Colorful is not the way one would typically describe the life of a caregiver but once my father-in-law, Rodger, came to live with us my days began to revolve around the colors of his life.
Outwardly he appeared to be a drab little wren of a man. All his clothing was either brown or grey, the monotony broken only by one of the muted plaid shirts he saved to wear for an appointment with one of his many doctors. His lined, expressionless face would have been a blank canvas if not for deep brown eyes topped by grey eyebrows so overgrown they rivaled those of the late Andy Rooney. When he spoke there were no colorful sayings to add interest. ‘Just the facts, Ma’am.’ Everything about him seemed designed to blend into the background. At the time I didn’t think to question why he was so determined not to be seen or what he might be doing when he thought I wasn’t looking.
Every day started and ended with a rainbow of colored pills, red, yellow, white, green, blue, pink. Some were taken once a day, others two or three times a day, to treat or control his mental illness, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, Dysphagia, and various infections that seemed to pop up as often as weeds in summer. In between doses, billowing clouds of vapor from breathing treatments to ease his C.O.P.D. wafted out of his room. He counted out is various medications and filled his pill box weekly and he religiously filled out a mail order form when they began to run low. He knew when it was time for each pill and never failed to take them on time. Or so it seemed.
I should have known what he was doing when the symptoms first appeared but I was still too green to know how devious he could be. Even his doctors were fooled until they day his mind shattered into shards of throbbing suspicion. As I write this I try to imagine what a psychotic break looks like. I picture it as a swirling mass of colors so bright they burn his soul leaving him decimated and his caregiver shrouded in deep, purple guilt.
Eventually I discovered that the anger and resentment I sometimes felt when dealing with the daily stress of life as a caregiver could hide in a fog of grey fatigue or the flashing colors of an aura signifying the onset of a migraine headache causing me to scramble to find what I could to minimize the pain.
Fortunately, not all the colors of caregiving are dark or somber. If they were we couldn’t do it. I treasured the bright blue moments of clarity whenever they appeared. Like the day he told me how he and his brother would roll up the carpets in the farmhouse kitchen, when they were young men living in Italy, in order to dance a tango with girls from the village. Was that a hint of pink pride on his face at the memory of holding a pretty woman in his arms? I basked in the bright yellow sunshine of joy when he gently held his newborn great granddaughter, Ava, for the first time, his eyes full of love for the tiny creature gazing up at him.
Yes, being a caregiver is a very colorful occupation. When Rodger passed away, once the worst of the grieving passed, I realized that the moments we shared, the good and the not so good, would forever be part of the richly colored tapestry of stories being woven by caregivers who tend to their loved ones every day and I am grateful to discover there are places like this where we can share them. What are the colors in your story?
Note: This post first appeared on The Caregiver Space in 2013 under the title, 50 Shades of Caregiving. I am honored to be a guest blogger for them in addition to writing here as The Imperect Caregiver. You can also find caregiver blog postsby me on AgingCare.com
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