When my friend Angie married Mark, she was a successful advertising executive and he was teaching high school history. They were both in their late 30’s, and their future looked bright.
Soon after the wedding Mark’s dad suffered a terrible stroke. He wasn’t expected to live long, which was fine with everyone, because he had been an abusive husband and a horrible father. Mark took the summer off to help his mother. When fall came, he didn’t go back to school. He thought if he could just help her get through his dad’s illness, that she could have a decent life and a little money after the old coot died.
As luck would have it, his mother died, and what Mark had anticipated would be a short-term hiatus from his job as a teacher turned into a full time job of caring for his father.
During the last three years, Mark’s self-confidence has plummeted. He’s avoided his friends because he’s felt like he has nothing to contribute to the conversation when they talk about their accomplishments at work. He’s become envious of Angie because she’s constantly engaged with interesting people and projects. He’s gotten sucked into a downward spiraling vortex by caring for a father he does not love or respect, and he’s become depressed.
Understandably, Angie’s gotten fed up with his negativity. Last week she flew into a rage when she discovered that he’d rekindled an old romance on Facebook. The relationship hadn’t extended beyond the computer, but she felt angry and betrayed, nonetheless.
This was the event that made them realize Mark could no longer sacrifice his life to take care of his dad. He was losing himself, and he’d very nearly destroyed his marriage. They are now looking for a facility for his dad and Mark has started looking for another teaching job. Hopefully, he will get back on his feet emotionally and they will be able to get their marriage back on track.
Mark and Angie’s story is not unique. Caring for someone you love extracts a huge personal toll. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to care for a parent you hate. I believe Mark was trying to do the right thing. Unfortunately, being a good son could never make for all of the terrible things his father did to Mark, his mother and his sister.
I hope Mark will give himself credit for all the good things he did. I hope he will get some counseling and come to understand that he wasn’t a bad person for not loving an unlovable man. I hope he and Angie can remember why they were attracted to each other in the beginning and that they can rekindle their love for one another. I hope Mark can forgive his father, and I hope he can forgive himself for whatever mistakes he made during the time he cared for him. Mostly, my wish for Mark and for all other caregivers like him, is to realize that our obligation is to do what we can for our family members to make sure they are safe and well cared for. We are not obligated to sacrifice our own lives for their benefit. And no matter how hard we try, the good things we do will never excuse or make up for the bad things they did. They will have to come to their own place of peace. That’s their obligation – not ours.