Tue 10 Jun 2014
So many caregiver conversations I have begin with, “I love my [Mom] [Dad], but…” Caregiving is a constant dance between responsibility, exhaustion, love, frustration, compassion. Unless you’re one of those lucky individuals not carefully raised with a guilt complex, guilt always comes snipping at your heels. Wanting it to be over, dreading that it will end, knowing there is no happy ending, wanting to salvage something out of this life for yourself, wanting to do the best you can, give all you can, for the one you love…
The Caregiver Action Network estimates there are 65 million family caregivers in the U.S. If you’ve got some money, you can hire people to pick up the slack. I’d wager that most of the people doing this job do not have that kind of money. Most of us have to suck it up and do the hard day to day stuff ourselves.
I sometimes see people like Amy Grant or Katie Couric get on national TV to pat themselves on the back for hiring people to take good care of their aging parents—and la did da! la di da! what a meaningful and enriching lesson we’re learning from all this. I have to admit, it kind of…fills me with rage, frankly. They have no idea what it’s like for the majority of us, the lack of resources available. There’s not a lot of meaningful enrichment going on for those of us slogging along.
But that rage? It doesn’t do any good. It makes the job of taking care of a loved one more exhausting. Part of the learning process of doing this work is knowing when to cut your losses. You have to let go of things that deplete your energy because you need to put that energy in the right place—which is taking care of a frail human being (or two, or more) who depend on you. You have to save your energy for the physical chores, for the emotional support they need, for those tiptoe movements of life in your own self.
This is what life is. Hard choices, irreconcilable desires. Most of my life I stepped along a privileged path without being confronted by these dilemmas. Oh, I had problems, bad things had happened to me. But I failed to recognize that sometimes life is a St. Vitus’ dance: you have no choice about the movement, you just have to keep going until…things end.
It’s the dance invisible, the dance towards and away from death. But also of life, in all its hidden twists and turns, its crazy syncopations, its unknown music which takes you unaware.
I dance the dance invisible. I am not alone. It just feels that way sometimes.