One of my favorite parts of my job is doing the social media posts for Acme Health Services and our affiliate organizations, one of which is a hospice volunteer group. In that capacity, I spend a lot of time wandering around the web looking for content that might be meaningful to our followers. For the hospice page I search for articles about grief, of course, but also about all aspects of caregiving, cuz presumably the folks who follow us are probably now, or have been in the past, caregivers to a loved one.
As a caregiver myself these last 7 years, I find these articles useful as well. There are a lot of us out there: middle-aged people caring for elderly parents or other family members in some capacity, and there is a lot of good information about staying sane and healthy available on the internet, thankfully. I live in a small town in a relatively sparsely populated area, so it’s a real boon to be able to connect with folks in other places who are going through the same thing I am.
This week I stumbled across the blog of a woman about the same age as me who is living with and caring for her 80-something mother, who has dementia. We are different in that my mother is still pretty sharp. For that I’m grateful. My dad had dementia, and that was a difficult road to travel.
In many other ways, however, we are scarily alike. This blogger has never married, and never had children. She works full-time outside her home. Other than cats, this is essentially her first experience as a live-in, day-to-day, hour-to-hour caregiver for another human being. Same for me – all of it – so the similarities in our current circumstances, and our lives in general, really struck me.
I encounter people all the time who are surprised that I’ve stuck with mom this long, or that I agreed to do this to begin with. Sometimes I’m amazed myself, but here I am, by choice, doing the best I can for mom and trying to take good care of myself along the way, every hour of every day. This has been my life for 7 years, and it will continue to be my life until one of us takes her last breath.
It’s been up and down, for sure, and I’ve struggled mightily at times. It hasn’t always been an uplifting story and it remains to be seen whether it’ll turn out to have a happy ending. Many times I’ve felt that I couldn’t go on, and yet I did, and I will, to the end, whatever and whenever that may be, for no other reason than it is the right thing to do.
This blogger put it this way: What else am I going to do? Yes! Exactly.
What else is there to do in a life that is more meaningful than offering another human being – especially a family member – the love and care every human being deserves when it’s needed? The first 50 years of my life I thought a lot about how I could live a meaningful life. What do I have to offer the world? Do I matter? Why am I here?
Now I know. I don’t think about any of that any more. This is what I have to offer. This is why I am here. As it turns out, a life-long failure at most everything by which society measures people, finally I know I belong here and I’m a success. I matter to my mother, and perhaps my story matters to someone else, as that blogger has validated my experience.
Really, what could I be doing right now that would matter more? What else could I have been doing in the last 7 years that would have transformed me in the way this experience has? I have been forced to become so much more than I was, even so much more than I thought I could be. I still have a long way to go, but I am a much better person than I was when I moved in here. Not only have I become responsible for the care of another human being – which is not something I ever wanted – but I have become responsible for myself in a way I never was before.
This has been a win for both of us. I have benefitted from this experience as least as much as my mother, and our relationship, which was turbulent for most of my life, has been repaired. That’s no small thing. The irony that she and I would be the two left standing in our family and would be required to rely on each other this much at the end is almost too much to be believed given our history, except that it’s exactly the way the universe works, and it’s clear to me now that it was always going to be this way. This was where we’ve been headed all along.
That’s about as close as I’ll come to believing in destiny. Really, it could have gone either way. I could have said “no” at any point, or I could have given into the resentment that rears its ugly head every now and again, especially when I compare my life to that of my friends. I still could – it ain’t over yet. The end could be tomorrow or it could be another 7 years. The future is uncertain.
For now, though, I’m resting in the knowledge that I’ve made it this far. That’s all. I’m grateful for that, and my wish for all of us on this caregiving journey is simply that we can rest easy knowing that we’re right where we need to be, and that we’re doing the best thing we could be doing at this time.