If you read my blog last week, you might remember that I promised to write about the medical issues that Joseph faced two weeks ago. I do want to write about the challenges of medical treatment and Alzheimer’s disease, but in the meantime, something more pressing has come up….
Pride. I remember as a kid feeling proud when I earned good grades, when I got a hit in softball, when I won a race –-- essentially, I was always encouraged to be proud of my accomplishments. Pride was a healthy reaction to a job well done. If I wasn’t proud of my accomplishments, then I had low self-esteem and needed help. Somehow, in the last 25 years of my life, pride has become an undesirable trait. We judge people who are too proud. In an unfortunate turn of events, pride has shifted into a characteristic that holds us back, rather than encourages us to grow and adapt. Pride often prevents us from becoming vulnerable for fear of failure. I’ll say that again. Because we have experienced the joy that comes with accomplishment, we are now afraid of the opposite feeling – that which comes with defeat. As an example, I once ran a pretty fast marathon. I was (and still am) pretty proud of my time. I don’t think I want to run another marathon because I can’t run as fast any more. If I run another “slow” marathon, that will forever damage my pride.
What about Lisa and Joseph? For several months their children (and I) have been trying to convince them that providing them with a caregiver demonstrates our love for them. We care so much about Lisa and Joseph that we want to help them. With everything! How could they react adversely to all that love? It will help if you have a better understanding of Lisa's life story. Lisa grew up during the depression in a tiny town in western Wisconsin. Her father passed away when Lisa was two, leaving a single mother with three children. Lisa's mother owned a bakery and worked very hard to care for her children. Still, Lisa grew up in poverty. Her mother eventually remarried, but then she passed away when Lisa was about 13. Lisa and her siblings were divided among friends and family because no one could afford to keep all three children. Despite being well provided for, Lisa grew up with very few material or comfort objects. Despite all this adversity, Lisa was able to graduate from high school, put herself through nursing school, and raise a happy, healthy family. She financially contributed to her growing legacy while simultaneously providing a loving household for her children. Thanks to Lisa’s ability to stretch the dollar and take care of herself and her family, she has lived a highly rewarding life. One of Lisa’s neighbors pointed out that Lisa’s strength and independence have led her to constantly choose the struggle over the easy path in life. Lisa is deeply proud of her independence and of her incredible life journey.
Now Lisa’s children are telling her that she is incapable of caring not only for herself, but also for her husband. We remind her that she can’t walk without falling. She forgets to cook dinner. She can’t be trusted to turn the stove on because she might forget to turn it off. We tell Lisa someone else needs to do her laundry because she might not be able to make it down the hallway with the laundry basket. We instruct Lisa that she is unable to organize Joseph’s medications because she gets confused, forget the fact that Lisa was an RN for most of her life. We all hammer this point in Lisa’s head over and over; we need for her to understand that she needs help! It is obvious to all of us that If only she would let go of her pride, she could be so much happier!
Well, last week I had an awakening of my own. Lisa swears profusely that as a caregiver, I leave for hours on end every day. Part of our caregiving agreement is that I would be allowed to leave to see clients in my private practice. I leave between 1-2 hours at a time several times per week. I certainly am never gone for most of the day as Lisa claims. Lisa’s son and I argued with Lisa for over 30 minutes about our caregiving agreement and how many hours I spend caregiving each day. Lisa would not back down. I would not back down. One of us was not entirely correct, and we both were calling the other a liar.
I kept asking myself, why do I care so much whether or not Lisa believes how many hours I spend at her house? I know how much time I spend there. Lisa’s children know how much time I spend there. So what’s the big deal? PRIDE. I literally spent over 30 minutes using a loud voice and strong language with an 85-year old woman suffering from dementia trying to convince her that she was lying. All to stroke my own pride. I was absolutely humbled by this realization. I have a fully functioning brain, and yet I can’t escape my pride. How can I possibly expect Lisa to forget all that she has accomplished in her life and simply accept that she is no longer able to care for herself and her husband? How utterly insensitive of me!
While we are talking about the life inside my head, we might as well further explore this idea of pride. Why do I need external validation for my actions? Can’t it be enough that I am doing my best? I also started thinking about other relationships in my life. Because of pride, I always have to have the last word. How many times have I corrected someone just to prove that I was right, even when it didn’t matter? When and how did I turn my own pride from a developmental asset into a detrimental threat? And is it possible for me to reverse this damage before I am 85 and need to accept help from loved ones? I can only hope……