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
With this diagnosis, the admission that all that can be done now is medicate to make him more comfortable in a deteriorating condition, his world has radically altered.
And shock waves reverberate in mine.
For twenty one years, ever since his first heart attack, this man has told me every day that he is dying. Over the years I have come to take it lightly.
We’re all dying, I might reply. Or:
For someone who’s dying, you’ve outlived an awful lot of people.
But now I must take this notion seriously. No more light hearted bantering. He will grieve. His response to this diagnosis will be an attitude he owns. It is not for me to dictate or project.
And as for me? As selfish as it seems, I must be practical. Find out exactly how much money I will have in pensions each month, make projected budgets, determine which things need to be bought out or paid off now while there is still another income coming in.
There are funeral expenses. How much will that be? Will the life insurance cover it? What about our debt?
He has agreed to cremation but I know in his heart he wants to buried and we do have the cemetery plots. Will I be able to afford to bury him and still have enough to tide me over for the few months before the survivor’s pension and the income supplement kick in?
I need to be prepared. And to help Chris prepare. God help us both.
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.