The Right Thing

September 11, 2010 at 1:34 pm (By Realpc)

I have found that people don’t like talking about this subject very much, and that no one seems to have any good answers. I am concerned about how we know what is the “right thing” to do in any situation, and the example I will use is extremely common these days. Sure doing the “right thing” is easy when it’s what you wanted to do anyway. I never want to kill anyone, so not killing is easy for me. I don’t want to steal anything, especially since the idea of getting caught is terrifying. I don’t want to drive through red lights, because it’s dangerous and besides I don’t want a ticket. So, I am always doing the “right thing.” Well, always, EXCEPT when I have no idea what the “right thing” is, or when what might be the “right thing” seems worse than death.

A woman I know at work, whose name is Mercy, is my example. I have known her for 10 years, and all that time her mother has been sick, and Mercy’s life has revolved around her mother. Not because she wants to, and not because she has a close relationship with her mother (she doesn’t), but because it’s the “right thing” to do. Her mother worked hard, as a poor single mother, to raise Mercy and her sisters. She did her very best, and wound up poor and sick.

For a long time, Mercy’s 3 sisters, who all live nearby, have felt that their mother belongs in a nursing home, so they do very little to help. Mercy has cooked and cleaned for her mother since I have known her, probably much longer. She feels that putting her mother in a nursing home would be abandonment. Mercy is single, probably because taking care of her mother never left much time for socializing or dating. Too bad, since all she ever wanted was to get married and have kids.

Recently, Mercy’s mother became very sick and unable to get out of bed. Mercy moved her into her own small home and started caring for her 24 hours a day. Mercy stopped coming to work, and did her job from home. Several months went by. I wondered what would happen, because our office is strict about limiting telecommuting. No one is allowed more than 2 days a week at home, and most don’t telecommute at all.

The other day Mercy’s manager informed her she would have to start coming to the office 5 days a week. She said the director has been concerned about Mercy’s productivity, since it’s hard to do her job entirely from home.

So Mercy is trying to get home care aides to stay with her mother on weekdays. She also plans to ask her manager if she can telecommute 2 days a week.

Mercy told me what her life has been like this summer. She can’t ever go out, except when one of her sisters stays for an hour, so she can go out for shopping and errands. She never takes a walk, has no social life, never does anything for fun. She is always home alone with her mother, who no longer speaks.

I have not been able to figure out if Mercy is doing the “right thing” or not. Some people said she is unfair to her employer — they are paying her the same, but getting less in return. Others say they would always put their family first, no matter what.

I think Mercy has been unfair to herself, and has missed so much of her own life because of her mother’s sickness. But I also think Mercy is doing this out of genuine love and goodness. She is resentful and angry and feels deprived, but she also feels virtuous. Maybe she is doing exactly what she wants to do?

I absolutely don’t know. I know Mercy very well and she has always been very unhappy, since I have known her. But maybe unhappiness and self-sacrifice is her happiness?

Amba’s situation is kind of similar, but Amba is never resentful or unhappy. For one thing, there is no one for Amba to be angry at, while Mercy has her uncaring sisters. Also, taking care of a mother who has always been miserable is different from taking care of a husband who was always the center of your world.

Anyway, I just don’t know the answer at all. Next month Mercy has to figure out how to come to work every day, while managing unreliable home care aides.


  1. wj said,

    My siblings and I went thru something roughly similar in the last year. Except that a) it was “only” a year or so, and b) all three of us were working together, so nobody was totally overcome. Oh, and we were also able to get 24/7 home care aides at the end.

    But during the last four months, after a stroke which left Mother unable to care for herself, she was in a nursing/rehab facility. And one or the other of us was there every morning and another every afternoon. It was exhausting, even though we were not trying to do everything ourselves. Really, really exhausting. How someone like Mercy (or Annie, for that matter) manages to cope, I cannot imagine.

    To get back to your point, we did what we did because we thought it was the “right thing to do.” It wasn’t something that we discussed explicitly in those terms (our conversations tended to be more around who was taking which shift during the next week), we just did what we thought needed to be done. And, fortunately, all of us have more flexible employment situations that someone who is supposed to be working full time.

    But suppose it had been a matter of one of us having to care for Mother entirely by ourselves. No way that that kind of burden would have been the “right thing to do.” Some kind of outside help is necessary, whether from the rest of the family or hired help.

    It’s a matter of being fair to the person who otherwise would be doing all of the care-giving, as well as to the person needing the care. The obvious analogy would seem to be parents with children. Even if there is only one parent, they do not typically attempt to raise the children totally without outside assistance. For openers, kids generally spend a big chunk of their days at school. (I ignore the home-school for the moment.) And they spend at least some time, increasing as they get older, playing with other kids and otherwise out from immediate need of supervision (let alone care-giving). No question that being a parent is a big job. But it isn’t 24/7 care.

    I guess where I’m going is that there is a trade-off at some point. The “right thing to do” for one party does not totally outweigh the “right thing to do” for the other. Any time one person has become totally in thrall to another like this, I would have to say that their concept of “the right thing to do” has lost touch with sanity. I can applaud their good intentions; but not their solution to the problem.

  2. realpc920 said,

    Yeah wj, come to think of it, what Mercy has been doing is utterly ridiculous. She is doing her regular full-time job, plus the 24/7 job of caring for an invalid. What Amba is doing is heroic and exhausting, but she doesn’t also have a full-time job! What Mercy is trying to do is not humanly possible. I admire her, but at the same time I think she must be somewhat crazy to think she can handle this.

    I am always comparing myself to Mercy and feeling inadequate and guilty. But I have to remind myself that Mercy is nuts! How long did she think our employer would allow her to work from home and never set foot in the office? She wasn’t even thinking about that. She only thinks about her mother’s needs at each moment.

    But I spoke about it to Joy, another woman in the office, the other day. I expected Joy to agree with me that Mercy is being extreme. But Joy seemed to think it’s perfectly normal.

    So everyone I ask seems to see it differently.

  3. Ruth said,

    ” I know Mercy very well and she has always been very unhappy, since I have known her. But maybe unhappiness and self-sacrifice is her happiness?

    Amba’s situation is kind of similar, but Amba is never resentful or unhappy.”

    It’s interesting to speculate about our co-workers’ private business, but I strongly suspect your are overstating how close you are to this woman and how well, indeed, you know her inner thoughts and feelings.

