Summer has hit on the beautiful stretch of Florida beach I call home. The area is buzzing with tourists and that means I’m hanging close to home for the busy season at work. My career is animal care. This week I had friends staying just a bit to the east of me about an hour away. They were here for a fun retreat and graciously invited me to join them for the all the days. I could go during the day but each night needed to be home to take care of my dog Roan. The drive out was full of excited anticipation seeing friends. I was so excited that I missed the scenery driving out the first day. Alas, grief’s grip holds tighter under the twilight.
The ride home full of glee and gratitude, I had let my guard down. On that dark highway with just a few passing headlights, to my right a bright building begged my attention. I glanced past the empty passenger seat at the hospital where they decided Clayton would not survive and the widowed wave rushed through the window. I couldn’t do anything to save him. All the times we road this road late at night, all the meds I laid out, all the moments holding his hand in hope. I couldn’t care more for him than I did but, ultimately, my care wasn’t enough to defend him from destiny. There I was driving alone just like when I had to leave him overnight at the hospital. Feeling guilty, but I had to get home and be responsible for all the parts of our lives. That’s the curse of a caregiver. How in the world do you balance your “life” while someone you love is losing their own?
Loss plants each of us in the Garden of Grief, our roots diving deep down desperately trying to hold us firm in the ground. Those who lose their person suddenly grab the gravel differently than those who slowly watch our person fade. Neither is more egregious. Both are life shattering. Caring for others brings me meaning and purpose. As a caregiver, not being able to stop Clayton’s terminal-time creates natural (and normal) questioning. Did I do enough? Could I have done more? Should I have tried differently? Did I miss something that could have kept you here?
I’ll never know if there are actual answers if my care was flawed or if it was a one way fight with Fate. I just know that Clayton isn’t here anymore and it serves no one if I pour that kind of care into a cup of bottomless bereavement. It’s taken 3 years to realize that the one who needs the most care right now is me – The Care Griever…