She could be someone you know, she’s not alone in this situation. But this is her story.
Taking care of her husband is an all-consuming task every day, all day, all the time. Some days she feels like she’s disappearing. But then she looks in the mirror and she’s still there; still breathing, still brushing her teeth, still putting on her eyeliner. She makes endless lists of things that need to be done, but forgets to shower sometimes. She knows he needs her. He’s knows his illness is terminal.
With every cell that dies inside of him, a little bit of her dies too. But she can still make him smile and he still has a few good jokes to make her laugh. She tried to dance for him a few weeks ago to cheer him up. It was a Saturday morning after he had come home from a hospital stay. She jiggled her hips to the dance of the seven tea towels across the kitchen, but it didn’t end well. She tripped and launched herself into a head-dive into the next room. Yes, her heart was in the right place, but then it was in the wrong place…under the dining room table. She had fallen and she couldn’t get up.
She’s been with him for 41 years. His every mood and movement is bred in the bone. His 83rd birthday was last week and they spent it in the hospital.
Her sister’s delicious chicken soup helps a lot and lulls her back into her childhood, a nice respite for a while. Her daughter’s cooking frenzy in the kitchen is a comfort of the heart. And the care and kindness offered up by friends and family is always there. She finds it hard to know how to ask for help. She’s flummoxed about the dilemma of what they can do to make this easier. It’s never going to be easy. But she finally learns that getting caregiving help at home is not about him, it’s about her.
After he’s in bed, she sits in the living room and listens to the quiet. She thinks about him singing “Old Man River” at a dinner party many years ago. Just two Halloween’s past, he donned a cowboy hat and tied a string of toast around his neck. He told everyone he was going to the party as a toasted western.
Some days she thinks she’s doing God’s work. Some days she thinks she’s failing at living up to the task. But everyday, she uses her binoculars to find the light at the end of the cancer.
He always lived large in everything he did. He taught her how to do that. And now she has to teach him how to live small and she’s not sure she can. But she tries to live small with him, so they can learn together. And everyday, a little bit more of him retreats, and every day she watches him disintegrate. There’s always more hope and more prayers, but there’s always more reality that either of them want to face.
So if you know this woman, all she needs from you is a hug. I hear she collects them and periodically leaps into the pile, to surround herself with your good wishes, while she works at recharging her batteries. We can do this, she tells herself.
This too shall pass…
See you between the lines,