Another Insight into Caregiving: Connecting on a Unique Level
During my 14+ years as my wife’s primary caregiver I gained many insights into caregiving, but there was one, over all the rest, I had never expected.
I found my wife and myself connecting on a very different, and in hindsight I now say, unique level. Rather than being strained by caregiving, our love flourished and deepened.
We had been married for 27 years before her diagnosis and were having a fairly unremarkable life together. Two jobs, two kids, two dogs, two extended families (which gave us both love and fits at times), etc. Then we discovered we were to actually be given two lives together. We’d lived the ‘for better’ and ‘in health’ portions of our vows. Now we were to embark on a new life where we would work on the ‘for worse’ and ‘in sickness’ segments.
As every caregiver here knows, the day your patient and you hear the words of your diagnosis lives change. In our case that change would be a forever change.
During my caregiving I learned many new skills, tactics, and strategies, but what I didn’t expect to encounter was the deepening of the connection my patient and I had. After all, after 27 years of being together, we both felt we pretty much had our love and feelings for each other figured out. But we didn’t.
This deepening of our connection certainly didn’t make caregiving a bed of roses, nor easy, but it was nonetheless amazing to me. It was also the underpinning that gave me the strength to rise to the often overwhelming demands of caregiving each day, day after day.
For the last five years of my wife’s life she was totally dependent on me. Even when our children were at their youngest, I had never had anyone so totally and completely dependent on me for every aspect of their life. When our children had been tiny there had always been a partner to help, parents, grandparents, friends, etc. who offered to lend a hand in the tough times. But I was to find this not to be with caregiving. My wife needed food, clothing, medicines, routine, bathing, exercise, communications, medical care, patient advocacy, and much more. That was all on me.
The new level of connection didn’t dawn on me right away. Rather it was one day when I was banging around the laundry room. Not particularly happy having to wash another, and unexpected, set of bed linens, nightgowns, etc. while I also had a meal to prepare, a house that was a mess, a boss who was angry I had caregiving duties encroaching in my life, and more. I knew I banged the wash machine lid down harder than I should have when in the silence after I could hear my wife quietly weeping in her bed. Between her sobs I heard her say “Damn me! Damn me! I should be doing this for Scott.”
I stood around the corner frozen by those words. There she was bedridden, fighting brain cancer, and she was mad at herself because I had her laundry to do. I mumbled to myself “no, honey. You should be mad at me for acting like a spoiled brat!” I steeled myself, walked into our room, sat on the edge of the bed, and held her hand. I have no idea how long we held each other and cried. After some length of time we realized we were each saying the same thing through our tears “I am sorry!”
That day my view of caregiving changed. We both agreed neither of us had chosen our roles, certainly didn’t like them better than our previous lives, nor did we have any option but to accept them.
I sat alone later that night in silent darkness of our living room and it was then I came to embrace my role as caregiver. Every aspect of her life now depended on me. I had no alternative but to repay that need and her love by accepting my new role with as much grace as I could manage each hour of each day – one day at a time.
Over the years many people have asked me how I could have done what I did as a caregiver. My answer has always been the same “Love makes you do crazy things!”
Peace and strength to every caregiver!