I remember being on a carrousel when I was about eight. I was small, and a man in a dark blue jumpsuit hoisted me up on the horse of his choice just as we started to move. I was really disappointed that I didn’t get on the beautiful black horse with the newly painted gold and red ribbons flowing down the side that I could see in front of me. The carnival man who had lifted me up walked by and motioned to a machine that dispensed gold rings. At first I didn’t understand, but I soon realized that I could grab a gold ring by extending myself a little bit off the right side of my drab, mustard-colored horse, and throw it into the hole cut out in a large piece of canvas. My heart pounded as I hung onto the pole and leaned over. I felt the blast of cold air from the rattling air conditioner that hit the sweat on my neck as I passed by.

I started to concentrate, grabbing each gold ring and throwing it into the mouth of the canvas with precision. My mind was alert; I was alive. I anticipated each opportunity. The horse and I had become one as we went up and down; he was the vehicle in my accomplishing my newfound goal. My mind formulated new strategy, new technique, and new style. I started to enjoy the music, and laughed out loud. Other faces came into view, and I felt onlookers smiling and laughing with, and for me.

Eventually our speed slowed down, the dispenser was empty, and we came to a stop. I glanced over at the beautiful black horse. I was so surprised when I realized that it was on the inside track, and had a stationary pole. That little girl just went around and around. The carnival man had wanted more for me than that. He had given me the vehicle with which I could stretch and reach for the gold. I tried to catch his eye as I exited through the silver railing, but he was too busy lifting another girl up on a horse; the drab, mustard-colored horse on the outside row.

As Caregivers we have been lifted onto the mustard-colored horse to go around and around. The burden and strain on a 24-hour basis is so difficult and complex in it’s entirety, we don’t see the gold rings being dispensed at first. We don’t understand. But we are given the opportunity we can handle, and a chance to stretch and reach for the gold in the process.

In the last five years, I have taken care of my mother with Alzheimer’s and inoperable skin cancer. We had a couple of mini strokes thrown in for good measure, not to mention the childhood issues with her and the other family members that came into play. The responsibility became my husband’s and mine.

I always had considered myself to be a nice person, but this was not something I wanted to do in the beginning. I feel such shame in even typing that out now, but I need to confess my immediate reaction was not good. Apparently I have been selfish and self-absorbed without noticing that about myself, and this circumstance in my life was able to reveal that to me by demonstrating how different I have become because of it. Apparently my idea of generosity had been linked to my need to seek approval, or get something in return.

Submitting to Caregiving has enlarged my world. Taking care of my mom has enlarged my heart, and freed me from a limited view of who I am, and what I am capable of. Caregiving has opened my eyes to what good people do with difficult circumstances.

Many occasions during the last five years, I spent the whole day looking for dentures or glasses. I have meticulously emptied trashcans in the driveway on a sheet, and sat down to feel through left over food, and every scrap of paper or tissue, and taken apart beds and couches in order to find them.

I learned to call the doctor, talk to nurses, fill out forms, ask questions, and hear answers in field with which I am unfamiliar. I have waiting hours in waiting rooms, and have participated in in-office surgeries. I have been asked to make life and death decisions, and grocery shopped slowly with a 90-year-old lady on my arm. Somehow by limiting my physical world, my spiritual world expanded.

I had to bath, dress, and entertain someone who didn’t always know my name. People who didn’t see the value of me having a handi-cap parking sticker have yelled at me in parking lots, and I wanted to blame someone, scream at someone, have some help, or have life be fair. But nothing changed. And God was silent for a very long time.

Then something happened. I surrendered. I made a decision to get good at what I did. I gave up on the expectation I had for the day, and did the best with every small task that was in front of me. I listened to my mom’s needs, and met them. I dyed her hair a beautiful red, and found the perfect lipstick for her skin color. I ironed her clothes carefully, and cut the crust off the bread just how she liked it. I polished every scuff off her shoes, and I put two tissues in her hand as we left the house. This was my life, and I decided to do it well. I leaned into my life, and started to enjoy the life I had leaned into.

Bea is now a resident of a skilled nursing facility, and I’m wandering around kind of lost without her. As much as I hated taking it on, now I hate thinking it’s over. Life is change, and I can’t stop that. I check on her every day, but sometimes she is having so much fun, I don’t let her see me, and I just drive home. I ended up needing her more than she needed me.

So, now, I put two white tissues in my hand before I leave the house, just for old time’s sake, and I’m hoping I’ll be more gracious when my next opportunity to stretch and reach for the gold arrives.

All right reserved. Please contact Swanee Hochhalter for use.


  • Swanee Hochhalter lives in Ventura,CA with her husband, Larry. Her newly published book, "Change of Habit", was written during the time she took care of her mother, Bea, who has Alzheimer's.