Horne: Finding the calm when losing a sense of control

When you are in the eye of a hurricane, finding a quiet centre where all feels stable is a test of one’s character.

But surely, it has to also be an amazing opportunity for growth as well.

While our individual life experiences are each unique, there must be a thread that weaves through the fabric of those experiences that is universal to us all.

Pardon the philosophic banter, but as my days have become entwined with the fabric of my mom’s life completion, I frequently find myself laying quietly in my bed late at night after a day’s flurry of changing events, asking the question:  “What is this all for?”

There must be a greater purpose to it all. I am willing to be with it, but what is “it?”

As each day seems to rob my mom of yet another once routine physical capability, I observe her reaction to it all as this loss of control affects her demeanour and sense of engagement with me and with life.

I awoke one morning last week intuitively guided to read Joan Erikson’s writings on the 9th stage of life.

After the death of her husband, Erik Erickson, she came to realize that their conceptualization of the eighth developmental stage, where we struggle with integrity versus despair, had rather missed the mark.

After observing and sharing this period of time with Erik before his passing, she came to believe that we as individuals confront all previous eight stages of development again at this time of life, but with them all converging together at the same time one right after the other.

On top of that, this time the negative pole now takes the dominant role over the positive.

As increasing loss of physical ability occurs, elders often begin to mistrust themselves and their environment.

Their sense of autonomy is continually whittled away, and this state of being dependent on others and completely “in their hands” can leave an aging elder in a state of dependency that leads to despair.

I saw this happen last night as the dear palliative care nurse and I went through a process of turning my mom’s ability to go to the bathroom on her own over to a catheter.

The struggle of losing this sense of control immediately made her angry and she began to lash out at these “hands” that were trying to help her.

At the end of the ordeal, when the room was once again quiet and we were alone, I sat and began to massage her hands.

I saw the look of fear on her face as she grappled with this state she was finding herself in.

She abruptly pulled her hand away and held it up to her chest.

I asked her: “Do you not want me to massage you anymore?”

Without speaking, she stretched out her hand again into mine and although tense, I began to feel her release as I once again began to rub it gently.

The moment of taking in all that was happening was overwhelming for both her and for me.

Not knowing what else to do, I laid my head on her shoulder, more as a way to tell her I felt helpless, but that I loved her and was here for her.

She began to softly stroke my hair and I felt the tears that I have been holding in for a couple of weeks start to come.

She said quietly to me, “Everything is going to be OK.”

In that incredible moment of connection, I felt the fear in both of us leave and for that moment, the despair left her and something different came to take its place that was calm and good.

So is this what it’s all about? The “hands” of those that care for people as they come to this final 9th stage of life, at whatever time that is, must be hands that hold a deep willingness and desire for connection.

As we understand this magnificent gift that is available to us when we are supporting someone at the end of their life, I believe we will then be better able to support them to continue their own roles in whatever way they can to the end.

My mother’s touch in that moment was not only what I unknowingly needed, but in that moment I also felt that it lifted her from despair back to hope and trust.

Experiencing the joy of this tapestry interweaving between us and allowing this connection to happen is most certainly of great purpose, no matter how much pain is also involved in the process.





Marjorie Horne owns CareSmart Seniors Consulting Inc.



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