As my 93-year-old mother’s primary caregiver, I’ve learned that there’s no distinction between caregiving and the rest of what I do. Caring and its active practices are instinctive and integral. Care pervades everything from friendship to writing, art to taking out the garbage.
I’ve also learned to release the apparent distinction between the whole and the broken. I see both at once in my mother, whose whole spirit shines through the haze of dementia and the painful grind of old bones into dust. I also see both in the health care system, where I’ve seen beautiful care given to my mother in the midst of a system as broken as her mind and body. (Faded minds or insurance systems: I’m not sure which are more demented.)
I spent most of December at my mother’s side in the hospital, and since then with her daily in memory care. Those moments too are inseparably broken and whole, intensely painful and beautiful. We’ve spent them in various stages of gratitude, agony, anxiety, and the melancholy sweetness of approaching the last living moments we’ll ever share. It is all one precious thing.
I see the same merger of the beautiful and agonizing in wilderness and streets. The city is no more cohesive nor less predatory than the insurance system. There are many predatory forest creatures too. Yet within all of it, beautiful love and wild lives thrive, born as whole and new as ever. Our forest here is as stressed as Main Street, but it never complains. It just grows, and never takes a day off. I seek to follow its wisdom that way, as I celebrate the persistence of life, within the oneness of the whole and broken.
That oneness has taught me compassion, for the same ones giving whole, beautiful care may also be broken inside. I’ve seen ones condemned by society do beautiful, vital things. I’ve seen the wholly exalted falter, as much as any. I’ve seen our essential equality within.
Perhaps our notion of being broken is what’s most broken of all. Perhaps there’s no such thing. Perhaps there’s only the confounding beauty of being alive; of trying forever to figure out what grace means in any given moment. Parents know, as caregivers of all forms do: there’s no training manual, there are rarely any answers, and even the questions are as elusive as sleep.
If it’s all overwhelming, maybe it’s meant to be. I don’t feel qualified to question what’s evolved or been created at a level far larger than we are, where control and its impossibility become one too. So I celebrate the great mystery of the artful wholeness within what appears broken; a wholeness too large for ones as small as you and me to fully see.