Never mind the “road less traveled.”
What about the road you never ever, ever wanted to travel?
But you did. You did because that road was the only road in front of you and there was no turning back. You took that road because any detour would mean abandoning someone close to you — someone who needed you.
Caregiving is that road for many of us. At first the unfamiliar landscape feels impossible to navigate. There are huge boulders blocking the way every few steps. There are hairpin turns that come out of nowhere. There are dead ends that stall your journey to an easier pathway.
But in the middle of all this confusion is the one you love, holding on to your hand.
Here is the caregiver’s strength. Here is what keeps you going.
It’s always easy in hindsight to see what you couldn’t see before, that love is more powerful than anything in its way. You’ll walk through fire, give up food, sleep, and comfort to care for the ones you love, without a thought of any reward. But if you’re fortunate, that reward will come.
On April 13, 2002, Hugh nearly died when a car struck him from behind as he rode his bicycle home from an afternoon workout. Two emergency surgeries in three days left him in a coma sleeping under an ice blanket in the ICU. For days, my twin daughters and I sat by his side wishing, hoping, praying, and willing him to return to us. The nurses couldn’t rouse him. Tugging his eyelids and thumping his chest got no response. But my daughter’s small voice broke through. “Daddy, it’s Anna. I’m here.” As she held his lifeless hand, he squeezed, and we knew. He was with us; there was hope. In turn, he squeezed each of our hands in recognition, in a valiant effort to reach us.
Our hearts were bursting with joy, a joy unlike any we had ever known before.
Before this experience, I might have considered a well-versed note, a meaningful gift, or a wonderful vacation the joys of my life. After TBI, caregivers know the purest joy of all, as pure as the birth of a child. That joy is a life returned with the squeeze of a hand, the faintest of smiles, or the whisper of a simple word.
After my husband awoke from his coma, there were many difficult days ahead. I found that when I had descended to my lowest point, I could return to the feeling of his hand in mine, telling me he was still with me, and that feeling reminded me that anything can turn around, bad days will become good days, tears will dry, and smiles will return. That indelible memory has reinvigorated my heart and soul again, and again, and again.