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make no judgement where you have no compassion

Thursday, September 01, 2011

I wish I could attribute the above quote. It struck a chord with me as soon as I read it. This is a difficult blog for me to write but I have decided to write it anyway. I have a relative. I will call her Millie. Millie is the one who inspired me to join Sparkpeople. In January of this year, I was at my heaviest in both weight and mood. I was depressed, I was uncomfortable, I felt lonely, my life was unmanageable, I was isolating myself more and more, I had health problems that were not debilitating but, added up, they took a toll and were made worse by my excessive weight and my eating habits, which were unhealthy and getting worse. One day it occured to me, "my life is starting to look like Millie's". I felt compassion for her at that moment, and a deep fear for myself. I DID NOT want my life to turn out like hers. She is 14 years older than me. She and I once had a friendly relationship, though quite one-sided. She spoke, I listened. She complained, I listened. I made suggestions, she did not listen. I encouraged her, she did not listen. I suggested she focus less on her husband and children, and more on her health and forming friendships. This (unsolicited) advice was not taken, as is so often true of unasked for advice. I finally grew tired of waiting for her to show any interest in me, or my interests, or my children, or my life in general. I especially grew tired of hearing myself give advice that would never be followed, and, in fairness to her, was not asked for. Over the 20 years I have known her, I have seen her life go from difficult to downright depressing. She has made choices over the years that have brought her to where she is today. She is morbidly obese, diabetic, and terribly alone. Her marriage fell apart. Her adult children avoid her because they tire of frequent requests for financial assistance and by her favoritism towards the two adult children (adult by age, not behavior) who are constantly in trouble. Her grandchildren barely know her because she has never actively pursued a relationship with them. She has burned every bridge she has crossed so she essentially has no relationships with family or friends. She opened her home to her son who is a practicing drug addict and felon, and the son's ex-wife who is every bit his match in the felonious conduct and addictive behavior departments. They have wrecked her car, trashed her apartment, and abused her. She continues to refer to this 30something male as her "baby" despite the fact that he stands 6'5" and 300 lbs and treats her like something that is stuck to the bottom of his shoe. He has terrified her neighbors to the point that she is now being evicted. She was repeatedly asked by the property manager and her responsible adult children to not let him live with her, to not let him drive her car, but she says "I have a mother's heart and I want to help him" which is sometimes code for "it is too hard for me to say NO even though I know I am hurting him and myself and everyone around us in the process". I went over yesterday, with other family members, at the request of the property manager and the neighbors, to deal with her apartment while she is in a rest home attempting to recover from a serious health crisis directly related to her morbid obesity and diabetic condition. It was like stepping into an episode of the television show "Hoarders" only this came with an overwhelming stench. We spent hours dealing with the debris that comes with a life that has become completely unmanageable. She was once a careful housekeeper who took pride in her home. As we worked through the waist high pile of clothes, and expired food, and dirty dishes, and other things unnecessary to mention, I found candy stashed everywhere, much as you would expect to find liquor bottles stashed by a late stage alcoholic. While there, a concerned neighbor showed up and we began to talk and the talk turned to health and from there it was natural for me to mention Sparkpeople. As she generously washed dishes and I cleaned a scary bathroom, we continued to talk and I told her what a difference SP has made in my life. I received an e-mail today telling me that she has joined Sparkpeople. After the marathon clean-up, which is far from complete, we stopped by to see Millie in the rest home where she is convalescing. She talked about how lonely she is, and how sad she feels. She professed helplessness about her situation, especially where her "baby" is concerned. She also said "Since I have had this latest collapse, I have not eaten one morsel of food that I should not have." Because I was weary and had no patience to play along with "let's pretend everything is fine", I said "What about that big plate of cookies next to you on your bedside stand?" "Oh", she said, "my friend brought me those." I said, to the horror of one of my family members, "She may as well have brought you a gun." I took the cookies. I have abused sugar for years. As I threw out bags and bars of candy yesterday, and as I removed the cookies, I had zero urge to eat them. I told my sons later, "If ever I should become obese again, and if, God forbid, I should develop diabetes, and you see me eating cookies and candy, PLEASE yell at me - you have my full permission." Before we left, I gave her a foot massage, and I wished her well, and I examined my conscience for signs of hypocrisy and superiority. Mostly, I just found sadness and gratitude. I think she is past the point of repair, based on my decades of seeing her destructive behavior. Fortunately for her (and everyone else), I am not in charge of deciding who receives miracles. I would be thrilled if she does have some miraculous healing but, honestly, nothing short of a miracle will repair the wreckage of her life. She has accused me, in the past, of being judgemental. "Yes" I told her, "I do have lots of judgement. Do you want to borrow some because you don't seem to have any." THat is when I knew, once again, for her sake, and mine, it was best if we kept distance because I could not bring anything positive to the table. So, I pray for her, and I pray to have compassion, because, Lord knows, I am feeling plenty of judgement. Thankfully, I am also feeling lots of gratitude and resolve. As my 18 year old son said, "When I die, I just want to make sure it wasn't self-inflicted." Amen to that.
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    I stumbled onto this blog while looking for an area I believed I would "fit". At least for today, this moment, this place I'm at right now. I was looking for a place I could "whine" about how old and lonely I am, and how fat and unpleasant I am to look at. Yep, in other words I was looking for sympathy. And I found myself captivated by this story, this "Millie", and the part you played. How blessed "Millie" was/is to have someone like you in her life, no matter for how long. I can relate to "Millie", at least in my present "mood". It's a cop out to NOT accept responsibility for oneself. It's much easier to "blame" the situation on other things instead of stepping up and taking responsibility. I was looking for someone to "listen" to ME and feel sorry for ME because I'm old and why try to better myself, there's not that many years left, so why not do, or be, whatever makes ME feel "good". This is where I step back and say to myself.........."good", as in how? Just keep on going the way I'm going and end up like "Millie"? That kind of "good"? Or do I stop feeling sorry for myself and instead of looking at what I DON'T have, start looking at what I DO have? The answer is obvious. I AM indeed blessed. (Thank you for taking the time to tell this story about "Millie", you told it splendidly.) emoticon
    2261 days ago
    a wonderful reminder! I love your son's quote at the end. Perfect, and so, so true.
    2272 days ago
    My computer messed up as I was trying to respond to this touching entry. I saved my thoughts—nothing profound, but I need to share.

