I was starting this essay by writing about how much I have enjoyed sharing myself with you biweekly, and I suddenly realized that I wasn’t sure if “biweekly” meant twice a week or once every other week. I googled. Well, I’ll be darned — it actually means BOTH! Isn’t our mother tongue just incredible in her inconsistencies?
And what I need to share of myself in this particular essay is my new role of Caregiver. As I typed “Caregiver,” I couldn’t help thinking that we are care-givers to people, but we are care-takers for animals and even for cottages. Isn’t our mother tongue…well, you get my point again.
I suppose all the above language play is in some way a delaying tactic, since my topic of Caregiving is not just a poignant one for me but might also be for all of you who have either heard me lecture in person where you live or joined Darian and me on one of our conferences at lovely locations during these last few years.
I am so sorry to tell you that my full-time caregiving must currently close the door on all such travel for me.
My partner for the last forty years is now eighty-nine and has endured the triple whammy of lymphoma, vertigo, and, most recently and dramatically, memory issues. I think we can all agree that when it comes to serious health concerns, any whammy beyond a double is incredibly unfortunate if not downright cruel and unusual punishment.
But not for my partner. His attitude and outlook through it all have been magnificent to the point of heroic: never a complaint, never a moody hour (let alone a day) — just calm, patient acceptance. This was his personality as a physician in the operating room for more than thirty years, and that serenity has not wavered one bit in spite of all his recent challenges.
I have always thought that what might have initially brought us together was what we shared due to our occupations — he was an anesthesiologist and I was an English professor. Yes, that’s right, we both put people to sleep for a living. OK, actually my career has been devoted to trying to keep students and lecture audiences wide awake and inspired, but I am gamely trying to keep this most serious topic slightly lighter.
I suspect that more than a few of you reading this essay have personal experience with caregiving. You have wondered, as I do, how a task so difficult can also be so rewarding and how an undertaking that sometimes can completely overwhelm you with anxiety can also produce such peace of mind when performed and, if you are as lucky as I am, RECEIVED, with such overwhelming love.
And so my new personal default setting in life can be summed up as “off-balance.” I never know what new caregiving challenges tomorrow may bring. I never know how much more support I shall need from wonderfully willing family and friends — and knowledgeable professionals, especially CNAs. I never know if my caregiving worries will shut off early enough at night to give me those precious seven-plus hours of sleep that always propel me energetically through the next day.
But the one utterly balanced aspect of my life that I now hold dear is being in our house every minute that I need to be, totally focused on who is most important to me, and never being forced to upset that stability with an out-of-town engagement or the impending responsibility of a long-planned conference. As much as I cherish seeing you and lecturing in settings far from home, I am now a homebody because my body would be misplaced in any other place but home.
And, to return to my opening paragraph, just as “biweekly” can have two completely different meanings, the word “fix” surpasses it with at least four: a problem-solver will tell you that “fix” is a verb that she loves; an appalled doggy would tell you (if he could) that “fix” is a verb that he hates; and I could tell you that the noun — a “fix”one is in — might describe my current homebound situation.
But it certainly does not. Instead, writing my biweekly essays to you from home — and your responses to them during this very difficult time in my life — have become my ultimate “fix”: a wonder drug to which I’ve become joyfully addicted. And I know the high will sustain me until that day I often dream about when we shall indeed be together again for lecturing, listening, learning, laughing, and loving all things literary.