When my mother slipped into her final weeks, hospice sent a social worker to our home to help us transition to the next stage of our lives—the one where I won’t take on the role of caregiver for a terminal patient. She spent almost four hours with me one morning as I related the course Huntington’s Disease took through Mom’s life, and through the lives of our family members.
“So, what I’m hearing,” she summarized when I finished, “is that you and your family have taken care of your mother, to varying degrees, for almost ten years. And although your husband, son and siblings have chipped in on an incredible level, you have still been the primary caregiver.”
“Yes,” I agreed.
“You’ll go from caring for someone 24/7 to having nothing to fill your days,” she continued. “Do you have any plans on what you’ll do with this sudden gap?”
I nodded my head. “I’ve actually looked online at a couple of fulltime positions with some local companies that I wouldn’t mind checking out.”
“Can I offer some advice?” She continued, “Don’t take on anything that’s permanent. You’re the type of person who takes on responsibility easily. I’m afraid that if you step into a fulltime job somewhere, you’ll talk yourself into keeping it even if you don’t like it. What you need is to take on a part-time slot at a store or office. During this first year of transition, you don’t need to make any decisions that tie you down. Don’t box yourself into another commitment. You need the type of job that will get you out of the house, help you fill your days as you passage through grief, but that you can easily step away from once you don’t need it any more.”
I rolled my eyes, “Well, if that’s what I need the solution’s easy. I’ll substitute.” I began ticking off the plusses for this type of work, “First, I can work as many or as few days as I want. Second, I’ll still have nights and weekends off. Also, I’ll have the summer break just like I did when I taught fulltime. And I’ll be back in familiar places—with friends I’ve known for many, many years.”
Less than two weeks after Mom died, I filed my online application to begin substitute teaching. The arrival of winter vacation meant the school district didn’t get to it for a couple of weeks, but by January 7th my application shifted from “received” to “reviewed.” Two days later, I found myself sitting at an orientation meeting with the promise that I’d be called within a week to have my picture taken for my ID card. It took human resources less than a week to put me on the roster. I dropped by the office yesterday for my picture, marveled that the photograph actually looked like me, and then ran a couple of errands. All total, I’d left the house for about an hour. Within that length of time, the district office had inputted my number, and I received my first call for filling in a slot. Since I still had more errands on my list, I declined the job. I did, however, go into the computer and log into the site to check out available jobs for the next day and the next couple of weeks.
Today, I take on the roll of substitute teacher. I’ll step into another teacher’s shoes for eight hours. I know that students will show their worst behavior because I’m the “outsider,” but that’s okay. I have a reason to get out of bed, a mission to accomplish, a way to fill my days with something challenging and productive.
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman