Caring for a loved one over time is a complicated business. If the need for care grows slowly, it may seem that at first, each helping task is perfectly doable. But taken together and over time, caregiving tasks may become overwhelming. This is especially true in the case of degenerative disease combined with the caregiver’s own aging. Caregivers must make achoice every day to provide loving care. Sometimes, especially for long-term caregivers, this choice requires courage and the determination to place love above all else.
A re-arrangement of priorities is required, a coming to grips, a reconciliation of personal goals, a ‘settling in’ to care. Sometimes, especially in long-term care, there are natural barriers to making peace with caregiving. Caregivers may engage in a battle of priorities, culminating in making enemies of both work and home. They may crave multiple social connections and the consoling ‘noise’ of an independent and bustling, working life.
Does being ‘settled in’ to caregiving represent liberation or captivity? Being in the right place, doing the right thing is natural for young parents caring for their children. But what of an older parent caring for an adult child with disabilities? What about the role reversal in eldercare? At the beginning of caring for an ill spouse or frail parent, a caregiver might strive to finish caring tasks quickly in order to return to other selfish or worldly concerns.
With the passing of weeks and months, time spent shifts to a slower pace. The caregiver stops wishing to be somewhere else. Being alone with a loved one morphs into a natural way to be. And the caregiver notices that the slowness and quiet of care is in itself a presence, not an absence. Settling for the reduced ambitions of caring for a loved one opens a door to a life rich with humanity and meaning.
A realization dawns that the call to care is not a call to battle. It is a quiet truce in a land that is foreign to most other people. Here, there is the possibility of intimacy, of reflecting on hopes, dreams and on mortality. Here, there is the chance to be grateful for small joys and tender mercies.
Here, there is the opportunity to know what is most important about being alive.