My sister-in-law Shan looked over at me. Her eyes filled with tears, but her voice held as she told me my brother, Jerry, had been stabilized and heavily medicated, following very intrusive emergency surgery.
Shan had known some of what lay ahead for them when they married; he was already infected with the virus that would take his life just fifteen years later. They had a daughter together and Shan kept up her busy professional career. She hadn’t much choice: Jerry’s illness forced his retirement six years ago.
Jerry was the youngest sibling in our family. His twin, Jack, died ten years ago of a different cancer. Unlike Jerry, Jack died within a month of his diagnosis.
My partner and I drove seventeen hours to get to the Edmonton hospital where Jerry had been transported the week before he died. I got to spend precious time with him in the ICU the night we arrived and for some days following.
Then the Coronavirus pandemic dictated that only his wife and child would be allowed to visit, we returned home to the coast.
It must have been gruelling for Shan to drive for hours early every morning from their hometown to the Edmonton hospital and then back again late at night, often in temperatures of 30 below.
Then there was the financial burden of a hotel and meals in Edmonton on those days when he would experience further emergency medical procedures which left his fate uncertain until the wee hours of the morning.
But Shan was always there, always speaking positively of Jerry and their relationship, though the strain the last few months must have been considerable.
The strain on caregivers is inconceivable to those who have never had to juggle a career, child-rearing and never-ending medical appointments, including specialist’s medical procedures. All of this, along with other familial obligations and social commitments.
It is especially difficult when the career of the caregiver is at its peak. The long sought after position is then at its most demanding, but if the health of a partner or child falters, then fails, decisions must be made that inevitably compromise professional responsibilities.
And if, as in many cases, the parents of the caregiver are also aging, or their child has special needs, the burden can be overwhelming!
In the midst of this pandemic, when many of us are self-isolating, we have the opportunity to reflect upon the role that some among us fulfil with grace and dedication, patiently and lovingly, and the courage and stamina that such a role requires.
We are grateful to Shan for her loving care of our brother.