While at the park, I noticed a squirrel sprawled on a tree limb. That made me think of the expression “out on a limb.” Then, I wondered exactly where the expression came from and what it meant.
I did a little research and found that the expression was originally literally “out on a limb” because back in the day, people climbed trees. Well, hello, I climbed trees when I was a kid. My favorite tree to climb was sycamores simply because they had a lot of limbs. Two major drawbacks were the leaves made me sneeze and the limbs were brittle. My tree climbing ended when I went too far out on a limb and it broke. I went crashing through the lower limbs and didn’t stop until I was on the ground. It hurt, but since I was able to get up and walk, I went home and kept my mouth shut about the mishap.
The figurative version of “out on a limb” came into use during the late 19th Century. The idiom means to take a dangerous, uncompromising, or difficult position that leaves you vulnerable without the support of others.
I felt I was out on a limb when Jim began to show symptoms of dementia. For about the first year, I was the only one who realized how much he had changed. Seriously, there were people in Jim’s family that thought I was the one with a problem!
Doctors thought it was everything but dementia, which was understandable because he was only forty-nine years old. We went through a myriad of diagnoses trying to find an answer. After a battery of tests, he was diagnosed with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.
Caregivers often feel they are out on a limb. I’ve seen families torn apart by disagreements about how to care for a loved one with dementia. Sometimes the caregiving falls on one person while other family members criticize.
Caregiving is stressful and often lonely. Friends and families sometimes distance themselves from the caregiver and the person with dementia. It seems that when you need people the most some of them will leave you out on a limb.
Two-thirds of caregivers are women, and one-third of those are daughters. One-fourth of the caregivers are known as the “sandwich generation.” This means they are caring for a parent while they have minor children living at home.
I could never have made it through without family support—Jim’s family and mine. I had once cherished our “alone” time, but dementia gave a new dimension to alone time.
I don’t regret keeping Jim home as long as I could. It was a lot of stress and strain, and I remember feeling tired all the time. Still, there were good times too—quiet times when we held each other and let love erase the heartache.
You know when I think about it, that squirrel looked like being out on a limb was a good thing. He looked relaxed and confident, as if he were savoring the moment. There may be a lesson for all of us there.
Copyright © November 2021 by L.S. Fisher