Caring for a Sick Spouse

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For the past forty plus years of our marriage, my husband and I have taken turns being sick and having surgeries. Not long after I married, I came to the realization that my husband would be undergoing knee, ankle, and foot surgeries for the remainder of his life. Dan’s walking abilities would gradually become more and more impaired. This created a hope for us to fulfill certain dreams sooner than later.

This thought intensified when I became critically ill with an undiagnosed neurological disorder in my early forties. Dan became lovingly protective of my health in the ensuing years, especially after my symptoms progressed and I underwent brain surgery. I also became increasingly concerned about Dan’s walking. We often competed over household tasks–who would do which chores so the other wouldn’t have to, both of us secretly doing laundry or shopping before the other had the chance.

I’m not sure who’s done the most caregiving in our marriage, but I can tell you Dan’s done a great job caring for me. I know that when one spouse is caring for the other, it’s easy for caregiving to overtake other priorities in the marriage. Spousal caregiving is tough, and I think that success if found in the small things.

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  1. Find ways to enjoy each other. Focus on the things your loved one has always been interested in and loved. Read or listen to books about those things. Watch a TV show, movie, or series about them. Research a prominent person in that field. Or you might consider taking a fun online class. Complete a project (genealogy, writing, birdwatching, creating an e-book, or organizing family pictures, etc.
  2. Listen to music and recorded books. This doesn’t take time from your daily route and can also be enjoyable for your loved one. Check your local library for books on CD. Be sure to ask your loved one about their interests so you can come up with mutually chosen titles.
  3. Do things you like separately. Find a favorite spot in a local park, library, museum, or space nearby where you can slip away for refreshment. Spend time with friends at least once a week. Ask some from your family, church, support group, or community to give you the opportunity for respite.
  4. Create “islands” of respite each day. Step out of the house and look at the sky. Keep books in the bathroom and take short reading breaks. Ask friends to stop by and visit for an hour or two so you can walk around the black or take a drive, visit the park or library, a movie, or time to drive some place quiet and enjoy the solitude. Spend ten minutes in your garden (or your neighbor’s).  What refreshes you? Find ways to inject mini-burst of these things into your day.
  5. Find someone to confide in. This may be someone who has cared for their ill spouse or a compassionate, affirming friend. Caring for a spouse can stir feelings of anger and frustration, and husbands and wives can feel like they’re betraying their loved ones by sharing confidences and circumstances that can naturally result from the stress of caregiving.
  6. Call a friend or family member every day. You need connection to the world beyond the walls of your home. Take time to stay connected to close friends and family members. Ask about their lives, interests, and prayer needs. Whenever possible, use Skype or FaceTime. You need to see faces, and people need to lay their eyes on you.
  7. teamwork-294584_960_720Ask for help. You need help–regular breaks, physical, and emotional support. If your spouse has adult siblings, ask for their physical help or financial assistance to hire aides, respite workers, or to secure a respite facility on a scheduled basis. If they refuse, look for someone to assist in mediation–a pastor, counselor, or senior care specialist, or possibly even a lawyer. If you have adult children, ask them to help. Include your church or parish when you ask for assistance. Many churches are able to offer considerable help. And always consult county social workers and the Area Agency on Aging to see what services you qualify for. We were grateful to discover free respite care for our loved ones that allowed us getaway breaks a few times a year.

As much as possible (and it isn’t easy), try to compartmentalize spousal care from your personal time together. Try to preserve time for the two of you to simply enjoy one another. One of my most treasured memories is of watching the light in my mother’s eyes as my dad read his diaries to my mom during the years she lived with Alzheimer’s. Even in the debilitating shadow of Alzheimer’s, couples can share meaningful moments together.

PHOTO CREDIT: 9jaFlave