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Two-By-Four Lessons

A few months ago, the wheels fell off my somewhat-organized life due to some major health setbacks my Mom suffered and continues to address. But I’ve recently had a moment to take stock about what I’ve learned through this experience. I’d like to share my lessons learned to continue my own self-reflection, but even more importantly, to hear about your own, perhaps similar experiences in dealing with the challenges of helping someone you love when they’re most in need. Some of what I’ve learned so far:

-My mom is one of the strongest people I know (okay, I knew that already).

-There are angels everywhere, if you only look.

-People aren’t thanked enough for being who they are and doing what they do. Especially nurses, nursing assistants, healthcare techs and janitorial staff.

-Saying thank you, and meaning it, has tremendous power for good. And more than the fattest bank account or the most impressive title on a business card, expressing gratitude feels great. In fact, I have come to believe that saying thank you makes me feel as good, if not better, than the people to whom I express gratitude.

-Everyone has a story—a fascinating, funny, inspirational, and often untold story. And they’ll almost always share it with you if you simply ask them.

-There’s nothing like being in the middle of a crisis to force yourself to live in the moment.

-I am a fierce and knowledgeable protector and advocate for my mom.

-I am stronger and more capable than I knew.

-I make good decisions in a crisis.

-I have much more patience than I ever imagined.

-I could never, ever be a nurse.

-The health care system is fucked up. And most of the time, it’s not the providers’ fault. The “system” is not set up in the best interests of the patients or its workers. There are so many simple changes that would make it more so, and it’s a wonder why no one has figured that out—or they have, but fail to act anyway.

-Technology in healthcare is a blessing and a curse. Just like other things in life, when the pendulum swings too far in any one direction, the bad can overcome the good.

-Managing expectations and setting intentions saved my emotional life. And once I starting doing both regularly, I was surprised by how easy it was to do.

-I need regular food, drink and rest to be at my best. And when I neglect myself, my ability to care for others suffers, too. Why is this such a hard lesson (especially for women) to learn?

-Maintaining control is sometimes absolutely necessary when things are falling apart and immediate decisions need to be made. But there’s a big price to be paid for it.

-Letting go, while it sounds easy, can be one of the hardest things for me to do. But the pay-off can be so worth it.

-When people offer help, accept it without guilt or reservation, especially if what they’re offering truly helps you. But if they ask how they can help, and you’re so exhausted you can’t even form words, let alone find the energy to figure out the answer to their well-meaning question, don’t worry about it. File it away so that when it’s your turn to offer support, you’ll know better how to do it.

-I have one of the most loving and supportive families on the planet, children who would do anything for me, a husband who would move heaven and earth to help me, and grandchildren who never fail to make me smile. Again, I know this, but reminding myself of it helps me ensure I will never take them for granted.

While I learned so much, I still have lots of questions. Like, I know I’m an all-or-nothing person. As such, am I destined to learn the most and the best lessons only during hurricanes/avalanches/tornados or other crises? Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t give up any of what I’ve learned during the past few months even if the lessons were some of the most difficult of my life. And I feel like my personal growth has skyrocketed during this time, rather than slowly inching forward. But: does the best learning have to accomplished by taking a two-by-four to the back of the head? Can the “best” learning be accomplished more quietly, more slowly, or less painfully?

Photo by Óscar Salgado at


  1. I’m sorry to hear your Mom is having a rough time & that you are as well. I’ll be keeping all of you guys in my prayers. Please send your Mom my love. ❤️

    • Thank Mari. We appreciate the prayers–Mom says hello and she sends more love back to you!

  2. I felt like we have been doing the same thing these last few months or years for me. Your story is so correct! Hope Geri is doing better. Give her are love.

    • Gosh, Sandy. Providing care for years has got to be the challenge of a lifetime. I hope you have the support you need. I’d be lost without it. Mom thanks you for your love, as do I. Take good care.

