By Johnna Leach -January 17, 2012
Living in a state of Hopefulness…
I did not have the fairytale relationship with my mother that a girl dreams of. If I were to put into words what being my mother’s daughter felt like I guess I would say that I felt like I was in the way. When I was young I was told, “Go outside and play” unless of course it was raining, then it was, “Go play in your room”. Either way the message was clear, “go”.
When you are young you do not understand the adult things that are going on in your home. As you get older you gain clarity and the picture becomes all too clear.
My father was not faithful to my mother and in that sense he was not faithful to our family. He had numerous affairs throughout my childhood which explains the regular screaming that went on between my parents followed by days of silence. My mother was diagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressants which she took during the better part of my childhood. This enabled her to run a home, prepare meals, raise three children and deal with a cheating husband.
I loved my mom. I longed for her to sit me on her lap and read to me, I wanted to feel special; I wanted to feel loved unconditionally. Sadly, I do not recall ever feeling that. The love I felt was conditional based on how good I was…or wasn’t.
But I always had hope.
I hoped that one day my mom and I would enjoy the kind of relationship that moms and daughters are supposed to have and I just knew it would all work out.
When Hope Begins To Fade…
One evening in 1994 the phone rang; it was my mom letting me know that she was going in to have a little bump removed by her eyebrow. I knew this was bad… Don’t ask me how I knew; I just knew this was the end.
I have never experienced that feeling before and truthfully I pray I never do again.
I flew in to be with her and my father for the outpatient surgery. The surgery went well, the doctor confirmed that he removed the entire cyst and encouraged us to go and celebrate over lunch while my mom was in recovery. So off we went my father and me along with my sister and brother. We sat down ready to eat but before we ate they all turned to me to bless our meal and say a celebration prayer…which I did.
Throughout the entire lunch I was plagued by a heavy guilt. That same feeling that I felt on the night my mom phoned to say she had to have surgery, well…I still felt it. I was so confused by it…what kind of horrible person was I? Did I subconsciously want this to be the end? NO! I examined my heart, I am a good person, and no I did not want this to be the end. My dream had always been that one day my mom and I would enjoy a loving, close mother and daughter relationship, she couldn’t leave yet.
5 days after surgery the pathology report was in and I received another call, this time my brother was on the other end. My mom had terminal cancer. I had taken the call in my bedroom and I remember hanging up the phone. I remember that I was hysterical; I remember beating my closet doors. She had an extremely rare form of cancer called Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma in the lachrymal gland of her eye. This type of cancer was aggressive; my mom was given approximately 6 months to live.
Challenges of Caretaking
Because I am an organizational type personality I kept track of her medications, their dosing and her pain management. I had a routine with her that consisted of morning, afternoon and evening phone calls to keep track of her pain as well as being a counselor and confidant listening to her express her frustrations, disappointments, fears, etc. I was also busy being a prayer warrior fighting spiritually for her victory over this cancer.
I had the honor of introducing her and my father to the Lord and I was blessed to bear witness to both of my parents’ journey as they began to learn all about Jesus.
I helped them find a church that they fell in love with and that they grew in spiritually. This church family was a great support to them at a time when they needed to be surrounded by love and friendship.
The hardest thing about care giving is the emotional toll it takes on you. For me, there was this huge feeling of responsibility to make sure my mom was pain free, to make sure she knew Jesus, to make sure she had someone to talk to, lean on and that she could trust. I became my mother’s mom.
At first it was comforting for me sharing this intimacy with my mom. It gave me a sense of closeness with her that we had never experienced before. But that didn’t last long. I wanted my mom, I didn’t want another child. I wanted to share all my feelings with my mom, I wanted to be mothered, and I wanted her to tell me that everything would be ok. That didn’t happen. I was the one mothering her; I was the one listening to all her fears, thoughts, etc. And I was the one telling her that everything would be ok.
When you are a caretaker for someone close to you it is emotionally draining, physically exhausting and can be hard on the heart. Here are a few things that are essential to keeping yourself grounded and healthy while caretaking:
Have a strong support system
- At least 2 friends you can talk freely to and lean on heavily.
