Friday, June 1, 2012

Comments Welcome: A Caregiver’s Journal (No. 2)

Trench Mouth

Whitman: I above all promote brave soldiers.

So do I. And I want to be one. And sometimes, perhaps often these days, am. Days will go by when I can fight in sweat and silence—without feeling the need to talk, except to myself, about what I am doing and how I am doing it. But then an un-brave need wells up in me to howl, to whine, to jabber at anyone about what I am experiencing. I can beat the urge down, repress it. Often I do. But when I do, when I shrink it forcibly back into silence, I feel it turn into something small but hard in its need, something sapping, even poisonous. Then the unsaid sayable becomes an animal, tiny but with sharp teeth and claws, that I have driven into a corner of myself. It will stay there, for now, but it can’t live there. Eventually it will have to force a way out, gnawing and tearing.

But there is this dilemma: how to give voice to my own suffering without violating the suffering of others?

Within true expression, there is no perfect solution. However much I censor and edit (and already in the first post I deleted more intimate glimpses that bubbled up), I cannot talk about my own life caring for Dad and Mom without trespassing, at least a little, on their lives.

I will try to avoid what seems too graphic, too intimate—skirting, as a sacred area sensed in the dark, what would shame or dishonour them, or others. I will fail at this sometimes. But I will try to use the failures to readjust my sense of too-far, my compass of decorum.

I will try to focus mostly on the feelings, thoughts and quandaries caregiving roils up in my life. But to do so without ever referring to the events of caregiving, the thousands of acts and moments that make it up, would be to make caregiving seem abstract.

And abstract is the very last thing caregiving is. It is such a relentless plunge in the real and urgently required—a kind of waterboarding of the necessary—that it can make the rest of life—the merely preferable, advisable, strongly needed: all that falls short of the absolute Do Now!—it can make all that abstract.

That is a very alienating thing caregiving does. To make the stuff of daily life, all that is not caregiving, seem like a hollow mask, a set made from papier mâché and poster paints. Or if the world stays real, it does so as a shell, a mere thin casing to hold caregiving itself.

For some months I had stopped seeing my longtime psychiatrist. The hour I spent with Lindsey, as helpful as I found it, made my day an hour longer, by delaying by an hour all that had to be done by day’s end. Just recently we resumed. Hour-saving ran up against “airplane survival” as advocated by Segbingway’s doctor. If you don’t keep your own oxygen mask in place, you can’t hope to help the passenger in the seat beside you.

That is my excuse, too, for when I say too much, for when my mouth runs away with me.

“Sorry, Mom and Dad,” I say silently, and sometimes aloud at such times, still speaking as if sitting with them in their living room, though Dad has been dead almost ten months and the house sold five weeks ago, “but I cannot help and honour you unless I sometimes pause and help myself, even at the risk of dishonouring you.”

Talk was the oxygen I needed. I’d lived so long in airless striving that I thought I had nothing to say. But my mouth opened of its own accord, and out the words ran. It was like a spigot of bitterness and disgust that only needed one small twist to gush.

What poured out that day was nothing that dishonoured Mom and Dad, not directly. That day, it was about the others—I will not name them here—who know what this fight is costing us, and me, whose duty by any reckoning is to help, and who contribute nothing of their time or energy or presence. Who know that we are floundering and will not reach out a hand or so much as a stick to help. Who will not even look on in sympathy from the shore.

They maintain a perfect silence. Them—the uncivil civilians—I won’t forget.

Silence is only brave if it keeps you in the war. Some soldiers, not the noblest, need babbling in the trenches.


  1. ....Not claiming that I was
    at any of the great victories.
    But that I volunteered.
    - Jack Gilbert

  2. perfect. i couldn't have said it better. A Volunteer: there is a title to be proud of. mike


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