Two months before his death my husband said, “Honey, you can live without me, but I can’t live without you. You’ve got to rest more.”
His words were true. I have a nursing background which helped me know early on that I would have to make hard choices and pace myself in order to walk well through what lay before us.
I cut out or limited anything and anyone who drained me excessively. I stopped all in home entertaining except for a couple of very close friends and relatives who were supportive without adding to our stress. I encouraged my husband to do what he enjoyed even though I agonized as I watched him struggle. I watched a lot of old westerns so he would not feel guilty about “sitting around doing nothing.” I wish I could sit through another old western one more time…
In rare private moments, I wrote for therapy – something I’ve always done, a hundred or a thousand words here and there. I used social media to stay connected and to ask for special prayer support. I continued my radio program. Thankfully, my recording studio was in our home and all interviews were done by phone. I had lunch with a friend or close family member once or twice a month. I prayed. I walked. I breathed.
If you’ve ever been horribly stressed, especially as a caregiver, then you know how easy it is to clench your teeth and hold your breath and tighten muscles that beg for relaxation as you watch your loved one suffer. So regular, deep, smooth breathing patterns matter.
I planned occasional outings (short rides and occasional meal out) for my husband and me according to what he could tolerate. We never went to crowded restaurants. We practiced Covid infection protocols before Covid was ever heard of. I carried hand cleaner and alcohol wipes everywhere. We wore masks when it was wise.
Still, my husband died in 2019. He lived as long as he did, in part because I researched a lot. Research was huge for us, a matter of life and death. It kept my husband alive and functioning much longer than he would have lived had we just blindly trusted medical professionals. There were numerous medical errors, and wading through them while maintaining a healthy and intelligent rapport with medical providers was challenging.
At first, we thought he had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), but it turned out to be a combination of an unusual presentation of Myasthenia Gravis, Pulmonary Fibrosis and major cardio-pulmonary issues tied to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. We relived those early postwar years. It was hard…
I say “we,” because it was “we” who suffered. While he died and I lived, I still suffer from so many aspects of his illness and death and how it all unfolded. Caregivers always wonder if we could have done more as we grieve deeply and feel our loss every waking minute of every day after the one we have loved departs.
We need to figure out how to keep living well as we go along. We must make time for ourselves. It’s important to resolve to breathe, to connect with nature, to walk outdoors whenever possible, to still be you. All are choices. Don’t be a martyr. You matter, too. I’m one of the lucky ones whose loved one kept me reminded of that.
Mary Jane Holt retired early from the nursing profession to “just write,” a career change that would lead to:
~ a long-running, award-winning newspaper column,
~ 12 year publication of a community health magazine,
~ several books and workshops, and a truly rewarding broadcasting career with a world outreach.
MJ has received numerous awards and honors for her inspirational writing and health education efforts. Today, as a radio host, motivational speaker and dedicated encourager, she still sometimes aspires to “just write.”
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Tracy Crump knows from experience the burdens caregivers shoulder after caring for both her parents and her 100-year-old mother-in-law. A former ICU nurse, Tracy dispenses hope in her award-winning book, Health, Healing, and Wholeness: Devotions of Hope in the Midst of Illness Twenty-two of her stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and she has published hundreds of devotions, articles, and short stories in diverse publications such as Guideposts books, Focus on the Family, Woman’s World, and Ideals.