Something is changing the way I express my compassion, how I feel compassion. Something is different and it may look like I’m lacking compassion.
One thing I have noticed in caring for my mother is a basic change in my temperament. I have had to learn to tolerate a new level of grief, pain, and anxiety. I have had to learn to process them quickly, if partially, in order to continue caring for her and for myself.
I have tried for years to “reason” with her, to show her that there are other explanations for her delusions. I know there is no room between her and the illness to see other viewpoints. Yet I continued far past the point where I should have any expectation of impact.
It has been extraordinarily sobering for me to realize how entrenched her illness is. With all she has been struggling with, she has managed to keep housing and some semblance of a life until now. Her drastic change in circumstances has not shaken her to realization of her illness. It only reinforces the delusions and hallucinations that brought her here.
She will not accept housing, even at the cost of endangering herself. To her, the dangers she faces are far beyond what she faces on the street.
She is not a danger to herself or to others, so mental health conservatorship is a longer process. Grave As much as I wish it would be, refusing shelter is not considered a danger to herself, legally speaking.
I could get lost in the worry, the unfairness, the self-blame and isolation. She is not the only one and I am not the only family caught in this system we have all set up. I feel for the people without homes, people with mental illness I encounter. I feel for the families. These people are my mom and I.
Still there’s something that happens when people talk with compassion about people who are homeless. People seem to expect an outward display of emotion. I am terse about it. I am dry. It’s a terrible situation, I know. Yet it is part of my everyday life now. This is not new or foreign to me. It is concrete and personal to me, something I do not readily reveal.
Sometimes when a friend talks about the poor stray cats out in the rain and the cold, I want to say “You know my mom is out in the weather, right?” “You know I live with that knowledge everyday.” Not because I don’t feel for these creatures, but because I feel so much for my mom.
This is no longer an abstraction to me. My mother is not some distant other person that I can heap sympathy on and still feel the “otherness” of her.
What I come to realize is I am rooted. I am rooted to her suffering in a way that’s hard to be moved in the same way. My compassion comes from that reality that I experience with her and is expressed through effort, through the call to and encouragement of your strength. In this, I hope that my continual falling apart and regathering myself means something.