December 20, 2020

Unparalleled Journey: A Caregiver’s Take on her Journey

by Ella Roselyn Mentry

A young lady in my circle formulated her thoughts into words, never expected to see them in print, especially for the world to read, and entrusted me to portray her message. I hope my portrayal does her justice, and I hope her story will help someone else on a journey.

As quoted to her recently, “As a young woman, it’s time to start living for YOU.” While embarking upon this unparalleled journey, she decided it was time to listen. As I share these thoughts, her thoughts with you, the world, I hope that her struggles upon her journeys will help someone else achieve peace. Let’s call her ROSE.

Rose reached some points in life where she learned about loss: loss of family, loss of a job, loss of self. As all these things occurred, she was not ready to accept that she was slowly deteriorating into a depressed state, which later became full-blown depression. Rose learned about loss early on in life as family members began to depart. Being the youngest of numerous grandchildren, yes, losses were expected, as everyone was older than she. Rose endured the griefs of losing both the patriarch and then the matriarch of a big family, the heart of another family, and even family and church members alike. However, the “loss” previously mentioned is not the loss I am referencing.

Exactly three years ago today, life changed in such a gut-wrenching way that the circumstances are unbelievable. All lives surrounding this event had been heavily affected by one phone call, including the individual for which the event happened. A brief version of the story: Rose’s loving mother, Grace, who was 75 years young at the time, awoke in the middle of the night to an extremely low glucose (blood sugar) level and attempted to address it. She didn’t make it past the bathroom, as she fell unconscious. The phone call indicated, “We’re on our way to the hospital. Very low blood sugar; no reading. She’s unresponsive but breathing. I’ll keep you posted as I know more.” It was then that Rose’s heart dropped, and she immediately began to pray. After composing herself, she made her way to Interstate 55 south, on her way to her mother. Upon her arrival at the hospital after a three-hour drive, the family met the doctors who indicated Grace had not suffered a stroke (Praise God), yet was unable to move anything below her neck. In turn, the fall Grace experienced compressed her spinal cord. The family sat together as the doctors spoke to determine the next courses of action. Even with a second opinion, surgery was the next option. From surgery came hospitalized rehabilitation and later became twenty-four-hour at-home care. Twenty-four-hour care eventually became a major move from one state to another, for Grace’s home was in Louisiana, and Rose’s residence, two hundred miles north of there. Making this major move began the cycle which would eventually be the loss of family. Some of them called Rose selfish for uprooting her mother from their family for personal sake of some form of happiness. Others felt regardless of Grace indicating she was going to eventually live out the rest of her life with Rose, that the timing was not right for the move. Some even blamed Rose for the physical and mental decline of others. When the sale of the property became a reality instead of a forethought, more trouble materialized.

On this journey where the lines of communication became crossed and then non-existent, so became the loss of family. While enduring threats, foul words, opinions, and more, Rose grew virulent, irritated, distressed, detached, and more frazzled than any one person deserved. Circumstances changed; people changed; the job changed, and the family separated more now than ever before. No one knew of the countless sleepless nights and all the tears cried between the two of them, separately. No one knew of Grace’s screams at night, some of which were later learned for Rose’s attention. No one knew of the pain experienced as the contractures grew deeper, headaches magnified, and of course, the countless decline because of multiple hospital admissions. No one knew how Grace begged God and prayed for a death that would not come. No one knew WHY? No one knew that Grace didn’t want to talk on the phone or express the truths that she had verbalized to Rose and others nearby. All the family knew or assumed, was that Rose was the driving force behind Grace’s decisions. Rose was the one manipulating Grace’s thoughts. Rose was the one creating modification in Grace. Grace was and still is headstrong and became even stronger after her husband’s passing several years ago. Although Rose indicated she may have encouraged some of Grace’s decisions, she was not the originating source, nor was she the determiner.

