As we walked into the store, Emily let out a squeal or a scream. Well, it was a high-pitched reaction that vocalized extreme emotion. Emily doesn’t regulate her emotions the same way we do. She may go from a cry to a laugh in a millisecond. Her squeals told me she was experiencing an emotional moment. I looked up from Emily to see one of her old caregivers standing next to her. When Emily sees someone she recognizes, she is loud, expressive, and dramatic. I imagine her saying, “I am so excited to see you. I have missed you! Where the heck have you been?” Happy, sad, and accusatory all in one scream.
As I open my mouth to say hello and hug Janel, I am shocked by my reaction. I begin to cry. I am standing at the entrance of Vons crying. I am unable to contain my emotions. Janel hugs me, and I reign in my emotions. We talk for a few minutes as Emily continues expressing her feelings, then we say goodbye. They leave with their groceries. Emily and I begin our shopping.
I walked the aisles pushing Emily and discussed our encounter. I told her how happy I was to see Janel, and I bet she was too by her reaction. I reminded her of places they have gone together and nights she has stayed at our home so Todd and I could go away. Memories are flooding my mind. It amazes me that once our minds uncover one memory, it continues the process. Our mind reveals more and more. Our memories remind me of a Russian doll. You open one, and there is another one inside. I began to recall other wonderful caregivers we have had over the years. Each caregiver comes into our home with their own unique style.
When I think about these women, I get emotional. While they have provided care for Emily and respite for us, they have also been friends and confidants. They participate in family activities, conversations, and plans. They understand some of the challenges we face. They offer empathy and understanding. We learn about the people that are important to them. They share their dreams and hopes for the future. They don’t just care and connect with Emily, but the entire family. We get attached to each of them. We become invested in them. We cheer them on and they cheer us on. They work with us. They grow with us. One day, they move on from us.
Moving on is the goal for them. Caring for Emily is a step on the path to their future. They get a better job or the dream job. Some have gotten married, had babies, or moved away. The process is bittersweet (my unofficial word of the year). I cannot remember my word of the year, but the word I seem to use on the regular in 2022 is bittersweet. We are happy for them but sad for us.
As Emily finishes her public school adventure, there is uncertainty about what our days will look like. I imagine they will be similar to the pandemic lockdown days. Emily and I will be spending a lot of time together. I will have to adapt my schedule to handle more day-to-day care. Life for Emily and me during the pandemic lockdown was difficult. The thought of the future paralleling that time feels heavy to me.
Running into Janel reminded me how much I miss her and the other caregivers we have been blessed with over the years. I miss having others help bathe and care for Emily. I miss the friendships I have shared with them. I am hopeful that other caregivers will come along to help with Emily in the future. Most will travel alongside us for a season or cycle, but all will live in our hearts and memories for a lifetime.