It is common-knowledge that veterans are not inclined to talk much about their tours of duty once they get home – unless, of course, they are in the exclusive company of comrades. And even then, the mood has to be just right.
It isn’t impolite to ask ‘what did you do in the war?’ Just don’t be surprised or offended if you don’t get much detail in response. Pretty easy to understand why. Even if one is not trying to forget, some things are just too hard to put in words. And even the right words are all-but-meaningless to those who have not shared something similar.
Ever wondered what goes on day-after-day in the life of so-called “unpaid carers”? The ones who live behind the doors of homes in your neighbourhood. Homes where there is disability or chronic-illness?
Well, you can ask them; but don’t be surprised if they don’t have much to say about it. Not surprising, really. It isn’t mortal combat, of course; but it can be emotionally, physically, mentally and financially-taxing enough to create a gulf too wide to cross without a lot of effort. Then there are the prejudices and misconceptions one encounters; the busy-ness and distraction; and the ignorance – well-intentioned or not – that makes many a carer decide eventually that it is isn’t worth it to even try to talk much about it.
It is still unclear if the apparent murder-suicide in the Manrique/Lutz family in Sydney this week had anything to do with disability or carer-despair. But there are many examples of similar tragedies that did. And here’s the thing – for every such extreme instance; there are hundreds of thousands of others that don’t make it into the public awareness. Lives of ‘quiet desperation’ generally go unnoticed.
I am not a veteran, but for a long time, I have been (and continue to be, albeit in a lesser capacity) a carer. And I rarely talk about it. It has taken a lot for me to even write this humble blog post this morning.
The main hurdle I have to overcome is to believe that it is worth it. Worth it to summon the energy to make the attempt. But, of course it must be worth it. Even limited understanding and awareness is always better than none at all. And who’s going to help you understand and be aware, if not someone who has been through it?
The other main hurdle is that talking about this necessarily involves others. And I’m uncomfortable talking about others. The moment I am introduced to someone as my son’s ‘carer’, for example, I am quick to add that he cares for me too. And it is true. I don’t want anyone to be under the misapprehension that it all goes one way. He: all ‘needy’. Me: all ‘care-y’! His awareness of my needs and his concerns for my well-being are never far beneath the surface.
Yet, if I’m circling around actual, deep, warts-and-all honesty, the truth of this also serves as something of a deflection from the deeper truth that I don’t like talking about myself. And that truth, in turn, masks the deeper truth that I can’t pretend not to be that child who is so desperate to talk about himself – to have someone understand, and yet so sure that nobody will understand, that he shrugs his shoulders and says ‘I don’t want to talk about it’.
See…I knew I shouldn’t have started this!
So…what’s it been like for this carer? Technical terms like ‘chronic-sorrow’ and ‘life-long grief’ come to mind; but let’s stick to plain language. A carer can feel locked in a time-vortex in which the dynamics of ‘parent-of-a-newborn’ become the life-long reality: sleep-deprivation, diverted resources; life’s ambitions on-hold; seismic shifts in relationships. A carer has to be a fighter, an advocate, a counsellor, an inventor. Empathic, tough and patient. The limits of endurance, courage and good-humour are frequently breached. An inner-spring of hope, love and optimism is essential.
I wish I was a saint or a superman; but I most certainly am not. I’ve done my best as a dad and carer, and have to live with the knowledge that my best has not always been good enough.