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Posts Tagged ‘marriage and caregiving’

Caregiving and romance doesn’t seem to go hand-in-hand, but in many ways, it’s the epitome of real love. To care for a spouse, to set aside other aspects of your life and even your marriage to care for an aging or ill parent or child, is about grown up love–the kind that gives, and at times, the kind that sacrifices. Keeping love alive isn’t always easy under the best of life’s busy circumstances, and caregivers even have added stress, but it’s so worth the challenge.

Love Do’s:

Number one goal: Survive. We call ourselves “Team O’Dell.” Some days we felt like a black-ops team whose goal was to get through the dangerous landmines of caregiving and raising teens without committing kamikaze. Wasn’t easy, but I liked the idea of the two of us on a covert mission. However you do it, stay united.

Do keep a bigger vision in focus: Your marriage, your health, your sanity, your humor, your passion–keep that visionary “finish line” ribbon in site. No matter what happens, how long or how hard caregiving gets, the goal is survive–and even thrive.

Do practice good manners. Kisses hello and goodbye, thank you for the hot tea, opening the door for your lady–treat each other like you would on your first date. Why? Because in honoring someone else, we honor ourselves and our relationship. It takes a bit of discipline at first and then it’s easy–and really helps to smooth things over on tough days.

Do compliment each other. Tell your loved one how brave they are. How compassionate they are. How funny they are. Caregivers (for the most part) don’t feel attractive, don’t feel perky or sexy, so remind them they are. Nothing is sexier than someone who knows how to love.  Compliments never get old–not when they’re genuine.

Do look for moments of connection. Forget going on a two-week vacation for now–don’t even torture yourself with the idea. You may not even be able to go on a two hour dinner date, much less a weekend getaway–so grab a kiss in the garage, dance to your favorite song in the kitchen, or better yet–start each day with a shower together! (that was the one place my mother respected my privacy–I think she was part-cat and was afraid to get wet!)

Do celebrate every chance you get. See some gorgeous wildflowers in bloom on the side of the road? Stop and grab a handful. Buy her a mini cupcake and stick a candle in it as a “you survived another week” celebration. Celebrating isnt about fancy gifts, it’s about taking notice.

Do say thank you often. Every day, in fact. Consider a gratitude board where everyone writes what they’re thankful for–a great kitchen or laundry room addition. Use a bit of irony: “I’m thankful I didn’t pull all my hair out today–or I’m thankful I didn’t rip that doctor’s nose off when he trated me so condescendingly.” Not all gratitude has to sound like a Hallmark card.

Do invest in your emotional and relationship bank account. The caregiving years may be a time for withdrawals more than deposits. That’s okay. Know that your relationship is strong enough to go on auto-pilot for awhile.

Do give mercy cards. Your spouse snapped at you for no reason? Don’t snap back–offer a mercy card instead. Sometimes we need to let something go, look over it, and realize they’re under so much stress that just need someone to cut them some slack.

Do stand up to your spouse when you need to. The other side of mercy is a showdown, and sometimes that’s just what’s needed. If you spouse is being an ass, pull him or her aside privately and tell them the strong truth. Sometimes it’s the cold-water thrown in your face that gets your attention.

Do use the ole’ good cop-bad cop routine if you have to. Let your spouse use you as an excuse if they need to. Sometimes we need to blame someone else–it’s okay–use every tactic you need to. In times of war the rules change. In times of caregiving, the rules change.

Do know and expect that the love and energy you give out will come back to you. Demand it back. Fully expect that your health and your relationship will rebound. We’re actually hardwired with tremendous reserves for time of great stress or need. That’s why we have such amazing brain and muscle reserve. When you need it, it’s there–but be prepared for the adrenaline dump that comes after it.

Do know how to pace yourself and take needed breaks. You can deplete those reserves–and then you have nothing left and your health can be in serious jeopardy. A six week hospital stint, a month of all-nighters–and before you know it, you are completely shot. Have you ever seen some daredevil on television do something so reckless that it’s just plain stupid? Don’t be a daredevil with your health (mental or physical) for anyone else. If you go past that, its dangerous ground. Accept that there’s is a limit to what you can do.

