Caregiver to the dying, Handmaiden of Death

I have spent the last six years caring for my ailing mother-in-law. In that time I have seen her deteriorate from a semi-independent woman who needed assistance such as preparing meals and handling other household tasks to someone who needs help with the most basic facets of life. It saddens me because in her prime my mother-in-law was a fiercely independent woman. Despite the fact that she has a developmentally disabled son, she never asked for help. Now she is unable to walk without assistance. What makes it both sadder and a relief is that she is unaware of how helpless she is. She is like an infant – knowing only that she needs something and relying on someone else to provide it.

Dark Goddess Death

I feel like Death’s handmaiden. I am not in any way contributing to this process (although dealing with this has given me a new appreciation for euthanasia). My task is to calm her, provide what she needs (to the best of my ability) and try to ensure she’s not alone if/when her time comes. Having said all of this, I cannot help and will not justify the resentment I feel about this situation; the rage that flares up inside me at unexpected moments. The desperate wish I have that it would all just be over and I could reclaim my life again.

I am no saint or martyr. This current situation is intolerable to me. I detest it with every fiber of my being. Sometimes I practically vibrate with it. Every effort made to find assistance from external sources (government agencies, visiting nurse services, etc.) has either proven to be a dead end or beyond our financial means. I’m not willing to put this woman, who spent much of her life caring for family members, into a nursing home where she will be strapped down and drugged until her body can take no more. I may hate the lack of control and independence I have in my life right now but I would have that situation even more. I also don’t think I could forgive myself for it.

Well-meaning friends and acquaintances have spouted various platitudes about some divine being who does not give us more than we can handle. Generally my response is either a pained grimace or a colorful rejoinder which includes various profanities (depending upon how well I know the person). I bitch and moan to anyone and everyone who will listen, including the indifferent gods whose existence I honor. I get it – this will end when it is meant to end. However I must reiterate that it sucks beyond measure.

The main take-away I’ve gotten from this experience is a fierce determination not to find myself in a similar situation. I have no one that I can count on to care for me if I end up like my mother-in-law. I’ve also seen the various nursing home facilities available for elderly people in this condition and the reality is that if a family member is not a regular visitor and if one’s health coverage doesn’t provide enough benefits, the patient/family member ends up ignored, neglected, and even abused in some circumstances. That thought gives me nightmares.

Wheel of Change Death

I don’t believe we deal well with death in our modern culture. We fight it with a desperate determination that often results in circumstances like this one. The body keeps going because medical technology can maintain the status quo but it can’t do much to stop the progress of diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. So the body is kept alive and as healthy as possible while the mind continues to disintegrate.

Support services for caregivers who are tending to family members in this condition are minimal and (in my experience) woefully inadequate. It’s wonderful that there are support groups, but if I cannot leave the family members alone how exactly do I attend? Home visits from doctors? Oh sure they still happen, just not in this part of the county. Home care assistance? It’s available but not to my mother-in-law because she’s not on Medicaid. My brother-in-law (who is deaf and retarded) is eligible but services cannot be activated without a doctor’s approval. No doctors make home visits in this area and he will not leave the house without a serious fight. It’s a Catch-22 that leaves you bitter, exhausted and defeated. I hate it!!! In fact, I cannot stress how much I hate it. The only thing I would hate more is to have to institutionalize these two people that I love. I accept that. It’s the trade-off I make in my life. I’ll put things on hold to tend to them and I can still face myself in the mirror and sleep at night. It’s not a perfect situation but it’s the best I can do right now.

So if there is anyone else out there who has found themselves in similar circumstance, please know that you have my respect and admiration. It’s a thankless task that is fairly unappreciated by the wider society. Make sure you keep in touch with friends somehow or else the isolation with warp you. Take care of yourself. Even if all you can do is spend 10 minutes every day one yourself, treat that time as sacred. I’ve done the “giving my all to the relatives” trip and burnt out quick. I have found the work of Jennifer Louden and SARK to be inspirational and helpful in dealing with all of this. I still find it difficult to balance time for me with their needs but I’m stumbling along and finding ways. And if your choices are different than my own and you had to make the agonizing decision to institutionalize your loved one, please know that you have my sympathy and support. No one else can understand what you went through and how difficult it was for you to make that decision. Don’t allow anyone to shame you because of it. We are all just doing the best we can in this life and shouldn’t be held to someone else’s standards or expectations.

