Keep Breathing

Erica K

Erica K
New Jersey, USA
September 26
I have a new blog: Grew up in Jackson Heights, New York, but now live in Jersey. Married and the proud owner (servant?) of 4 cats, including a little blind guy named Quincy. Jobs have included: English teacher in U.S. and abroad, cabaret performer and member of a NYC sketch comedy troupe; now a legal secretary and freelance writer. Other jobs: canvasser for NYPIRG/cannery worker in Naknek, Alaska (a fisherman told me it was "the ugliest part of Alaska")/dog kennel cleaner/member of the swine and poultry crew on a California farm. "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Samuel Beckett


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MAY 29, 2012 4:02PM

Smiling Lady Not Smiling Today

Rate: 44 Flag

The lady who sits outside the elevator

on the third floor,

who always wears a necklace

of chunky multicolored plastic beads

isn’t smiling today.

I call her “The Smiling Lady”

because she always smiles,

and sometimes compliments me,

but she isn’t smiling today.


She glowered at me,

or so I thought.

I felt as if she were accusing me of

some crime, unseen.


Was my crime not being old

and sick and in the nursing home

with her,

of not being her visitor?

Does she ever have a visitor, I thought.

She set the tone for the day.


I had no patience for Mom.

I was testy, short-tempered,

not wanting to pin up her hair,

but I did.

Not wanting to wipe

the dribble off her chin,

but I did.

Not wanting to be there at all.


Does that make me bad?

That I realize I can’t take it, week after week,

phone call after phone call,

that I am not impervious to the pain of others,

that I am not superhuman,

that I don’t want to care

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"Does that make [you] bad?"

Heck, No! It makes you human.....
We all have "off" days--perhaps today was just one of those for The Smiling Lady...

This was a very genuine piece of writing... appreciated it

Thanks, Pensive. Compassion fatigue definitely setting in, and I don't know what to do about it. May need to take a break from Mom for a week or 2, as much as I hate to.
Sweet Erica, it makes you an outstanding human! It is the people who show up when they don't want to, when they are exhausted, and just sick and tired, and want to be anywhere else. It's those people who show up and wipe the chin, and pin up the hair that are Our Best People.
onislandtime, thank you so much for saying that. Sometimes I feel like a wrung-out rag, really didn't like how I was feeling that day--the visit happened on Sunday. It's hard to always be "up."
Aw, Erica, your poem is so sad. I'm glad you were able to express your feelings. You aren’t bad!! You are such a sweet caring person and a wonderful daughter! You just need a rest. It must be so hard being the only caretaker in your family, and you do so much for your mom. Caretakers can get sick from being worn out physically and emotionally. Maybe you could give yourself a break and not go every week. And I’ll be glad to go with you sometime to keep you company! But please give yourself a little rest, and please don’t feel bad about it!
Anyone who's had parents in a nursing home has gone through this. You're not alone and you're not bad. Give yourself some days off and give yourself some treats--McDonald's milkshakes, good chocolates, a coffee you wouldn't ordinarily buy for yourself and driving there is an open air convertible were a few of the things that helped me.
Joanne, thank you. You're an angel. xo

jl, thanks. I try to treat myself, but sometimes I just get depressed. If I weren't broke, I would buy myself a convertible!!
We are going through the same thing, except with a hostile woman who does not want to be there. Why, Why, Why is all she asks, and there is no answer good enough for her.
I highly recommend that you "take a break from Mom for a week or two." Everybody needs to get away for awhile. Taking care of yourself has to be your priority, if you are to be any good to anybody else.

