After two years of living under restrictions, I took a trip that was not a holiday. My family live in the remote town of Wee Waa, New South Wales. I love my family and I missed my mother very much over the two years, but going home is always filled with challenges, particularly as my mother has entered her 80’s.
Professional me empathises with frustrated family members and writes blogs about respecting older peoples need to maintain their independence. With clients, I listen patiently when their belongings act as catalysts for stories that help them make sense of their life and legacy. Daughter me is not so patient!
To be clear, my mother does not have a clutter problem. But she does have a very large house on a very large block. Unfortunately, both my mother and the house are suffering from all the niggly problems that come with age. As I do with any client, I dealt with safety issues first. My brothers had already addressed the tripping hazards and purchased a golf buggy to help Mom navigate her huge yard. I helped her purchase a more supportive chair and a lighter vacuum cleaner, did some of the heavy cleaning and checked the smoke alarms. We had some fun decluttering and donated a carload of unwanted items to charity. Over the course of the work, what I already suspected became glaringly obvious. My mother was not going to be able to live independently in this massive, old house for much longer. And the burden of care was going to fall on my brothers at a time when they were ready to move on with their own lives.
My repeated attempts to start a conversation about a practical plan were thwarted in a variety of creative ways. Stories about family heirlooms and who would get what were popular avoidance tactics. Eventually my frustration boiled over into tears of grief and deep sadness. Daughter me was angry. Professional me was horrified and deeply ashamed.
When Angela and I work with people or train others, we talk about how wanting something more than the person you are working with is a fast track to burnout. It is heart breaking to watch someone you care about caught in patterns of thought and behaviour that you consider unhelpful. In every situation it is essential to understand a person’s willingness and capacity to embrace change before we start to map out a plan forward. I was too close to the situation and had missed this vital step.
I have no idea how this story is going to end. As the guilt, remorse and embarrassment subsides, I am reconciling myself to the idea that the most important thing is to support my mother to live safely wherever she chooses to do that. Equally important is to maintain our relationship which is very special to me.