- These people need to have strong shoulders, big ears and warm hearts
- They need to be great listeners because you will need to express your frustrations and at the same time you need to feel loved
Be organized, have a system in place
- The more organized you are the easier it will be for you
- For example if you are administrating several medications it can get confusing, you’ve got to be organized
- Make up a system that works for you
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to receive help
- Don’t take on the world, or it will take over you!
- Let people help you with running an errand, preparing a meal, cleaning, there are many ways the people in your life can show support, let them bless you!
Get plenty of rest, eat well and take breaks
- The better shape you are in, the better you are able to care for your loved one
Depression Creeps In…
Depression is not something you plan; it is something that happens to you. It is something that comes over you. It is something that can have such a tight grip on you that you feel as though you are suffocating.
There are stages with depression and you can vacillate back and forth between the stages. These might include the following:
- Feelings of being totally alone
- Feelings of insignificance
The above are emotional stages; there are also physical responses to depression which can include the following:
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Hard time concentrating/remembering things
- Lack of motivation
In my particular experience the first thing I felt upon hearing the initial news was fear. Almost immediately I switched gears and went into an organization mode. (Not surprising for my personality.)
I pushed fear down, I wrestled it, stuffed it and quickly shifted to “first things first”…I mean c’mon I had work to do. I am a Christian and I called EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE and asked them to pray for my mom and if they had a prayer chain I asked them to get her on it.
My relationship with God was very close and intimate. He was my everything. He had rescued me from many trials in my life and I just knew that He would rescue me once again. I trusted Him to make things right. Heal my mom Lord, was my prayer. Of course He would. I HAD TO BELIEVE THIS.
When hope dies… The end of the dream…
I had a fulltime home based daycare business that I ran that demanded my attention and at the same time I was diving into caregiver mode with my mom so I didn’t have time to give in to depression. But I believe that it was during this time that my depression began to dig its nasty heels in, it was subtle but it was taking root.
I live in Arizona; my mother lived in Southern California…not exactly across town! During this time I made many, many trips to California to be with her and to help manage her situation. I met with her doctors and specialists and had regular interaction with them since I was managing her care.
To say that I was stressed to maximum capacity would be an understatement. I want to be completely honest with you, I was a maniac inside. I felt so outside of myself. Every new report was worse than the one before; I had to hear things that were incomprehensible for my emotional state. I felt I had to wear a brave face for my husband and children and show everyone that I could handle things. The problem was that I couldn’t. The problem was that I was spiraling inside and I was losing my grip, everything felt as though it was unraveling and no matter what I did to contain myself, it was getting harder and harder for me.
One evening while I was home alone with my daughter I received a phone call that pushed me over the edge. I knew something was happening to me and I had the good sense to call my next door neighbor and ask her to come get my daughter. She came immediately and took my daughter to her home; I told her that I needed to be alone.
That night I had an emotional breakdown. I was flat on the ground, my gut wrenching, I cried so hard at one point that there was no sound. I couldn’t breathe, I felt like I was suffocating, I threw up several times…I lost it. When my husband got home he found me and cared for me and helped me get through it.
That night all hope died. The dream completely died. I would never have the relationship I had always dreamed of with my mom.
Acceptance/Coming Out of Depression
Depression is not something you simply turn on or off and time is truly a healing balm. If you are suffering from depression I would advise you to seek help from the following:
- Your family and close friends
- A good counselor/therapist who specializes in depression
- If you belong to a church, seek ministry
The worst thing you can do is try to handle things all by yourself. That is what I did; I let my anger drive my emotions. I let depression take me by the hand and drag me into the deepest depths of darkness. I am here to tell you that I had a beautiful life, many friends and loved ones and I was blinded by darkness to the point where one night I was sitting on the porch all alone, wearing my mom’s jacket and contemplating taking my life. I could see no reason to live. That is what depression can do if you let it go unattended.
That night I realized how bad my depression was, I shared those feelings with my husband and I started counseling. I also received ministry from my church and began to open up to close friends. I let go of the need to show everyone that I had it all together and there was such freedom in that. It took me a number of years before I got my zeal back, but it did come back.
My life is changed forever because of this loss and I have come to accept the relationship that my mom and I had. I love my mom; I believe that she loved me in her own way. My hope is restored in the knowledge that my mom gave her heart to Christ, she is in Heaven and one day I will be there with her and our relationship will be everything God intended it to be.