Beyond Survival

“Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it.”

I had said this to my mom so many times it had become a reflex. My normal response, almost my theme song. Mom was overwhelmed by Dad’s death and not completely oriented to her new apartment. Whatever came up, whether it was…
…Dad’s life insurance claims to file
…getting the car title transferred
…confusion about the dining-room schedule
…mislaid tax forms
…checks payable to Dad that had to be re-issued
…unpaid bills found on the table the same day they were due…

my reaction was the same. Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it.

I had made calls, gathered information, set up automatic bill paying, started monitoring the checking account. A legal pad held my growing mass of notes, phone numbers, account numbers, instructions from banks, dates that I had filed or faxed documents, and so forth.

Outwardly cheerful and matter-of-fact around Mom, I felt an enormous burden of responsibility. She lives two hours away from me; I just cannot monitor everything. What if I overlooked some important papers or missed a deadline? What if I made a mistake? I joked about trying to keep my mom and myself out of jail. At least… I hoped I was joking.

Then my sister died. As executor of her estate, I met with her attorney, went to probate court, filed for her life insurance and other benefits, set up bank accounts. Another legal pad; more emergencies.

Without my realizing it, a grim desperation crept into my normally optimistic attitude. I could not get over to Mom’s as often. When I did, efficiency was my watchword — I felt pressured to accomplish as much as possible at each visit. During errands I almost hyperventilated trying to keep pace with Mom’s slower step. In short, I had become thoroughly “wrapped around the axle.”

Finally I realized that I was treating my own mother almost as if she were more of a job than a person. I was coping with my grief (or just pushing it aside) by doing all those errands. How was Mom coping with her grief? I didn’t even know. But now, at least her affairs were starting to run more smoothly. She needed less help.

We began to relax and talk more, including sharing our feelings about Sis. Mom still got confused, but did not seem so lost. She subscribed to the local paper, made some pretty good friends among her neighbors and started playing bridge with a foursome. She’s a diehard Dallas Mavericks basketball fan, but added baseball to her TV repertoire because most of her neighbors are Texas Rangers fans.

During a recent visit, I saw flyers posted around, announcing “Mismatched Day.” Mom, usually very shy, actually planned to wear two different colors of shoes. We giggled about some other possible mismatches, like plaid with floral. That’s when I saw the bulletin-board calendar. Thursday of the following week would be “Hawaiian Day.” I asked Mom about it; she said she had a black-and-white caftan that’s as close to Hawaiian as she could get. My wheels started turning. Mom was going to “Go Hawaiian” the next Thursday if I had anything to say about it.

“I’ll see you next Wednesday,” I told her as I left. Over the weekend I scouted the craft store and sure enough, they had silk-flower leis. Unlike the little plastic worm-like ones, these boasted spacers between the petals and a hibiscus blossom accented with a little fern leaf. I bought four, all different colors — including orange, which Mom does not like. I figured this would encourage her to give at least one lei to someone else.

She laughed when I pulled the leis out of my bag the next Wednesday. I held them up to her caftan and pointed out that any of the colors would look good with it. “Well, I’m not wearing the orange one,” she insisted.

“I didn’t expect you to. You can give some of them away,” I said.

She later told me she had worn the red and the pink leis herself, and had given the green and orange ones to her close friend because they went with her green shirt.

It was just a little thing, bringing those leis. But what a difference it made to both of us. It was so good to drop the seriousness for once; to surprise my mom; to hear her laugh and see her interested enough to join in with the community like that. If you are in “survival mode” and bogged down with burdensome tasks, I would encourage you to go beyond survival and take a little break for just plain fun. As near as I can figure, we all need that balance.

I hope this perspective will be helpful to my Soli Deo Gloria friends and to everyone else, as well.

Thanks for reading!

About Jan C. Johnson

Welcome! If you like food, reading, laughing over life's little disasters, and maybe thinking about the bigger things of life, you have come to the right place. Besides blogging, I write humorous fiction, though real life tends to leave fictional humor in the shade. But I'm not a total goofball. No, really. I'm also working on a biography project. I live in North Texas with my husband, Brent. We enjoy bicycling, Mexican food, and traveling to visit our kids and grandkids.
This entry was posted in I Remember When... (my OWN stories), Near As I Can Figure.... Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Beyond Survival

  1. Jen says:

    Wow–I didn’t realize this would hit me as personally as it did.

    I have a hard time cutting lose, doing things just for fun. I am about order and ministry and being on the ball.

    And these are good things, but I’m learning that I have to let go a bit more. Be a little spontaneous. Live a little. Laugh a lot more. Stop being so cerebral. God is doing something in me these days and this post moves me a little closer to it.

    Thank you.


  2. Amy Sullivan says:

    This post does bring perspective.

    First of all, wow. What a huge burden you have carried with the death of your dad and your sister. You are a strong, strong woman. I think it is normal to get in a place where you feel as if things you normally enjoy are now a chore. I often catch myself in that way of thinking. . .I “have to do” this or that, and not I “get” to do it.

    I love that you found a way to make your mom laugh and have some fun. Sometimes laughter fixes things words cannot.


  3. Steve Bato says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Jan.

    I have not had to go through those kinds of issues yet (loss of mother, sister), but your description of the descent into the mire of doing what is needed helps even me to see how focus can narrow to just that and the bigger picture is a blur.

    I’m so glad the Lord is helping you through this, and that you heard His prompting to pump a little of your energy into fun for your mom. What a blessing you are!


  4. My husband and I have been trying to get my mother to move in with us the past year. I know there can be lots of stresses with this decision and you have reminded me that we need not get so caught up in all the seriousness and details, that we forget to let loose and laugh and enjoy one another. It will be a blessing to have her here, and I pray we laugh much! 🙂
    Thanks for your post!


  5. patsy says:

    Wonderful sharing! I’ve been sort of relaxed lately and not stressed out because I’m recovering from some health issues. I felt bad though that instead of taking care of my mom, she was the one fussing about me!


  6. Deb says:

    I just found you through Soli Deo Gloria, and I am so glad I did! What a difficult time you have been through! I lost my mom a few years ago, and have done my best to be there for my dad who lives several states away. Just being able to laugh with him on occasion is medicine for my heart! Thanks for sharing this so beautifully!


  7. Debbie Young says:

    Thank you for drawing attention to the issue of caregiving burnout. I’ve tended to be the one in the family to take care of things like this and I’m the least equipped to do so. I dive into a crisis and am good at managing it but I can’t handle the on going stress of paperwork, scheduling or medication routines. I cared for my sister as she was dying from cancer. I became so overwhelmed by managing her medications that I had to up my own anxiety pills!
    My 85 year old mom is now moving into a 2nd home on our property. But my sister is moving in with her and she, my brother and I will help each other. We’ll share the responsibilities better this time around.


  8. Katharine says:

    Thank you for this post… I realized as I read that I am often in “survival mode” You have given me some good things to ponder!


  9. Jan says:

    My thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments. I had no idea this post would hit home for so many. Your support and understanding bless me more than I can express.


  10. I am so sorry for your losses. I lost my mom almost 6 years ago and we mentioned so often that it was so much easier and even fun . . . as we shared the load of grieving and caring for my dad in his grief with my four brothers and sisters. I cannot imagine doing it alone.

    I love picturing your mom wearing the lei to Hawaiian night.

    Blessing on your grief journey.



  11. Pamela says:

    Oh my. Joy, joy, joy floods my soul when I read about creative shelter. I love how your honor your mother.


  12. Thinking of you today – so good to read this post! Glad that God is giving you bouts of sunshine among the rain!!


  13. Thanks for the insight….I appreciated your words here today.


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