Soul sickness by association

What do you do when you learn something about a family member that is so horrific and shocking that it shatters you? How do you pick up the pieces and move forward again? How can you repair the collateral damage it creates in your life? Can you ever again be in the presence of that family member? Do you share this information with other loved ones? I don’t know the answers to this litany of questions but I am about to start exploring my way through this thorny, nasty thicket.

The other day while talking with a childhood friend, she revealed something quite disturbing about a relative. I had often suspected that there was some shady and extremely negative in this relative’s behavior. In fact my hubby and I had even shared our suspicions with each other on several occasions. I genuinely thought I knew this relative and that nothing, no matter how vile, could surprise me. Well I have been proven wrong. My friend shared a past incident about this relative which completely shattered me. It left me feeling ragged, raw and reduced to tears. I still feel physically ill.  It revealed a darkness and depravity of which I had not believed this person capable. What makes me even sadder is that my friend holds herself responsible for what occurred and I can tell it’s destroying her up inside.

Without getting into details, because in this instance they don’t really matter, I feel the need to focus on the soul sickness that results from these types of incidents and how I plan to begin the healing process. What surprises me the most about this situation is that I understand how my friend feels. When she shared the incident with me I felt shame and blame – guilt by association. Have you ever experienced something like that?  You learn something about a relative, something which you could not have prevented even if you knew at the time, but feel as though you carry some of the blame? I feel as though I should have done something to protect this friend. I had an idea of the damage this relative was capable of inflicting on others, I knew my friend was in a vulnerable state at that point. Yet I did nothing to try to stop them from hanging out together. In my mind I realize that even if I had tried to prevent it, the odds are it would not have worked. My heart and my soul are finding this harder to accept.

Dark Goddess Tarot Moon/Arianrhod Dark Goddess Tarot 4 of Earth/Sphinx

So as an effort to start my healing process, and maybe help my friend with hers, I asked the Arianrhod (The Moon) from the Dark Goddess Tarot for guidance. I needed to know how to deal with having my illusions (or delusions) about this family member destroyed. Arianrhod sent me The Sphinx (4 of Earth). Her message to me was that it was time to face the harsh truth of this matter because trying to run from it does no one, especially me, any good. So I asked The Sphinx for some advice on facing this harsh truth. She offered me Temperance reversed and the Queen of Wands.

Hudes Temperance 34

The message these cards had for me struck my spirit immediately. Temperance reversed is telling me not to lose sight of the fact that my inner spirit is pure and carries no taint of blame. However, it also reminds me that a purification and cleansing ritual might help me and my friend feel better. I need to look deep within myself and embrace the reflection that shines back. She has nothing to do with this family member’s actions and behaviors. She couldn’t have stopped any of it but maybe she can help my friend find some healing too. The Queen of Wands reminds me of my warrior spirit. She is fierce in defense of those she loves and merciless to those who harm her loved ones. In this instance the harmer happens to be someone that is a family member and was once loved. That betrayal makes it so much worse but she is strong. She has survived harsh and painful experiences before and she can do it now. The pain will recede and she will emerge from the fire feeling stronger and tempered. That also ties in with Temperance’s energy and reminds me that what doesn’t kill us does make us stronger. I know it’s a cliché but that doesn’t make it any less accurate – at least for me. If I let this beat me than that family member has won. The damage caused all those years ago will finally prove fatal. I refuse, defiantly and assertively, to let that happen.

I’m sharing this in the hopes that anyone else out there who has gone through a similar shattering revelation or experience can find some support and comfort. You’re not alone. Don’t take the shame, blame and stain of the offender into your own soul. We are not our brother’s, sister’s, father’s, mother’s or anyone else’s keeper. Their actions and behaviors do not reflect upon us. Don’t let it make you soul sick.