  3. Well well. Since I happen to be sitting in a rowboat right next to you on the same rolling sea, I agree with all of what you said. I’m exhausted and find my patience tested not daily but hourly. My husband is my rock and we check each other’s frustration behind closed doors as I watch our roommate of the last five years, the smartest man I knew, struggle with how to make a packet of instant oatmeal. When I take a step back the scene is mind boggling but up close we plod along day by day putting out the fires that lay in front of us- one day, hell one hour at a time.

    -A notion or two I might add is moving forward with the numerous tasks at hand also means eliminating as much possible unnecessary and unproductive kerfuffle as you can. Just don’t have the time or energy for it! If it means making some cuts in the roster, then why not, peanut gallery be damned. They’re already pissed at everything anyways. What I don’t need is armchair quarterbacks second guessing my every move. I’ve got nothing left. Like I don’t put researched thought into EVERY decision I make already?

    -And also trying to remember that our folks don’t want to be a mess, this is not their choice and all the confusion must be frustrating as hell for them as well.

    -And my biggest and hardest hurdle is to just cut myself some slack. It’s not ever going to be perfect, and some stuff will fall thru the cracks. Can’t be helped. Like our parents had the guide book raising us? A new perspective for those of us who are “doers” and used to putting it on the notepad and crossing it off before lunch. Our well honed organizational skills can help but the uncertainty of the next step is elusive, since my crystal ball is currently “in the shop”.
    When all is said and done, we’ll at least hopefully feel that we did the best we could with the intel we had at the time, and did it with love and respect. It’s how our parents taught us to approach things after all.
    And what the heck, they won’t remember if we messed it up anyways! (OK, we NEED our acerbic wit now more than ever!!). Keep on keeping on GF! We know how to find each other if needed.

    • I knew I could rely on the wisdom of one of my oldest friends. I’m just sorry you’re in this same rowboat and on the same exhausting, often mindless and frequently maddening journey. Humor, especially the inappropriate variety, does help. Even my mom thinks so.

      I love your practical advice, especially the part about “letting go”– of needless tasks, of unproductive “kerfuffle,” and especially, letting go of armchair quarterbacks. We’re all doing the best we can, my mom included. She didn’t ask for this, and often tells me that “getting old isn’t for sissies.” The bullshit she’s had to endure is hard to watch, but her strength and gratitude toward her caregivers is inspirational. I’m lucky to have a ringside seat, and hope I have even half of her perseverance and grace some day.

      And yes, fellow and lifelong doer, we need to cut ourselves some slack. Hell, a LOT of slack. Because, as I’m learning, sometimes there’s nothing left to “do.” And that’s okay.

      I’ll keep laughing if you do, my friend. And please give my love to your dad. Because I think our most important job right now is to love each other. At the end of the day, that’s what matters most. Love you!!

    • Mandy, I know we have only met a few times but I do live vicariously through Jill sometimes and so I feel I know you more than those few “meet ups.” While I know this is not my space (Jill’s blog), I just wanted you to know how much I always enjoy your responses. Your wisdom, humor and downright BEing (not a typo) real is simply not only refreshing but reminds me that maybe I am normal after all!!!!

      What a blessing you are for all of us and especially our dear friend Jill!!!

  4. I’d be lying and even a bit arrogant if I said I knew the answer to that last question. What I will say, I can imagine it’s going to be an exciting, eye-opening and fun journey to find out. Love you my dear friend and feeling in awe of your courage, vulnerability, humility, deep love and compassion in all things in life… especially those most dear to you!

    • Maybe the journey you’re hoping for me will be like the first cruise I ever took. The ship was crap (no wonder it was so cheap!). Some guy selling coconut drinks on the beach threatened to pull a gun on us. We hit a storm on the way home and had to strap ourselves into our beds. But: on our last night before we set sail for home, we had the most magical experience celebrating Junkanoo with thousands of native Bahamians ( We were having so much fun, we had to run to get back to the ship before it sailed. In other words, I will continue to remind myself that out of the most difficult or crappy experiences can come great joy if you let go and look around. Like getting more time to hang out with my mom. Thanks, Dee!

