Saturday, August 14, 2010
Illness as Catalyst?
Sorry for the short absence. Richard and I were helping my mother transition into an assisted living facility and sort out her medical needs. About six months after my father's death she hit the "alone" wall. Not loneliness, which can be tempered by social activity - but alone-ness. She became afraid.
She and my father were not very compatible. She experienced his questions about her activities as attempts to control her, and he experienced her wordless, stone-faced responses as either not having heard his question or as not having done the deed he was asking her about. So he would ask again, and again, with increasing impatience -- especially after he became physically disabled during the last two years of his life. And she would get stonier and stonier. You can see the endless, disappointing (to me) loop.
At the six month post-death point, it wasn't that she missed him or had regrets that disturbed her quietude, it was that she started becoming afraid of being alone. The night-time what-ifs intruded more and more into her awake time. What if I fall? What if I can't reach my cell phone? What if my alert necklace doesn't work? What if there's a hurricane? What if something happens and there's no one there?
So, we helped her move into an assisted living, where she is much more tranquil.
As we helped her settle in, I wondered: Must illness exacerbate the destructive behavioral and emotional patterns couples used during their healthier years? Does illness need to be the final stage on which the partners enact the same old script that locked them into battle or silence in healthier days? Or can illness be the catalyst that bulldozes the destructive relationship loops and spirals and clears a path to more nurturing interactions?
What is your experience? Can illness change relationship patterns for the better; or does illness just exacerbate the pre-existing negative behaviors?