My dad was recently diagnosed with cancer. Acute chronic leukemia lymphomatic scary sounding things that don’t sound like real words. I talked to him on the phone and he related how scared he was, that I was going to lose him and his parents would outlive him. He’s always said it’s a tragedy when a parent has to grieve for their children. And I, in my childishness, never really considered my mom or dad mortal. They’re my rock; his cancer, coming on the heels of recovering from a car wreck that put him in the hospital for almost two years now, crushed me. Now my rock is crumbling, and I’m all kinds of disoriented and listless for it.
Meanwhile, I’ve got a private client on Tuesday mornings from 10-12. It’s usually no big deal, and we’ve had a good thing going for a month now. Last week he said he wanted me to come on Thursday instead—again, no big deal—but I messed up the dates and forgot to go in Tuesday this week, thinking it was Wednesdays. I took what I thought was a morning off to get some work done and didn’t see my client’s voicemail until that night. I called to apologize, said I’d be there Friday instead, and everything was cool.
I got this message from his wife today: “Hi Edison, I am just wanting to confirm that you will come over tomorrow for J and then go back to the regular Tuesday 10AM schedule.”
Then she added: “When a handicapped person relies on a caregiver, he often ‘panics’ when the caregiver is late. That is how J gets. So please do continue to call to notify him if you are ever running late.”
Embarrassment—shame, really—hit me like a freight train. Followed immediately by thought-blocking anger. Didn’t she know I felt bad enough from my profuse, groveling apology when I called Tuesday night? No, she had to take another dig at me, make me feel worse before I had to leave for my other job, piss me off and leave me with nothing, no one, to turn my anger on. I turned it on myself and her ghost.
I started to write a reply, ignoring her advice (How dare she, anyway? Does this chick know how long I’ve been an aide? Honestly? Really?), just “I’ll be there,” but decided it wasn’t enough. I deleted it and wrote another draft, taking her apart line by line, ending with “This is going to be my two weeks. Your husband is fifty-five-frickin’-years old; he’s a big boy. He should be able to take change by now, and if he can’t, it’s not my problem.”
I didn’t feel any better to get it out, but the thought of hurting and confusing them, like their message did me, was delicious.
Before I could hit “Send” I was cut down by a glimmer of insight, an ugly, rancid bit of compassion I hate so damn much: How would I feel in J’s situation? If I was practically paralyzed on one side and had to set aside a chunk of my day just to get a shower and not be told it wasn’t happening. I’d be confused, and hurt, and probably angry at my time being wasted. I really, really didn’t want to let that in.
I want nothing more right now than to make people hurt as badly as I do, when I feel like doing anything. As a kid that would’ve been an option, sort of. I could be moody and isolate myself, simultaneously wishing for someone to come check on me so I could break open the shell, wishing for them to check on me so I could lash out at them, and wanting to be left alone forever. I was a child for a very, very long time. But now I’m an adult. I’ve got a family, and clients that need me. Bills to pay, food that I have to buy myself, and worst of all I need to grow up. I really don’t want to do that. I want to be vacillate between selfish cruelty and dejected neediness. But I can’t do that. Life goes on even when we pause and feel like it won’t. And I like my client. He’s a good guy, I don’t want to lose him, either.
Sometimes that’s what caregiving is: pushing forward. Owning up to your mistakes, acknowledging the deep hurt and listlessness, but moving forward anyway, cuz life goes on and you’re still needed.