We sat down together. The four of us: My mother, my sister, my daughter and I. We had a family council about what WE needed to do to keep our home. It would take all four of us working together to make this happen. Plans were made and assignments were given out.
My mother was now Head of Household. She was coordinator and other parent to my tween daughter. She was also in charge of her own mail and papers.
I was in charge of finances (both mine and my mother’s). This was on top of my regular responsibilities of mother, tutor, chauffeur, housekeeping, groceries, supplies, cooking three nights a week and home maintenance.
My sister was in charge of tracking my mother’s appointments, accompanying her to handle the wheelchair, cooking three nights a week, and outside maintenance. She was also responsible for getting the in-law apartment rented so we could make ends meet.
My daughter was in charge of her own chores, school, homework, practicing her harp, helping with additional housework, and exercising the dog.
When We Becomes Me
The reality was completely different. My mother was grieving, exhausted, falling and not functioning. My mother told me that sister needed “time to rest” so she was given time off. I ended up doing three of the four assignments: mine, my mother’s and my sisters. What did they do? Tell me not to do what was too much and then complain about how things weren’t getting done.
My sister’s allergies were so bad that she was unable to do some of the yard work. Solution: We would TRADE some of the inside responsibilities for outside responsibilities. She would take over all the cooking and I would mow lawns.
Unfortunately, the agreement was made with my mother. When Mom talked to my sister, she complained that it was unfair to have her do all the cooking. So now the yard work was added to my responsibilities and no trade was made. It was “conveniently forgotten” that it was supposed to be a trade because I had commented that it would be good for daughter and I to have some outside time.
When my siblings asked my mother if we needed anything she would say we were fine. Nobody asked me if I needed help. Then I was told that I could not ask because we needed to prove that we could be self-sufficient. Every time I said I was going to ask for help I was told that others had their own lives and “we” would just have to manage. “We” weren’t managing. I wasn’t managing either.
I was quickly becoming exhausted, overwhelmed, angry and resentful. My mother would say one thing and then do something else. My sister kept promising to help but never came through. My mother kept telling me that my sister was too tired, too sick and too overwhelmed to do anything. Her doctors said so. What about me? My therapist wanted to hospitalize me immediately but didn’t because I was the only one who knew where we were financially and I had my daughter to care for. Twice we talked about it.
Just Because I Can Doesn’t Mean I Can
I have learned to function even when it should be physically and/or mentally impossible to do so. It was a survival thing I learned before I was diagnosed and treated for bipolar, post traumatic stress and anxiety. You set a routine, make a list and just put one foot in front of the other. I usually use a warped sense of humor and sarcasm to cope.
Unfortunately it ended up being too much. Eating made me sick. I couldn’t sleep. I began having breakdowns where I would sob uncontrollably for long periods of time. I was able to keep them relatively private until one Sunday when I broke down at church. It actually scared my friends because they had never seen me like that.
Help, Love and Support
Several of my woman friends took turns holding me while I cried (and cried and cried and cried). My man friends didn’t know what to do. They did give me words of encouragement, consolation and a priesthood blessing.
Then men started to volunteer to help. One came with his son and mowed our lawns every week. Others came and helped with gutters, maintenance, and repairs. They checked on us regularly. Even some of the young men came.
The women in our Relief Society brought in meals and came to help clean the house. Even the young women and little girls came to help. They vacuumed, dusted, cleaned floor boards and mopped.
All the while these wonderful friends told us how much we were loved. They were there for us in ways that were unexpected and very much appreciated. I kept my cookie jar full and shared freely not knowing how else to express my gratitude.