This morning I looped through town on my bike to pick up coffee and some air. The pup has an ulcerated paw and we have been cooped up together for weeks. Today, May 1 brings warmth and magnolia blossoms and a hint of green in the twiggy privet hedges. I stashed my helmet in my basket for a few blocks and let the sea air and bird song ruffle my ears. Everything is on hold until she heals — travel, reading events and the nest. But this is an old, familiar feeling, that kick of adrenaline, the unraveling of time and claustrophobia. Caregiving at it’s finest.
I have a lifetime resume of taking care of others: family, parents, grandparents, friends, strangers. As I write my manuscript about the years my mother was ill, when I was just out of college, the pages started to reveal something I had never been able to put into words before — that my mother’s illness was my first internship and I tackled it head on. While my peers were buried in offices, medical school or graduate school, my four year immersion was in cancer, hospital rooms, treatment facilities. My mother’s death and dying was an experience that essentially drove the blueprint for the rest of my life. I discovered at twenty-one that I was really, really good at forgoing myself for the needs of others.
Mayday, Mayday. Person at risk.
Last year, at fifty-eight, I needed others to do this for me. I was under the sheets not sitting on the edge of the bed for the first time, ever. Enter the learning curve, the invaluable — if late — lesson of letting others help me. It was uncomfortable and it was amazing.
How do we balance taking care of ourselves and taking care of others in need? We have to do both on a daily basis. The balance is essential for your health, and in turn, let’s us take better care of others. This is tricky, take it from me. Turns out taking care of myself is not selfish. Then I am in better shape to help you.
I didn’t put the bike away. Later I will go ’round the point one more time before sunset, her injured paw bandaged and the collar on snugly so she doesn’t chew the dressing. When Olive heals, I will go back to my work, time in Seattle, my essentials. A little for me, a little for her.
Go smell the grass and listen to the cardinals. Spring, and renewal, is in the air.
Marblehead Harbor, early morning mist.