Mom and Dad were married for 66 years. They married young, loved each other, and stayed alive long enough to make that happen. So, when Dad died in February 2022, Mom was lost and alone.

My sisters and I spent several nights at her home, but we eventually had to return to our own lives. I continued to stop by every day to check on mom. I had been doing this for years, so we had a pattern.  But Mom had changed.

As part of her grieving, she began going through EVERY cupboard, drawer, and cabinet. Over 60 years of stuff was being overturned! She would dump a whole drawer full of stuff onto the counter or her bed and spread the items out to be viewed. She would touch each item and sort them into piles.  She would match earrings in pairs and spend hours looking for the missing ones. She was taking inventory. She was preparing the house for her move or departure. She was looking for something: memories, signs of Dad, a particular piece of jewelry, pictures of her childhood, etc.  She was grieving her loss and remembering her past.

Meanwhile, I was going nuts! There was stuff everywhere! She wasn’t putting anything away.

At first, I would gather things up and shove them back in the drawer. But that upset her. I quickly acknowledged her need to process. Her environment reflected what was going on inside her. So, I started asking her about the items and really listening to her sadness and her stories. Who cares if her house looks like a tornado hit it. Her house truly represented the chaos she was feeling inside.

She stepped it up a notch the day she wore her underpants on the outside of her clothes. I freaked out. That day my heart really broke. She was screaming for help and I could only do so much.

It would’ve been easy to assume that she suddenly had extreme dementia. To be honest, I did think that at first. But she was lost. Someone had just turned her whole life upside down. The man she’d been married to and lived with 66 years was gone. He had taken care of the finances, the property, and her safety. But now she was alone.

I was never going to fill his shoes, but I could do some things. I could be there and I could listen. AND, I could take care of myself.

I really want to highlight that last sentence. I spend lots of time with coaching clients helping them understand the value of self-care and limit-setting. I needed to be calm and patient with Mom. I do that better when I am rested and centered. So, taking care of myself had to be on the to-do list or I would start impatiently shoving things in drawers again.

Eventually Mom improved. She agreed to move to a retirement complex. She is still lonely, but she has made new friends and has fewer things to “sort through.” My sisters and I see her often, but we will never be Dad.

I have learned so many lessons taking care of my parents. Today I am focused on two of those lessons. I must take care of myself. And many people won’t give me the outward signs that Mom displayed. Taking care of myself makes it easier to be kind to those around me who may be experiencing big feelings like Mom was.

If you need help with limit-setting, self-care, or other ways to make your life better, reach out for coaching. Meanwhile, take care of yourself and do your best to be kind.

 

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