On Caregiving and Writing

Monday night after a brutally cold day.  This morning the thermometer on the outside wall across from the window in the green room hovered at zero.  Our heating system could not warm the air in the house to a comfortable level, so I went downstairs to the furnace room to find the noisy, but effective electric heater that Danielle used in her bedroom, brought it up to the living room and aimed it toward Carol’s bed.  I sit with my laptop in front of the window in which our air conditioner is permanently installed, so every once in a while I am treated to an icy breeze coming through the machine and the blinds I have hanging in front of it.

This evening Ryan came for a pizza dinner, and we discussed arrangements for the viewing tomorrow evening for Carol’s uncle. We’re going to try work it out so I will join him and his father and wife for the ride into town.

Tomorrow is my usual shopping day, but because I didn’t want to have to go back and forth to town two times, I availed myself of the Shipt delivery service for delivery today, and it worked so well I might just start using it in the future to free up some more time, perhaps to go see a movie.

Having decided not to tell Carol about her uncle’s death, I still wanted to have her represented at the service on Wednesday to which I am not going.  I asked her cousin Phyllis if it would be appropriate for me to write a few words on Carol’s behalf that could be read at the service, and Phyllis thought that would be a good idea.

And so I’ve been working on a short piece that, as best as I can manage it, will provide a sense of how I observed the relationship between Carol and her uncle, as well as including my memories of him.  I edited the piece one more time this evening,and printed it out to give to Phyllis tomorrow evening at the viewing.  I’ll probably take another look at it tomorrow morning.

I will do that because that is what as a writer I do.  I find it is always a good idea to take another look even though I will say without any false modesty my first draft of any piece of writing is always more than serviceable.  It’s applying my craft through several reviews of that initial effort that I find so satisfying.

Wednesday night.  Cold and snowy weather, so I only left the house to go across the road to retrieve the newspaper in the morning and mail later.  Hanna came as usual in late afternoon and after checking Carol informed me that she would have to do the paperwork to recertify Carol’s eligibility for hospice.  As if she has gotten better and will no longer qualify.  It’s a crazy system born out of our country’s reliance on some form of insurance to provide health care.

I attended the viewing for Carol’s uncle yesterday evening, and it was good to spend some time again with the extended family even if it took a sad occasion to provide the opportunity.  Phyllis read and approved the words I had written as a way for Carol to be present at the service today. She said it would be too difficult for her to read it. Instead she gave it to Carol’s sister Jane for that purpose.

I had taken my time writing those couple of pages through several edits. I was happy to put my writing skills to such a good purpose.  My writing life is the second of the three areas I have chosen to explore, beginning with my role as a caregiver, and intending to move on to parenting my three daughters and four grandchildren as best I can in spite of geographical separation from all of them.

I was not always aware of how central writing would become to my sense of myself.  I suppose I could always write well.  I don’t recall ever struggling, nor do I remember paying much attention to or being aware of my innate ability.  In high school I was invited to take honors English, but didn’t see the point of taking more of a subject that, for the most part, bored me, although I was then, and always had been, an eager and voracious reader.  That interest just did not transfer to my school experience.

I started college in the age of Sputnik as a pre-engineering student when  the country wanted engineers.  I had done well enough in high school math and science, acing my physics Regents exam my senior year, my father was an engineer, and so my choice made some sense.

However, it did not take long for me to discover that my relative success in high school was not a good indicator of my potential as an engineer.  I got through that first year working harder than I was accustomed to, and decided I was swimming upstream.

I took a summer course to finish my English requirement while figuring out what I would pick as a new major.  To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed that course, and rather than finishing a requirement I instead chose English as my major, figuring,that I might as well do what always came easy to me.

Then I joined the college newspaper, became its feature editor, and at the end of my college career I won the Brooklyn College senior essay contest, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the fact that I wrote the contest essay in one sitting in a lecture hall, and my handwriting is famously bad. My prize was a ten dollar credit for the college bookstore, which in those ancient days enabled me to buy two or three decent books.

At that point, writing remained an essential but not a primary part of my life. Earning a living and starting a family came first. To that end,  I became a college English professor, which gave me the natural environment in which to launch my efforts as a writer. I started publishing short stories and then my first of six college textbooks along with fiction and poetry.

When I completed my doctoral dissertation, I managed to place its last chapter in an academic journal, my one and only scholarly publication. That I managed to do that is perhaps one of the best illustrations of my lifelong intention not only to write but to publish. I cannot speak for other writers, but for me writing and publication are two sides of the same coin.

Simply I must write. If I am not working on something, I feel unmoored. If I were not Carol’s caregiver, I would be writing a new novel, or story, or poem, although now that I am retired I can say there will be no more textbooks.  I started this blog as a journal–something I occasionally assigned to my students but had never undertaken myself– at the suggestion of a good friend who thought it would not only be good for me, but sharing my experiences as Carol’s caregiver would be a service to readers in similar situations. Thus this blog, which provides me immediate access to those readers as well as others interested in learning about this dread disease. 

Most important, my commitment to my life as a writer prepares me for the transition I have been going through, and from which at some time I will emerge. I cannot imagine with accuracy when that emergence will occur as it can arrive a number of different ways.

But what I see now is that as a consequence of becoming Carol’s caregiver, I am losing my role as her husband. I suppose now I am her husband/caregiver.

Of course, I will always in fact and emotion be Carol’s husband until one of us dies. But in my day to day life I do few things that are purely husband functions.

Or perhaps I am more accurately her caregiver/husband as that balance ever so steadily moves in that direction. The interesting corollary to that movement, however, which only recently occurred to me is that my continuing investment in my writing career is nudging its way as a possible replacement for my role as husband.

I recognize that, I live with that.

Writing takes a bit of the edge off that stark acknowledgement while providing me a way to deal with it.


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2 Responses to On Caregiving and Writing

  1. Kathleen flores says:

    This is the only way I can see what is happening in carol,s life. I don,t like to bother Jane, as I know she has her hands full, and it is a very emotional time for her. I am a stranger to you, but through your writing, I have seen what a loving person you are with Carol. I appreciate having a small window into her life. Take care to both of you.

  2. trudy j carpenter says:

    Steve, again I enjoyed your blog, as I always do, though I do not always comment. Sometimes it is too hard to think of a response that doesn’t sound trite. Keep writing so we can keep reading.

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