    i walk away from my computer for a decent breakfast for the first time in days having taken in much from this entry Cannie Carole, but I’m most stricken by three things:

    1, We are often accidentally in the RIGHT place at the right time for somebody else.
    2, You are raising and incredible family-and helping everybody here in the Spark family, too
    3, i amazed by what seems could be a pledge, a promise, a way of life-

    "When I die, I just want to make sure it wasn't self-inflicted." Amen indeed!

    My thanks to M for what she brought us and you. And i do pray that she finds some peace some days.


    2293 days ago
    I already held you in high esteem before reading this amazing blog, but you have now risen to a level high above the clouds! You are probably right when you say that the only thing that might turn her life around would be a miracle coming into her life. It is sad, but it is not something that you can control. I was glad to read that you had removed yourself from this toxic relationship, but so impressed that even though you are not a part of her "world" any longer, you have still allowed yourself to visit her world, to help clean up her world (her temporary dwelling) and to bring her a smile and a moment of human companionship.

    You may very well have influenced her more by not staying in any form of relationship with her, but if not, you do know that had you stayed, it would not have changed her, either.
    Anyway, you have chosen wisely and just look at the difference your suggestion/s had on someone who actually was open to suggestion. The friend who recently joined SP. The wonderful impact that you have had on another human being might very well never have happened had you stuck with Millie. I love your independence and your way of thinking. I also love the comment that your son made, which you shared at the end of the blog, "When I die, I just want to make sure it wasn't self-inflicted."
    Priceless! emoticon
    2293 days ago
    Oh my gosh, a situation handled with grace AND with honesty. The honesty part takes a great deal of courage. It really is scary to think that bad habits left to their own devices really could bring us to this place of unhealthy isolation, but of course they could.... Blessings on you and your family, Cannie.
    2294 days ago
    P.S. Your son's statement was so insightful! And I felt you were meant to be at that apartment to share you Spark experience with the woman who needed it! You never know what is going to happen or where something might lead you. I am glad you could share the hope and opportunity that Sparkpeople can offer her! emoticon
    2296 days ago
    Once again, a blog that offers a real slice of life and the difficulties we have in living it and how hard it can be to stay in a space of compassion and I think you did stay compassionate. The fact you went to help clean and visited her proves that. I think the tough love was something real...and I, too, have trouble being nonjudgemental, especially when you see something so very destructive. You provided unconditional help, or you would never have gone to help or when you saw the circumstances you would have turned around and left, but you didn't! You served a need and tried to make her comfortable and then it was time to exit, as you do not have to be a part of her destructive behavior and relationships.
    Thanks for the thought provoking piece!
    I hope your Labor Day is restful.
    2296 days ago
    it is so hard when you see some one you love not want to help themselves. big hug!
    2296 days ago
  • FLAME42
    What a profound statement your 18 yr. old son made!
    I do hope your prayers for Millie will help.
    2296 days ago
    Well, clearly with all that has happened your Millie is still not @ the bottom and heaven (literally) only knows if she'll get there. Sone just don't. **SIGH** It is very difficult to watch someone self-destruct. But as we both know, you didn't cause it, can't control it, can't cure it.

