Yesterday, on Huffington Post, Eliezer Sobel wrote about how we use our time.
He then related a story about recently reconnecting with a childhood acquaintance (he tormented her in the playground so you can’t really say they were friends). They exchanged updates; she visited his website which features his two published books.
How accomplished you are, she wrote to him. I’m the greatest underachiever of all time, she said.
Then, Sobel tells us his friend’s story:
“…She had been inseparable from her younger brother when growing up, and when she was 20 and he 17, a wave snapped his neck and made him a quadriplegic for life, and she a lifetime caregiver, not only of him, but eventually of both her parents as well. She described beginning her day–for decades–at five in the morning, in order to go and help him before going to her own full-time job, then returning each night to drain his kidneys. She sat long hours and days by his bedside during his not infrequent, prolonged hospital visits, since he was unable to even ring for a nurse. Between her brother and parents, she described herself as handling everything: ‘…finances, emotional needs, living arrangements, groceries, overseeing their medical care, hiring doctors, terminating others, underwear, making them feel safe when it seemed impossible… my father had Parkinson’s Disease for over 45 years, and my mom functioned with only 23 percent of her heart. I was the other 77 percent.'”
Obviously, she’s far from being an underachiever. Yet, I think she gets caught up in the trap so common in caregiving. Caregiving won’t buy you a bigger house, or a vacation to Europe, or a corner office. The success of caregiving can’t be measured in a growing bank account or a year-end bonus. And, worse, you can’t really improve your caree’s condition—you work daily to maintain the status quo.
Caregiving seems to go against society’s grain of how success is defined.
It’s no wonder the tendency may be to underplay its importance. “Oh, I’m just home with Mom these days,” you may say. “Well, much of time is taken with helping my spouse,” you may explain.
How do you describe your caregiving role to those you meet or to friends with whom you reconnect? Which words truly reflect what you do?