I signed up for this. That is the refrain that moves through my mind almost daily now. This is the thing that I moved back to Kentucky to be close enough to do, this caring for my grandfather, this pitching in. The thing about it is that I don’t know if I actually believed that I would be called upon to pitch in, not for real. Not like this.
Maybe I thought I would move back to Kentucky and drive to Pikeville a couple of times a month and that would assuage my conscience. I wouldn’t feel that ache in my chest any longer every time I thought of my family and what I was missing by being so far away, not the way that I did while I lived in Florida.
The first month or two in Lexington were wonderful. Harry and I driving home to do the stuff that I wanted to, watching my nephew play ball, seeing my sister. Staying in Lexington otherwise to get settled in, stopping by to see Pap when I was in town, but doing none of the heavy lifting myself. Hell, rarely even seeing what the heavy lifting looked like.
It’s not that caring for my grandfather requires a lot. In reality, he is a low maintenance patient. He watches CNN for the majority of his day. He likes coffee in the morning with a bite of breakfast, doesn’t eat lunch, and then has his dinner around 7. Due to the Lewy Bodies symptoms, he needs help with walking, getting changed, personal issues, and into bed, but those are simple enough.
You would think so. Until you’re packing a bag at the beginning of every week to make the two and a half hour drive to the land of no phone service and 72 hours of putting your life on hold.
This undertaking is the hardest thing that I have ever done. Harder than graduating college, harder than moving across the country alone, and harder than getting sober. It is difficult in so many ways, ways that I never even considered when my uncle contacted me to say that they needed my help.
It is hard to leave the life that I am building with Harry in Lexington every single week. Our house is closer and closer to being done. Boxes unpacked, artwork on the walls, finally our home, and I want to enjoy it. Yet every Sunday or Monday I head to central Appalachia.
Watching the man that you thought was invincible deteriorate before your eyes is hard, especially when there are times when he doesn’t know who you are. Moving a 190-pound man takes a lot out of you. By the time that I get in the car to return I am emotionally and sometimes physically spent. It isn’t just the leaving that is difficult. It is the returning as well.
All that I want to do is curl up in bed for a day, maybe two, and ignore the world. I want to see my boyfriend and my dog, do my laundry to erase the smell of stale smoke and tend to the errands that have been neglected while I have been in Pikeville, like the grocery shopping and the meal prep, hopefully hitting the gym. This gets me to the weekend, where I start thinking about packing up my bag and heading back again. I have little energy left for friends and socializing. I simply want to sit on my couch with my tiny family.
Some weekends this desire wins out and I sink into Netflix and a warm fuzzy blanket, doing the absolute minimum that I can while still feeling like I’m not avoiding my responsibilities. Other weekends I do a little better and balance time spent with friends with my chill time at home. All of the time though, I wish that I had more of it, time that it is: more time to spend developing relationships in Lexington, more time to devote to my relationship with Harry, more time for self-care, just more time. Time is finite though, so I pack my bag and hit the Mountain Parkway again.
I signed up for this. This woman who shows up regardless of how badly she’d rather run, of how heavy her heart is, of how troubling her family can be. She is whom I have decided that I want to be. I am strong when I would rather crumble. I keep showing up. I do my best to be helpful. I try to do the things that no one else thinks to do and be useful in ways that are uniquely me. I keep my Grandmother’s spirit in all that I do. Then I return home and occasionally I fall apart. I hide in a serious Netflix binge or a flurry of reading. I accomplish what I can. I do my best to take care of my relationships and myself. I take small steps towards my future. And then I pack another bag because…
I signed up for this.