It's been a while since my last entry. Time is more precious than I realized. I discovered this when I made the choice to honor a parent by caring for her in her final days. When I made this decision, I was ignorant of what it meant and how it would change me. I had no idea of the immensity of my promise.
Caring for the elderly has long been compared to new motherhood, though similar, I think it goes a bit deeper. There's a strangling sadness in caring for an elderly person. Watching their embarrassment as each day brings with it one more freedom that is lost. Freedoms like bathing in privacy, chosing what you'll have for dinner, combing your hair or writing your name.
Then there's the inability to accomplish your dreams, or hope for new ones. How devastating it must be to face the fact that you will never again do things for yourself, like paint your room or shop for a new dress. Imagine the feeling of knowing that it's pointless to make plans.
Promising to care for a dying person is more than just holding their hand, although that's important too. It's about standing up for them when their doctor wants to drug them senseless, taking away all clarity as life begins to slip away.
It's about saving them from the boredom of endless gameshows and trashy talkshows, by reading to them until you're voice is gone, or they fall asleep (whichever comes first!)
It's anticipating every need before they ask, and acting like it's no big deal even though it's huge, time consuming, and you're exhausted.
It's knowing their favorite foods and making sure you have them in the house at all times...feeding them slowly, and lovingly because the next meal could be their last.
Creating distractions from their pain is a big responsibility. It's as ongoing as the pain itself. It causes you to lose track of time and forget who you are and the fact that you have a body too that must be cared for as well. You become sleep deprived and overly emotional. You lash out at other family members, who can't commit themselves for fear of desolving into tears in front of the person trapped in the decaying body. You wonder why it is that YOU have the strength that they lack.
Time passes rapidly, and your life keeps moving, it moves on without you...except in the room. There, you wait together. You don't say much about it, but day after day you both know where it's headed. You know it will end. The question is when? Time together becomes the most important thing can give.
Time is a blessing, but it's also a theif. Just when we think we have plenty of it, it slips from our hands. In old age, we become as dependant upon others as a newborn baby, but our bodies betray the soul held within.
As I said, this experience has changed me. It's been a long, hard road, but it was enlightening and bittersweet. I will never view time, independence, clarity, or simple kindness the same ever again. In closing this chapter of my life, I feel a new sense of wonder and possibility. I plan to dream big and follow my heart, so that when MY time comes, I can leave smiling, knowing that I lived!