The Imperfect Caregiver
No matter how perfect a caregiver you strive to be, it will never be enough.
Even so, knowing this does not keep us from wanting to be perfect. Or better. Or at least above average. Or worthy of the person we are caring for. Worthy of their trust and their love. Most of all, worthy of all they are losing.
I can’t remember Jim’s favorite Christmas song. I have wracked my brain for days. I have lost my train of thought numerous times, not just in the throes of trying to recall this significant/insignificant detail, but terrified of the prospect of it being gone forever.
I have thought back through our many Christmas seasons together and the evasive answer eludes me. And then I feel another part of him is gone. Forever unless I can summon the information that seems just out of reach. Isn’t it bad enough he is physically gone? Do I have to forget details? Even small, inconsequential as they may seem, details I can’t recall make me feel as if I didn’t love him enough. Or pay close enough attention. Or care enough to remember. Why didn’t I write this down? I suppose I could have chronicled detail after detail for days and there still would be some random Jim trivia that isn’t recorded for the ages. I thought I could never forget and yet I have. I was entrenched in the battle of caregiving that leaves little room for luxuries like taking the time to write and read and sit quietly to reflect on all that is happening.
So each time this happens, I lose him again. Since I can’t ask him, the finality sinks in. The loss is so heavy at times I am not sure I can move or breathe or think. My own brain has lost something I desperately long to hold on to. I must not have been the caregiver I thought I was or tried to be- after all, if I was wouldn’t I remember every detail that keeps Jim alive even after he is gone? Isn’t it up to me to hold all of what made him “Jim” so I can recall at a moments notice to the kids some minor detail therefore keeping their father with them for all eternity? Doesn’t it show how much I knew him? How close we were? Am I imagining our bond? The intimacy we shared for so many years? If we were really as tight as I think, then why in the world don’t I know his favorite Christmas carol? And what was it we did that first Christmas together? What did we give each other? What about our fifth one together? Or our last? It all blurs together. The tears aren’t what keeps me from having a clear focus, it is the continued realization of this loss, each day recognizing my shortcomings over and over and re-playing in my mind times together and with every question I ask myself and cannot answer I slip down a notch in the caregiver of the year category.
Being a loved one of someone who relies on you to provide for them and look out for them and keep them “alive” after they are no more is a heavy burden. Caregiving is usually a thankless job with no timeline and very little understanding from those who haven’t had to travel down that road. But the rewards are plenty when you are able to look back and know you weren’t perfect, but you were there. You stuck around and have those memories and the knowledge of all that transpired day in and day out with you. Even if you can’t remember that favorite song or movie, you know you did the best you could at that particular moment. At times, you may have lost your patience, but that doesn’t detract from all the other positives you have done. And it reminds us all that we are human.
Traditions may change, but the love and care don’t. In doing those daily tasks, over and over, and letting them know they are loved and not alone, you are perfect. You are amazing and worthy and it really doesn’t matter if you can recite all of their favorites. It matters that you showed up and were present.