Author’s Note: There are several Declarations Of Interdependence as of this writing; declarations of religious, racial and environmental interdependence among them. But today, this one’s for you.
If you enjoy it, please pass it along. Thank you!
In honor of the holiday…no, scratch that. Inspired by the holiday, in honor of one woman, I’m writing a declaration. You see, I worked with a Your Life, Supported! client this week. (I’ll call her V.)
A bit of background on V: she’s the sole caregiver for her son, P, and has been for many years. How did this happen? Years ago, she received an ultimatum from her ex-husband: me or P. Either P goes into an institution, or I’m out of here.
V chose P, and she has never looked back.
As such, she has supported her son for nearly 2 decades. She works three jobs, one of which she hates. (Naturally, this is the job that provides insurance and takes up the most time.) When I met her, she’d just worked a 66 hour week, for very little pay. She has goals, desires and dreams…but they’re buried under an avalanche of work and responsibility.
I met V and her son P on Monday, when they invited me in to their home. We shared food, laughter, hugs and a few photographs (P loves to take pictures.) Despite V’s stress and exhaustion, the love between her and her son was palpable. Like my family, they’ve struggled through behavioral challenges, yet they are still each others’ everything.
It was amazing. It affirmed for me that this — meeting people like V, listening to their stories, supporting them — is exactly what I want to be doing.
And it also broke my heart.
After listening to V’s story, there were so many things I ached to say.
Here is my chance. I declare that…
We, as caregivers, have a right to pursue happiness.
We recognize that our happiness is inextricably bound up in the happiness of those we care for. We accept this, and in doing so, we come to see that caring for ourselves is a vital and necessary part of caring for another.
We are determined to pursue a course of healthy living: to nourish our bodies with sufficient sleep, food, movement, and love. We will no longer pretend that living without these things is all right.
We realize that we have become proficient in self-denial; we are daughters of self-sacrifice. We have not reached out for help when we most needed it. We have allowed ourselves to swept away by the tide of self-sufficiency.
We acknowledge that a failure to care for ourselves is a failure to care for another. We have come to see that there are some sacrifices that were never ours to make.
We understand that, while we can be responsible to another, we can never fully be responsible for another person. Their lives are their own, as our lives are our own.
We believe and trust that there is a better way. A way to love subversively and sustainably.
We must learn to make choices for the love of ourselves, choices that also support the person we care for.
As such, we commit to thinking and acting in creative ways to fulfill our dreams.
If we cannot move to that cabin on the lake right now, we will bring as much peace and serenity into our lives as we possibly can.
If we cannot trade pounds and lose the excess weight in a week or a month, we will endeavor to make small, significant, daily changes that will add up to a healthier body.
If we cannot quit that hated job right this second, we will commit to pursuing income streams that do not make us nauseous, and quit the hated work as soon as we possibly can.
We seek the courage to pursue employment that brings us delight at least some of the time. Yes, we may go through periods in which we must do work we don’t like, but we won’t let those times extend into years of career disappointment. We affirm that we have valuable skills and gifts to offer others; we do not have to settle for work that diminishes us.
Most of all, we acknowledge that the choices we have made, however difficult, have been made from love. And we know that, in going forward, our life-giving choices will benefit the people we care for.
We have stood for relationships, for inclusion, for a world where the gifts of people with disabilities are not ignored, but celebrated.
At times we have cried tears of frustration; at times we have smashed guitars in anger. Yet we have also cried tears of joy. We have been blessed by the people we care for, blessed beyond our imagining.
V, I know you don’t like to be called a hero. You don’t see any heroism in your choices; to your mind, they’re as natural as can be. So I won’t call you a hero.
But I’m proud to call you a friend.