    Something tells me: you ASSUME she is always very unhappy. Caring for others though — there really is an awful lot of “give back”. Even from crabby, suffering old folks. A “good day” might be unnoticed by you, but something tells me “Mercy” is choosing this route because, indeed, there is something in it for her. Maybe that she’s caring for someone who sacrificed and cared for her? Her mother could have let go too, of caring for her daughters way back when when the going got tough. SO many families, with their modern values and lack of home skills, think nothing to put Momma in the nursing home. Get a good one, there’s more caregivers there than you, 24 hour help, etc. Except… that’s none of the paid staff’s mother. They don’t know her memories, her simple delights, nothing except that she’s another human being needing their care. Even the best ones, who try to get to know the patients, can’t give the same personal attention as even a halfway-committed offspring pulling a caregiver shift for Mom on the weekend…

    Why do I think you are over-judging this woman from a lack of facts? From your follow up line. She hasn’t weighed in yet, but if Amba agrees that she is ” never resentful or unhappy”, then I’ll give you that your friend has “always been unhappy.”

    Maybe that’s just what it looks like to you, looking in part time? Maybe in the middle of the night, when Mercy is up with her sick older mother helping her get through another night, maybe there’s a type of happiness there that you just haven’t yet encountered in your own limited circumstances “realpc” — a maturity of happiness, of love, and of something tight — a family caregiving bond — that has been around for generations and generations, and yet is just cheapened in our “quick fix” world, where we define happiness in terms of purchased possessions, status, and how light-hearded and giggly a woman can be.

    Stop by Mercy’s home, and perhaps offer her your conversation while her mother rests in another room? About anything but her mother’s health and her work troubles… Sounds like in telling you how hard it is to get away, get outside for just a few minutes, you perhaps missed an opportunity to help the overburdened woman gain just a few more minutes of “happiness” for herself.

    It really doesn’t take money, government intervention, or innovative workplace programs to help meet these balancing needs. It takes enough people — community, family, friends — to step up and return the loving caregiving and sacrifice that’s been provided over time. You might call it … insurance, even. Mercy gets it. And she’ll no doubt die a happier woman because of it.

    my 2 cents

  4. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    There is a certain exaltation of self-sacrifice, which was much more in fashion in Victorian times than it is now; when people believed in a Heavenly reward, for one thing. But even when it is not in fashion, it has an attraction. It’s partly that you do not constantly have to make decisions about what YOU want to do. (As I’ve said, I think the sacred Self of our era is often a much more capricious and difficult-to-satisfy master than the needs of another.) And it’s true that you feel . . . virtuous, or unselfish, or just well-used. And it’s not all about yourself. There’s a feeling that you have not let down another person (especially when it’s someone who did the same for you). It is easy to feel bitter and betrayed about the world’s and many people’s lack of faithfulness and support for us, but the only real way to assuage that feeling is to hold up your end, whether others do or not. We’re social creatures and we sense that we’re not ONLY here to please ourselves, though there is a healthy balance that most of us caregivers have unquestionably lost touch with.

  5. realpc said,


    I think we can get happiness from doing a job well, and also from being appreciated by others, and also from doing acts of kindness and love. You are experiencing all of that with J, which could explain why you are (generally) happy. Also, you socialize through the internet so you are not as isolated as some caregivers.

    Mercy is also probably getting happiness from doing a job well, and from being loving towards her mother (although I doubt she loves her mother anywhere near as much as you love J.)

    Mercy is being more self-sacrificing than you, since her survival depends on her job. Also, I suspect she is very isolated, without normal adults to communicate with, except for work email or arguing with her sisters.

    But I think I am now starting to understand why so many people — probably mostly women — become caregivers and don’t object. It can be extremely rewarding, as you have explained.

    I did not think it would be rewarding for me, because I never learned any caregiving skills. However, I have done a lot of things for my mother in recent years, and I have experienced some of the virtuous feelings, and feelings of being appreciated by her.

    But resentment towards my siblings has been a very big factor for me. Anytime I sacrifice time for my mother, I remember that my siblings are focused on their lives and what they consider important. This is especially true of my sister, who has barely helped at all.

    Sibling rivalry influenced me to hang on to my life and survival. I actually became more selfish than I was before, since I have allowed myself to spend a lot of time on my hobbies. After all, they always did.

    I think I found a reasonable balance and now my mother seems to be fine. I am happier because of my hobbies (mainly music). But I still always feel very guilty.

  6. realpc said,


    Your comment is very typical of what I get all the time. I was selfish to make my job and financial security a priority, or to hang on to my free time, social life, health and hobbies. I should have not cared that my siblings were keeping their lives. I can understand why you feel that way, but I think you are only seeing one side.

    And I do know Mercy very well. She has been confiding in me for 10 years. She is not happy or fulfilled in this life. But, as I said, she may get happiness from her unhappiness. And I do think she has a martyr syndrome, and she often expresses the thought that the stress and exhaustion are going to kill her.

    And, as I said, she is always very angry at her sisters.

    If Mercy had put her mother in a nursing home (and it’s very likely she will have to anyway), she could have gone to see her every day before and after work, and stayed with her all weekend.

    I don’t know if Mercy is damaging her career. The fact that her manager said the director is concerned about her productivity is not a good sign. Mercy has always been under-appreciated in her job and this might just make it worse.

    What scares me is the thought that anyone’s life, at any time, could be derailed completely by a parent becoming disabled. I don’t think employers are generally sympathetic. How can they wait indefinitely, possibly for many years, while an employee shows up sporadically, and is always exhausted and half-sick?

    Women always were the natural caregivers, but they always had sisters and daughters around to help. They had husbands to do all the men’s work, while they focused on the women’s work.

    Now many of us women are doing the same kind of work as men, and our survival depends on our career. And just when we get to the stage in life where we have to seriously worry about age-discrimination, our careers are threatened by caregiving responsibility.

    If you read wj’s post, you will see a perspective different from yours. He, or she, thinks that 24/7 caregiving is not possible for someone with a full-time job.

    But I do hear your perspective very often, it is what the majority believe. Whether the majority would actually give up everything to be a caregiver, I don’t know.

  7. Ruth said,

    “What scares me is the thought that anyone’s life, at any time, could be derailed completely by a parent becoming disabled. I don’t think employers are generally sympathetic. How can they wait indefinitely, possibly for many years, while an employee shows up sporadically, and is always exhausted and half-sick?

