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Category Archives: estrangement

A sharp pain echoes through my heart

Before the tears begin to fall.

And in the darkness of my room

I cry.

For everything that’s ever hurt me-

And all the things that ever will,

Alone in the blackness-

I cry.

And the tears become sobs

And the sobs become screams

And the screams become prayers-

That I cry.

Are Your arms wide enough-

Is Your love strong enough-

To comfort this child

When I cry?

Let me hear Your gentle words

Let me feel Your presence here.

Let me know I’m not alone-

As I cry.

But You are strangely silent

And I feel no arms around me

As I call out Your name

And I cry.

I wail until my heart is empty-

Till crystal pain no longer flows.

And fall asleep among the teardrops-

That I cried.

Your angels sang a lullaby-

Your gift of tears- a sweet release,

And You were with me all the while

I cried.            

Lonnette Harrell

Last night I cried, because I thought about my mother, as I often do. I know she must be sinking farther and farther into dementia, and I can’t do anything about it. I love her and miss her, and I wish things had ended differently. (But I guess she made her choice also.) I wish I could comfort her, in that far-away place she now dwells. How can you be angry with someone who is now probably like a confused child?

I cry because I remember her fear of dementia, and her fear of having to live that way. I cry because I tried so hard to care for her and please her, and she called me hateful names (while she was still in her right mind.) I cry because I’ve always loved her, and I just wanted her to love me back.

I cry because I wish that I could soothe her fears, and I can’t. All of this is progressing so rapidly, and I could see it plainly awhile back. We were told that it would not get better. I knew that her care needs were more than I could handle anymore, and I was already 3 1/2 years into total exhaustion, and sick myself. There should be no shame in saying that I could not continue on as I was. I simply could not. I knew that I was going to die.  But my brother didn’t get it. Now maybe he will.

How frightening it must be, to be trapped in your very physically ill body, losing your mind. It seems like some kind of cruel nightmare, that has no ending. She was so afraid of becoming like the people we saw in the halls of the nursing home (where she was for 5 1/2 months of rehab.) I always reassured her, and tried to help her through her confusion, and prayed that it would pass. It really accelerated after her hip surgery. She was never really the same after that, and we were warned by the Ortho doctor that many elderly people are affected that way by the anesthesia.

And now I can’t get to her. She might as well be in a castle with a drawbridge and a moat, instead of a small house in a small town with my angry brother, and a caregiver. She’s isolated. She probably wouldn’t want to see me anyway.

And I could not go back without becoming totally involved in her care, and I am not physically able to do that anymore. I have been very sick lately, and I just can no longer take the stress of her care, or of her emotional treatment of me. 

That is why she was so much better off in the Assisted Living, where she could get socialization, food she loved, and medical assistance and supervision.  There was a Memory Care Unit there as well, if she needed it later on. But my brother was determined to bring her home, and now he is probably overwhelmed as well. (You cannot possibly know what it is like to care for all her needs until you’ve done it. I could not keep up anymore, and the stress of it all was killing me.) I needed help desperately.

I can only reach her through my prayers. I ask God to comfort her, and strengthen her. I ask Him to take care of her, as I no longer can. I ask Him to soften her heart towards me, and let her memories be of our happy times together (and there were quite a few, in spite of our problems.) I ask God to tell her I love her.

But when I can’t take the pain in my heart anymore, I cry…

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Wouldn’t it be great if we could just spend a week or two grieving for a loss, and then it would be done? No more sharp knives in the heart, no more waking up in the middle of the night, no more memories to constantly invade an otherwise routine day. But it seems like grief is the gift that keeps on giving. Attachments are made in this life, and love just naturally occurs. Severing that bond feels anything but natural.

My birth dad died several years ago, and his funeral was on New Years Eve. I had  never really cared for the holiday day before that, and I will never forget flying into our small town airport, having been through a tearful day of “good-byes”, as well as “hellos” to those I had not seen in a long time.  I knew that all I had hoped for in my relationship with my dad, would now never come to pass. We had known each other only on the surface, but had both longed for so much more. Distance and busy lives separated us, and sad to say, we let it. (You always think you’ll have more time.)

