The Reluctant Caregiver
By Kate Murphy, R.N.

It was easy for me the first time around as a caregiver. Twenty years ago I was much younger and emotionally stronger to carry out the role. Of course I was also very naive to the role I was about to undertake. As primary caregiver to first my mother, and then years later to my father, there was never a question in my mind or heart about the rightness of it all. It was simply something I did because it was the right thing to do. Loving my parents and all that they had done for me in my life made it easy. And even though I had no idea what the next twenty years would bring, I moved forward with a certainty and conviction that surprised many over the years.

When dad died, it was as though a small part of me died as well. There remains in my heart a feeling of emptiness that will not be filled. The toll of being caregiver for so many years finally caught up with me, and I find it sometimes difficult to get through the day. My identity had been intertwined with my parents and much of who I am today can be defined by the role I played as caregiver. And yet, if you asked me six months ago if I would actively take up the role again, I would have answered with a resounding no. It was not so much that I did not want to provide the care to anyone else. It was more that I no longer had the emotional strength needed to be advocate to one person. The thought of being depended on for all aspects of another’s life was just too much for me to think about. I wanted to find out who I was now that my role as caregiver was over. I desperately needed to be able to define my personal boundaries. And yet whatever I attempted to do to learn those boundaries, it continued to return to caregiving.

Perhaps caregiving is not so much what I am, but rather who I am. The fact remains that I am now and always will be a caregiver. Some may say that is just a way of hiding from the real me. I disagree. The real me takes pleasure in helping others. The real me rejoices when some small thing I may do creates a measure of happiness in another.

That is not to say that I welcome becoming an active caregiver once again. Now that it is upon me, I suddenly have a greater respect and understanding for all caregivers out there who do so because they have no choice. Perhaps they wish they did not have to be the caregiver and perhaps they resent that this role is falling onto them at this time in their life. I know that is how I feel right now. I find that it is falling on me to be caregiver to someone who I had not been particularly close to throughout my life. If the truth were told you might even say the two of us were more antagonists to each other. So why am I doing it again? Why am I going to subject myself to all the stresses and frustrations caregiving brings when I really do not want to do this thing?

It seems to me that caregivers, willing or not so willing, have a special calling. We may not like it, yet we recognize that without our intervention this person will have no one to help him or her at a time in his or her life when they need the most help. There is a part of me that wishes this were not happening. But I cannot deny that this is who I am and what I do. Being a caregiver gives meaning to my life. And come what may, the road ahead will undoubtedly be filled with many mixed emotions. In a way I welcome this new challenge as a means of increasing my understanding of caregivers who also find they are “trapped” in a situation they would rather not have to experience. I have always said that each new experience in my life has it’s own lesson to be learned. It is my hope that the lessons I am about to learn will be of help to others. Only time will tell, and you can be sure that as soon as I know, I will share it with you.      

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