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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 46 - Asking For Help

Sometimes, as a caregiver, you can't go it alone. And you shouldn't.

Dealing with serious or terminal illness in a spouse is probably the most challenging thing you'll face. It tears at the emotions, it can undermine faith, and it can be physically draining.

And, for good measure, it can be a financial disaster.

Let's look at each of these in order -

Emotional exhaustion, sometimes called compassion fatigue, is almost impossible to avoid when you're watching the person you love the most in all the world fade painfully from this life.

With the best will in the world to meet the challenge of each day with fortitude, the demands pile up quickly - your obligation to be the support (sometimes the only support) for someone in extremis, the demands of having to work (sometimes in a distracted state), the requirement to be there for your kids if they are still living with you (and sometimes if they're not), and not lastly the need to be emotionally attentive to friends and family, to keep those vital connections up.

Just writing it is tiring.

Emotional exhaustion sets in when you simply start getting numb; the pathos of the situation fails to move you, and you become more a master of expediency - how to accomplish the required tasks - than a steady source of uplifting support. (And that engenders guilt, just to make it a bit worse.)

The only way to really fight this is to preserve parts of a life that is yours. Whether it's being able to take a few hours on a weekend to play tennis or golf, or it's limited to getting a latte at Starbucks on your way home from work...do it.

It's not selfish. This is the preservation of life - yours. Emotional exhaustion arises when your identity starts to become lost, subsumed in the ongoing tragedy that's become central to your life.

But you are not dying. Not yet, anyway, and you have to reinforce the feeling that life does, indeed, go on. It's not heartless; it's necessary. If you're religious, remember that you were created with just as much value as the person in your care...so you have to be within your own circle of care.

And don't do it alone; keep up those trusted friendships in the safety of which you can find help by simply being able to rage against the injustice of it all, without being judged or condescended to.

Faith can really take a beating, in this situation. You see an illness, pray for healing...and it doesn't happen. There are those who say that you didn't pray hard enough, or you didn't use the right words or 'form' for your prayers.

This is sheer nonsense. Everyone dies; Jesus, in His life on Earth, died more horribly than most...and His prayers for deliverance were refused.

In the 21st century, many branches of the church have taken a hard turn into the 'prosperity gospel', and 'signs and wonders'. God wants you to be rich; God wants you to be healthy; God wants to heal your infirmities.

Yes, He does, but He also wants you to have the free will to choose Him, not as a genie who grants wishes, but as a source for hope that's eternal, and not temporal. Are there healing miracles? Sure, I think there are; but I believe they follow the pattern of those described in the Gospels, in which the healing was performed as part of a larger function. An example, if you will, and not an end in itself.

As someone who'd definitely like a healing miracle (and as I write this I am on the backside of the worst day I have had), I can accept that God may have other plans; and that healing as athe result of 'penny-in-the-slot' petitioning would actually work counter to His requirements, in creating free will.

Of course I'm going to worship a God who answers this prayer, but the point is to believe when He seems to be absent.

I think the best counter to this kind of disappointment-undermining-faith is to consider the history of Christianity. Horrible things happened in Jesus' time, to perfectly nice people. Eleven of twelve Apostles met nasty ends. And we revere martyrs.

It isn't about God blessing us with book contracts (so important to a writer!), or placing us in an advantageous position for promotion. It's about trusting God to be there, giving us the comfort we need to survive when we're looking into a fearsome abyss.

To maintain our faith, asking for help can be vital; no religion, least of all Christianity, says we're supposed to go it alone. Almost every church has support groups, and most have specific support groups for caregivers. Get involved; it's a place where you can be free to cry, and to doubt...and to have your tears dried, and your doubts gently healed.

And, when you participate...you're helping others, as well.

Physically, caring for someone can be trying; ask my wife! Sometimes she has to be my 'other leg', when walking is difficult; and she's had to drag me inside, when I collapsed in the yard from a spasm of pain.

Add to that the time-consuming stuff of having to bathe someone, and maybe feed him...and keep a tally of medication...along with life's normal demands.

The best way to face this is...wait for it...self care. Thi is the time to watch your nutrition, and exercise as you are able, and catch sleep when you can (if sleep deprivation is a problem.

