Posted by JF&CS
When you’re caring for a parent living with dementia, it’s easy to spiral into self-criticism. Feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and helplessness are all too common.
At Balancing Act, our online support group for adults coping with a parent’s dementia, we help participants practice mindful self-compassion. One technique we use is asking participants to write themselves a compassionate letter, as if they were writing to a friend.
Karen, one of our Balancing Act participants, wrote a beautiful and insightful letter that helped her rediscover her strengths. She graciously allowed us to share her letter below.
A Letter to Myself
I want to acknowledge that it has been very hard for you during the last couple of years as you experienced two great losses. Your two most precious “gals” in your life, your daughter and your mother, underwent drastic transformations due to their diseases.
Your daughter’s stroke and hemiparesis took away her sunny outlook on life — her expectation that life should be just as stable, happy, and easy as things were before July 2018.
And when you felt lost and didn’t know how to be a mother to that devastated 12-year-old girl, your mom — the ONE person on whom you would have leaned on for comfort — wasn’t able to process that your life had been turned upside down. Now SHE needed your help, too. It’s been very hard for you indeed.
But you didn’t just sit wallowing in misery or stay “asleep” under the blanket like you wished you could every day. You did what you had to do to help Mom — even on those days when you felt more like a helper robot than a sincere loving daughter. And you were wise enough to share your sadness with a good friend who eventually led you to the Balancing Act support group. There, you met these lovely people to whom you found it so much easier to be generous and kind than you tend to feel toward yourself. And gradually you started to recognize the beauty in your own efforts and suffering, as you so naturally and effortlessly saw and lauded theirs.
All these steps you took promise that you will be okay. Your instinct to look for support when you felt helpless demonstrates that you are a survivor. In refusing to collapse, you are so much like your mother.
Think of all the daunting challenges she had to face: her husband's exile to the United States after standing up to Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship, eventual immigration she didn’t choose, drastic socioeconomic demotion to a low wage-earner in a country where she didn’t speak the language. Surely some days she must have felt like a robot supporting burdensome cranky teenagers.
But she never let fatigue or despair stop her from loving and supporting you and your brother. She worked very hard so that you could get the education that now affords you this comfortable life and enables you to travel the world and deep into history, even during a pandemic. Her courage and perseverance earned your freedom.
Thank you for being so much like that great woman who taught you how to be a very decent, reliable human being — and a wise, resilient mom.
Learn more about our Balancing Act support group.