I am not a natural carer. That’s a sentence, a thing I hear in my head, have heard for years now. Somehow, there was always a question mark at the end of the statement, like it wasn’t quite finished. As I am a carer now, it seems almost rude to make such a pronouncement, even to myself. This morning it came to me again and this time I let it sit with me for a bit instead of tidying it away quickquick. It could be dangerous thinking, after all. This time I looked at the words and the question mark and waited for more. Then, I got it. I am a natural carer. But there’s a but.
The times I have felt the call to care have been many throughout my life and I have risen every time. A child in turmoil, a friend undecided about his or her next step, or someone in a right old mess with a head full of fear and resistance. I have always been right there, a calming voice, a peeler back of protective skins, a listener and a very well read woman who can offer up ideas for the choosing. Then I would walk a way beside this person, encouraging, supporting and watching them move on and on into the distance. In other words I wanted to help them up to the top of their mountain from which they could see the whole view of their lives. From up there, new courage could be garnered from the winds and the light, and the world, way down below, far in the quiet distance, would lose its hold on the fetters.
However, this caring work promises no such freedom for the one who is now firmly grounded and heavily chained. There is no climeable mountain. There is a huge range stretching from east to west, from north to south, enough to darken any size of sky. I am not able to suggest anything much beyond a small thankfulness for what is. There is no chance of permanent repair, of a new choice of direction, a shaking off of old feathers. It is as it is and it will never get better.
Understanding this must be a freedom, or so I tell myself. Instead of thinking ‘I am not a natural carer’, with ‘I am a natural carer’ being the right answer, 10 out of 10, well done………… I look at the greys. I still love to help someone elevate their thinking. I still want to walk beside a person in a quandary to the summit of their mountain, to see them breathe in the cold clean air, to watch the sky and to re-consider without the fear of worldly pressure. But this is different. This can feel pointless at times, even though there is nothing at all pointless about making sure another human being is safe and warm. It can drive me to screaming point, or to a glass of wine at the wrong time of day. It can have me overwhelmed with compassion, flooded by tears, scared, tired and as restless as a flea on a dog’s back – and frustrated beyond measure because I cannot fix this problem, this man, nor this situation, no matter how much I want to or what well-read-up skills I bring to bear.
We women hate being fixed. Men are fixers and there is much written on the bizarre design of both sexes. You would think that we would have sorted out that nutty problem by now, what with all the scientific brilliance we have at our disposal, but it still stands firm between us and is still the most discussed subject in couples counselling. However, we women can want to fix too. We want everything to be the way we want it to be, within whatever parameters over which we have autonomy. This place of autonomy, in a traditional marriage is usually the inside of the home, although you are a fortunate woman indeed to have enjoyed such a widespread rule. We can fix our children until they tell us to get lost. We can fix our man, to a degree, but what happens when it is no longer possible? How does that feel? When something horrible arrives, like dementia or other mental illnesses with no cure?
I think there has to be some freedom in my understanding of this morning. I am not a natural carer for a long term circumstance. Next question……So what do you plan to do with that understanding? I will search for ways to lift this man to the top of his mountain, to breathe the good clean air. Well, not lift him, per se, for he is heavy and frail and fell yesterday flat down on the stone floor, no strength in his arms to do anything but lie there. But there are other ways to lift. If he can accept his sentence with whatever amount of grace he can drum up, then I can find him a mountain top. He was never an inside man. He was out in the wild, with the winds tearing at his face and the sea spray leaving sparkles on his skin. He was restless, always striding out somewhere and now he sits all day in one of two chairs, traversing the space between, very slowly, with the help of a walking aid.
I could look at that and feel very low. And, at times, I absolutely do. I can also find the mountain top inside my own mind and remind myself that, although this job may not be of my choosing, there are powerful and life-changing lessons to be learned as I take each day as it comes. Yes, I will falter and fail, over and over again. Yes, I will be frustrated and snappy at times, but if this is the ultimate journey of understanding, then I will make this pilgrimage all the way to the shrine because I know for certain that I will be a better woman in the end.
And that is worth the walk.