This is the continuation of my thoughts on surviving as a caregiver, if your loved one faces a long haul in a nursing home.
Four: Expect your loved one to change
In a nursing home, your spouse is facing a terrifying change, along with already experiencing some form of pain and suffering. S(he) is fighting to survive a new universe now, and all energy is going toward that survival. Your loved one may not be capable of helping you with yours. If you’ve always shared, this is a fundamental change in your relationship. It will be hard on you, but it is healthy for him or her.
My husband eventually got more interested in the staffs’ lives than in mine. I think this must be something like Stockholm syndrome. He wanted to be liked, to matter; he was so dependent on them. They were more real to him than my life was – as much as he loved me, I was the past, and they were the future. Let yourself become involved with these new lives, too, and you’ll find it easier for you both.
He began to operate at a far more basic, less ‘civilized’ level after just so long. One night, to my disbelief, he threw his dinner tray on the floor as if he were as mentally challenged as he was physically. But after that, they stopped serving him chicken which he had been requesting politely for months. At that point, I quit criticizing his actions.
At first we ‘visited’ non-stop, with long awkward pauses; I felt obligated to entertain. It finally dawned on me that we hadn’t chatted non-stop during any of the last 36 years.
We finally stopped depending on conversation to fill all the time. I started taking in the bills so he could share in that age-old chore. We did taxes together. He helped with shopping online. We rediscovered Scrabble. We could sit together and read. And I supplied little things that made the aides – mostly youngsters – like to stop by … a bottomless sugar-free candy dish comes to mind (although I would never tell the administration).
Five: Make friends with other caregivers
Take your loved one down to the parlor and meet some of the other caregivers who are there with their own residents. They are facing issues just like yours right that second. If you’re tired of depressing your friends, here’s a group ready-made to handle your grieving. Go to dinner with one; see a movie with another. They won’t be surprised by your random tears, and I guarantee they’re lonely, too.
Six: Start something new
Because I knew he would never return home, it was important for me to do something that had never involved him. I bought flowery dishes he would never have chosen; they were mine not ours. I painted the house in colors I wanted. After thirty six years of sharing, this felt very odd. I started to blog. I wrote novels. My book Fun House Chronicles is based on the staff, residents and caregivers around a nursing home. It is my proof that you can find humor in the long days as well as the sadness.
My heart is with each and every one of you.
Linda B. Myers is a founding member of Olympic Peninsula Authors and author of the PI Bear Jacobs mystery series. Her newest novel, “The Slightly Altered History of Cascadia,” is available at amazon.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook.com/lindabmyers.author.