While caring for Grace on her own with no assistance of any kind came more stress at home and even more stress on the job. These two stressors formed together and made Rose unbearable with herself. she awoke one morning and realized if she didn’t make some changes soon, then Rose would likely be dead and gone, the stressful job would still be there, and so would Grace; or at least, she’d be somewhere. When Rose lost that job, having given the school district eleven long years of her life, she felt as though one weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She was no longer neglecting Grace for the job, and no longer enduring the words of her supervisor, “quit or face termination”; and now, one stressor was gone. Sure, losing the job hurt for about a day or two, and many told Rose to contest the district’s decision and sue for wrongful termination. At this point in Rose’s life, after having dealt with the family and Grace as she had, there was no more fight within her. Rose had grown weary of fighting the mental, physical, and emotional demons surrounding her. Therefore, she just stopped fighting altogether. Rose never told her “blood-family” she lost her job; they weren’t communicating then, and she probably wouldn’t have told them anyway. That’s classic Rose, always private about self, until now. Her other family, the thicker than blood bonded ones who haven’t left yet (Thank God for them), helped Rose to pursue strength in obscure times and trust God.

Although she began to trust God again, Rose felt as though something was missing. Rose and Grace endured more sleepless nights which later required some conversations. They endured struggles of having the financial stability to not having financial stability. Because Rose and Grace had always lived from paycheck to paycheck, they knew the struggles of maintaining self. The new difference was that more bills came and then more troubles came. One’s health was declining, and the other’s health was non-existent. The struggles continue.

Between June 2019 and February 2020, when Rose noticed she was thinking of ways to end it all, she started searching for happiness while pushing some people away. She lost a guy who had expressed an interest in her because she felt too damaged to pursue a relationship. Rose didn’t want to unleash her damaging pain and hurt on him. He was a nice man and probably would still be around if his calls had not continuously gone unanswered, and if she had known to seek help sooner. Who knows, he might’ve been the one the help her sift through these troubles.

As Grace’s screams grew, so did Rose’s need for mentally silencing the screams and cries. Her quest for counting pills and hours magnified, and she wondered how long it would be before anyone noticed she was missing; before anyone noticed they had not talked to her; before someone with a key had found her; before someone outside of the apartment had heard Grace’s screams for help and notified the authorities; or before Rose’s new supervisor and colleagues realized she had not reported to work. These thoughts of an out were not consistent thoughts, but the thoughts did exist. Rose was quite conflicted, and still is sometimes because while thinking and counting, she could not turn her mind off. Her thoughts were racing everywhere. Phones were broken. Drinking glasses were broken. Candles were broken. Anything breakable within reach was destroyed. All of these things occurred effortlessly to silence Grace’s screams for Rose. It was a temporary release, but a growing problem. As Rose sat and counted the pills in her hands, she also thought about what would happen to Grace if the inevitable happened to she before her. Who would care for Grace? What would happen to Grace once someone told her Rose was no longer there? What would Grace’s reaction be behind Rose’s actions? As Rose thought of these things, she also thought about the person(s) who would come in and find her in her self-inflicted inevitable state. If it were her sister/friend, how would she explain this to Rose’s godchildren that their auntie was gone, or how many times she’d question herself on what she could have done to prevent this. If it were Rose’s godmother or her other sister/friend, there’d be many unanswered questions. Rose couldn’t let anyone enter her apartment and find her that way, and nor could she selfishly leave Grace like that. Therefore, Rose attempted to push those feelings to the recesses of her mind and press forward for another day.

It wasn’t all bad. Amid screams and tears, Grace and Rose had some laughs too. They conversed of memories of old, family and friends, the godchildren, and Grace’s days at adult daycare. She really enjoyed the daycare and its events. They relished in the forthcoming opportunities. In September 2019, as Rose had introduced a new position in her life, she also embarked upon a master’s degree. If someone had told her at thirty-five, she would provide Grace’s twenty-four-hour care, work two part-time jobs, and work to complete a rigorous master’s degree program in a year, she would have laughed in their face. She never would have believed it was possible, let alone achievable. But God.

When Rose thought the circumstances couldn’t get worse, she reached the lowest point in her life. Despite “thinking” about a self-inflicted inevitable, she never followed through with the acts. Rose stopped breaking things, for replacing them became expensive. She also channelled other ways to extract some positive focal points. Bear in mind, her plate was quite full with homework and lesson planning and Grace. After releasing that negative spirit of “breaking things” came something completely worse. Rose reached a breaking point, and it had nothing to do with the pending pandemic, which is now the deadly, life-shattering pandemic! In February 2020, Rose cut herself. She did not slit her wrist, but she did place a self-inflicted wound near her wrist. This wound was NOT a suicide attempt, but it was her only out. Focusing on the pain from the cut silenced the screams and cries that day, and a few days afterwards. Days later when she realized she had the scissors in hand again, Rose dropped them and cried until she couldn’t cry anymore. Her face sore and swollen from the countless tears cried. The cut was also in a noticeable location, and she couldn’t let anyone see it. Because Grace still had suitable mental faculties then, they had a conversation a week later to discuss all of her screams and cries. They also conversed of working together for Rose to provide Grace the care she required. The screams and cries slowly trickled away, only to return months later.

