Recently, my spouse d
eveloped physical challenges that made him unable to perform some of his own personal care. We were quite concerned, for a time, that the incapacitation was caused by a systemic and degenerative condition and were very relieved to realize that the cause of his disability is localized and, hopefully, can be repaired with surgery.
In the meanwhile, I find myself performing minor caregiving tasks for someone who has always been fiercely independent. I am very much the same, so it was with a “tub full of sorrows” that I undertook my spousal duty. Don’t misunderstand – I am happy that I can help him through a very difficult few weeks. Along with that happiness I have experienced extreme compassion because I can see how badly he wants to still be independent, but the pain and disability prevents it. I also have felt, at certain points, impatience and irritability with his inability to reach decisions about simple things – due to the pain medicine. I also feel fatigue, because I have assumed both my household chores and his, along with some caregiving duties he was completing for other family members. And, of course, I have experienced guilt, due to the impatience and irritability, because, after all, this entire situation is not really his fault.
I have gone through this cycle of feelings repeatedly over the last 8 weeks or so. Then, I think about friends and family members who have provided intensive personal care for loved ones for years, not just weeks. I am amazed that more caregivers don’t end their time becoming care recipients, just from the stress and the many emotions that they feel (and the emotions that most repress as they provide caregiving). This short stint as caregiver for my spouse has reinforced the understanding that caregiver support and respite care are essential for the survival of those who provide care for loved ones. There are many resources available but, often, caregivers are either unaware or do not allow themselves to take advantage of the resources.
To learn more about resources available to support caregivers, I suggest a visit to the AARP Caregiver Resource Center. I especially like the article, “ 12 Resources Every Caregiver Should Know About,” which lists several organizations and resource agencies. Another good article is “ 8 Rules for New Caregivers,” which has several invaluable suggestions for family caregivers.
My personal advice from my short tour as a spousal caregiver? Forgive your spouse for those things he or she does that arise out of pain, frustration, or fear. And forgive yourself for those less-than-noble emotions you experience, take a deep breath, and keep caring.