Monday, December 28, 2009

From both sides now

I've been writing for the paper a little bit. It's in addition to being an editor, so I'm not incredibly prolific. I'm covering social services in the city, which is sort of perfect for me.

*Sort of.* This week I wrote a story about a city program that gives respite care for caregivers. That is, if you're living with someone you're taking care of (and 44 million people in the United States do), you can have someone come in and sit with that person for a few hours at a time so you can go to a doctor's appointment or lunch with a friend or whatever. Hardly anyone takes advantage of the program because no one knows about it. So I wrote a story about it. Last week I interviewed an amazing woman who takes care of her husband, who has a progressive neurological disease. At the end of the interview, when everyone else was gone, I started to cry. You know, it's the holidays, and everything. She was great; she hugged me, but I left quickly.

Then today, a woman called me to thank me for writing the story. In a high, shaky voice she told me her story; she had taken care of her mom for 10 years. This time, I didn't cry. I listened.

There is this incredible sisterhood of caregivers. I say sisterhood because it's vastly women who take time out of their lives to care for loved ones. It's every single caregiver I've ever known. And even though our stories are each unique, we know a lot of the same feelings. We're all in different stages of mourning and recovery, and if we're lucky, rebirth.

What really amazed me about the woman who called was how much more difficult her experience was. I mean, mine was as hard as you think it is: watching my mother, who spoiled and loved me, die, minute by minute, for 6 months. So, you know, hard. And I still carry the marks. But in that 6 months, I was able to find a job in my field so I didn't have to worry about money. And she had insurance, so we didn't have to worry about medical care. And I had some family members around who helped.

This woman who called me had none of that. She couldn't find a job that paid more than $7 an hour so she was trying to navigate a maze of poverty while taking care of her mom. And she was taking care of herself after she was rear-ended and t-boned in an intersection; she still doesn't have full use of her hands. And she didn't have much family around; she had to put her dad in a home because of dementia.

And despite all her best efforts, her mom died. Just like mine. And she was telling me how she felt lost, like she didn't know where to start again, and she had lost her identity. I told her the truth, that I had felt the same way. That I had landed this job, which I'd wanted for so long, on the day that my mom died but that I roamed the halls for months. I told her to give herself time, and to just try to recognize this great thing that she had done.

We talked for about a half-hour. She thanked me for listening, and again for writing the story. And I felt so good that I could give her the 10-years-out perspective. It feels good to have made it this far.

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