Not long after his death (about 5 months) my stepfather died. He had been in my life since I was age 7. Our relationship had been stormy initially, but developed into one of  the greatest miracles of my life. After I was married, and through the future years, we grew closer. He wasn’t one to have long heart to heart talks, but he often said “I love you” for no reason at all (other than the fact that he did.) The day that we found out that he needed triple bypass surgery, instead of being able to correct the problem with a stent, I cried in my car like he was already gone. My husband couldn’t understand why I  took it so hard that he would need the heart surgery, but there was a “knowing” in my spirit. I didn’t feel good about it, and I couldn’t stop crying. (Of course, I didn’t cry in front of him.) He came through the triple bypass fine, but succumbed to hospital acquired infections including pneumonia, staph, and serratia. We watched him dying through many long weeks of gasping for breath on a respirator in the ICU and CCU, and it was like a daily nightmare. Seeing him like that was so painful and heartbreaking, and even though I desperately wanted to have faith for him to live, it was apparent that minus a miracle, he wasn’t going to make it. When he died, we spent some moments as a family in his hospital room, that was eerily silent. No machines whirring, no beeps, no gasping for breath. Just a strange, stark silence.

He looked so big lying there. He was 6’4″, and I couldn’t imagine life without him. When the doctor had told us that he didn’t think Sam would make it, my mother said, (as we walked down the hospital corridor) “What am I gonna do?”

What were any of us going to do? He had represented strength to us, and a knowledge of so many things. He knew the answer to almost every question we had, and as long as Sam was around, every problem had a solution.

But once he was gone, life was brutal for my mom and me. Every day brought new discoveries of things that Sam had taken care of, that now we had to struggle with. Things like dragging the huge trashcan to the curb, wrestling to get groceries in the house after a full day of errands, a myriad of  doctor’s  appointments for my mom, bills and paperwork, house maintenance, applying for home insurance when their former insurance company left town (and being turned down by the first one, because there were too many things wrong with the aging house.)

Sometimes it seemed like all we did was fight to keep our heads above water.  I cried from exhaustion when alone at times, but mostly I just gritted my teeth, and forced my body to function when it was way past its ability. No one will ever know the toll those days took on us. I tried to compensate for what my mom couldn’t do, struggled to make sure that all her medications were filled on time, and taken properly, and was continually concerned about her diabetes, and her unpredictable episodes of low blood sugar that often scared the life out of me, until I could bring her around. Days were spent worrying about her, and nights were spent tossing and turning, with a cell phone always on and by my bed, waiting to proclaim the next catastrophe. This went on for 3 1/2 long years, and I could tell that my physical health and emotional health were declining rapidly. It felt like I was drowning, and I was trying to keep her head above water, while mine was going under for the third time. (I had lost both of my dads in the span of  5 months, and really had no chance to grieve, because there was always another crisis to get through. But no one seemed to see or care what I was dealing with. It was enough to break anyone, and there is no shame in that.)

I cried out to people around me, though honestly our family had gotten so small, there was really no one to cry out to. No one that could physically make a difference, except my brother. His total contribution had been to buy the groceries and eat them, on his lunch break every day. I never felt like I could ask him to do more, or that he would be willing to. My uncle, who lived in Atlanta, was a good sounding board, and seemed to “get” how terribly difficult this was becoming for me. He never made me feel guilty for feeling like I was about to collapse, and even though he is my mom’s brother, he advised me to do what I had to do to get out of the situation, if necessary, to protect my health.

My cousin Jack (who was more like a brother, as we had been raised together until I was 7) also wrote me one letter saying that I could only do what I was able to do. But several times after that, I talked with him, and he seemed to be reluctant to even have an opinion. When things got so bad, before my estrangement with my mom, I wrote him an email and left a couple of messages (reaching out once again), but I never got a reply. (This hurt, as we had been fairly close because of our childhood together.) To this day, I’ve never heard from him.  I changed my phone numbers so my “family” couldn’t torment me anymore, but he has always had my email address, if he wanted to reach me. He was in town for Christmas, but I was gone.  However, I doubt that he will ever contact me again. His loyalties are with my mom and brother.  It seems like this whole situation is fraught with collateral damage that couldn’t be avoided.

