Friday, December 21, 2012

Caregiver Holiday Blues

We may naturally think of holidays as more complicated for those who have a chronic condition or illness.  But how often do we think about what holidays are like for the partners who so often act as caretakers for their ill mates?

One woman I spoke with recently, who has been the primary caregiver for her husband who has multiple sclerosis, felt it her duty to make sure the holidays were as celebratory and seamless as possible for him.  She said that he suffered, so it was up to her to bring some holiday joy into his life. She spent days, and nights, baking, cooking, cleaning, organizing small groups of friends and relatives to visit in clusters that wouldn't tire her husband out too much.  She felt obligated to paste the mask of holiday cheer over her exhausted face, and keep it there.

Another caregiving partner I spoke with felt that he did double, if not triple duty all year long - caring for his wife, working full time, and providing much of the care for their children.  Holidays were his time for a break.  He intended to ask friends and relatives to bring the holidays to his wife, while he sat in his arm chair, watched sports, and napped.

These examples are two ends of a spectrum.  I think the connective thread in this spectrum is that caregivers need consideration and permission to take care of themselves, all year long, and especially during the holidays when expectations of cheerfulness can become oppressive for those of us who live with illness in our relationship.

This is not to say that you shouldn't enjoy whatever holiday spirit speaks to you.  And part of that spirit may include doing some special things for your partner.  But the equation should flow in two directions.

The ill partner can also do what he can to bring a little specialness into the holidays for his mate.  And that can be something as simple and as powerful as words.  The ill partner can tell his beloved that she is indeed beloved and express what he appreciates about her -- and not just her caregiving, but the specialness of her essence.

Sometimes words, especially those that convey that you truly see and know your partner and love her for her goodness and her frailties, can be the best gift of all.

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