I started caregiving when I was 13. I really had no choice. My mother was mentally ill, so was her mother. I was charged with making sure things were okay. That was a huge task for a 13 year old and I kind of grew into it, never realizing at the time that what my Dad asked me to do was actually abusive in some ways. A child should never be put in charge of a mentally ill adult, much less two!
Fast forward all these years and they’re all gone. My conversation with the title company about my uncle’s house and how horrid it was they were all dead. Obviously, bedside manner wasn’t one of the classes he took. But he’s right. They are all gone. For the first time in my life since the age of 13, I do not have anyone to care for.
Some would argue I can care for myself now but those who have been caregivers know it’s not the same thing. I’m fighting with the notion of getting two dozen more cats. I know that’s not what I need. Nor do I really need to go out and find some needy soul who needs someone to do for them. I’ve been that person for 36 years now. It’s worse than a mother who finds herself with a suddenly empty nest. Few mothers care for a child for 36 years. I hope. But in some ways it probably feels much the same.
The house is weird because it’s so empty now. It’s still full of other people’s debris and things my Dad cherished – things I could never cherish myself nor comprehend why he did. But as I’m cleaning out rooms and organizing, I’m trying to reimagine what the rooms would be best for. I’m also doing the same thing for myself.
For most people who are caregivers, they’ve done this for a few years, maybe fifteen for some of them. They have a clear picture of who they were and what they liked before they started caregiving. For myself, I find it ridiculous to go back to when I was 12 and discover what makes me happy. Most of the things I did when I was 12 my knees would scream in horror at now. Rollerskating, playing barefoot in the yard, playing on the swingset. All of those are fun to the point that an adult can do them but they’re not my favorite things anymore. I’m a lot older and wiser …. and rounder than I was at 12.
This is a wholly new place for me. I will need to completely reinvent myself. People say, just do what you love. What if I don’t remember what that is? What if over the last 36 years I’ve completely forgotten what I love? When I was 13 my world was so tiny. I was a kid, a 7th grader, and I’d just discovered how much I liked to read. That was my world. I did some crafts here and there but most of the crafty stuff came while I was caregiving. So in truth, I almost feel like Rip van Winkle, waking up after sleeping a hundred years, and the world is so different. I’m different too, I guess, older. It’s exciting in a way but also very, very sad. My family is gone now, one by one, slipped off to the journey that I will take one day, not anytime soon, I hope. In the meantime, I have to discover what I like and what I want to do and who I want to be. In some ways, being a loner most of my life, it’s actually quite frightening. But still, I think it’s worth doing. I need to decide what I want out of my next 36 years. I need to decide what to do with myself and for myself and who I want to be.
It’s a voyage of discovery, I guess. I get to reinvent me.