Thursday, August 15, 2013

Caregivers and their spouses

middle_aged_coupleThere came a time in our marriage when my husband, Peter, did something so extraordinary that I fell in love with him all over again.

You might think it was a grand gesture, like a surprise trip to Italy or a diamond necklace. It wasn’t. It was something so simple, yet so profound.

Peter joined me in my caregiving journey.

He didn’t have to. I was the one who had signed up to care for our elderly neighbors Fred and Hildy. But of course I had no idea at the time what that meant.

Over time, rides around town and grocery shopping gave way to financial planning for long-term care; that’s when Peter stepped in. But the gesture that really gave me pause was more human than financial.

Hildy had passed away and Fred was recovering from a stroke. Fred had progressed from the hospital to rehab but was not well enough to come home. So the next stop was a skilled nursing facility until he could regain strength and mobility.

Fred had really wanted to come home. It was all becoming too much for him. He was emotionally and physically exhausted, and confused. Peter and I were his only lifeline to normalcy.

At the time I was still commuting to Chicago for work, and for the next few weeks I was required to be there Monday through Friday, leaving about one day here in town to visit Fred.

Click HereAs I was stressing out over the bad timing and Fred’s need for us to be near, Peter volunteered to be at Fred’s side every night after work for as many hours as Fred needed him. It was like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders.

What a gif— a beautiful, beautiful gift. I am not sure Peter understood the expansiveness of his offer, but I did. Caring for Fred was really caring for me.

There are legions of family caregivers out there who embark on a caregiving journey that will eventually take them down a road they never expected— with their spouses right by their side. Spouses who willingly take their in-laws to the doctors, pulling the wheelchair out of the trunk and gently helping their partner’s loved one out of the car, sitting in the waiting room and studiously listening to the doctor’s instructions.

Or husbands who come over to watch a ballgame with their father-in-law, engaging in that “guy conversation” that daughters can’t replicate, or wives who take their mother-in-law to the hairdresser and shopping weekly.

All too frequently the commitment goes much further. Imagine the husbands who agree to spend their retirement funds on their mother-in-law’s care, or the wives who consent to have their mother-in-law come to live with them after a stroke or a fall.

Their commitment goes beyond the bounds of normal marriage vows. “In sickness and in health” has expanded well beyond husband and wife.

Recently, I met a gentleman at Simi Vintage Hills who told me he felt there was a profound benefit to his being physically challenged and in a wheelchair. He told me his disabilities helped him discover his son-in-law’s love and compassion.

With tears in his eyes, he told me he would “probably live to be 200 years old” because of the care and devotion his son-in-law showed him.

Caregiving can be frustrating. Caregiving tasks can be unpleasant. And as tough a road as caregiving can be, the remarkable feat of working together for the benefit of another always astonishes me.

I hope this compassion will be one of the legacies we leave our children because, as current generations live longer and need more care, showing the path to love and compassion in family caregiving is not only a nicety but a necessity.

Caregivers, if you are reading this, take time to thank your partners who willingly give of themselves on the caregiving journey. They can be the lifeline to happiness for you and your loved one.

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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