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It’s Time For Superwoman And Super Caregiver To Retire (Part II)

 (Names and situations altered for privacy)


 

Malky’s father-in-law had been in the hospital for months. Now, with Pesach approaching and his health improving, her in-laws would be joining Malky and her family for the holiday.  Malky knew it would mean more demands on her time, and she understood that being an on-site caregiver was not going to be easy.  But Malky loved her in-laws and wanted them with her for Pesach. 

 

In addition, Malky’s son, who lived in another state, was coming for Pesach with his wife and their seven children.  Another son, who lived a block away, decided that making Pesach this year would be too difficult for his newly pregnant wife.  So, they too would be moving in to Malky’s home.  She wasn’t quite sure how she would manage, but she smiled and told them how nice it would be for everyone to be together. Malky knew how much her in-laws would enjoy having them all together at the Seder.

 

Ruchi’s husband was scheduled to be in the hospital the weekend before Pesach, for some routine tests to measure the progression of his chronic illness.  With the hospital being too far a distance to walk on Shabbos, Ruchi and her husband had made peace with him being alone. In fact, for Ruchi the timing couldn’t have been better. Exhausted from Pesach preparations, she was looking forward to spending Shabbos in bed, free from care giving chores.

 

However, Ruchi’s children were concerned that their mother was going to be alone all Shabbos, so they decided to come Erev Shabbos instead of Erev Pesach. Ruchi laughed half-heartedly as her dream of sleeping all day was replaced with preparing for her large family for Shabbos as well as Pesach.

 

When Brocha’s in-town children announced that they too where moving in to her house for Pesach, along with the out-of-towners, Brocha thought she would faint. It was true that her chronically ill husband had been stable recently and she had planned to have the local children over for meals, but now where would everyone sleep and how would she manage to get through the yom tov with the never-ending tumult of so many people in her house. The thought of everyone together made her smile.  She would love to have everyone for the entire yom tov. She loved the fact that they all wanted to come home, but sadly she also knew that it was something she couldn’t handle at this point in her life.

 

And so, unlike Malky and Ruchi she explained to her ‘in-town’ children that as much as she would love it, it was just too hard for her to do this right now and she’d have to say no. Initially shocked, Brocha’s children became frightened. Their mother had never said anything was “too difficult” for her to do.

 

However, slowly, they began to realize that their expectations in regard to their mother were unrealistic. Since their mother always did whatever they asked of her as if it was her joy, and never a problem for her, they had never thought about all the work or expenses involved, or whether or not she was really able to do it.  They just assumed she was, because she had never given them a reason to think differently.

 

Now, she was aging and the burden of care giving was taking its toll, but she had never let them know, until now. As a result of her finally saying no, her children began to rethink their expectations.

 

Not only did her in-town children not move in, they made their home ready for Pesach and invited everyone over for one of the meals. For the first time they even offered to help with the cooking.  Brocha told me that just having her daughter-in-law make the chicken soup for yom tov made a huge difference. It was one less thing to think about, but more importantly it made her feel cared about and loved in a way she hadn’t experienced before. She also told me that by finally telling her children “it was too hard,” prompted everyone to get up and help serve without her asking. They even insisted that she sit while they served since she had done all the cooking.

 

It is somewhat ironic that as we age and can do less, our families grow and we are expected to do more. Giving our children a realistic picture of our decreasing capabilities instead of pretending that we are still superwomen, invites our families to see us more appropriately. It gives them the opportunity to take on more family responsibility if they choose and grow into the adults we have always wanted them to be.

 

More on this topic next week


You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com.

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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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