Caregivers are artists of attention and assistance. As we respond to urgent needs, something is working in our consciousness helping to center our thoughts and focus our responses. For my caregiving, that something was Jane Austen. I came to Jane Austen in my 50s, which was when I needed her. Her novels gave me joy as I was immersed in caregiving.
My enthrallment with Austen’s novels began with Pride and Prejudice. As I found myself listening to the audio book, reading the book, watching the 1996 BBC version of the book, talking about the book, writing about the book, I could see that the novel was helping me bring both attention and assistance to my care receivers.
Reading Jane Austen calmed me when I needed to navigate upsetting medical situations. Once, flying to Western New York to help my mother, who had dementia, I wrote in my journal: Remember why I am there: the I-thou relationships of caregiving; the connecting through touch & attention. To make her life better
The next morning I helped my mother to the bathroom. It had a pocket
door that is swallowed by the wall when it slides open. I slid the door partially closed so I could check on Mom. Sitting at a little desk in the sewing room, I write in my journal: Caregiving contains the Universe. It's one person pushing another's wheelchair, or helping someone shower, or sitting next to her as she eats, and guiding the fork or the spoon. When you gather all the singular acts of caregiving together you have a universe of feeling, of kindness, of struggle, of patience, contained with it. But the challenge of it: You can lose yourself. If you give yourself to care giving, you're gone, self is obscured. Purposeful control in order to give yourself to it. Put yourself aside. Not hiding, but moving aside like a sliding door (a pocket door).
I think of Emma's patience with her father. The thing about taking care of an elderly parent-- I'm homesick even tho' I'm at home.
Caregiving and Jane Austen—the one fortified the other. This is how I came to write my first book on Jane Austen: The Bedside, Bathtub, and Armchair Companion to Jane Austen. I wanted to offer something to people who hadn’t yet encountered Austen’s writings. I wanted to give something back.