Warning- This article could be uncomfortable for some people. I will speak frankly about one of the downsides of care-giving- that is, one member of the family getting a huge percentage of the time and attention for an extended period of time. I'm not going to diminish the message with a ton of disclaimers, so if this is not something you are ready to read, please skip it.
One thing that I've been dealing with quite a while is the regret and wondering that comes after a season of care giving. For 7+ years, our family revolved around mom. There is a very real toll that comes from this. Things have to give, things get neglected, things get postponed- and even worse, it is not just things, but people. In our family story, the kids were one of the casualties. I've written, but not yet posted, about things to never tell care-givers; one of those things is to please not gush on and on about how “good” it is for the kids. Please just don't. This will be covered in more depth at some point.
During the time of taking care of mom, I had our 5th child, so we did the whole pregnancy and new baby thing, which takes enough time away from the other kids, on top of typical care giving. We also had a long-term medical/developmental crisis with on of the children that required weekly therapy, which took half a day, for 16 months. Because of all of these things piled up, anything that wasn't blood or broken bones got left to the side. In these times, the important gets neglected for the sake of the urgent.
We recently got information about one of the children that I won't share for privacy reasons, but is a bit shaking. Conditions that needed attention years ago. Conditions that I was very aware of the potential for, but since we were able to compensate, they never seemed critical.
But now, NOW, when time has run out, and I find that the things were real, and that they may effect my child long-term.... oh the doubts, oh the regrets, oh the should have-would have-could have, how they do come flooding in.
The distress is real. And like any other human, I would prefer to deflect blame. There is a lot of guilt feelings and I'd love to spread it around a bit, if only so that my own burden of it is not so heavy.
Spreading the guilt doesn't actually help though. It causes tensions for sure, and nothing constructive ever comes of it. So right now I'm feeling a lot like the buck stops here.
So this is all that is rolling over me the past few days; this is what is welling up. I'm in a bit over my head, and rather overwhelmed.
But you see, about three weeks ago, I had an amazing conversation with a lovely author, Laura Brown. She actually helped me take my tent down and pack it while we chatted, so there's that cherry on top as well. She listened to me talk about my story, and shared that she had walked a very similar road. Something she said to me during that conversation has become my life raft as I navigate this new storm of guilt and regret;
“Every decision we made was the right one at the time.”
In this gig of life, not just care giving, but all of it- marriage, career, parenting... many times we face decisions in which every option available has negative consequences. One of them is still the right one though- because doing nothing is not an option at all. The idea that we can make a right decision by seeing which one is easy, or happy, or has good outcomes across the board, is not at all accurate. Sometimes no matter which choice we make, it is a hard one.
In my experience, these types of decisions often occur in crisis and there simply isn't time to grieve the fact that something is going to be left undone. The pain comes later. We can't use our rear view mirror and think, “if I had made the right choice, these bad things would not have happened.” Well, maybe they wouldn't have, but some other bad thing would have happened. At the time, there was no option in which everything turned out great for everyone.
There is collateral damage when it comes to caring. There is no way to sugarcoat
that- and it would not be fair or helpful to my readers if I tried. I won't even promise that this collateral damage will be removed- although wouldn't that be great? Since I did the right thing, everything eventually HAS to turn out fine? I know better than that. Yet, I do believe in the promise that at some point, this collateral damage will be redeemed. I'm not there yet. This is new and fresh, I'm still scrambling with the emotions. I will take another day to process and then I'll pick myself up and get to work on the practical. What can be salvaged? What can we still do? And I have this nagging feeling that to correct this situation, I'm going to be faced with another decision in which something else will get left behind.
But really, all we can do is make the best decision we can at the time, with the information and options we have. And then later, stand firm in the fact that every decision we made was the right one at the time.