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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 11 - Blue Days (Five Minute Friday)

Time for Five Minute Friday, hosted by Kate Motaung (wwwkatemotauntg.com).

The word for today is BLUE.

Trying to stay with the series on dealing with a terminally ill mate...so here goes.

You will have to cope with Blue Days. I'm not talking about your spouse's sadness...I mean, he or she is dying, for Pete's sake. Pain and discomfort and a degree of humiliation are part and parcel of that dread country.

No, I am talking about YOU, the caregiver. Because some days are going to, pardon the expression, kick your ass raw.

It may come out of nowhere, the feeling of impending loss, and gray sadness. It may come at the end of a good day, when the setting sun is more than symbolic...it's a curse, dropping down the sky on silent, fell wings.

And what do you do?

Just this...accept it. There's a song called 'Remember Me', by the oddly named Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, which has the very wise lyrics "don't try so hard to be happy".

So, don't.

Remember the shortest verse in the Bible...

"Jesus wept."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 10 - Missing You

This is personal.

One of the reasons I am fighting hard to stay alive is that I would miss my wife. I don't want to say goodbye, I don't want to miss any tomorrows.

I love her care and kindness, even when it results in frustration and anger and resentment and tears.

I love her gentle touch. I love her having to shake me back from the edge of death.

I love her strength and courage, to walk into a new career when I was unable to go on. Her optimism gives me strength, and the courage, myself, to keep trying.

I love her patience, when projects I couldn't complete bark her shins and get on her nerves. She doesn't relegate these artifacts of a past expertise to the barn. She honours them, and honours me.

I believe that when I die I will be safe in Jesus's arms.

But I want to be safe in Barbara's arms.

We're linked to Wedded Wednesday at www.messymarriage.com.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 9 - Fairness

Caregivers live in the shadows.

The attention of family and community is on the soon-to-be-dead-dude, and the caregiver generally gets a pat on the back, and "that must be rough (and better you than me)".

A caregiver gets sick, and expects of herself a quick recovery, to be back in harness soon.

The person becomes the role, and that's unfair.

YOU are important, for yourself. Your health is important, not because it has an effect on caregiving, but because it has an effect on your life, your happiness.

I am the dying dude. Please trust me on this...as I fade, I want my wife to bloom. I want her to be healthy and happy, and NOT to feel forever defined...and having her 'after the battle' life diminished...by this experience.

And one cannot, and should not compare pain. A stubbed toe hurts. It doesn't hurt as much as pancreatic cancer, but the latter simply isn't accessible to the caregiver.

But the toe, nail crushed and bloody, still hurts.

And it is my privilege to try to kiss away the pain, because it's real.

And it affects the person I love more than anyone.

I don't want her to hurt.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 8 - Rise Again? (Five Minute Friday)

It's time for Five Minute Friday! Hosted by Kate Motaung (www.katemotaung.com), it's a challenge to write coherently using the inspiration of a given word.

Today, the word is RISE.

Here we go...

There's an old bit of verse that sticks in my mind...

I am sore wounded but am not slain.
I will lay me down for to bleed awhile,
and then I'll rise to fight again.

It's inspiring, at least to me, but the mindset is one that drives my wife - and probably many, many other caregivers - to distraction.

The duty of a caregiver is to provide care, comfort, and support.

But to do that, they need cooperation. Sometimes, when you fall, your caregiver needs you not to keep dragging yourself forward.

They don't need you to try to rise.

They need you to accept the moment, accept help.

And in so doing, accept the fact that you NEED help. That you can't do it all alone.

For a lot of terminally ill folks, this is hard. Well, for me.

I'm trained to fight on, no matter what, with whatever I have, however I can. Giving up while still alive was not an option. "Save the last bullet for yourself" really meant something, because being captured meant being skinned alive. Literally.

But I am not there now. Now I've got to consider the courtesy my wife needs and deserves, and put aside my instincts...and, yes, my pride.

Sometimes we can only rise again on the arm of someone who loves us.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 7 - Distancing

First, a disclaimer...this post does not necessarily apply to cases in which terminal illness is accompanied by dementia, or mental/emotional problems caused or exacerbated by medication or treatment. When that's a factor, distancing can be a matter of survival.

This post went through a lot of changes, as I developed the thoughts than formed its basis. It took me places that were surprising...and some places I didn't want to go.

Distancing oneself from a dying mate...or parent, or friend...is a natural way of coping with an oncoming death. It's protective of the heart, a way of saying goodbye and emotionally moving on while still having the 'comfort' of the loved one's presence.

Makes it easier. But the problem is that love, and marriage, and life aren't supposed to be easy.

There are two operative factors that work specifically against distancing. The first is general, and is informed by ethics that are both secular and religious. The second is specifically Christian.

Marriage is the most basic compact into which we enter. It's legally binding, but its moral strictures are far more important, both for the couple and society at large.

