If there’s one thing we could all use a little more of, it’s mercy.
Caregivers are notoriously hard on themselves. I know, I was my own worst judge.
Caregiving isn’t easy. It’s relentless, and you can’t get it all “right.”
You can’t go on three hours sleep, physically lift another human being from the bed to a potty chair, dress them, feed them, give them their morning meds, load them in a car, drive them to the doctors, fight with the doctors, beg for proper treatment and medicine, head to the pharmacy (for them not to have what you need), stop by the store, come home and fix dinner, bathe your loved one, dispense more medicine, be pleasant to a spouse, your kids, your dog, and fall in bed at midnight only to woken up at 2am–
and still be nice!
No way!
Not day after day.

Many of my days of caring for my mom was just like that–one thing after another–physical and emotional worries, non-stop care mixed in with aspects of my own dwindling life, and yeah…I messed up all the time.

Every day, I’d say the wrong thing, hurt someone’s feelings, show up late or forget something important…

And you know what? Five years later–after my mom has passed away–and I can now look back and be okay with my caregiving, with our relationship–with me and realize that I still did a pretty good job. I loved my mom, my family, and I did the best I could. And that’s good enough.

You can’t have a long term real relationship and not have lots of foibles–misunderstandings, hurts, resentments, aggravations, you-weren’t-there-for-me, and back-off moments. Lots.

Forgiveness is like butter to dry bread. It smooth and comforting and makes life palatable.

The word mercy means:

1. Compassionate treatment, especially of those under one’s power; clemency.
2. A disposition to be kind and forgiving: a heart full of mercy.
3. Something for which to be thankful; a blessing: It was a mercy that no one was hurt.
4. Alleviation of distress; relief: Taking in the refugees was an act of mercy.

Giving yourself mercy means:

  • you treat yourself with compassion
  • you are kind to yourself and offer forgiveness when needed
  • you are grateful for this experience and your choice to participate in caring for another
  • and all this–leads to less stress! A sense of peace

I need mercy every day, and now I realize I’m the only one who has the power to give it.

The Psalmist David used the word mercy 128 times in the book of Psalms–to either describe God or ask for his loving mercy. Today, mercy is used in so many scenarios that I wonder if we’ve forgotten that it isn’t something to be used to get out of trouble (mercy/clemency, mercy killing, have mercy on my soul, mercy me!) but its deeper root is meant to make peace with yourself.

If I can’t accept my own missteps, then how can I ever expect anyone else to offer me one ounce of acceptance? How can I extend mercy to others unless I first cultivate it in my own heart toward “me?”

I’ve decided to write MERCY on three index cards and keep them in my pocket.

I carry them around with me–and if I screw up, I give myself a mercy card.

I can also mentally offer those I love a mercy card when they screw up.

Years ago, my husband and I decided that if either of us locked our keys in the car, had a fender bender, or the countless other little mess-ups that occur–things you certainly don’t mean to do, that we’d kindly offer our help and support and not give each other a hard time about it. Nobody wants to have to call someone to bring them a set of keys or tell them they crunched somebody’s bumper. We just knew that we didn’t want to be in a marriage where we had to fight or belittle the person we loved over “accidents.”

A couple of months ago, my husband went fishing with a friend. He got to the marina and realized he forgot his fishing license. I got the call (at about 6:30 am on a Sunday), got dressed and drove 20 minutes to give him his wallet. I handed it to him, kissed him good bye (I was still in my pjs) and hopped back in the car.

Later, my husband told me that his friend couldn’t believe I didn’t chew him out for making me bring him his wallet. (He didn’t make me–I chose to) Because of our agreement to give each other a break, my husband could go on and enjoy his day and not beat himself up for ruining a long-planned-for fishing trip–or for inconveniencing me. It was a gift.

Who needs more guilt added to their plate?

Besides, I’ve screwed up so many times–big and little–that it’s just best not to keep count. I don’t want a tit-for-tat marriage.

Caregivers, especially need mercy. Those who deal with the day-to-day issues of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease, strokes, cancer, and many other debilitating conditions deserve an extra dose.

If you yelled, snapped back, grabbed their arm a bit too rough, was impatient, testy, forgot something important, or said something really callous–say you’re sorry, mean it, and then let it go.

You have a good heart.

You’re just overwhelmed, exhausted, irritated, and hurt. That doesn’t make you a bad person.

If I learned anything in the years of living and writing Mothering Mother, it’s that forgiveness, aka mercy, is so needed–and appreciated by all. After awhile, this gift of mercy has a wonderful and surprising effect:

You begin to offer people mercy when they don’t even ask for it, maybe don’t even deserve it.

Why? Because giving and receiving mercy feels good. Remember–less stress? It become a habit, and by offering mercy, not even in the form of words, but in attitude and demeanor, you diffuse the situation.

Hurt, resentment, bitterness loses its power when mercy is offered.

It’s not that you’re trying to be a goodie, goodie, pious person who thinks they’re perfect and/or is trying to make an impression.  Practicing mercy will eventually become a way of life. It feels good and we humans tend to like to repeat experiences that make us feel good-and you never know when you’ll need to offer it to yourself because I can promise you’ll (I’ll) never stop screwing up! Consider it karma–or as my Mama used to put it, “What goes round, comes round.” (Southern karma)

This isn’t about becoming saintly. I’ve learned that I can be selfish, petty, and greedy at the drop of a hat. I don’t know if I’ll ever control all my demons, but that’s not the point. Why would I ever not want to need mercy?

Don’t wait–make those index cards and keep them close at hand. Offer yourself  and your loved ones a little bit of mercy.

~Carol D. O’Dell

author of Mothering Mother

available on Amazon and in most bookstores.

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Carol O'Dell

Carol D. O'Dell's gripping memoir MOTHERING MOTHER, (April 1, 2007 by Kunati Publishing) is for the "sandwich" generation and overflows with humor, grace and much needed honesty. Written with wit and sensitivity, Mothering Mother offers insight on how to not only survive but thrive the challenges of caring for others while keeping your life, heart, and dreams intact. Carol is an inspirational speaker and instructor focusing on caregiving, spirituality and adoption issues. She has been featured on numerous television, radio and magazine and podcast programs including WEDU/PBS, Artist First Radio, "Coping with Caregiving" national radio, Women's Digest and Mature Matters Publications. Her fiction and nonfiction work has appeared in numerous publications including Atlanta Magazine, Southern Revival, MARGIN, and AIM, America's Intercultural Magazine Carol appeared on the radio show "Healing the Grieving Heart" with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss "Mothering Mother: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir." To hear Carol being interviewed on this show, click on the following link: www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley031308.mp3

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