Almost daily a working daughter shares with me that she wants her life back. I get it; I used to feel the same way. When sorting pills, wrestling with insurance claims, and taking my parents to several medical appointments a month replaced exceling at work, writing my next book, and relaxing on the weekends with my kids and husband, I too lamented a life interrupted.
But life, I have since learned, isn’t what it was yesterday, or last month, or last year, or even what you had hoped it would be by now. Your life is whatever you woke up to today. It may not be what you dreamed or planned – or ever wanted, but this is your life. And if you can accept that, you can start living again. Acceptance is what make us stronger. It moves us forward. It is how we find daily joy no matter what is happening.
One of the saddest things we can do in life – as a caregiver, or in any situation – is wait until…wait until things get better, until someone heals, until we get the promotion, until work slows down, until we get thinner, until we find the perfect partner, until the pandemic ends. Our lives are now, not when some event happens, or some event ends. And as challenging as it may be, we can learn to live, not just exist, in and through whatever we are facing. Even terrible times can be filled with good days. Likewise, bad days can be filled with joyous moments.
At the beginning of 2014, my life was good – where I wanted it to be. I had just published my first book and I had a new job I was excited about. And then my parents got sick and were both diagnosed with terminal illnesses on the same day. By the end of that year I had buried my mother, I was struggling at work, arguing with my husband, and stressed out. This was not the life I planned.
Because I saw no other choice, I kept showing up. I showed up at work even after two clients fired me because I had been distracted by caregiving, even after a I was pushed aside by the new hot shot who had been hired that year. I kept showing up at home even though I was an imperfect wife and mother. I kept showing up for my book promotions – even when my front tooth broke off before a speech I was giving because I had been grinding my teeth in my sleep from stress. And I kept showing up for my writing because I knew somehow and someway, I had to write another book; I had to help other working daughters.
In 2015 life settled down for me and I started writing that book and looking for an agent. But I got rejection letter after rejection letter. They all said the same thing: no one will buy a book on this topic. This was not the writing life I had envisioned. But I kept trying and I wrote for this site while I waited for the book deal. In 2016 I signed with an agent and then my Dad’s dementia kicked into high gear and all of a sudden life was once again about doctor’s appointments and trips to the emergency department and moving him into a nursing home. After he died the following year, I felt like I could really start living. I was no longer a caregiver and I could focus on my family, my career, and my book. And that’s what I did — for a few months.
Just seven months after my father passed away, my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. If ever there was a time to put life on hold, this was it. But life doesn’t come with a pause button. I still had to go to work so we could pay the bills. And we still had to parent. When my agent called and said there was interest in my book, I was sitting in the hospital. That’s where I signed with my publisher and that’s where I finished writing the book – on the ninth floor of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital – the cancer treatment floor. That’s also the place my husband and I continued to make great memories. “Chemo days are the new date nights,” we told his nurses. Life wasn’t on hold; life was just something we never, ever imagined. Sometimes it was scary and sad. Sometimes it was joyful. Every day it was messy and challenging.
But you already know this about life, don’t you? I’m sure of it. You’ve been caregiving through a pandemic. Some of you have lost friends, family, jobs, security – any sense of normalcy. Maybe you did in fact put some aspects of your life on hold – but your life kept going anyway, didn’t it?
Here’s the thing, you have a choice: wake up every day and wait, or wake up every day and live. The life you woke up to today, is your life. It may be different than you planned, it may be altered, it may be really, really hard, but there’s no waiting until this passes.
My hope for you is that you find a way to live within the parameters that exist for you now. Look for that job. Call those friends. Pursue that passion. You may not make much progress. You may have to cancel or put things on hold…again. You may actually start seeing results and smiling and building toward the future. And trust me, when things shift, and they will, you’ll be better for it. That saying – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Turns out it’s true. I have proof.