When the horizon starts getting uncomfortably close, it can be really hard on morale - leading to a "why bother" attitude at best, and detachment from life - and self-care - at worst.
Not something you want to see in someone you love, and not something you want to experience yourself...because you, as the caregiver, are also at risk.
The problem's situational (unless there's an underlying clinical depression), but the problem is that situations can set patterns, and those patterns will continue in your life long after you're mate has crossed that horizon, and has disappeared from your ken...at least, for this life.
Consider this scenario - your mate's too ill for an outing to a restaurant, or to the mall, or anywhere. Going out becomes an ordeal.
And, to put it bluntly, there's just so much you can do at home. You can watch DVDs, or listen to music, or play board games, or talk (some couples actually DO talk), but the fact remains that our society has conditioned us to seek entertainment outside the home, as a special occasion, a mini-vacation from work.
Staying home with a sick mate, weekend after weekend, feel like babysitting.
And you do it, because it's the right thing to do.
It wears on you, and it wears on your life. Unless you have a set of exceptionally loyal and compassionate friends, your social contacts are going to wither. Most couples spend time with other couples...and as a "married single" you'll feel out of place anyway.
So after a while, you don't even try. The isolation of the dying becomes yours by default.
But your life is going to go on, as unpleasant as it is to say it, after your husband or wife dies. And you're going to be more isolated that you can imagine.
You'll also be vulnerable, because loneliness is something from which we all want to escape, once we taste how it really feels. There are, sadly, folks out there who look at the newly widowed (and divorced) with a predatory eye.
So...what to do?
- Go to church, even if you're going alone, if your mate's no longer up to it...and let people know what your situation is, so you can find good groups with which to be involved, good ministries for your skills and resources.
- Keep up your relationships with your immediate and extended family. A surprising percentage of caregivers start to withdraw from their, and their spouse's families.
- Be honest with your mate about how you feel, if you are starting to feel isolated. DOn't blame them, obviously - no one wants to be terminally ill - but approach it from the standpoint of keeping yourself on an even keel. Most husbands or wives will understand (though there may, inevitably, be a small amount of hurt...less time with you is more lonely for them); they don't WANT you to be isolated, and will offer suggestions for activities and outlets. If your spouse becomes very upset, or angry, citing feels of abandonment - try to get some kind of counseling, or at least talk to your spouse's primary doctor. Most physicians have seem far too much caregiver stress, and will do their best to help.
- Speaking of counseling - maintain contact with a counselor, yourself, as periodic 'safety checks'.
- One thing NOT to do...don't do anything that includes opposite-sex socializing. Don't go golfing with an opposite-sex friend from work, don't take a volunteer shift with an opposite-sexmember of the church ministry tream. Even if it's innocent, it's going to cause pain; the symbolism will be amplified for a dying person. And don't, for Pete's sake, think you can keep it secret...because then it looks like an attempt to hide something deeper.
What can you add?