Ever since it has just been me and my three boys going through life together, friends and strangers alike at some point seem to say something like, “It must be so difficult, you do so much, you are doing so well”.
It is a kind and reassuring thing to say and it is much appreciated to hear. As a single parent, maybe, in particular, a single widowed parent, it is easy to think of all the problems and the difficulties and miss the things that are going well and still carrying on. You feel you should be doing the job of two parents. To be told you are doing well is reassuring.
After talking to a friend, currently in the midst of looking after an ill loved one, a thought occurred to me. The first part, “it must be so difficult”, might actually feel a little wrong. Of course there are times when things are difficult. I have touched on loneliness and dealing with life one ones own so yes, things are difficult from time to time but there is something else to consider.
Anyone who has looked after someone who is seriously ill, or spent a lot of time in hospitals with a sick spouse, will know just how draining it is to do that as well as keeping life going for the rest of the family. All of the mundane but essential elements of everyday life such as laundry, buying groceries, cooking, the school runs, getting everyone up and, later, to bed. On top of this you are faced with the driving to and from the hospital, perhaps having prepared food to take in for your loved one. The strains and emotions of being in the hospital environment for hours on end, day after day, take their toll. Sometimes one has some work to contend with too.
Then, all of a sudden, there is no need to go to the hospital any more. An intense part of life stops. It is replaced, for a short diverting time, by the strange “project” of contacting all those who need to know your loved one has passed and arranging a funeral.
After that, life continues. But here is the thing. The world of the person remaining had just become less difficult. You no longer have to juggle two lives. You are still caring for your children, doing all the chores, and running life but you no longer have to mix home life and hospital life. You no longer have to do everything AND look after someone now. For anyone looking after someone with a long-term illness, heavily dependent on others, the shift must be more profound.
Suddenly, in some ways, life has become strangely easier.