Last week, I was on break from my usual routine, housesitting for a friend in another part of Texas. During this extended respite, I went to the movies (instead of renting DVDs), read an engrossing novel, and caught up with friends who I haven’t seen in awhile. Two encounters with friends, one planned and one chance, made me think about what it means to be stuck as a caregiver and how to untangle yourself.
The sense of being stuck was a central topic of conversation during lunch with my friend Carol. She talked about her own caregiving experiences, those of relatives, and how often caregivers feel "stuck." That’s exactly how I have been feeling recently, as I find that my plans, goals and timelines have become secondary to providing care for Mom and emotionally supporting Dad.
Feeling stuck has caused an itch in me to do something, anything, out of the ordinary. It didn’t help when friends recently called to tell me of their plans to move in the next year or two to another state (or even another country), searching for their next adventure in life.
But, even as I contemplate the next stage of my own life, I see that my growing appetite for adventure cannot be sated, given my current reality as a caregiver for Mom.
While I think about travelling, I know that my journeys have to be limited to areas two hours away so I can be back quickly in case of an emergency with Mom. There is no possbility of that two-week or month-long jaunt to some exotic location. And, although new areas of interest flash like lightning bugs all around me, I find that my energy level flags whenever I start thinking what is really needed to undertake that new dream.
As reality hits, I discover that I am in conservation mode as I try to save energy emotionally, physically and mentally for Mom’s final struggles witih Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Alzheimer’s disease.
As our lunchtime conversation meandered, Carol suggested that I would find it a relief, though a sad one, when Mom dies. Her passing will give me the opportunity to get on with my life. I note that this time is approaching quickly, but it is not a time that I am looking forward to. I may become unstuck when Mom passes and I am no longer her caregiver, but then again, I fear that I may find myself extraordinarily lost without Mom. She has served as the sounding board for so many of the major decisions in my past.
That brings me to my second encounter during my getaway. Although unplanned, it was equally as enlightening. Toward the end of my escape week, I was having lunch with another friend, Amy, when I excused myself to head to the restroom. As I was returning to the table, I heard someone say, "Dorian" I turned and a lady extended a hand my way.
She looked familiar, but her name escaped me. She kindly reintroduced herself to me as Suzanne, and reminded me that we had two previous points of contact. She had been a parent in the school district where I worked about 12 years ago, but it was an even earlier point of contact that got my attention.
My family had lived across the street from Suzanne, her husband and her (then young) children almost 30 years ago in the West Texas town where I was raised; in fact, I had "kid-sat" her children at various occasions.
Once these connections were renewed, Suzanne asked, "How are your parents?" I sadly shared Mom’s plight, and provided an update about Dad. We caught up on her kids and her current work as an artist. We exchanged business cards and e-mail addresses and then went our separate ways.
This random meeting was equally as important as my caregiving conversation with Carol, because it made me see how quickly time passes. As I mentally counted how many years it had been since I first met Suzanne and her family, I realized how rapidly my life has passed by. It seemed like only yesterday that my biggest issues were those revolving around being a teenager in West Texas. Thirty years later and I’m in a totally different place.
I see now that while I may feel stuck, it is only a passing stage. Running into Suzanne helped me untangle myself from my sense of being stuck as a caregiver. Time seemed to speed forward in a way that makes me strive to enjoy each and every one of my visits with Mom.
How this time with Mom is spent is also setting the stage for how I will live my life after Mom is gone. I no longer choose to think of this time as being stuck, but instead think of myself as being in slow motion. It’s a subtle difference but one that helps me to fully appreciate the good, the bad, and the sad of what is happening around me.
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.