Lena’s unsettled and troublesome again. Nurses are barely coping with her demands and verbal tirades. The nurse on duty handed her mobile phone to Lena after asking me if I could oblige by calming her down. I distracted Lena with talk of birds and trees, rivers and oceans, bandicoots and numbats.
That’s what drew me to Lena in the first place, ten or so years ago. Finally I’d found a friend who understood and shared my passion for nature. People in general considered me a tad weird, but with Lena it was different. Nature touched her soul and warmed her to the core, just as it did me. We enjoyed the bushland together, admiring the details that most people inadvertently stepped on, unnoticed. At the time I felt blessed.
But it wasn’t long before her controlling, manipulating, judgmental manner shone through. It was too late. She had me in her clutches and she knew I was too ‘nice’ to abandon the physically disabled elderly and lonely woman who loved and depended on me.
She was totally unaware how her toxic energy sabotaged all her potential friendships and every event or project she undertook in her life. I mean, I don’t get how an intelligent adult could possibly not have any idea of the reality of the world around them or how they affect it. But that’s the way she was.
Of course Lena had good traits. She was generous with her time, and donated as much money as she could afford to worthwhile causes on a regular and continual basis. She did volunteer work and helped people whenever the opportunity arose. I admired her determination to be as independent as possible through her daily struggles to conduct a normal as possible life despite her physical disabilities. She was an exceptional human being in many ways.
But after every visit I paid to her on the other side of the country, I came home extremely stressed and depressed, and without exaggeration, teetered on the edge of self harm more than once. I tried to disengage myself from her, but she wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, wouldn’t listen to any explanation. To be successful in exiting her life completely, I would have had to change my phone number, move house, and my husband and I would have both have had to change jobs, leave our home town and god knows what other measures that hadn’t occurred to me. She was addicted to me. She didn’t know the difference between ‘need’ and ‘love’.
Lena’s old-age has taken over her body, moving in on her mind, and she is now confined to hospital awaiting aged care placement. It’s a sad situation. Dementia is a cruel affliction and her immobility makes matters worse. Not surprisingly, she has no family or firm friends, except me. And me is all she wants, every day. I’m at my wits end as to how to manage her demands. In private, I get angry and tearful. And torn between guilt and self-preservation.
We travelled with the caravan all day today to reach Lena. The scenery was lovely with green paddocks and greener than green grain crops, flooded creeks, expanses of swollen waterways with ducks and waterbirds taking advantage of recent downpours, eucalypt woodland, flowering heath and historic towns. But I was preoccupied arguing with the voice in my head and coping with my knotted chest. My Old Mate and I have lost the urge to continue our once-in-a-lifetime holiday, and after I’ve done all I can for Lena, we’ll start heading across the country towards home, a few months earlier than planned.
Our choices are our own responsibility, I know. So I have no one to blame but myself. I’m aware of that. I’ve got a lot still to learn about self-compassion, but the lessons I’ve been given during my association with Lena have been valuable. I hope the rain has let up by morning so I can go for a long walk on the beach before I tackle what’s waiting for me. Nature nurtures me, and I’m grateful for the blessings of sunshine and rain, earth and wind to sustain me, to give me strength and resolve.