Thankless Job

One summer morning many, many years ago, my parents welcomed into this world a... read more

Thankless Job


One summer morning many, many years ago, my parents welcomed into this world a seven-pound, twelve-ounce caregiver. Me. Presumably, that’s not what they were thinking when they looked into my bassinette. I imagine it was something more along the lines of we hope she’ll be pretty, we hope she’ll be smart, maybe even we hope she’ll be president, but surely not we hope she’ll be able to distinguish between a senior moment and a stroke.

But here, inevitably, we have come. Now I’m the one peering down at the bed, looking over them, looking after them.

It seems like, between them, they have every disease under the sun. If you’re here to read about traumatic brain injury, cataracts, incontinence, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, pulmonary hypertension, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, constipation, rem sleep disorder, Parkinson’s Disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, thyroid cysts, Lewy Body Dementia, neuropathy, dead jaw syndrome, MRSA, post-traumatic stress disorder, peptic ulcers, bedsores, lactose intolerance, peripheral artery disease, aspiration pneumonia, high cholesterol, carpal tunnel syndrome, gall bladder disease, vitamin d deficiency, staphylococcal disease of the skin, panic disorder, C-Diff, respiratory distress syndrome, urinary tract infection, coronary artery disease, arthritis, or atrial fibrillation, please… step into my office.

Because this is my business, now. This is what I do, twenty-four-seven. I am their assisted living facility. It has been, and still is, an absolutely Brobdingnagian adjustment. By that I mean enormous, to the point of ridiculousness. A role reversal so complete I look back at my childhood and wonder did it ever really happen. Has there ever been any reality except this one? Have I ever been anything besides a caregiver?

As a fiction writer, I’ve never had much use for the truth, but as a caregiver, I find that I need a place where I can be honest.

A big part of elder care, in my experience, is the ceaseless endeavoring to put the best possible spin on things, all things, at all times. I must stay upbeat, as though by the sheer force of my smile I can keep them from deteriorating further, keep them from dying. Of course, it’s a lie. But it seems like every day is lived under this veil of artifice, everything niced-down and mannered over, to the point where sometimes I start to wonder what my true feelings really are. And I wonder, if I never express them, do they actually exist, and are they, in fact, true?

So here’s all the ugly stuff. The mean stuff. The ungrateful stuff. Our life together, past, present, unvarnished.

It’s not all bad. I mean, I still love them, and that’s the sick, heartrending part. I’m an only child. When they are gone, I will be the only witness to the life we shared. And there were good times, there was happiness, laughter and hope.

I know what you’re thinking. At least they’re still alive for you to take care of. At least you’re ABLE to take care of them. But at this point, neither of those sentences chastens me. I’ve already done my dissertation in guilt...

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