The lost childhood of caregivers goes unnoticed. If your aging parents retain their memory, you can hash over recollections of past Easters and Thanksgivings. But when parents get dementia, you lose the chance to share remembrances of youth.
Today, Easter gave me the opportunity to spend time with kids of all ages. We went to two different Easter celebrations and I got to see the holiday through the eyes of a 14-year old, an 11-year old, a 7-year old and a 5-year old. The teenager was pretty obsessed with her iPhone but she also enjoyed talking about her extra-curricular activities at school. The younger boy showed us the toys he got, fully aware that the Easter bunny played no part in supplying them. But he managed to keep that secret from his littlest cousin. She was totally absorbed with racing around in her sparkly shoes. The kids weren’t playing a game, they were just having fun running up and down the yard.
While I visited other family and friends today, my mom was being cared for by someone else. Since I wasn’t preoccupied with her welfare, I was actually able to take a minute to remember the days when I would run with my cousins on family holidays. We raced each other up hills that seemed enormous, then rolled back down them end to end. That race probably occurred 40 times on holiday afternoons like today’s warm Easter. We kept going until all the special dishes were served. Then we wolfed them down, imprinting our brains with the texture and flavor of foods we’d crave for the rest of our lives.
Do you know how to make your mother’s potato salad or peanut butter eggs? Can you remember your dad’s advice about how to shoot free throws or fix a flat tire? Those matters seem small when we’re overwhelmed, but they’re actually precious and we can’t afford to lose track of them.
Serving as a caregiver immerses us in the routine of meeting our parents most basic needs. In that process it’s easy to lose the pieces of ourself that form the core of our identity. I must act like a parent much of the time, making sure Mom eats right, stays clean, and gets proper medical care. I calibrate my emotions so she always feels supported. I accept the burden of stress so that she might function with difficulties minimized. But I rarely have a minute to recall the sweeter elements of youth and I believe that this is a loss many of us suffer. Although we don’t want to live in the past, we still need to remember who we are and how we got here. Holidays, like today, are especially important for cherishing memories at the root of family love.