I’ve learned much to my dismay that these types of people are rather sociopathic and very manipulative. They find our weaknesses and exploit them. There is no shame in being vulnerable, we’ve all been vulnerable at some point in our lives, especially as children. Don’t let it define you or damage you for the rest of your days. Fight it, explore that darkness and let yourself come out healed and whole on the other side. Remember that their darkness is not yours to carry and believe that you are worthy of love, forgiveness and wholeness.

Transformational Tarot – Justice

Transformational Tarot Justice

Transformational Tarot
Created by by Arnell Ando
Published by US Games ISBN:1572815396

The Book Says: The need to weigh decisions, judgments, and find rational solutions. The need for a balanced mind. In this instance, reason and thought should override emotions, although sometimes justice needs to be tempered with compassion and empathy. It can also mean standing up for one’s rights and beliefs. Poetic justice. In it’s reverse this card can denote the seeker dealing with issues of injustice, bigotry, inequality, vengeance, or intolerance.

TarotBroad’s Buzz: This card deliberately evokes the Statue of Liberty and all she idealistically represents. She is the hope of peace, of freedom – to be whatever one desires and believe whatever one wants. This Justice is the dream we all share of having the opportunity to be treated equally regardless of race, religion or socio-economic level. And it is an ideal. We are bombarded on a daily basis by times when justice seems to have been thwarted or perverted but Justice can never be. Justice is the ideal, the goal. She holds out the dove as a sign of hope and promise – we can reach this goal if that is our desire. And as the people behind her represent, all people are offered the same opportunity.

The brilliant white sun is almost blinding in its radiance. A reminder that it has the ability to burn away all the falseness and illusions we surround ourselves with, and get down to the core of the matter. Justice forces us to look at ourselves and see if we are as just, compassionate and empathic as we like to claim. She forces us to face our inner prejudices and bring them out into the light of day so they can be revealed and rendered powerless. I would love to send this card to politicians right now and see if they can recognize the message.

The Empowerer – Celtic Wisdom Tarot

Celtic Wisdom Empowerer

Celtic Wisdom Tarot
Text by Caitlin Matthews, art by Olivia Raynor
Destiny Books, 1999
ISBN 0-89281-720-8

The Book says: The Empowerer shows Andraste, Goddess of Victory. “She Who is Unconquerable” was invoked by Queen Boudicca in her insurrection against the Romans. Female warriors were a part of Celtic society; growing boys and girls were entrusted to them for their battle training.
Keywords: Fortitude, courage, energy, resolution, action, defiance, challenging that which is commonly accepted, tireless efforts, the appetite to live life, drawing on deep resources.
Reversed: Weakness, vacillation, dispiritedness, indifference, succumbing to prevailing influences, failure of nerve.
Soul Wisdom: The Empowerer of Will gives us the courage to be strong and powerful in our lives, by using our own energies with intention. What powers lie untapped within you?

TarotBroad’s Buzz: This image is a reminder that sometimes we need to take actions that put us at risk and force us to plumb the depths of our endurance and inner strength. Boudicca is an example the sometimes the easier path is not necessarily the right path. If Boudicca had chosen not to fight the Romans it is likely that she and her daughters would have lived, but what kind of life?  And what would the impact have been on her people? Would we remember her name now? She looked deep within herself and realized that her personal code of ethics would not allow her to remain passive in this situation. But the sign of a true warrior is not just the ability to win in battle; it is acting with courage and honor, and following your own code of ethics, even if the rest of society disagrees. It is the classic argument over war. What is better – peace at any price or drawing the line in the sand and being willing to defend it. There is no easy answer to this question and it is something we must all answer for ourselves.

Challenging and rough periods in our lives are what forms us and makes us who we are. If life was always a smooth path, we would never know how high we could climb or what we can achieve. As Jim Kirk points out in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – our pain is what makes us who we are. The Empowerer shows us how to tap into this energy and use it to our advantage. She is a reminder that not all victories in life are physical ones, but learning to tap into this power is the first step towards achieving victory in your life.

Thoughtful Thor’s Day: Family dynamics when caring for an elderly parent.

Thoughtful Thor’s Day

Lately I find myself pondering family dynamics. Why do seemingly healthy families implode when it becomes necessary to care for an elderly, ailing parent? I understand if the parent needs to be placed in an institution because their needs cannot be met at home but I’ve seen so many instances of siblings verbally brawling with each other when it comes time to arrange such things.

