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.