Most well spouses live their years as care givers without any one giving a care about them. They are rarely asked how they are or anything else about themselves. They are bombarded with advice, criticism and questions about their partners, but rarely, if ever, about themselves. If they take some respite time, they are often ostracized by their friends, community, and, in some cases, even their family. And so they forget over time what it is liked to be cared for in little ways. I received several letters that told how shocked people were when finally someone showed them some caring. In many cases it was just a sentence, but it meant the world to them.
Louise, though caring for her well spouse, was caring for her daughter’s dog Lucy when she was away at university. “A larger mutt bit Lucy, and I rushed her to the vet who was not there at the time. The receptionist telephoned him to ask what they should do about the bite. He asked to speak to me. I thought he was going to give me instructions on how to look after the dog. Instead he wanted to know if I was alright! He wasn’t concerned about the dog, but about me! Wow! He saw me as the well care giver and felt (and wanted me to know) I was important too!”
“When I was first divorced (from my chronically ill husband), I attended a Shabbat service at which the rabbi made me feel that only an intact family counted and a divorced home (especially that of a former well spouse) was very wrong. Consequently, I stopped going to synagogue. I was very hurt, but didn’t feel strong enough to meet with the rabbi to take issue (with him). About a month after not attending shul, I received a phone call from the chairperson of the membership committee. She wanted to know why I wasn’t attending. I explained that I didn’t feel welcome.”
It turned out that she too was a well spouse who understood the history of not being cared about and not being made to feel welcome. “We chatted for over an hour and both of us cried” at having found the caring and understanding in each other. The writer goes on to say that not only did she go back to the shul but the next year “began a singles’ group which met for brunch on Sundays.” This group was for any single, no matter how they got to be single. Singles, widows and divorcees were all welcome. As time went on, they became a surrogate family. For many of them, especially the writer, it was the group that provided the caring that she had not received for so long.
A well spouse support group was dealing with the feeling of not being cared about. One of the things mentioned was that their spouses never got them birthday gifts any more. One person’s husband, who was though quite ill, would remember it was her birthday and tell her to go buy herself a gift…from him. “It wasn’t the same,” she said. “In some ways it only made me feel even more ignored and not cared for.” The group decided that they would get each other flowers for their birthdays. “It was wonderful to get a present again. Even though you knew it was coming. It just made you feel cared about, at least on this special day.”
In the Winter (#84) edition of Mainstay, the newsletter of The Well Spouse Association, an ill spouse, Michael Robinson, writes of his wife’s experiences with lack of caring. “One of the things that is most bothersome to me is that very few people ever ask my wife how she is doing…it is as if she is invisible even in the doctor’s office and when the reason for the visit is that she is sick, he wants to know how I am doing before asking her what brought her to the office.”
When, as in the first story, the words in a mere sentence like, “Are you alright?” can mean so much to a caregiver, think what is said in a paragraph would do. If a mere sentence makes them cry for joy, imagine how an invitation for coffee or a meal might make them feel. What about a birthday gift or flowers for Shabbat or for no reason at all. What about just asking how they are, and not making reference to their spouse − just once. These are all little things we can do to show we care. Doing them would probably give hours, if not days or weeks, of feeling great joy for someone who has been in starvation mode for words and acts of caring for so very long.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.