When we are born we come with nothing and we go with nothing. In between we try to make a contribution to our family, community and the world around us.
The transition to becoming a caregiver is difficult, the biggest challenge is going from having lots of time for yourself and an ability to make plans, to having no time. Much like a mother I guess. I was given a ringside seat into old age and death. Watching the decline, you are forced to confront the mortality of your loved one as well as your own.
High dependency needs mean that no matter how much you love the one you are caring for you get very tired. The forced isolation can be lonely for a lot of people. My experience wasn’t so much the loneliness but more the loss of “me” time. Early in the caregiving role when I was able to go out for a couple of hours I would joke with my friends that my visa was up and I had to get home before my visa was cancelled.
Once a month I would have a sibling sit with my mother and I would go to a coffee shop for a bucket of tea and read the newspaper without any interruptions. That was my ‘me’ time. Occasionally I would also meet up with a friend in the same caregiving role for a coffee. Sharing experience and having someone listen was a luxury. Not that caregiving was a chore, actually it is a gateway to learning about yourself and life.
People prepare for life events like holidays, weddings and birthdays but not many people prepare for death. Perhaps it is because of a mistaken mindset that death happens when you are old.
When the person passes away it is also difficult to make the transition back to “normal life” as you swing from having no time to having plenty of time. My mother loved seafood and mangoes. The memories were always close at hand and I can remember going to the supermarket and not being able to pass the seafood section without a big gulp in my throat. Or when it became mango season time not being able to look at the mangoes because my mother loved it so much, the memory was raw and painful, as if it was the mangoes’ fault that she was gone.
What I learned was:
- Tiredness makes you grumpy and sometimes impatient.
- Your loved one loves you and appreciates what you do for them, even though they don’t tell you.
- Your grieving starts when you take on the caregiving role.
- Caregiving masquerades as an opportunity to repay the kindness of your mother, father or any person who has loved you. It also gives you some solid experience in managing change in your loved one as well as yourself.
- Everything is impermanent.
My Teacher told me to use the obstacles in life to create something positive then it no longer is an obstacle.