What will be the legacy of longtime choral director Criselda Mierau? Running successful mixed voice adult choirs in St. Albert for three-plus decades, plus a musical theatre troupe, plus children's choirs? Yes, all that, but even more, making music for/with her dad and being a loving daughter. "Creating memories, living a life...this is what dad's aging and my caregiving is teaching me. Only love matters and only love remains."
When Criselda Mierau left her 31-year career at the helm of the St. Albert Singers Guild at the end of last season, she might've thought she'd have more time on her hands: but no such luck. At age 59, the whirling dervish is as busy as ever (maybe even busier), as she starts up a new choir (or two), co-writes and stages a play, and continues to care for her 85-year-old father Eric who lives with her, even as his growing health issues put stressful decisions about care on the family's front burner.
"He is one of the big reasons I decided to jump right back into the arts (in particular a choir) this year since he loves singing in my choirs," she said. "Music has always affected and shaped my dad. It is a big part of his well-being. But being a caregiver for an aging parent is a journey, and changes sneak up on you over time and then all of a sudden you're on the road to becoming your parent's parent."
It's something many grapple with at middle age, the so-called 'sandwich generation' of those caring for aging parents and their own children. Even though her daughter is now grown, Mierau's other 'children' include her 15-year-old Acting Out Musical Theatre (AOMT), and two new mixed choirs, (So Noted! and Forte Plus), which she describes as "crazy new ventures--liberating and energizing, but also exhausting and daunting."
Mierau credits husband Bart, daughter Katya (and her partner Drewe) with support and help. "We're all in it together; it's not just me the daughter, but rather, we the family. But even though dad recently allowed us to have a cleaning lady for his part of the house, I still have daughter's guilt. If I'm working at home, I think, 'Why aren't I cleaning his living area--I'm right here?"
In fact, Mierau bought her west-end Edmonton home over 30 years ago with her parents in mind, a single-level area they could call their own but still be connected to their only child, and a spot Mierau's mom remained until her care needs became too great. "Mom went downhill dramatically after we put her in long-term care, so I don't want dad to go if he doesn't have to. But it's a reality we face--that day will come."
"As for me, I simply wish to walk quickly and catch my breath when necessary! Dad understands my need to 'live' and encourages me to continue my work as a conductor, artistic director and 'affector' of lives around me. I am still making music and building community; creating a safe space for people to grow and sing with goodwill, humour and joy. That makes me happy."