I’ve decided to spare us all yet another unsolicited spectacle of introspection about whether to write another column about caregiving and just do it; particularly in view of the fact that you did it — again.
This is an e-mail I received last August after I’d gone on about we “caregiver-types” tend, out of necessity, to make it up as we go along, but this has a different twist. Listen:
“I was caregiver for my mom for 10 years. She died Feb. 8 of an upper GI bleed. She made the choice to have medical intervention withheld after ten years of dealing with lengthy health problems including an amputation. This did not come as a surprise to my sister and myself, as our baby brother had died Jan. 9 of complications of an amputation.
“I have been caregiver for my husband for 27 years and he died July 1 unexpectedly in his sleep. Believe me, when caregiving is done, you wonder what now? I don’t know what my purpose is in life. I have no focus and no reason to put one foot in front of the other. I am trying really hard to not be a drag on my kids none of whom live here.
“I continually second-guess myself with ‘what did I miss?’ and ‘what could I have done differently?’ and reliving every time I was ‘short’ with my people and wishing I had another chance. But, there are no ‘do-overs’ and when your care-giving days are over the going is really rough. Be prepared for that, too.”
Wow. That brought me up short.
I talk — A LOT of us talk — A LOT about “getting through” this “caregiver thing” — survival techniques, self-care, tricks-of-the-trade, support respite, resources and blah blah, but when it’s over, what then?
You’ve focused your life, more or less, to one degree or another, on taking care of someone, and that focuses your life! It changes what you do, when you do it, how you do it or IF you do it at all! It often becomes not just the Most Important Thing — it becomes the Only Thing.
And you — your life — becomes a … hobby; something you do on the side, as time and energy permit. A sideline. An…annoyance. A trivial pursuit, given the weight of everything else, so we settle for survival.
Because we have no choice.
Then, gone. Everything I’ve focused on, everything I’ve done, everything I’ve thought about and worried about — gone. The person whom I had to become — gone. Now what?
I should celebrate, right? OK, maybe “celebrate” is an unfortunate term because, sure, there’s loss and there’s grief — someone I loved is gone. That hurts.
But that will pass — more or less.
So, I should be relieved! I have my life back! First, I’m going to sleep, then eat — then, sleep some more; THEN, I’m going to go to a movie and have friends over. Wait: I’ll have to get rid of all this stuff — maybe I’ll rearrange the house first. Or maybe I’ll just sit still and read about a dozen books and eat popcorn and sleep-in and learn to play the flute!
Maybe you will!
Maybe you won’t.
Maybe you’ll go over and over every “caregiving thing” you did. And how you did it. And how you should have done it. Or wish you hadn’t done it.
Or hadn’t said it.
Maybe you’ll go over it and over it and over it, because that’s what (and who) you’ve become: A Caregiver.
And Caregivers don’t sleep-in. Oops.
Some of us just have a genuine knack for doing this stuff – It’s a gift! – An innate ability for caregiving, nurtured by experience and knowledge – And love. So, we go find another person to care for, or we make it into a business or a “paying” job, and we bless the folks and the families we find; but a lot of us just got “drafted” into the business – Out of necessity or desperation.
And we learned how to do what had to be done – How to be who we had to be – Near as we could tell, but now…I’m FREE! Yeah, you are.
I can do anything I want! Yeah, you can.
I can have my life back! Yup, here ya go.
Now, read about a dozen books and eat popcorn and wait. And check the mirror, periodically.
Because you’ll know when you see someone you recognize.
Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at email@example.com or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information &Assistance.