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Sweeping the Conflicts Away

by Roberta McReynolds

This morning I stood in the middle of the house, trying to kick-start my day in a weak attempt to reestablish order and routine. I decided to pick up the broom and aimlessly swept the entryway, collecting dirt and a couple leaves into the dustpan. Certainly I would have enough uninterrupted time to at least complete this mundane task.

I’ve felt lost and adrift in recent weeks. Life has tossed new challenges our direction that has pushed me off course. My husband and I have been ‘on call’ for a member of the family who has been experiencing a number of health issues, both mental and physical. You know what that’s like; never knowing from one minute to the next when the phone will ring once again.

I sensed this out on the distant horizon several months ago, but not even in my wildest imagination the exact form it would take. (I catch myself vacillating between laughter at the bizarre and tears of frustration.) Something was in the air, like a foreboding atmospheric change signaling a storm. When the weather report warns people to evacuate or run for cover from a hurricane or tornado, that’s exactly what you are expected to do. Yet, in stark contrast, when a crisis in the family tree begins to brew we race headlong into the storm, understanding fully the emotional trauma at risk.

The worst has passed, I hope. The waves have calmed … until next time. And yes, there will certainly be a next time. Maybe our welcomed respite will last a few days; perhaps luck will stretch for weeks. Do we dare cross our fingers and dream for serenity beyond that?

The instant the sound of the phone reaches my ears I tense into alert mode, anticipating the next ‘fire’ to be dowsed. Mike and I have been actively sniffing for smoke between emergencies, cautious about dropping our guard or overlooking one smoldering ember about to ignite.

The barrage has taken me back emotionally to a place I existed for a number of years. When my responsibilities were finished, I struggled to gain asylum from an exhausting country called "Caregiver." I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything, but it’s definitely not a pleasant place to stay for extended periods of time, especially after your tour of duty is complete. It’s best to pack your bags and get back home with passport in hand as soon as humanely possible, but I got ‘stuck.’

Sometimes the moment to leave is clearer than other times. Life threatening situations placed me in the role of caregiver three times in rapid succession. These experiences were compounded by juggling grief of first losing my mother after a 10-year struggle with breast cancer and then my father to colon cancer 15 months later. The third patient was my husband who, at this writing, is a 12-year renal cancer survivor.

Following Mike’s recovery I found myself in a perpetual state of waiting for the next diagnosis to rock my world. I was unaware of it, but I had grown hesitant to get on with the joy of life, certain in the belief that something else would interrupt. The empty notebooks and blank canvases seemed easier to live with than the imagined discomfort half-finished work might cause me psychologically. Purposeful goals had been abandoned due to other obligations arising unbidden and out of my control, but I couldn’t pick up where I left off. I victimized myself with a form of cancerous-like mental paralysis, frozen in place while the rest of the world appeared to move on without me.

I forgot how to live any other way. I wasn’t able to see myself beyond the role of taking care of someone else. The road back has been difficult, but also filled with a sense of awakening and growth. Mike has been there at every step, hand held out ready to help me over the rough spots.

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