When the overnight aide arrived at 10 pm, Virginia wasn’t asleep in her bed. She wasn’t in her apartment or down the hall in the sitting area or anywhere obvious. After a frantic search, the aide found my mother-in-law sitting on a cement floor at the top of a stairwell, lost, shivering, and weeping.
Virginia’s little sister Rose, 93, had died the day before. Virginia and her third sister Helen, 98, speak on the phone every day, so Helen agreed to give Virginia the news. Health aides, my dog Willow, and I were with Virginia that day. She seemed calm as friends called to share their grief, but it was all too much.
“I want to see my sister,” Virginia sobbed when the aide found her. “I want to go home.” The tender-hearted aide got Virginia back in her apartment and in bed.
Since a fall and hospital stay in November, Virginia has had health aides 20 hours a day, including all night. After her disappearance act, I increased hours to fill any gaps. I don’t want to leave her alone with her fear.
Fortunately, Virginia loves her health aides. I love and depend on them.
“We always got along, didn’t we?” she asked a few days before Rose died.
I waited to see what she’d say next.
“We always liked each other, right?” she said. “We were always close.” She looked up at me with hope. Something in me resisted having her erase the truth, but why should it matter?
“We got along fine, Virginia. We get along well.” She grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze.
“But you would never take care of me,” she said, leaning back with a scowl, digging at the scab.
My mouth yawned wide to snap the bait. I almost bit the hook. Almost.
“What do you mean, Virginia?” I asked instead.
“I mean you never took care of me.”
“Virginia, I always took care of you. I reminded your son and grandsons to call you. I called you myself. I sent birthday cards and letters. I included you in every family gathering. I helped you stay close to your grandsons. I moved you to this nice apartment. I cooked your favorite pasta. I’ve always taken care of you.”
“Yes, I know,” she said with a small nod of defeat. The pasta must have convinced her.
I was grateful I hadn’t grabbed that bait, but my desire to blame was right there, just under the surface. A hint of unresolved resentment mixed with caregiver’s fatigue.
That night, I created a sandtray. I wrote about sandtray last week and promised I’d make one for Virginia and me. I smoothed the white sand with my palms and built a shale ledge to divide the tray in two. Half for Virginia and half for me. My life feels like that some days.
A Grannie figure represented Virginia. I surrounded Grannie with what I imagined would bring Virginia comfort—a nurse, a priest, a nun, a dog, and St. Christopher carrying Jesus on his shoulder. The ladder was my hope for an easy exit from this life when it’s her turn. On the shale wall, I added two angels and a spirit bear watching over her.
My side of the tray was harder. I started with many figures before slowly removing everything except a spiral in the sand with a yin-yang symbol in the center. The yin-yang symbol was a Christmas gift from my daughter-in-law.
Virginia needed protection and love. I needed quiet centering. I also needed faith in this spiraling path of slow transformation.
Did my sandtray help Virginia? Even though she calmed down, I can’t say. I know for sure that it helped me.
As I promised in my last blog, I continued working with sandtray. I needed it this challenging week. I’d love to hear your experiences with supporting yourself when someone’s needs drain you dry. If you’d like to know more about transforming a tricky relationship, see My Lover’s Mama and the Negative Mother Archetype. I’ll be at the Women’s March on Washington this coming weekend. I’m grateful to Virginia’s reliable health aides who make this possible.