And I guess that is what I want to address in this post. Bereavement can cause such stress and strife in families, and the loss of my stepfather is what ultimately led to the estrangement between my mom and me. The stress of her care all falling on me, the responsibility for her happiness and well-being, the pressure to try and do the things that he had done for her, while still having to manage my own family and life, along with my mom’s increasing physical and mental problems, was just too much for our relationship.

There was some troubling history there already, though I had tried to ignore it for so long. But the more overwhelmed and tired I became (with almost no help, and the increase daily in serious problems–a broken right foot, a broken left leg, a broken right hip, and increasing dementia) then the more stressful the whole thing became. She became more and more belligerent  and rebellious. She refused to use her walker consistently, and kept falling over and over again, until I was at my wit’s end.  Now it was horribly affecting my health and well-being also. I spent half my life, it seemed, in the emergency room. Then she called me horrible names after all that I had done for her, and that was the last straw for me. As soon as I got her settled in a wonderful assisted living, my brother took her out against all medical advice, with his eye on inheriting the house. (If she had stayed in assisted living, her house would have needed to be sold, to finance her living arrangements, and he was adamantly against that. I just wanted her properly taken care of and supervised.) So I have not seen either of  them since before Thanksgiving 2008.

As you can see, there is a fallout from death. If you have not experienced it, consider yourself fortunate. It changes the family dynamic–it brings out greed in some people, and causes others to have to bear tremendous burdens alone. Many marriages are strained because of the resulting changes, and people’s lives are in the balance. Everyone can understand the pressures when a widow or widower is left to raise a child (or children) alone, but few people understand the effect that a very sick, obstinate, demanding, angry (and often just plain mean) elder, with increasing dementia can have on a primary caregiver.  For me, the problems were overwhelming, as I predict they will also eventually be for my brother, though he has help during the day (thank the Lord) when he works. I suspect that he does not have to attend every doctor appointment as I did. I had no help at all. 

Sadly, I found myself driving by the house tonight, under the cover of darkness, hoping to get a glimpse of my mother. But all I could see through the open door was my brother, standing at the sink.  I am grieving, because I will likely never see my mother again. I cared for her (and loved her) with everything in me, and tried so hard to keep her alive for the past 3 1/2 years. At times I thought maybe I would die before she did. (I take 9 medications, have diabetes and high blood pressure, and many other chronic medical problems.) Many days are a struggle for me to get through.  I gave up all my friends and social contacts, and really had little time for my daughter and husband. (Even less for myself.)

Many just do not realize how the loss of a family member changes SO much, and not just for the spouse, but for others also. And especially for those left to care for an aging, ailing parent (or small children) alone. I felt overwhelmed every day of my life.

I wish I could say that I felt numb now, or that I never think  of her or miss her. But I can’t.  She is usually the first thing on my mind every morning when I wake up, but then I remember her hateful words, and the despicable comments from my brother. That is when I pray for God to take this pain from my heart, and to help me to forgive.  I still love my mother, but I don’t feel anything for my brother.  I think indifference is much worse than hatred. At least there’s some passion and feeling in hatred.

Forgiveness is just like grieving, I guess. It doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a process. Wounds take time to heal, and anyone who says differently has never suffered heartbreak at the hands of  others. But if God says that forgiveness is possible, then I will trust that He is right.

So I guess I just needed to get that out tonight. All in all, my life is a lot better now, though my physical health is still a problem.  I still suffer from a sleep disorder. My heart will probably ache for the rest of my life over how this turned out, but God can also heal broken hearts. There is a limit to what a person can endure, and my death would not have enhanced my mom’s remaining time here on earth. 

I know that my brother is getting a dose of reality, though she will never likely emotionally abuse him, as she did me (all my life.) When you feel loved unconditionally (as he is by my mom) things are certainly easier to tolerate. But she never loved me like that, no matter how hard I tried to please her,  and I’ll never understand why.

This song is for those who have lost someone that you loved, through death or otherwise…

Much to my surprise this Christmas season, I find that I am estranged from what little family that I have left. After taking care of my elderly, widowed mom for 3 1/2 years, we have had a very hurtful disagreement that cannot be mended. I believe that for the sake of my physical health and sanity, I must now ask my brother to step up and take over her care. But unfortunately, their alliance is such, that I must separate myself from my brother as well. It’s a sad situation, but I have no regrets concerning my care and love for her, though it seems that I could never please her, or warrant her unconditional love and acceptance. (It’s time for me to save my life now.)

