Let’s take the best case scenario. You’re no longer a caregiver because your loved one has gotten better. They’ve turned the corner and are on the mend destined for health and independence once more. Of course you’re thrilled for them. All your careful nursing has been rewarded.
But what about you? What happens when you’re abruptly bounced out of the role of caregiver and back into so-called normal life?
You’d think it’d be an easy transition. Whew! That’s over! Now I can go back to…
But what if going back isn’t an option? Perhaps you quit your job to be a full-time caregiver and your old position has already been filled. Here in Wales the job market is booming but that’s not true everywhere.
Or perhaps having tasted the freedom of a flexible schedule, you’re loath to return to the 9-to-5 daily grind. You can no longer tolerate the domination of an out-of-touch boss and the slipshod antics of your work mates. It’s just not on.
But it’s not merely the question of ‘What do I do now’ that makes the transition from Caregiver to Civilian difficult. There’s also the problem of letting go, mentally. The other day Rhys mumbled something about ‘Fetching the salt’ and I screamed ‘I’ll get it’ before I realised that he’s perfectly capable of fetching and carrying for himself now. I no longer need to be his gofer. Although it was a lot of work, it’s a surprisingly difficult habit to break.
You can store away the walkers and the crutches in the attic under the eaves, but it’s more difficult to shift gears mentally. I’m finding it difficult to adjust to Rhys being halfways healthy and able to shift for himself like any other healthy person. Waiting on him, hand and foot, has been my job for so long, it’s hard-wired in my psyche. Rhys sits; I do everything else. He stirs, I leap to my feet to prevent him from rising, walking, tripping, falling. We caregivers just can’t switch off overnight!
But I must. Rhys needs to walk, to exercise. He needs to reclaim his strength, his health and his balance. After so many years of pain and illness, his leg muscles are atrophied. They need to be strengthened and that means pain.
Most importantly, Rhys craves independence, activity and work to buoy his sagging self-esteem. His confidence needs sunshine and fresh air just as much as his body does. So I must stand aside, pathetically bleating ‘Be careful’ like a mother watching her child toddle off on his own for the first time.
In the meantime, what am I to do with myself? I won’t return to the office with all its politics and intrigues, backstabbing and affairs. Time to grow the freelancing business. To attend to my work, my physical health and my mental well-being. Time to stop being a caregiver and just be Rhy’s wife.
But it’s not easy. It took time to become a skilled caregiver and it’ll take time to unlearn it as well.