Yesterday I went to Jacksonville's first Caregiver's Expo. I skipped most of the 100 exhibits, because, now that I'm no longer a caregiver, I didn't feel the need for any of the paraphernalia that goes along with the job - information on rehab hospitals and nursing homes, Jazzy walker demonstrations, sitter services. The kind of stuff cheery people who make a living off your mother or father or you fill in the blank's needs. 18 months ago I would have felt like a kid in Toys R Us at Christmas time. Oddly, yesterday it just made me feel sad.
The whole reason I went to the show was to hear Gail Sheehy speak and sign my copy of her book. I read it just a few months before Dad passed away. And even though there wasn't a lot of "new" information - caregiving requires the ultimate degree of on-the-job training - it let me know I was not the lone ranger I felt like in the wee hours of the morning when Dad wanted company while he sat on the pot. Sheehy was every bit as pretty and informative as I expected. She has obviously survived the zombie stage of caregiving. She lived through it and shared with other walking dead that there is hope. Instead of feeling happy to be on the other side with her, I looked around the room at the host of caregivers, some of whom had a day's hall pass, others who wheeled their dependent one along with them, and felt sad.
The need for caregivers in the world is staggering and growing. As boomers turn 65 the number of "Single family nursing homes" as Sheehy called them is going to continue to grow. The health care system is already broken. And, excuse me for getting political here, the men and women in Washington don't have a clue. "Caregivers of the world unite" could be a rallying cry, but there aren't enough hours in the day for caregiving revolutionaries. There are diapers to change, dr. appointments to make and attend, linens to change, wounds to dress, pills to dispense, meals to prepare, grandchildren to play with, spouses to play with, and, that part about taking care of yourself first. No wonder I felt sad. The burden I don't even have anymore felt heavy on my shoulders.
And that's part of where the sadness came from. Sheehy said something along the lines of, "don't quit your job... you need to have that to fall back on when your caregiving days are over. You need to be adding to your 401K, and SS quarters. You need your own health care insurance. Things that I lost by making the choice I made 16 years ago. I made out better than some, and I'm grateful. But when it comes to going back to work, and being able to write a resume that might get me hired in time when there are people way more qualified than me who are being turned down, I'm way behind the proverbial 8-ball. Something my father tried to tell me about at the same time he demanded my single-minded attention. Again I looked around the room at the people there and wondered, how are they doing it? How can they add "work" to their work?
Today, Sweetie took my crabby ass to a movie. A great distraction. When we got home our alarm system was flashing a trouble light. Let me just say that during the time Dad was alive and still in control of things, he gave me several Alarm System lessons. True to form I only listened with one ear. Seriously, I had enough other stuff to worry about and as long as he was here, why did I have to learn how the system worked? I know Sweetie got his own lessons, and perhaps Johnson did too. But today the lights were flashing and a buzzer beeping and no one could even find the instruction book. Where the hell is my father when I need him? I fussed at Sweetie like the whole thing was his fault. But I think mainly I was blindsided by the fact that Dad isn't here. He's not here to fix things, to tell me things I don't want to hear, to demand my attention, to point me in a direction even if its not the direction I want to go, to give my life some purpose. I sat in that room of caregivers yesterday and became decidedly aware of my lack of identity and purpose.
Are you a writer, the lady beside me asked when I suggested she stay to hear my writing coach, Carol O'Dell, speak. I tried to say yes, but, even to my ears, it didn't sound believable.
My muse apparently left when Dad did. I'm struggling to put meaningful sentences together, just like I struggle to write a resume.
Waa! Waaa! Waaaaa!
I am glad I went to the Expo yesterday. I didn't get to sit down with Sheehy and have an Oprah Book Club moment, but I expressed my gratitude and that felt good. I got to watch my mentor and coach in action. I got a glimpse of where she thinks her babe chicks can go. I was very aware of the freedom I had to go to the show, stay as long as I wanted without worrying about what might be happening at home without me. I'm grateful for that. Being mad at Sweetie for a defunct alarm system does neither of us any good. Feeling all pissy just adds to the pissiness. So I guess it's time to eat some chicken pot pie and move on.
Thanks for listening.