Originally published September 11, 2014
Epiphany. A word misspelled, misused and, sometimes, misunderstood. Its roots lie deep in Latin and relate to a moment of divine manifestation. There is even a feast named Epiphany on January 6. It also means (according to the Oxford Dictionary) a moment of sudden revelation or insight. In my opinion such moments are often life changing. I have experienced both joy and suffering at such times—today it was joy. Today I had an epiphany.
The last few weeks have been rather difficult in our household. My husband has been experiencing a number of deteriorating symptoms as he and I travel in this alternate universe called dementia. It became necessary to put him on a prescription that is meant to calm him. A move I was reluctant to make. But it did become a matter of necessity. Happily it appears to be helping.
He is slower. His communication skills have dropped precipitously. He is quickly losing control over his bodily functions. We have had much learning and adjusting to accomplish. Today he was becoming quite (actually royally) peeved with me because I would not take him to some imagined meeting he could not miss. This went on for a couple of hours and I suddenly realized that I was not upset. I was not tearing my hair out wondering what I was doing wrong. I was not yelling at the top of my lungs that I was doing the best I could. In fact, I started to giggle.
Standing in our kitchen looking at my beloved spouse, now so far from me, I realized that I was doing the best I could. Simple, right? Not really. Any caregiver can tell you that no matter how hard we try, somewhere deep inside we feel inadequate. We are not creating a perfect world for that one person we care so much about. We are not fixing it. And, sadly, we won’t. You know what else? It’s not our fault.
I could not do what he wanted and needed so badly for me to do right that very minute; and I did not feel a single ounce of guilt. Not one drop. At one point I was able to let him talk on the phone with our caregiver (we were setting up times for tomorrow) and he was promised she would be here and they would talk—and it worked. It wasn’t a desperate cry for help, it was a practical solution.
Can I keep this feeling? Cling to it for the release and freedom it gives me? Probably no more so than anyone leaving the Sunday-night revival and heading to work on Monday morning. But now I have a secret. I know what it feels like. And I can get back there. And from that place I will gain strength and I will do the best I can. I did not do this to him. It is not my fault.
Warning: The following clip does contain “South-Boston” language. It is a scene from Good Will Hunting when Matt Damon and Robin Williams are discussing—it’s not your fault.