I had not felt well mid-morning today, so I ended up bailing on lessons and staying in.  Later after feeling a little better, I finally just needed to get out.  I headed over to church to Parish Nurse Margaret’s Wednesday Blood Pressure Clinic.  My BP was fine, but as I was driving there, I glanced over at the cemetary toward the spot where Mary Ann’s ashes are buried to see if there was any indication that the Marker had been placed.  It appeared it might be there. 

On the way back I debated about it but decided to go ahead and stop by to see if it actually was there.  It was.  The Granite Marker has a Cross and a vine on it (as in the Vine and the Branches in the Gospel of John).  Then our last name is in large letters in the center at the top.  Below it are both Mary Ann’s and my names with the year of birth next to them.  Mary Ann’s, of course, also has the year of her death. 

I am not really sure how it felt.  I realize that doesn’t make much sense, but my feelings were just not clear.  I was a little apprehensive about how my gut would react when I saw it.   There was a feeling of heaviness, maybe the weight of the loss.  There was not any particular sense of her presence there since we were all there at the moment she left the planet.  The stone is a solid, unmoving reminder that she has died.  My name is there on that stone, a clear declaration of my own mortality. 

I am writing this account on The Caregiver Calling site since a portion of the grieving is the loss of the role of Caregiver and the one about whom and for whom I cared much of my and her lives.   I said in the last post on this site that I would write some thoughts for Caregivers as they do their task.  Many of those thoughts have implications for most of us in our regular daily lives.  It is also true that at some time during our lives most of us will be in a Caregiving role.

The first thought about caregiving is some thing that friend Charlie emailed to me when I first announced that I would be retiring to take care of Mary Ann full time.  He cares for his wife Marlene who has had a form of ALS for very many years.  Some time earlier, he had retired to very part time work to be with her.   He referred to doing that kind of caregiving as a privilege. 

To be a Caregiver truly is a privilege.  Saying that is not just a way to frame the opportunity so that it sounds more palatable.  It is an honor to have the chance to make a significant difference in someone’s life.  So much of what we do is about bartering, I’ll do this for you and you can do that for me.  Lots of couples live independent lives, each taking care of him/herself, sharing space and maybe kids.  Even when the relationship is close and the marriage healthy, there is only so much we can do to show that love to one another.   

When a debilitating illness or something similar arises so does the opportunity to give what is truly needed.  Mary Ann needed my help.  In yesterday’s Hospice Grief Support Group,  the Leader asked me what would have happened to Mary Ann if I had not been there and cared for her.  In answering I remembered something that Daughter Lisa said to me very many years ago, when we were talking about how to get some help.  Lisa had been an Administrator at a CCRC (multi-layered facility for Independent Living, Assisted Living, Health Center, Dementia Building).   She said, “Dad, Mom would not qualify for Assisted Living.”  She said that to help me understand just how much care I had been providing and how much was needed.  Volunteers from church were filling in while I was away from the house doing my job as Pastor.  Without my care she would have spent many years in a Nursing Home setting.

I had the privilege of providing personal one on one care for her until the day she died here at home.  When I was serving as a Pastor, I could make a tiny difference in the lives of many people.  As a full time Caregiver, I could make a huge difference in the life of one person.  By giving me that privilege, Mary Ann made a profound difference in my life — in addition to giving me so many years of her life as my wife, Mother of our children. 

We kept our marriage vows to one another, “in sickness and in health.”  To have had the chance to fulfill that promise would not have been our choice, but having that chance filled our lives with meaning.   We experienced the worst and the best of times.  Sometimes the best was to be found right in the midst of the worst.  It really was an honor and a privilege to care for Mary Ann.  It was a gift to me that she allowed me to do so.

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