See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

See Part 3 here.

See Part 4 here.

See Part 5 here.

See Part 6 here.

The Caretakers

I’m not sure what a normal family is. I don’t know what it looks like. I don’t know how it should feel. We argue. We judge. We don’t honestly get along. It’s an issue that vexes my mother.

My mother, on the other hand, is the epitome of unselfish love. No matter what stupid stuff we pulled or horrible things we said or did, she’d take us back.

When our grandmother became too ill to truly care for herself or live alone, my mom stepped up. She moved Grandma in and cared for her until the day Grandma passed a little more than a year ago. This was a sacrifice. There were events or trips my mom couldn’t go on. There was the strain of caring for a woman who was honestly in need of fairly consistent assistance in one way or another. Thing is, my mom never complained. I did. My dad did.  But the most my mom would do is mention that she couldn’t do something because she was taking care of my grandmother.

I wondered something during that time. Who would step up when my mom needed that?

You see, if this were one of the fiction books I was writing, I’d be the hero. Fact is I’m not. I’m more than 3,000 miles away. My life hasn’t truly changed in terms of day to day habits and action. I don’t have to get mom to appointments or help her if she’s ill. I don’t have to negotiate my own life around her treatments or the other members of the family who visit and want to spend time with mom.  I’m just a guy reflecting on the process, but I’m not actually a part of it.

My older sister and her family are.

My mom needs to be close to the hospital that treats her. This is why my mom can’t stay in our hometown with her husband and youngest daughter. The fact is there are several people who love my mom, and they’re doing what they can just as I am.  But my older sister stepped up. She moved mom in and she’s coordinating all the visits and appointments.  The fact is, while there are many supporters and helpers, she’s the hero of this story. Amid the handful of people working and doing what they feel is best to help, this woman is the one there for all of it.

I hope these words don’t sound like an accusation to those in my family who aren’t there every minute of every day. The honest truth is they can’t be. Some have jobs. Some are ill themselves. Some are trying to keep my mom’s home in good condition and even make it better.

I am, in fact, doing the least in the family. I’m writing a blog.

But I don’t want the fact that I’m in the worst position to be of use to take away from the fact that my sister and her family are doing an amazing job just because they happen to be in the best position to be of use.  I hope that makes sense. If I’m being frank, some aspects of my relationship with my siblings make us pretty judgmental of one another. Every now and again I get defensive about things because I know my sister has made taking care of our mother her life.  Am I a lesser child because I’m doing less?

I certainly feel that way, but that’s not the message I want to deliver here.  What I want to do is give the credit where it’s due. Should I feel demeaned or humiliated simply because I’m giving proper acknowledgement to she who is doing the most?

I’m on the wrong side of the country to be of use. But each day of this trial, my sister, who, if I’m being honest previously held a reputation for publicly complaining about a great many things, hasn’t complained once. At least not to me. It may be because I’m simply not in a position to do anything about it, but it doesn’t make it less true.

The only thing more humbling than her efforts to help my mom is the growth I’ve seen from here through the process. No look, I can’t say enough times that I’m not there. I have no real idea what’s going on. I call once a week or so to see what’s happening and how things are.

But then there was a text. She asked if I’d be able to make it down one week.  You see, my niece is about to graduate, and she’s got a lot of things to do. My sister needed someone to take the edge off.

At first I said I’d just need word, but would it make sense to see if those closer to home could help. Besides, I imagined a number of them would be around anyway to attend my niece’s graduation.

Prior to all of this, I’d burned up my leave. I came home from Christmas intending to spend a year to 16 months here to save up leave.

However, when my sister sent another text saying she needed help, I did the wrong thing. I balked.

I wasn’t without reasons. My biggest fear was that if I took leave now, and then something horrible happened, I wouldn’t have the leave to support that. I spoke to a number of people about that, including my sister’s husband. I didn’t say no outright. I called my dad to see what was going on. He, my older sister, and my younger sister all got together and worked something out.

At the end, they didn’t need me. I can save my leave for another purpose (hopefully a happy one), and my sister has the help she needs to get my niece off to the next leg of adult life.

Despite the fact that it all worked out, my failure is clear.

My sister called for help.  I should have simply said, “OK,” and figured it out. It would have been hard, and it could have been even more difficult if things don’t go the way I’d like them too, but how often are we called in life?

I don’t think the reasons I hesitated are unreasonable or even wrong. That’s the trap we fall for in life. I wanted to work out something where everyone got what they needed. To be honest, it worked out that way as far as I’m aware.

None of that changes the fact that I was wrong. When someone calls for help, you answer.

You might have to figure some things out. You might put yourself at risk. You might have to change things you had planned for months. None of that matters. When someone calls, you answer.

My mom needed help. My brother-in-law just started a new position at work. My niece is about to graduate. My sister was still relatively new at a job of her own. My nephew is adorable, but he’s a handful. None of that mattered. My mom needed help, and that family stepped up.

For those who may feel even more defensive about it than I am, I implore you to see that this doesn’t have to be about selfish pride.  My ego and feelings are what they are, but I don’t have to let that selfish pride prevent me from testifying how Christian my sister is being right now. She’s stepped up.  She’s followed the example our mother taught us for so many years. For that, she deserves all the blessings I can pray for on her behalf.