I’ve observed that in many cases parental care falls on one child. It is usually the child who lives closet to the parent but that is not always the case. The adult child may still have responsibilities to spouse or children that must be met and now caring for a parent has been added to these burdens. The other siblings may visit or take the parent out for a few hours (or even a few days) but the majority of the day to day care falls on one sibling. The others siblings often undermine the caregiver by intervening in conflicts between child/caregiver and parent. For example the caregiver may not want the parent to eat certain foods because they caused digestive issues but one of the siblings will ignore this and tell the parent he/she doesn’t need to listen to you. It’s frustrating, infuriating and exhausting for the caregiver.

Then when the parent passes away or needs to be institutionalized, all the arrangements fall to the caregiver. If finances are involved then all bets are off – it’s clobbering time. Placing a parent in a long-term care facility is expensive. Even the least expensive facilities will put a serious dent in a family’s budget. That can quickly become a bone of contention between the siblings who want their parent to have the best care possible but can’t afford the rates.

And then, when the parent finally passes away, the division of the estate becomes a battle royale. Each child squares off in one corner and prepares to fight to the death for what they feel is their rightful inheritance. The fact that the majority of the burden of care for the parent has fallen on one child is erased from the memory banks as the other children scratch and claw for their piece of the pie. So many people do no leave a will so the “estate’ goes into probate and adds another layer of confusion of legal interference to the situation. By the time the dust has cleared the siblings are no longer speaking, the caregiver feels betrayed, unappreciated and angry and the only ones who walk away with more money than they had coming into it are the lawyers.

I’m in a situation that will probably follow this pattern some day. Hubby has an older brother who hasn’t spoken to their mother in 5 years and hasn’t seen her since their father’s funeral in 2005. To be perfectly honest I’m not even sure where he’s living right now. I’m assuming he’s still alive because I’m sure if something had happened to him one of his ex-wives would tell us – then again maybe not. When the mom-in-law finally breathes her last, I have no doubt we will receive a call from him seeking his inheritance. That should prove fun.

I wonder what is it about these situations that brings out the worst in families. Instead of working together to ensure the burden is shared, so many people undermine or denigrate the caregiver’s efforts. The other family members act as if it’s the caregiver’s duty to take on this burden. It also seems to bring out a lot of latent, unresolved issues such as parental favoritism, sibling rivalry and just plain old jealousy. In a time when we like to claim it takes a village to raise a child I’d like to point out that it takes one to care for an elderly parent too. If a village or tribe isn’t available it would be nice if one could count on one’s siblings to help. Unfortunately in my experience that is the exception rather than the rule.

How can I start healing myself? Prince of Pentacles R, 7 of Wands + Justice (DruidCraft)

Green Man Tree Oracle NGetal

“When nGétal appears in divination, it suggests that health is or should be a priority now. It may indicate the danger of injury when paired with h-Úath or other challenging feda. In positive readings, it may suggest that an injury or illness is healing, or that a course of treatment for a chronic health problem may be going well. It can be a reminder to watch your health or to get something checked on that you might otherwise consider minor. It is a very hopeful fid to draw for those who are ill, as it implies active and progressing healing and the restoration of health and wellbeing.

Linked Concepts: Wounding, death, beneficial magic, healers and doctors, good health, wellbeing, regeneration, hope.” – Ogam:  Weaving Word Wisdom by Erynn Rowan Laurie

Based on the insights offered in Erynn’s Ogam book, I asked the Tarot this question:

How can I start healing myself? Prince of Pentacles R, 7 of Wands + Justice (DruidCraft)

DruidCraft Prince of Pentacles DruidCraft 7 of Wands DruidCraft Justice

I see the reversed Prince of Pentacles as telling me that I’m going to slow; being too plodding. It’s one thing to be cautious and well-prepared; another to procrastinate. I’m procrastinating. I know what steps I need to take to improve my health but I’m putting them off. Avoidance will cure nothing. If I want to manifest good health in my life and heal my body then I need to take action. I don’t need to go from zero to 60 in 10 seconds flat but I at least need to start making a few changes.