Here, you can ask for help by having an accountability partner...someone who knows your situation, and who will keep tabs on you...and will exercise with you.

And finally, finances. Dying isn't cheap. I have no insurance, and part of the reason I don't take pain meds is that I can't afford them, and especially can't afford the blood tests every three months that are mandated by recent legislation (the tests were over $600, last time I checked).

You may need modifications to your house, to allow wheelchair access...or you may need a hospital bed.

It's very hard to ask for help with money; in this culture we are taught to be self sufficient, and to 'neither a borrower nor a lender be'.

But there are times when you can't go it alone. We have received help; we have had to ask for it, when multiple disasters hit at once.

And I am so grateful that it was offered, and given. Some we have been able to pay back; some of it...probably never.

There is a large serving of humble pie that goes along with dying.

And I guess that is part of the lesson...because when we were in that position, I asked myself...if I were able to help a friend or family member, would I hesitate? How would I feel if someone forebore to ask me, when I could have given that aid, and instead suffered in silence?

I'm no saint, no philanthropist...but I'd like to think that at the times I could help out, I did.

It isn't a matter of paying it forward, or what goes around comes around...it's just that life can beat you into the ground, and sometimes we can't get up alone.

As you might imagine, this was both awkward and difficult to write...especially the last bit. What do you think? What can you add?
And if I got some of this wrong...where's the error?

We're linked with Inspire Me Monday, and TestimonyTuesday.


  1. I think you would be one who helps a friend in need--no doubt in my mind, Andrew! I think that is what you are doing here with every post you push yourself to write and publish. You are helping so many and your legacy will probably sadly outlive you--which is a bittersweet thing. But I think you see the sweet in it much more than the bitter, because you are just that kind of "giving" and self-sacrificing guy! Praying that you make it over this rough patch and keep on going like the Energizer Bunny, my friend!

    1. The Energizer Bunny drums on. At the end of this, the most horrible day in my memory, I am still standing.

      Death may take my body, but it will NEVER take my spirit. And I will keep this message going - that no matter what, life is still worthwhile, and there is still joy to be found - I will carry this to the end.

      Thanks for being here, Beth.

  2. I'm with Beth, Friend. Keep on going, pal! Keep on going!

    1. No fear, Linda. Death before dishonour.

      And I LOVE your new website!!!!!

  3. Thanks for sharing. Your post will be a help to many.

    1. Thank you so much, doc...I truly appreciate your input here.

  4. This is real and gritty stuff.
    We need it, because, as you say, the church has made a hard turn into "prosperity gospel" and we just are not comfortable with suffering in any area of life. Thank you for bringing us into your pain and your story.

    1. Michele, thank you!

      The ironic thing is that God is far more present in the pain and gore than in the inane prosperity teachings. God is here for US. I've buried friends - the pieces of them I could find - and visited vengeance on those who created that situation...and God is far closer there. The world's a mess, and God's coming to the rescue.

      He's not a CEO. He's a Marine, come to be the best friend of those who have lost all hope.

  5. Do you have a Hospice in your area? The one where I live provides a lot of the things you mention,including support groups. And, don't veterans like you have insurance from the government?

    1. Janet, thank you for thinking of this - there are hospice groups here, and, finances permitting, they may help.

      I was a contractor - so the VA benefits don't apply. But thank you for the thought.

  6. I think you're right on track, Andrew. As a caregiver of a spouse of was supposed to die, I did everything wrong--especially the self-care part (and it didn't help there there were those who thought I didn't deserve self-care the few times I did 'indulge'--they thought I should be at Pedro's side 24/7). May God continue to uphold you and your wife as you live out the days he has given you!

    1. I am so sorry - and angry - that you were faced with such unfeeling people! It makes my blood boil.

      'Caregiver' is not a name chiseled on a statue...it's both tragedy and glory, for a living, breathing human being.

      Please don't think you did everything wrong. I have read your blog for quite a while, and can see at least a little way into your heart.

      If the world was ordered such that you were suddenly placed in charge of my care - I would feel secure, knowing I was in good hands.

