very important meeting
on the calendar for months,
long before these
mental health symptoms

Who knew
back when it was scheduled
that on the day of this
very important meeting
my husband would be
in the midst of a
mental health breakdown?

My dad was called in
to be in the house
with both
my husband
our daughter.
Surely all would be fine enough
for just
90 minutes
so that I could present at this
very important meeting.

Promising to be home at 5,
I head out the door
presentation prepared,
lipstick on,
looking to the world like someone
whose home is not currently
in crisis.

On the phone with doctors for the
whole drive there.
One asks,
“Can I talk to Sean?”
and I have to admit that
despite the long list of
troubling symptoms
that I have just presented,
I left Sean at home,
left him for this
very important meeting.

Voicemails and texts stack up
in my Inbox
as I talk to the docs.
One from our daughter’s school
about a missed final that needs to be made up.
“Can you bring her in early to school tomorrow?”
the teacher asks.
The go-getter, do-gooder, rule-follower part of my brain starts to think,
“Sure! We can make that work!”
Until fortunately the realistic part jumps in and says,
“Absolutely not. Nothing more can be added to this plate. It is 6th grade and life will go on even if this final is taken late.”
(This voice is working hard to speak and be heard more often.)

I present at the meeting,
momentarily stepping out of my roles of
and into the world where I present at
very important meetings.

The meeting ends.
I pack up my things.
I chat with a co-worker about
how things went.
I head to the car at a non-rushed pace,
taking advantage of being
in the outside world,
not quite ready to run
back to the roles
that await me.

Traffic is rough
and I arrive home at
5:25 instead of 5:00
as promised.

I pull up and see
my daughter
standing at the door
and I know
something is wrong.

She pulls on her coat and comes out to meet me at the car.
“I think Daddy is in a deep deep sleep,”
she says,
“I can’t wake him up.”
I run to the house,
throw down my keys,
and see him on the couch,
head at an angle no one would choose,
mouth hanging open.

Is it the fact that I’m being watched
by my daughter and father
that allows me to be
efficient but not hysterical?
Or is the years of practice that have prepared me for
moments like these?

Sitting next to him,
I begin to shake him,
then scratch his head and hair briskly,
calling for him to wake up.
He begins to stir,
coming out of the deep trance
that had swallowed him up
the entire time
I had been gone.

Perhaps his mind decided to go
into hibernation
until I returned,
protecting itself
from my absence.

Eventually we brought him back to consciousness.
Once he was settled enough that I felt I could leave the room momentarily,
I checked in with our daughter and said,
“Are you okay? That must have been really scary for you.”
“I checked his pulse and I found it,
and I knew to make sure he was breathing and he was,
so I was pretty sure he wasn’t dead.
But still…
I was sitting on the couch next to him since 5:00.
Watching for you.
Waiting for you.
You said you’d be home at 5:00.
You weren’t home at 5:00.”

It’s true.
I wasn’t.
I was at
very important meeting.

Allison Breininger has been caregiver to her husband, Sean, since 2011, when he was diagnosed with Fanconi anemia. High school sweethearts, the two had been married for 9 years at the time of diagnosis, and had brought their toddler, Maya, home from Haiti, just one year earlier. Allison has been by Sean’s side through a bone marrow transplant, six different types of cancer, a hip replacement, and more and more and more. She writes honestly and openly about the challenges and realities of being a caregiver at her site thenegativespace.life.

Written by Guest Author
The Caregiver Space accepts contributions from experts for The Caregiver's Toolbox and provides a platform for all caregivers in Caregiver Stories. Please read our author guidelines for more information and use our contact form to submit guest articles.

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