    Women always were the natural caregivers, but they always had sisters and daughters around to help.”

    So you think the Boom generation is the first to be sandwiched between work outside the home, raising children, and caring for parents?

    Have you ever heard of multi-generational working-class homes? I assure you, a certain breed of women has been working outside their homes for much, much longer than the Feminist ladies count.

    I don’t think someone who prefers to prioritize their work for pay for others before working for their own family is selfish. I do think it’s short-sighted.

    Regrets? I think good caregivers who put in the time and do what they can with what they have — who accept limitations and the realties of life, perhaps putting day-to-day cares into the hands of Another — are healthier in the long run than those who believe they are the First Ones to experience the conflicting pull of time and family.

    Nothing new under the sun… just might be your first time encountering it. And you indeed seem to assume a lot in your post… Why not print this out, let your friend “Mercy” read it, and then let her comment directly, without your omniscient filter? You might peer into some answers that will serve you well in the future.

  8. Ruth said,

    Also, Mercy’s problem is her family not stepping up to help as well, so the whole burden falls to her. Only children often have other options because they probably never counted on having sibling help, so they planned other ways.

    If others in the family are there and step up, her load would be lightened. Family care really is the best. Look at how the children are turning out in general under the for-pay nurturing system… There really is an obvious difference between those raised at home, and those raised in institututional care. And we are starting to see it more and more in our educational system too: public warehouses v. private schools or homeschooling.

    Some things like personalized attention money just can’t buy.

  9. Ruth said,

    Also I don’t think those “good moments” are only in the future. If indeed you are a good caregiver living in the moment, you better be appreciating those “good days” and “simple moments” today — it’s not martydom. It’s the ability to step away from the day-to-day minor cares like satisfying an external boss for pay, or paying bills, or keeping up with the news or political stories… all of which might need to be done to a small degree.

    I liken caregiving to being in a different day-to-day world. Like stepping out of the ratrace of time. Or being out in the middle of the water away from land and the cares there. Really, there are beautiful moments in simplicity, if your caregiving isn’t overwhelming… Balance. And cajoling the siblings to chip in and be rewarded today by spending time with Mom at the end of her life. It’s not all miserable complaints, even with a crabby patient. Often, the long-term memory is there, and you can learn some neat things about your family history, earlier experiences, how the town was then, etc. You know: practical stuff you can use in the here-and-today.

    Dementia and Alzheimer’s might lose that. But general healthy caregiving for the elderly, where the body parts are just generally winding down? It really can be a healthier place than competing in the day-to-day for pay. And in the end, more satisfying of a life … and that’s even before you pass possibly to a better one in the the next.

    Remember what I said above: despite the conceit, the Feminist generation is definitely NOT the first one to struggle with, or work their way through, these balancing issues. Why not learn from others, pc?

  10. realpc said,

    “Family care really is the best. Look at how the children are turning out in general under the for-pay nurturing system”

    There are women who have children even though they have full-time jobs. They made that decisions, and therefore their children are raised partly by day-care institutions. I would never have made that decision. I decided to work and to not have children. I did NOT decide to work and have a mother with dementia. My mother is in assisted living — where she wanted to go, by the way — and is cared for by professional caregivers, instead of by my.

    What exactly do think my choice was? I could never do what Mercy did, maybe partly because my job is more demanding than hers. But even if it weren’t, I think most people could not do what Mercy is doing. And I don’t think Mercy can do it indefinitely.

    Mercy’s sisters are not helping, for one thing, because their employers do not allow them to work at home. They would lose their jobs right away, and that is probably true of many employers. My employer is being very lenient with Mercy, but they have limits. And maybe they don’t value Mercy all that much.

    To get extra special treatment from your employer, you have to be really something special. They have to either love you for personal reasons, or for your special skills. I certainly don’t feel I am that special, and Mercy isn’t that special either. She doesn’t have nearly the kind of skills I have, and I know I can be replaced. So can she, easily.

    As I said, I would never have chosen to be a working mother, especially not a single working mother. Yet fate was electing me to be a single working mother of a demented old person. It is not possible.

    You are very idealistic Ruth, and that’s fine. You may be a caregiver yourself, but I very much doubt you are alone and working full time, and also being a 24/7 caregiver for a person who is helpless.

  11. realpc said,

    [Why not print this out, let your friend “Mercy” read it, and then let her comment directly, without your omniscient filter?]

    Mercy has been telling me her troubles for 10 years. I know for an absolute fact that there are things she would much rather be doing than taking care of her mother. She would rather have a husband, and to have had children. She likes to socialize and have fun. She is normal in all of that. But as the years went by she began talking only about her mother and the problems of taking care of her. It’s like she has no other interests.

    Amba is different. She is mentally alive and has more interests than most people I know. Her world didn’t narrow because of caregiving, but Mercy’s did. Mercy was never very intellectual and never had a lot of interests, as far as I could tell. And now she is all sorrow and suffering.

    I can ask Mercy next time I see her if she gets any joy out of helping her mother. I’m sure she does. But if she had actually been given a choice I doubt she would be doing this. And of course, the lack of family help makes it impossible.

    Yes her sisters let her down. But they have to work. And after working all day, and doing all our chores and errands, most people want to do something relaxing or fun. It’s very understandable. We don’t want ongoing endless chores, after working 8 hours.

    Can we do it and is it possible? For a limited time only, some can do it. For a while my life was all work and worry and mother chores. I was very very unhappy and very very angry at my siblings. Even when the tried to help, it wasn’t nearly enough. I was on the verge of either running away or something.

    After things settled down, I went farther towards selfishness than I had been in years. I decided I was allowed to spend time on music. My life has been happy for the first time in many years, because in the past I mostly just worked or studied and had no time for fun.

    I definitely think some people can be happy as full time caregivers and I am sure it can be extremely rewarding, if it is your choice. But I don’t think anyone can be happy working full time and caregiving 24/7, especially if they are alone.

  12. realpc said,

    And, because of the expectations our society has of women, as expressed in Ruth’s comments, I am usually made to feel like I did something wrong. All because of something that had absolutely nothing to do with anything I did or decided in my life. I tried hard to not be poor or sick, but my mother didn’t. Of course we don’t control that but we have some control over some of what happens in our lives. And of course we all get old and sick ultimately. I am not blaming my mother.

