Balancing Trust

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Could I trust her?

Newly minted and hungry, I had some tests... Would she feed me?... Change my dirty diaper? … Keep me warm? So far, so good.

Successfully climbing the first rung of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I continued to entrust Mom with my safety and wellbeing… Would she get me to school on time? Would she remember my lunch money? Would she keep the dog from eating me? Pass. Pass. Pass.

With time, my trust tests grew more substantial -  Would she assuage my anxiety when I called from my first apartment 2,000 miles away? Would she fly 3,000 miles to help me with my first baby? Could I count on her to share the family’s secret chicken recipe? Check, check, and check.

If there was a balance scale of trust, Mom’s side was front-loaded in my early years, with a healthy heft just waiting to be earned by me. Thankfully, I experienced my mother to be a trust-worthy person; when I expressed a need, she sought to fulfill it. My only responsibility during the first half of my life was to make good decisions.  

Our mutual trust (trustality?) continued for many years in a relatively balanced manner, suspended in a kind of mother/daughter stasis… a period in our lives where no tremendous trust issues (between us, anyway…) presented themselves. We were good.

Eight years ago, my husband and I moved our family to my childhood home, right next door to Mom. While resting and reading in our shared back yard one day, I felt the first inkling of a shift in our stasis status.  My (then) 84-year-old, insanely independent, mother called out from the garden with a small request… Would you mind just pulling that weed over there? 

An almost imperceptible shift, but there it was; Mom expressed a need (albeit trivial), and trusted that I could complete the task necessary to meet it. This simple scenario could easily have gone sideways; I can’t get dirty right now Mom… In a rush Mom, I’ll do it later… You know I hate gardening Mom… But it didn’t, because - like Pavlov’s dog - I liked the reward. Being needed felt good. 

Over time, that pulling of a single weed has evolved into full-on gardening and I’ve had many opportunities to feel good. If individual weeds represent small caregiving tasks, then full-on gardening has become – quite literally – Driving Miss Daisy. As the weeds grow, so do Mom’s needs for assistance and her trust in me to fulfill them:

She trusts me to get her where she needs to go -  never visibly or audibly holding her breath or criticizing me behind the wheel.

She trusts me to bring dinner – as hot as I can manage, and with extra salt on the side… no coconut, kale or clams.

She trusts me to make medical and hair appointments – Whatever day works best for you.

She trusts me to be the family messenger, letting siblings and other interested parties know that her most recent procedure went just fine.

She trusts me to do her banking… never asking for a receipt.

Because of our past, Mom knows she can trust me with her future as well:

She trusts that I won’t make her feel bad or guilty about needing more as she ages… more help, more patience, more understanding.

She trusts that I’ll handle her personal affairs as she wishes.

She trusts that I’ll ensure fairness to all family members if/when she becomes unable to make decisions.

She trusts that I’ll always have her best interests at heart… especially as they relate to DNR and POA.

She trusts that I’ll be honest with her – despite the content of the news.

She trusts that I won’t give away her prized possessions, even though I don’t understand why they could possibly be so important.

I’ve learned a lot about the balance of trust while caring for Mom over our eight years as neighbors. Mostly, I’ve learned that it’s my turn to be present and trust-worthy for her. The scale continues to tip ever so slightly south on my side these days, with me now holding the heft of trust to be earned.

It’s hard to predict the exact nature of future obstacles that will likely arise in our life together, but I’ve come to trust that Mom and I will get through them. And she’s come to trust that I will be there for her.

Emily Gaffney8 Comments