    What a wonderful friend you are to come to Millie's aide, though and do that dreadflul cleaning!!!

    Hope you have a well-deserved restful, peaceful weekend.
    2296 days ago
  • TEMPEST272002
    It's hard to watch someone we care about make poor choices again & again. I imagine people felt the same way about me before I learned how to care for myself. I hope it isn't too late for Millie. I'm glad it's not too late for you & I.
    2298 days ago
    How sad that someone's life has to come to that. But what comes across more than anything in your blog is your sadness and pain for her situation. Obviously you cannot change it, but I think it is wise of you to know when it's time to just walk away quietly. I've said this before, but I'll say it many mores times I think: you are a wise woman. Even if you think you don't - you do show compassion here for a situation that is out of control (and the person as well). Sometimes it feels like we might be on our soap box, when really we just care about someone else and the mess they have made of their own lives.

    I think it's pretty amazing that you listened as much as you did, especially when it's was not reciprocated. I think it's amazing you gave her a foot rub, even though you felt angry over the cookies. I think it's amazing that you know her story and you still visit her. I think you are amazing, and you may feel judgmental, but you definitely also have compassion for other people!! I would be honored to call you friend irl. emoticon and I am blessed to be your sparkfriend for sure!
    2298 days ago

    Comment edited on: 9/2/2011 4:24:05 PM
    What a sad story. Hopefully we all can learn from Millie's mistakes. As usual, you've handled the situation with grace and compassion.
    2298 days ago
  • GGMOM06
    2298 days ago
    I have no one worded comment or pat on the back to add her. Just a huge hug and a thank you for sharing what was and continues to be, a very sad existence for someone, and how that overlows in the family.
    Thank you for writing this. She truly neds someone like you in her life, whether you say your opinion or not...

    2298 days ago
    "Sometimes the right path is not always the easiest one."

    -Grandmother Willow to Pocohontas

    2298 days ago

    Comment edited on: 9/2/2011 11:25:26 AM
    Very potent stuff. The choices we make can make such a profound difference in how our lives turn out. It is so hard to turn around once you've started that downward spiral. You are an exceptionally strong and compassionate woman emoticon

    2298 days ago
    Cannie, I can't express how much of a blessing you are, and this blog is as well. So sad that life turns out like this when someone gives up. I am proud of you for shining a light, and tossing the cookies. You are a magnificent mom and wonderful friend.
    2299 days ago
  • KELLYD1958
    A sobering look at a spiral of self-destruction. I'm going to look for parallels in my life - the need to pray for those you cannot help is so true. Glad you're doing it.
    2299 days ago
    You are doing the right thing by praying and helping her. She's miserable and wishes she had probably taken ur advice wayy back when. Just pray that God softens her heart and continue to help her.
    2299 days ago
    You are such a special person and motivator. When I read this, I think of my sister...who can no longer walk, has had two heart attacks, never leaves her home....and continues her self destructive life style. I wish she'd change... but I can't bring myself to visit her much anymore.
    She does have a faithful and loving husband, and I'm very happy for her for that.
    Thanks for sharing.

    2299 days ago
  • CATS_MEOW_0911
    What a story. The big difference (or at least one of the many big differences) between you and "Millie" is that she is in deep denial and does not take responsibility for her actions, while you are very cognizant of your actions. I hope things turn around for her eventually, but I think it is a good choice to keep your distance--she sounds like an energy vampire.
    2299 days ago
    2299 days ago
    It is so hard to love others who cannot or choose not to love themselves. In Millie's defense, it can be very hard to see the truth of our own lives. You are blessed to have seen some truth and pursued a healthier life using the tools on Spark. It sounds like you have truly tried to help her - from advice, to cleaning her home, to speaking and acting honestly when it came to the cookies. We can never know the role God has planned for us in others' lives. We simply have to do our best. I sounds like you have truly done what you can. I'm sure it hurts, though, to see Millie continue to deny the reality of her life.

