“NORMAL” – A CAREGIVER’S OBSTACLE? by Holly Whiteside, Mindfulcaregiving Guide

She and her mother had always (or never) been friends. Her family mostly (or rarely) got along with each other. Her love life wasn’t what she had hoped it would be (or was really quite all right.) Her marriage (or singledom) suited her (or didn’t.)

Then her mother became older. She slowed down and everyone said “That’s normal.” But then the daughter noticed that her mother seemed emotionally down and everyone said, “That’s not normal! Better give her meds. Give her time. She will be back to normal in no time.”

She worked hard to keep her mother smiling and to keep the rest of life running as normally as possible—going to work, doing the laundry, to bed by 11:00—but then she would lie in bed and  (wisely) wonder, “What’s really happening?” She had been working so hard to nail life down to some state of normalcy that she had lost her connection to life and her mother as they really were.

The problem is that aging is natural change, and though it  can be useful to identify changes, measuring success using the benchmark of normal, (as though it’s a static state of being), adds a damaging undercurrent of stress. Trying to hold aging still at some predetermined state of normal means resisting life’s natural progression. We are who we are—some blend of our genes, our upbringing, our spark of unique individuality, the choices we have made. Our families are most likely dysfunctional in some way, since the state of functionality in families is, at best, supremely rare. Throughout our lives we change, we grow, we learn, hopefully incrementally becoming more complete, and at any point in that continuum we are who we are. We can only do what we can do. We might as well enjoy the life we have as much as possible. Acceptance of change makes enjoyment more accessible, especially for the caregiver. Acceptance is healing.

When her mother died, the daughter was stricken (or elated.) She couldn’t quite function as normal. People said, “You’re grieving. That’s normal.” But when a month had passed, two months, people began to say, “It’s time to bounce back. Maybe she needs meds. She needs to get back to her normal life.”

Luckily she asked herself the real question, “What IS normalcy anyway? What’s lost by spending so much energy trying to pretend that life is normal? What if I met it on its own terms, asking instead, “How could I move with life?” She let go of the idea of normal as a benchmark and began telling the truth.  She looked forward, not back. She listened to her heart more than to the opinions of others. Caregiving had taught her how to be her own best self, right now. The next thing she knew, she was inventing a very different life and way of living that suited her better than anything she had previously known.

by Holly Whiteside, MindfulCaregiving.net

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