The 7 of Wands is telling me I need to be more fierce and vigilant in guarding and defending my personal space and time. Yes, I’m in a situation where I need clearly defined alone time – no internet, no cell phone and no in-laws. So far I’ve been putting my needs in this area as very low on the priority list, something easily ignored or put off until later. I need to stop doing that for my own mental health.

Justice is reminding me that balance and fairness are important. I’ve lost sight of that. To be fair to the in-laws, I also need to figure out ways to meet their needs for physical and intellectual stimulation too. Maybe a walk outside or watching the ducks would do it. Sometimes the mom-in-law can’t focus on things like that but it’s worth a shot. Of course it would also be a good idea to make sure I’m meeting my own needs for physical and mental stimulation. Watching TV and browsing the internet are all well and good but they should be kept to a minimum.

I think I’m finally getting on the right track. If I take it slow and easy I think I’ll eventually reach my goal. I sometimes have a tendency to want immediate results and when that doesn’t happen I quit. It’s time to change those patterns because clearly they are not working for me.

What do I need to remember today? 10 of Axes (Dark Carnival)

Dark Carnival 10 of Axes
How amazingly appropriate that I drew this card on Memorial Day!  The card is full of violent imagery – blood cover axe heads, disembodied limbs, brilliant, vivid primary colors and wooden staves explode off the card.  There is a cross hovering in the air that speaks of sacrifice and dying in order to be reborn.  The first reaction I had when seeing this card is that it looks like a war scene.  On Memorial Day nothing could feel more right in response to my question.

So I want to honor all those who have sacrificed their lives in defense of this country.  Whether I believed in the reasons behind the wars or not these people died.  The rightness or wrongness of the politics behind the battles is irrelevant.  My family has had several ancestors who served in the military but many did not see action.  Of those only one of those was actually killed in battle on D-Day and is buried in France.

I think in this day and age, when so much of war craft is driven by technology, we lose sight of the human cost of war.  With the attention on drone strikes and bombs that can be delivered from a distance like a video game, it can be easy to forget there are actual troops on the ground who are in constant danger.  How much more difficult does everything become when the people we claim to be helping resent us and work against us?  I’m not taking any sides in that issue I simply want to take some time to acknowledge the sacrifices made by those soldiers who have died in service to this country.

Today is more than just an official day off from work.  It is a day to take some time and remember those who died in war; those who sacrificed everything in defense of this country.  We can call them heroes but that won’t bring them back.  We should never lose sight of just how ugly and brutal war is and that there is always a human cost regardless of which side wins.  I want to honor and remember those who serve and maybe pour some wine for those who will never come home.

How can I welcome spirit in? 3 of Wands R + 10 of Wands

BoS So Below 3 of Wands BoS So Below 10 of Wands

These cards show an entwined and complementary answer to my question.  In the companion book, Barbara offers the interpretation “wasting time and energy” for the reversed 3 of Wands.  I can see that as one appropriate meaning but I also see it as telling me that I need to slow down and waste some time and energy on myself.  Focusing that energy inwards rather than outwards is one way of welcoming spirit in and honoring it in my life.

The 10 of Wands with its harried female office worker describes my life right now.  My harried, overworked feeling might not be due to an office environment but it exists nonetheless.  I think this card is reminding me that I need the slow down, wasted energy phase to counterbalance this harried, abundance responsibilities phase.

To me the 3 of Wands reversed is more about slowing down and tending to myself; stopping and enjoying a cup of tea while reading a great book.  Ellen of Greylady’s Hearth commented on my blog post the other day reminding me that a gratitude journal can be a powerful tool for staying on track when it comes to self-care and slowing down.  That seems to fit beautifully with this card’s message.

This is also the third time I’ve drawn the 3 of Wands since using this deck.  I think it’s trying to reinforce the message that I need to take better care of myself.  It’s important to take time for myself to relax, de-stress and just do something just for me.  Otherwise I’ll be blue and swamped like the woman in the 10 of Wands.  I can’t walk away from these responsibilities so I need to develop skills and techniques to help me relax and become calm and centered so that I can deal with them without losing my mind.