    I had a similar realization about my Dad and his wife this summer. My dad's wife wants to play princess and be cared for 24/7. He is struggling to make a living and stay upright after a struggle with lung cancer that left him with about 3/4 of a lung. He goes to work, does the shopping, runs the errands, does the cooking, etc. I think his level of exhaustion is so extreme that he often goes without eating so he can just collapse in bed and sleep. While we were there he ran off the road after falling asleep at the wheel. My husband and I did all we could this summer to help them for the week we were in town, but I think their reality goes beyond needing help with household chores. I talked with them before we left, suggested they get groceries delivered, suggested the wife could do the shopping, etc. My unsolicited advice was ignored too. I think I just have to give them some distance. For whatever reason, my dad's enabling his wife's zero-effort lifestyle has some value for him. However, I think I need to not spend so much time with them. By the time we left I was ready to scream. At some point I need to admit that they are adults and are living the life they have chosen and created.
    2299 days ago
    As difficult as it is to do I think you are doing the right thing. I am once again in awe of your ability to cut through the ... to get to the heart of the matter. Sometimes you have to save yourself by distancing yourself. She will either come around or not. It isn't in your control. So as I sit here in the process of saving myself (control freak that I am) I am grateful that you are my friend.
    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2299 days ago
    I love what desertflowers said... you truly do have grace. i loved the blog and the way you wrote it. I love the descriptions because even in the way you describe the house, there is love in your words. You took the cookies in love, you threw away the candy in love, you went to see her in love and you are praying for her in love.

    I dont think I could ask for more in a freind.

    I do believe that some people are best kept at a distance because it is just too heartbreaking to watch the destruction and you cannot put any more energy into someone than they will for themselves. As for your new sparkfriend, tell her to look me up... any friend of yours is a friend of mine. You are such a rock. I just love you.
    2299 days ago
    Sounds like this experience just strengthened your resolve to keep on the path you are headed - to health and well being. My mother always said you can learn something from everyone, even if they only serve as a bad example. Everyone that reads this can also learn from the story. You are to be commended for the work you put in at the apartment. Not sure I could or would have tackled the job. Lynn

    2299 days ago
  • DAISY443
    It is so hard to watch someone we care for self destruct,. I have given up looking for the triggers, the solutions, I had to learn the hard way with my mother to learn to hate the disease (for it usually is a disease, a mental disease), love the person, and, for my own sanity, hold the person I loved so deeply at a distance. Somewhere in my many, many blogs there is an in depth look at the way I felt when my mother was dying a year ago. So, send an occasional loving card, take care of yourself and try to remember the friendship you once had.
    2299 days ago
    I have had a few Millie's in my life and honestly I have had to keep a safe distance and leave it to God to repair them as it would have brought me to the same point of self destruction.

    Only God can change a heart.

    I am not saying do not continue to love and pray for Millie but a safe distance when she plays the "woe is me card" is what I would do.

    Kuddos to you for making healthy choices for your future. May God also bless you for "serving" Millie and doing the chores around her home for her. That must have been an awful situation and stench to be around.

    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2299 days ago
    What a sad, sad story but what a beautiful moral.
    You are a truly amazing woman whom I am blessed to call my friend.
    2299 days ago
    You have grace, Carole..true grace....
    I have no further words...they would be superfluous..
    2299 days ago
    Unfortunately, my mother had a very similar story to "Millie". It was like watching a train wreck from a distance. Like you, I was better off staying away, because unless she was willing to help herself, there wasn't anything to be done. She's been gone for a couple years now. I miss the way she used to be when I was growing up. I talk to her in my head- as she used to be- interested, engaged, willing to listen or offer advice. I never did find out what triggered the spiral; why she isolated herself in the first place. It was a waste of a once beautiful spirit.
    2299 days ago
  • DEE0973
    Oh my, where to begin? It is sad and very difficult not to judge when we see others continually self inflict and damage themselves. You are brave, courage and filled with love. YOu did the right think (giving a foot massage) you are my shero. God Blessings will follow you always, because you have his heart. Have a Wonderful Weekend.
    2299 days ago
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