The Caregiver’s Dilemma by Lisa Duggan

  TheMamaFesto: @ motherhoodmag Same old same old : ) I’m in a weird space of “things seem ok” & waiting for the other shoe to drop LOL

motherhoodmag: TheMamaFesto I’m no longer waiting for the other shoe, that dropped a while ago—& some boots & sneakers. I’m going out to buy a shoe rack.


Today started like any other Monday.  The alarm clock rang, we cajoled the child from bed, somebody showered, and we were out the door by 8. After drop-off  I sat parked in the station lot, sipping my coffee and doing one of my favorite things — reading Twitter. I read a few links, reTweeted some others and caught up with my favorite blogs and virtual friends, including MamaFesto.
Oh, the world was still going to shit all around me — as NPR let me know — but for that half hour in my immediate little world, in the 5 x 5 space of the heated front seat, all was peaceful. Alice was in school, hubby was at the office and the babysitter was covering pick-up, giving me an extended workday. The next eight hours were mine.

But first there were all those dropped shoes to think about.

In the last year, on both sides of my and my husband’s families, our parents have suffered extraordinary health problems that have required our attention, our time and increasingly our assistance.

Or rather, my attention, my time and my assistance.

As anyone doing the stay-at-home gig knows, much of the work we do is unquantifiable. It’s not measured in hours, initiatives or projects completed as it’s done in the corporate world, but in conversations — time spent talking about and listening to the needs of those we care for, and in taking the action necessary to provide that care. 

Which usually means more conversations — with doctors, appliance repair people, teachers, babysitters, landscapers. Anything that happens during the day, at the house, is our domain. So, in addition to making sure there are clean clothes and food for when people get home, I’m the one calling the insurance adjustor and the contractor when a freak storm takes out a piece of our carport.

In the case of our parents, it has meant numerous hospital visits,  arranging home-care, or waiting for a phone call telling the result of a scary test. It has meant signing one parent up for on-line bill-paying to make sure the property insurance gets paid (by me), and discussing end-of-life requests with the other. It has meant spending weekdays, and weekends, traveling back and forth to Staten Island and Queens.

All the while, I keep things moving. Lunches get made and homework is done and our own bills are paid, sometimes late, but they are. The Parent du Jour keeps chugging along (thanks in large part to Ms. @KDWald) and other friends help by taking my daughter for long playdates and sleepovers so I can catch up.  I cry in the shower or in the car, because there’s no other time to process the emotional fallout of what’s happening and because I don’t want to frighten my little girl. 

It’s been tough, (she said, in the understatement of the year), but I keep going. These are the most important people in the world to me; my daughter, my husband, my parents, my in-laws. They are the world, to me. The dilemma is not in finding the way to keep my commitments to them all, but to keep my mind on the clock. 

I may not like the way we’re spending our time these days— solving problems or putting out fires, rather than taking trips or celebrating milestones — but that’s not for me to say. 

Someday we’ll all be gone. 

I want to go knowing I gave the people I love everything I had while we were still here, together.

8 thoughts on “The Caregiver’s Dilemma by Lisa Duggan

  • November 15, 2011 at 4:24 am

    I have a friend who is in the final days of a year-long battle with ovarian cancer. And she's lived her life the way you describe – doing what she had to do, enjoying what she could, caring for her family. I don't think she has a single regret.
    Losing her will be sad for all of us left behind – especially her husband and young son. But she has lived a happy life — Filled with the same troubles as the rest of us, but faced with a courage and positive attitude we all could learn from.
    Life, even with it's stresses and problems is better than no life.
    In fact, all in all, it's pretty terrific.
    SOunds like that's how you're living your life, too.
    May it be a long and healthy one.

  • November 20, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Great piece! Thanks for sharing this. You are certainly not alone in your struggle. There are lots of moms all over the country who really can relate. Life really is a journey where, as the Indigo Girls put it, "I missed a million miles of road I should have seen."

  • November 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Lisa, I FEEL YOU. I am grieving some significant losses in my life, and some days it is all I can do to pack the lunch, wipe the nose, pair up the mittens, etc, and yet it's those very things that provide the rhythm I need to keep moving forward. I hope you are able to pause and find some peace in your own present moment.

  • November 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Lisa- I just re-read this post, and am now, finally, comfortable commenting on it (as, unfortunately, I've been there, too- for the past 6 years.) It's almost like leading a double life, isn't it?

    Just as we constantly tell everything and everyone else in our day, we only have x amount of time for any one given thing. Unfortunately this includes processing, reflecting, and mourning, as the rest of the world and the people around us go on about their business at their same, breakneck speed.

    It made me feel callous at best, bipolar at worst to be able to talk with doomsday surgeons one minute and play peek-boo the next.

    And then, just as I'd really get trucking' down that highway to misery and despair, my then 2 YO daughter would say something like "Mom, when you laugh, I get happy-sweaty", or something equally endearing. Aha, my moment of clarity: that my attentions are as equally well-spent on my dear-ones struggling with their own mortality as they are with my young, strong, carefree children. At least that's the way it struck me.

    Either way, I'm sorry that you, me, and your other contributors have to go through this experience at all, but thank you for your post. It helps to talk about it. And in the meantime – you're in my prayers.

  • January 17, 2012 at 3:47 am

    hey Courtney!

    My BFF of 4Q 2011! I miss you. Thanks for writing such a lovely note, and I'm sorry to learn that you struggled with this as well.

    It's true — that learning to hold sadness with one hand and joy with the other, and give both equal value, is a mother's greatest trick. (A father's, too.)

    Thanks for those prayers. Keep 'em coming!

  • January 17, 2012 at 3:47 am


    I love that line, "I FEEL YOU." Thanks so much for that! I'm sorry to hear about your losses. Yes, thank God somebody's lunch has to get made everyday.


  • January 17, 2012 at 3:47 am

    Thanks for your comment. Those Indigo Girls never get it wrong.
    : )

  • January 17, 2012 at 3:47 am


    I've been meaning to thank you for your very kind and thoughtful comment & words (and to thank all the commenters)— I was having trouble commenting on my own site!

    I'm sorry to hear of your friend's long battle but pleased to hear that she lived well while she was here. My dear MIL is very sick with cancer, but as she said, How can I complain? They cured her of it twice before and gave her another seven years — in which two more grandchildren came into the world, that she never would have met.

    All we can do now is love her in her dying as we loved her in her living.


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