Wit's End

Insights into the little things that make caregivers nuts, when they are otherwise doing the most important job in the world, gracefully.

Handle with care

Handle with care


Warnings are good things.  Practically speaking, they are of considerable value.  As a general rule, what happens when you actually do walk on thin ice is an outcome to be avoided.

As well, warnings are comforting. They are modest, unprepossessing claims that the future is not completely beyond our grasp.  For example: you see the sign that says no open flame near the gas pumps?   And you see the guy with the nozzle tucked under his arm playing with matches? It’s not as if we need a crystal ball.

That’s why I am recommending the establishment of a universal warning that succinctly conveys this important message: “I am a caregiver; more to the point, I am a caregiver who is at the end of my tether; I am a caregiver whose emotional capacities are at their breaking point and who is hanging on here by a very slender thread. Danger. You need to proceed with caution when it comes to dealing with me.”

I am recommending the establishment of a universal warning that succinctly conveys this important message: I am a caregiver

Whether this would actually be a sign (worn, perhaps, the way cyclists wear neon safety vests), a distinguishing lapel button, or possibly a bright red sweater with blinking yellow lights, the message would be: “I have had a long and exhausting day. My generous, optimistic, empathetic and loving nature has been stretched far beyond what I’d ever imagined it could be. I am bone tired, too hungry to eat, and I feel 10 years older than I am. As a result, I can’t be held entirely responsible for my actions.  So if what you have to say to me isn’t important, or helpful, or kind, or funny, I’d really prefer you to buzz off.”

This idea occurred to me recently when, after a very long and difficult day, I found myself at a concert.  Concerts, in my view, are very good at countering the downward drag of the really bad.  But there is always a moment of doubt about getting ready to go out.  After a day of caregiving, inertia can be difficult to overcome, especially when it comes disguised as a much-needed nap.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to muster the energy required to actually get off the couch, much less out the front door. But somehow I did, and, as usual, a concert turned out to be a very good idea. Gradually, during the first half of the performance, the music began to work its magic.  I was thankful I’d made the effort. By intermission I was feeling almost human.

But it was during intermission that the need for an “I am a Caregiver. Back off!” warning device became apparent to me.  I had purchased a glass of wine, and had stepped out to the balcony to enjoy the spring evening.  The air had a damp freshness to it.  It was a truly beautiful night.  The music of the first half of the concert was still echoing in my imagination.  Not that either the performance or the weather deterred the usher who approached me.

The human spirit is capable of great things.  It has strengths and capacities that we often don’t know we have until we are tested.  But just as it can rise to enormous challenges, it can crumble in the face of the most minor and irrational irritants.  Such as Ontario’s drinking laws.  Such as the usher who informed me that the consumption of alcohol out of doors was, as a matter of strict bureaucratic fact, illegal.

The usher had no idea how close he came to being thrown from the balcony on which I was not permitted to sip my wine.  He had no idea about the powder keg with which he was dealing.  How could he?  I managed to remain non-violent.  But it was a close call.  For all concerned, there really should have been a warning.

Betty Green is a pseudonym representing the overtired but patient caregiver in all of us.

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