Distancing is the breaking of part of this agreement. It takes away a degree of promised closeness and intimacy, and in so doing becomes a form of theft. Just as the transfer of emotion in an affair removes something that was one's partner's by right, so too does the distancing dilution of promised affection.

Yes, it's part of trying to survive for a future in which one will be alone...but a guarantee of survival is not part of the wedding vow.

The Christian argument against distancing is that this was the failure of Peter. He promised solidarity, and thrice in one dreadful night put Christ at a distance to save himself.

Very natural...and who among us can say with certainty that we would not have done the same?

But who among us would want to follow Peter's example?

If we have entered into a Christian marriage, we have accepted an explicit command to treat the relationship as a sacrament.

We are enjoined to treat our spouse as we would treat Christ.

Distancing is seemingly not an option, under those strictures.

We are promised much by marriage. We will have a place where we can always go, a heart that will be - in the vow - always open to our hopes and dreams and sorrows and cares.

But we're not promised a shield against heartbreak.

Heartbreak is indeed the price of love.

We're linked to Wedded Wednesday at www.messymarriage.com.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


I hope to be back to my ongoing series on Wednesday, but today...I don't have the heart to write.

I went through a harrowing PTSD episode, a memory that surfaced...something so heartbreaking as to be beyond forgiveness, beyond faith, and beyond any rational way to cope.

I can't describe it in detail now, without coming apart. Perhaps another time; not in specifics but in effects.

But not today.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 6: You Can't Follow (Five Minute Friday)

It's time for Five Minute Friday, a five minute writing challenge on a keyword. It's hosted by Kate Motaung, and if you go to her website (www.katemotaung.com) you'll find some splendid examples of the writer's craft.

Today the word is FOLLOW. I have the two additional challenges of keeping to my current series on dealing with a dying mate...and writing on a Smartphone, the owner of which wants back pronto.

So let's see how it goes...

This shared trip through the Valley of the Shadow will one day come to a fork in the road, and your paths will begin to diverge.

That point isn't death itself. It comes sooner, when your mate realizes that the trip is truly one-way, and that the destination, veiled by mist for so much of our lives, is becoming starkly visible.

With the best will in the world, that's a place to which you cannot (yet) follow.

And it's a place you can't know, and you shouldn't (remember Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain"?) pretend.

There will be changes. Your mate may become serious in the contemplation of eternity...or may turn lighthearted, freed from the cares and posturing that take up so much of our 'normal' days.

You can't be there with your mate except to be supportive. Hold him or her close, and give your heart in listening.

Now is the hour. (That's the title of a terrific Maori song, by the way.)

But you CAN learn something about the person you chose to love. In these days, in the seeming separation, you will gain a perspective on their heart, and truly know this person of intimate mystery for the first time.

Almost too late?


You can choose to pay attention, and walk in the world for them, for their memory. You can carry forward a lost but living heart.

And you can carry the values of the loved and lost as a promise for when you meet again, in the place where all tears are dried.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 5 - Hearts (Wedded Wednesday)

"Hearts are not flint,
and flints are rent;
hearts are not steel,
and steel is bent."

Sir Walter Scott, "Rokeby"

It's a road that's going to break your heart, but that, as they say, is the price of love.

Hard comfort, that. Is there anything that can make the path less painful?

Well, yes and no. Watching the love of your life fade away is never going to have its good points, but there are some things you can do that will at least minimize the regrets that will inevitably accompany every look back.

First, and this is a recurring theme, take care of yourself. Keep things in your life that identify you as something other than a caregiver. This will give you the grounding and perspective that will be an armour against hopelessness and resentment.

Second, document the positive. There are two ways you can do this, and I'd recommend using both.

Journaling can help you work through your feelings, and when you write things down - positive things - you preserve them. There's the saying that if you didn't write it down, it never happened...so write down  your mate's good days, and the joy you still share together.

And make a visual record, with photos and video. It may be a long time until you have the heart to go back and look at them, but both the immediate action of preserving the moment, and the knowledge that the images will be waiting will be a balm to the heart.

When a house burns down, why do you think the first thing people try to save is a photo album?

Finally, share times with friends and family. Shared memories..."remember when he did THAT?"...can bring back the best parts of our memories.

With tears, yes.

But as Gandalf said at the end of "Lord Of The Rings"...

Not all tears are an evil.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 4 - Death Wish

This is an ugly one.

There are times when you are going to wish your mate will get it over with, already - and die.

You may put it into warm and fuzzy colours, like wishing the suffering would end, or wishing they could go home to Jesus...but the fact remains that a part of you is hoping for a death.

And you'll feel awful when those thoughts come up. You'll try to banish them, try to rationalize them away.

But the truth is that it's very likely that at some point on the dread passage, you'll wish the trip OVER.

Long goodbyes really suck.

For your mate, and for yourself.

You'll be tired of the road that leads to a door through which only one of you will pass. You'll reflect the strain of having a future while supporting someone who's got none.

