This post is not about the monetary costs, or the havoc the job wreaks on your body in the terms of labor or using harsh chemicals daily.
What I am talking about here is the emotional cost, the cost of working with people for ten, fifteen years and being involved in there lives, watching their kids grow up, and sometimes watching them die.
I have two clients that worry me. Midge is, of course, hanging on by a thread. Besides her liver probably being more pickled than those little Baby Dills, she goes through bouts of depression and doesn’t get out bed for days. We’ve never discussed the four-inch long scar on her wrist, but it serves to remind me that each time I walk in the door, I could be walking in to something much worse than a dirty house.
Then there is ‘Ole Ironsides. She is definitely in her twilight years. Cleaning is a small part of what I do for her now. I also organize her avalanche of medication into her weekly pill box, help schedule her slew of doctor’s appointments and help her retrieve messages on her answering machine because she doesn’t remember how to use it anymore. While she has slowly aged, I have slowly become a caregiver.
I started with her 15 years ago when she still had her little country house and a beautiful garden. She was 68 and spunky, vibrant and full of life. We would have a grand time. She helped me clean and I helped her work in the garden while the radio blared The Beatles and Rolling Stones. She did the ironing back then.
As the years went by, her gate grew wobbly and her mind cloudy. The whole circumference of her domain got smaller and smaller. The long walks we used to take around her property were replaced by perilous treks down the stairs. The grass and weeds took back the garden. Pill bottles overtook the tables.
Five years ago the family decided to sell the house and move her to the community. There, she could be around people her age and someone would be there if anything happened. They have activities and ice cream socials. But mostly she just sits in her chair by the window, watching me iron. It hurts to sit, but it hurts more to walk. It hurts everywhere, she says. More and more when I see her, she tells me she is ready to go. Time is a cruel and stealthy thief. It takes slowly, without notice, until all of a sudden the bathroom seems miles away and your youth just a fantasy.
But I’ll be there, til the end, helping her bridge those gaps and remind her how much she loved to live.