Fearing Fear Itself


What was once my biggest concern for my children, has become my greatest angst for my aging mother... that she will be frozen with fear as a result of something over which she has absolutely no control.

When my daughters were young, I became inwardly unhinged at the mere thought of them experiencing fear. I had unfounded and irrational concerns that bad men would do bad things to them... that stray dogs would attack them on their way to school... that bullies would pick on them at lunch... that they’d require an unscheduled hospital visit... The world was full of bad people, dangerous places and hidden agendas that could cause catastrophic fear in my girls if I didn’t head it off at the path... (Have a seat right here on the couch Mrs. C, while I get my pen and pad...I’m sorry, your time is up...)

Lately, I’ve had this same protective attitude for Mom who, after serving a two-week sentence at a local nursing home (rehabbing a sore hip resulting from a fall), will be released on parole tomorrow. Not only will I be glad to have her back in her “little apartment” next door for convenience sake, but also because the endless tape of concerns (fears?) running through my own head will cease;  Is the staff abusing her? ... Are they stealing her money? (which she insists on leaving in her purse, right next to her – even as she sleeps)... Are they feeding her?... Are they helping her to the bathroom when she needs it?

(Mom assures me she is being neither neglected nor abused in any way, and that I can put my fears to rest... her only complaint being that the phone near her bed doesn’t work.)

Historically, “fearful” would not be a moniker used to describe Mom. She raised four children, moved her family six times (mostly alone and once across country), skied big mountains, championed civil rights, and readily navigated a chaotic life without fear.

But time changes us all in unusual and immeasurable ways. As Mom’s caretaker, I’ve watched fear slowly creep into her days. Beginning with the loss of her driver’s license eight years ago, her fear was relatively isolated... How will I get where I need to go? It’s morphed with time... Will I have enough money to live out my life? Her recent stint at The Home has highlighted what is surely her greatest fear of all... What will happen to me if I can’t stay in my home?

Yesterday, the OT and the PT joined me and Mom on a field trip to her real home; the goal being to see if she can navigate her apartment with a walker. Parked in the drive, waiting for the T’s, Mom exhibited an uncharacteristic strain on her face. Although she couldn’t name it when asked what she was feeling, further questioning revealed her emotion was fear... concern about the whos, whats and wheres of her return home. She was understandably asking herself “Can I do this?”

Mom’s fall resulted in more than just a bruised bum and bones. Her brain was also slightly jarred affecting her already-declining vision and her mental acuity. Add to this the huge shift in her daily routine, and Mom’s ability to process her surroundings has been compromised. She acknowledges that she’s not 100% and has her own concerns about living alone. So many questions.... only some of which we’re yet willing to ask aloud...

·         Is her current level of disability temporary or permanent?

·         Will she be able to stay in her apartment or will she be forced to move to assisted living?

·         Will she have to skip assisted living and go right into skilled nursing care?   

These are huge and immensely important questions.

Who wouldn’t have fear around all this uncertainty?!  

I sure would.

Try as hard as I may, I can’t eliminate Mom’s fear or angst around going home. I can only assure her that I am right next door... I can encourage her to ask for help when she needs it (not her strong suit)... I can move her up a notch on my priority list and up my game with twice-daily visits... I can show compassion and empathize with her fears and concerns... I can increase her weekly visits from her home health aide and driver (both friends now)... I can... I can... I can...

Perhaps my own fear is that I cannot do all of this consistently... I can only do my best and keep at the forefront of my mind what Salvador Dali said... Have no fear of perfection - you’ll never reach it. Thanks Salvador. I really needed that. 

Emily Gaffney2 Comments