Last week my husband, daughters, and I were in the car for a day trip, heading to the charming California beach town of Santa Barbara. We were talking about recent business transactions that didn’t work out as we’d hoped, including missed deadlines that have to be rescheduled for the fall.
My view was we should forget about the missed deadlines and move on. Sure, I wish these things were finished, but they’re not. Most of it was out of our control. I told my husband we did all we could.
This made me think of my mantra for the past year and a half—words that have given me comfort when I felt like falling apart:
I’m doing the best I can.
While my family and I were in the car, I realized I hadn’t yet told them about the mantra. Not that it was a secret, I just hadn’t thought to say anything about it. So, I mentioned it to them and my daughters loved it, but my husband wasn’t so sure. He said this is what he tells himself:
I can always strive to do better.
I knew he wasn’t telling me I could do better. This is his way of dealing with things. But still… My heart dropped to my stomach. “If I told myself that, I’d crumble inside.” To me, those words sounded unkind and harsh. “How can you be so mean to yourself?”
He seemed surprised by my (over) reaction.
Let me explain… I’m not saying it’s bad to push yourself. In many situations, it’s positive, even necessary. And I totally got where my husband was coming from. He’s super competitive. I am not. One of his greatest qualities is that he always strives for more, expects to reach his goal, and most often does. He never gives up, no matter what obstacle is in his way. He encourages me to keep going and I’ve strengthened my persistence because of him.
But… I was ultra-sensitive to his comment because of what we’ve been through the past year and a half—the most difficult season of my life so far.
In September of 2021, my mom’s legs collapsed. After a stay in the hospital and a skilled nursing facility, she was able to go back home to be with my dad. But she kept falling and her memory was failing. Three months later, she was diagnosed with vascular dementia, which deteriorates both the mind and body. By January 2022, Mom was bedridden in a board-and-care home under hospice care.
My family and I were thrust into unchartered territory, learning the brutal realities of dementia. The sadness, uncertainty, and stress of this cruel disease were almost unbearable.
Even though I consider myself recovered from panic attacks, there were times I couldn’t control my anxiety. I’d be nervous and jittery for an entire day. I constantly felt weighed down, like a strong force above my head was trying to crush me. My neck and shoulders ached; I could literally feel the tension.
In June 2022, my 93-year-old dad had a heart attack. He was taken to the hospital and two weeks later, placed into skilled nursing. He was moved to a board-and-care home (a different one from my mom, which thankfully was minutes away from her).
It was hard to fathom both of my parents were critically ill at the exact same time. It felt surreal, continually moving from one crisis to another. Even with all the support I had from my husband, daughters, sisters, and friends, nothing could ease the emotional toll it took.
On August 1, 2022, my beautiful mom passed away.
Five months after saying goodbye to her, Dad passed away on January 2, 2023.
When Mom first became ill, it was a shock: life was drastically changing. I was forced to navigate the new normal. At first, I tried to do it all, to get everything done as usual. That did not work. It only piled on more stress. I learned to prioritize what I absolutely had to do—visit my parents, talk with doctors and caregivers, text/call/Facetime my sisters (we talked every single day), take care of our business and finances—and the rest had to wait or simply not get done.
I didn’t have the energy and wasn’t in the right headspace to write. I didn’t have the bandwidth to keep up with my friendships. I knew my friends would understand. I knew they would give me grace.
That’s exactly what I needed to do for myself. My daily affirmation was born: I’m doing the best I can.
Now that I’ve moved through to the other side of our family’s heartbreak, my mantra continues to comfort me. It reminds me to slow down and give myself the time and space I need to process my grief.
I’ve realized that being kind to myself—showing myself compassion—is key to achieving good mental health. When I notice negative self-talk creeping in, I stop and remind myself that I am enough.
As hard as it is, I’m moving forward, working on making new memories with my family and filling my life with joy. Some days are better than others, and that’s okay. Grief is a journey, different for everyone. I’m sure one day I’ll get to the point where I’ll want to push myself and try out my husband’s motto: I can always strive to do better.
But for now, I’m content to focus on doing the very best I can.
Giving myself grace.