The Unexpected Present

Nov is National Family Caregivers Month

Corn harvest farm

November is National Family Caregivers Month. A salute to the countless family and friends who are primary caregivers. I watched two movies last week that highlight the role of the caregiver. I identified with and found a commonality between these supporting roles. In the biopic, A Beautiful Mind, Jennifer Connelly plays Alicia Nash, Nobel prize economist John Nash’s wife, who became a mental health care advocate. She supported her husband during his early years dealing with schizophrenia. There were bad times; they divorced, but she took him back in and cared for him. Ultimately, it was her faith in his work and as a human being that gave him a quality of life so he wouldn’t wind up lost in the back halls of a nursing home.

In a contemporary life drama, 50/50, the major support comes from a boisterous work colleague and best friend and a soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, trying to figure out how to behave in a life-threatening healthcare situation. Anjelica Huston plays the overreaching mother of her son diagnosed with cancer. She’s feisty and fearless, standing up to the standard treatment when deemed cold and off-putting. It might look like she’s difficult and tough, but that’s the outside shell (inside she’s screaming), and it’s because she cares. What constitutes being normal in an abnormal (Abby Normal) circumstance? I refuse to accept the stupid jargon “new normal” thrown around by medical staff. Telling me I should accept “it is what it is.” Well, I don’t.

According to the website, “more than 53 million family caregivers provide unpaid care nationwide. Policymakers define Elder Care as the care of people who are “elderly” or “infirm,” normally provided by residential institutions (acute rehabilitation and subacute stay-a-while places you never thought you would step foot inside, but it happens). Spouses, adult children, relatives, and friends are the family caregivers for older adults who have become Elders-In-Need. The older adult population in my book of definitions, “Elders,” and there are different levels– Young Elders (50-65), Middle Elders (65-75), Older Elders (75-85), and the Elderly; there are overlapping exceptions.

Yuri and I are Middle Elders, and Mid-Century Modern influences our lifestyle and love for things that helped us become who we are. I’m the environmentalist and will turn the thermostat down, put on a sweater, recycle as much as I remember where I can bring the stuff (I hate packaging), and compost egg shells and coffee grinds. Yuri is a minimalist. We are both experienced caregivers. And that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with him. His compassion towards his father and uncle in their later years was gentle and kind. AARP estimates that in 2021, family caregivers provided 36 billion hours of care valued at $600 billion, up from 34 billion hours of care valued at $470 billion.” Their financial future can also be put at risk—lost income due to family caregiving is estimated at $522 billion yearly. Elder Care is tough work. It’s not for the queasy, weak-kneed, weekend warrior types. Tough as nails.

The drive is nearly two hours one way, and the traffic, congestion, and crazy drivers in white pickup trucks keep me white-knuckled focused. It’s a different season this time around, with the landscape changing its colors, Autumn leaves. Crisp weather. Afternoon golden hour with the last rays of sunshine before early evenings. It’s the small things; the little things are what we look for and find that keep us going. It’s in the least expected places often when I meander to access food intake– a once pleasant act of a dining experience demeaned to a utilitarian process. At the fast food line, a sheer act of kindness brought me back from the netherworld, and I exhaled. I can return to the new rehabilitation and healthcare subacute place.

It’s the right move since I can’t bring Yuri back to the Eastern Shore. The corn harvest hadn’t finished. Dust and mold. Driving towards Chestertown, I see the crop dust rise, its haze draping over the flattened fields. Nearly sundown, yet the harvesters are working long days before the frost encrusts their harvest. It’s not the farmer’s fault. The agricultural lobbyists have taken over the state government that kicks the can, deciding who is responsible for such an environmental hazard. The local population with allergies is preparing to survive the soybean harvest with over-the-counter products—another billion-dollar industry. There’s no way Yuri would survive this Agro-Culture.

Good news is that Yuri’s heart is back in session. All organs are healing and accounted for, and his brain fog has cleared up since getting out of corn country. All parts are working. He’s feeling better physically and less angry with himself for not getting better faster. There’s a strategy to all this, but I’m not sure how to explain it. Not using cliches because it starts sounding less than what it originally meant. It doesn’t have meaning anymore. I’ll figure it out one of these days.

Meanwhile, Yuri called me and asked me for a date Friday night. I said, “Yes, I’ll meet you there.” He said, “It’s casual dress,” but I can wear anything that fits my personality. We have a date. I’m bringing a picnic, maybe candelabra. I smuggled in a half dozen oysters (luscious from the James River) and a beer. It made him feel human. We make plans where he wants to go for vacation, “Someplace warm in the winter.” My respite desire: Kauai, Hawaii Botanical Illustration Intensive Workshop Feb 2024. I can dream. Keeps me going.

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