Her demeanor was calm but I could tell her puffy eyes were holding back a waterfall. One more tug on fragile circumstances and the dam might burst. An hour earlier, I felt alone in my struggles. But witnessing her predicament, I realized I was not alone and things could always be worse.
When we’re under stress, we can start to feel a little sorry for ourselves. Overloaded, consumed with our own problems, we think we’re the only ones in the world experiencing hardship. That is, until we see someone who’s dealing with far worse difficulties than ours.
The Waiting Room
The elderly and their caregivers filled the waiting room. Sitting across from my mother and I were a man with a walker and a woman with a cane. Both wore the same blank stare I often see on my mother’s face. Next to them, a lady who appeared to be in her late thirties held her fidgety young son.
A nurse opened the door and called the man’s name, then I realized they were together. Chaos ensued as the young lady attempted to herd the confused couple and needy child toward the hallway of exam rooms. The little boy spilled his juice, the couple went different directions, and the caregiver held herself together though her expression couldn’t hide she was frayed.
My heart went out to her. I know what it’s like to have a young child and I know what’s it’s like to be a caregiver. But I can only imagine caring for three people at once who are so heavily dependent on you.
Transporting my mother, who is also on a walker, is a major ordeal. Even though she lives five minutes away from the doctor’s office, it takes thirty to get her loaded, unloaded, and to the office. That’s on a good day. The effort it took this other caregiver just to arrive in time for the appointment was unimaginable.
A short while earlier, I was frustrated leaving the project I was working on to drive my mother to yet another doctor’s appointment. Caregiving places great constraints on our time. It also carries quite an emotional toll. Even though I usually deal with the frustrations and move on, there are other times I wander into the land of self-pity because of the personal sacrifices caregiving requires.
Trying to have a regular conversation with my mother is a challenge. She doesn’t understand complex sentences anymore and struggles to find words to express herself. But on the way back to her place that day, Mom cracked a joke. And I realized what a good day it really was.
My mother is here. We get to enjoy little moments like the one in the car. Some would give anything to spend one more minute with a parent who’s already passed on.
The experience that day was a reminder I’m not alone and things could always be worse. Knowing this doesn’t minimize our individual struggles but helps us acknowledge no one is immune to problems. We all have them. We are human. As Andy Andrews says, “All people – all lives – are either in a crisis, coming out of a crisis, or headed for a crisis.”
If you’re struggling with difficult circumstances right now, take heart. And then take a good look around. You just might find comfort, like I did, knowing you are not alone. It’s when we get past the loneliness and self-pity that we can appreciate the beautiful moments in the midst of the problem.