Saturday, April 26, 2014

How Tyler Perry's "Madea" Made Me A Better Caregiver

This is probably going to be one of the most unconventional, unexpected and insane blog posts I've ever written but, stay with me on this and, maybe you will learn a few things while I stumble on explaining the who, the what and the why. Early last year, after taking a detour by a pre-mid life crisis, finally falling to my knees from weariness, using respite care for the first time in six years, and placing a purple streak in my hair all in hopes to find and remember what/who my identity was; I came home to still find that there was just something missing within me. I couldn't say I was going crazy because I didn't have that far to go to be honest and, I couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was. My smiles were plastered on when needed and right on que, laughter was used as a defensive mechanism, and sometimes the tears would well up because I just couldn't let them fall. More than likely, most of us military caregivers of our wounded can relate just the same as any other caregiver to non-military family members. We didn't have time to enjoy the moments, there was always a huge monkey hanging on to our backs to prevent us from standing just a little taller, or hell, laughing. We are either not allowed to cry when needed or we, in a fight for our lives, suddenly use the well known term of "A good defense is a good offense". We all have one hell of a poker face and if I have taught you all nothing more from my writing, at least walk away with the advice to never ever show all your cards or let anyone know your bluff. We guard our emotions, we sometimes don't feel hope, we wall up brick by brick, our feelings so much that we, much like our Veterans that we care for, suddenly become numb to all.

One afternoon, while I listened to my husband snoring in his chair and the kids were playing, I flipped through thoughtlessly through my cable television. There wasn't anything on but, a movie called Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman. So I left it on while just taking a moment to breathe. I was immediately hooked. The story was full of drama, hardships, pain and heartache, marriage and issues, the importance of family, laughter, anger, revenge, religion, healing, layman's words of wisdom that anyone can relate to and in this movie, I became acquainted with "Madea". Known in character, Tyler Perry plays Mabel "Madea" Simmons. This is a character who is the primary caregiver to her brother "Uncle Joe" (who is also played by Tyler Perry), and to many others who come knocking on the door but, not encouraged to stay too long. Madea is the crazy, incorrigible, laughable family member who everyone could probably relate to in some form or fashion. Speaking her mind and saying what it is, her character is prone to revenge, getting what is right, saying what needs to be said, probably a little violent but, one that every child, every adult that knows her, gets the respect she deserves and what she dishes out, is respect for everyone. Although well known with the police over her lifetime, her ability to put a glock into any purse, and her "angrer" issues, she is a character that will stand up, fight or beat the hell out of you but still get you to the hospital for treatment. In her own way, she is one that will remind you of not taking crap off of anyone and while she may be beating the hell out of you, she has this nuturing, motherly side to her that you have to fully appreciate.  All in one sassy, 6'5 towering, heavy-set, gun toting, 68 year old, in a beloved 1978 Cadillac, package of utter surprise with her no non-sense approach to stupidity, disrespectful youth, rudeness and laziness. With her incorrect grammar, her usage of "t" in most words, mispronunciations, misrepresentations and just the way she doesn't care what she says as long as she says it....well, hit that hardened spot in myself.

Watching that one particular movie, with Tyler Perry playing multiple roles, I found myself laughing.... uncontrollably...pure and joyous laughter. The kind that we had before war changed it, took some of it away, or where there were days where there were none. I was moved with tears at the simple reminders that family sticks together, family drama that we all can relate to and reminders of believing in your religion. I struggle with that one because I didn't grow up with one label of religion attached to my forehead. My parents backgrounds were of a Heinz 57 mix and while an Army Brat, we were raised where all came in under one non-denominational church with an Army Chaplain. Since coming home, my husband lost his way to church mostly with the belief and anger at God for just leaving him in war. It's a common sentiment you will hear from many Veterans. While God was there, his injuries and guilt of those he had no choice or no way to save, have eaten up his beliefs that were instilled in to him since birth. With his shut out, our entire family waited in the wings all waiting for the all clear signal only for it to never come. So with this particular movie, I could relate to so much and it was like having a friend who said all the things I never did or could wanted to. A mother who smacked you and asked you what the hell were you thinking? Here is a classic example of when you are faced with someone or even your Veteran stating "you're just a caregiver" . Ohhhhhhh, how many times I have heard the word "divorce" in our seven years post injury, or even "it's all mine". Having that reminder you aren't a door mat and you deserve respect changed my way of thinking. Tyler Perry provided me with someone who taught me how to cry again and to be angry. Who ever told us these weren't allowed?

