Anyone who's been a long-time caregiver has experienced the mixed emotions inherent in that role. Having cared for my mother the final sixteen years of her long life, I know the quiet tug between strength and fatigue, compassion and anger, willingness and rebellion. So it was my personal and professional pleasure to support Editor Susie H. Baxter's 2017 Creative Nonfiction Prize award to Raphel Helena Kosek for Caregiver's Journal: How to Survive, or Not.
Kosek wrote so movingly, in fact, we also nominated her piece for a Pushcart Prize.
Described by the author as "one of the most honest and heartfelt pieces I've ever written," Kosek's three-part essay begins, "The Caregiver Addresses Herself at a Distance:"
The night path so often covered between your mother's house and yours falls like reprieve, like freedom, when you are able to leave her--pajamaed and ready for bed--return to your own world. . . Never in all your sixty-one years have you counted the air so sweetly. . . the next step, next breath, next page, word, desire, longing, gratitude--a swell rising like the tide, sand unresisting sweeping you along the sea of night where you are washed from your mother's bitterness. . . .Then "Taking Stock:"
. . . my mother slowly heading towards immobility next door in her house where the rituals of dressing and undressing, mollifying and tolerating, are endlessly repeated. . . No happy burden here. Age knocking at my door, I am still the rebellious teenager inside questioning, how did this happen to me? I want to take drugs, sleep too long, head into the woods. I don't do any of that. . . I am a monk in my skin. . . Aware of life's unexpected bits of sweetness, I hoard them like jewels. . . .And in the final section, "Barking Dog in the Night:"
Stranded on the island of night, I try to navigate to the next minute, next moment. A neighbor's dog is barking but without urgency. . . He has been left out or let outside. . . My husband, more tired than I, has gone to bed. . . Now the dog and I are left to contemplate the vast universe that steams and dreams around us. . . If I try hard enough, I might arrive at some profound thought, but like the dog, feel no urgency to do so. Restless, I send some tentative feelers out--my bark to verify my existence. . . .
For more about Raphael Helena Kosek:
Q & A with Eastern Iowa Review
Showcased Writer at Silk Road Review
Rough Grace (poems), 2014 Winner, Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition