The journey of caregiving is sometimes strange in that you go through an intense time of introspection about something, then think you have resolved it or at least made a positive move on it and then one day – WHAM BAM- you find yourself right back in the middle of it again with just as much intensity as before.
I am talking here today about our identity as caregivers. Many of us and maybe you too will be a caregiver to a loved one(s) not for a few weeks or months but for years and years. It has been over 10 years that I have taken care of firstly both my dad and mom and then just my mom. 10 years is a big chunk of my life – a time when you can get entrenched in roles that maybe you did or didn’t want to take on. These roles can become who you see yourself as. I see myself as a daughter and a caregiver. I am not a wife – I have no husband. I am not a mother – I have no children. I am not an Educational Assistant like I was for 33 years because now I am supposedly retired. I am not even a Page at the library like I was because Covid -19 has taken that from me. I see my life’s purpose as caregiver to my Mother. That’s about it. And I see my identity as my Mother’s daughter. That’s about it.
Soooo…..what happens when Mom passes away?
My caregiver role will disappear. My identity as a daugher will disappear. The rug I was used to standing on to support me will be ripped from under me revealing a deep dark hole that will engulf me. All that I know will have disappeared down the hole. I will be left with nothing to hang onto, nothing to identify with, nothing to claim as my own.
I’ve been through this scenario before. I thought I was making progress on developing new ways of identifying myself. And maybe I have come ahead a few steps. I am a mama to my two beautiful cats, I make lovely cards to give and to sell to people, I have lots of hobbies, hopefully I will reclaim my job as Page at the Public Library. I am an autism advocate and hope maybe to have some speaking engagements someday. I write this blog even though I don’t write as often as I should to do it justice.
When Covid -19 locked everything down and I was separated from my mother for many long months except by phone and WHAM BAM- this whole issue of identity and role in life came to the forefront again.
I began again thinking about how attached I was to my Mom – so attached that some may say it is unhealthy. Mom and I, we are a mess of entangled emotions both negative and positive, and a mess of enmeshed needs for each other. When I think in my head of my mother I think of me clinging to her so tightly that nothing but the jaws of life could get us apart. And that is probably just what I need because my life depends on it. I am 61 years old. I am no longer the 5 year old frightened child who constantly felt I was going to lose my momma. But how do I loosen the grip and reach out and take hold of something else positive and freeing? I don’t know the answer to that question yet. People have made suggestions. Make new friends, get more involved with your church, volunteer or work, take up a cause, but especially nurture the relationships you have.
Nurturing relationships I have, making new friends, getting more involved in my church are all well and good but for me as one with autism they are not easy solutions, nor are they necessarily even solutions that will fill the void left by the passing of my mother. I am more likely to hole up in my little house and play mother to my cats. Relationships take work and often it is exhausting work. Disappointing work. Discouraging work. How does this make up for losing my mother?
And what will I do? For the last 10 or more years my every waking moment has been focused on my mom in some form or another. That’s what caregiving entails. Where does all that time and energy go suddenly go?? How do you turn off your brain from focusing on your Mom in a matter of moments.? What will I be without looking after her? What will I do?
If was funny because today I got an email from an author and pastor who could have retired many years ago. He had a list of all the things he had accomplished since the date he could have retired. It was impressive to say the least. He has a new book out called “Forward” all about just what I have been feeling. We are not useless once we become a certain age or when we stop a certain job. There are still things we can do, purpose to have, and fulfilling roles to take on.
So can I say my life is NOT over when my Mom passes on? Do I still have something to live for? Can there be new purpose in life? Can I find fulfillment beyond Mom? Can I be happy? Can I crawl out of that hole when the rug will be pulled out from under me and be victorious? Is there life after death??
I do not know all the answers to these questions yet. Mom is still here. We are still on a journey together. But some days I take a side road to explore some new countryside and see what I can see. I find someone new to talk to who can give me a new perspective and new hope ( thanks Kelly), I take a new travel guide off the shelf and see what new journey I can go on. I have a plaque in my living room that has a beautiful bird on it with the saying “trust the journey”.. Mom has always said she just wants to fly away to heaven. I put origami butterflies all over her door to her room. Maybe I need to make some origami butterflies too but for me. Cause maybe just maybe I can fly. I can soar right out of that deep dark pit and wing my way to a new life without Mom. It’s pretty hard imagining that right now. I still want to just cling to her with all the strength I have in me. But if I am going to succeed in my life with out Mom I have to start somewhere.
Also on my wall in my living room is a saying I put up when I went through these thoughts the first time round. It says,” See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19
That is the verse I turn to when I feel most hopeless. It reassures me that there is a plan and purpose for my life after Mom goes. Another verse I turn to is Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
I say these things but I don’t deny that it is going to be a very difficult climb out of that dark desperate hole. I know it is going to take every ounce of strength I have, both physical and emotional and spiritual. The ties that bind me to my Mom are thick and strong as steel. They wind around me again and again and again to the point of suffocation. Yet at times they are like a warm blanket holding me together when I feel like falling apart. As I struggle to find new meaning in my life after Mom goes I know I will be drawn back into that hole where like the womb that held me safe before I was born it will call me back to clinging to Mom. And again and again I am going to have to cut through that umbilical cord of steely sinews and again and again make my way scraping and clawing out of the hole into the sunshine of a new birth. I will be God’s child, his beloved and treasured one. That is who I will be.