I was immediately drawn to every single movie out there and there are so many with the beloved Madea in them and we have watched them over and over again. Family Reunion , who showed me respect and relationship renewals, the play Madea Gets a Job with Madea's words of "at some point you just gotta let it go and give it up", and a part of Family Reunion where no child should ever disrespect you and "that it didn't matter what people said about you, it's what you answer to." Wise words that all can learn from. Madea goes to Jail had me laughing because not only could I relate to having "non-angrer" issues, but my own husband laughed so hard at this! Her battle of of being court ordered to Anger Management with Dr. Phil had my husband sincerely holding his stomach especially since he is well known for "being too angry for anger management and a flunker". I've got three boys; rough, rowdy and sometimes needs to be reminded who is the boss in the household. With Madea and her ways of being a disciplinarian, had reminded me that yeah, I do have control and they will not disrespect me or anyone else. It's hard to be the mediator, the peacemaker and a single parent most times, especially when your husband is sometimes worse than the kids! Witness Protection we adored, because there were so many funnies but at the same time, about family and getting that family through tough times as well as recognizing there were issues that needed to be fixed. Every time we hear "taste the rainbow" mentioned from Tyler Perry, the first thing my husband and I do is throw our hands up and holler YEAH! There are other movies such as One Big Happy Family and plays like Madea's Neighbors From Hell and A Madea Christmas. All of them wonderfully written, with the beautiful talent of so many actors and actresses that we see and know but, just don't remember. All of Tyler Perry's work is done with so much power, faith, love and laughter that you just can't help but fall in love. All the highlighted words are clips of some of my favorite parts of Madea.


So how did finding "Madea" help me become a better caregiver you ask? Because with Tyler Perry, I found out that you know what? I do have some say in my life and it's not all about everyone else. I learned to laugh again. Not the fake, just go along and get it over with laughter but, the hold your sides and hope you can wipe the tears away, laughter. I found my ability to cry and that it's ok to cry because it was a way to cleanse your soul and mind. There was no point in my hiding my tears; I honestly couldn't tell you how I even started or why I hid them. I learned that I am not the only one who has no tolerance for stupidity which was refreshing. I was able to poke fun along with my husband about our lives as a Caregiver and the person being cared for. I learned how to control my children with some simple rules, you either behave and respect or you're going to taste the rainbow. Simple as that and amazingly, just by adopting Madea as my role household improved by 40%! Just those simple words, even being used in a funny way, led me to create my motto of "Move Forward and Let It Go" which I used to pull my wagons back around in the circle they belonged and get my family back together. Simple, efficient and easily adaptable. When things get rough or I get down, I simply pop in a movie with my favorite "getting even, glock toting" grandma and have a smile. I found that by having silly or funny things in my life to look to gave me just a spare moment of my true self. Not the "Caregiver", Not "Mother", not any other title but just all mine because it meant something just to me and me alone. By releasing that anger, by reminding myself that I was still a person and had feelings, and by laughing as hard as I can...well, it just made me a better person and caregiver. In doing that, I was able to pass some of Tyler Perry's wisdom from his books or movies on to other caregivers and to other Veterans that I am around and they've adopted Mr. Perry and now seems to be a constant topic of discussion. I not only found that Madea was my invisible shoulder to lean on but, I placed others like Betty White when I needed a little humor or Sandra Bullock especially in the movie The Proposal.  I like Melissa McCarthy in several movies especially when I feel a little angry and need the vision of throat punching in my head. It is not uncommon for me to suddenly burst out singing or dancing for apparently no reason. My husband claims I've done lost my mind (short trip trust me), and my kids think that it's a form of Turrets syndrome that I am suffering from. I would like to state for the readers, I haven't lost anything but just improved my sense of humor, embraced the suck and did it with grace and sarcasm, and learned to move on. Can't go forward if you're always in reverse. So while I may not have great potentials in teaching you anything about being a Caregiver, I think finding and remembering who you are and keeping it, that is important. Too many titles, weigh us down and our own identities can vanish under all that. We lose sight of ourselves when others demand too much of us or expect us to be everything at every moment when asked. I think with mistakes being made, it allows to grow and improve ourselves but, maintaining a good healthy sense of humor has made me more tolerant, have the ability to turn some bad things around and have enough sass to say to my husband "when you can respect me and want to talk, then I'll listen. Other than that? Hell to the no!"  

