Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A (Belated) Wish For National Family Caregivers Month

November was National Family Caregivers Month.

One of my dearest friends has suddenly become a caregiver.  Literally overnight.  No ramp up, or rather ramp down.  No slow decline foretelling a dark diagnosis.  No creep of symptoms.  Just, wham!

She was--is--was--is a brilliant therapist and program director at a human services agency.  I don't know what verb tense to use any more because, while she is still all those things, and her talents and wisdom have not diminished, she is now, more than anything, a caregiver for her husband of 40+ years who suffered a severe stroke that paralyzed half of his body.

As long as she is awake,  he is in the forefront of her mind.  She carries him with her to every meeting and errand.  He occupies her frontal lobe, and the creative thinking and problem solving abilities that she is accustomed to using to great success in her work are now locked onto him and his every movement, and lack of movement.

She has learned a new set of skills:  how to help him transfer from bed to wheelchair and back to bed; how to read to him the books about history that he loves and she abhors until he finally falls asleep at night; how to surround his anxiety with compassion and hope, while quelling her own terrors and growing claustrophobia at how much their world has shrunk.

The physical labor is exhausting.  But the mental and emotional demands can be defeating.  He is now the patient, and his efforts at recovery take precedence.  This means that the house is remodeled to accommodate his limitations, their time moulds to his needs, and his feelings come first.  She must construct a facade that is brave without minimizing the obstacles; one that can absorb his anxieties, anger, frustrations, despondency, and unrealistic hopes without flinching.  All the while arresting her own corresponding feelings so that she never tips the emotional scales away from his ability to sustain hope.

I am not writing about his horrific transformation from partner to patient.  Nor am I emphasizing how much he is still his deep thinking and deeply caring self.  He reaches out to her with his good arm and surrounds her, as best as he can, with his enduring love and appreciation.

No, her physical and emotional depletion are not because her partner ignores her or doesn't appreciate her experience and efforts.  Her emotional and physical depletion just....are.  They are not because she is trying too hard or not giving herself any respite or not using all the massage gift coupons friends have been giving her.  They are just the inevitable sackcloth that caregivers wear.

So November was family caregiver month.  Articles offer appreciation for the hardships caregivers experience and advise caregivers to take care of themselves, to de-stress, to take time off, to connect with friends and family.

All I can offer is this:  I see you.  I know what it's like for you.  I know there are days you celebrate and days you want to pull all the plugs on everything.  I offer you my deepest, most heart-mind-soul felt gratitude.  I offer this to my own caregiver/husband, and to all other caregivers.  I wish you peace.

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