I’ve heard it said that parenting is the hardest job. But, I would say that caregiving is by far the hardest because 1) most caregivers never plan to be caregivers 2) it involves making crucial decisions under duress, and 3) many people do it while parenting at the same time.
I never wanted this job — I can’t do this. Nothing’s any good. I want my old life back. I don’t know who you are anymore! I want my old husband (wife, child, mother, father) back! I want someone to think of MY needs for a change.
These thoughts creep in from time to time, sometimes for days at a time, no matter how much you love the person you are caring for. It’s simply human. These thoughts are confusingly intensified by these thoughts:
How can I think this way? What’s the matter with me? I’m so selfish. I’m a bad caregiver. Other caregivers get through this. Why can’t I?
And to complicate matters further, they run alongside these thoughts:
I love you so much. I miss you. I wish this never happened. It must be really hard for you. I wish I knew how to help.
I remember sometimes looking at Hugh while he was sleeping peacefully and thinking, “I’d love to be able to sleep like that. I have not had a good night’s sleep in months.” I’d be standing there feeling jealous of my brain-injured husband because he could sleep. My emotions made my logic irrational. I’d think to myself: “Can I be brain-injured for a few days and you take care of me now? I need a rest!” I’d actually be angry with him for being able to escape in sleep.
My most rational side came out when I talked to my children and tried to be strong for them by telling them that things would work out in time, that life would get easier, that Dad would heal, but it would take time. Looking back, I know they knew, or felt the anxious vibes I was putting out even with my sensible words, and that they were likely going through the same emotional upheaval. In hindsight, I realize that our daughters, Mary and Anna, were being strong for both of us. They tried hard not to rock the boat (or it might sink completely). They bottled up their own strange emotional cocktail of I love, hate, want my parents back, and swallowed many of the feelings they had that rose in their throats like bile.
There is no perfect caregiving situation, no easy path to follow. Every household will cope in its own way. Every caregiver will feel conflicting emotions, some that are noble, and others that feel shameful. What we all need to accept is that this is part of the experience, and that we are human, but we are trying, and sometimes just hanging in there is the noblest act of all.