  7. In the work I do, we find that self care is the most important thing we can do for the ones we serve. We talk about it constantly and we all have a self-care plan. I ask my employees about their self-care routinely and applaud their efforts to work it into their day. Two of my practices are my own self-care appointments (hair every 6 weeks, nails every 2 weeks) and my boss never bats an eyelash at me leaving to go to one of these appointments. I don't always get the self care right but I'm grateful to be in an environment where it is a priority!

    1. Having a self-care plan is a wonderful idea...and if I may, I would like to incorporate that into future posts. I never thought of it that way, but it's really, really good.

      And a true blessing to be in that environment, where it's respected.

      Thanks so much!

  8. Andrew, asking for help is indeed not a weakness. I hope your beautiful bride is able to ask for help and find time for her too. Self-care is vital for us all. And God doesn't always answer in the ways we expect or want. Yet I think during those times that is when it is most important for us to hold on to our faith. So glad you are here friend!!

    1. Very true...it's not a weakness, and ultimately, it's what God expects of us - to call on His help.

      We're also supposed to reflect that, in helping each other. Nowhere does the Bible say, Go It Alone!

      Thank you for being here, Tara. I appreciate your presence, and your comments.

  9. I think this is hard on all parties. It is hard on the person in pain, and the spouse who watches their spouse in pain. I don't think there can be a selfish aspect to this. I watched my mother in law care for her mother, and my niece and nephew while they were babies but it was a rewarding experience in there for her. God always has a plan in these situations and I like that your faith shines through all of this. Blessings to you and thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Yes, He always has a plan - I don't think He 'made' me sick, but me and God, we're making up a plan as we go along.

      It's no fun, in a lot of ways; the past two days have been frankly terrifying. But I would not ask that this be erased, because erasing the bad would also take away the God that the Lord has worked through this.

      Thank you for being here. I really appreciate your stopping by; and I'm glad to have discovered your blog!

  10. Andrew, I've read several of your recent posts here. I found you through something you commented on another blog and then through the "Weekend Whispers".

    First off, this post is useful. It not only applies to those caring for the dying, it also is good for those caring for people with severe long-term disabilities. When I was young my family had some very dear friends who were living that.

    I'd like to point you to the poetry of Annie Johnson Flint. I had loved a few of her poems for years, but finally "met" her when I was going through some dark times dealing with a debilitating anxiety disorder (thank God, it's much improved these days). The Lord amazingly put into my hands a large collection of her poetry which I've been sharing over the years here: http://www.homemakerscorner.com/annie.htm
    Please be sure to read her story as well. Her poetry speaks to me in a way that no others have. I think it is because of the tremendous suffering she endured in this life. She lost her parents, her adoptive parents and her only sister before she was 30 years old. She also developed an arthritic condition that destroyed her music career. In desperation she was forced (by the Lord) to resort to poetry, and thank God that she was because out of her life was poured real balm for the hurting. I hope you and/or your wife might find something there that especially blesses you.

    Here is something that I wrote myself some years ago which you may find of interest:

    Isaiah 53:12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death...
    This is speaking of Jesus Christ, but I think that in some cases as we follow Him, He requires it of some of us as well. Stand fast in the Lord.

    1. Thank you so much for this; I have read Annie Flint's story, and she is one inspiring lady of faith...and a marvelous poet.

      I'm glad to have met you, too, and am glad to hear that the disorder you mentioned is improved. I have combat-induced PTSD, rated as 'very severe'; it's not the same thing, but perhap it gives something of the flavour of that which you've endured? You have my respect...and my thanks.

      I found "The Chasm" deeply moving; you have such a strength, to be able to paint this word-picture without visibly flinching!There is no weakness in your delivery.

      I am so glad you are here!

  11. Andrew, as usual you have touched on some good points abuot asking for help; getting self-care (for the caregiver); helping others; turning to God and your faith...finances?? No insurance?? Well, my husband has a very small life insurance policy; and I have none...living on a fixed income that is not really that much...well, some things you just don't try to get. Yet, I think of my 3 children trying to "bury" me and know it would put a burden on them if there was no coverage...

    Well, that is one of those things I "thing about and know I need"; but it's on the way way way way back burner...

    So much to think about - and you are covering so much of it for us all - so well! Thank you! And, blessings, {{hugs}} and prayers for you both!

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