I am a Caregiver

Hello. My name is Susan and I’m a caregiver.
Okay, there it is, I’ve said it. No, I’m not looking for a Purple Heart, skipping a few flights in a 12-step program, or a personal stimulus package from Washington. All I want is freedom for myself and others like me to take the leap out of the proverbial pantry in order to admit, without explanation, why I “don’t seem like my old self” when people call, email or pass me on the street.
Fact is I am my “old self” with one definitive difference – these days, some or all of my time is taken up taking care of my aging mother – and I’m tired of pretending “everything is wonderful” or being pressured to explain every medical or mental malady Mom’s experiencing to justify why I can or can’t or do or don’t want my relationships with everyone else to be “just like they used to be.”           

I simply don’t have the time.

To be fair, I’ll take my share of the blame for feeling like I need to defend myself for being a caregiver. Sometimes I wish I were one of those far and few self-possessed folks who actually don’t give a hoot what anybody else thinks of them, but truth is, I do.

A part of me would love to return to the star-dusted days when I was the only person I had to tend to. Lord knows I could and did party all night, wallow in the bathtub until the water withered my toes, lose entire weekends at the mall, “do lunch,” or anything else running through my mind that I felt like chasing. But the last time I came across my gold-leafed leather-bound Day Timer that once kept me cracking right on time for manicures, movies and “me” time, it was zippered closed with cobwebs.

It’s as simple as Mom getting older and things changing.

It wasn’t overnight. First it was help driving her to the hairdresser and church. Then her living alone left too many “ifs” for her not to move in with me. After that, it was a matter of a few winters and summers rolling by until she needed me more and more and more.

Now, this side of a nursing home, Mom literally could not live without me.

Strangely, the hardest part of actually tending to her isn’t what I ever would have imagined. Rather, it’s the raw assumptions of people I know who either: (a) think I’m a saint for what I’m doing; or (b) keep encouraging me to send her away to “get on with my life.” What they don’t understand is that it’s them, not we caregivers, who are missing some of the most amazing things about this Earthly life.

If Mom knocks at the Pearly Gates before me, I will be the first one smiling, knowing I had the chance to know my mother like she knew me as an infant, helplessly needy and lovingly mine. I will be the one who realizes it doesn’t really matter if it’s Tuesday or Saturday or if the light is the sun or moon shining through the shutters. I will be the one who knows that love is just as potent and important in the end  as it is in the beginning. For those and a million reasons more, I am and will forever be proud to be a caregiver. There, I’ve said it again. But there’s nothing quite like the freedom of telling the world who you are, no excuses necessary.

Oh, and if Washington happens to start handing out personal stimulus packages to Disney World – airfare and hotel included – email me.

Mom and I might want to go.