Welcome to Following the Whispers blog

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit. Hope you enjoy your stay. I blog here whenever I feel the need. This blog was created at the time my memoir came out, in February, 2009. Its motto was: creating a life of inner peace and self-acceptance from the depths of despair. Now, my focus is sharing this journey we call life.

“Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth, and that is not speaking it.” Naomi Wolf

“We are called human beings, not human doings.” Wes Nisker, Buddhist teacher

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs…(And) if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Theodore Roosevelt

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Those of you who are moms and still have children at home live the life of caregiver 24/7. No matter where you are, what you are doing, how you are feeling, you are "on" for you kids.

In the past I've tended to have a "caregiver" personality. I like to help others, feel needed, and to be useful. That is, until I brought my Dad to live in New Mexico in 2001, where I proceeded to be his caregiver for three years. I've written an essay about that, which can be found on my website: http://www.followingthewhispers.com/, if you're interested. It's called "My Father's Keeper." Dad died in December of 2004.

Two years ago, we moved hubby's mom to Albuquerque from her hometown of Plainview, Texas, where she'd lived her whole life. There are profound differences in the relationship I have with her, as opposed to my father, the most important being that I feel loved by her, unconditionally--something I didn't feel from my father until the very end. She also has a much better attitude than my Dad, something hubby has inherited from her, and something I am aspiring to--she accepts the ebbs and flows and challenges life brings without complaint.

That being said, I am still struggling with feeling responsible for her needs. And that makes me feel awful. It doesn't matter that the feelings I am having are normal--all caregivers go through this. I expect myself to be able to manage my caregiver responsibilities seamlessly and without emotional reaction, to always be affable and smiling, never get irritated with her, and to willingly comply with whatever comes up.

Big lesson in life for me: watch out for expectations. I do much better with neutral expectations, but I tend to forget this. Although I have grown and changed many behaviors and attitudes over the years, I can most assuredly tell you I am never going to be the person described in the above paragraph--not in this lifetime, anyway. So how do I deal with this in a way that works for me?

One minute at a time. One thought, feeling, belief, action at a time. Each need, each request, each intrusion on my time and my life must be looked at individually. Is this really necessary? Must I stop everything and handle this now? Can it wait? Is it life threatening? Will it affect quality of life?

These questions ensure that I will not allow my emotional responses and reactions to interfere with making appropriate decisions regarding her care. So, when she tells me she wants me to come to the Family XMAS reception the retirement community hosts each year, I can, without guilty conscience, say, "No, mom, I can't. I need the time for me." Well, I can't truthfully say it's guilt-free, but at least I know I'm within my rights to feel and say and do this.

How do you deal with the conflicting needs of self versus life: spouse, kids, friends, family? How do you take care of you?



Cyndi said...

Well, this is a big question for us "caretaker" types. It took me 37 years to realize I had never taken care of myself. Yes, I was independent and self-sufficient but everyone else's wishes were always granted, sometimes I even anticipated what those were and granted them without being asked. Every ridiculous request or demand from anyone...done. Taking care of me or ever saying no was a completely foreign concept.

Once I realized it was ok and even necessary I started off BIG. After explaining to my husband that things were not working and his refusal to accept my new terms, we separated. We were separated for 5 months and were in marriage counseling for about 9 months. We were able to reconcile.

Next I made another bold move (for me). I did the unthinkable and went out of town, alone, for Mother's Day weekend. My mother was none too pleased. ;)

After those two major changes, taking care of me comes much easier now. I say no when I need to. I ask for help directly when I need it. I still make Mother's Day about me. I feel no guilt and also no resentment.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

My parents lived about 1100 miles away. The year they were so ill, my husband and I spent more days with them than in our own home, to say nothing of the tiring trips back and forth. There were days I didn’t handle it well at all and now I wish I could have some 'do-overs.' I am glad I spent the time with them. I can only hope they knew, regardless of my mood, that I loved them.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Karen, I think it must be so much more difficult to take care of an elderly family member than it is to care for children. I put myself in the position of having children to nurture...when we've got the tremendous and challenging responsibility of caring for the elderly or of special needs, I think it taps a different part of us.

You're so right...you've got to make time for yourself. I do that with my children, too.

Mystery Writing is Murder

The Old Silly said...

My wife should read this post. That's what she does for a living, assisted care for the elderly. She gets so attached to her clients and of course they ... one by one, eventually die. She takes her job very seriously, loves her clients and it pains her a lot. Although she often says "it was time, and I'm glad the Good Lord finally took him/her home."

Marvin D Wilson

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

If I don't take care of me first then I can't take care of anyone else. Of course there are emergency situations that take priority, but where there are choices, and maybe it sounds selfish, I need to think how to take care of me so I can take care of the person in need. If my glass is empty and I'm shaking it upside down, then there's nothing left to pour into someone else's glass!

Joanne said...

I'm with Donna. It's important to take care of yourself first. Whether it's a second quiet cup of coffee, a long walk, two writing hours. Something to put fuel in your own tank, to give you the spiritual and physical energy to meet other demands without resentment. It's a fine line to walk, but worth it.

Helen Ginger said...

Such a great question, Karen. First off, I so admire you, the growth process you're going through, and the fact that you openly share with us. I need to learn from you. I'm not taking care of a parent, but just within the last few days it's dawned on me that I am not taking care of myself as I should be. There are others who come first, sometimes because they have to and sometimes because I don't put myself ahead of their needs. I like what Donna said in her comment: "If my glass is empty and I'm shaking it upside down, then there's nothing left to pour into someone else's glass!"

Straight From Hel

Tamika: said...

Karen you are a kind soul for caring the people in your life the way you do. Giving of myself is never easy or comfortable and it keeps me on my knees.

My children and husband are the recipients of most of my time. It can be frustrating and overwhelming if I don't take a break every now and then. Stepping away gives me a chance to exhale.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Caring for an older parent (or children for that matter) takes someone special. I admire that you can do it, especially as it's not YOUR mother, and still give yourself room to say no.

Patricia Stoltey said...

When I cared for elderly in-laws, and later for a dying relative, I remember exhausting myself with caregiver duties until I could barely stand or think. I was younger then. I thought I could do everything and handle anything.

Now that I'm older and wiser, I'm likely to say no or enlist others to help. We're good, but we're not superhuman.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I find the most trying thing is realizing I have to come in last. I know you're not supposed to put yourself last, but someone has to be and it's often me.

I'm not dealing with elderly parents, as they're both still fine even in their 80s, I'm dealing with 2 teenagers and a special needs pre-teen. It can be exhausting.


sanjeet said...

for Mother's Day weekend. My mother was none too pleased.

Work from home India