As others have said here, you are merely being human and having honest, human reactions to a terrible situation. I know, first hand, that getting old isn't for sissys but then, neither is caring for the elderly. It is a tough and sometimes thankless job and sometimes you just need a break and to step away for a time.
Erica,you are dealing with a hard situation.Difficult is the least to say.You are not bad,just human and this is so difficult...Thank you for sharing..My best wishes to you and your family..And the "I do not want to care' exρresses the sadness that you carry inside..It is a stressful situation..Words surely can not helρ and I wish I could afford to helρ you with this convertible ...but sorry..If you ever need to talk,I am working on the comρuter,so writing emails in difficult times...I will be here...if you want to!!!All my wishes!!!Rated with friendshiρ...
Please don't burn out! Pace yourself. Only do what you can and then do it joyfully. My heart goes out to you. We can do this. We can.
Brutally honest ... hang in there.
Honey, I can feel the total burnt out feeling and the dragging feet.
'speck you better have some Erica time and turn turn this over to someone else for a time to heal Erica.
Erica needs you.
Mom can be sifted to someone else.
Nothing at all wrong with a break or needing one. You will need to strengthen Erica so she can continue to function.
Go heal yourself time.
Scanner, that's rough. Sometimes Mom asks me when she is getting out and tells me how much she hates it there. It's hard to hear.

Good idea, Lezlie. I want to and would feel better about it if she had other visitors, but it's just me.
David, thank you.

Stathi, thank you too!

Zanelle, you're right. I have to take better care of myself.

Deborah, thanks for reading and commenting.
Mission, thank you, dear one. I wish there was someone else to fill my shoes when I'm not in the mood to visit. A friend has offered to go with me sometime; that might help. In the interim I think I'll take a break for at least a week. It's hard because Mom gets anxious with the Alzheimers, but I need a life too.
You need a break. Period. I know how you feel eventhough it is my sister who is in your shoes. I admire you as I admire her, and wonder if I could do it myself day after day. Our moms' behaviours are different, but the effects they leave on us are similar, I can sense.
Hugs to you, Erica.
Fusun, thank you for the much-needed encouraging words. xo
You said it in Your own words: "I need a life too."

grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. = serenity

Thanks, Mark. Yes, a dose of serenity would taste good right now.
Someone needs to take care of Erica today. Who knows best what makes Erica relax? Erica does.

Treat Yourself to Your favorite food. Go see that movie You've been dying to see.

Visit that friend who always provides a respite.

Do WHATEVER makes Erica feel good.

Today is Erica deserves a break day.
Speaking from experience, what you are doing requires a measure of patience which at times is draining. Recharging ones "batteries" is a must. I hope you'll take whatever time necessary to do so soon, before burnout becomes worse. You deserve it, judging from this post.

(There are quiet, everyday heroes, who go unsung for years.........)
Definitely time for Erica to pamper herself, a little escapism goes a long way.

All that you do for your mom does not go unnoticed, in someway, I believe, you are paving the way for many blessings to come to you.
Yep. One long six to eight year test. A break could help. So could ditching the smile, if you don't feel all smiley. Alzheimer time isn't the same kind of time. She won't mind if you need to step away.
I have to agree with Pensive. Very honest and forthright piece.
Now and again you can take the fallback position called duty. It's prescribed by the superego and gives the id and ego a little rest. Maybe the smiling lady saw something in your face that disappointed her. Or maybe she was just having a bad day, too. Everyone's allowed one every once in awhile. Except roosters. We must always crow at the break of day as if we're atop the world. Tuff sometimes.
The tone is authentic and the scene sad. But real. So real.
Of course you're not bad, on the contrary, you're a very good woman. No one can be the only source so you need to find a source to recharge yourself. Definitely take a break but also plan more breaks in the future, then you'll know when your next rest is and it will feel like it's as important as anything else you're doing. Because it is. Be compassionate with you too.
A revealing title, Erica. Who is the smiling lady? Maybe the lady in the chunky plastic beads was telling you something when you met her outside the elevator. Or maybe she was telling you something when you met her again, in your poem.

Not to sound too mysterious, here's an anecdote I've found personally invaluable when I go exploring as a writer: a woman asked the writer E. M. Forster what he thought of a certain something. "Madam," he's reported to have said, "how can I know what I think until I've seen what I say?"
Hang in there . . .
You are just human my sweet and sending you major hugs
Honest. Human. Understandable.