With a situation like this, it would be easy to think that this Christmas season will be the saddest ever. I guess it’s all in the attitude, but I plan to make it my best ever. Usually, I am so busy trying to please everyone else, by buying just the right Christmas gifts, decorating, cooking, and planning our family Christmas get-together, that the entire Christmas season goes by in a blur, and I don’t even have time to sing, “Silent Night.” I’m usually exhausted, grumpy, and disillusioned by the time the whole thing passes.

But this year, the Christmas season is going to be different! Oh, I forgot to mention that my daughter, who we adopted at age 3, (now age 20) will be going to England for the Christmas season to visit her birth mom and family, for the first time. So this truly leaves my husband and I on our own for the Christmas season. I confess that I have always secretly wished that I could escape during the Christmas season, and this year I actually can. My husband is going to surprise me with a get away. (Not far away, but a much needed change of scene.) I don’t know where we are going. But we will travel in our van, and I will take Christmas with us. I plan to decorate a small tree ahead of time, and pack it for the trip. I also plan to decorate the place with Christmas touches here and there, as well as taking along our favorite Christmas music, both for the ride, and to create a Christmas feeling in the room. Candles will also be included to create a warm, inviting atmosphere, as we open our gifts. It actually sounds more romantic than anything we’ve done in years…

Another way I plan to celebrate the Christmas season this year, since I am estranged from my family, is to reach out to others–both friends and strangers. I plan to reconnect with the friends that I have neglected during the past few years, due to being an overwhelmed caregiver. Perhaps a lunch with a long lost girlfriend, or dinner with a couple we miss. I love to make Christmas baskets, so perhaps I will make baskets for friends this year, to help me get in the Christmas spirit.

I will also be on the lookout for strangers to bless. There are so many people hurting right now, and what could be more meaningful than helping those in need? It might be a Christmas money gift for some, or just a thoughtful gesture for others. It’s amazing how small things can brighten someone’s Christmas season. I remember once, a few years ago, there was an elderly black woman shopping in my favorite gift store. I noticed that she was admiring a beautiful candelabra, and saying to her friend that she would love to have it, but couldn’t afford it right now. I also stopped to admire how gorgeous it was. While she was in another part of the store, I quickly purchased it for her and told her that “Jesus loves you, and wanted you to have this.” I will never forget the smile on her face, and her understanding that the blessing was truly from the Lord, not me. She was so happy, and so was I. That’s the true spirit of Christmas giving. Try it, and you will experience the Christmas season in a new way.

And I might spend a few minutes (of the time that I would have spent shopping for my family), looking at the wonder on the faces of little ones, during this Christmas season. Perhaps I can also regain some of that magic and excitement that Christmas brings to children.

Most of all, I want to spend some time acknowledging Christ. He is who the Christmas season is truly about. But for so long, He has gotten lost in my busy preparations for the holiday season. I want to read the Christmas story, and really think about what it means that a Savior was born. He is the greatest gift ever given. And for far too long, there has been “no room in the inn” (or our hearts) for Him at Christmas.

One of my favorite stories has always been O. Henry’s “The Gift of The Magi.” If you haven’t ever read it, (or even if you have)-it’s an excellent tale of the meaning of selfless giving, and true love. Perhaps I’ll also take the time to read other Christmas stories, and to visit the bookstore and browse through Christmas magazines.

I’ll take a ride through nearby neighborhoods and look at the Christmas lights, while playing my favorite carols. And just for fun, I’ll visit the mall and get a feel for the Christmas season crowds, and the frenetic hurried activity, while drinking an eggnog shake, and just relaxing.

If you are estranged from love ones, and feeling sad this Christmas season, try some of my suggestions, and reach out to others, and to the One that Christmas is all about. And don’t forget to do some things that make you happy also. You may just find that this can be the best Christmas season ever!

You can make a difference in someone’s life…

Please see other articles that I have written here:

http://www.associatedcontent.com/user/109497/lonnette_harrell.html