When you are a caregiver, you are the guide for your loved one as they cross the bridge toward death. The world, with colors and noise swirling around, keeps tugging and pulling on you, wanting you to come back, but the labored last few breathes of your loved one can’t let you go. You’re mesmerized. They are going to die and there is nothing you can do but help them across the bridge and try to get back to your side safely.

In spiritual folklore, some animals can cross between this world and the next. I am particularly fascinated by the folklore of the wolf. Wolves hunt in packs, dependent on one another to survive. But, when necessary, the lone wolf can travel without the others, their howls stretching high upon the heavens, to connect with the dead. Caregivers are like wolves. Fiercely pack oriented, they need a team to help but they are the only ones who can help their loved ones cross the bridge.

I remember my mother’s last few days, our downstairs den turned into the staging area for her crossing. I had a certification test coming up soon; nine months of work concluding with a grueling exam to determine if I was to be branded with initials at the tail of my name. But my mom was calling me to the bridge. The night before my test I went to see her; my inner lone wolf was howling. I had a sense that, during my eight hour exam, she would be gone, because we were counting hours, not days. When I got there, she already looked dead. Each labored breath seemed to be her last. Her skin was pale, her hands cold, her eyes glassy, her jaw was lax and skin tight, she looked closer to a skeleton than a woman. When I clasped her cold, clammy hand, she weakly gripped back. It was the softest grip my fleshy hands have ever felt but I was not able to break free. I just held her hand and tried to have her mimic my breathe. I wasn’t satisfied but I had to head back to my side of the bridge. If I didn’t, my side would be in shambles.

I passed my test and a few days later my mother died. I didn’t see her last breath. I didn’t need to. My side of the bridge kept calling and it repulsed me into anger; anger for the insensitivity of the pragmatic world, anger that my sweet mother was taken from me, anger and shame that I couldn’t watch her last breath. When I came back to my side of the bridge, I was different, I had changed. I wasn’t whole. The world, with all it’s color and noise, seemed different to me. I genuinely feel this side of the bridge has it wrong, our judgements, prejudices, and hate; that doesn’t exist on the other side. As you prepare to guide someone to the other side, all that matters is that you are able to pack enough love for their journey so they can streak across the heavens. Don’t forget to save some love for yourself though; you’re going to need it for the journey back across the bridge.

Shane P. Larson, CFP® has been a caregiver most of his adult life. With one semester left in college, his family received the devastating diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s for their beloved mother.

Starting his career while also being pulled back home to help care for his mother shaped Shane’s perspective of the world. Taking the skills he learned as wells as the family lessons gained from caregiving, Shane started his own financial planning practice to assist other families who are facing similar situations and help guide them through the difficult task of caregiving.

Currently residing in Seattle, WA, Shane enjoys writing, reading dense books, riding his bike, obsessing over baseball, enjoying a slice of pizza and a pint of craft beer, and taking impromptu trips with his wife.