Poetry in Caregiving

Over the years Dak (a.k.a. my brother Steve) has given me a most treasured gift: his love through words and friendship. I am grateful that we are a sister and brother duo that has grown up sharing similar interests and friends. We played well together as young kids (even though I broke many of his “toy” sticks just to make him mad), acted in high school plays and marched in band at the same time. While living in Denver, CO, he sang in a church choir that I directed (often times teasing me before we sang by mouthing to me, “What are we singing?”) Today we are uncovering ways we can combine our talents to further the understanding of family caregiving and aging. I am blessed to have such a wise and loving brother on my team. It is my honor to share his thoughts about the month that is now closing and the journey of family caregiving.


By Dak Gustal

What does it take to linger a moment longer

to address the government inside your head

the one that says you must love another

this way and no other? A mother takes care

of her children who become older as her sun

begins to set in the endless table of the sea.

Rising to the feast she no longer presides over

her shoulders tied loosely to her frame, all her work

is to get it right back again. Your time spent

feeding that name what she has already given you

so many times over so hard to remember

some distant not always felt love on the shoulder

of cold mornings the sun still burrows through

the angle of the light penetrating layers of life

through panes of living grown lumpy and misshapen

casting light everlasting across windows of forgiven

cast open we are like what we have always been

waiting for the tide to reclaim what it lent

with you watching the whole rend time with me

with her way and no other setting tables for the sea


As we wrap up National Caregiver’s Month, I wanted to create a poem that would resemble a sunbeam through the glass in an old house. In my old house, the back door is beautiful. I doubt it’s anywhere close to original, but it’s old enough to not be perfectly clear, much like me. You can see out of it fine if you are up close, but when you stand back you can see the waves–an ever-present reminder of the nearness of the ocean. The ocean here stands for the unknown

even though we live as if it were a known thing. The light, though, that bounces off the windshields of the cars in the parking lot and shines through this glass does mesmerizing things to the wall. The light here stands for that which helps from beyond our own capacity.

Caregiving is like poetry as it is made up of all kinds
of normal, regular, everyday things that aren’t of themselves interesting or appreciated, but when you make up your mind to do what you have to do and begin, there is within that mundanity an elemental glow that fuses something like interest to something like meaning.

Some of what is hardest is wanting what it used to be to continue beyond what it is anymore. Some moves we make more easily. We can’t wait to forget to be like what we were when we were thirteen when we become fifteen, but soon after that we come to be a person that we get used to usually being. Though we have to know that we are not going to be like that forever, that we’re going to forget bowling and our thirty-second kiss, we
resist. It’s not like we were meant for this.

Changes come in some poems as fast as changes come to us in our waking lives. One line goes along as usual to work and rides up as far as it can and then there is some strange airplane out the window. On a personal level, the twin towers of your parent’s omnipotence and invulnerability come down over a cell phone conversation when you realize that you were talking to an independent woman and now you are talking to someone who you are going to have to care for. One day you finally know and you begin with rocks and storms and Mary Oliver.

You will do some wrong and you will do some right. You will do more right and it will be easier if you follow some good advice. Here is as good a place to get good advice as you are going to get. Don’t forget to breathe.

Dak Gustal is a freelance writer and poet living in Randoph, VT. You may contact him at st.augustus@gmail.com

Categories: Aging, Author, Caregiving Issues, Dak Gustal, The Aging Process

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