That sacrifice allows for the other members of the family to chip in by doing what they can do. My other siblings stop by. As I mentioned above, my baby sister was able to make some tweaks to her schedule to get up there for graduation week. My dad is taking care of the house. My other siblings are helping.  I just wanted to make sure to put the spotlight on someone who’s doing an amazing thing.

I talked to another one of those older siblings about graduation just a few days ago. None of my circumstances have changed. There may be a time when I’m needed, and I’ll stand ready. I wasn’t needed this time. Sure, I made a few phone calls and made sure it would have worked out. Of course I would have gone down and made it work if my other siblings couldn’t.

The wrong in what I did was looking for other ways because I saw other ways. I need those reading this to understand this most of all. We get called so often in life. How many times do we compare what we’re asked to do to what we want to do? It doesn’t make our lives or our dreams meaningless, but it does make us selfish. Even if it didn’t make us selfish, it still makes us unhelpful.

Most of this situation took about a day.  But by the end of my dinner the night of that text I’d told my girlfriend, “I’m doing this wrong. What I should have done, the right thing to do, is say, ‘I’ll be there,’ and figure it out.”

The wrong isn’t in the reasons it would have been difficult. The wrong was in the fact that I thought about my situation first. I thought about my complications and my obstacles before I thought about my mom and what she needed. I thought about my issues before I thought about my sister and all the things she’d already done and sacrificed to be the day-to-day caretaker for our mother.

Don’t follow my example in this case, readers. Don’t fall for the trap that I fell for. I don’t think anyone I talked to (including my older sister) blames me or holds it against me. Again, those reasons are quite valid. But the trap was to think of myself when I should have been thinking about others. I hope you’ll do a better job if you’re called.

 


 

Questions and Revelations

Where do you get off writing this blog after you fail to show up the first time you’re asked?

Frankly, I’m still just doing my best. When I was called, there was never a doubt in my mind that my sister would get the help she needed. My family is huge. I knew it was only a matter of talking to everyone and figuring out who could help.  The wrong was in using convince as the measuring stick. The question was “Who can help my sister without too much interruption.” When what should have happened was, “I got you!”

Also, this blog is (as of now) a real time process. To me, sharing these victories and mistakes are important. I know a lot of people who did things very much like I did. They explained it to their friends (like I did), and those people said something like, “I understand. It’s fair. It’s okay. You had things to figure out.”  Those justifications usually make other people feel great. Each time I heard them, they just felt more accusatory. I’d save readers the same feeling if I could.

So are you going?

No. The issue and need was, “care for my mom,” and that issue was resolved. Once the discussion became about my nieces’ graduation, it was something we’d talked about the year before. My sister has the help she needs, and that was the main issue.

I love my niece, and she knows I’m proud of her. My failure was in not answering a need. Once it became a matter of want or desire, then all involved parties should look at things and do what they feel in their heart are best.

Need = do.

Would like or wants = do if you can.

I still won’t sacrifice my ability to head home in the event of a more unfortunate emergency for an event everyone in my family knew I wouldn’t make it down for since last year.

Wouldn’t someone have helped?

Of course they would have. There are a few things in place, and I work with some amazing, generous people. my pride is a bigger issue here. My mom and I have that in common. Never cause those around you stress because you want. That’s a rule we follow. My mom feels pretty bad right now because she honestly thinks she’s being a bother to my sister and her family.  It’s just how we’re wired. I could be pined under a bus with a comet heading toward me and I still wouldn’t ask someone to help if I thought they were “too busy” or they would be “too inconvenienced.”

Had my baby sister been unable to help, I would have worked things out. My guilt is over the fact that I worked around that.  Fact is, I have no idea what my baby sister already had planned or how her leave situation was. I didn’t occur to me.  She answered the call, and she stepped up.

Why do you feel so guilty then? Everything worked out right?

Well, let’s look at Job.  In Job, after he’d already been suffering greatly. His friends showed up.

They did a lot wrong.  Seriously, they did a LOT wrong. What they did right, however, was show up. I even talked about this the night all this went down. I defensively said, “Well they didn’t have jobs or overworked coworkers.”  Even then I don’t actually know. I haven’t read all of Job. I’ve only heard a few sermons on the book, but that book is special to me already.

I’ve often prided myself on being the guy who helps when it’s needed. So even though I had honest, reasonable explanations for why I might not be the best person to help, I already felt pretty crappy for handling it the way I did.

Guilt is a pretty handy whisper from God. What I recognized is that my defensiveness, and I’d dare to say any defensiveness you might feel, was my soul’s way of telling me I’m in the wrong to begin with.

Try it out.  Have you ever not done something, but then felt the need to explain why you didn’t? Some who read this now might feel angry or defensive simply because I’m speaking so highly of my older sister.

If that’s the case I’d argue why? Is this defensiveness or anger a result of what I said, or is it a result of how what I said makes you feel about yourself? One of the three major points of this chapter was to point the blaming finger straight at myself.  So don’t be like me. Don’t be selfish. Be selfless. When someone asks of you, just help.

I’m not recommending servitude to someone. I’m not saying carry another grown adult through life. Those are all circumstances I can’t predict. In this situation, with actual people who needed actual care, I was wrong. I have said no to others who asked for help and felt zero guilt. Why? Because they had all the ability in the world to help themselves. For many a day, I wish for a burning bush or angel to come down and just tell me what to do.

All I have is my conscience. What I learned from this was to let it be a better guide from now on.

If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog.  I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.

Thanks for reading

Matt

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13 thoughts on “Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 7

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