In late April/early May 2011 my mother got diagnosed with breast cancer. As from that moment on, besides from feeling my world unexpectedly and disastrously fall apart, I decided I’d put her first no matter what. I couldn’t help her fight the sickness from hell, but at least I would do anything I could to help her out in any way possible. So, I became her caregiver.
It was easy, because I lived and still live at home, and because I was in between jobs. Actually, I remember I had just quit my job to travel around Europe for a year, but then this happened and I figured: ‘hey, the timing could have been worse, at least I can take care of her now.’
But being a caregiver is harder than you’d think. Maybe not so much physically, but mentally it puts a strain on you. It sucks. And my family members don’t talk about emotions, so that made it even harder. Because I had no way of getting all my thoughts and feelings out of my system.
As far as caregivers go, I am definitely not the only one. And I’m also far from being the only one in my home town (although, so it seemed, I seem to be the only caregiver in my village that’s under the age of 40…). Thing is, people are social animals. We flock together and try to make sense of our shared problems. So I joined this organisation that intends to make life for caregivers in my village a little easier. They do so by providing an ear or a shoulder when needed, and by organising an annual “Thank-You-Caregivers”-day.
After ignoring the invitations for 3 years, I finally decided to go this Sunday.
Truth is, my mum got better so I don’t feel as if I’m a caregiver any more. And I let this organisation know about this, but they keep sending me letters every year anyway, inviting me to this pamper-day event. So this year I decided to go. And take my father with me.
I had no idea what to expect, but then I heard my aunt say she had received a letter as well and was going, too. I immediately got this mental image of me being surrounded by elderly people (which, sadly, appeared to be true), having to listen to bad brass band music for hours (I secretly snuck my iPod into my pockets, just in case) and eat bad food (old people food, like horrendous snacks and coffee and tea only for drinks).
Although I was the only one under 30 (read: 50) attending the afternoon, I did enjoy myself despite my fears of what was to come. We were greeted with a nice cup of coffee and a very nice piece of cake. The entertainment that followed consisted of a 14 headed vocal choir that was amazing! Really, their voices fitted together perfectly and they sang golden oldies as well as relatively new songs (from Queen to Adele). The only thing I kept thinking when watching them on stage was: ‘seriously? Go and shoot your choreographer.’ But other than that, they were great!
During the break we were presented with prosecco wine, either pink or white, and if we wanted something else all we needed to do was ask! And after the show was over, we were fed. I say fed, because they had told us we would receive drinks and snacks, but instead we received three different kinds of typical Dutch stew. And even though I usually dislike two of those, I tried and ate everything. The meals were then topped off with a very generous bowl of vanilla and chocolate ice cream for each person.
Just as I thought that was it, we were given a nice gift when leaving to go home. A book full of international-but-mixed-with-Dutch-influences-recipes and heart-shaped postcard clippers. Okay, maybe not the best gifts ever, but still. It’s free!
I am a creature of habit. Sometimes I hate that, though, but I hate surprises more. In fact, usually I am never surprised because I see it coming. And this day I dreaded. A lot. Both because I thought it would mean spending a full day with my father and aunt, which to me would feel more like babysitting than enjoying myself, and because my father had led me to believe the name of the choir was the name of a brass band. I loathe brass bands.
But I really loved this day! Usually I hide the fact I was a caregiver, because it makes most people go all queasy on me. As if you’re a real hero and you did something SO amazing, SO extraordinary, you deserve a lot of sympathy. I hate that. On Sunday, people all around me knew what it felt like to take care of someone you love. And we were all okay. We were respected and for one day out of 365, we were thanked for that.
And quite unexpectedly, I appreciated that more than I thought I would.