Adventure: [From Wikipedia] – “An adventure is defined as an exciting or unusual experience; it may also be a bold, usually risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome. The term is often used to refer to activities with some potential for physical danger, such as skydiving, mountain climbing, and or participating in extreme sports.
“The term also broadly refers to any enterprise that is potentially fraught with physical, financial or psychological risk, such as a business venture, a love affair, or other major life undertakings.” My italics.
It may not appear that way from the outside, but caregiving is fraught with physical, financial, and psychological risk.
- Physical because caregivers get burned out. Books and blogs and manuals describe the physical and emotional risks to the caregiver.
- Financial because caregivers often give up their jobs to take care of a loved one. Some have to take a loved one into their home, or the ill person was the source of support, or … the scenarios are endless.
- Psychological because of the emotional impact of watching a loved one slowly decline, feeling powerless to help, guilt for not doing more, and the anticipated grief that knows no resolution.
Many years ago I talked with a life coach/friend about my commitment to caretaking mom and said I would see it through to the end. Mom helped me when I was a single mom, moved to Washington to be closer to us while my son was still young, and helped me when I went back to school. Even without that, there was no way I would abandon her…that was never a question. I told my brother, who was moving to Arizona at the time, to go have your life, I’ll take care of this. I had no freaking clue what I was saying! Fifteen years later, I want to know, can I take it back? No, the answer is no.
Mom and I had an adventure we had to take mostly by ourselves. No one could travel with us. We embarked across a landscape of emotional landmines, fraught with unexpected dangers. The adventure took each of us through a dark and tangled forest of unexamined denial, unexplored anger, and unresolved guilt.
It brought us to the quicksand of profound vulnerability and powerlessness that could never have taken place without a deep commitment and, in the beginning, an energy I do not feel now. My spirit is willing, my commitment stalwart, but my knees sometimes buckle. But now there are days of grace, sealed with a kiss, that says, We did it. There are still potholes we stumble into, but all is well.
It is not a stretch to create an analogy between climbing a mountain to caretaking a loved one. Climbers undertake a perilous journey, enduring all manner of excruciating cold and deprivation and physical exertion few can imagine. When the air becomes rarified and it’s all the climber can do to take a breath, the most stalwart climb on, risking life and limb to complete their goal. Once they reach the summit, there is jubilation and relief, a profound sense of accomplishment at a job well done. Then the descent, often harder than the ascent, but most make it to tell the story.
Caregivers may not climb a physical mountain, but it is a mountain in all other ways. The days when you can’t catch your breath because of the heart palpitations, the days that you long for a deep sleep without worrying the phone will ring, the days you want a break to take a walk (for those with a loved one at home)…again the scenarios are endless. And then the descent …
Today I honor those brave souls who have undertaken the caregiving adventure in all its different forms. I bow to you.
Mike who gives care to his wife, Lynn, who is dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. My younger friend whose husband had a cancer removed from his neck nearly two years ago and is still on a feeding tube. The woman who has taken care of her disabled daughter for 42 years. My friend whose son has schizophrenia.
Their adventures are not to be minimized. It is not only an adventure of the body and the emotions and the pocketbook, but a journey of the spirit. I believe we are here to take care of one another. But some days, all caregivers ask is, Really? Isn’t there more?