One of the challenges of caregiving is that care providers spend a great deal of their time doing repetitive, unseen, physically demanding, and at times thankless, work. Caregiving can start to feel like a hamster wheel existence of feeding, diapering, medical and physical care, and so on, where you NEVER, EVER finish work. Caregivers provide this care because they love their family member. After all, care isn’t just an active verb, it is a profound feeling as well. But that doesn’t mean that the days aren’t exhausting, and often mind-numbingly, never-endingly repetitive.
One of the challenges I have struggled with is that my days often provide(d) no sense of a job well done. We all, at some point or another, need some positive feedback in our life. Getting up and tackling a demanding task is easier, if at the end of the day, you can look back and take some satisfaction in what you have accomplished.
Now that isn’t that I don’t feel good about my caregiving. If I consider the last 18+ years of Matthew’s life I take satisfaction in the knowledge that my caregiving has largely kept Matthew healthy, and ensured he continues to enjoy excellent quality of life. Some days I can reflect back on the day and glow in the happiness of a good day spent with Matthew. There is no doubt that my caregiving has had a positive effect on his life.
But as most caregivers know, many days conclude with a sense of emptiness, exhaustion, isolation, and the knowledge that in a few hours you are going to get up (likely still tired) and do it all over again. No one will say thank-you. No one in the community will tell you that you are doing a good job. Your caregiving will remain largely hidden and unappreciated. You often don’t SEE the results of your work – beyond a great big pile of laundry. Really, as a caregiver, you just survived another day.
Which is why my most recent monday was a gift. I got to see a task to completion! I spent the day finishing up the staining of our cedar cottage exterior. To keep the cedar planks of our cottage looking decent means that they need to be re-stained every five years or so. This past summer, as the staining chore dragged on, I threatened to slap aluminum siding on the cottage so we could forego this ritual. My husband told me I could do that over his dead body.
In order to get the staining done my husband and I took turns heading up to the cottage separately. Matthew’s weekend nursing schedule these days was such that finding a weekend we both could be up was impossible. We did find one monday to be there together to tackle the two-person jobs. But for the most part one of us would head to the cottage for a day or two and spend a decent chunk of the day with a paintbrush in their hand.
This past monday I went up to tackle the “ends” of the cottage since they were a job my shorter stature could handle without climbing tall ladders – something my husband and I prefer to avoid when solo. At about 2:30pm I put the last few splashes of stain on the side of the cottage and I realized I had reached the end of the cottage. And it felt GLORIOUS. LIKE AMAZING!! I cannot tell you how excited I was to be able to stand back and see the results of my work. I know. WEIRD. But there you have it!!!! I was positively giddy.
And it occurred to me that that my elation was likely in part due the fact that the last almost 20 years of caregiving has offered little opportunity to see a task done to completion, and to get to celebrate that conclusion. Years of demanding, never-ending caregiving meant that I had rarely reached the end of a task. There was/is always more of the same waiting for me tomorrow. Similarly, as a PhD student, I spend a lot of time reading and writing and only produce a finished project once, or twice, a year. Some days I measure progress in sentences written and little more. And I am aware that as I move to the research and dissertation stage of my degree the length of time to produce something that is “DONE” will only lengthen.
Which is why it was fantastic to tackle a chore where I could see, and celebrate, a finished product at the end! And also lament my terrible selfie taking skills!!!