November is National Caregivers Month. I know, sounds like a dry blog topic. I’ll see if I can spice it up. But really, did you know that two out of five American adults are family caregivers? That’s 90 million! Hell no, we aren’t alone. And that’s up 30% from five years ago. I don’t know why it’s up, I didn’t research that; I assume because medical science is keeping people alive and we have forgotten how to let go. Or maybe a product of the recession wiping out retirement accounts, which is grim. Or maybe caregivers are coming out of the closet, and we should be out and proud. Also, we are saving the government a whole lot of money, since they neither have to pay for elder care nor pay us social security if we had to stop working to caregive. (And that needs to change.) Enough with the statistics.
Not all of those loved ones are cared for at home; but, okay, one more statistic: 90% of adults over age 65 would prefer to age at home. I would like to see how many over age 80 report that; I think we might change our minds. But my mother preferred it. At least, when pressed at 96, she said she did; when, perhaps, it felt too late to make a change. Somewhere between 70 and 90 I think there might be a sweet spot. And if you don’t want children to have to care for you—or if they aren’t able to, or you don’t have any—you better jump when it feels right. If you can afford it. (Or maybe it’s all we family caregivers will be able to afford, if Medicaid is still available. They’ll pay us later because they aren’t paying us now. Can you say catch-22?)
This is not what I thought I would be doing in what I consider the prime of my life. But here I am. And really, I’m not sure what I did think I would be doing; the time when I thought I knew was altered decades ago. I am lucky. Although my mother could not be here without me, she doesn’t require my constant presence. And she has the resources (for now) to hire someone to help her do a few activities. I am grateful for hired caregivers, and that my parents’ planning is making it possible.
The emotional stress, however, has been well-documented in this blog. And her mental capabilities are diminishing, meaning my life will change along with hers. We both take life week by week.
But here’s the thing: I do a good job of taking care of myself, and I ache for caregivers who aren’t able to make some of the choices I can, due to a lack of caregiver alternatives and/or money to pay for them. I worry about those who have resources, but feel like they are obligated to do it all, and let self-care fall by the wayside. I’m sure my mother would rather I did it all (and she has implied that, if not out and out said, so); but that was not my offer when I came and I have stuck to it. My life isn’t completely what I would choose, and neither is hers. Whose is?
One of the things I’m doing for myself is a third (since I’ve been here) writing retreat. That’s one a year! I was, to my great surprise, accepted into a Master Class at Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island beginning in just over a week. (Check out the video on their website.) I will be ensconced in a private cottage with sleeping loft and wood stove and will be fed, in all ways. These get-aways, along with camping each summer, are thanks to my far-away sister coming to be DOD. I have also had the great joy of time with the amazing Elliot, my 20-month-old grandson. That is thanks to my in-town sister. (See? I’m very lucky. I don’t know how caregivers without willing siblings manage.) I’ve also explored this great place to live in day trips to mountains and sea.
Writing this blog that is read by all of you has been life-giving. I am not alone, and neither are you. Someday I hope there will be a book about my experience of spending these years with my mother in my childhood home.
May blessings be heaped upon all of you who have, are, or will care for a loved one at some point in your life. It’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. But for those of us who do it, it is a gift. It is not tied up with a perfect bow, sometimes the wrapping is tattered; and sometimes we would be more than happy to re-gift it. Sometimes it is a lump of coal. To all of you who read this blog: Thank you for being in it with me. And let’s celebrate us every month!
Two things for you for National Caregivers Month.
- I read this in a novel, of all places, this week. I plan to employ it.
Close your eyes. Draw a circle in the sand. Inside the circle are clear air, sunlight, birds singing. Nothing bad can enter the circle, not one bad memory, not one fear for the future, not one regret, not one perceived shortcoming.
Now, step into the circle, really picture yourself doing it. One leg, the other leg. And once you’re in the center, simply be. Root yourself. Let the peace soak into you, all the way into the marrow of your bones. Soak and soak and soak.
— The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos
2. There are a lot of memoirs out there about the many ways those 90,000,000 Americans are caring for loved ones at end-of-life. I have compiled a list of those I have read in these three years. Perhaps you will find something helpful among them. Gretchen’s book list.