This week, I’m helping a young woman find a sober living home so she can begin a new life. Her recovery has been a rocky path of false starts, broken promises. Her journey was my journey twenty years ago.
In recovery, we learn our true purpose is helping others, so I took her under my wing. “You can want it; you can need it,” I told her. “But you have to do it.”
And, finally, she did.
Embracing the steps of sobriety, she infuses me with inspiration. Her journey has a serendipitous effect on both of us: true humility.
I’m also helping find another new home, this time for my mother. It’s difficult to call it a new beginning, easier to believe it is yet another of life’s harsh ironies. But being humble helps me accept this circle of life.
My mother called last month to wish me a belated birthday. Never mind that my birthday isn’t for another two weeks; just remembering the event is a victory.
“She gets exhausted trying to remember everything, then she’s even more anxious,” our part-time caregiver observes. It’s a vicious and all-too-common cycle repeated in the endless loop of dementia.
Mom’s recollections flit between past and present, phantoms of a past life. Clocks and calendars are a cacophony of confusion. My ever-shifting caregiver job description is riddled with uncertainty: I have become the keeper of memory, the guardian of time and space. As the Alzheimer’s memory bandits continue their relentless ransacking, we try to stay in the now, measuring moments in memories.
“I don’t remember the date of your birthday,” mom said, “but I love you! That I will never forget.”
After my stepmother’s stroke, my father became primary caregiver, coordinating doctor appointments, filling prescriptions, grocery shopping, and cooking meals.
He often experienced caregiver burnout. I visited as much as possible, in the midst of a demanding sales job.
My stepmother passed away two years ago, a bittersweet ending to their thirty years together. He was devastated over her loss. “I miss not having anyone to talk to,” he told me.
I spent months helping him navigate the complex web of death. Months stretched into years. Never have I spent so much time with my parents.
Yet I still see them through the lens of a child.
Soon, my father will eighty-five. I’m thankful for our increased time together; for his new friends; for the lessons in caregiving he unwittingly shared with me – a blueprint for my own caregiving journey.