Ambivalence – a Nasty Word

I spent many a summer as a child playing ping pong with my cousins at our summer homes.  We loved the game and enjoyed trying to beat each other.  It was a thrill to be part of that fast paced back and forth activity and the faster we hit that ball the better.  It dazzled our eyes and minds as we watched that little ball hurtle back and forth with the whack of our paddles.

So fast forward to the present and I feel like I am in a life game of ping pong.  This will take a bit of explaining.

My title says, ” Ambivalence – a nasty word”.  If you have ever felt ambivalent about something you know it is not a nice place to be in.  When you are ambivalent you are on shaky ground, you are in a state of disorder because nothing seems for certain.  In the world of being a caregiver to an elderly person close to the end of their life ambivalence creates all sorts of tension.  What I am specifically talking about is when a person is close to the end of their life and you are worn out from caregiving you can feel two ways.  You can fear losing the person and then you can also wish it were over.  Yes, now I  have said it.  I have said what no caregiver wants to admit they feel.  But it is real.  It is real with all of us to some degree.  Being ambivalent in regards to your loved one often brings about strong feelings of guilt.  You might say, ” How could I ever feel that way?  I must be a horrible person.  ” For the last number of years I revealed only to a select few in my life my ambivalence because of the guilt ridden feelings I would have.  But my doctor has discussed this with me many times and assures me this is a universal feeling.  So I am going to “come out” so to speak and dare to give voice to these ambivalent feelings I have.

I can discuss these feelings now because I know in my heart of hearts that my wanting Mom to pass away  at desperate moments has absolutely nothing to do with my love or lack of love for her.  I fiercely, madly, totally LOVE my mom with all that is within me.  These ambivalent feelings I have take nothing away from that love.  In fact, it is out of that love that I  sometimes want her to pass on to Heaven so she will no longer suffer and she will be happy and well.  It is a selfless act of wanting to release the most valuable person in your life so they will be at peace.

Granted sometimes as caregivers we are so overwhelmed, so weary, so distraught that we want release too.  We want this crazy life to end so we can live normal lives again.  This is human and understandable to anyone who is a caregiver 24/7.  I think it is one of the hardest jobs we will ever be asked to do.   We don’t have to feel guilty for our humaness.

Let me shine a light into my ambivalent life.  At the beginning of this blog I mentioned playing ping pong.  My ambivalence is very much like a fast paced ping pong game.  Like the ball whizzing back and forth, my mind races back and forth between fearing and dreading the moment my beloved Mom is no longer with me and wanting her to go so it will all end.  At night I have trouble going to sleep fearing she will die in the night and I won’t hear the phone.  Yet when I wake up in the morning and no  phone call has been made I think to myself I am going to have to struggle through another day of caring for Mom.  When I call her in the morning I dread what she will say to me when I ask her how she is.  If she says she is having a terrible day I think to myself maybe the end is near.  Maybe soon this will all be over and Mom will not suffer any more.  On the other hand, if Mom says she is having a good day I wonder how long this will go on – days, weeks, months??  I will have to watch her slowly succomb to her congestive heart failure.  I often pray for a speedy heart attack that will take her to eternity in the blink of an eye but then in the same moment I panic when I think of living here on earth with out her ever near me again.

Ambivalence is indeed a nasty word and more than that it is a very nasty feeling to have.  Like that ping pong ball I whiz back and forth all day long and I mean all day long!  I am in a championship ping pong game that is lasting so long it would be in the Guinness World Record book.  And as it lasts longer and longer my anxiety, grief and desolation become more etched into my life.  Ambivalence is not meant to be a way of life but when you are a caregiver it often overtakes your life.  It is like a nasty ear worm that won’t let you alone.  It sucks the strength out of you and brings you to your knees in pain.

How do we deal with such a nasty word?  Well, I asked my doctor that very question today.  She said we basically need to understand that ambivalence is a normal reaction to a very difficult situation.  We need not make it worse by beating ourselves up over feelings of guilt but to accept that it has NOTHING to do with our love for our loved one.  It is out of desperation in that very difficult situation that ambivalence lurks.  We need to try to accept our feelings and not judge them and just continue with our journey of doing the best we can for our loved one.

For me,  I have a strong faith so when I have feelings I want it all to end and Mom go to Heaven I know she will be in a beautiful place where she will see Jesus face to face, and she will see Dad again and her own parents.  She misses her Mama just like I will miss her.  I know she will no longer suffer as she has done so for over 20 years with the effects of a stroke.  She will be able to walk on her own, she will have a  “new” head like she has wanted for 20 years.  She will be free of the diabetes and all the other problems she has had.  She will have a new heart, one that is strong and healthy.  That to me is gold, treasure beyond belief for my Mom.  I want that for her so much but for her to have that I have to give her up.  I have to live the rest of my life on this earth without her.  She is the one who gave me my life.  She carried me for nine months, she has known me my whole life.  Noone else on this earth can attest to that.  She holds my dreams, my roots, my very life.  What will I do with out her.  I will be adrift in a raging sea.  I will be a tree with no roots, toppling over in the slightest whiff of wind.  I am so scared.  I am terrified of losing her.  It is my worst possible nightmare.

While in this horrible state of frantic ambivalence I have to grab hold to the one thing that is on both sides of this ambivalence and that is the LOVE I have for my Mom.  It is the one stable, constant factor in all this craziness.  I will hang onto it as I continue to whiz back and forth across the ping pong table and when all is finally done, it is the LOVE that will be my anchor in the raging sea and it will be the new roots that will start to grow as I hang onto the precious memories of my Mom.  And of course, a LOVE much greater is at play here too. And that is the LOVE of my Jesus who will carry me through this ambivalent period and into the unknown ahead.  His LOVE will also be my constant, my everything  I need, my ENOUGH.

Enough said.


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