Do consider each other a source of strength. The arms of you spouse or partner should be the safest place on earth. Create a haven for each other.

Do know that caregiving will end–and yes, eventually it will circle back and begin again. So when caregiving comes to an end, grive, reocver and then…live, celebrate, play, work–fill your life in a million meaningful ways. It takes some time to get back to feeling connected with the rest of humanity, but it will come. We’re meant to be fully engaged on this big blue ball–so when you can, while you can, go make memories, do some good out there, learn, explore, give back, kick up your heels and make some noise!

Keeping love alive is crucial but it isn’t going to be easy.

Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or any ole day, you’ve got to have some fight and some passion in your relationship. Being a caregiver isn’t about squelching all the other parts of you–it’s about weaving them in anytime and anyway you can. Be willing to invest and preserve your relationships and be determined that caregiving won’t take you down for the count. Caregiving is yet another thing you can look back on and realize that ironically it made you strong and it’s a part of who the two of you are.

Life is precious and caregiving seasons come and go. When it’s time to play, to travel, to really get out there–do it with all you’ve got!

In the words of my daddy, “Be good and take care of each other.”

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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“You want to see my new girlfriend?” My friend’s husband teased his wife one day as I was visiting her in the hospital. He is her caregiver, her husband, her lover, her muse and mentor  of 40 years, and her illness had put a real strain on their relationship. 

He pulls out his wallet, takes out a picture and shows it to her. I can tell it’s a joke because he’s grinning from ear-to-ear. She breaks out in laughter despite her pain. They show me the picture.

It was a picture he had taken of his hand!

My friend was in the hospital–that time for close to three weeks. She has a chronic disease that has attacked her intestines. Her husband had sold his business and they had rearranged their life to accommodate this hostile addition to their family–illness.

Both of them had visions of their golden years–traveling in their RV, grandchildren, financial security, and lots and lots of leisure and fun. Hospitals, drugs, and pain was not what either had in mind.

To say that their sex life diminished is an understatement.

To say that sex doesn’t matter in the face of disease and pain is to not look at the whole situation. Sex does matter. It’s the one thing couples do together that they don’t “do” with anyone else. It’s a glue, a bond, a secret language, a healer of life’s wounds…to simply and biologically state it, sex is a needed release.

More magazine has an interesting article in September 09’s issue on this very subject. They state that 75% of all marriages that are dealing with chronic illness long-term end in divorce.

These aren’t shallow people. This isn’t Jon and Kate splashing their news on the headlines (not that they’re shallow, marriage is tough and I hurt for them and their children). These are quiet, hard working, family oriented people who  face surmounting, mind-boggling stress, heartbreak, financial ruin, unbelievable and unrelenting pain. And the one thing that can combat all this–their marriage and the healing powers of sex and intimacy–are taken from them.

How do couples get through caregiving and the strains it places on their marriage?

I observed my couple friends and this is what I’ve gathered.

You readjust.

You let go of what you thought life would be.

You dig deep to find your integrity.

 You find joy in the smallest of things. You find purpose as a caregiver.

You use your anger not at each other like weapons of mass destruction, but together, to get things done, to let off steam, to keep from going crazy…and you turn that anger into humor–maybe a little sick and twisted–but it keeps it from turning toxic inside you.

You do what you have to do to get by–and it’s nobody’s business. How you define sex may be different than other couples, and how and when you’re intimate may not fit the national average.

You get strong and tough and tender and real all at the same time.

I have no big answers here. It’s too complex and too gritty to give you bullet points–as if you could fire them on target and make it all instantly go away. What I have gathered from my friends and others I’ve seen going through years of what illness can do to a relationship is that the ones that make it create this circle of energy around themselves. They are one.

Couples who face caregiving challenges together have come through the fire, and on the surface, no, life didn’t turn out like they thought it would–but in many ways, it’s better. I witnessed it in my parent’s marriage.  The unity, the simplicity, the bond they have, they earned. You can see it in their eyes, they familiar gestures of thoughtfulness, the resolve in their voice. They have something profound.

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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