The Heart of Caregiving: Transitions

Each member of Sound Generations’ Caregiver Support Program is or has been a caregiver to an older adult or adult child, creating a valuable shared experience among Advocates and those who seek their assistance. In this ongoing series—The Heart of Caregiving—our staff, volunteers and others share their personal caregiving stories and the insights learned along the way.

The following story comes from staff member Daria Sawochka.

Caregiving seems to have a naturally blurring effect on the one providing the care, eroding the often flimsy boundaries that barely exist between caregiver and their charge. It can be so challenging to know where you end and the other person begins, among the myriad of endeavors that fill the life and heart of a caregiver to overflowing. I have often wondered, is it even possible to have a healthy sense of oneself while caring for another?  Or is it something that must be learned and relearned, again and again? Revealed? Then lost. Uncovered by the journey itself?

Here are some of the truths caregiving has revealed to me:

Caregivers tend to be “other” focused, tuned into the care receiver, ever anticipating the needs of others as early as we can, in our attempts to avert a crisis, or relieve suffering, pain or the loneliness of loss. We try to keep things from becoming even more out of control than they already are. In this process, I have realized one can completely lose oneself, like a glacier that slowly begins melting, then tumbles into the sea, becoming the sea itself. For me, this happened quietly and without fanfare, barely noticeable to the naked eye.

Until a certain day came when I looked around and realized, I was gone.  I was nowhere to be found, lost.  Nothing around me looked familiar anymore. When I lose something, the first thing I do is backtrack, retrace my steps in hopes of finding what was lost. I began to ask myself:  When did this happen?  When did I first notice the absence of me? I began to wonder:  Had this happened so slowly as to go unnoticed?  Or, was it something else?

Was it in the name of duty, of devotion, of love, that I willfully let go of me?  And if so, was this a price I was willing to pay? Perhaps.

Then an overwhelming emptiness came over me, much like waking up in a vacant warehouse, filled only with cobwebs and echoes of what once was. As a caregiver, I began to feel the price I had been paying.

I began to admit to myself, for the first time, this was unsustainable, unacceptable, and could not continue.  I began to ask myself:  When did I stop thriving and began to believe surviving was enough?

Very slowly and tearfully I began to realize:  The devotion is still there. The great love and caring is still there, now transformed into a new shape, a new form.  A great longing to be a daughter rose again.  I no longer wanted to solely live as a caregiver.

There was a time when I didn’t even know this was a choice, when I gladly took on Mom’s life and I folded up my own, placed it in a box and stuffed it on the top shelf in the back of my closet “for later use,” I told myself. Now it feels different to me.  I am learning to sit with two things at the same time – I love my Mom so much AND I need help with meeting her everyday needs.  One does not cancel out the other.  Both reside in my heart.

I am grateful for the help and support I receive in my life.  I certainly could not be on this journey alone.  Whether support comes from friends, family or coworkers –  or from the fabulous supportive services available in my community; I welcome them all and have come to realize they are as vital as clean air.  And my hope is that all caregivers reach out and find the priceless resources offered in their neighborhoods.