I keep a running list in my mind of things to do “after” my caregiving has ended.
Everyday things like choosing when I go to sleep and when I wake up in the morning. Having a conversation with my children where I don’t need to stop them mid-sentence and say, “I’ll be right back” because caregiving calls. Watching tv with my husband, or accompanying him on a walk around the block. Even spontaneously deciding to go to dinner or planning something a week in advance instead of months in advance.
I actually look forward to getting back to working out, and I never dreamed I would say that. Not watching a monitor all day almost makes me giddy, as does the prospect of leaving my house and not having a time limit to get back before my coverage is over. These things may sound small and inconsequential, but they aren’t to a caregiver.
As I someday consider doing these things, I have that sick pain in my stomach when I realize that means my mother will be dead. It doesn’t sound fair that life could be that vicious, and yet that’s exactly how it appears. I don’t use the word “fair” because life isn’t fair, it’s what you make of it, but I suspect it’s the only word that fits.
Now, I see a therapist weekly and am a member of three different support groups. I can also access professionals who work with grief and those who already lost their mother, and I STILL don’t have any idea how I’m going to manage.
Last year alone, I had old friends, new friends and friends I was never in the same room with but consider friends, lose their mothers. In every instance, even though they recognized it was coming, their lives shattered.
Looking into their eyes, the trauma in them and the strain appears on their faces like someone replaying a horror scene over and over, because it is. I marvel at their strength. Preparation does not sound like it makes a difference when it comes to the death of your mother.
I also wonder about the other motherless daughters of caregiving. Those who spent their time and energy caring for their mothers in the last stage of their lives. I wonder how they felt before, when the end was close enough to touch. I wonder whether they felt like they were going to break apart at the seams, or if they were thankful it was ending, for both of them.
I concentrate on those women when I am alone and panicking about life without my mother, and I find comfort in knowing they did it. They survived it. They may still suffer from PTSD or health issues because of their caring, but they lived through it.
This is the epitome of anticipatory grief - a feeling of grief occurring before an impending loss. And while I know that to be true, I try to have compassion and make space for myself during it.
When I look at that after time, while I wonder who I will be when that day comes, I know in my heart and soul that I will go forward. There is no other way after all of this. Forward for my kids, my husband, myself, and even for my mother. She was always the ultimate carry on person. She dealt with whatever life had in store for her. I learned that from her. She was never the person who worried. She always told me she believed things would work out the way they will, so why worry?
That is the thought I will focus on because what awaits us, her part of leaving, and my part of witnessing, scares and overwhelms me. And while I don’t know what that will look like, it’s not for me to know now. That will come later. And even though now our relationship is different, I still know I will see her face, be able to touch her. In the last six years, I have only not been with her for ten days. She is as much a part of my day as breathing.
As she declines, I have promised myself to stay in the present. While I can try to plan for the future, I can’t live there any more than I can live in the past. Some sayings, though trite, really work and taking things one day at a time is one of them. I’ll take it.