Baggage

Abigail Thomas gave care
to her husband, Rich,
after an accident.
He was hospitalized
for many weeks.
The future was uncertain.
In “The Day the World Split Open,”
she explained one way that experience
helped change her life:
I seem to be leaving in the road behind me all sorts of unnecessary baggage, stuff too heavy to carry. Old fears are evaporating: the claustrophobia that crippled me for years is gone, vanished. I used to climb the thirteen flights to our apartment because I was terrified of being alone in the elevator. What if it got stuck? What if I never got out? Then there I was one Sunday morning in the hospital, Rich on the eighth floor, the elevator empty. What had for years terrified me now seemed ridiculously easy. I haven’t got time for this, I thought, and got right in.

The fact that we’ve become a caregiver,
whether willingly or unwillingly,
often changes how we approach life.
Like Abigail, we may find
we’ve been carrying baggage
that’s gotten too heavy to handle.
We don’t have the energy for it now.
We don’t have the time.
Moreover, the baggage we choose to drop
may be an unnecessary load,
one we’ve shouldered far too long.
I know a caregiver who chose
to set down her agoraphobia—
her fear of leaving familiar space—
when it got in the way of caring
for her ill daughter far from home.
I know a man who gave up
his chronic penchant for disorganization;
he needed a different way of managing his days
as the primary caregiver to his wife.
I know another man who,
when his mother needed his care,
dropped the burden of old wounds
he had been hanging on to for years.
He forgave her for having hurt him
and they spent her last days
in relative closeness.
It’s possible our caregiving can become
an opportunity for us to assess
the life situation we’re currently in,
the life choices we’ve previously made.
What’s really important to us in life,
given these new responsibilities?
What’s not important?
What has become a priority
that wasn’t one before?
What makes most sense
for how our days are lived out?
What no longer makes sense?
What would be most healing,
most life-giving,
not just for the one in our care,
but for ourselves?
Our caregiving may point us in directions
that surprise us,
even please us.

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