And, a damn good poem, to boot.
As many have said here, Erica need to take a well-deserved break. Take care of you. It may be that just for a day you were out of sorts as we all are from time to time but, still, you do need a break from time to time and a big, big hug. So how 'bout it? ... ((((HUG))))
Been there. Thinking good thoughts for you. Hang in there.
Dear Erica, You have captured compassion fatigue very deftly in this
poem. If I remember correctly, even Jesus got tired from healing people and his disciples had to make him take a break. These days very few of us have disciples to look after us. You need to have compassion for yourself. You are not superhuman. Once you've recharged you can care for your mom in a couple of weeks. Love is not measured by what we feel, but by what we do. Take care, dear lady.
PW, yes, definitely need to recharge. Thank you.
Asia, that's sweet of you to say.

Green heron, you're right. Alzheimer's time is not fun time, but I try to smile as much as possible around Mom, because I sense that she picks up on my negative energy: not healthy for either of us. I wish I could take her out of there sometimes, that I were a millionaire and could add on to my house and pay for round the clock care, but that ain't happening. I also wish sometimes I could take her on a trip to Sweden or Norway--she has a fascination with Scandanavia.

Kate, yes, break sorely needed.
Becky, thank you.

Chicken Maaan, you guys do have a sacred calling.

Lea, thanks for reading and commenting.
L'Heure, good advice, thank you.

Jeremiah, I try to be the Smiling Lady too, but couldn't force a smile that day. Maybe the lady was picking up on my energy.

Thanks, Linda. Hug back to you.

Scarlett, thank you. I don't write much poetry anymore, so it's appreciated.
I'll reiterate what others have said: it doesn't make you bad, it makes you human. There's only so much one can bear before they need to refresh and regroup if they're to go forward.
Kate and Amy, thank you.

cc, I like what you said about the measure of love.
If you burn out or crack up everyone is going to be in worse shape.
Take a break, dear Erica. You are a good soul and I'm sorry that such challenges are burying you. I pray things will get easier for you very soon.
You are a good daughter and did what you had to do. It's not always about smiles.
fernsy, thank you, dear friend. Prayers are always welcome.

Miguela, you are right. Thank you.
How could you not feel this way sometimes in the care of your mother? There's no sense of timeline, she's not going to grow out of it all, you may feel she's gone is so hard to care for an elderly loved one, even harder if it's Mom.
Please do go get some time away so you don't collapse -- I'm glad you wrote.
You're not bad. You had a bad day. So did your mother. It's okay.
You're not bad. You had a bad day. So did your mother. It's okay.
JT, you hit the nail on the head when you said, "she's not going to grow out of it." Exactly. Sadly, she will only deteriorate and eventually not know who I am, as it goes with AD. I don't know how to prepare for that, will have to take it as it comes. Will definitely be taking a week or 2 off from visiting for my own sanity.

Mary, thank you. You are a sweetheart.
[r] thanks, Erica. On the rollercoaster of being human this deserves attention. So relate. Important to renew before burnout meltdown which I have known too well in my own past! best, libby
Libby, thank you. It is time for a break, for sure.
It is okay. You have to give yourself permission to take a break. That does not make you a bad person. It makes you human just like the rest of us. And I think you are the only one passing judgement on yourself. It's okay, breathe deeply and live.
It looks to me like you are being a little too hard on yourself. If it helps, I think you are doing great. R
but you did.
and that really is all that counts
Lucinda, Thoth and Julie, thank you.
I am so sorry that you had to experience this. I don't think the way you reacted makes you inhuman at all! We can't all have patience and complacence all the time. I've been away from OS for the last few days. I hope that as I'm posting this, you're feeling better.
Alysa, thank you. I am feeling a lot better. I just have to accept my limits as a human being and have to stop thinking I can "save" my mother, which I guess I have been trying to do unsuccessfully for most of my life.
Please take care of yourself. If that means taking a break, then do that. You'll be no good to anyone if you let it overcome you.
You're right, Jeanette. Been in kind of a funk, need a break from the stuff that gets me down. Thank you.
I am sorry I'd missed this. Rated
Thanks for reading and commenting, Jon. xo