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When Your Innocence is Shattered

Meredith Fields-Lawler, LSCW shares what she is learning as a caregiver to her father with cancer and how her innocence may be gone, but her substance is not.

My husband and I are big Mumford and Sons fans. We have stood for hours in a field during the hot Oklahoma summer just to hear them sing. I love the sound of their voices, the lyrics they write and the way the songs make me think about life on a deeper level. I have been listening to their song “Timshel” often lately. There is a line that has really spoken to me:

“ ... death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance”

I don’t actually know what Mumford and Sons felt when they wrote that line, but I feel as though, for me, it sums up the end of life and grieving process beautifully. When we experience the end-of-life journey with another person, our innocence is stolen. Our worldview is altered and how we experience peace and happiness is changed. Our innocence is shattered, but what about our substance?

Caregiving never ends. It is on my mind and heart all day and all night.

As I write this, my life has changed dramatically. My father has terminal cancer and has been admitted into a hospice program. He and my mother have come to live with my family so that we can take care of both my parents. For all of my professional career, I have been a part of hospice, educated on the end of life, championed for death with dignity and advocated for the care of caregivers. Yet, here I am living what I have worked tirelessly for, and on most days I feel lost. My innocence is stolen. I care for my dad and wonder if I am doing enough. Is his pain well managed? Is he at peace? When he has a rough day, I think it is because I have not been a good enough caregiver. When I have to leave him in the care of someone else, even if only for a couple of hours, I worry that he will need something and I won’t be there to ease his suffering. And then I also feel trapped and feel guilty for those feelings. Caregiving never ends. It is on my mind and heart all day and all night. My innocence is gone forever, but maybe that is not a bad thing as long as I hold steadfast to my substance.

I have to keep finding myself in the midst of caring for my parents, my three young sons, my husband and my career. My substance is what holds all of this together and I cannot lose that. I find time to laugh at a silly show, go for a walk, talk to a friend or listen to music that speaks to me.

The next part of the Mumford and Sons song says, “But you are not alone in this.” May I remember every day that I am never alone and may all of you remember this as well. I am at peace with letting go of my innocence and replacing it with a stronger, more loving and resilient substance.


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