For twenty-one years now I have lived with a man who daily reminds me he is dying.
This has led to a split life for me. I find myself constantly in conflict, constantly questioning my priorities. What should I do next? Spend time with him? Or get on with my work—whether it be writing, housework, or bookkeeping. Or time with friends.
I talked with clinical counselor, Alma Vaugeois about the frustration of constantly having to forego choices unrelated to the caregiver role.
Having to constantly focus on the person being cared for can mean giving up aspects of one’s own life, Alma explains.
Because all of your energy is going into him, there will be a sense of loss for yourself.
This rings true with me. I do feel that I have somehow lost ‘me’ somewhere in that deep chasm between the immutable ‘now’ and the looming ‘then’.
Somewhere between “life with Chris”and the looming future of “life after Chris” my own life seems to have slipped away.
It is ironic that even as delicate as his health is, he can travel with his children without his timelines being affected by any aspect of my life, whereas I have put off a number of trips in consideration of his next procedure, or his present fragile condition.
And I ask myself, are these the ‘fear based’ decisions that self-help gurus preach against? Or are they merely practical considerations in light of his medical history and current situation?
I need to figure out how to carve out time for me, to see some aspect of myself as blooming, even if only in inner space.
I need to find a way to feed my passions while still caring for him to the best of my ability.
Because if I toss my entire life to the wayside in my intent to care for him, I will become resentful and bitter.
I will fester in the role of caregiver. And me festering? It ain’t a pretty picture!
To learn more about Alma Vaugeois, go to www.almavaugeois.com
They wheeled Chris from the operating theatre to the hospital ward, Friday after the angiogram. I was waiting anxiously to hear the results of this procedure where they pump dye through your arteries to check for blockages.
Chris looked pale and stricken. There’s nothing they can do for me, he said.
And I realized that health wise? He’d just hit a brick wall.
We’d known this was a possible outcome. When his kids had advised him against the probative procedure, he’d countered with: So what am I supposed to do? Just sit here and die?
I wanted to burst into tears, to give in and let it all wash over me. But one look at the grim determination on his face, and I knew. The bad news was his to deal with. I could not be the one to let go.
We’ll have prawns for dinner, I said stupidly. What’s for dinner had been the topic before he went in for the angiogram,
Then I got myself together and said; You’re here, you’re alive, and you’re coming home with me. That’s all that matters now.
But the news left me stunned. In my sixties, I have no job, and very little income on my own. We have debts, and our income is greatly reduced due to Chris’ illness. Life insurance? Meagre at best.
As I helped him dress and wheeled him down the hall to the parking lot, I worried about how this news would affect him.
After all, if I was in shock, I couldn’t begin to imagine how Chris felt. I only know that whatever lies ahead, I need to be strong for him.
Pray God I am up to it.
My husband thinks he is going to die. This Friday. On the table. Having an angioplasti.
He hasn’t said so, of course, but he’s hinted rather specifically.
If things don’t go right on Friday, he worries.
They will. I try to sound reassuring instead of impatient.
But if they don’t.. he begins again.
Then everything we’ve been talking about for the last twenty years will fall into place, I say.
Heartless of me, perhaps, but then we’ve been having this discussion since his first heart attack in 1993, since his ten or twelve angioplasties, since his open heart surgery in 2006, since his experimental bypass in 2012.
And looking at that history? I realize I have been a caregiver of sorts for most of our thirty year marriage.
I just want to enjoy the time we have left. Live in the present. Not the future or the past.
Because after all these years, I can’t help but be aware of the fact that I am a widow in waiting. And a guilty part of me does look forward to a life where I will not be second guessing anyone, where I will be the focus of my day, my money, and my life.
But that is not my focus now. My concern now is to get him in and out of that operating theatre with confidence. So I’m going in absolutely one hundred percent positive that everything will be fine.
History repeats itself, right? Pray God it does tomorrow, too.
Happiness is not something that occurs on its own when there are no bad things happening. It is our ability to find joy amidst the tragic, to add colour and life to the mundane, to find meaning in maintenance. Suzanne Clydesdale.
Chris brought in the New Year saying the rosary. Around twenty after twelve I woke. Looking at the time, I turned and hugged him and said, You made it! You made it to 2015!
People often express sympathy for me, caring for a loved one who is leaving this world. Sympathy is not necessary.
You see, Suzanne Clydesdale is right about finding “meaning in maintenance”. Being able to take this journey with someone you truly care about? Is a gift, not a burden.
Not that there aren’t problems or concerns. But there is growth, there is recognition. There is a new and fresh perspective.
I see how precious my own health is. How much it needs nurturing. How a healthy body is a key to a happy and productive long life.
I realize how forces beyond our control—genetics, environment and other external forces—can change our lives in an instant. And that realization fills me with knowledge of the beauty and frailty of every moment of our existence.
I see how love encourages, refreshes, comforts and challenges us. How words and actions, no matter how humble, how common-place, can make an amazing difference in someone’s day.
Dying is a journey, and I am watching someone bravely advance in that journey day after day. It is my privilege to be at his side.
If I did not want to be here, then I would need your sympathy.