Two Kinds of Caregivers, One Kind of Love
Is there really such a thing as a “natural” care giver? Or is caregiving a learned response to a tough situation into which a person is thrust? I’d answer “yes, and” to both questions.
My husband Jim is a natural caregiver. He nursed his late wife Rita for several years until cancer finally won. She died at home.
Jim did it with a light heart. He’d send out bitter-sweet bulletins on Rita’s progress, signed by “Nurse Cratchett.” He not only loved her — he loved caring for her.
I also cared for a dying spouse. Jerry had heart and kidney failure, compounded by ever-deepening memory loss. I’d loved him for 56 years and would never have abandoned him. But I confess I endured from a sense of responsibility, not joy. I was fully committed to meet his needs. But up-close, intimate caregiving wasn’t something I enjoyed or would have chosen.
A few years after we lost our spouses, Jim and I — who’d known each other for nearly fifty years — started dating, fell in love, and decided to marry. Jim derives true pleasure from bringing me hot coffee every morning, from doing the grocery shopping, from rubbing my back.
My pleasure in our relationship comes from sitting together quietly, sharing ideas, our day-to-day companionship, holding hands. We work on projects together. I cook and am pleased when he likes the results. But often I’d rather be eating out.
Consider soldiers: In a time of war one enlists while another is drafted. The volunteer loves the sense of adventure, the risk of life, the test of battle, the thrill of winning. The draftee hates it all, but willingly endures the hardships and danger — because he loves his country and his fellow fighters.
They serve side by side through equal danger and bear equal hardships. When the bullets fly their buddies don’t ask, “Did you join up, or were you drafted?” Those who race toward fire to save wounded comrades win the same medals, the same praise. And they equally deserve it.
I recently met Fred Wenner, a retired pastor. He and his wife Fran gave birth to four biological children, adopted four more with special needs, and fostered 53 others ranging from infants awaiting adoption to teenagers with a string of problems including addiction and mental illness.
Fred andFran chose that life. They are saints.
The world will praise the “Naturals” because they volunteer where nothing is required or even expected.
But the “Responders” deserve praise, too. They do their duty with a smile, even though at the same time they may be longing for their lost life. In a sense, their sacrifice may be greater because they accept what they didn’t choose. They rise to the task before them.
Now Fred and Fran are facing a new challenge, one imposed on them by nature. Fran has been diagnosed with vascular dementia. Fred anticipates she will soon need more care than he alone can give. In the continuing care residence (CCR) where they live, he’ll be able to visit her every day, but she’ll be in memory care and he’ll keep his apartment in the independent living section.
Fred will continue to ensure that Fran has good care, but he’ll no longer be primarily responsible for providing it.
In my book, Fred’s still a saint.
When Jim and I married we were both 79 years old. Five years have passed. We’re still independent but we fully expect a time will come soon when one of us will be caring for the other.
Whoever is “it” — a “natural” caregiver or a “responder” — will rise to the challenge. And we’ll each do what needs to be done, motivated by love.