    But what happened to my mother had absolutely nothing to do with me. If you decide to have a child and the child becomes disabled, then that is obviously your problem. If you are married and your spouse becomes disabled, that is your problem. But even in those cases a person who has to work will probably try to get help, rather than trying to be a full-time caregiver with a full time job.

    But when a woman is working hard and struggling to make her own life tolerable, or maybe better than tolerable, and then finds out her mother has dementia, it’s hard to know to what extent this should be her problem.

    And if that women is able to get help, instead of doing it all herself, the world can no longer see her as a good person. Now she has to accept all the things that Ruth said. Sometimes it’s expressed directly, other times implied. It’s always there. You are no good because you are continuing to live your life even though your mother has dementia.

    Some people are very good at ignoring all those judgmental messages. I don’t think my sister feels judged or guilty. Maybe geographical distance is a good enough excuse.

    I know various women who experienced various versions and degrees of this. I know some very nurturing types whose mothers are in assisted living. They might visit several times a week, but they are still not doing most of the caregiving chores. Why don’t they feel judged and guilty? Or maybe they do.

    The things that Ruth stated directly are the things I always imagine people are thinking.

  13. realpc said,

    And, one other thing. A lot of the people who have said those things to me NEVER had to do any caregiving. Or else not very much. Helping your parents now and then is very different from suddenly having a totally helpless adult who can’t manage the simplest aspects of their life. Before saying what they would or wouldn’t do and being judgmental, I think people should make sure they have actually been through it. And that they have been through it alone, while trying to work full time. I have been through it for years. I would NEVER judge someone for getting help.

  14. wj said,

    real is very right that our culture has some very strong expectations about what women, specifically daughters, should do with respect to parents who need on-going assistance. Those are changing — but, as is common with culture issues, only slowly. A lot more slowly than objectively might seem reasonable.

    But, while the culture has expectations, Mercy’s problem is more a matter of someone who internalized those expectations, perhaps decades ago. And is now stuck with the results. We saw something similar with my sister and our mother. My sister (being the only daughter and living next door) ended up doing a lot more, the last few years — even before Mom had a stroke and went down-hill fast. She just expected it of herself; admittedly, Mom seems to have had similar expectations. My brothers and I finally prevailed on her (and my brother-in-law) to move from next door to a place several miles away. Just so lower proximity would hopefully produce lower demands, and maybe spread them out among the rest of us more, since we were also equally close. (It was actually fairly successful, too.)

    But not everyone has either an option of getting further away, or siblings who will agree (much less push) to pitch in. Which leaves them trapped by their own ingrained expectations for what they should do.

    Getting past cultural expectations is very hard. Getting past personal expectations of behavior is far, far harder. And in a case like this, I’m not sure anyone but immediate family can effectively help someone see that what they are trying to do is unreasonable and unfair to themselves. And, more importantly, that it really is OK to do something else.

  15. realpc said,


    I think you are very unusual in that you had sympathy for your sister and tried to make it easier for her. Most siblings, from what I have heard so far, are glad to let one do everything. If there is a daughter who lives close to the mother, especially if she is an older sibling, she will be assigned the official caregiver. It happened to me, but I fought hard to demand help and fairness. I said Mom has 3 kids, so everyone does one third. I live close, so I will handle all emergencies and will do most of the visiting. Anything that can be done remotely will not be done by me.

    It was hell to fight with my siblings, since I love them. Things still aren’t fair or resolved, but at least Mom’s needs are cared for by professionals. I am not constantly worrying that my mother forget her medication and got drunk and fell down the stairs (yes, that’s the kind of calls I used to get while at work).

    But wj, if you read Ruth’s comments you will see how heart-breaking it is for me to be constantly judged in that way. I know I am a normal woman, with all the normal compassionate instincts. But people like Ruth make me feel like some kind of devil.

  16. Stephanie said,


    Those who would judge harshly are perhaps worried about who would care for them when they get older. Reading this, it looks like you are looking for validation of your own choices based on Marcy’s experiences- as if if her apparent unhappiness is proof that you were right, and everyone who tries or thinks you should try to do it themself is wrong.
    It’s not that simple, nor that universal, I think. Some people can do it- and if you can do it, and enjoy it, then that’s wonderful! You are right that not everyone can.

    One thing that did bother me was this comment- “I did NOT decide to work and have a mother with dementia.” You seem to argue that while if you’d chosen to have children, you are responsible for them- but you are not responsible for your parents, b/c you did not chose. I think we do owe those who cared for us when we were little something. I hope my children will care for me when the time comes! We owe them the best care we can provide. And yes, sometimes that is in assisted living. Sometimes they need more help than we can provide. And yes, siblings should help- it should not fall all on one person. That said, sometimes that’s just not gonna happen. You have to accept it and just factor it into the decision to be made.
    I’m sorry you feel guilty for making the choice you made- it’s never easy. Sounds like you made the best decision for you.

  17. realpc said,

    “I think we do owe those who cared for us when we were little something. I hope my children will care for me when the time comes!”

    It sounds like you are NOT someone who ever had responsibility for a mentally ill parent, who eventually got dementia also, while you were alone and working full time. Expecting your children to do that is not compassionate.

    I do feel we owe our parents, but we don’t owe them what Mercy is giving. And no I was not using Mercy to justify anything. But she is an example of what can, and often does, happen to women.

  18. realpc said,

    “I’m sorry you feel guilty for making the choice you made”

    I wouldn’t, except that people like Ruth are always bashing people like me.

  19. Ruth said,

    Not bashing you.

    Just ansering a question you asked. I’m sorry if my response makes you uncomfortable, but some of your assumptions perhaps needed to be pointed out.

    And alternatives suggested, like that visit to a friend’s home who it sounds like could use a mintue or two of kindness and … help.

  20. Ruth said,

    “Mercy has been telling me her troubles for 10 years. ”

    Time is no guarantee of intimacy, especially with out most innermost thoughts.

  21. Ruth said,

    ” I would never have made that decision. I decided to work and to not have children. I did NOT decide to work and have a mother with dementia.”

    Whether you decided to become a mother yourself or not is irrelevant. You HAD a mother, though you may not have asked to be born.

    Life is unfair. Deal with it.

    Some people lose their mothers as children. I don’t think they choose that either. Some have mothers who cut out after the birth, or cut them out before. We don’t get to pick and choose our mothers’ circumstances… What ever gave you that idea?

  22. realpc said,

    “And alternatives suggested, like that visit to a friend’s home who it sounds like could use a mintue or two of kindness and … help.”

