I had a fantastic conversation yesterday, during the phone call the person I was speaking with referred to Arden's Day as a Caregiver Blog. I'd never considered what kind of blog this was as I'm not the type to put things in categories or apply labels. Since that conversation, I've given a lot of thought to the phrase and as it turns out not only is this a caregiver blog but I'm a caregiver - and I always have been.
I was thirteen years old the day my father left us, I know for sure how old I was because he left on my birthday. He got up from the dinner table, went upstairs, took a shower, then he left and never came back. It was terrible, the first truly terrible thing that I can remember.
I am the oldest of three boys, my brother Brian is five years younger then I am and our brother Rob is five years younger then Brian. My mom only ever had a part-time job before that day but it turned into full-time work very soon. All of this left me at home with my younger brothers while my mom worked, I was also the only person in the house old enough to experience my mother's pain in a real way.
I've been a caregiver since July 12, 1984.
I don't think that the events of my life forced me to take on the role of caregiver as much as they led me to follow my natural instincts.. Truth be told, I was the only guy I knew that as a teenager talked about getting married and having children. When I was old enough to get a credit card I would buy things that I could afford to pay cash for so I could pay them back to build my credit. My family was of meager means and I always imagined that good credit would one day benefit me and the family that I envisioned. I was always planning to have a family and I want to thank my mother and my brothers for letting me practice on them!
Back when she was in college my wife Kelly (then girlfriend) fell on tough times with her family and things seemed bleak but I was there to support her. We were young and I imagine that her family doesn't understand to this day how we persevered and then flourished on our own at that age. What they didn't know then was that by the time I met their daughter I had been a parent for almost nine years. I'd lived through a divorce, being broke, I taught myself how to drive a car and a motorcycle, had difficult and demanding jobs, took care of a house, two children and a mother. Hell, I was the one that spoke to my brother's teachers if there was an issue at school. By the time I met Kelly I may have been chronologically twenty-one but spiritually, I was forty.
It was all building to something.
If you would have asked my on August 21, 2006 I would have told you that I'd seen it all and conquered most of it. I was proud of the life perspective that I had compiled and would have held up my ability to manage any situation against all comers - but that was August 21st.
In the early hours of 22nd Kelly and I were sitting at a red light on an abandoned road in Virginia, I never wanted a traffic light to stay red before in my life but I didn't want this one to change. We were on our way to a hospital having just self-diagnosed Arden as a type I diabetic with a meter that we bought at a pharmacy. The silence in that moment was so bereft of life, I'll never forget the pit in my stomach or how much I wanted someone else to be responsible. Talk about wanting to cry out "daddy", but I was daddy and I had been by then for twenty-two years. I summoned up every once of courage I had, opened my mouth and said to Kelly, “Arden has diabetes, I know you’re scared and sad, so am I but this is one these moments that we have to be strong for her”. Kelly nodded, the light turned green and we didn’t talk about it again. Today as I write this I find myself wondering if I was talking to Kelly or to me...
That was five years ago and now I'm actually forty years old but at times I feel like I've lived ten lives. I have so many experience that keep me strong in the tough times and I am grateful for them all. Every painful moment, every day when there didn't seem to be an answer, every laugh and tear, triumph and failure. They all prepared me to be Arden's surrogate pancreas. If my dad didn't walk out, if Kelly didn't need me, if my mom wouldn't have cried, well, I don't know who I'd be today but because of those moments I am uniquely prepared to be a caregiver to a child with type I diabetes.
Diabetes sneaks up on you some days in a way that levels you - just knocks you backwards. I know because it happens to me too.
My advice is, take a deep breath, find your footing and keep going - and laugh whenever the opportunity presents.
Some may view being a caregiver as a negative or think that you don't have a life of your own but I can't think of a more important or noble thing to be and I wouldn't trade what I do for anything.
I'm a caregiver, a stay at home father and this is a blog about my life raising a child with type I.
Many thanks to the person who showed me that yesterday...