Maybe you quit an engrossing career you loved to care for your loved one in a long or final illness. Maybe you’re merely taking a hiatus for the duration of their illness. Either way, you now have twenty-four hours on your hands each and every day.
Some days, twenty-four hours just isn’t enough. You’re rushed off your feet making cups of tea, beef broth and helping the ill person to the toilet. Maybe you even wipe their bottom for them.
Some days, the twenty-four hours drag. They’re doing a little better, becoming more self-sufficient, perhaps a professional caregiver is giving you some moments of respite. Suddenly, you don’t know what to do with yourself. The time rests heavily on your shoulder. Each minute drags by.
That’s when one is apt to wax philosophical. Question the meaning of life. Ponder deep questions wiser heads than us have yet to solve.
And yet, and yet, you also cherish your freedom. Don’t really want to go back to that successful career or boring job that you left behind to become a caregiver. It filled your day. It occupied your mind but did you really enjoy it!?
All of these thoughts occur and are entertained in the dark watches of the night as you hover over your ‘patient’ like a ministering angel? As you wipe their face and hold a basin while they vomit, fighting back waves of nausea yourself.’When it’s all over’, you think, ‘what will I do?’ Will you go back to the office which somehow seems very vacuous, very mind-numbing, very treading water? Will you embark on a new career? Will you try to freelance, unwilling to relinquish control of your precious time to a harsh boss?
If the person you’re caring for is facing death, caregiving forces us to consider life from the vantage point of death.
All of us caregivers think these thoughts but we usually keep them to ourselves. After all, we all want to seem like Florence Nightingale. A ministering angel with boundless patience who found her life calling and fulfilment in caregiving.
But we – we don’t. Caregiving for us consists of moments of sheer panic when you’re rushed off your feet interspersed with periods of mind-numbing boredom. There’s either too little time or too much.
There are a lot of ways to cope. A lot of carers cope as did the women of yore. By making busy work: over-cleaning, over-laundering, baking biscuits for high tea.
But that’s not a solution for many of us. We consider our time too valuable to be wasted in cleaning the wainscotting with cotton ear-buds. We buy our biscuits, thank you very much. We have better things to do with our valuable time.
But what?! We could, and I know this might rankle, actually enjoy our free time. In 2014, Blasting News reported that workaholism is on the rise with Britons increasingly less likely to take their holiday leave from work.
Caregiving is a kind of enforced holiday. Not a welcome one because, obviously, you grieve the illness of the loved one for whom you care and secondly, you’re a workaholic. You can temporarily transfer your workaholism to caregiving but your patient can only drink so many bowls of soup and you can only Hoover the rug so many times in a day.
Then the vacuousness reasserts itself. Time. Generous amounts of time. The greatest gift and yet, when we have it in abundance perhaps for the first time in our lives, it’s hard to know what to do with it. That’s when the guilt starts. Guilty for not appreciating the generous gift of time we’ve been given. Guilt that it rests heavily on our hands when we should be celebrating it. There’s just no winning.
Perhaps we should look at it another way. Caregiving is forcing us to reconsider life and how we live it. It’s a gift, albeit, in disguise. It strips away all the distractions and time sucks and leaves you to contemplate Life and how you want to cognizantly and carefully enjoy the precious time remaining to you.
For myself, I’ve decided to spend my time learning. Any free time besides caregiving, cleaning and cooking will be spent in learning. Anything that fascinates me, I will use my time to absorb as much information about it as humanly possible. When I tire of that, I may learn to play a musical instrument.
It’s a blessing, time. The greatest blessing in the world.