    Are you saying I should spend less time visiting my own mother, so I can help Mercy with hers? Even though she CHOSE what she is dealing with now. There are an unlimited number of people who need help and kindness, and we all have limited time. I spend my limited time visiting my mother.

  23. realpc said,

    ‘Ruth, I can see you can’t resist the impulse to be judgmental and motherly. I KNOW life is unfair. But that does not mean we all have to be like Mercy and give up our entire life. And we’ll see how it works out. Maybe Mercy will reach her limit and get help. There is nothing wrong with admitting we have limits. Yes, life is unfair that is true. It is also true that we ALL have limits.

  24. realpc said,

    And anyway, I know it would not matter how much I sacrifice or what I do for my mother, there would always be someone telling me I should be doing more. I should be helping other people with their mothers, not just my own.

    My sister screamed at me many times because I didn’t do enough this or that for our mother, even though she did ALMOST NOTHING for our mother.

    It’s so much easier to judge someone else than to look at yourself. Mercy’s sisters criticize they way she cares for their mother.

    Because people are hypocrites. Knowing that, I am not even sure why I care what anyone thinks.

  25. wj said,

    real, I think I and my family may be a type case for people assuming that their experiences are “usual.” I know we all tend to do that to some extent. But I always had the impression that those who took a different approach were anomalies.

    Then we had a little chat with the lawyer about our mom’s estate. And she made a point of telling us how much easier it made her life to have a family which wasn’t fighting over everything. Like that was usual. Oh.

    Actually, we told her, we did have a slight divergence of opinion over division of the estate. My mother’s will called for equal division of her estate among the 4 of us. My brothers and I argued for dividing into 5 parts, and giving our sister 2, on the grounds that she had been bearing most of the burden. And she argued against. Which seemed further bemuse the lawyer. But it seemed to us to be, if you’ll pardon the expression, the “right thing to do.” (Since Judy isn’t going for it, we’ll have to exercise our creativity to come up with something else. We’ll come up with something….)

    But my main point is, unless you actually do a social science study of the subject, it can be very difficult to understand what is the usual dynamic vs. what is merely the behavior that you personally have witnessed. Especially since the extreme cases get more attention than people just going along and doing what they do.

    We always just assumed we were at least approximately “normal.” Apparently not.

  26. realpc said,


    No amount of scientific research can ever give us a perfect idea of what is usual, normal, typical. I don’t think there has been much research on this subject. My ideas are based on years of reading books, blogs and forums, and talking to people. I have really paid attention to this problem.

    You’re right — your experience is very far from typical. You always knew your sister was there to so whatever might be needed. Yes, you were kind and considerate towards her. But just knowing someone was there you could count on makes a big difference!

    And God, your mother had an estate! For many of us, that is hardly the case. If we had ever needed large amounts of money to help our mother, it would have come from our retirement savings and home equity.

    So far, fortunately, we have been saved by socialism! And I am someone who doesn’t trust big government! But this is state level, so maybe not so terrible. We live in a state with generous Medicaid and SS for disabled elders who don’t have money.

    After my mother dies, if I have not already died from stress, there will be no estate for us to fight over. Well at least we get to fight over the funeral expenses.

    wj, I think you are your family did a good job with your mother. But you did not do The Right Thing, according to my definition.

    To me, it is only The Right Thing when there were impossible decisions to make. Parent vs children, parent vs spouse, parent vs career, parent vs your health, your dreams. That sort of thing.

    You were exhausted for a while from shifts and the nursing home. But there was a nursing home. And your shift wasn’t 24/7, and it didn’t go on for years or decades. On so many levels, you had it really easy.

  27. wj said,

    real, I’m not sure I am understanding you correctly. But it appears from your last that you are saying that one can only do The Right Thing in a horrible situation. If there is no agony, there can be not Right Thing. Either I am (as I suspect) misunderstanding, or I have to disagree.

    Granted, the ultimate test of whether one does the right thing is when all choices are extremely bad. But that isn’t the only possible test. For example, even in the case of an elderly parent, with sufficient assets to pay for care, there is still a world of difference between just packing Granny off to a care facility and thinking no more about it, and providing that care where she wants to be. Financial considerations may not come into the picture at all — but that doesn’t mean that there is not a right and a wrong (or several wrong) choice to be made.

    P.S. My Mother had an estate because my parents were children of the Depression. They saved money, they paid off their mortgage early, and saved even more after that. It wasn’t that they started with wealth or were highly paid (carpenter and, once we were all out of elementary school, a school librarian). And, thank heavens, they passed along that attitude about finances to all of us…so we could have afforded to deal with the situation when it arose even without Mom’s money.

  28. realpc said,


    The are levels and degrees of The Right Thing. You have not provided an example of an agonizing decision, and yes I do require some agony for it to count as The Right Thing. Absolutely definitely. Oh sure we can all feel virtuous, until we are tested.

    I think I have been tested now and then in my life, and somehow squirmed through. I would not say I ever did The Right Thing that required enormous sacrifice. Always uneasy painful compromises.

    So I would like to hear a real example from someone of The Right Thing.

    I think Amba is one example, because she has sacrificed so much in order to be true to her husband. Yours doesn’t count. Not that you did anything wrong, it just doesn’t count because it was not nearly agonizing enough.

  29. realpc said,

    But I think I should qualify that, because what Amba is doing is only The Right Thing if you can do it joyfully, without resentment or self-pity. In her case, that is true. I don’t think it is true in Mercy’s case. If you can’t do it out of sheer love, and you feel you were put on earth for something else, then maybe it would not be The Right Thing.

    So maybe what I said about agonizing decisions isn’t always true, because I don’t think Amba ever had to decide.

    So I still don’t have any simple definition of The Right Thing.

  30. joared said,

    Been there, done that. One of the hardest decisions in my life was that surrounding whether or not to place a parent in a skilled nursing facility. Has little to do with what’s right and wrong. It’s a time of “what is.” Anyone faced with such a choice needs to know themselves and what their limitations are, physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. The latter will serve to dictate the quality of facility that can be selected, if the choice is determined a SNF is the best choice.

    If the caregiver is fortunate enough to have other family members willing to share in the care, then they have an advantage. Little can be done with family members who choose not to help whether or not they would be able to do so, thus, forget about them. Providing 24/7 care, especially if it regularly disrupts the caregiver’s sleep, ultimately may result in causing health problems for the caregiver. What good then is a health-damaged caregiver trying to provide care? The caregiver must draw the line at not damaging their own health. Even hiring aides with whom to share rotating 8 hr shifts may exceed the primary caregiver’s limits.

