by Kim Olsen, Bachelor of Chemical Engineering, Salesperson, Warwick, Queensland, Australia
About three and a half years ago I felt to return to my home town and live at my mother’s house. It has been an interesting journey. She is now 85 and getting frailer and fuzzier with Alzheimer’s disease. When I arrived she had just had bowel cancer and was getting regular infections and bronchitis. Over the last two years I’ve taken over preparing the evening meal for us, as my mother hasn’t been coping well. It has always been a balancing act between encouraging my mother to do things for herself and doing things for her. She is happy for people to do everything for her. Although she is frailer and more forgetful, her general health has improved.
We have a difference in the way we live. For me it is a learning about being. Being who I am from my feelings, that for me is about being present to myself. For her, it seems to be about knowing, having and being seen (identified).
My observations with regards to my mother and her condition with Alzheimer’s include that she is, and has been always, focused on what others tell her, what is done and what is known (the Alzheimer’s seems to have made it more obvious). I have come to realise that for me, being is ‘it’ – nothing else really matters. The best thing I can do for her is to just be me when I am around her. Mum does not seem to understand this way of living, although she does seem to enjoy being around it. All I can do is meet her in each moment where she is at, and I feel that in some way she is taking it in.
Over the years I have started to see the coping patterns I have used which are part of the shield (i.e. the protection) I used to make sense of the world; for me this shield is something I have created as part of my way to cope in this world. Firstly it projects a ‘me’ that I had come to believe is the way to be seen by others and I have come to realise that the real me has been lost in this. It also uses chosen conditioned responses to react in each situation I have been faced with. In reality, I am not running the ship in this autopilot mode. As I have seen these ways of living that are not me, I have slowly let go of them; I have grown back into me. Many of these patterns I took on as a child have not served me well, so to return to the ‘scene of the crime’ where I took them on is an interesting part of the learning.
I took this shield with me into my relationships and saw myself, for example, mis-stating what I was feeling to get sympathy or identification. I began to stop and think ‘where did that come from?’ It is interesting now to experience a needy statement from my mother, see it for what it is and not get caught in the drama. It is also interesting to observe a behaviour or comment that I have let go of with an internal smile, recognising – ‘ah…that is where I got that from…’.
I never did quite understand much about emotional manipulation and emotional drama: although I tried to do it to fit in with partners I have had, I never quite got it. As a child, I can remember times of being in joy in my own space when simply being asked to go to the shop. I often did not move quickly because I was totally absorbed in what I was doing, and when my mother said that she would go, the emotional manipulation went over my head. It sounded like a good outcome to me… she and I were both getting what we wanted. I then recreated emotional manipulation and drama in my own relationships until I finally got it. I now feel both as needy, although in an accepting non-judging way, recognising that I too fell for those hooks.
So, to say it has been an interesting journey to ‘go back home’ is an understatement. To say it has been productive for all concerned fits into the same category. I feel I am certainly well equipped to be here. My mother would be in a nursing home now if I were not here: I am much more able to see things as they are, and not get caught up in the drama. My sister-in-law, who has done and does much for my mother, is certainly grateful for my sharing this responsibility, and freeing her from much that is difficult for her. What has supported me is learning from the Universal Medicine retreats that ‘I can be me anywhere, with anyone and all the time’, and I learned how to live that all-ways … in joy.