Of course, they can spell. But my caregiver friends realize their presence with their loved one is far more important than cards, flowers and the types of gifts we normally associate with Valentine’s Day.
My goal today is to give you a taste of their experience and perspective that may bless your relationship, as well. Ah, the wisdom of our elders.
It has been my privilege to facilitate a Care for the Caregivers group once a month in a local retirement community. Our numbers vary from month to month, but usually we get around a dozen residents who are caring for their spouse. The group is part educational and part support group from a Christian perspective supported by the organization.
For the past five years, our February focus has been to normalize that Valentine’s Day looks a little different when you’re a caregiver. Sometimes it is a lot different.
I work with generally healthy residents who never anticipated that the “for better or worse” clause in their marriage vows might mean they would some day be caring for a spouse with mental or physical challenges, sometimes both. So they need a group like this with friends in similar circumstances.
Of course, we reminisce about the “good old days” when the current concerns of caregiving were not on their radar. Memories are always important to share with older folks, so we talk about how they met their spouse and what attracted them to each other.
A couple of the residents bring wedding photos, so we can see what they looked like years ago. The average length of time that most of them have been married is 61 years. My mere 37 years with Eddie can hardly compare!
Meet Some Of The Caregivers
Let me introduce you to some of the folks in the group, so you’ll understand some of the things they teach me every month. Of course, I’ve disguised their names to protect their confidentiality, but I can tell you their stories represent very real people in difficult circumstances who are mastering the art of W-I-T-H in their loving relationships.
No matter what the educational topic of the month, Betty manages to bring us back to the topic of caregiver guilt. Though I’m sure the group has been encouraging for Betty, she struggles with never feeling like she can do enough for her husband, Don, in the care center. Though she visits almost every day, Don never remembers when he last saw his Betty. Visits often include a scolding to that effect.
Betty remains faithful to her task none the less. She teaches me that sometimes just being W-I-T-H has to be enough.
Bob and Margaret
Margaret has dementia and can’t be left alone while Bob attends our meetings. Like several of the couples have done in the past, he attends W-I-T-H her. Though she does not speak, Margaret knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that Bob loves her. We see that in her smile and hear it in her laugh.
Every time they come, Bob and Margaret give me great hope for my marriage and the couples I see in counseling. Without saying it directly, they remind me that if we can be together we can get through anything. Just to see them W-I-T-H each other gives me courage.
His wife, Susan, is in hospice in the later stage of Alzheimer’s. Though he is as sharp as a tack, Dave, like his wife, is in a wheelchair. That does not stop him from being W-I-T-H her daily. He considers it a blessing that she still likes to eat, or perhaps she just eats because he feeds her.
Dave says that often he goes to her room where he and Susan watch TV together, and they doze off one by one. He jokes that “sleeping together” has a whole different meaning these days. He teaches me to keep my sense of humor.
He has been a member of the group for several years. Ted continues to come to the group even though his wife passed away months ago. Though he is no longer a caregiver to his wife, he continues to care for the other group members. Ted represents one who has gone before and shows the others that life goes on even after one’s spouse dies. Though she is no longer W-I-T-H him physically, she will always be there in his memory. This even death cannot take away.
Though losing a spouse is considered the most stressful life event, Ted puts his personal pain aside to help others. He teaches me to push through personal difficulties in order to give to others
We Learn From Those We Are W-I-T-H
I often ask clients about their role models for relationships. Though I am often saddened by their response, I am no longer surprised by those who can’t point to anyone in their life whose example for marriage they want to follow. I normalize their difficulties and try to give hope to change generational patterns in the marriages of their children. My caregiver friends are setting fine examples for their children, and their children’s children.
And they are role models for me, as well. Indeed, I’ve learned a lot from the courageous couples in my practice and by the example of my elders. I only hope I can do half as well when I am married for 61 years.
However you celebrate Valentine’s Day I hope it is W-I-T-H someone you love.