Help wanted 7

In another lifetime, I was sitting on a bench with my buddy, Doug, in a small town in France trying to recover from jetlag and watching several concurrent games of boules played by (mostly) men of all ages in the village square. It was serious business. When a guy in the group closest to us was lining up his next toss, a neighborhood mutt without any sense of propriety trotted across the clay and deposited a steaming load directly in the bowler’s trajectory. The player straightened up, whistled loudly, and out of nowhere zipped in a young man riding what was essentially a vacuum cleaner the size of a golf cart, who swiftly sucked up the offending pile and vanished, presumably waiting for the next summons. Play resumed without comment; life goes on. Doug and I looked at each other: “Did you see that? Who would want that job?”

Well, I’m not sure anyone really wants that job. It’s just a job. On the plus side: you get to ride around on a cool little cart in Provence during the summer, making sure others can pursue their activities without interference. On the minus side: you end up every day with a hopper full of dog shit.

Actually, caregiving can be a lot like that job—even worse if you don’t find a place to dump the hopper full of dog shit. For a position no one really wants to find themselves in, the primary caregiver role was one I had to fight for. Several years earlier, I had a blue period, like Picasso, though not as long or productive as his. Then I had a black period. Then I had a black-and-blue period. I’m not entirely convinced I was clinically depressed since it was largely work-related, but it doesn’t make much difference. Ultimately, well before Diana’s diagnosis, I traded the anti-depressant for a granddaughter and wrote myself back to life through poetry that has since been confiscated and kept under guard in a Nevada salt mine.

At the time, Diana found this profound change in my outlook perplexing. So did I. If I were questioned under a bare bulb with my feet in water and wires alligator clipped to sensitive places, I’d eventually say I discovered during that time that: 1) I’m not at my most creative during periods of high stress; 2) I don’t enjoy not controlling my own fate; and 3) I’m generally uncomfortable with uncertainty.

In addition, I don’t hide emotions well. Due to our differing childhood circumstances, Diana developed the strength and skills to deal with trauma that I never had to, so she was considerably more stoic, at least outwardly, during the first weeks of diagnosis. I actually felt borderline dehydrated most of that time, but only when the two of us were alone together. The rest of the time I would just curl up and bury my face in a pile of dirty clothes on our closet floor, since lack of privacy was the flip side of being continually supported by friends and family.

I’m not sure Diana thought I was up to the task of taking care of her; it probably looked more like she’d have to take care of me. I wondered about that myself, to a certain extent. There were plenty of people willing to do the job of primary caregiver. That was one of the factors that led me to step up to it, frankly. I had been hip-checked off the bed in mid-contraction during the birth of our second child because someone in the room thought they were a better coach. I was too stunned at the time to react, so I let it happen. This was a quarter century ago. I hadn’t thought about it since, but it popped into my head when I began to receive so many gracious and generous offers from family and friends to do anything and everything we could ask or need.

But this role was mine. I didn’t claim it so much as I reclaimed it. I became proprietary about it. I appreciated all the help—and it does indeed require a lot of help. But the depression I’d felt a couple of years ago had left me with the feeling that I had some making up to do, and now it looked very much like I might not have enough time to do it.

That said, the caregiving job started getting easier as soon as the final diagnosis was reached. As much as anticipation can be better than the thing itself, it can also be worse. At least we now knew what we were dealing with, and that made all kinds of choices easier. For instance, the question of how much do we need for retirement seemed to dominate every dinner discussion with friends in the months leading up to the diagnosis. Retirement? What retirement? Retirement had dropped off the radar altogether. So what is the solution to any nagging problem? Easy: Get a bigger one. Here’s one place where size does indeed matter.

7 thoughts on “Help wanted

  • Reply
    Susan Lindsay

    Kelly, I’m just now catching up with your blog. It is so refreshingly honest, self deprecating and lovely to share in your hidden struggle. You hide it well in the moment but, bless you, for being willing to expose it now. It’s a gift. Not only would other caregivers, who have sick family members benefit, but any caregiver, like parents of healthy children receive rich rewards from your posts. How many times have I found myself curled up in the dirty laundry? We all have days when our cart is full of shit. So, even though I’d never compare my traumas like the one you faced with Diana, everyone can identify with those feelings of helplessness, confusion, indecision and then, moving forward anyway. Thanks Kelly. You are an inspiration. btw- was I the one who hip checked you? My memory fails, and I don’t remember if I was even there at Eric’s birth. I just remember almost fainting at Camilla’s and being asked to leave the room. Anyway, as I often have to do in my old age, I apologize for my insensitivity. Still learning at 60. Love Susan

    • Reply
      Kelly Lindsay Post author

      Thanks, Susan. Regarding the hip-check, my memory fails, too. I recall the implication of the event, not the specifics so no need for anyone to worry about it. Besides, there’s always the possibility that I deserved to be bumped off the bed. Bygones.

  • Reply
    lainie guthrie

    Kelly: I am definitely going to enjoy reading this. I have missed you both. Prayed for you a lot–but have always known the care and love you share. Even in your self-described moments of “depression”–I always knew you would walk to the end of the earth for your Diana. Love you both.

  • Reply

    Since I’ve known you you have always seemed to me a born caregiver…with your children, grands,nieces nephews,Maman, Diana…Not only that but the Rock of the family, the one everyone goes to…the one who volunteers to push the wheelchair, hold the baby, drive miles to the lesson …this story is revealing and honest for those who know you and what you and Diana have gone through…and for those who are natural caregivers or who find themselves in the role of primary caregiver. I look forward to reading more …and I love you very much.

  • Reply
    Rene Neff

    Kelly, your sense of humor comes thru as well as your ability to create a picture that is so vivid and real of what must be going thru the minds of caregivers. I also appreciate your ability to be frank and honest about yourself. Thank you, keep writing! Rene

  • Reply
    Mary McKenna

    This is so poignant and well communicated. Have you thought about a book for caregivers? It is the hardest job, because of the helplessness one feels. It could help so many people who are partners or family members.

    We can’t wait for Diana’s book! Another year??
    Much love,

  • Reply
    Ellen Collord

    Dear Kel,
    It is wonderful to read your voice. You and Diana are both very talented writers and you both have important stories to tell. I am looking forward to reading more….and we hope to see you both sometime in the next few months. Keep the entries a comin’


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