The Reluctant Caregiver
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Now and then, I refer to the people that caregivers tend to as "loved ones". And whenever I do, a woman in Southern California tells me, I set her teeth on edge.
She visits her mother-in-law, runs errands, helps with the paperwork — all tasks she has shouldered with a grim sense of duty. She doesn't have much affection for this increasingly frail 90-something or enjoy her company; her efforts bring no emotional reward. Her husband, an only child, feels nearly as detached. His mother wasn't abusive, a completely different scenario, but they were never very close.
Ms A, as I'll call her because her mother-in-law reads The New York Times on her computer, feels miserable about this. "She says she appreciates us, she's counting on us. She thanks us," Ms A said of her non-loved one. "It makes me feel worse, because I feel guilty."
She has performed many services for her mother-in-law, who lives in a retirement community, "but I really didn't want to. I know how grudging it was."
Call her the Reluctant Caregiver. She and her husband didn't invite his parents to follow them to the small city where they settled to take jobs. The elders did anyway, and as long as they stayed healthy and active, both couples maintained their own lives. Now that her mother-in-law is widowed and needy, Ms A feels trapped.
Ashamed, too. She knows lots of adult children work much harder at caregiving yet see it as a privilege. For her, it is mere drudgery. "I don't feel there's anybody I can say that to," she told me — except a friend in Phoenix and, anonymously, to us.
The friend, therapist Randy Weiss, has served as both a reluctant caregiver to her mother, who died very recently at 86, and a willing caregiver to her childless aunt, living in an assisted living dementia unit at 82. Spending time with each of them made Ms Weiss conscious of the distinction.
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