Has caregiving changed you?

Do you no longer feel like yourself?

Has a part of you died?

I know. I felt this too. I felt like I lost myself in some way.

I lost my spontaneity, at times, my hope, and most days, my freedom.

But I’m here to let you know that it won’t always be this way.

Yes, caregiving disrupts your life.

Yes, caregiving dumps stress on your life by the bucket load.

Yes, caregiving will test every physical, emotional and moral fiber you have–and it hunts for frays and weak spots.

But I’d still do it again. (I wince to even think about it!)

And I know what I’m talking about–I cared for my mother who had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s–and she lived with my family and me for the last almost two years of her life. I cared for her for about 15 years before that–everything from going to see her once or twice a week, to a combination of hired care, community care, overnight stays, and her coming to my house. We tried to keep her in her own home, her own church and neighborhood for as long as possible.

So, my point is, I’m no wuss, and when I say I’d care give again, it’s not because I have so romanticized version of family life stuck in my head. And I wouldn’t jump up and down volunteering either. Why? Caregiving has to come to you out of genuine need. I know that one day, I will, or my husband will care give. We will care for each other. I know that–the love, the commitment are already in place.

But I’m not not going to care give the guy down the street. I might make him and his wife some meals, but my marital relationship warrants caregiving. And still, I certainly don’t look forward to it–because it’ll be one of us is sick, or we’ve aged to the point to where our bodies are breaking down–that death is coming all too soon.

Caregiving continued to change me even after my mom passed away, and all those negative ramifications finally began to leave my system.

Caregiving has done something to me. I’ve changed again-in good ways.

I’m more patient. When I’m with someone now, and I know they need me, I just let go of all the other crap of life.

I’ve learned to be present. I don’t know if I did this so well when my mom was alive, and maybe this happened because at times, I wasn’t present at all with my mom. I wanted to be anywhere but there. Some days, I would have gnawed my own foot off to get free. And here I am, tell you, I’m glad I did it.

I’ve learned to take every, every, every opportunity that comes my way. I’m like that old TV show, My Favorite Martian–my antennas go up whenever a great thing comes my way. I can’t NOT try something new, dance when music plays, make a fool of myself if the occasion calls for it.

I’ve learned that the only regrets at the end of life are not all the things you screwed up. it’s all the chances you didn’t take. Since this caregiving revelation, I’ve eaten squirrel, kissed a snake, held a giant stingray in my arms, skinny dipped on more than one occasion, taken two a.m. bike rides and made out on a pier under the moonlight (with hubby, FYI). I simply can’t let life pass me  by. Death did that to me. It singed me and I have to live and love big and hard. I refuse to mewl about my unlived life when I can do something about it…now.

I’ve started speaking  my mind. I’m tired of being a coward and taking S**T. I don’t have to blast people, but if you bully me, corner me, or shame me…get ready cause I am too old and I’ve gone through too much to not stand up for myself.

I’ve learned to be easier on myself. I’ve given up worrying about housekeeping–a nap is infinitely more important. A swim on a perfect day is by far, a better use of my time.

I’ve learned not to sweat so much about money and jobs. In the end, these things matter so, so little. I’m still learning this one, but I’m grasping onto this bigger thing: if I do what I love, what I’m gifted at, what I’m passionate about…people value me and pay me pretty darn good for it. And I can’t seem to stomach the idea of paying my dues and feeling like I have to suffer.

I’ve learned that I really do like to do good work. I want to do something, some small thing that matters. i want to write and speak and encourage others. I want to somehow contribute to the good of the world.

And finally, I’m learning to let go of grudges, hurts, and resentments. They really do fade in time. Things I was so heated about 20 years ago don’t faze me now. People I despised and feared are now toothless old lions, and we’re all in the Savannah together just trying to find a little shade and water. it’s not so big, scary and important as I once thought it was.

Where are you? Still in the dark nights of the soul? Has exhaustion and cynicism taken its toll? it’s part of the journey.  It won’t last. Caregiving will continue to change you–let it

I’m Carol O’Dell, and I hope you’ll check out my book, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available at Amazon

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Carol O'Dell

Carol D. O'Dell's gripping memoir MOTHERING MOTHER, (April 1, 2007 by Kunati Publishing) is for the "sandwich" generation and overflows with humor, grace and much needed honesty. Written with wit and sensitivity, Mothering Mother offers insight on how to not only survive but thrive the challenges of caring for others while keeping your life, heart, and dreams intact. Carol is an inspirational speaker and instructor focusing on caregiving, spirituality and adoption issues. She has been featured on numerous television, radio and magazine and podcast programs including WEDU/PBS, Artist First Radio, "Coping with Caregiving" national radio, Women's Digest and Mature Matters Publications. Her fiction and nonfiction work has appeared in numerous publications including Atlanta Magazine, Southern Revival, MARGIN, and AIM, America's Intercultural Magazine Carol appeared on the radio show "Healing the Grieving Heart" with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss "Mothering Mother: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir." To hear Carol being interviewed on this show, click on the following link: www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley031308.mp3

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