Progress is slow here on the hill as we segue from two weeks of shingles to knee replacement surgery. I say we because he is the patient and I’m the caregiver, but we’re each having our own distinct experience with the physical and mental challenges of being sedentary at home and alert to biological threats. I had a dream last night about bears crawling in the window. A couple days ago when his pain was peaking, he yelled at the dog in a tone I’ve not heard before. So, we’re handling it, but we may be a bit frayed around the edges. Now shingles has subsided, and his surgery is Tuesday. Time is sliding out to sea. I know we have to just let it go and watch the clouds roll by, find comfort in ourselves and our good fortune to have loving care at home. That’s our promise. I will care for you.
I measure myself against the calendar, as though the mere passage of time is an obligation to accomplish something. This is how the mind works in the cult of ambition. I judge myself against the full range of opportunities for achievement and give myself demerits for everything I’ve not done. Clocks govern me with invisible authority. This is the tyranny of time. I’m a slave to my ego. But the way to wellness is to give our precious time to others.
If you succumbed to sickness, you would want to wake up and find me smiling over your bed. I know the basics. I’m not squeamish. I’ll tend your wound and change your bandage, make chicken soup, and ginger tea, and wash your sweaty sheets. I will walk with you, keep a notebook on your medications and set an alarm to make sure you get your pills on time. And if you need an advocate to intercede with the doctor or the hospital, I’ll fight for you. Then if things don’t go well and you’re on your deathbed, we can talk about it. I’ve been a death doula. I’m not afraid. I will care for you.
Caregiving is the most basic form of love, but it’s exhausting. Often caregivers deplete themselves and need recovery time away from caregiving. It’s happened to me in the past and I expect it will again. When I chose to cohabitate with this man, I knew I was accepting the role of being his caregiver. And it gave me pause. I did have anxiety about what I was setting myself up for by getting into a relationship with a guy in his mid 60s. But I don’t see any way around it. This is the exchange. Caregiving is the commitment we make to each other when we integrate ourselves with another person, at any age. Love is expensive. Choose wisely.
Like surgeons and airplane pilots, caregivers must care for themselves to be strong and steady, clear, and focused. Care is consuming. I go into the garden and watch the plants sleep to absorb their energy. As they renew themselves beneath the surface, I renew myself. This is the season of rest. Use it to your advantage. Rest. It’s supposed to be like this. Winter is for becoming. Stop looking at the calendar and slow dance with your circadian rhythm. Give yourself time. I will care for you.
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Advisory from Family Caregiver Alliance in cooperation with California’s Caregiver Resource Center