Monday, June 11, 2012

Comments Welcome: A Caregiver’s Journal (No. 4)

A Gratitude Flag

It is a glorious shout of defiance that I have made in my own chest, in back wards and other gutters, during my worst defeats.

It can still stir spirit’s embers into flame.

But—is it adequate, now? Will it do for what I have seen, what I am seeing—now? The death by slow drowning followed by coma that is lung cancer? Or the far slower disintegration of Alzheimer’s, as natural and dreadful as the host of ravenous wasp larvae implanted in a paralyzed caterpillar?

For these, for now—the brave words must be modifed.

In times of stone, gauze has its blurring virtue. But needed as well are granite views. Stones to set amid the stone. As markers. As signatures of self.

All that I see can, and will be, taken from me.

Yesterday, two Marys. One, her suffering done, lowered by three pairs of hands into the ground. The other, still going with faltering steps over the Earth, her brain shrinking, her spirit swelling with assault, supported on either side by those she rains down minuses on, as if to sew a zero, a bag of blackness we can be swallowed by together, no one alone.

So what avails? Does anything?

To be a steadfast witness?

All that will be taken from you will be seen by loving eyes.

You will be helped until all help is done, and before and beyond that, witnessed utterly. A witnessing beyond mere observation. A being-with and going-together to the end. Your hand held and your going attended.

What is demanded of the caregiver?
Are there limits to the asking?
What is returned?
No less than is demanded.

The strange contagion of suffering and comfort, how they swap places constantly. Arm around her shoulder as she weeps at losses she cannot recall, then pats my hand to dry her eyes. An hour later it is I who am forced off the road by streaming eyes, who feel, at 2 a.m., on a shoulder of the 401, a sudden rinsed and ruined space, a raw clearing as of dawn over a battlefield. All exhaustion gone, and resolution renewed, as if the sorrowful hard 20-hour day were, not a crushing burden, but a rare exhilarating privilege.

And it is. In moments of mad gladness, I know this: a privilege. To be offered, and to be prepared by a lifetime to accept, the position of loving witness.

To plant this flag of gratitude.


  1. Dementia does take away what has been seen, and the caregiver takes on the storing of these other memories - holding them, recalling them, sharing them. To be willingly such a loving witness is rare, Mike.

  2. you may be right, dawn. i do know it is a rare, strange privilege to try to be one. (and awful...but that goes without saying.) you're holding a vessel that is broken and leaking its precious contents...on bad days you just see the pouring loss, on better ones you notice the droplets you keep in your cupped palms. your phrase "take on" gives hope: as the keeper of what remains, you can try to keep it safe. even best, as you say, share it. thanks for writing.


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