      • Actually, I was thinking about this intriguing question – “Can the “best” learning be accomplished more quietly, more slowly, or less painfully?s

        • We’ll add it to our list of intriguing questions to discuss over dinner…see you soon!

  5. Jill, your writing and thinking are such inspirations snd joys~

    I was reminded of an old man’s advice to me as I got an ice cream for my dad when he was in hospice: you’d better take good care of yourself, so you can help care for him. Talk about the circle of life….

    • Christy, I will always follow advice to eat more ice cream! Thanks for sharing, my friend.

  6. How poignant your words and how beautiful your journey-pain and all. Helping our parents as they transition from being independent and protective to being dependent on others is such a powerful, stressful and rewarding experience. You’ve captured all those emotions and more.

    You will never regret the time and treasure you put into helping your mom. She may struggle to accept help, there will be tears and exhaustion but from experience I can say, your recollections will carry only the good parts. Our memories can be selective in a good way.

    Know that your friends can provide comfort and comedy to ease the painful moments. Take good care along the way…

    • I know you’ve had similar experiences with your folks, so I appreciate the advice. And your support! You’ve provided us with much culinary comfort along the way, and I know I can always depend on your good humor–where would we be without being able to laugh together these many years! Thanks, Barb.

  7. Well said Jill. And while a 2 x 4 to the back of my head requires immediate attention propelling knowledge to the forefront; the slow and steady growth is sometimes, just too slow for me to even notice. Best wishes as you move forward…

    • I never thought about the 2 X 4 propelling knowledge from my subconscious to my conscious brain, but I think you’re right. Painful, but quick and effective, like ripping off a bandage rather than slowly pulling. Both hurt, but the former is a lot quicker than the latter. I’m sticking (no pun intended) with that!

      Much love to you and Mark.

  8. Thank you, Jill, for again summing up what is a challenging situation. This was my life until a year ago when my mom passed. In the moment, I felt exhausted, frustrated, and incompetent, but I also felt joy, love, and a closeness with my family unlike any other time in our life. We had to work together for mom, and I was proud of my brothers for stepping up and helping me find a way to give her quality of life. Humor and forgiveness was a key to helping all of us endure what was happening. Covid did not help, but at least by then she was far enough along the Alzheimer’s journey not to recognize what was happening. HEALTH CARE WORKERS ARE NOT PAID ENOUGH OR RECOGNIZED FOR THEIR HARD WORK. They are angels on Earth. Your mom and your family are in my prayers. And screw the armchair quarterbacks; they just add misery to what is difficult. Your family knows what is best for your mom.

    • You clearly found joy amidst the challenge and sadness of caring for your mom. It would be easier to get sucked into the frustrations, to succumb to the exhaustion, but you and your family chose instead to rise to the (lousy) occasion. Your story gives me hope, and helps me remember to look for the treasures, big and small, that come along with even the most difficult situations. And always, to recognize and thank the angels who walk and work among us! Thanks for sharing your experience Margie.

  9. “does the best learning have to accomplished by taking a two-by-four to the back of the head?

    I’ve had a few two-by-fours to the back of the head – and became the recipient of lots of knowledge I kinda wish I didn’t have – but it’s served me in helping others in the following years. My experience has also been a hard earned reminder to love and cherish in the moment….. and to care for myself so I’m able to be present for others (my toughest lesson the needed another two by four to take hold!)

    I had the pleasure of meeting your mom thru PerSisters. What a force! (And I loved learning of her role at Halloween :-). As your friend said above, be sure to “cut yourself some slack.” Thanks for your words – they resonate and make me reflect!

    • I’m learning that pain and knowledge, love and being present for others, among other lessons, often go hand-in-hand. As a human, I wish it were easier and less painful to learn this stuff, but then again, would the lessons stick as well? Nope. Not for me, anyway.

      Thanks for your kind words, about my mom (yes, “a force” is a good way of describing her!) and the reminder to cut myself some slack. I’m glad my words resonate and help you to reflect. Words are my therapy, so it’s nice to know they have a positive impact on others.

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