    I don’t second guess the choices caregivers make, but caution they need to take good care of themselves first so they don’t “get down” because then they aren’t any good to themselves, or to the person for whom they care. If that means they need to attend to the responsibilities associated with their income producing work. then that’s a high priority on their list of items affecting their decision about SNF or not.

    Long standing socialization issues sound a bit more complex for solving than placing the loved one in a SNF will resolve. Perhaps a caregiver support group, even if it’s on the Internet because the individual doesn’t join one in her community, might be beneficial. I do strongly empathize with the dilemma you write of and with anyone faced with such difficult choices. My personal experience was complicated even more by having a family of my own, including small children, being in graduate school, and other issues. My heartfelt support for whatever choices are finally made.

  31. realpc said,

    I agree with what you said joared. This is a much bigger and much more complex problem than most people realize. And most people seem to avoid thinking about it, because it is not any fun to think about. It’s one of those things everyone hopes will not happen to them. It is so easy to judge someone else.

    My mother had problems all my life — physical, mental and financial — and they kept getting worse. When I was still relatively young I was faced with serious crises. I was in the middle of a 4-year Ph.D. program when my mother had a stroke, mental illness and severe alcoholism.

    Being in graduate school with a tiny income was scary enough, especially since I was alone without a husband or relatives around. I had to get through it in 4 years, because I was terrified of running out of money. Then what?

    And yet I was taking my mother to the hospital to be de-toxed. And listening to her ongoing relentless obsessions.

    I got through graduate school in 4 years. My mother went to a psychiatrist who gave her anti-depressants, and for the first time ever she was somewhat free of obsessions, and even somewhat normal.

    Things were pretty calm for a while. Instead of talking about ridiculous obsessions, my mother talked about going out with friends and having fun, or working for charity. Then suddenly, 3 years ago, she lost her memory.

    In my entire life, there were only a few years free of ongoing relentless mother problems. I have been so angry at my sister because she refuses to think about Mom. But in a way, it is understandable. We have lived under a constant dark cloud.

    My mother is a sweet person and I always got along with her fairly well. We almost never had conflicts and we were usually kind to each other. We were not extremely close, and I never could lean on her. She leaned on us instead.

    I know that people have all kinds of terrible problems. Many have it easy, but many do not. I don’t think I am unusual in having been through a lot. But Jesus, if you did not go through this you can’t possibly imagine, and you have no right to judge.

    I realize I am my mother’s mother and it is my job to protect as well as I can. I have known that for decades. I think she is ok now where she is. I have been happier than I ever was. Except when people judge me and try to make me feel like I did something wrong. I really really hate that.

  32. joared said,

    realpc, sounds like you’ve gone “above and beyond,” but then, when is “enough is enough?” Sadly, sometimes none of the choices we have in a situation are ones we like or want, but still we have to choose. Am haunted to this day by the movie “Sophie’s Choice” which I always think of when I encounter the word “choice.”

    Yes, I, too, felt a self-internalized responsibility for my mother from the time when I was a small child, after my father deserted our family and she had medical issues which worsened. I was constantly amazed at how well she compensated which made me all the more determined to help her. I always knew there were others facing greater challenges than I, but we each take whatever actions seem best at any given time. There’s little value in expending energy second-guessing ourselves after the fact.

    I have been aware, as I was at the time, that I was making choices in my life that would have been different had I not felt concern for my mother. I have occasionally thought how things might have been different, but this is not anything I brood about, nor do I have regrets. I’ve always thought “what might have been” thinking usually culminates in very positive outcomes in my fantasy, when the reality might have been quite the contrary — disaster. I wouldn’t be the person I am now, probably, and I’ve learned so much through these years — plus, I like me as I am.

  33. realpc said,

    Yes joared, I think all our hardships were meant to be, and there were things we had to learn. I love my mother, so don’t misunderstand, but she has been a kind of reverse role model for me. I am afraid of being like her, and have always worked hard to not be. Yet of course, I am like her in some ways, both good and bad. The thing that means the most to me, all my life but especially in recent years, is music, and I got that from her. She was always artistic and loved beauty, and I got all those traits from her. Along with being a little “off,” I guess.

  34. wj said,

    real, I’ve been giving this some more thought. And I’m having a problem with the concept that doing the Right Thing requires some agony, some sacrifice. The obvious corollary would be that someone who, for whatever reason, does not have to sacrifice simply cannot do the Right Thing; at most, they can avoid doing the Wrong Thing. In short, their moral position is no-win hopeless.

    Let me try moving the discussion of doing the Right Thing to another arena. Consider patriotism as a Right Thing. (If someone thinks it is not, that’s a separate discussion.) Now someone who goes into the military has probably sacrificed something to do so. If so, they count as patriotic. But someone who has not served cannot, under your criteria, count a patriotic. Even if they volunteered, and flunked the physical — they didn’t serve, so they are not patriotic. Yes, there are other ways to serve one’s country; but other things being equal, you either served or you didn’t.

    Of course, it is possible that your requirements for the Right Thing are limited to circumstances surrounding caring for another individual, rather than caring for a group or a nation. If so, I’ve missed the boat and this can be ignored.

  35. realpc said,


    You can do The Right Thing when it’s easy. But so what? Why bother talking about the fact that I didn’t go through any red lights today? Yes, most of the time we all do The Right Thing, in that we obey the laws and are considerate of others. Big deal. My original point, which started in a comment to some other post, is that very often we don’t know what The Right Thing is. Very often, being considerate of one person means being inconsiderate of another, or to our self.

    Now why would I limit this to caring for an individual rather than a group? Why should that matter?

    I can say I’m patriotic but did I ever prove it? No. So it’s just talk. But let’s say I love the idea of combat and I join the military– does that prove I am patriotic? Well then it’s a grey area. Maybe I joined to serve my country, and maybe just for a chance to fight. More likely, a combination of both.

    In almost every case worth talking about, the motives are complex and The Right Thing is not so cut and dried.

    Let’s say a person lived an easy life without many challenges. Was it a virtuous life? Well yes maybe, but we don’t know how that same person would behave when challenged.

    You did The Right Thing with your mother. But what if it had been much much harder? Would have done The Right Thing or The Wrong Thing, or something in between? We do not know!

