“This I Believe”: Caregivers Deserve Cake, Too
Last year, at a staff meeting, we were asked to share something exciting that had happened recently. A co-worker, fresh from maternity leave, bubbled with the fizzy joy of new motherhood. I was fresh from Family Medical Leave, and had just finished a 12-week journey with my 64 year-old mother that began, “I don’t feel well” and ended in death. As such, I was fizz-less.
On that day, I marveled with more than a little bitterness at how different two life experiences could be: For one, there’s presents, joy, cake, MORE. And the other, illness, sorrow, loss, LESS. And no cake.
I believe that Caregivers deserve cake, too. And we deserve first dibs on the piece with the flower. Because unlike brides and grooms, and new parents(hopefully), we didn’t really sign up. We were recruited from the pull of really big love.
Caregivers learn very quickly that love is not enough. You learn to become a pharmacist, because you are asked to “play with” different combinations of potent painkillers. This surprises you, because you always associated “play” with Barbies and Legos, not highly regulated narcotics. If you’re a woman, hospice nurses ask you to do very personal things to your loved one, things they would not ask your brother to do. You learn that your little green notebook is the most reliable medical record around, and if you don’t have the CD with the x-rays, no one else will, either. You wear the Lifeline alert watch because if you both fall down while walking to the bedroom, there is no one to hand you the telephone. You threaten to get a tattoo that says, “I’m not a nurse, I am only her daughter” and it will break your heart in a thousand pieces, because for the first 40 years of your relationship, that was enough.
I remember thinking several times that wretched spring, “This is it – we’ve hit rock bottom”. Like the day we got bad news, or the day we lost power and the oxygen tank stopped. I was always horrified that if given a few days or hours, there really was something worse around the corner. It was like plunging to your death in an elevator in 20 foot increments, forever.
After the funeral, I thought. “OK, it’s over; I’m taking to my bed”. But then I used the last few pages of my little green notebook to document visits to lawyers, bankers, and realtors. I’ve handed out so many death certificates, I feel like a public records vending machine. I find myself giving care to matters long after my care-ee is gone.
But I know I would do it all again, only more brilliantly this time, because if I had a do-over, I’d have experience and wisdom instead of just love. And I’d be fueled by a very generous piece of cake. With flowers.