I have a big mouth.
I think it goes without saying that I will call a spade a spade.
Yes, I will try and be diplomatic. Yes, I will keep my opinions to myself (it *is* possible, I have tried to do it upon occasion). But. There comes a time when one steps over the boundaries to do a sanity check with a friend struggling to keep it together.
My childhood friend, D, doesn’t deal well with Death. In her case, Death is always with a capital “D” because aging and end of life issues have become a boogey man in her life.
I try and talk to D a couple of times a year. I’d talk to her more often, however, it’s hard to get her on the phone with any regularity, so I’ll often leave voicemails or send emails and hear back weeks or months later.
D has been engaged to a guy since 1998. Very drama filled, but let’s just say that I thought it was a waste of time, and the intervening 20 years haven’t changed my mind.
The “brilliant” and “misunderstood” man hasn’t held a regular job in the intervening twenty (20) years. He’s been a perpetual student. He’s got a top government clearance, and yet worries about his ideas being stolen (one of his many reasons for why jobs don’t work out). Crazy? Probably. Let’s just say that he’s not my cup of tea, but it’s not my business because I’m not the one sleeping with him.
So, fast forward to this past weekend.
I get a call that my friend is cooling her heels at the hospital, waiting for the emergency room staff to tell her if her boyfriend is going to live or die. And, if he doesn’t die, what it’s going to take to help him live.
S, the boyfriend / fiancee, has had worsening health for the last twenty (20) years, and D has picked up more and more of the bills involved in his life, while not having the rights and privileges of a wife when the s*it hits the fan.
D spends most of her time at his house, helping to cover those bills and assisting in caring for his highly functional but mentally handicapped brother. D even footed the bill for a “Rainman” like lawsuit between S and his brother, T, over who was the best caregiver for the younger brother.
So, you can guess that I’m not a fan of S. I’m not a fan of one person sucking the other dry, and certainly not when it expands into other expenses that S should be fielding if he were truly the person he thinks he is in life.
So, almost 2 weeks have passed. S is home.
D is spending time at his bedside, sitting vigil, as S continues to not care for himself properly, and the medicines for heart failure can only do so much.
I got a call last night, very late, as D had returned to her own apartment and set off the fire alarms, and was waiting for the appropriate techs to show up to repair the heat sensing equipment as she’d bashed the wrong item trying to get the system to be silent after she’d burned some toast. (Yes, read that again. D goes from one drama to another, and there’s never any one thing that anyone can identify that she should have done differently, but there’s always something that puts any problem right up and over the top).
So, we’re talking, and I open my big mouth.
I think I’ve said before that I dated a wonderful man with COPD that I met on a dating website. Dale has since passed on, but I think of him often because it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done – telling him that he could no longer be in my life because I couldn’t support the way he was handling his end of life issues and failing to take proper care of himself.
Yes, I’m opinionated. That’s why this blog is titled, “Boundaries”. I know I need to work on mine, as I suck at keeping my mouth shut.
D’s trying to stay awake until the repair tech gets there, and she begins to tell me that she’s given S an ultimatum about taking better care of himself, or she’s out of there. I cheered.
Yes, it was bad form, but I was thrilled that she was finally looking out for number 1 in their relationship vs. continuing to be ok with having her life swallowed whole for his madness and choices.
Anyway, I recounted my story, plus the Valerie Bertinelli story where she tells Eddie Vanhalen that she wants a divorce as she cannot love him while he smokes himself to death, despite knowing that he’s had multiple run ins with oral cancer. As Valerie and I both explain it, loving someone is a choice. And, the love you have for another can be killed by the choices that they make over which we have no control or influence.
In Valerie’s case, she wasn’t going to enable Eddie to ignore her real concerns about his lifestyle choices. She divorced Eddie and moved on while he was still alive, so that she could get used to being without him in her life while he was still available and refusing to compromise in a way that she needed in order for her love to be healthy for BOTH of them.
In my case, when Dale was unable to leave the hospital after and end of life COPD flare up because he lived off the grid and had no one at home to care for him, I agreed to help him get out of the hospital. I had some strong requirements that Dale promised to do, and when he failed to do what I needed, I kicked him to the curb.
It wan’t that I didn’t love Dale. It was that I was exhausted taking care of him in the six (6) weeks he lived in my home, and I was resentful of his deceitfulness and dependency, even though he’d assured me that he would get an apartment on the grid, he would arrange for the necessary home care, etc., etc., etc.
Dale made his situation worse, prior to his last exacerbation, by living off the grid and being unable or unwilling to turn on the generator when the solar power failed (it was Winter, and if we don’t get enough sunny weather, solar does need to be supplemented). Dale ended up in the hospital with pneumonia because he failed the basic test for taking care of himself; he put saving money ahead of realizing and accepting that he no longer had the necessary strength to live off the grid and run the generator when the weather demanded it.
Maybe Dale wanted to die and was found before that ending occurred. Whatever it was, once he moved in with me and was supposed to be recovering and getting back on his feet, I found him enjoying having the “little woman” taking care of him, and any effort he might have made to move into his own place conveniently fell by the wayside.
Instead of being honest about what he needed in life:
he moved in with me and began to suck the life out of me. Me, who is very determined to NOT be a burden to others, and who was clear that I would NOT be at his side at the end as I no longer had the stamina to be a caregiver.
I did that happily with my Mom, but my Mom also made everything very easy for me. She thought about what her caregivers might need, and I had four (4) other people helping me care for her (my Big Brother and his wife, and my Baby Sis and her husband).
So, to go back to the point of this story… I blew through the boundaries last night in talking to D about her situation with S. D has never been able to handle illness or end of life discussions, so I knew that taking care of him would be the thing that might end their relationship.
Since S won’t deal with what’s important to the both of them in preparing for his end of life (which is never known in advance, but which will come to us all in time), I figured that the drama would start again if she wasn’t able to draw a boundary line and keep it as S ignored the recommendations of his doctors and his physical therapists and nutritionists.
Hopefully, D will remain friends with me regardless of what she chooses to do about her life and where it overlaps that of S and his younger brother. I am glad, though, that I spoke up so that she is not alone in knowing that her thoughts, whatever she chooses to do, are all perfectly acceptable.
We’re all going to die, someday. But, embracing someone else’s slow demise does not have to figure in anyone’s life unless they choose to do so, and can handle the heart rending emotions involved in being a caregiver.
It’s not noble.
It’s not romatic.
It’s absolutely NOT pretty.
Being at someone’s side as they slowly decline is one of the toughest things that anyone can do for another person, and society should NEVER force someone into a role that they cannot handle.