I Do What I Can

Jean took my hand in hers and said, “I’m so cold”.  Her hand was icy cold,  then I saw she was shivering.

It was Friday night Bingo at The Mansion Assisted Care Facility,and I was sitting next to Jean, helping her mark the numbers on her Bingo  Card.  The evening sun was streaming through the windows, to me the room felt warm.    I was surprised I didn’t notice her shaking and I asked her if she had been cold for long.   “I’ve been cold for years”, she told me.

While one of the aides got Jean a sweater from her room,  I put my arms around her trying to keep her warm.  We sat that way for longer than I would normally have felt comfortable holding someone I barely knew.  But she was cold and I could help keep her warm.  By the time the aide came with a sweater Jean had stopped shivering.

Growing up, I often heard my mother say  it seemed to her that the people who were always doing good for others were the same people who weren’t there for their own families.

I took this idea of “Charity begins at home” to heart.  So much that I didn’t feel comfortable helping people outside my own family.  I remember wanting to donate blood at a blood drive in High School, but was afraid that it was somehow wrong.  Giving blood didn’t fit into the family script. It wasn’t something we did.

The idea of being there for family stuck with me.  And later in life, when I physically and emotionally moved away from my family,  it haunted me.

I don’t see most of my family.  I don’t spend holidays or special occasions with them, except for occasionally having breakfast with my mother or sister.

Being around my family brings me back to the fearful and voiceless person I used to be.   I slip silently into my old role.  I lose my self-confidence and my self-respect.  I become defensive and guilt-ridden.  I lose my true self.

I broke the rules when I left my family behind, I changed the script and was finally free to be myself.

But for a long time,  because I was no longer there for my family, I felt like a bad person.    And doing for others only made me feel worse.

But I don’t believe that anymore.

I think there’s some truth in what my mother said, it’s true about me anyway.

I’m one of those people who isn’t there for my family, for my mother,  but I can easily go to the Mansion  and enjoy a conversation with Madeline, or teach a drawing class, or become friends with Connie, or hold Jean to keep her warm until someone brings her a sweater.

It’s sad and I feel sorry that I can’t do the same for my own mother, but I no longer believe that it makes  me a bad person.

What I can’t do for my own mother, I can do for someone else’s mother.  Or for someone who doesn’t have any children or family or friends.      And maybe this is how it works.  I want to help, I want to do good, but not at the expense of my self.

So I do what good I can, with the people I can do it with.  And, when the times comes,  I hope someone out there is doing the same for my family.



6 thoughts on “I Do What I Can

  1. Maria, It is uncanny how our lives have run parallel to each other. That is precisely what my Mother once said. I too felt devalued and alone.I have loved the slogan “Practice Random acts of Kindness”. I love it when I get a chance to do this. I’m not the girl my parents made me out to be. I feel so satisfied with my self! And this works both ways.People help me out when I least expect it! It’s a win win all around.I felt the same way about my Mother at the end of her life.I put a letter to her in with her ashes before they buried them.That was the best I could do at the time. It is what it is. (as my daughter always says) We care. We love. We touch. Sometimes I know I over think things.My riding instructor tells me this frequently! Love your soul Maria, Cindy

  2. Maria, how grateful I am to read this post, to know that someone else feels the way I do about helping family. My mother, even in her dementia now, has always said with great ferocity, “All we have is family” and that only made me feel like crap. She was and is wrong. My biological family is where, like you, I slide back into my old role where I feel less than, and obligated, and just plain bad. I have worked hard to become authentic, and have created the family I want, with people who love me as I am, and who encourage and embrace my independence and differences. This was not possible in my family. Too much dysfunction and unhealed pain. I can easily and joyously care for my created family, my elderly neighbors, my friends and others who need and ask for my help. No obligations, no strings. My counselor tells me that this is healthy – this is choosing those whom I will care for, rather than being forced. I love living this way. Thank you so much for sharing! Karla in Coal City, IL

  3. You definitely struck a chord, I am grateful I have contemporaries of my Mom’s age I can be comfortable with, even if I am not comfortable with her, and she has found people my age she can be comfortable around too, so it all works out, thank heavens! And I very slowly let go of feeling sooo guilty.

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