After my father suffered a moderate stroke, my mother stepped into her nine year role as his selfless caregiver. Along with compromising his physical skills, the stroke altered his personality and judgment.
My pre-stroke dad would have jumped in front of a speeding bus to save my mom. But post-stroke, he would have jumped back to save himself! Once the consummate gentleman, courteous and respectful, Dad unraveled into an inpatient, flash-to-anger old man.
It was hard for me to witness him demandingly yell at my mom. However, Mom was the perfect caregiver for him, resilient, patient but not enabling. Once, after I jumped to her defense vigorously scolding him for snapping at her, Mom took me aside to explain her finesse with Dad. If she remained calm, not validating his hostile outbursts, Dad deescalated quickly. (I remembered that lesson years later when it was my mom spewing hostile accusations at me as her Alzheimer’s progressed.)
After my father’s funeral, Mom and I had time to really talk. To my appreciative complements of her years of selfless care, she said proudly, “I have no regrets.” Nor should she!!
My husband’s 54 year old son passed away in August. Don had been on a multi-decade long path of self-destruction including alcohol, prescription drug abuse and more. We were not shocked by his death, but he was still Ted’s son and my husband is grieving.
Ted has admonished himself many times for not “doing enough” but there was nothing more he could have done to save Don from himself. Don’s widow Marianne, despite her own demons, tried her best to get her husband off drugs too, even resorting to a locked pill box which Don broke, throwing it across the room in enraged frustration.
In our efforts to console Marianne, I started to hear glimmers of honest validation from Ted. Each time he reassured her she wasn’t responsible for Don’s addictive behaviors, he reassured himself that he wasn’t either!
I was grateful when he said, “There was nothing more you could do Marianne, if Don wasn’t going to help himself.” Followed by “I wish we’d had more options, but there weren’t any. We all tried, but Don didn’t.”
I doubt Ted will ever get to the point that he has no regrets, but I know he knows he was powerless to do anymore.
Most recently my good friend Chris’s husband passed away. Chris and David (not their real names) had celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary this summer.
David had been house bound for nearly 4 years. Chris took meticulous care of him although, by her own admission, she was at times enabling. David had been significantly overweight for years. He needed joint replacement surgery but was too heavy. Couldn’t lose the necessary weight because he was in constant bone-on-bone pain. Steadily as he became house bound, tv and food were his default enjoyments. When he couldn’t get up and get his own snacks, Chris did it for him.
When he died in her arms, probably from full organ failure, she had no regrets! Making meals for him was her only enabling behavior. As he tried to delegate more phone jobs to her due to his slight hearing loss, she drew the line and stubbornly refused. David was perfectly capable of making his own in-house physician calls, plumber, pharmacy etc. and she made sure he remained valuable and vested.
Caregivers by definition give care to others, but without regard to their own health and persona. Dying without regrets means providing the best care possible, without sacrificing yourself!
I don’t have any regrets about my mother’s care as her Alzheimer’s advanced, but I didn’t provide it physically. Rather she was in a memory care facility. I honored her clear directive that she not live with me nor spend all of her “hard earned estate.”
“Just put me someplace nice and visit me!” She often said. And that’s what I did with no regrets!
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