As I enter my third year of caregiving for my parents, I am more convinced than ever that those who are not (yet) caregivers cannot comprehend all that it encompasses, and DLH provides an invaluable forum. Because of being overworked and overwhelmed the first year or so, I wasn’t able to find the time or inspiration to contribute much here… but I DID read a lot of what others posted which helped with the learning process. Slowly, over time, the lessons and insights of others were absorbed and the caregiver do-to list eventually became something that I could deal with, although it is still one day at a time.
That being said, there have been innumerable lessons learned along the way; many of them surprisingly good ones.
My life changed completely and abruptly in the summer of 2009. I left my full-time job, packed up the car and our two rescued golden retrievers and moved over 600 miles to take care of my parents. We bought a tiny old house desperately in need of renovations about a mile from my parents. My husband stayed behind where he continued to work while our house was on the market. It took 10 months for the house to sell (at a loss in this economy, of course) and by then, my husband and I had learned to live without each other. Our first few months back under the same roof were rocky at best, readjusting to each other (with only one bathroom!) and we seriously discussed divorce. In addition to the near-daily crises with my parents (now 84 and 88), and the fact that my husband sacrificed a full-time teaching job to work part-time as an adjunct at two colleges (with no benefits or insurance, of course), the financial and emotional strains of caregiving very nearly did us in.
Caregiving does not allow me the luxury to look for a full-time job, or to accept one even if it were offered. My parents are (at this moment) doing remarkably well. Like most caregivers, I am chauffeur, sometimes cook, grocery-shopper, garbage-taker-outer, mail taker-in’er, floor mopper, accountant, bathroom cleaner, prescription filler, etc. I haven’t worn a suits or heels in 27 months, but I haven’t given them to charity yet, either. Which beings me to the silent struggle that is so difficult for most of us to address: The “What about me?” factor.
With my parents’ needs taken care of, I realized all I needed was 24 more hours in a day to take care of my own needs — and my husband’s — and our two 80-pound dogs. And our house and our future and….
Fast forward about 18 more months and here we are. Still together. Parents doing better than most at their ages. Our 1956 house is slowly coming along. We’ve decided we kind of like the retro-look of the ancient (but well-made) kitchen cabinets and even if we don’t get around to painting them for another year, well, so what?
We are doing everything we can to stay healthy — still no insurance, but we’re far more active now and take our vitamins and maybe I’ve inherited some of my parents’ genes. One of our two beloved dogs died last year but I was with her to the end (something I would never have been able to do with that full-time job) and had the vet come to the house when she told me she was ready to go.
In those hours here and there when the caregiving was caught up, I started playing with clay and rocks again, a lifelong obsession, but one I hadn’t had time for in years. That somehow turned into a business — I sell my jewelry at a monthly art show nearby, and at the local farmers market on Saturdays, weather and parents permitting. No big profits here, but it fills a need for me to have something of my own, to do something I love doing.
We’ve rescued three cats who came to our door in the past four months, successfully domesticating two ferals, and somehow they all manage to get along with my husband, me, and our dog in under 1,000 square feet. If you’d told me in early 2009 that this would be my life in 2011, I would have never believed it.
Caregiving teaches, every single day. If you persevere, you may learn what I did: that you are where you are meant to be; that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans (thanks, John); that for every sacrifice you think you are making, you are receiving important, invaluable gifts; that you can do a great many things you never thought you could, or never even imagined; that you don’t really need as much materially as you thought you did.
On my first date with the man I was to marry many years later, we sat on the floor and listened to Dan Fogelberg’s “Netherlands” and “The Innocent Age” — vinyl on a turntable in those days. We recently did that again, and after 30 years, it’s still absolute magic.