On Being A Burden

We do a lot of speaking with the elderly and baby boom generations about Elder Mediation, a process that helps families deal with the difficult issues that accompany the aging process. Working with seniors for many years Cary had a first-hand view of independent seniors who suddenly or even not so suddenly suffered a debilitating disease such as stroke or Alzheimers, or a horrific fall that dramatically affects their independence. Until such an event happens, no senior wants to address the hard questions that surround a significant life change such as where am I going to live, what will my life be like, who will help me, and/or what role will my family play, if any.

At the root of these questions is a fear of being needy. Being needy in our society translates to being a burden. And Cary and I have learned that most seniors fear being a burden and do not want to burden their families. Therefore talking about a mediation process designed to address the “needy” stage of life is hard enough without also including the idea of your family taking care of you.

In our society, we are taught that being a burden means being disposable. If we are not doers we are not valuable. The idea that the aged, the infirm, the unborn, the unborn diagnosed with disease or impairment, are burdens is pernicious. In fact, we associate the word “freedom” with the right to be free from these kinds of burdens. That is an extremely negative view and can dispose people to a rejection of the precious gift of life…which begins as depression, moves to isolation and loneliness…fear.. and ultimately chooses death over life. The notion that we as humans, as persons, have an inherent value is lost in this mindset.

As faithful Christians Cary and I pray that our words are words of love that come from Him who is Love. With that in mind, one thing we continue to stress in our presentations is that it is important for seniors to allow their families to care for them. Family is not dependent on what any member can contribute to it. Family is the place where you are loved and belong because of your unique status as a person and your membership in it. Seniors that submit to that dependency temper a pride that if left unchecked consumes them and alienates them bringing them to loneliness and a rejection of life. I have seen this first hand in nursing homes in speaking with residents there.

Tempering that pride that refuses you to allow yourself to be a “burden” or be “dependent” teaches you to be fluid within this core of people that you have been given in this world to form an intimacy with and to show love and to receive love. You have such an opportunity to teach love to children and to grandchildren and share your precious self, your precious life experiences and forge new and deep relationships that you may have never thought you could have had. You learn to trust, to give, to receive. You begin to see value in yourself in ways you did not realize and you are grateful. That kind of love brings more love and allows you to deal with so much – be it loneliness, pain, feelings of burden. Yes, it is a delicate balance but one that can be so effective in teaching love and knowing real sacrificial love that is fulfilling and satisfying.

My brother has welcomed our mother into his home and every day I marvel at the amount of love he gives and receives in that relationship. It was not an easy decision for him and it is not easy in the day to day but the great love he shows is inspiring. Such great love is Christlike and he stores up treasure in heaven rather than here where it goes to waste! My own mother, too, has shown great love because she has allowed herself to “burden” my brother. This is very difficult for her but through that relationship, she has learned to release a lot of pride and become vulnerable in a way I have never seen in all her life. My other brother and I have a double-edged sword in our hearts. On the one hand, we are far from the scene and “free” of it and on the other, we know that my mother has chosen to be “dependent” on and “burden” only the one son. She refuses to do so with her other children. It takes love on our part to let her go and not hold on to resentment. It takes love on our part to stay involved with her on her terms only. It takes love on our part not to be jealous that only the one brother has her love this way. It takes love to stay in communication when it is easy to “forget” and make sure our brother has the support he needs from us day by day.

Each day I am thankful to God that our family has worked together to come this far so far! Our children have all learned more about our capacity to love. My children have watched and learned how a family comes together to love and respect a senior within it by considering her wishes, sacrificing our own pride where necessary and respecting the dignity of every member of a family for who they are, and not judging them for what they can and cannot do. I boast here but I boast in the Lord for His gifts and challenges to us.

My family participated in a mediation process. I wish we had done it sooner and in more stages. It sort of came as a crisis. But it helped immensely because it opened us and forced us to listen to one another. We had a good mediator who did not let things spin out of control and gave us the options and information we needed. It would have been wonderful if my mother was present and that was a mistake not including her. But life is day by day and we may have another opportunity.

This is what Elder Mediation can be about – talking with your family about life planning especially as it regards living arrangements and family relationships. Talking about roles and how to love within them and be a part of making the family love endure. It is special and becomes a meaningful experience. Families tend to hold on to long-term conflict and poor communication patterns. We start to believe that our family cannot make it happen for a senior. Seniors/parents believe their children do not want to help them. I have heard it all too often but I wonder whether the parent ever gave their child/children a chance. That pride can cause large gaps that will not be mended as long as it exists. Elder Mediation opens families to remember who they are as a unit and remind them of when they were all little, useless babies, but how precious their life was to the family. All members of the family are precious. Elder Mediation is a tool to combat a culture that encourages family isolation and pride by uniting and creating family goals that will help younger generations see love and closeness that bonds and does not divide.

Take the time and read some sites about people who have chosen to go into this field. There are many elder mediators across the country and their goals are based on helping families with difficult life transitions or deep-rooted conflict. We all know the family is the core of society. Let’s start reinforcing that in all stages of a family’s existence and with all members in it.

I read two blog posts on a blog page that is run by a group of Catholic physicians. Read here. What they hear from seniors is very similar to what Cary and I hear at our presentations. After reading those posts I wrote this. I thank them.