Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Care Partner Wednesday--When Your Valentine Needs Care

People don't age at the same rate.

That's not rocket science, right? But what if they are married? One usually begins caring for the other. Years may pass, but eventually a day comes when one needs to move to a place where they can get more care.

How do couples survive?

I've observed many over the years, and could certainly write about it, but it seemed wiser to go to the source. Here are the words of those who are living it today.

"Take a deep breath before you visit. I think to myself, 'What burden should I lay down before I go? What can I talk about and what would be upsetting? It helps me to get grounded and our visits to be more satisfying."

"Don't be a helicopter wife, swooping in with all kinds of changes and suggestions. I am his wife, after all, and I was his caregiver for many years. I should know best, right? It's so tempting to fuss about small things that only matter to me. I've learned that I have to let go of some things. When I do, I realize that they don't matter much, anyway."

"Think about when you visit. My husband isn't a morning person any more. I used to go visit after breakfast, and I'd be so frustrated to find him still in bed. I asked why he wasn't up, and they told me they were letting him sleep because he'd said he wanted to. I couldn't argue with that. If the care partners can follow his rhythms, so can I."

"Take time for yourself. The first time I gave myself permission to go away for a few days, I felt guilty, and every time I told someone, I felt like I had to explain myself. I wasted that whole first trip worrying about him. When I came back, he was glad to see me, but didn't realize I'd been gone. Now I plan regular times away to nourish me. When I come back, I am a better, more patient wife."

"Learn that disappointments are okay. I once planned an outing for us, thinking it would be special and meaningful to him. It wasn't. He was bored and kept asking when we could go. However, there's been times when things have turned out beautifully, and we've both had fun. I've learned to still plan, but to let go of expectations."

"I made friends with her care partners. I got to know them and things about their lives. I also told them things about my wife that they didn't know. They became my friends, and when my friends were caring for my wife, I felt better about everything."

"One of my favourite things to do is to look at old pictures together. Sometimes, my husband remembers events of long ago. Those times are magical. Other times, he looks at pictures of himself and thinks it is our son. Still, there's something about those old pictures. Those are our history, and the experiences are a common bond."

Watching someone you love struggle with disease and decline is difficult, and puts special pressures on a marriage. I've seen poignant examples of love, but none stays with me like the one several years ago with Howard and Jan.

They had been married for over 60 years when Jan moved into the care sections with dementia. Howard came every day and took her for walks in the garden or had a meal with her. One of his favourite activities was to read to her the letters she had written to him when he was at war many years ago. He had saved them all, and he would make remarks about the people or events mentioned . For the most part, Jan didn't remember, but still enjoyed hearing her words read by the man she loved. One of my latest memories of them is of Howard coaxing the failing Jan to eat tiny spoonfuls of mashed potatoes.

For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. These vows are being lived out every day by husbands and wives who are also care partners.

Care Partner Wednesday--When Your Valentine Needs Care

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