Ten years ago my husband Dan and I moved from Iowa back to my home state of Michigan. Why? My mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and I wanted to take care of her. After a three-month search, Dan and I found jobs and a house forty-five minutes from my parents.
When we moved, my husband Dan’s father, who was in the late stages of Parkinson’s disease, moved with us. He’d lived with us for four years, and I’d been his primary caregiver.
But after just a few months in our Michigan home, Norman fell. First in his bathroom. Then in hallway. He began choking more frequently on his meals. And he struggled more and more against the prison that held his mind captive. Some mornings I struggled for more than an hour just to get him to swallow his medications.
So in March, just seven months after our move, Dan and I placed Norman in the nearby Home for Veterans, where he was cared for eleven months until he passed away.
One week after Norman moved to the VA, my mom and dad moved into “Norman’s room.” Over the next four years, every room of our tiny house would become marked by my mother’s pain.
Night after night, I cradled her on the couch as she trembled and wept for her mother who would never come.
In the long afternoon hours, I paced beside her from the front door to the back as she begged to go “home.”
We spent hours together folding and re-folding baskets of laundry.
And more times than I can bear to remember, I administered medical procedures too intimate to entrust to professional caregivers, while I listened to Mom’s childlike pleas for help.
Eventually, our family placed my mom in an Alzheimer’s facility where she was cared for by loving professional caregivers until her death. But after Mom left my house six years ago, my home never felt the same again.
A few months ago I was talking to a friend who remarried. She and her husband recently made the decision to move from Colorado to the south. When I asked why, my friend responded, “You know, when we got married, I moved into Mel’s house. He has very few positive memories of life in that home because of the trauma of his first marriage. It’s important for him to stop living with the memories of his painful past, so we decided to move.”
With that simple statement, light dawned for me. Every room in my house has been marked by the trauma of caregiving, grief, and death. I have never enjoyed my home. Every room bears bittersweet memories. And while I may not be able to move, I can bring new life into those rooms.
In fact, I NEED to bring new life into my home. One important aspect of recovery from PTSD is renewal.
I’m focusing on renewal this week one brush stroke at a time–fresh white paint on a brown brick fireplace that I’ve tolerated and never loved. By the end of the week, I will love that fireplace, and the mantle will be marked with something beautiful. Something for me. Something to commemorate the new space.
Caregiving has been a hard journey for me. So traumatic that it became important for me to seek trauma treatment. But sometimes trauma treatment includes painting the mantle. Or moving the furniture. Or switching bedrooms. Or planting a garden. Something tangible that refreshes the soul and reminds us that beauty still exists and is worth pursuing.
If you’re experiencing fatigue, depression, or other symptoms related to PTSD, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is your environment or are elements of your environment triggering you? If so, in what ways?
2. What positive changes could you make? What small steps could you take to begin?
3. In what ways can you link those changes to hope, healing, and a vision for your future?
4. What things might you be fearful of confronting and why? Talk to your therapist or counselor about how you can address those fears.