Sunday, September 29, 2013

"I didn't sign up for this"

Another fine article written by Monica Vest Wheeler, and originally posted on her blog. She has given me permission to reproduce it here on this blog. Monica's blog is titled "Turning empathy into action" and can be reached using this link:  

She mostly writes about many different types of brain injuries and diseases, such as Alzheimer's, and occasionally writes one about stroke. She has published numerous books. According to her blog heading, Monica "...explores how we can lift ourselves and others by turning empathy into action … and the importance of the art of compassion in dealing with Alzheimer's, stroke, brain injuries and other life challenges." Monica is best known for her work on the Help ME Cope & Survive book series:

Monica is also a very active volunteer for Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp and arguably our best camp photographer. 

I hope you enjoy her writing and visit her blog. And be sure to browse her archived articles, too.

by Monica Vest Wheeler

During four years of immersing myself in the topic of dementia and Alzheimer's, and writing and speaking about it, plus now serving as a caregiver, I've heard just about every scenario, crisis and triumph.

But there's one caregiver statement that really hits me now and then:

"I didn't sign up for this."

I was thinking about that one Sunday as I sweated in the July heat and watched my dad-in-law, Pepaw, fish. No, I didn't specifically sign up for this chore when I agreed to be his caregiver. I think it was in the fine print under "and all other duties as assigned."

There are a lot of things in life that I didn't sign up for. The first one that comes to mind is life itself. Nope, don't remember signing on any dotted line for this adventure, but I arrived and have tried to make the best of it.

I didn't sign up for my mom and dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. I got to know and love them and created my own place in the family. I learned to adjust and weave my way through a complex world that made no sense to a little girl.

I certainly didn't sign up for measles, chicken pox, bad tonsils, cuts that required stitches, and broken toes. If I had had any say, I would have requested summer weather year-round as a child so I could play outside every day.

I don't recall adding to my "want-to-do" list things like going to school, doing homework, being made fun of, fighting with so-called friends, and doing household chores. Those were the kind of things that came with this job of life.

I didn't sign up for rejection when the boy I had fallen for didn't like me in the same way in junior high, though he was quite amused by my lengthy and chatty letters. I didn't seek disappointment when I was not selected as a junior high drum major or my writing contest entries didn't win.

I did sign up for love when I met the right man and got married. However, I didn't sign up for arguments, financial headaches and the really hard work it takes to make a marriage work. But I've accepted those challenges along the way because I love this man.

I did sign up for motherhood when I gave birth to a robust boy. However, I must have missed all the fine print on the hours it demanded. Nowhere had I signed my name that I wanted to have more sleepless than restful nights those first couple of years. And I would have never agreed to chain myself to the pile of laundry a growing boy creates. But I waded through it and survived because I love my baby boy who's become a wonderful man.

I didn't sign up for the tragedy of war, high taxes, inept government and elected officials, potholes, road construction, mandatory insurance, and standing in line forever. I would have definitely voted down whoever created and implemented the phrase, "Life isn't fair."

I didn't sign up to be at my grandpa's side when he passed away, but I was there when it happened. I didn't sign up to attend the funerals of friends who died tragically, but I went to express my sympathy to their loved ones who had never asked for that kind of grief. I never signed up to lose my mom-in-law 10 years ago or my dear friend this year. I would have ripped and burned any paper that asked for my signature. I had signed up for love, but somebody made the rule that sometimes we lose the people we love. However, I wouldn't have missed the love for anything because the love really does last longer than the grief.

This spring, I signed up to be a caregiver for my father-in-law even though I knew Alzheimer's was slowly stealing his life. I didn't ask for the anger, accusations, threats and rudeness of recent weeks. I was not eagerly looking forward to having to help clean him when he soils himself, saving bushes from catching on fire when he flips his cigarettes into them, or having to hurry to his assisted living facility when they call about his erratic behavior.

I never asked for a broken heart, exhaustion, tears of frustration, loss of freedom and countless hours to do what I want to do, and being told, "You don't love me."

If caregivers saw every single thing that they'd have to do in caring for a loved with Alzheimer's or any catastrophic illness or injury, there would be few takers. Who asks for heartache, anger, pain and grief? I didn't, but I accept it because it's part of a higher calling and purpose in life, to show compassion to those we love … and to pray someone will show that same compassion when we need it in our final days.

No, I didn't sign up for "this," but no one is going to erase me now.

Written by Monica Vest Wheeler

Monica Vest Wheeler
Turning Empathy into Action
Find me now on Facebook
And on Twitter
Phone 1-309-682-8851
Phone toll-free 1-877-267-4640
Fax toll-free 1-877-636-0634
P.O. Box 276
Peoria, IL 61650-0276

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