For those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook, you know that I took an unexpected blogging hiatus so I could care for my great-aunt. I had hoped to blog during that time, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it for a variety of reasons. Although my great-aunt spent the last two months here in assisted living, Peter and I were her sole caretakers which meant we were always “on call”. I visited her every day to spend time with her and talk to nurses and staff about her health. Each day was different and we spent the past five months in and out of emergency rooms, hospital rooms and doctor’s offices. Each day was exhausting—more so mentally than physically. But we have no regrets. None. Because it boils down to one simple fact: you don’t abandon a human life that needs help, dignity, love and comfort. We took my great-aunt in knowing it would be difficult, frustrating, heartbreaking, and exhausting. But it was also humbling and a privilege to our lives.
There are many details about this experience of caring for my great-aunt that I will most likely never share here on my blog because I want to keep them in the privacy of my heart. It’s an experience that I will carry with me forever, and one that has changed me in many fundamental ways.
Right now, I am filled with a mixture of emotions and I am starting the hard work of making sense of them. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the biggest emotion I’m feeling is gratitude. Peter and I may have been the only ones “on call” for my zia, but we had a lot of people helping us and my zia in so many different ways: doctors, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, receptionists, activity directors, caretakers and most importantly, Peter’s family, my relatives in Italy, and our friends. Some days, it was a simple text from one of my girlfriends or my sister-in-law to check in that carried me through a tough day. Other times, my mother-in-law would stop by to see my great-aunt and visit with her while I ran errands. And every day, it was Peter who gave me a hug as soon as he walked in the door and made me feel safe and comforted.
It has only been eleven days since my great-aunt moved back to Rome, where she reunited with her two older sisters, nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews. I miss her very much but I know that after living alone for over 50 years in the US, it’s time for her to be surrounded by her family who will help care for her, call her daily, visit her and shower her with love.
Now, I’m making my way back. I’m telling my chatty, hyper Type A personality to quiet and calm herself and ease back into things slowly. I’m telling her not to freak out about her blog analytics and lost readership. I’m telling her that she will work her way back to writing, photographing, cooking, baking and all the other things she loves. I’m working hard at listening to that small inner voice that tells you exactly what you need at the right moment: a nap, a walk outdoors, exercise, a glass of water, quiet time to pray and reflect, or any other necessity for self-care. Instead of rushing back into a routine and giving into unrealistic pressures, I’m making my way back on my own terms, and it feels good.
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