Saturday, March 04, 2006

Caregiving: gumbo metaphysics part 1

OK! I mentioned my “Gumbo Metaphysics” in earlier entry vs a philosophy of caregiving. I have no all encompassing recipe. Knowing what I know now, I can understand wondering if someone could be your caregiver or could you be theirs? All I can share is how I came to brew my own gumbo metaphysics of caregiving.

Caregiving more likely than not is thrust upon you. In the beginning you try to share with the other person their critical stages of grief, rage, and acceptance yet you also begin to find yourself alone in a kind of parallel universe as this new caregiver type person. Who are you? What do you really believe?

First of all, caregiving is a CHOICE; the person you are caring for has NO choice to be ill or disabled. You will always be seperated by that reality. Choice motivates and can haunt. Choice is not a rock, it’s more like a beach tested daily by tides and randomly battered by storms.

My personal recipe for gumbo metaphysics began with Maggie Strong’s book, “Mainstay” as the stock. I grabbed for a manly-man pinch of true grit from John Wayne movies, and a pinch of the tireless knight errant from Don Quixote. (Women might phrase that differently with variations of the "L" word but I'm a guy and needed manly inspiration.) With time I found myself adding a pinch and a half of the fear of loneliness from Poe’s 'The Raven'. What is important is that you start pulling ingredient ideals from anywhere.

Stress becomes a critical ingredient. Try what you want; sooner or later you learn you have to embrace it. Somehow all the copies of the Serenity Prayer on earth are missing the asterisk at the bottom that specifically excludes caregivers. Stress’s good buddy ‘anger’ is an alternative energy source. It can be harnessed and has fueled many new limits of endurance.

Our story is about spousal caregiving, marriage vs divorce cannot be ignored. Give or take, two thirds of marriages currently end in divorce anyway. Marriages in this pressure cooker have divorce rates far higher. You do the math, what are your odds? Additionally, there are logical and economical reasons to divorce sooner than later if that is the decision you make. No one is a bad person for choosing not to be a caregiver.

In retrospect, my early recipe was adversarial in nature. Like the gunslinger character in our Old Tyme photo, I believed I could defend my family from an enemy, Multiple Sclerosis. That was inadequate, then, and for the decades of attrition that lay ahead. It was especially flawed for the dual role of spouse caregiver and nurturing parent. More seasoning was needed.

(I’m always conflicted whether “to be continued” or “posting lengthy entries” is the worse sin. Leaving it to a coin flip, this will be continued … )



  1. I wouldn't mind reading the lengthier entry! Either way, I'll be back to read the next entry. Love the journal entry alerts for that!

    I think I understand what you are saying. You have learned as you went along, dealt with whatever came up when it came up. In the beginning, you thought you could do something to prevent the illness from taking over your life. Life is full of choices, but spousal caregiving is a choice that presents itself suddenly and you have little time to prepare for it. You can't prepare for it. And every day, you have to live with the choice to be a caregiver (or the choice not to be one), not without some regret, anger, grief, and feeling left alone to deal with it all. It seems, though, you have become more seasoned in time.

    I told my husband about your journal today as we looked at RVs. It's been our dream to go travelling "one day when we retire." I told him why wait til then? We don't know how much time we have in this world, and we don't know if one of us will not be healthy enough to make such trips. Everything would change if one of us were wheel chair bound. Not impossible, but more difficult. Today was the first time we talked about that. He agreed. I want to know: will he be able to take care of me? I haven't asked him that one yet. It seems unfair to ask. Of course he'd say yes. I'd say yes to him. The truth is, neither of us will know how we will handle ourselves under those unfamiliar circumstances.

    Your gumbo of ideals is like a cauldron of spiritual stew, nourishment for the weary traveller. Your journal is like a book of wisdom written by one who has been there.

    The old time photo shows a loving man and wife in the prime of their youth and vitality. Thank you for sharing it. Bea

  2. what great pictures to share. You know in our 25 years of marriage, my husband and me have never had our pictures taken like this (dressed in old fashion or another era type clothing).

    I definitely know Patti getting MS was not in your equation when you took your marriage vows. Interesting how life takes us down paths we least expect. Choosing to forge ahead and chart un-navigated paths is certainly an adventure to say the least. Its refreshing to read of a marriage that is enduring and lasting even in the midst of the trials and tribulations yours have sustained. Too many people don't take their solemn vows seriously and with intent to actually follow through with them. You have my admiration for doing so.

    Could I be a caregiver? To my spouse, probably. I definitely was to my daughter. The physical caregiving part didn't get to me; her mental health and unstableness of that (attempted suicides, severe depression) did get to me. Could I handle someone with dementia? I don't know. Conversely, could my husband? Interesting questions to ponder as we continue to age.



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