It finally happened. I knew it would some day. I just didn’t know when. After five years as my dad’s PFC (primary family caregiver), and fifteen years as the unknowing understudy to my superhuman mother, I had the Mother Of All Meltdowns, which I shall lovingly call MOAM because the word meltdown is unflattering for anyone older than two.
My MOAM included the usual suspects: deep seeded rage, self-pity and worst of all envy. Envy for all the real or what I perceived to be real — therefore making it real in my crazy mind — free time my sisters have to frolic through life, watching movies, meeting friends, reading books, taking vacations, living lives centered around their needs and wants! Yes, I know this sounds juvenile, petty, and darn right horrible. And, I’m not delusional. I know they aren’t living these idealized lives. They are busy like every other person on this planet. And, to be honest, I almost didn’t write about my MOAM since 99.99% of the time I find helping my dad to be the most rewarding part of my life. I know that my father’s stable health and happiness, at 93 years of age, is a direct result of my actions, combined with his good fortune in the genetic lottery, and his optimistic outlook on life.
At first I attributed my MOAM to going back to work full-time and getting the stomach flu while my husband — who NEVER travels — was out-of-town for almost two weeks. But, in reality my MOAM was slowly brewing for the past year and I ignored all the warning signs…exhaustion, sleepless nights wondering how to juggle everything for everybody, resentment toward my siblings for not helping, though I never asked for help.
Then one day, I let it rip!!! And the unsuspecting victim was my sweet sister who, like they say in crime movies, happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. With the innocent words, “Hi…how are you?” I unleashed my MOAM. “How am I? You really want to know, how I am? I’m done! I’m exhausted! I can’t do it anymore. I’ve had it. I do it ALL! It’s your turn!” There were a few more declarations made during my MOAM but you get the point. I give my sister credit, she switched on her calm maternal voice, the kind preschool teachers use to reason with toddlers before timeout is issued. Then the words, I so wanted to hear came over the phone, “How can I help you?” That’s all I wanted to hear, how could someone help me.
It’s been a few months since my MOAM forced me to ask for help and admit I couldn’t do it all. I’m happy to report that things have greatly improved. My sister visits once a month to take care of my weekend tasks and spend time with my dad. Knowing I have a free weekend is like knowing you have a vacation in the horizon…something to look forward to when things are crazy. My husband takes my dad for his monthly haircut (it’s their guy thing) and continues to help in countless other ways. After five years in assisted living, my dad finally used their car service to go to the dentist on his own. Delegating has freed up my time and also gives my dad an opportunity to spend time with other people, which is good for both of us. Plus, my dad has more independence, which is a good thing and something I should take advantage of as long as I can.
I see this post as a public service announcement. If you are the primary family caregiver ask for help before you burnout and have a meltdown. If you are lucky enough to have a sibling who is the primary family caregiver, volunteer to help before the shit hits the fans and your kind and capable sibling meltdown and you are left to mop of the mess.