Our limitations can violate their boundaries

I was in a hospital bed after gall bladder removal. This was back before they went in with skinny little scopes. My scar makes me think that they opened me up with a concrete saw and excavated the sick part with a back hoe.

My mother stayed by my bedside. She filled the air with words, chattering with herself more than with me. She rearranged the stuff on the rolling bedside table every couple of minutes, with constant narration,

“Here, you want this closer, right? You don’t need this. Why do they put these here? This can go in the drawer…”

Just bringing it back to mind makes my insides clench. It was painful while it went on. I didn’t want all the fidgeting and the din of constant nervous talking. I just wanted to sleep and heal up.

What I realize now is how much agony my mom was suffering. Her first son, my older brother, died of cystic fibrosis, and to see me laid out in a hospital must have overloaded her heart and mind with flashbacks.

The reality was that her needs, in the hospital setting, overwhelmed her capacity to give – she couldn’t sense what I needed and unintentionally tormented me with that flurry of words and meaningless busy work.

As care givers, we need to be on the lookout for our limitations. When we try to work beyond them, our actions can become unhealthy and unhelpful, even ignoring the needs and intruding on the boundaries of those in our care.

Our son Joey always sought Melissa’s touch for comfort. As with so many small children, mom’s touch seemed to have healing power. Of course for Joey this often took the form of snuggling up on her lap, then throwing up a lot without warning. Made him feel better, though.

And it provided rewards for Melissa. That physical closeness – even if gross at times – made up for the layers of separation imposed by autism. And it gave Melissa a sense of impact and value at a time when we couldn’t seem to help Joey intellectually or behaviorally.

So it was painful for Melissa when Joey experienced normal differentiation from mom & dad. “I want bye mom” was a phrase he came up with to say, “Leave me alone. Go away.” It was not easy for Melissa to accept a sudden limitation on what she could give to Joey.  There was a strong desire to hold onto him, even when he didn’t want it.  But she recognized his need for what it was – part of his growth expressed in a rather ungracious (also known as teenage) way.

She honors his new boundaries and, wonder of wonders, he delights in being close to her at special times of each day. Cuddling on the couch waiting for his morning ride is one. Her hand on his forehead for a bedtime blessing still makes him smile.

When we feel the anxiety of our own limitations, it is important to

  • acknowledge and accept that we can’t be or do everything
  • work out our anxiety away from the person in our care (go vent to someone else; get some exercise; engage in a hobby or other focusing activity; etc.)
  • concentrate on those in our care, to figure out what they want and need, and respond to them.

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