caretaker as a registered nurse. Imagine my surprise when by default I became my mother’s caretaker.
This new role is taking me through a storm, tossing, turning, plunged under, disoriented, frustrated, angry, lonely and the list goes on. You’d think with my background of nursing this would be a ” no brainer”, however, this is not the case. In professional nursing you develop a helping, nourishing and caring relationship that by necessity, you develop a type of detachment just to survive emotionally and psychologically.
What I have found thus far in “care taking” that I have been working my way unknowingly through drastic change, mourning of my future, and the loss of self. Let me tell you, this makes you mad! The thing is, your torn between being “true to yourself” vs. “doing the right and noble thing”.
I just started reading this book, “The unexpected journey of caring” by Donna Thomson and Zachary White. Just in the first few pages I see my sorry self. Nobody seeks or prepares to be a caregiver with the exception of healthcare professionals, but what I am referring to here is on an intimate and personal level which makes professional caring a barrier. Within the private walls of caregiving, there are conversations and discussion that are very emotional that point to my own fears and guilt, as well as my failures. Let me give you an example: when I brought my mother into my husband’s and my home, I was confident that “I had this”! Well, it soon became apparent that this “caregiving” would require more investment than simply providing nursing care. My mother would keep saying, “I never thought I would end up like this” and ” I just need some care”. My mom’s interpretation of “care” was totally different to what I was thinking, my many years of nursing was a barrier because I was thinking that as long as I was providing excellent nursing care, she would feel “cared for”. Well, I was missing the mark, because what she meant by “care” was the humanistic and intimate part of “caring”. She was looking for physical closeness, hugs, time spent reminiscing by going through the many scrapbooks she had dedicated her life to.
In these scrapbooks, are her loves, her times that she lived through, her childhood, her values, her treasured friends amongst news items and history notes. When we do sit down and do this for the 20th time, you see her tired opaque eyes light up and a new energy is exuded from her deeply fatigued 94 year old body. These are times that “caregiving” are a treasure and you both feel good and move closer to intimacy.
I wish I could be more of what my mom visualizes, as I still have a strong desire to learn new things, I’m still not free of the need and desire to excel and learn new skills, new knowledge or work to achieve a new level of me. I find it difficult to harness all my energies toward “caregiving”. Being newly retired, I never thought this is what my retirement would look like. I pictured travel, learning new hobbies, getting more practice with my photography, having a new freedom. Instead, I am forced to be strong, resilient, the very opposite of selfish which are very difficult when you are in the throws of exhaustion and indecision. I feel caged like when you see a Bengal tiger crammed into a iron cage, trying to get out, thrashing at people going by, to hope for some attention and release from this cage.
Another challenge in this process of becoming a “caregiver” is that what is good and working well one day, does not work well the next. This causes much frustration and confusion. It is like dealing with a child again except this one is your mother and she has a whole life of living and experiences that a child does not. In the book I am reading as noted above there is a sentence that really hit home for me, “We anticipate and talk about all kinds of relationships – romantic, friendship, parent-child, spousal -but caregiving seems to come to us unexpectedly, leaving us perpetually off balance.” It is uncomfortable and restrictive, how I battle against this.
I wonder if this will “break” me as I know myself and my place in this world. I wonder as well, is this the noble thing to do? Who is it noble for? What will it cost me in terms of health, joy, or future dreams. You can’t really dream about the future because every day can be different and more demanding. Getting away is a process these days, between Covid, limited long term beds for respite care, having to pay out of pocket for more and more services or needs. These strains become part of everyday living, it’s stressful and so tiring. There are many days my only get away is a walk, even though my feet hurt and I am tired: instead of walking I would just as well lay down and have a nap. It looks like this is not for me, I need to be there for my mom for when I put myself in her tired and frail body, I just want to cry, this is not what either of us expected.