I quit my job of twenty-five years last week.
My husband said it was time. And since the job in question was being his father’s caregiver, I had no choice.
I first realized the job vacancy in the late 1980’s. A couple days after our honeymoon, I sat in my new in-laws' kitchen helping my husband install a Christmas present dishwasher purchased by the siblings. As he finished and put the tools away in the basement, his mom asked me, “Would you like to stay for a bowl of ice cream?” Four hours later, ice cream bowls beside the sink, and Skip-bo cards strewn across the table, we said our goodbyes.
They needed care.
Not a caregiver. They were both very spry still; my father-in-law just recently retired. But a house that once held their robust family life and weekly church activities now hosted only a couple family holidays a year with occasional weekend visits from out of town grandchildren in between. As we were walking out the door, we agreed to share a weekly meal and work on restoring some old wooden furniture together.
I started to care.
Gardens came next. Side by side with my mother-in-law, knees brown, my baby girl watching as we dropped seeds in little holes and talked about how the seed must die and be split in two before it brings life. Then there was a hip replacement surgery. Twelve years of Alzheimer’s disease. Two bouts of cancer. Sitting by a man when he signed his wife into hospice. When I turned down the covers of his bed in my house the night she died, I became a caregiver. I have been cracked open and split straight down the center caring for my in-laws.
Some of those years my in-laws lived two hours away. Some years my father-in-law lived steps from my kitchen. Distance was not the problem. It was my heart. When angry thoughts brewed in my soul and angry words in my mouth while I made the morning coffee, God kept working on my heart. When the days were long, and I felt sandwiched between the needs of the younger and older, God used the situation to mold me. When I was tired, and lonely, and feeling inadequate for the task, God convicted me to care. Again. More. Still. Caring revealed my selfishness and my priorities daily. To me. To my in-laws. To my children. Perhaps to outsiders who watched. Like the full-ripened tomatoes that came from the planted seeds, the fruit of caring was learning how to love. Imperfectly it always seemed, because I failed over and over again. But through God’s mercy and strength, choosing to love over and over again.
It will be impossible to stop caring.
Being the caregiver? Yes, that has ended. My husband’s family has rallied quickly. My father-in-law will receive care from new helpers fresh for the task. My season is completed. But twenty-five years is a long time. A lifetime actually. Our children have spent their lifetime seeing the needs of their grandparents and knowing their needs weighed as heavily as the needs of any other member of our family. Often heavier than their personal needs. Accept an impromptu lunch invitation from a family after church? No. Grandpa is already back home, and he is counting on sharing his Sunday meal with our family. Caring has become a lifestyle that each of my children packed in their suitcases when they left home. I see it in their adult lives, their relationships, and their jobs. Caring changed all of us and shaped who we have become as individuals and as a family. Caring will continue. Because caring is really never just a job.