For the two years of active treatment I was there for each doctor’s appointment, I slept in her room for post-mastectomy recovery in the hospital. I was there for each one of her chemo-therapy sessions, the periodic hospitalizations during the therapy and at home. Then the radiation treatments.
There were times when I helped her when she was very sick from the therapy, the anesthesia and the pain. I learned how to empty those small plastic tubes plugged into her post-operative chest that filled with pink liquids.
Yes, I was a Family Caregiver. I gave care. Like many others who are family caregivers I had to put much of my other life on hold. As difficult as it was to keep up with my professional responsibilities, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere but with Susan during those days.
Like so many other family caregivers, I did what needed to be done, and despite my own worst fears I reflected no them, but Susan’s determination to survive.
We are family caregivers. We care. We give. We don’t imagine doing otherwise.
“Family Caregiver” however is only half-the story. It is perhaps the outward facing journey of the family member. There is the other half of the story which I have come to call the LovePartner story or journey.
A family caregiver is almost always in a love relationship with family member who is ill, often gravely ill. As they – we – give that care, we also have the experience of confronting the loss of that person.
It is what I call the other Face of caregiving. The LovePartner Journey.
For me, as the Caregiver I was always stoic, optimistic and supportive. is stoic. Even when engaged in the most difficult tasks. In the hospital I would hold that small, semi-circle metal pan in front of her as she vomited from the Chemo medicines. I would help her get out of the bed and go to the bathroom. I didn’t flinch. I didn’t mind. Indeed, my posture was to be there and hold her tight. Match her stoicism. Susan never wanted a negative thought spoken or expressed around her. She intended to recovery. My challenge was to reflect only that optimism no matter what I really felt.
As her LovePartner, I was experiencing the worst fears of my life. I couldn’t imagine how I could be with her as she took her last breath. Yet, I was convinced of the inevitability of that moment. I experienced something that I still do not fully understand nearly 20 years later. Periodically during the experience. I would escape the present into some other place in time and space. I might be sitting in the doctor’s office as he outlined the Cancer and how extensive it was, or in the post-surgery meeting where he announced that there was extensive cancer in the lymph nodes. Or the discovery of the dreaded post-mastectomy lump.
In those moments I would exit the present and cognitively find myself in a different plane of the universe. I could look down and watch as the events in the physical world unfolded. I believe in this other “world.” It was as real as anything else. I experienced the sound, space and self. A change in temperature and images. There was no sense of time. Instead, a vison of the moment –the existential moment -- when we both would be together in the center of an empty, grand ballroom, dancing to our favorite song, and in an ecstatic moment she would slip the earthly bounds of my embrace into eternity.
The LovePartner. Our souls have intertwined with the one we love and for whom we care and give care. We imagine a rending apart the other half of our own being as our loved one disappears.
The Duality of the Family Caregiver.
November is National Family Caregiver Month. Please click here for a great on-line resource for Family Caregivers.