When You Walk in My Shoes
Lately there have been a lot of posts on social media criticising people who take their elderly relatives to a nursing home. It is widely believed (at least here in Spain) that it is because of the selfishness and lack of appreciation towards the older generation. While it may sometimes be the case, it is not for the most part true.
I know many people, including myself, who care for their elderly but there comes a time when they need more care and support than you could give them at home, whether it’s yours or theirs. In certain situations, it can be toxic for both the person and the family and cause friction and all sorts of difficulties. Another thing is the cost of it, both financial and emotional or psychological. No one who hasn’t been through it, it seems, grasps the feelings of frustration, guilt, exhaustion, more guilt and sheer desperation that arise when you are responsible for the well being of a loved one. You encounter many well meaning people who will drive you crazy with advice. When you express your doubts or the impossibility of putting the advice into practice, they will say you’re being unreasonable. When you walk away, they will talk behind your back about how you are too proud to accept honest advice. When you can’t go on any more because you are close to breaking, they will deem you weak, irresponsible, selfish.
Nobody knows and what’s more, nobody wants to know just how hard it is for a person who must take care of an elderly relative to work outside the home (when they can find a job and an employer flexible enough to accept their limitations), then go back and face whatever you must with a smile. Nobody can tell the dignity you must create to not crawl into a corner and give up. You cannot give up when people count on you. Nobody knows about the sleepless nights trying to make sense of a life that for over two decades has been oriented more towards others than to yourself in every way.
Some people assume that you are a dimwitted woman with little to no ambition because you are a full time caregiver.
I have some news for you, if you’re one such person. You are sorely mistaken. We, the carers, know better than many CEO’s how to run a business because the people we love and care about depend on it. They depend on our creativity, flexibility and sheer working capacity and ethics. These are, I would think, qualities that are sought after in a worker. It is a positive thing to face difficulties and be able to deal with them. It shows courage.
There seems to be little value placed on caring for the elderly or children, unless, of course, you make a business from it. But caring for YOUR elderly/ disabled/ children is somehow a sign of weakness, disinterest in having a career, low motivation and/or lack of ambition. It is also a sign that this society we live in is flawed at the heart of its social policies. Or perhaps it is something deeper than that. It is a sign that empathy has been lost, that we have grown accustomed to providing only for ourselves and not taking into account anyone else’s needs or circumstances. A society of unfeeling, unthinking individuals.
What is more: within a few years, perhaps a couple of decades, the sheer force of an aging population will force governments to take measures that for now have not been on their agenda. Families will not be able to resist the economic burden of caring for an elderly person, and unlike the decision to have children, you cannot simply decide not to have them because they are your parents or grandparents, so they were in the world before you.
It is, I fear, a ticking time bomb, slowly counting off the days until it explodes and makes the world rethink its priorities.
For today, all I want is to get a few points across.
To the carers, I say: you are enough. You are doing a great job. Never think you could be doing more because you probably couldn’t. Enjoy what you can. Take care of yourself. Those of us in the same situation understand. We understand the helplessness, the frustration, the guilt for having a coffee alone or with a patient friend.
To the naysayers and the criticisers, I say: Pray you never find yourself in such a situation. Pray that you never have a bad day or a bad night caring for your loved one. Pray that they don’t say absurdities that anyone can hear and believe. If you find yourself feeling alone and isolated and people don’t seem to get your situation, remember when it was you who shook your head in disapproval of someone who was on the verge of tears from pure tiredness and frustration and you did nothing to alleviate them. On the contrary, you piled more guilt and frustration on them. It is so easy to speak rashly when you will not be affected by the outcome!
Remember that we are all human. We all bleed red. Remember that you don’t know my struggle when you say that I am not doing my best.
I wish that everyone would think twice before inflicting their ignorance on other people, in any way shape or form. The old adage of walking in someone’s shoes before opening your mouth to criticise is a good rule to follow.
When you walk in my shoes, you might get a glimpse of the truth.