Amy Jo Schenewark worked in law enforcement for ten years, specializing in training and development, communications and “stings.” Having fulfilled her husband's dream of having of six boys, she dreams of having chickens and bees, big gardens and decadent desserts, and wearing pink dresses.
Earlier this summer, Amy packed up her six boys, and moved to New Hampshire for two months so that she could care for her younger sister Becky and her family, while Becky was bedridden due to a difficult pregnancy and subsequent surgery.
I remember listening to NPR one evening while Bob Woodruff's wiferecounted some of her experiences in taking care of her traumatic brain-injured husband. He was injured in Iraq while reporting for ABC news. I thought, “Wow. I'm glad I'm not there. I don't know how people do it,” people meaning caregivers. I expected one day I'd be taking care of my aging parents, they're just not there yet. I remember my mother taking care of her father. It began from weekly checks on him at his house, to moving him to her house, and then a care facility. I know she gave him all her spare time, thoughts and energy.
When Bob's wife, Lee, took phone calls from caregivers, I could sense their immediate connection. They were instant friends because they both understood the burden they carry. The unrelenting, never ending, sometimes frustrating, often draining and physically exhaustive service to a family member.
When I became a necessary caregiver this summer, I remembered those thoughts, but tucked them away in a safe place because I knew they could overwhelm me.
I labored for my sister, for her children, for my children, her handicapped child, and for my long distance husband. I cooked and cleaned, as usual, it was just for more people. I gardened. I gathered medicines and supplies, learned about machines and equipment, signed for and unpacked medical supply deliveries, made mistakes, learned how to stay ahead of the curve. I suctioned, hooked up G-tubes, put in a catheter, mixed feeding bags, drew prescriptions.
One day I was in the grocery store, waiting for my items to be scanned, when one item set off a beep that was like an alarm at home. It scared me because I thought Ben was having oxygen issues. Or Becky's IV bag was empty. Until I remembered where I was.
These two months have seemed liked a lifetime. I forget what my house looks like, who my friends are, what my husband smells like. And I wonder:
How do caregivers keep going? Who supports them when they want or need a break? How do they deal with emotional drains? How do they fulfill their own dreams? How long should they put their dreams on the backburner? Or are they too tired to have dreams?
Caring for Becky and her family was fulfilling not only because I care deeply about Becky, but also because I was succeeding at something I never dreamed capable of doing. But it was never ending, and I had no down time. And I didn't even have to do nights. I also knew this was temporary; two months of my time. It brought a new perspective to a caregiver's life.
In reading Amy's post, I realized that in encouraging women to dream, there is an a priori assumption (one that is well-founded based on the women I know) that we have already mastered the ‘yes'. The fact is — some of us do ‘yes' better than others, either because we come by it naturally, because our circumstances have pushed us to practice more, or both.
Amy's essay is a lovely reminder that as we embark on our hero's journey, it is a journey only worth doing so long as the ‘why' — the saying ‘yes' to our loved ones — never ceases to matter.