“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
It’s a comment we caregivers hear often. One I’m as tired of hearing as I feel at Mile 22 of an actual marathon.
I’ve run for nearly two decades and, in that timespan, completed almost as many marathons. Early on, I discovered I was built for distance, not speed. Twelve weeks of physical training for a 26.2 mile footrace is tough enough, and crossing the finish line is the true measure of endurance.
Yet silencing the mental madness near the end of the marathon is the ultimate challenge, perfected over time and practice.
Much like caregiving.
I haven’t run a marathon in three years, stepping instead into the role of my mother’s caregiver. I run this course head-on. My caregiving tank frequently runs on empty. I still run daily, in circles around the island not unlike the endless loop of dementia in which we both reside.
In running and caregiving, the race does not always go to the swiftest, but to those who shall endure.
I spent last summer with my mother. On the surface it was picture-perfect: ice cream cones and beach picnics. But, like the rest of our caregiving journey, the outsides don’t match the insides.
Autumn arrived in vibrant red and gold, signaling my departure — another two-month hop between coasts and families. I realized I couldn’t leave mom alone; the relentlessness of Alzheimer’s was deeply rooted in our lives.
We needed a paid caregiver.
At first, Mom insisted she could take care of herself. And I felt guilty for leaving, yet curiously jealous. What if mom liked her more? What if she was a better caregiver?
Hiring Amanda turned out to be the best thing we’ve done yet. She’s unflappable. Tireless. Patient. We celebrate small victories, chronicled in the purple ink of her daily log. She teaches me to stay positive. And she’s given us true peace of mind.
It’s been a year since I stared at the blank pages of a notebook, alone on the deck at the family lake house. For decades, handwritten journals were as distant from my life as I had been from my mother.
I missed writing. I needed to write.
My writing roots go back nearly a century; both grandparents were authors. At age eight, I had set up a studio in the garage, a barnboard desk resting on sawhorses. My earliest tale, “Matt the Flying Dog,” quickly evolved to mystery stories, a stack of Nancy Drews for inspiration.
I’ve filled a dozen notebooks this past year. Daily writing is non-negotiable. I lay down the tracks of my life like a composer with music. Writing is both fun and terrible. And the days I don’t want to write make me realize I must.