A dozen thoughts whirl around my head about my parents and my care-giving days as I navigate a new, temporary reality – being the one to receive care.
This reality is opening up an old chapter on my life that was filled with stress and grief. A chapter that I thought was behind me, fully processed.
Grief works that way. The changing circumstances of life usher grief back into our lives, offering a new layer for us to process. We think we are done. We are not.
The trigger may be a new baby our parent did not meet. Or another death. Or a new home, husband or hobby. As life shifts, we wish our loved one was here to experience this new thing with us. To offer companionship, advice or comfort.
Instead we find ourselves wrestling with grief again, mourning the loss of what might have been.
From Grief to Growth
We may, however, transition to growth. We find we are looking at the past with different eyes.
This is where I find myself now. The three years I spent as Mom’s caregiver were some of the worst years of my life. My perspective was as stressed-out, 24/7 on-call caregiver.
Now my circumstances offer me the viewpoint of care receiver.
I watch my husband stress as he juggles responsibilities. He works, and he’s got two ladies to help as well. In the same week, his mother broke out in shingles, and I needed help dressing.
As I try to be as independent as possible, I concoct ways to wash my hair, make my breakfast and sweep the kitchen (from a seated position).
One task takes several steps, several maneuvers, which we take for granted when we are fully capable of motion. While I was on crutches, for example, I did not have a hand free to carry a plate from the kitchen counter to the table or a glass of ice water to the couch.
Now I’ve got a wheelchair, but I’m by no means 100 percent capable. Navigating my home, I remember how I helped my parents accomplish everyday tasks, and how Mom in particular used ingenuous ways to be independent.
Going into the surgery, we did not anticipate this turn of fate. I was supposed to be up on both my feet a day or so after knee surgery, with restrictions for no more than two weeks.
Now I must stay off my left leg for four to six weeks, or perhaps even eight. Having discovered more damage than images revealed, the surgeon scored my bone for scar tissue to build and cushion spots where cartilage had worn away. To develop the tissue, I must not put weight on the leg. I also must guard against overuse of my right leg, which already had an orthopedic issue.
The Past Becomes the Present
For the first few days, I was quite pleased that my care-giving experience was giving me insight on how to accomplish tasks.
Not allowed to shower for 72 hours, I remembered sitting my dad on a stool at his kitchen sink and washing his hair there. My husband got that very same stool from the shed. I sat on it and washed my hair for church. I also used it to prepare vegetables for roasting. My mother had used the chair for food prep as well.
At church, I refused a push of the chair. I enjoyed the freedom of easily going where I wished. I liked my independence. Just like Mom did.
Now more than three weeks into reprocessing the past, I think I better understand my mother’s motives those three terrible years of caregiving.
She wasn’t trying to be difficult or stubborn. Or be the one in control. She was trying to feel alive. Useful. Free.
To have not understood that fully then is something I grieve now. But all is not sorrow.
This is part of growth. When we allow grief its work, we change. The process allows us to snatch good stuff from the jaws of death.
I suspect I’ll be more compassionate on the other side of this temporary journey. I will understand care receivers better – and, even in her absence, I’ll understand Mom better.
That, I think, is what is meant by “good grief.”
Is a new circumstance forcing you to re-evaluate an old memory? We cannot change the past – but we can change the way we think about the past as we see things from a different angle.
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