Make Do

Kathy calls me
her trashy neighbor.
That’s because I haul
her garbage cans
to the street most weeks.
For 23 years Kathy has had
a progressive degenerative joint disease.
She is in constant pain.
She walks with more difficulty than most.
She cannot climb stairs.
In recent years she was a primary caregiver
for her elderly parents who lived
in an apartment a few miles away—
a second-floor apartment.
This is how her visits would work:
Kathy would enter the building’s vestibule
where a stairway led up to her parents’ place.
Her mother would bring down two Cokes,
and the two of them would sit
on the bottom step and talk.
Sometimes Kathy’s father would converse briefly
from his wheelchair on the landing above.
That was how Kathy gave her care in person,
and how her parents received it in person.
She made do,
and so did they.

Sometimes our caregiving cannot go exactly as we wish.
Perhaps there are things we cannot physically do,
as in Kathy’s case.
Maybe something else creates unavoidable limits—
our other family responsibilities,
our need to produce an income,
our flagging emotional energy,
or our own health issues.
When that happens, ours is to decide how we’ll respond.
Will we redouble our efforts,
knowing that’s ultimately not a viable option?
Will we give ourselves to our guilt?
Or will we find a way to make do?
In this context, making do is not about settling for less.
It is about caring so much
that we do what we can,
given who we are,
given the situation we’re a part of,
and given the way the universe is made.
In the best of all possible worlds,
yes, we would do our caregiving differently.
But we have only this world,
this particular situation,
this body we’re in.
Like my friend Kathy,
our being willing to make do,
thoughtfully, resourcefully, lovingly
may be, in the end, just perfect.

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