By Brianne Grebil
“We’re all just walking each other home.” – Ram Dass
Life asks very big things of us at times. Things that will stretch us to what feels like our maximum, and then unapologetically ask us to go even further. In these times, our self-proclaimed limits become irrelevant. Life asks, regardless of what we believe we can handle.
One such request is when life asks us to be caretakers for the ones we love. When their bodies or minds (or both) leave them unable to keep up with the tasks of living, and it becomes our duty to take up the tasks for them. We put our plans, ideas, hopes and futures on hold and our worlds begin to spin on the axis of someone else’s needs.
I was pushed into this role when Alzheimer’s took its toll on my mother, and my father could no longer care for her by himself. I discovered that being a caretaker is a messy and noble business.
Messy on all fronts… physically, mentally, emotionally. Learning how to feed, change and bathe a grown woman is not tidy work. Especially when she can’t understand what you are trying to do and usually doesn’t want you to do it at all. Food gets everywhere, clothes and linens get soiled, everything gets stained. There remains little time in a day to keep up with it all.
There is a steep learning curve to discovering how to take care of them, while at the same time wrestling with everything else that comes with losing a person you love to a disease like this one. There is grief all along the way as you lose them piece by piece. You also struggle to figure out how to take care of yourself as well as them.
There is more than just the mess, though. As a caretaker, life is asking you to become more than you were before – to stretch, to grow, to see life beyond yourself. You have to pay attention to this, because in seeing the space between who you were before, and who you have been asked to become, is where the nobility exists. You may not want this position, would never have asked for it, but you were born into it none the less. There is grace in owning this.
You may not look regal in yesterday’s pajamas, changing your loved one’s pants, but you are. It may not seem like a coronation while feeding them and wiping their face, but it is. This is noble work. And you must lean into the nobility of the work if you are to keep your sanity intact.
As a caretaker, remember that it is messy. Life is asking you to go beyond yourself and it did not give you a map. Finding your way is inherently chaotic work. Allow yourself to be ok with the mess. Ask for and accept help whenever and wherever you can. And see that as a caretaker you are a noble creature. Being tasked with tending to the life of another is divine work. Remember your crown, even if it’s crooked.
If you have questions regarding Alzheimer’s and dementia, our free 24/7 Helpline is available around the clock, 365 days a year. Through this free service, specialists and master’s-level clinicians can offer confidential support and information to people living with the disease, caregivers, families and the public. Call the Helpline at 1.800.272.3900.
For information on local Alzheimer’s Association programs and services, click here.