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By Julie McLellan-Mariano, CT

(Page 3 of 4)

Here are three “nuggets of wisdom” I learned along the way.

Nugget #1:  It is not your fault.  When my son was paralyzed, I instantly took responsibility.   My poor parenting must have caused this; clearly, I was unable to nurture and protect as well as all the other parents since the beginning of time.  And now, my son has to pay the price.  As a first-time mother, did I drop him? Did he fall down stairs?  Let me say this gently and firmly: your loved one’s circumstances are not your fault.  You didn’t say or do (or not say or do) something that caused this. Period. This skewed sense of responsibility is “magical thinking.”  In children, magical thinking leads children to believe that “Mommy died because I wasn’t a good girl.”  Or, “I wasn’t a good student.”  Or,” I wasn’t a good sister to my baby brother.”

My experience has taught me that adults, with more mature and complex cognitive processes, aren’t immune to magical thinking.  Unfortunately, my mid-life thinking was even more magical. Go me!

Objectively, you know you weren’t responsible for the paralysis, cancer, stroke, AIDS or PTSD.    But something inside of you chooses to believe it anyway.  And even defends it with rationalizations; i.e., that’s true for others, but not for me because I (fill –in the blank). It was not your fault.  The temptation to hold onto this magical thinking is real.  We may believe our ability to “hold on” is a reflection of how much we love those we care for; it doesn’t. And do we really need to start judging ourselves as caregivers?   Explore why you are holding onto this magical thinking and learn how to let it go.   It was not your fault.

Nugget #2:  Let go of “OR” and make room for “AND.”  Life, in a caregiver’s head, can be distinctly divided into BC (before caregiving) and AC (after caregiving). BC was “good;” it was romanticized, held much promise and was poised for abundance and success.  AC was “bad;” it was hopeless, dark and radiated loss of control.  This AC thinking relies on thoughts like, “Nothing will ever be right unless ... her cancer is in remission … his speech returns ... he fully recovers from his brain injury or Alzheimer’s …”   This thinking blinds caregivers to the daily courage, mental fortitude, wisdom, spirit and flat out hard work of those we care for.  It is a disservice to what our loved ones must do, choose to do and try to do. And it invites anger and foolishness into our hearts and minds. Life is about “AND,” as in before AND after our caregiving.  Surrendering to, AND surmounting, the inherent sacrifices, demands and challenges.  Crying AND Laughing.  Clarity AND confusion.  Night AND day. What our loved ones used to do AND what they can do now. We will experience adversity, setbacks AND failure.  We will also experience determination, discipline AND victories.  Life is joy AND sorrow; so is caregiving.  Make room for AND.


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