Why am I confused? 9 of Wands R + Queen of Chalices R (BoS So Below)

BoS So Below 9 of Wands BoS So Below Queen of Chalices

Lack of focus and insight – that’s why I’m confused.  My energy stores are depleted and my concentration is almost non-existent.  With the situation surrounding me, focusing or concentrating on any task are absolute luxuries.  I feel as though I’m developing attention deficit disorder because my attention span has become nonexistent.  If I can focus on a book long enough to read a chapter it’s a minor miracle.

I’m beginning to realize that some of this confusion and lack of focus is circumstantial and not due to any innate character traits.  My life is not conducive to focus or concentration right now.  Things may change in the future but as things stand right now I’m fighting against the prevailing current.  It’s frustrating but I need to be more flexible about this.  It would seem that now is just not the time to focus on personal projects no matter how much I’d love to start.

I think the Queen of Chalices is telling me that I need to comfort myself right now.  I need to give myself the same support and acceptance I would give a friend going through similar experiences.  I think we all tend to be much harsher and more judgmental with ourselves in situations like this.  Those inner critics that lie in wait to shred our self-confidence thrive on moments like this.  Instead of feeding that energy I need to embrace myself and say all those kind, comforting things I’d tell a dear friend.

I don’t think I’m confused as much as I am exhausted and depleted.  I’m confusing being warn out with being confused.  I can’t focus on building a new career because I am up to my neck in my current career.  Perhaps it’s not a paying job but caring for my in-laws is no less demanding, draining and time consuming.  It’s time to stop fighting the current and go with the flow, even if that flow is taking me in a direction different from the one I would have chosen.

How can we better interact with the extraterrestrials? 7 of Fire R + The World R (BoS As Above)

BoS As Above 7 of FireBoS As Above World

Curiouser and curiouser.  The 7 of Fire shows Uranus whom Barbara calls the “Crazy Genius of the Skies”.  She describes this card as symbolizing sudden big changes sometimes accompanied by radical, impulsive behavior.  In Greek mythology Uranus is the primordial sky god whose mating with the earth mother Gaia produce the Titans, the Hekatonkheires and the Cyclopes.  He was eventually castrated and overthrown by his son Cronus (who was in turn overthrown by his son Zeus).  Astrologically, the planet Uranus is considered the planet of rebellion, an awakener and quirky innovator.  Based on this I would have to consider that the 7 of Fire is showing that if we wish to interact with the extraterrestrials in a more effective and positive manner, we first need to change our perceptions and attitudes.  We need to embrace the fact that this might seem silly to some.  It may force us to explore crazy, quirky or innovative creative ways to connect with the energies of the Otherworld.

If the extraterrestrials serve the Dark Goddess and live in a shadowy Otherworld then perhaps their communication style is one we would not recognize as such.  Perhaps that is what has created some of the challenges we’ve hit so far.  We speak different languages and translation is not easy.  We may need to turn our typical approaches on their head in order to understand the extraterrestrials’ message.

The World reversed is a reminder that just because we can’t see these Otherworldly creatures, that doesn’t negate their existence.  Sometimes humanity views itself as the sole ruler and/or savior of the planet.  We are arrogant enough to believe that we can destroy the planet and we can save it.  In reality, I think the Earth will do just fine with or without humanity.  We serve a purpose right now but if we become too parasitic I am confident Mama Gaia will shrug us off like useless fleas.  There are other sentient beings on this planet and our ability to see or interact with them doesn’t impact their reality.  We don’t have to believe in them for them to exist.

Right now our relationship may be unbalanced because we have pushed things too far; taken more than our fair share of the resources.  We can fix this but one of the biggest problems is population growth and there is not easy answer for that.  How does one tell others they cannot reproduce?  That would be almost impossible to legislate or enforce.  If we wish to bring harmony and balance back to the planet, we need to find ways to work with the energies of the elementals, the extraterrestrials, the fairies – call them what you will.  The children of the Dark Goddess, residents of the Otherworld may help us see things from a different perspective.  Perhaps that will enable us to find creative, beneficial ways to heal the planet and our relationship with our fellow inhabitants.