  36. realpc said,

    I saw Mercy today and I was very glad to find out her boss will let her work from home 2 days every week. So I think it will work out ok. Sometimes I feel sorry for Mercy and other times I just admire her. I feel like she is Good and I am Bad. But probably we are just different, and are both good in different ways. I love my mother and I think I’m pretty good to her. I certainly think about her a lot. But what I do is almost nothing compared to what Mercy is doing. Hopefully I can stop feeling so guilty and just admire what Mercy is doing, without thinking I’m no good unless I do exactly the same.

  37. eliane said,

    I’m sorry but I rather can write in English ( I’m from Brazil ), so I can not translate this words from Simone Weil which seems very appropriate for us, caregivers.

    Pierre sur le chemin, Se jeter sur la Pierre, comme si, à partir d’une certaine intensité de désir, elle devait ne plus exister. Ou s’en aller comme si soi-même on n’existait pas.
    Le désir enferme de l’absolu et s il échoue ( une fois l’énergie épuisée ), l’absolu se transfère sur l’obstacle. Etat d’âme des vaincus, des opprimés.
    Saisir ( en chaque chose ) qu’il y a une limite et qu’on ne la dépassera pas sans aide surnaturelle ( ou alors de très peu ) et en le payant ensuit par un terrible abaissement.

    Thank’s for sharing your thoughts and feelings, I was very touched.

  38. amba12 said,

    I hope someone who knows French sufficiently will translate.

  39. amba12 said,

    I’ve just gotten a chance to read this discussion. There are so many factors that play into one’s decision. The culture’s readiness and eagerness to place helpless old people in a professional facility is one factor. When J had pneumonia the first winter we were in Chapel Hill, a young woman doctor said to me, “Maybe it’s time to consider placement outside the home.” This is in many ways the norm. Rather than people thinking you’re bad for not sacrificing yourself, I’ve encountered many more people who think you’re masochistic and/or impossibly heroic if you DON’T resort to a nursing home. I mean, don’t you have a life? What about you?

    Another major factor is simply whether a person can take care of another, physically, emotionally, and financially. Many people simply cannot: their own health or strength or mentality is fragile and won’t permit it, for instance.

    Then there’s the nature of the relationship. Taking care of a spouse is quite different from taking care of a parent. And then there’s the quality of the particular relationship, the issue of reciprocity. I knew a woman whose daughter didn’t speak to her for years because she had put her (second) husband, the daughter’s father, in an NH when he developed Alzheimer’s. She wanted to go on with her own life and did not want to turn her apartment into a nursing facility. But it was also the case that the husband had treated her rather badly: cheated on her sexually, lied to her about money, and I personally heard him put her down cruelly in front of other people more than once. She didn’t feel she owed him her life.

    Between parent and child, also, it depends somewhat on the quality of the relationship. Your parent didn’t have to be perfect for you to feel a sort of Chinese obligation to care for them as they cared for you, but what if they really didn’t care for you? If realpc had to take care of her mother as a child, no wonder she doesn’t want to devote her middle age to taking care of her!

    I have a horror of ending up as the one taking care of my mother. First of all, having been a full-time caregiver once is enough. (I also dread surviving J and getting involved with someone else who then ends up needing a caregiver. Or, conversely, getting sick myself and turning them into a caregiver. But hey, if it happens, it happens.) Second of all, my mother was good fun when she wasn’t short-tempered or moody and depressed, but being a mother was not central to her life, even though she had 6 kids. She was really interested in my father; her children were side effects of her relationship with him. I think she liked us best when she was pregnant with us and it was all downhill from there (LOL). Once when my dad had to leave Florida ahead of the rest of us, my mother was missing him and I said something to the effect of, well, at least you’ve got your daughters for company, and she literally said, “Daughters, schmaughters.” To be her caregiver would be to feel constantly inadequate to console her. Anyway, she’s compulsively independent and would probably rather be cared for by strangers. As an odd side note, my father used to casually shave naked when we were little kids, but I never ever saw my mother naked except once by accident, and she instantly slammed the door. (We finally went to a sauna together when I was in my 40s and she in her 60s.) So I was comfortable and familiar with what a naked adult man looked like, but not an adult woman. This is not someone who would want her kids reciprocating with diaper changing. She’s mellowed some, but not that much.

    Every situation is individual. One factor in my taking care of J at home is, of course, that so far, I can. So far, I have the physical strength and the health (although, like many caregivers, I abuse myself, mainly by not sleeping enough.) Many spouses would prefer to do so if they can. If J had been demented but not disabled, I would be unable to keep him from being a danger to himself and/or others and he’d have had to be locked up. Another factor in my taking care of J at home is that he lost his home as a teen-ager when he was arrested and enslaved in the Soviet Union. That shouldn’t happen to a person twice. I couldn’t bear to make it happen to him a second time, if I can help it. A third factor is that I saw all his relatives in Romania matter-of-factly taking care of their old and sick at home. That was both tradition and necessity; there hardly were any other options. But it meant that the old, sick, and/or demented were still in the midst of life and family. It just seemed natural to me. And finally, I just don’t like nursing homes. Both my maternal grandparents died in them, for some of the above reasons (my dad had never gotten along with his mother-in-law, another difficult, bossy character, and would not have tolerated having her in his home for years and years, and my mother wouldn’t inflict that on him). I can’t envision an alternative in their cases, but I came to see it as, not the normal last stage of life, American style, but an absolute last resort.

  40. realpc said,

    Thanks for your comment Amba. There are so many facets to this problem. It is reassuring to me that you can understand why people might not be able to make the same decision you made. And that you would not necessarily be able to do it for your mother. But I want to add that not every caregiving home is bad. My mother is in a really nice place. There are lots of people around — not just other old ladies (who my mother thinks are too old to be any fun), but also the staff who all seem very nice. They have entertainment, and the place is decorated to look homey. They always plant beautiful flowers outside the building. They have the money, thank God, and they also obviously care about the residents.

    It’s actually assisted living, not a nursing home, and they only take a certain range of disability. If my mother went below the range they accept, then I don’t know what happens. I dread the thought.

  41. Stephanie said,

    Ok, my french degree was a LONG time ago, but here’s a rough translation of the first paragraph above (thanks to google for helping):

    “The stone on/in the road, to throw oneself on the stone like so from a certain intensity of desire, it must wish to exist no more or to go away so oneself no longer exists.

