Life, Repurposed

Is my passion caregiving? Is my life purpose caregiving?

If you’d asked me a year ago, my answer would be a resounding, capital-letters-spell-it-out “N-O!”

I’ve spent my retirement immersed in the world of Alzheimer’s caregiving, a labyrinth in which all roads seemed to lead to frustration, anger and impatience. But gradually, it’s become more of a road trip, with an unexpected side effect: purpose.

My life journey has gone off-road.

Caring for my mother for the past three years, actually living with her for the first time since my reckless departure at age thirteen teaches me compassion. For my mother, for others, for myself.

I express compassion through writing and volunteering. Taking care of shelter animals. Helping hikers navigate local trails. Blogging about dementia caregiving.

My passions are transformed into purpose through compassion. And my answer is now “yes.”

Homing Instinct

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.

Memory Bandit

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.”