 Having those Hollywood stars, even though they are just playing a character, we can all relate to because they have to have a real personality to pull some of these off. While Tyler Perry may be in a woman's dress, somewhere deep down is just him and the things he learned in life and passing it on in a humorous way. Betty White with her fun, spunky 90+ years is someone I hope that I can only hold on to my sense of humor to that age. While I do not plan on throat punching anyone, Melissa McCarthy's movies allows me to feel that anger and release in a way that's healthy; not stocking it up as in an arsenal to blow when the pile accidentally gets lit by something pretty stupid. Having a music list of songs that I love when I need to be happy or even angry, has helped. Any of these or a combination of all, gave me my strength back to keep going. And for all that, I am thankful that I just accidentally landed on Tyler Perry on cable one wet and cold Saturday afternoon. For my therapist, I respect you and you've been helpful but once upon a time, you told me that my sense of humor was a self defense mechanism and that only. I argue with that Sir, even though you have all those fancy degrees behind still haven't got a clue because what you learned was in a book. I've always had a good sense of humor and growing up with nine brothers and sisters? My parents didn't have a lot but, what they did have was laughter, love and music. My laughter, my family's laughter and the sense of humor that we all have....was a way to cope and to ensure that we could get through it. If you can make it through ground zero of your wounded warrior coming home and still have a sense of humor? You beat it.

So Mr. Perry, if you ever read this, please know that I applaud your efforts in maintaining so many roles, your art in not just writing but, producing and the fact that you tie it all in to something all of us can relate to. I once saw an interview that you stated you wouldn't mind if Madea died. I can see your points on all of it because that character is not the basis of your movies but, simply a building block. However, to some of us, she is more of a block than you think and to me, she's my rock when I need someone the most and no where to turn. I used to do plays and can only imagine how hot, pain in the rear that outfit is to put on, but am thankful to God for you to keep doing what you do. For all the times my husband threw up his hands when you said your's priceless. To hear him say, "that's gonna be you and me mommy and you are gonna say I'd love to just stick a fork in the back of your head some days!" is our joke.  I am forever thankful in all that you do and while you do make sure that Single Moms are appreciated, please think of us Caregivers as well because some of us do relate and do just as many roles, including single parenting. I don't know if I will ever meet you one day but, that is my goal. I recently watched your new Neighbors From Hell and laughed when you remembered from several years back, a returning Caucasian female fan in the crowd wearing a shirt that said "Yes I'm White and Love Tyler Perry". Well Sir, I am white and not only love what you do but, sincerely respect your points and reflection on life itself. I have been to the White House and they actually let me in! (hey, you have to know me) I met the First Lady, Vice President's wife and former First Lady Carter and while it was an honor indeed, the whole time all I could think about is what would I do if I met you and what the heck would Madea do in this big ol' fancy house. I had to stop myself from saying "Hellur". In the end? Just know this....... when the days are long, the nights harder and sometimes I think my prayers go unanswered because the ghosts of war come calling in our bed once more through nightmares.........

I can smile and think "taaaaste the rainbooow" while pulling my imaginary glock out of my purse in my head,