    Working on the second paragraph….

  42. Stephanie said,

    Ok, here’s the whole from above:
    Pierre sur le chemin, Se jeter sur la Pierre, comme si, à partir d’une certaine intensité de désir, elle devait ne plus exister. Ou s’en aller comme si soi-même on n’existait pas.
    Le désir enferme de l’absolu et s il échoue ( une fois l’énergie épuisée ), l’absolu se transfère sur l’obstacle. Etat d’âme des vaincus, des opprimés.
    Saisir ( en chaque chose ) qu’il y a une limite et qu’on ne la dépassera pas sans aide surnaturelle ( ou alors de très peu ) et en le payant ensuit par un terrible abaissement.

    “The stone on/in the road, to throw oneself on the stone like so from a certain intensity of desire, it must wish to exist no more or to go away so oneself no longer exists.
    The shut up desire of the absolute (wish/desire?) if it falls away ( once the energy is exhausted) the absolute (wish/desire) transferes itself onto the obstacle. The state of the soul of the defeated, of the oppressed. To understand in each thing that there is a limit and that one can’t go past it without supernatural help ( at least a little [?]) and paying for it with a terrible dimunition of it [the desire].”

    A little rough, but hopefully that conveys the sentiment the commentor was trying to convey with the quote.

  43. amba12 said,

    Thank you, Stephanie! That at least sheds some light on the original.

  44. amba12 said,

    Another translation, from my “Canadian” sister Janet Sailian who had to be able to work in French:

    “Stone on the path, To throw oneself onto the stone as if, from a certain intensity of desire, it should no longer exist. Or to carry on as if oneself did not exist.

    “Desire shuts away the absolute and it runs aground (once the energy is exhausted), the absolute is transferred onto the obstacle. State of soul of the conquered, the oppressed.

    “To grasp (in each thing) that there is a limit and that one will not surpass it without supernatural help (or only by a little bit) and then paying for it through a terrible humiliation.”

    Now we have light shed on it from two angles.

  45. reader_iam said,

    Whatever. I will take care of my father when the time comes. And who knows when? Whenever. He’ll have to relocate to where we are: That’s a full-stop and a non-negotiable thing. (Make no mistake: I wouldn’t be telling you unrelated, disconnected people about that if we connected people hadn’t already done serious, real-life discussions about this “stuff.”) Other than that, it is what it is: He’ll live with or next to us until that’s an actual impossibility. I’d go into all the very long history and all the very shocking stuff surrounding all of that which makes it extraordinary, except that–no, I won’t, on account of I don’t want to, anymore.

    Didn’t someone already say “it is what is is” around here?

  46. reader_iam said,


    Could you just once, for one time, consider that maybe you’re not in possession of all the insight? Could you just once, for one time, consider that someone other than you has also experienced pain and might have some insight to offer? Could you just once, for one time, be open to briefly closing the part of your mind that insists on constant gate-keeping in order to honor the open part that is actually seeking possible answers to the questions you keep posing?

    realpc, you make it very hard to be fond of you (and I say that with more humility and recognition than perhaps you know).

  47. realpc said,

    I have no idea what is bothering you so much reader_jam. I said I didn’t know what people should do about this, and it depends. I don’t think I ever said I had insight or that I had an answer. So unless you provide a quote or some kind of context, it’s impossible to answer you.

    And if you end up taking care of a disabled parent, I have a feeling you would not be a single working woman like Mercy. I don’t know that, but I would bet a couple dollars.

  48. reader_iam said,

    To repeat: Could you just once, for one time, be open to briefly closing the part of your mind that insists on constant gate-keeping in order to honor the open part that is actually seeking possible answers to the questions you keep posing?

  49. reader_iam said,

    You can always re-close the gate afterward, you know.

  50. reader_iam said,

    Also, realpc, I’m not “bothered,” I’m recognizing.

    I don’t think I ever said I had insight

    Ah. That. So, you put up the original post and then commented thereafter, often enough on the offense (and always dripping with assumptions), because a) you DON’T have insight and b) you’re open to considering and respecting what diverse insights other people have on offer on account of their differing real-life experiences, over time.

    I don’t think I ever said I had insight

    If you say so, realpc. If you say so.

  51. realpc said,

    I told Ruth I didn’t agree that I should be helping people take care of their mothers, in addition to taking care of my own. Maybe that’s what Ruth does, but she probably doesn’t also have to work. Maybe she is the next Mother Teresa, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to be. We should not have to feel constantly guilty because we don’t devote every minute of our lives to taking care of someone and never taking care of ourselves. Be Mother Teresa if you want, but you don’t have to hate everyone who isn’t. I don’t think Mother Teresa was that much into hating and judging, since she as a Christian.

  52. reader_iam said,

    There you go again.

    I’m no Mother Theresa, never said I was, and never even said I was an admirer of hers (which I’m not, particularly, by the way; in fact, I was an early skeptic). I do not, at all, think that you should have to feel guilty. Nor do I think, at all, that I should accept your making stuff up out of whole cloth w/r/t me. Quit projecting.

  53. reader_iam said,

    One thing I’m very curious about: If “Mercy” is the “story” name assigned to one of the two main characters in this take as told by “realpc,” whose handle (that is, “realpc”) would be the “story” name assigned to the **other** main character in this tale, what other easy cliches and comfy preferred assumptions are being perpetrated?

  54. reader_iam said,

    And what “names” are being assigned to everyone else, each and every one and also in broad brush?

  55. realpc said,

    I would like to answer you reader_jam, if I could figure out what you’re saying. You are distressed because I didn’t use peoples’ real names in the story? You want me to ask Mercy if she wants me to publish her personal info so anyone can find it in Google?

  56. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    I think for one thing, she found the use of the name “Mercy” ironic . . . or loaded.

  57. realpc said,


    I don’t know. I think Mercy is merciful towards her mother. All she thinks about is what her mother feels and needs. I am not sure how I feel about that. I feel that Mercy is an angel, on the one hand, and I’m glad to have such a wonderful friend. On the other hand, I wonder if i should be just like her, and on the other other hand, I feel she is unfair to herself and her own life.

    I am not good with shades of grey and balancing. I could be an all-out caregiver like Mercy, or like you (except as I explained I think she goes to an unreasonable extreme because she is single and needs to work), or I could be like my sister and not care. Either extreme might be easier than what I am doing, which is the balancing act.

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