Caregiving is not a romantic topic, but with some thought and hard work, it’s possible for a marriage to not only survive the experience but also to thrive. Being a family caregiver isn’t a task a person does in isolation. It affects everyone around you, particularly your family, and more specifically, your spouse.
In keeping a marriage strong during this trying time, the most important thing is to remember which relationship is the primary one in your life. It’s important to love and honor your parents or other loved ones, but it’s also important to find ways to do so without jeopardizing your marriage. I once read the memoir by a woman whose mother had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. She cared for her in her home, and the task became so consuming that she neglected her husband and her children. The heart-wrenching task of caring for a loved one is more bearable when the caregiver has a strong relationship to fall back on – and when the task is done, she or he will need the support of a loving spouse to help deal with the grief.
Another way to keep your marriage strong is to guard your privacy. Having Mom and Dad in our home was certainly disruptive of our privacy.
A year or so before they came to live with us, Dad developed some kind of brain infection that required two weeks of hospitalization followed by three weeks of rehab. Mom was far enough along in her Alzheimer’s that she couldn’t stay alone, at least at night. She stayed in our guest room, but her sleep was frequently disrupted by bad dreams and delusions. She would burst into our bedroom in the middle of the night and declare that she knew that Dad was dead or that he had run off with a good-looking nurse.
I told my Aunt Fay about the situation. She had taken care of both her mother and her husband for many years, and she became my go-to person for advice. She empathized immediately. She advised me to put a lock on the bedroom door and to use it. It didn’t stop the nightmares, but at least when she knocked, I had time to grab a robe and slip out into the hall so David could sleep through the crisis.
Caregiving can be disruptive even if your loved one doesn’t live with you. Frequent phone calls at all hours of the day and night are not necessary or healthy to your marriage. It is perfectly acceptable to set healthy boundaries on the number of calls and to use your caller ID to screen calls when those boundaries are ignored.
A third way to strengthen your marriage is to intentionally make time for each other. If you are not intentional about it, it won’t happen. We were fortunate that Mom and Dad slept late most mornings, so we made use of the early hours some couple time. We would roll out of bed early so we could have a leisurely breakfast followed by a long walk or a neighborhood tour on our bicycles. We enjoyed the time so much that we got up early even on Saturday.
We also had date night on Fridays except that our dates were during the day. I’d leave cereal and fruit on the table and sandwiches in the fridge; then, we’d take off on the motorcycle. We’d ride to our favorite diner for breakfast. Then, we’d ride to the huge dealership where we bought our RV to check out the new arrivals and dream of going on the road full time. We’d visit with the sales people who had become good friends, we’d have lunch, and then we’d head for home. After a while, getting the sandwiches out of the fridge became too difficult for Mom and Dad, so I hired a caregiver to come in for a few hours. It was expensive, but it was cheaper than a psychiatrist or a marriage counselor.
Once or twice a year, we arranged for the caregiver to stay for a couple of days, so we could spend a weekend at a nearby RV campground. Occasionally, my brother and sister-in-law came for a week or so, and we had a really nice getaway. Sometimes, making the arrangements seemed to be just one more task added to an already-too-long list, but the relief of being away and the special time with David was well worth the effort.
Finally, remember to include your spouse in the many decisions a caregiver is required to make. A familiar saying says that a burden shared is half a burden. Allow your spouse to help carry your caregiving burdens. After all, these decisions will affect him or her as much as they will affect you and your loved one.
One reviewer wrote this about my book:
“Ultimately, this is a love story–but not in the way you might think. It’s the story of a grown woman who loves her parents. It’s the story of parents who love their daughter but can’t remember why they’re in her RV. It’s the story of a man who loves his wife so much that he assists her with caregiving for her two parents who cannot meet even the most basic of needs.”
I couldn’t have made it through the ordeal of caregiving without David – and our marriage not only survived, but it became stronger. By remembering to focus our attention, not just on Mom and Dad but also on our marriage and each other, we survived Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, and even fifty-three days in a four-hundred-square-foot box on wheels.
A Long and Winding Road: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos, a Memoir by Linda Brendle
“Sometimes, reality really bites. Alzheimer’s has wrapped Mom’s brain into knots; vascular dementia has attacked dad, and instead of carefree retirees, we have become caregivers. Regardless, dreams die hard, and we somehow stumbled into the purchase of a forty-foot motor home. That’s when all four of us set out on this seven-week trek across sixteen U.S. states. Now, Dad stopped up the toilet again; Mom wet her last pair of clean jeans, and David just announced he was hungry. My head is beginning to pound, and I know this isn’t going to be the easygoing retirement we imagined for ourselves.”
Linda Brendle takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotional and spiritual challenges that many families are facing right now. Co-dependency, mental breakdowns, and finding love after divorce are just a few of the issues weaved into this journey of caregiving.
Genre: Creative Non-Fiction/Memoir
Book heat level (based on movie ratings): PG – No heat, but the subject matter might be a little intense for the younger reader.
Publisher: Anaiah Press
Barnes and Noble: http://goo.gl/u3Gvs5
Linda Brendle Social Media
Linda Brendle cared for her mother and father — both of whom had dementia — for 15 years. She began writing in the hope of maintaining her own sanity and of encouraging, inspiring, and amusing other caregivers with her experiences. Linda received her BAS in management and psychology in 1998 and retired in 2007 after 40 years in the business world. She has traveled both in the U.S. and abroad, and since meeting her husband David in 2000, she has done much of that travel by motorcycle and RV. She and David now live outside a small town in East Texas where she gardens, writes, and takes an active role in her church.
Amazon Author Page: http://goo.gl/YTfk2b