Dear What To Do with Myself
My wife and I have been together for years and years. We’re only in our early 70’s. We both worked a lot through the years and raised three children. We were extremely active with family and friends. My wife made it all happen. Now I am at such a loss. We were living life when one day out of the blue, after exercising, she was coming downstairs like she and I have done countless times. This time, she missed the last couple of steps. I’ll never forget that day. She took a really hard fall and hit her head into the wall in front of her. She was rushed to the hospital, diagnosed and treated for a subarachnoid hemorrhage, or referred to as “a bleed.”
Our lives changed that day. Since then, I have been her primary caregiver with some help from family and certified nursing assistants. I love her dearly but I miss my companion. Her thought process and ability to discuss the news and such has been diminishing. You probably know what a toll it has taken on me. My kids say that I need to take some time away but I just don’t know if I can. I feel like I won’t know what to do with myself and I guess I feel some guilt.
Dear What To Do with Myself,
You have obviously grown accustomed to the challenges of caring for your wife of many years. The two of you created your own history. Her accident has clearly changed the path you were on as a couple who would likely be freeing yourselves up from the “must-do’s” of everyday living of work and family. It was probably already or getting to be time to change up your lifestyle and possibly have more carefree time. You did not foresee caregiving time. No one knows until you are in another’s shoes what the experience can really be like. You are there.
I have had countless conversations with spouses, partners, family and friends about how relationships change up. There is often a rush of feelings and expectations. Whatever commitment you made to one another years ago at a much younger age and time in your life is feeling very real in a way that could never have been anticipated or felt. This is the real deal of being there for another human being in need. The part that gets very tricky is how do you attend to your own well-being when you are so wrapped up in the demands of giving, day in and day out? Giving and giving and giving. Yes, there can be a sense of opportunity here but let’s be truthful to ourselves and others. This change in the balance of a relationship is asking one human being to reach inside themselves and pull out every bit of possible compassion and love and energy and patience and tolerance and, and, and, and, and so on. Got it? You there?
It is not a choice to take care of yourself if you are going to be able to continue to be there for your wife in the multitude of ways that she needs you. Yes, some clients have expressed to me that at least they can continue to show their love to the other by being there to attend to their every need, but…but…but…. It’s just SO much. Yes, it is. We have all heard the expression about putting the oxygen mask on yourself first and then on the person who is depending upon you, but so much easier said than done.
Taking time is necessary. Taking time as a human being is no different than putting your car in the shop to recharge and replace, align and balance. Really.
Doesn’t it make sense? Then why is it so hard to just do it? For some, it is a voice inside that is telling them that they must be there all the time. It is their responsibility. It is no one else’s. You know what I say to that? Yes, you know. If we don’t “service the machine,” the machine will breakdown in more ways than one. We MUST figure out how to tell ourselves that it is not only okay or a good idea, but it is a prescription, a treatment to take time and to change up the space and the routine you are accustomed to. Do it! Plan it! Get others to understand why it is SO necessary for you to take some time. Start with a morning, an afternoon, a day and an overnight. Work your way over time to a weekend. Can you imagine? Probably not. You are likely saying to yourself, “ M just doesn’t get that it isn’t so easy to just leave your spouse in need behind and go somewhere. M probably isn’t getting how weird it could be to actually enjoy myself and maybe laugh…to sit at a café and take as long as I want to people-watch, or read a book, or just be free.”
M says, “Yeah, I’ve heard all of this before but I have also heard how rejuvenating, how restoring and how energizing a break can be. Just try to do it little by little. It will be the best thing you can do for both of you. Trust yourself.”