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Care for the Caregiver - Erika Mukherjee

You just have to take care of yourself. I know it’s hard. But you’ll get through it. Do this. Do that. It was all too much. The onslaught of undesired, unneeded, unasked for, neverending, incoming, oncoming advice. Don’t do this. Don’t do that! From people who knew it all, knew better, knew everything, knew something, but knew nothing about me and about him. About what this dying, his dying was like. I remember even he said it was enough. All of them coming in trains, in hordes, in gushes, rushes for one last time. All coming with their bad advice.

I am not one to hate. I am a good girl, one who smiles and says ‘thank you’ a lot. I nodded, knowing them meant well.

But it was all too much. I hated all of them and all the caring – the oh we so want what’s best for you and your heart must be broken and I don’t know what to say or do... I’m going to give you advice that’s not really advice but a veiled way for me to ask you to comfort me and make me feel better because seeing you, my heart aches, my body breaks and I don't know what to do with all of this – so please because you seem strong as shit. I need them to back the fuck off and give me space.

It’s rare to find someone who cares without overcaring or controlling. Just there, listening. My sister is like that. Beauty. She would stand in the kitchen in the midst of doing something else -- chopping, cooking, cleaning, and she’d listen. I knew. I sensed her whole body leaning in but she didn’t move to fix me, make me better, stop me when I’d talk about him. About the grief that lingers like a lover intertwined like a vine up around my limbs to my heart. She’d just stand there, open—allowing. Doing nothing. She cared more for me than I knew how to care for myself. I still don’t know how.

I last a week with self-care and then I give up. I’ve always hated the word. Give me solace instead and space to breathe. To do the things that call to me. To sit and be still. To listen. To be. In those moments, there is sadness and some relief. Grief is different. Loss, too. I separate them out as one would a salt shaker from pepper. Grief might be that big container of sugar,

lumpy with white rice in it that towers over everything. I reach for it like an addict, and it consumes me as I consume it – a falling into the bitter, bittersweetness of it all.

I’ll wallow in that, wade deep and wrap myself in the warm emotions of misery like snuggling in the most soft, sweet, welcoming blanket. Rocking, swaddled, smooth, settling into that beauty right on the edge of terror that makes your heart break and ache and know it’s alive. I’m good with that. Don’t give me your recipes for your mediocre lives. God, you don’t know a thing about me. Or what I’m made of.

I come from a lineage larger than life where fierce women warriors battled the rains and arrows of great disasters and won. They walked across borders to survive. They took care of the kids, the house, the plants, the pets, the men, the kitchen, and tended the garden so that the flowers would look fresh.

So, spare me your good advice. I’ve had enough of that, and when I see you coming, I’ll stop you in your tracks.


Erika Mukherjee is a professor and lover of poetry, life, and new possibilities. She teaches at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York where she's able to work closely with young people. Her academic research focuses on transnational identity, poetry (especially Rilke), spa culture, and modern retellings of myths. She also has a background in meditation, massage and energy work, hospice, family constellation work, and alternative therapies. In recent years, she spent many hours in oncology wards, watching caregivers do great work with her former husband, as he encouraged her to write and continually inspired her in his pursuit to live a fully fabulous, though far only short, and contributive life.


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