Your Self-Care May Upset People, But That’s Their Problem

What my mother's death showed me about the depth of self-care, and why you must not let people convince you deny yourself of it.
My mother died of cancer on June 5, 2020. I lived with her for the 28 days she was on hospice. In the last couple of weeks of Mommy’s life, my aunt and I had a big problem with her: she wouldn’t stay in the bed. The cancer had destroyed her body to the point where she had become very unstable on her feet. She was down to less than 90 pounds and in her frailty was unable to do most of the things she used to on her own. The one thing Mommy thrived on was her independence, her ability to do for herself when she wanted, how she wanted, without permission. This is the life she knew and was attached to.
I had a baby monitor on me any time I wasn’t in front of her, so I could hear in case she called for me (or us). This was great, until she started the shenanigans—or what WE felt were shenanigans. Every day, sometimes multiple times, when we were out of the room, Mommy would get out of bed to try to do stuff for herself. Anything she was doing at that point was dangerous, because she had very little control of her body, and her muscles were rapidly declining. Watching her deteriorate was extremely hard. But what was not only as hard but also horrifying, was when she would get out of bed, and I would be waaay downstairs listening to things go from totally quiet to *THUD-BOOM-CLANG-CRASH!* over the monitor, and then back to silence again. Mind you, to hear it on the monitor was even scarier, because every bit of sound was magnified 100 times.
My heart stopped every time. I would yell really loudly, “MOMMY!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” while dashing as fast as I could up the flights of stairs, hoping each time that when I got to her, I wouldn’t find her badly injured, bleeding…or dead. Every. Time. She would never answer me. It would just be totally quiet after all the noise. When I would get to her, I’d usually find her in the bathroom, barely holding on to something, to keep from falling. When I would ask why she got out of bed, she’d tell me WHAT she got out of bed for, but not WHY.
“I was tryna (air-gasp, air-gasp)…brush my teeth…” (Answers varied.)
“Mommy, you can’t do that by yourself. You know that. Why didn’t you call me?! Why do you keep doing this?! It scares me! You’re gonna hurt yourself! Stay in the bed!”
***No answer from her***
Pauline had the same experience. And she couldn’t get up the stairs half as fast as I could. Mommy did this every day, no matter how many times we asked her to stop, asked her why she was doing it, AND no matter how many times we snitched on her to the hospice nurse when she would come for check-ins. We would all be sitting there in the room, having discussions about her blatant disregard for us and her own safety, trying to get her to agree to stay in the bed, to ask for help, to “behave.” At the end of every conversation, she’d say okay, no more. An hour after hospice would leave, she’d be right back at it. One day during a convo, I looked really closely at Mommy’s expression while the hospice nurse was gently chastising her. It was very clear to me that she was hearing and understanding everything that was being said; and in that moment, it was also clear that she DID. NOT. CARE. It was written all over her face the whole time. I remember saying to the nurse with full realization but also with mild irritation and dismay, “It doesn’t matter what you say. She’s not gonna stop. She’s gonna do what she wants to do.” Nobody said anything, not even Mommy. We all just sat there for a moment, looking at her, while she just kept that same look on her face.
I was hurt because it was clear that, from my perspective, she didn’t care that she was upsetting me and Pauline, not to mention she was knowingly putting herself in jeopardy. I didn’t understand why she would keep doing that. And that was the problem: I didn’t know WHY. I only knew WHAT: Mommy wants to do everything for herself, even though it’s dangerous and scaring us.
She continued to do just that, until it was physically impossible. And then she died a few days later.
Because I was all in my feelings and without a WHY for her actions, I never got past feeling some kinda way about that part of the experience. Until today. WHY, about a lot of things, has been on my mind for the past few days. Today, I was reliving those moments, thinking about her attitude and how cavalier I felt it was. And then the WHY knocked me in the head: she was doing it not just because she felt like it, but because her independence and doing things for herself WAS HER SELF-CARE. This was what brought her joy, comfort, and peace, and made her feel good about herself. THIS IS SELF-CARE—doing things for yourself that not only are necessary but also that you ENJOY and that make you smile, boost your esteem, and give you peace of mind.
All this time, I was taking Mommy’s actions personally, making them about ME, even the possibility of her injuring or killing herself. It would upset ME. What would *I* do if that happened? Didn’t she care how *I* felt??? She did, but not enough to give up her peace of mind. To be honest, I don’t think she was purposely NOT telling me why she was disregarding us. I really feel, deep in my spirit, that she didn’t have the words to explain that her independence equaled self-care. Not because she couldn’t talk, because that woman was literally talking till 5 minutes before her last breaths; I kid you not. I mean she didn’t think to call it self-care because it was so ingrained in her and such a normal thing, that she didn’t necessarily think of it as self-care, even though it brought her comfort. She felt the desirable effects of her acts of independence, so she knew in her spirit that she needed and wanted to keep doing them, but she wasn’t all the way tapped in to the concept of self-care and how deep its meaning goes. I know this about her. Today, I finally understand WHY Mommy said forget y’all; I’ma do ME, even if I get hurt or die. She knew she was leaving shortly anyway, and she wasn’t afraid of that. So she wasn’t afraid to do what she loved, FOR HERSELF, even at her own expense, much less ours. Today, I fully agree with her WHY. And I’m so proud of her.
Your self-care may involve dangerous actions that scare people who love you (e.g., riding a motorcycle, flying a plane, sky diving, race-car driving). It might even be your job (e.g., police officer, etc.). Please don’t forget that true self-care makes you feel good about yourself and who you are, and brings you a sense of peace. What feels like self-care to you might look totally stupid and reckless to others, or it may not be dangerous but they find it offensive for some other reason. They may call you selfish for doing these things because you’re not thinking about THEM and how THEY’LL feel if you get hurt or die in the process, or if they can’t otherwise get what they want from you. They may take your self-care personally and try to dissuade you from doing it. And today, I’m here to encourage you to not let them. Again, I’m NOT talking about self-harming actions. You already know what those things are; I don’t need to go into a diatribe about that.
Behind everybody’s actions, no matter what they are, is a detailed WHY. Until you know their why, you won’t understand their WHAT. I encourage you to get clear about what your whys are, not only in relation to self-care but also in general. Everything you do carries a why. Knowing your whys is key to knowing who you are. There will be people who don’t care about your whys because they’re too far in their feelings about your WHAT. Sadly, there’s not much you can do about that. As long as you know, that’s all that counts.

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