Who is an invisible caregiver?
Millions of spouses, adult children and friends who are caring for someone they love–but having to “do it on the sly.” It’s a tough transition, to admit you need care. After decades of being the strong one, the provider, the professional, the hub of the family, admitting that you need help in and out of the bed, in and out of the car, or down the stairs because of a chronic illness, disease, or after surgery can feel like a blow to the ego. And it’s not who they are. Call is pride, but there’s a time in a person’s life when they aren’t ready to admit they need care. Their worth goes far beyond their need for help.
I met a gal last week who is caring for her husband, but it’s not a label she gives to herself. He has MS and is in a wheelchair. He’s on disability and yet he strives to see himself as he always was–a competent businessman, father, friend and spouse. He is–all those things–but he needs a little help now and then.
They married last year and their devotion and honeymoon love is obvious. They look at each other with such tenderness. She walked into this relationship eyes open. His disability isn’t what she fell in love with–it’s his charm, his wit, and his generous spirit. But his disability is something they have to work around.
She helps him dress–on difficult days. She makes sure his meds are delivered on time and she helps him sort them and reminds him occasionally (wives tend to do that–some people call it nagging but it’s all in the interpretation). She washes his hair. She works her schedule around his so she can accompany him to doctor visits so she can help manage his care. And since he’s prone to infection, she takes extra care to keep their environment germ-free–and keeps masks available for when they’re out in public during flu season.
The other night, he had a fever and decided to sleep downstairs on the couch. He just didn’t have the strength to head upstairs, change clothes and do his normal bedtime routine. She slept in the recliner next to him and checked on him several times that night–to make sure his fever didn’t spike.
Yes, technically she’s a caregiver. But her husband is a young 50 years old, and his disease takes such a toll on his life and health that she doesn’t want to see him as needing care. He wants to be seen first as a man. That’s how she chooses to see him as well.
There are times when naming something brings a sense of relief–so that’s what it is. The definition helps define us. And then there are times, as in this gal’s case when it changes the relationship. She’d rather be an “invisible caregiver.” She’d rather consider herself his wife, his companion, his confidant.
Caring for a spouse isn’t a role. It comes with “I do.” All the invisible caregivers out there–spouses, children or friends do it out of love and loyalty. They choose to camouflage the care they give in order to keep the emphasis on the relationship–to give their loved one the dignity and respect they deserve.