December 27, 2023
I had a conversation with an old friend this afternoon. We don’t talk often; a couple times a year. I told him what’s going on with me, that I left my role as my mother’s caregiver, and how that’s all settling with me.
He told me his brother had been the one who took on the role of primary caregiver for his mother because they lived near one another, although he and his sister helped financially. My friend has a wife and young children and didn’t feel he was able to stay with his mother for any length of time. The primary responsibility fell to his brother.
Their mother passed a year ago, and his brother is still resentful. The relationships between the siblings are not back to what they were and may never be. My friend has some guilt over that, but he lived cross country and has a wife and children, and simply wasn’t able to take on the role his brother had. I understand putting the needs of your immediate family ahead of the needs of aging parents. I get that. I don’t fault him for that. But I couldn’t tell him he shouldn’t feel bad for letting the caregiver role fall to his brother simply because of proximity. Because when you get right down to it, you can put your immediate family as priority and still care for an aging parent – he could have moved his family to be closer to his mother, or he could have moved his mother closer to him. He has the means. But I didn’t say that. I would never say that. But I thought that.
He would have liked it if I had told him he’d done all he could, but I couldn’t tell him that. I don’t want him to suffer, I want him to be at peace with the choices he made, and I want his relationship with his brother to be healed and restored. I want those things for him, because he is a dear friend and I care about his well-being. Yet, the only thing I could say to him was, “I understand. I understand.”
I could not tell him he made the right choice, because it wasn’t my choice to make, and I don’t know if he did make the right choice. He wants to believe contributing financially was enough, but I can tell from his voice he believes he could have done more. I feel bad I can’t affirm him on this one, but I can’t. That doesn’t mean I don’t still respect him immensely and love him dearly as a friend. Because – I get it. I understand. I understand.
Many people will look at my choice to leave my mother and not understand, consider me callous, heartless, unloving, ungrateful. I had to get to where I didn’t care if people thought less of me. It stings to be judged for this choice, but I realized I could not let people’s disapproval affect my decision to leave. That's another reason I'd never question my friend's choices. We are all on our own path. We all do what we believe is best in every moment.
My decision to leave was a matter of survival. I’ve lived too close to Suicide for too much of my life. The last time I overdosed, August 2022, I spent 12 days in the hospital. I’ve spent every day since then making sure the decisions I make and the things I do will never land me back there. The time came for me to accept that staying with mom would likely land me back there. I will not go back there. It’s not because the hospital was so horrible, it’s because I don’t want to want to die every moment. To live like that is not living at all.
I sometimes wonder how much money is enough to offset the loss of years of your life. How much money makes up for not having freedom, for being verbally abused, for the lack of support, the lack of respect, the lack of decency? And it’s not just my mom, she was only half of the reason I left. The other half was my brother. I’m surprised neither he nor my mom started throwing money at me to get me to stay. I think it’s because they knew my decision was final.
Sometimes I wonder how I would have felt if they had offered me money. How much would they have offered? $2000 a month? $4000 a month? What was I worth to them? But more importantly, how much money would it have taken for me not to develop the mammoth amount of resentment I developed towards my mother? Resentment so palpable, so thick and heavy I thought it might suffocate me. Crushing chest pain. Crushing. I didn’t know if I could live through that kind of pain. But I did.
How much money is moot. Because there is no amount of money that can offset the suffering I endured for four and a half years as her caregiver. There is no amount of money that will ever give me that time back. Nothing will ever make up for those lost years.
Was it all bad? Was there no benefit? No. There were good times, there were benefits. I learned invaluable things about myself I would not have learned any other way under any other circumstances. I matured, I got wise. Because of the hell I walked through, I dare say lived in, I am stronger, more resilient, more determined, and my path forward is clear. I know exactly how I want to live my life. I know exactly how I want to spend my time, where I want to invest my energy.
I thought I’d have a tremendous amount of guilt and regret walking away like I did, but I don’t. Every day some small miracle happens, and I am affirmed in the knowing I did the right and best thing for me – and for my mom. We have been and always will be closer to one another than to anyone else on this earth. We love each other more than words can express. But we’re better off apart.
I have a bit of regret that I didn’t walk away sooner, but my philosophy is that it takes as long as it takes; we do what is right for us when it is right for us to do it. I wasn’t ready before. And then I was ready. And a door opened, and I walked through it.
Even six months ago, I would have said it was all God. And yes, she was there, standing beside the door, encouraging me, reaching out her hand to usher me in to this new life. But I'm the one that manifest the door, and I'm the one that chose to open it and walk through. I count it a miracle nonetheless.
It’s very lovely here, in this little senior apartment in Portland, Oregon. School starts January 16th. I’m looking forward to that, but in the meantime, it’s nice to read and write and rest and nest. Life is not easy, and I am poorer than I was in my 20s. But I like myself now, more than ever before.
I like this life I’m making for myself. Me and Tabitha. We are doing just fine!