Last Saturday was my birthday, my 59th.
That weekend, Easter weekend, for my birthday, my children, grandchildren and parents came to our house on Richland Chambers reservoir to help me celebrate. On my birthday, that last Saturday, I was the chief and only caregiver for Marty.
When your birthday is on Easter Eve and when your caregivers are all relatively young with young children you find yourselves, on days like those, flying solo because every one of them had children commitments and I can’t say no to their day off requests for children’s commitments.
In years past, and I mean before the strokes, having the focus on anyone but me, having to care for anyone in any way on my birthday would have been a colossal downer, a reason for me to feel put upon, forgotten and neglected for my birthday. Dressing, feeding and caring for my brain damaged wife would have been low on my priority list of birthday celebrations.
For too many years I looked for ways to feel slighted on my birthday, I looked for people to over look my day so I could feel self righteously neglected. Marty finally convinced me that if I wanted people to make a big deal out of my birthday, if I wanted people to make me feel special, that was okay, but you had to let people know what you wanted. So I learned to campaign days before my actual birthday, to insist on appropriate greetings, salutations and celebrations for the day.
I say this to point out that I am not a selfless altruistic guy. I’m still a pretty self-involved guy. Don’t forget my birthday, it pisses me off and fulfills my basest thoughts about myself and others.
But, things change.
Marty has taught me, caring for Marty has taught me, there are greater things that we must do and in doing these things we celebrate not only others, but our own life.
I wasn’t born knowing this; in point of fact I probably didn’t truly understand it until Marty had her strokes. Caring for Marty is hard, often thankless, lonely, frustrating, frightening and very simply the most decent thing I have ever done.
Caring for Marty has made me better than I was. Caring for Marty has helped me understand that there really is a greater good. It’s one of those fake it till you make it kind of things, if you do a decent thing long enough it soon becomes okay to do decent things, it soon becomes a natural part of your life, it soon becomes apparent that doing for others is elevating for the self.
Last Saturday, my 59th birthday, as Marty and I sat on her bed that afternoon, watching our grandkids hunt Easter eggs through her bedroom window I felt different. Marty has insisted that I grow, Marty’s strokes, her infirmity has made me different.
Years past I would have felt sorry for myself because I was forced to care for Marty sans a caregiver, because I was forced into some isolation with Marty, because someone else’s needs needed to come first, even on m birthday.
Under the right circumstances I can and occasionally do fall into a self-righteous funk; but the default today is just to do, to care, to dress, to feed, to wipe, to give medicine and to do it without feeling put upon or neglected. The default today is to do that most decent thing and to do that most decent thing without feeling morally superior, because I know I am in no way superior.
It is still a daily struggle, the fight between helping and wanting to be helped, it is easy to fall into the victim role of why did this happen to me. But then I realize, it didn’t happen to me, I’m just the guy helping the one it really happened to, even on my birthday, I’m just the guy coming to grips with the beauty of caring.