Until Death Do Us Part – The Duty of Spouses as Caregivers
By Pamela D. Wilson, CSA, MS, BS/BA, CG
In wedding vows we promise to love, honor, cherish and care until death do us part. When this involves caring for an incapacitated husband or wife what exactly does this mean? Does it mean no longer seeing friends, attending social activities, attending to our own health or living life as we once knew it? How far should we go in giving up our lives to care for another?
Spouses are torn between caring for themselves and a husband or wife. Many struggle with the “G” word – guilt – on a daily basis. Spousal caregivers feel guilty because we do too little or too much. Spousal caregivers feel guilty because we want to have alone time. We enjoy time by ourselves. It is very important to remember that if we do not care for and take time for ourselves NOW; we may not be able to take care of our spouse or ourselves later.
Look at the recent example of Christopher Reeve and his wife. After the riding accident that left him virtually unable to care for himself, his wife devoted her life to caring for him. After he passed away she discovered she had cancer and did not live long after the diagnosis. It is easy to say that her illness was unrelated, however those of us working in the aging field are well aware of the stress that caregiving places on the caregiver both from a mental and a physical dimension. This includes the stress placed not only on a spouse but also other family members and friends involved in caring for a loved one.
It is difficult to rebuild a life at any age, especially in later years when may we lack health and energy. Starting over after caregiving responsibilities have ended, to make new friends and to rebuild social contacts and activities after we have neglected our lives for several years is hard work. After caregivers may feel they lack the energy to “get out there”. It is important to continue living because it is inevitable that in most, if not all marriages, one spouse will pass away before the other.
The key is not to give up friends or activities while caregiving. Then the rebuilding process of making new friends and engaging in new activities will not be as significant. This may necessitate being open minded enough to ask for help from family members or friends or to retain the services of an advocate or paid caregivers. Caregivers need to care and love ourselves as much as we care and love the spouse for whom we provide care. The marriage vows of loving and caring were recited by two people not one.
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