After almost four years of trying to figure out life alongside of caregiving, I’m suddenly thrust into life without it. Like a car careening to a screeching halt, the abruptness and impact is still revealing itself. I’m picking up the pieces… again… and no sooner had I started to make sense of the ones I was holding do I find myself holding new ones, wholly foreign and equally frustrating. Just as my caregiver life began to click, things changed and my ever quest for stability has shaped-shifted once again.
Last year, around October, I started to really feel like I was gaining a grasp on things.. The years of trial and error eventually led to some clarity around how to be a full-time caregiver. Actually, for the first time in my caregiving journey I felt like I was more than just a caregiver. I had returned to having my own identity with a vision of myself as a maker. I started to identify as an artist and a baker. A maker of things that reflected my journey with time, because more than anything, I had learned how to stand still. I was embracing what I’ve come to think of as the “slow-life” movement.
The monotony of caregiving and its day-in, day-out inertia was a vacuum. It consumed my time and energy and gave me very little in return. The overwhelming feeling of sacrificing my desires for the care of my parents left me bitter, angry that these were my life’s cards. I spent years with that anger, mostly unresolved, because emotionally I was conflicted by love. Love for my parents, love for my partner, and love for the person I was becoming prior to this whole mess starting. Caregiving pit all these loves against each other, forcing me to prioritize them, as if one might have somehow held more importance over the others. I was paralyzed in making pivotal life choices and in that paralysis my frustration grew into rage. My anger seethed and with no place to channel how I was feeling I recoiled into my mind, mentally scheming a way out of this mess. I became a cruncher, a term I’ve identified for how my mind became calculatory. Crunching was the puzzle work of solving my problems and I crunched constantly. I crunched numbers, schedules, and systems, addicted to finding solutions. I crunched in my sleep merely awaiting daylight, so I could just get back to the drawing board to resolve my mess. And I couldn’t settle for just surviving the time. I wanted to enjoy my time and rid myself of the toxicity that was consuming my emotional and mental health.
Long story short, around October of 2018 I started to formulate a plan. All the crunching had paid-off and for the first time in my caregiving journey I had ideas for how I was going to move forward in my own life with happiness. I was ready for caregiving to be a piece of my life, rather than my whole life and I was ready to do that by injecting my interests into the inertia of the job. 2019 Couldn’t come soon enough! I was so ready for a fresh start, so excited to work on this website because this platform was going to encapsulate my new beginning. If caregiving meant a life of isolation then my website would become my vehicle for connection. I realized that if I couldn’t go out and greet the world in the way I craved, maybe I could convince a piece of the online one to come to me. I was ready to do that through food and craft, creating opportunities for interactions. I would post recipes (which are a dime a dozen) but more so I would create reasons for individuals to “visit” me. I prematurely launched the Full Moon Baking Club and Winter Squash Bingo because I was excited. I anticipated them being the cornerstones of 2019 but thrust them into the world early because I was tired of waiting. I had waited nearly four years at this point to feel a sense of myself in my days and finally a sliver of that girl was showing. I didn’t need a specific date or a launch party to validate my readiness. I was ready to hatch, armed with all things related to food, carving, and caregiving that might convince someone to interact with my world.
But then came the abrupt shift, hardly a month into my new found plan. My dad fell on December 14th. I remember it was a Friday. He was gone five days later… His passing was met by the cusp of winter, the government shutdown, and the end-of-year holidays that consume everything that time of year. It was not the most wonderful time of year. Quite the opposite really. And yet 2019 rolled-in, once highly anticipated and now, suddenly an afterthought. There was no fresh start. Instead, 2019 greeted me with a sour taste in my mouth. The bitterness I chocked down from my years before had been replaced by something acrid. The final decree, hamstringing my heart, again to this role of caregiver and stealing my identity once more…
It’s not fair. That’s really all I have to say for myself. It’s just not fair. And never-the-less, it just is what it is… I know people hate that expression but I’m not sure how else make sense of the enormity of grief that encompasses the last four years other than to surrendering to time. I lost my mom, my dad, and my dog. I lost my job, my apartment, and my community… I don’t think the vacuum of caregiving is well understood, which in and of itself is a tragedy. The loss of lives is compounded by the loss of livelihood. Grief alone is heavy but without a social and economical construct to pad the edges, it can push your life to the fringe. The vacuum swallows everything, eroding just about every facet of connection and commonality into something even more incongruous. I am the last person you want at your dinner party. I’m am every bit the definition of your Debbi Downer… Everyone died, I’m unemployed, and too much alcohol will probably bring me to tears... But where I lack in dinner parties, I thrive in pity parties! Other people’s problems serve as respite from my own and I find myself happy to listen to the struggles of others. Not because misery loves company but because pain deserves a voice and after four years of sitting on the sidelines I have found that emotional trauma is dangerous when left unchecked. Luckily my outlets were baking and carving and they will continue to be healthy escapes from a world riddled with malfeasance.
I keep waiting for my course correction. Caregiving has “ended” and I find myself anxious to move on. But Joseph Campbell’s theme of the hero’s journey whispers softly to me that this is hardly an ending. It’s entry into the “abyss”. According to his narrative, I’m only halfway through my caregiving journey because it took four years to get here and it might take four more to recover. The mere thought of this exhausts me but it also gives me comfort. Time has been my one trusted companion thus far so we kinda know the drill. As I mentioned before, I have learned the lessons of staying still. As the clock ticks on with a strange new nothingness, I have mastered the art of waiting cause my life feels perpetually on hold. Something will come… Some job will rescue me from my newly inherited mortgage and other financial burdens but it appears that white knights liberate without time restraints so all I can do is wait. And carve… and bake… and be. Cause life after caregiving isn’t an ending. It’s a blind spot and my only choice is to turn to the sun.