My Mom has been gone for nearly three years, and it seems I’m missing her more now than I have in a while. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m grateful I have no regrets that haunt me about our relationship. She was 37 when I was born, so I hit this stage of life earlier than many do.
My Dad died 9 years prior, and I’m grateful that neither of them suffered with a long bout of debilitating illness. My Dad died 8 weeks after his diagnosis of brain cancer, and my Mom died 3 weeks after her diagnosis of abdominal cancer. I hardly had a chance to process what was happening until it was over.
Through it all Tom released me to care for my parents as much as I felt was needed. Many times I spent the night at their house to support my Mom when it was my Dad’s illness, and to support my sister (who is an RN) when my Mom became ill.
Tom usually didn’t know what to say to comfort me, so he would often hold me in silence. He prayed for me, he listened when I was reminiscing, and all the while he was hurting too. He loved my parents. It was a one of the most heart wrenching experiences of my life, and in our marriage. I wasn’t ready to let my parents go and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
I realize my story may seem easy to one who is going through years of watching their parent decline from the effects of Alzheimer’s or any other long-lasting disease. As a caregiver your needs are usually last on the list due to urgency and necessity. Or if your spouse is the caregiver, it’s easy for you to feel neglected through the crisis.
How do you navigate such long-standing hardship and have your marriage remain strong?
First of all, it’s important to realize the weight your spouse is carrying and to do everything you can to ease the burden. Each couple will handle this differently, so it’s of primary importance to communicate clearly and often. Plan some time daily to connect with each other.
Second, be releasing to your spouse when they’re facing a crisis in the care of their parent. It may be an episode needing immediate medical attention. It could be a financial decision that requires a gathering of all the siblings to discuss what to do. Or it might involve a necessary move for the parent to receive the quality of care needed. These times often come as an interruption to your normal routine, and getting upset by it only complicates the matter.
Third, avoid making life-changing decisions while your spouse is going through such a difficult and emotional time. I realize this one can’t always be avoided, but when it can hold off on your plans until your spouse is available 100% to make the decision together.
Fourth, help your spouse think through major decisions concerning their parent. You might even offer to do the research for them when deciding on the next step in their care. Tom was always aware that the decisions were always up to my brother, sister and me, but he didn’t disengage in the conversation. He stayed involved in order to help us think clearly when the stress and emotions the three of us were experiencing made wise decisions difficult.
Fifth, be willing to extend grace to your spouse when they are short with you or insensitive. This is a time like no other in your marriage. It’s best to not take things personally when your spouse forgets to do something they promised, or if they snap back at you unexpectedly. Put yourself in their place to try and understand.
Finally, set aside some time for the two of you. This one may be hard to justify considering the crisis, but it’s so important. You have to reconnect on a regular basis, even if it’s only for an hour a day. But more than this, I would encourage you to keep a regular date night for the sake of your spouse’s mental state and the health of your marriage. Try to find someone who can take over the care of their parent so your spouse isn’t tempted to worry about them while you’re out together.
Above all else, pray together. It may be that you do all of the praying, but still make time to take your burden together to the Throne of Grace. It is there that you’ll both find mercy and grace to help you in your time of need. And He is always available to listen, lead, and uphold you as a caregiver.
It may not seem like it, but this season will pass. Making sure you care for each other through it all will insure you make it out on the other side better, wiser and more in love than ever.