sorry about the sibling stuff … that part can be awfully hard. Feel free to message me if you ever need a shoulder!


  8. I am glad you are taking care of yourself too! Caregiving can’t be done well if you are at your ropes end. While my experience with caregiving has been minimal, even that requires the right energy and mindset. Sounds like you are doing a fantastic job.


    1. Thank you, sweet lady. I’m trying to find the right balance. I think I headed in too gung-ho and forgot to take care of myself along the way.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh Gail…..I understand. I took care of my dad who has the diagnosis of Alzheimers with little or no help from my siblings. I made the hard decisions to sell his house, move him into assisted living (then the VA), sold his car, etc. Now that he is safe in the VA home, they want to be involved. Still going through a court case for guardianship/conservatorship. I feel for you and if you ever need to vent, feel free to email me. Sending you enormous strength….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry, Ebbe … You never really understand until you’re in the thick of it, and I know you get it for sure. Same here — I’m happy to lend an ear if you need it. Thinking about you and your dad.


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