Changing Relationships: Love as a caregiver

hearts[This is the fourth installment of posts from Faith, AGE’s CaregiverU Coordinator and personal expert on being a family caregiver – you’ll continue hearing from her on a range of topics once a month.]

It’s the season for Valentine’s Day and love is in the air!  Romantic love that is, the kind with soft music and snuggling on the couch.

I have to admit, I wince when I see that image in the media, because the relationship with my spouse no longer fits that picture.  It is no longer the relationship of two equals striving together to meet the challenges of daily life and to plan a future together.  It’s different. Dementia has changed everything. Our conversations demonstrate that changed relationship.

My conversations with him no longer sound like:

I am so frustrated with work today.  How could I do something so stupid?” 

“My foot is throbbing.  Can you pick up my prescription for me?”

“The budget just won’t work this month.  Help me see what else could be cut.”

“Do you think we could save enough money this year to take a trip back to London?”

Instead, our conversations sound like:

“You have a doctor appointment in the morning.  You will not ride the bus in the morning.  I will take you to the doctor appointment and then take you to the day care.”

As I’m standing in the closet trying to figure out what to wear for work, I hear loud noises and after seeing the cause, I’m saying, “It’s okay.  We can clean it up.  I can find you a clean shirt.  The bus driver will wait a few minutes.  It will be okay.”

“ I know you’re frustrated, but look at the new puzzle!  I’ll help you get it started.  Dinner can wait.”

See the difference?

Our relationship has become something different than what it formerly was.  It is no longer the hearts in the air kind, but love does exist.

I see it when he:

  • Washes my car
  • Makes my toast on leisurely week end days
  • Cleans the bathroom sinks while I pay bills
  • Lifts the heavy things in and out of the grocery basket
  • Just being there so I’m not alone

He sees it when I:

  • Organize his meds for the week and set out each day’s supply
  • Buy his monthly bus pass and give it to him each day
  • Wash his clothes so that he has a clean outfit each day
  • Make doctor appointments and coordinate with the insurance company
  • Buy activities for his travel bag

I’ve often thought of myself as a widow caring for a special needs person.  This special needs person has learned to trust me implicitly and that trust is a special gift to treasure.  I’ve learned to appreciate the ways that he can express his love, and he feels good doing those things.  Perhaps this is Valentine’s Day to us in our changed relationship, and, perhaps, a more universal way of seeing Valentine’s Day.  It may not be possible for him to give me a Valentine gift, but we can shop together to buy gifts of love we can mutually enjoy, and to buy treats for many who love us and we them.  With this new perspective, maybe the way to appreciate Valentine’s Day is to join with all those we love and just savor the various kinds of love that flow amongst us, kind of like a feast of love!

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