“Finding a new purpose in life isn’t easy.” Ingrid
Ingrid and I have known each other for several years, we attend the same caregiver group. Not long after her beloved husband died, she allowed me to share one of her caregiver stories: A Dementia Caregivers’ Journey is Long. What if YOU need help from 911? This is Ingrid’s story today, in her own words, two years after her caregiving journey has ended.
“Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” Robert Browning
“The Golden Years” are supposed to be a time of health, wealth and leisure. Coined in 1959, the term was part of marketing campaign for Sun City, Arizona. Nice thoughts, but not a reflection of everyone’s reality.
For me, caregiving was an all-consuming 24/7 responsibility. It seemed that every time someone advised how important it was to take care of myself, it was followed by yet another task that needed doing. Exhaustion and frustration were ever present, and solutions were elusive.
My husband had a long-term care policy and I regret that I did not file the application for benefits the minute he qualified. Not knowing how long he would need care, I was trying to postpone using his benefits. It was a mistake both physically and financially.
Now I would advise, check your policy carefully, especially for the length of the “elimination period” and tapping benefits as soon as you need them to avoid a dangerous level of exhaustion. My husband suffered from both vascular dementia and frontal temporal degeneration. He died on February 20, 2018. There were thousands of dollars’ worth of benefits remaining on his policy.
The morning after my husband died, the first thing that came to mind was “what now?”
For a number of years each day was defined by endless tasks from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning until I fell asleep exhausted and physically battered at the end of the day. Now, I didn’t even have to get up if I didn’t wanted to. The lack of purpose was unfathomable.
Of course, I soon realized that death incurred tasks as well. I was soon caught up in the frustrations of closing accounts, changing titles, planning a memorial service and just trying to breathe. It’s been two years and there are still some things to be done. It’s hard finding the motivation to complete these seemingly mundane tasks. Death changes your perspective on what’s important.
I found comfort continuing to attend the various caregiving groups. We all knew each other’s stories and struggles, so it seemed the obvious place to share our grief as many of us began losing our loved ones.
Some one from the VNA thought those of us who were no longer caregiving would benefit from our own group, calling it “Transitions.” We looked for ways to help each other cope. Many of us suffered from medical issues that we had ignored or deferred while caregiving. Many of us did not know what our next role in life should be and some of us felt completely lost. One thing that surprised us was that coping with our loss was getting harder. “Time heals all wounds” didn’t seem to apply. We were finally facing the long term implications of going forward alone.
Finding a new purpose in life isn’t easy. In many ways there is no “me” in caregiving. The other person’s needs become the sole purpose of your existence. Leaving each of us to wonder “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” “Who will take care of me?” “Will I survive financially?” “Will I ever get better medically?” We suddenly have time to question everything about our future.
For me, gratitude for what I have, rather than what I do not is the path to a mind reset, and the start of a new perspective.
Gratitude can start with the basics.
When I was hungry, I had enough to eat.
When I was thirsty, I had clean water to drink.
When I was cold, I had a warm house.
And I’m really grateful for indoor plumbing, a hot shower, and a hot cup of coffee in the morning.
But life gets better.
I’m grateful that at the age of 18 I married the love of my life.
I’m grateful that my husband was a good man who loved his job, loved me, his kids, their spouses and our grandchildren.
I’m grateful that we shared our lives together for 56 years.
I’m grateful for both lifelong friends and new ones, who have shared my journey through good times and bad.
I’m grateful for my family’s love and support.
And I’m grateful for all of you.
Purpose has come in the form of helping others navigate caregiving. Purpose has come in the form of offering comfort to those who are still lost in the depths of grief. Purpose has come in the form of providing transportation to a friend increasingly afraid to drive. Purpose can be found in little things every day. Perhaps we shouldn’t be waiting for some earth-shattering revelation to define purpose.
When my husband was dairy farming, he’d leave the house at 5 AM and return later for breakfast. In the summer when the roses were blooming beneath our bedroom windows, he’d pick one and come inside and brew a pot of coffee, gently waking me from beside the bed with the fragrance of a rose and the aroma of coffee. What was his purpose? To encourage his sleepy wife to get out of bed? To put a smile on my face? To make me glad I married him?
A simple act of love has a purpose all its own. I smiled then, and I’ll keep smiling at the memories and I’ll carry on.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.