Recently my family was enjoying the beach on an overcast day. In the distance we could see a storm drifting in. As the storm approached the wind began swirling. The dark clouds became darker, moving towards the light horizon until you could see the merger point, where the black clouds touched the calm skies. The contrast was clear. Its energy filled the air, moving all around us. We were compelled to stay and witness this merging conflict. Its electricity sparked the kids, as they ran and laughed and did cartwheels on the beach as the storm moved closer. The calm converging the darkness moved us all. We drank it in until the ensuing lighting and pelting rain forced us from the beach.
That moment of collision, where the calm meets the storm, so striking, so powerful, altering our world, is terrifying and thrilling at the same time. Stark is the point where calm and conflict meet..
These moments of collision happen too often in those of us who care for someone with Alzheimer’s. We have calm in our day, in our normal routine that is the stability of someone in this condition. Then something moves in to upset the routine….this week for my mom, a UTI, something minor, that presents itself in weakness and fogged memory. Yet the conflict that arises in me as I change my routine, take her to the doctor, get her medicine, take her for her follow up, answer her questions, worry about her weakness, imagine it may be something bigger…all these things swirling around in my head drain me and scare me at the same time.
I try to do something with all this stuff inside, so I paint. I paint the storm. At first, I lay out the storm with smooth brushstrokes and defined lines, but it does not truly depict the image. Instead, I hold the brush at the end and move in large strokes across the canvas. My peers in the art room look over my shoulder. I like the energy, they say. I can feel it. So I continue in this mode, in large, jagged movements over the canvas. At one point I begin to doubt, and start stroking, blending in the colors, with softer strokes, smoothing in the foreground. What happened, says my teacher. You’ve lost the movement. Don’t work it so much she says.
Again, art reflects the conflict inside me. The times I see a situation brewing and try to manipulate it, smooth it over, instead of letting it be. I try to control it, or minimize it, or worse yet, let it torment me inside while externally I smooth it over, hiding the conflict of emotions inside. The conflict of worry, of guilt of being angry, of weariness of this situation, of wanting to be free of all this. So I continue to work on this painting, and myself. I’ve changed the composition a bit, but I have not changed the storm clouds. My teacher says her eye is drawn to the midpoint of the painting, where the white clouds meet dark clouds. She thinks that to be the strongest part of the painting.
Last week I spoke at a caregivers conference, reading one of the poems I had written about caring for my mom. At different times during the conference, three women approached me, telling me they felt the same feelings I am feeling, feelings of conflict, feelings of despair. I held their hands, gave them a hug. I know there are many of us caught in this storm of caregiving, of conflicting feelings of sorrow, anger, guilt, weariness as we continue to care for our loved ones day by day by day by day.
Storms move in and out of our lives. But in the moment before, and then right after, there is stillness. A moment of peace. In that moment of stillness, even as a storm approaches, we as caregivers must take rest. A breath. A prayer. An exhale. That is where we find the strength to weather what is ahead.