It was back in 2003. My friend Claire’s mother had taken ill. She needed help, support, someone to be there for her. Claire had been there for her.
At the time, neither Claire nor I were familiar with the term “caregiver.” I didn’t know exactly what it meant. For her part, Claire found out sooner than she would have liked.
When Claire told me about her situation at the time, I remember being struck by what she said. Basically my friend had decided to limit the support she provided her mother. Right from the start. For example, she gave herself the right not to go to all her appointments.
I remember my reaction. I’d been troubled by the idea of establishing boundaries in a helping relationship. At the time, I thought the only valid response to a vulnerable parent was unconditional support. This parent had raised us and been there for us, despite the possible flaws in our relationship. In my eyes, the mere fact that this person was our parent justified a sacrifice. There could be no boundaries.
Time has passed since then. I became a mother, Claire built a brilliant career. Her mother passed away. Our friendship remained intact. I still haven’t been confronted with a caregiver situation. But I now understand that until you’ve lived through the experience, it’s difficult to grasp its magnitude and a delicate matter to pass judgment.
My parents have grown old. My father’s health is declining. He avoids talking about it, as do I. Our relationship has crumbled. Our relationship has crumbled, and we rarely see each other. I think of him often. I don’t call him much. The guilt is there. I judge myself. I anticipate.
I’ll be a caregiver. In two years, in five, maybe later. I’ll still be a mom, still a professional, still in love, still curious about life.
Then I’ll call Claire.
I’ll call Claire, to tell her that compassion and altruism are values that I cherish.
I’ll call Claire. She’ll tell me about her mom. She’ll remind me of the love, the little joys, the funny moments, the limitations, the boundaries.
I’ll call Claire to talk about social pressure, hasty judgments, society’s expectations, what I think I should do.
I’ll call Claire. She’ll tell me that I can support my father according to my abilities, my resources and my convictions. That I can define my caregiving role and duties.
I’ll call Claire to tell her that my father has been present and influential in my life, helping to forge my identity. I feel I owe him that.
I’ll call Claire. She’ll tell me that at all times, I have the right to reconsider my choices, to readjust my decisions, to ask for help for myself.
I’ll call Claire to tell her how guilty I feel. So that she can remind me that I have my own history, my own experiences, my own aspirations, and that nothing obliges me to sacrifice myself.
I’ll call Claire. She’ll know just what to say if she sees that I’m undermining parts of my life. She’ll help me to be kind to myself.
I’ll call Claire and tell her how much her friendship means to me.
We’ll talk about freedom and choice. About limitations. Judgments. Social constraints. Quebec society in the face of old age and illness.
Then I’ll call my dad. What time is your medical appointment, Dad?
My name is Karine Cloutier, I’m a Regional Development Advisor with l’Appui pour les proches aidants. One day, I too will be a caregiver.
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