You'll want to be released.

And that, dear heart...is all right. It's normal. It's how we cope, when the roads have to diverge.

It's what a hurting and very human being does.

But it's still not easy to process, not easy to live with that in your heart, so there are some things you may want to do.

First, try to keep a sense of perspective, looking at how rarely you actually have those thoughts. They loom large, but that's only the monster-shadow they cast. Journaling can help here...but be sure your journal is securely kept, for obvious reasons.

And it helps to have a shoulder to cry on. A counselor, pastor, or trusted friend can hold up an honest mirror that will bear a fair reflection.

Also, be sure to exercise self-care through involvement in activities that speak to you as an individual, and not as a caregiver. Even if you can only spare a few minutes a day, don't let this slide. You're important, as you.

One thing NOT to do is share the "I wish God would take you home" thought with your dying mate.

Aside from the fact that you can't fully know the 'state of faith' at that moment - he or she may be scared witless - that comment negates the good he or she is still trying to do in what life is left, with what strength remains.

Life is often the most precious to those about to lose it.

And your yearning for an ending, sometimes, reflects exactly that.

Your life is precious to you, because it's YOURS.

And it should be.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 3 - Meet Thyself (Five Minute Friday)

Back at Five Minute Friday, hosted by Kate Motaung (www.katemotaung.com).

Today's challenge is to write for five minutes on the word MEET.

My further challenge is to incorporate this into an ongoing series on dealing with a dying mate.

Well, here goes.

Meet thyself.

Usually we think of knowing ourselves, but when we start the dark road to death with our spouse, the trip for which there's a temporal 'after' for only one...there are things in our character that we'll meet as for the first time.

Some of them aren't pretty. But pridefully denying them is the devil's mirror.

Take resentment. Living with someone who's dying, someone you love, someone you'll miss terribly, will grind anyone down.

You may wish to take their burden on yourself, but you can't. You can help where possible, but mostly you watch, and your heart tears more with each day.

It's natural to resent the process, the illness, but the target is kind of amorphous.

So you resent the person.

Yes, it's illogical, unfair, an un-Christian. But this is how most people cope.

And it is a coping mechanism. It's a way, futile to be sure, to fight back against something that's hurting YOU.

Meet thyself.

And be gentle in that meeting, for you are no monster, hating the helpless. You're a victim of the illness, just as much as your mate.

Be gentle with yourself, because you're important.

Not just as a caregiver.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 2 - Vital Words (Wedded Wednesday)

If you expected to find a post on faith today, I apologise...I found something the other day that I wanted to get posted while the strength of conviction was fresh.

They are simply the most important words a dying person can hear.

I was listening to an audio version of Randy Pausch's "The Last Lecture". Close to the end he was describing the "last lecture" itself, which he delivered at Carnegie Mellon university...on the day after his wife's birthday.

That special day, probably the last they would have together, had been a travel day. It didn't rest easy with Jaye, his wife, but she accepted the importance of the event, and flew in on the day of the lecture.

At the end of the talk, Dr. Pausch made note of the fact that his wife's birthday celebration had been sacrificed, and he asked the audience to sing her "Happy Birthday", and asked her to take the stage with him.

As they embraced, she whispered in his ear.

"Please don't die."

If you have one thing to say to a loved one who's dying, please say that.

We're linked to Wedded Wednesday (www.messymarriage.com).

Sunday, May 3, 2015

When Your Spouse Is Dying - Part 1

Not exactly the most cheerful title, eh?

But the fact remains that dying is what we're constrained to do, and if you're married, one or the other of you will start that journey first.

It's not a pleasant process, and I won't sugar coat it with Hallmark Card sweetness. But, to quote Tennyson, some work of noble note may yet be done. I'm going to try to help you get there.

My qualifications? I am dying, myself, and am trying to understand the road, to ease things for my wife.

This isn't just a series to help you offer a kind of martyred comfort to the dying, taking the burdens on yourself. This is intended to help YOU survive with your health, your heart, and your conscience intact.

Dying's nasty, but while it demands compassion, it doesn't confer entitlement. It's a Bad Trip, but shouldn't be a guilt trip - for either of you.

This is to help you walk into a future that's certainly unwanted, in the form it's assuming, but one you'll have to live in nonetheless.

Some of the topics we'll cover will be:

* Faith - being terminal changes perspective

* Interests - that which you've shared may fall away, and you need to be true to yourself

* Distancing - it happens. He or she is dying, and you're not. We'll look at how to avoid the almost inevitable survivor's guilt.

* Sex - it can be very hard to be physically responsive to a dying mate. And terminal illness can make intimacy seem irrelevant to the dying...which can be hurtful to you.

*  Future Plans - what to share, and what not to share. Hint - if you've already got a replacement lined up, don't share that.

I'm going to leave this open-ended; your comments may inspire further topics, and I would like to be thorough.

So, next time...Faith.