Dear Annie: Caring for my 91-year-old mother is taking a toll on me.
For the past five years, I have made sure my elderly parents were doing well. My father battled bladder cancer for more than 25 years, but in the end, cancer won out big time. I quit my teaching job to help support my mother with his care. My father passed four years ago. My mother did OK but became dependent on me.
For the past 14 months, it has been terrible. My mother has never been a positive person. I love her, but this is toxic. She knows how to push my buttons, and the guilt trips are awful. My brothers want nothing to do with her caregiving.
For the past 14 months, my life has been consumed with making her happy. She has given up driving, so I have to do the grocery shopping and pick up her medicine. That means between taking care of my husband and our home, as well as hers, I am running around constantly.
I have given up my life. My friends aren’t around anymore. My husband continues to play golf and run with his buddies; his life still goes on. He has been supportive but since he retired, he decided this was not going to be his retirement. We are both 70. We are at the end of our lives. At 70, my parents were traveling and doing their thing. I can’t even think about doing my thing!
I am trying to make my mother and husband happy, but I am not happy myself. I am a cancer survivor. I haven’t had time to see my oncologists in four years. I would like more time to enjoy my life with my husband.
After this last trip to the ER, three days ago, I told my mother that I cannot do this anymore. I need help. She took offense and does what she has always done, which was to control me with guilt. I am consumed with guilt and anger.
I never wanted kids. My parents were good parents, and they loved us. But my mother should never have had kids. I sensed that at an early age. I left for college at 18 and never went back. I guess my punishment for not having kids is that I am now taking care of a 91-year-old.
I had never taken medicine except for my cancer treatments. Now, I am on anti-depressants at 70! I was always a positive person. I see no light at the end of the tunnel for me. If I don’t get better control of this situation, I will go down fast, and then who will take care of my mother?
— Tired and Worn-Out
Dear Tired and Worn-Out: It sounds like you have given so much of yourself that you are losing a part of yourself. Let’s get that back!
Your mother’s practice of making you feel guilty is not fair. You say she knows which buttons to push, but the only button I think you need to push is PAUSE. Release these feelings of guilt and shame, and take time to appreciate all you do and all you have done.
You sound like a wonderful, caring and loving daughter and wife, and that is worthy of celebration. Kids or no kids, you are entitled to some alone time with your husband, your friends and — most importantly — with yourself.
I promise that with some TLC, you will be much happier. You are worthy and deserving of being taken care of, especially when your health is at risk. Book a doctor’s appointment — today.
Also, don’t let your brothers or your husband off the hook so easily. Home care or a nursing home might be the answer for your mother. Talk with your brothers about what your mom needs and divide the tasks more evenly. And it’s your husband’s house, too. He needs to manage its upkeep as well. Let your family step up so you can experience the love and caring you’ve been missing.
Annie Lane, a graduate of New York Law School and New York University, writes this column for Creators Syndicate. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.