Recently, I met a group of co-workers for breakfast. One in particular had a need to vent but at the end we all agreed it was not about her, it was her expectations and she needed to let it go. Less than two hours later, I found myself in a similar situation. In caregiving, I had certain expectations but people who were more affected had different expectations. In fact, there were four sets of expectations and three of us had to let ours go.
You would think that with over a dozen years of caregiving experience – my mother with Alzheimer’s, someone’s else’s mother with cancer in hospice care, my husband recovering from injuries, and my in-laws – I would have everything going like a well-oiled machine. Alas, no.
The truth is, the biggest obstacle to my peace of mind is myself. When I first stepped into caring for my mother, I was at a critical juncture of my art career. I’d accrued a long list of shows and awards, had news articles written about me, and had my work mentioned a couple times in an art magazine. I’d been in some prestigious regional and national shows and had had two person and one person shows in some pretty good galleries. My main gallery representative was urging me to start focusing on the east coast.
I chose to put that aside with the thought I’d be able to pick it up again in a few years, but as each year passes it’s increasingly obvious that I have to lay down all those dreams and expectations. If I want the same sort of career I had, I will have to start at the very beginning again. I don’t know if I can or if I even want to.
Nonetheless, letting go of those expectations is a constant struggle. It involves a certain amount of grieving as you face the death of a dream. I’ve been postponing that grief for some years, but I think it’s time to face it head on. Art has changed significantly for me and it’s time to own that. Only by letting go can I find my way again.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.