|How’s he doing?
This is an often asked question to the wife of an ill spouse.
I use the pronoun “he” because wives, mothers, nieces, daughters are more apt to be a caregiver of a spouse, parent, sibling, etc.
But such is not always the case. I remember, it was many years ago, a man came into my salon with his wife who had recently suffered a stroke leaving her mentally and physically impaired. He asked me how long it would take to do a manicure for his wife. I told him a half hour. He looked at her and said, “I’ll be back in exactly a half hour” and then looked at me and said “You know, you never keep a lady waiting.” I never forgot the respect and dignity he afforded her as her care-giver.
Regardless of whether it is the husband or the wife who is the person in charge of their spouse’s well-being and care, it is a daunting task. So the better question to a care-giving spouse might be, “how are YOU doing?”
Here are some of the tasks a care giving spouse is responsible for:
- Hauling medical equipment
- Getting prescriptions filled
- Driving to appointment
- Cooking special meals
- Dispensing meds
- Administering daily ablution (no, not absolutions)
- Cleaning up after accidents
- Fetching water, turning off/on the TV, putting lights on/off, etc.
- and all the other chores he/she normally did prior to the new responsibilities
The stress of the added responsibilities and the concern for the spouse leaves the care-giver feeling isolated, oftentimes depressed, sad over the loss of intimacy with his/her partner, fatigued both physically and mentally, neglectful of their own care and scared.
How do you cope with all this, one may ask?
- Establish agreements rather than have expectations
- Have a sidekick, a friend, sibling, professional to whom you can vent.
- Write down frustrations, feelings of accomplishment, stuff of the good days and stuff of the not so good days.
- Allow your spouse to do as much as possible for him/herself. Do not become an enabler or martyr either as a self-punishment for errors of omission or commission done years ago, guilt, or to feel empowered.
- ASK FOR HELP
- Do not give in to abusive demanding. Set limits/boundaries. Being ill does not give one the right to be abusive.
- Realize this situation isn’t your fault.
- Keep your sense of humor up. Learn to laugh at yourselves.
- Have fun yourself. Have a social life outside the house.
- Eat well, exercise, meditate, and do what makes you feel alive. It is okay to feel good.
- Make it as easy on yourself as you can. Hire respite care, order take-out from time to time, get a housekeeper even if it is only every three weeks, check in with the Dept. on Aging and the Dept of Health Care Services, Caregiver.com, and any local agency that provides assistance to the disabled.
- Remember, you don’t have to be perfect.
Old age isn’t the only time spouses are called on to care for one another. There are many stories about spouses caring for returning vets, all of which are touching and inspiring. In my own experience I have known of a husband and wife, who while caring for an ill child, cared for each other as well.
So what is the up side of being a care-giving spouse? As the seriousness of the situation become evident, previous wrongdoings can melt away; not always, but sometimes. And when it does there is precious time to express loving kindness to one another. When it does there is time to be close, to remind each other of past good memories. For the spouse who is doing the care-taking, he/she often feels good about who they are and often feels strong, capable….more capable in many ways than ever before.
(Needless to say, a rocky marriage with an abusive spouse makes care-giving more challenging. When resentment and anger are in the care-giving mix it causes additional stress. It is at these times professional guidance and help is often necessary.)