Rose later had some conversations with her godmother. It was likely then that her godmother realized the physical extent of what was happening at home. She observed Rose in her daily motions one morning as Rose removed the wheelchair from the car and placed it at Grace’s side, positioned herself in front of Grace, positioned Grace’s body where her feet were between Rose’s outside of the car, squatted and lifted and placed Grace in her wheelchair, and then escorted her into the building. Rose and her godmother spoke about this, for she could hear the concern in her questions as she marvelled in Rose’s daily journey. It was then where Rose’s godmother began to see a decline in her and stated, “You’ve got to get some help!”

She never saw the cut or even the bruise which later became a scar, and they never spoke about it. Although they spoke about feelings and depression, they never talked about the pills and other thoughts. Had it not been for her godmother encouraging her to seek help, Rose might not be here today to tell of this. Prior to sitting with me today, weeks ago, Rose shared some thoughts with me that she shared with her godmother on the day she presented her with pink roses. Rose expressed, “Godmother, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you for being in my life because I truly would not be here for mother without you.” As she cried with me, Rose told me her godmother has unparalleled wisdom.

I posed this question to Rose, “Why are you sharing your journey today?” Rose sought strength to share her story with the world hoping to bless someone else. She paused, wiped her tears, and replied, “God is working on me daily; every moment of the day, He is working on me. I felt compelled to share my story because not only is God working on me, but I have sought the help of a therapist. I’m not ashamed to tell you how much therapy can help if you allow it.” Powerful words from a powerful young lady. Rose expressed to me that growing up as a black woman in a family where it was taboo to seek a professional’s help instead of a minister’s help did not hinder her decision on her quest for betterment, for she added, “I’m here to tell you there is nothing wrong with seeking help when you need it.” Because life changed for her three years today, and she didn’t realize how much until Rose had to watch Grace decline, as the caregiver, you have so much going on and you should not have to endure it alone. When the pandemic came and businesses closed, adult daycare closed. Months later when daycare reopened, Grace was unable to return because of the decline in her health. Of all the caregivers she knows, most of them are spouses to the people in their care. Rose knows some adult children who are caregivers to their elder parents like she; however, she is the youngest caregiver in her circle of caregivers. It’s one thing to be a retired person and provide care in the home. It’s one thing to be unable to work and provide care in the home. But it becomes something totally different when you have to work to provide for your home and then still have to provide for the one in your care after working all day. Rose reached a breaking point that no one should reach in their life. It hurt so bad that she didn’t know whether she was coming or going. For Rose to continue to provide Grace’s care, she had to start taking care of herself. The biggest thing that affected Rose, in addition to the other things, were Grace’s words to her two weeks ago. She sat beside Grace, noticed something was wrong, and asked what was on her mind. Grace replied, “I’m depressed. I miss my sisters. Things are different and they are too.” Rose suggested Grace call her sister on the phone, and Grace replied, “I told you I don’t want to talk on the phone. When I’m ready to talk on the phone again, I’ll tell you.” Rose asked Grace what else was bothering her, and Grace continued, “I’m worried about YOU. You go all day, and you don’t stop. You’re always doing something for me, and I don’t know when you rest. I’m afraid you’re going to leave me here. And then, what will happen to me?” Grace’s words bothered Rose because it added to the stress already going on with her. She couldn’t muster the words to reassure Grace that everything would be alright. With that, Rose is working on her plan to start living and stop existing. She’s working to find her purpose and some enjoyment. Yes, it’s a struggle for someone like Rose to put herself first, after putting others first for so long. But that’s all a part of the plan: step by step and day by day. Rose’s words resonated in my mind and I hope they resonate in yours too. She left me with a tear-stained notebook and these words, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t feel that you’re not supposed to ask for help. Don’t let anyone tell you not to get help. If you recognize that a problem exists, you owe it to yourself and the others in your circle to make an effort to fix what’s broken in you. These three years have been a true testament of my faith, and in working on me mentally, I am also working on me spiritually. God bless.”

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