Recently both of my parents experienced some significant health issues at the same time. This threw me abruptly into the role of caretaker. I’m happy to report that both of them are doing much better, but the weeks I spent in this role have given me new understanding and respect for those who perform this role for months and even years for a spouse, parent or child of their own.
Caretaking is a strange mix of the mundane and the intense. Time both drags on and flies by.
When so much is out of your control, you become obsessive about what you can control. Counting the bites of food eaten, observing the routine of medication, compulsively cleaning can all serve as touchstones throughout the day, talismans you obsessively rub in order to improve the outcome for the person who is suffering.
Planning is useless, but it doesn’t seem to keep one from trying. You may have a doctor appointment next week or a dinner date on Saturday evening or the strong desire to take a shower at some point today, but all plans are subject to change at any time. Strike that. Not just subject to change — likely to change.
Caretaking engenders a level of intimacy you haven’t had with your parents since you were a child. But now it’s you doing the bathing, bandaging the wounds, providing comfort and guidance. It’s bittersweet for both generations.
As much as there are difficult days and moments, the slowing of time allows for many revealing and poignant conversations. More truth is told. The meals you cook and laundry you fold become less a chore and more an act of devotion.
I watched my mother do many of these things for her parents. Any grace I exhibit in this time was learned from her. Not just the grace but also the fortitude to perform nursing tasks, to keep your chin up in the face of bad news and to put another’s needs ahead of your own for as long as it takes.
My journey has not been as long or as grueling as many face. I don’t have children, which means I haven’t been sandwiched between the needs of two generations. But I now understand the exhausted and preoccupied air that surrounds a caretaker; their inability to completely shut down or to completely engage in the outside world makes perfect sense.
For all of you walking that road, and for all the people you love who are so very sick, my best wishes and prayers are with you. May you find others to walk beside you and share the burden when they can.