Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Providing emotional support to a parent is HARD.

The rambling thoughts that make up this post aren't a particularly flattering depiction of my character. But they're honest, and something I'm struggling with. This summer will definitely go down as one of the most stressful times of my life.

Last night my aunt called me and asked me to give Dad an update on my Grandpa and Grandma. Grandpa had to have emergency surgery, and even though he made it through the surgery, he'll be in the ICU for a short time. Grandma is recovering from a painful ordeal with shingles and is very weak.

As you know, Dad has a lot on his plate right now. It stressed me out to add more to his burden, but I had no choice; he needs to know how things are back home.

Before I made the call, I sat on my porch swing for a while and focused on my breathing, mustering up the strength to make the call. I knew it would be rough. I needed to explain the situation delicately, taking care to strike a balance that would make him understand that Grandpa's situation is serious and not to be taken lightly but that he's stable and Dad shouldn't worry.

Many times talking with my Dad is like speaking to a child. He's so emotionally fragile that he often breaks down and cries over anything. He's been like this for as long as I can remember; it's not a character trait brought on by his struggle with MJ's cancer. I have a hard time when this happens because I just don't know what to do. My body tenses and I freeze up. I murmur words of comfort and encouragement like I would if a young child fell down and scraped her knee.

Except that this is so much worse than just a scraped knee. My dad is struggling with his wife dying, his parents are both aging and facing serious health concerns, his eyesight and hearing are declining so much that he feels cut off from the world, and he's 850 miles away from his home. His burden is heavy. But when he breaks down and cries to me, I feel so inadequate and uncomfortable. The self-centered child inside of me throws a tantrum and says Hey, I'm the kid here. I shouldn't have to be the strong one. Supporting a parent is weird.

I don't think of myself as an emotionally stunted person but giving comfort and helping my father with these issues is much more draining than I expected. I struggle because he is more fragile than I am. He becomes overwhelmed and distraught over something as trivial as not being able to figure out how to leave a comment on Facebook, and he obsesses over not receiving all of his mail. The things that reduce him to tears would either piss me off, or be nothing more than a blip on my emotional radar. I'm ashamed to admit that his inability to deal with even small things exasperates me sometimes; I feel smothered by his neediness.

My frustration horrifies me.

How can I be impatient with him when he is going through hell right now? I try with every ounce of my energy to make sure he doesn't see the frustration I feel. That would hurt him even more.

It's a delicate balance, because I have my own life to live and I need to preserve my sanity (assuming I'm still in possession of it) and make time for my family but I feel a responsibility to do everything I can to help Dad and MJ. I'm doing my best to be supportive.

I made the call and gave Dad the update on Grandpa and Grandma. I talked with him about MJ's health and how she's doing emotionally. It was tough and uncomfortable and there were tears. But it was also okay. He took the news better than I expected and we had a nice chat.

After I got done talking with Dad, I called my mother-in-law. We've both had busy summers and I haven't had a chance to visit with her in a while. We talked for over an hour. It was so nice to vent a little bit and chat about all sorts of topics. A light conversation with a dear friend is just what I needed after the stress of the phone call.

And, here it is, I'll admit it: A little sympathy and emotional support from her felt pretty good too. Sometimes we all need it, I guess.


Kirsten said...

You are so strong and have so much on your plate. End of life situations are so difficult when it's only 1 person failing. I'm sorry that this is all on you at once.

Barb said...

Your dad is not the only one going through all this. You have taken on so much ~ and it's only right that you would need some comfort as well. You are so busy taking care of others, some one needs to take care of you!