I’m sprawled across the day bed in the lounge room at my parents-in-law’s house. The bed is from the palliative care team, and the idea is for my father-in-law to be in it, close to the rest of the household. But he didn’t like it here. So he’s in his bed, the waterbed he and my mother-in-law have had for years and years. It’s comfortable and familiar, I guess, and there’s privacy. He is sleeping or at least resting, which is pretty much his whole life now. He hasn’t left the bedroom and ensuite for nearly two weeks.
It’s a funny kind of time. Waiting, but still living a semi-normal life. There are plenty of days when we wake up, get ready, go to work, come home, make dinner, go to bed. Then there are the mornings we’re packing clothes into bags so one or both of us can spend the night here. Some books and the laptop and some paperwork too, because we might be here all weekend. Meanwhile, at home, our housemate is alone, usually resting in the midst of her illness, and the chores just aren’t important enough right now. Hopefully we’ll get time to stock up on food for the week of work. If we can eat right most of the time, we’ll have enough health and energy to get by.
We haven’t dropped everything to be here every day, but at some point soon I expect we will. So it’s hard to make plans. All plans are tentative, knowing a family emergency could be just around the corner. But we still make them – dinner with my sister, chill out with a friend, health appointments.
It feels like I’m not doing very much. I’m not, really, when I’m here. I mean, right now it’s Saturday afternoon and the most I’ve done is go to acupuncture, shower and feed myself. If I were home there would be laundry hung on the line and another load in the machine and I’d be juggling half a dozen things in the kitchen and hoping someone else will do the dishes. I’d be noticing the clutter and the floors needing a vacuum and wondering when we’ll ever get that light fitting fixed.
But here, the household seems to be humming along with the attention of my mother-in-law, who is now home full-time as a carer, and my brother-in-law. Short of helping with meals and dishes, it’s just about being here. I think that matters.
Next to the day bed, my mother-in-law is growing daffodil bulbs in glasses, an idea she got from Pinterest.
It can be hard to engage deeply right now. With everything that’s going on, and a job that requires me to interact with risk and trauma in my clients’ lives, I don’t have much left to offer anyone else. Most of my relationships are one-way right now, with me on the receiving end of a whole lot of love and concern and prayer, and barely able to hear how anyone is going in return.
With my hands and body less occupied with all the things I normally do, I spend a lot of time in my mind. And my mind is often on the various entertainments and distractions contained in my phone. The Emma Approved webseries is my current favourite, with the story reaching its climax over the last few weeks, and the fandom large and creative enough to provide plenty of distraction in the interim, tweets and GIFs and discussions galore. It’s fun to immerse myself in the world of a story I know and love so well. Fun, familiar, and fiction. That’s one of my weaknesses as an INFJ, that I am drawn to superficiality and meaningless indulgences in times of stress.
But not all indulgences are meaningless, I think. I have a tendency to feel guilty about anything that’s not essential, whether because of expense or environmental impact or social responsibility or whatever. In some circumstances, though, indulgence is just good self-care, for being a social worker as well as a daughter-in-law to a dying man. I find myself craving sensations, things that make me more present in my body. Today it’s been the warmth of sunshine; stretching my legs and feeling my blood pumping with a walk; chewing on fresh spelt sourdough bread; freshly washed hair, wearing comfy clothes, and feeling attractive.
It feels like some kind of equilibrium at work. Like I’ve reached the end of thinking, planning, and doing, and all that’s left is being. There’s no guilt in that, because it’s not thoughtlessness that’s brought me here; no, I’ve intentionally chosen to have a quiet, simple life in this time of waiting and clinging to loved ones. Somehow, without meaning to, I’ve transcended the burdens of my personality and freed myself up for the simple pleasures, the everyday moments that are not everything but in so many ways make up a life worth living.