Low

I hit the emotional wall this week. I feel like I often try to write honestly about being a caregiver. I feel like I often fail. There are too many dimensions to caregiving. To caregiving Mark.

Part of this is because in order to survive this mammoth life curve ball, I spin my mind until I find a positive about a day, a moment, a time period. Part of this is also just my disposition. And of course there are the quiet joys. Yes, I truly can feel content when Mark and I sit in silence, watching the sparrows nesting on our porch.

As I write, I hold an acute awareness that what and how I write affects our family, friends, colleagues and community whose hearts can get beaten down with the tragedy of Mark’s circumstances, and mine, and the kids’. If you can believe this, I quite often dial back the harshness of the situation in my writing. If horror seeps through, it’s likely more horrible that I am even saying. Because everyone, including me, feels better if I’m handling it okay.

But today, I’m at a low. And I’m going to write this post for me.

Next week effectively ends what has been the most significant time in my professional life. Roughly 12 years ago, with my freshly acquired M.Ed., I responded to a newspaper ad and was hired to be a Lower School science teacher at The Ellis School. As a product of public, co-ed education, I was walking into a world that was completely new to me: a small, all-girls, PK-12 independent school. The things I noticed from day one are the things that have stood true throughout the years. People care about each other. The students are seen, known, and loved. The school values community and honors the individual. Each student and faculty member is welcomed to be who they are, to grow and shine in their interests, talents, and passions. We are colleagues and friends who love to laugh and learn together.

Over time, I moved into teaching 7th and 8th grade science and became the science department chair. I’ve been challenged and supported in becoming the best science teacher I can be. It’s a work in progress. I would never be finished. In my times of personal challenges, the staff, administration and faculty have gone many steps beyond good wishes. They have shown up. Meals, gift cards, texts, phone calls, emails. Covering my classes when Mark’s medical appointments endlessly popped up. Sitting in my empty classroom and crying with me when it was all too much.

I can’t do it anymore. I can’t take care of Mark and continue to live this part of myself. Part of this is utter exhaustion. That is not the major part. The major part is that Mark needs full time care, and my job pays less that a full-time caregiver costs. The equation is simple. Mark cannot be left alone. Period. And we’d be losing money by my working. The logic is clear and devastating.

The school, with their unrelenting kindness, is giving me a one-year leave. I don’t know if in a year my circumstances could be any different. If they are, and I can figure out a way, I will go running back to my job with open arms.

Today I toured an assisted living facility for Mark. I looked at personal care and memory units. I don’t know what will happen next with Mark. I don’t know the condition he will be in when the rehab — or insurance — decides he’s maxed out on improvements there. This morning, in an absurd moment of irony, I watched Mark pull velcroed cards off a wall, trying to arrange the letters of the alphabet from A to Z. He argued with the occupational therapist that the “I” was an “H.” He skipped the “O” and went right to the “P.”

After next week, I will no longer be a science teacher. I only will be a caregiver. Every blessing in the world of that privilege does not outweigh the reality of it. It’s an erasure of a huge part of myself, following an erasure of so many other parts of myself over the past two years. The who I knew myself to be, the highs and lows of living, all the complexities. All the freedoms.

You will want to fix this. And I appreciate that. I want to fix it, too.

I can’t figure out a way.

7 thoughts on “Low

  1. Diane,
    I have been following your story and I pray for you & your family often. I am a companion for the elderly. I love love love my job!!. But, I can tell you I love my job because it is not my life. I have breaks, happiness, loved ones, etc. outside of my job. Full time Caregiving is a very tough road of highs and lows. I will continue to pray for you to have strength. Remember to ask for help and support when you are at those lows. You will need those breaks for your own sanity. There are also support groups for full time caregivers. It may be a resource for you in the future. You have been a rockstar in this uphill battle. Keep your head high and know that you have touched many people through your journey. Teaching will be waiting for you when you chose to return. Warm wished & prayers. Kerry

  2. It may feel like the end, but if you love teaching, it isn’t over, you’ll eventually find new chapters of your life still ahead with teaching in it, and you’ll always be “a teacher” (you’re teaching people right now through this blog). Maybe just not right now in a classroom; instead, finding other ways to “live” in the moment and be you.
    I love this quote by maya angelou: “Trust life. Because life loves the person who lives it.”

  3. You are brave to reveal the truth of this, but I know it’s not even the half of it. You are still sparing us because you can’t help it. This transition has a million unknowns and the acrobats of finding the silver lining in all of this loss must be truly exhausting. I love you.

  4. You have made a monumental decision and once again it is to preserve a quality of life for Mark. I will continue to pray for you, Mark, the boys and the entire family. May you have the strength to continue to forge on. God Bless you all.

  5. Dearest Diane, You are so very brave. And so very exhausted. When I try to imagine your current life as a movie, I see and hear only images of war: the battlefield, the relentless noise of explosions, barbed wire, the enormous sacrifices made to advance over a few feet of land, the heartbreak of losing it and more during the next campaign, the cries of pain, frustration, and despair. You are right that we all want to fix this, but like it was for those in the tenches in the world’s wars, all we could do for them was to hope and pray and put our faith in those who were working to bring them home safely one day, for some rest and the silence of a ceasefire, no matter how brief, for the angels to abide. We are doing this for you now, Diane. Hoping, praying, holding all of you in this battle in our hearts. Every day. Your words from the front strengthen our love for you and our commitment to help see you, Mark, and the family through in whatever ways we can. Let this note be a mini mini care package with more to follow. Warmly, always, deeply yours, Deb

  6. Only overlapping the [remote/cyber-based] way we did last year, I nevertheless got to intuit and understand the kind of teacher you are and the way your students love, respect, cherish you. I hope this year on leave will give you extra strength and some time for yourself, beyond the extraordinary care you give to Mark. In my heart, I am convinced you will return to the classroom to the great joy of your colleagues and students. Although we still have not met, please call on me if there is ever anything I could do for you, dear Diane.

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