The older we get, the more likely we’ll find ourselves in the caregiver role. The life event throwing us the curve ball might be close to home – as a spouse starts needing care – or be linked to aging parents, a favorite unmarried cousin or a neighborhood friend. Regardless, emotional, physical, social and financial challenges are abruptly inserted into our everyday lives.
Yet the role of the caregiver is often described generically. We feel it deserves a two-part series.
Part One will detail what we’ve witnessed over the years as loving client couples take on new roles once one person needs care. In Part Two, we’ll look at the caregiving journey when the person needing care is not in an intimate relationship with the caregiver but is instead a friend or relative.
Here’s Part One:
Barbara and John are a composite of many of the client couples we have worked with over the years and represent one caregiving scenario.
Barbara and John are as close as they were when they married 40 years ago. As they approach 65, with the children grown and the grandchildren thinking about college, they’re no longer on call to help. They’re free to spend their leisure hours as they please. Both have closed out satisfying careers, which, combined with family responsibilities, meant very little time for just the two of them.
Barbara didn’t expect John’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease last year. At first, it just meant some clumsiness and dropping things. But today, she needs to help him get dressed, walk from A to B, and sometimes even eat. Most frustrating is when communicating becomes difficult. Is it anxiety-driven? Or maybe some cognitive changes? As the role of the caregiver grows larger than that of the wife, it can cause disquieting confusion and frustration on both sides.
Fortunately, they had prepared financially with Curve Ball Life Planning, which allows John to be Barbara’s sole focus.
Emotional: Handling the emotions that arise from caring for a once-independent spouse is more likely to trigger depression in you as the caregiver than the cared-for person. For example, if sharing traditional intimacy becomes difficult for cognitive or physical reasons, you may find yourself mourning the loss of your loved one prematurely. Thoughts can leap forward to widowhood, then fall back to guilt. With all the new, unknown emotions, support groups of other caregivers can help provide the balance needed to stay emotionally centered during this difficult time.
Physical: The excess stress of caregiving can cause physical challenges such as sleeping poorly, blood pressure changes, weight fluctuations and other physical symptoms. Challenges also may come from physically moving your spouse and handling more demanding chores that were never yours. It is time to be transparent about physical needs and seek help from strong friends and family, a home care agency and any available assistive devices like walkers and motorized wheelchairs.
Social: The social fabric of your marriage will likely change as old pastimes become less realistic. Some friends will understand and become contributors; others will distance themselves. How you explain the situation to friends and loved ones can affect the outcome, as they may take their cues from you. Your greatest support can come from people who are or have been in a similar situation. Staying engaged is the key; instead of withdrawing, reach out for support from wherever you can find it: family, friends or support groups of other spousal caregivers. And consider seeking respite care from home care services to give both of you replenishing time away from one another.
Financial: Hopefully, you will have engaged in Curve Ball Life Planning™️: preparing your financial future for when life throws one of its curve balls. If not, you must become updated on your family finances as soon as the caregiving role presents itself. While this may not be the time to play investment catch-up for the future, it is undoubtedly the time to avoid doing damage. Finances may not feel like a priority now, but they shouldn’t become another stressor. It’s never too early to reach out to a trusted advisor who can assess your exact situation, monitor your plan moving forward to minimize any uncertainty and help you land on your feet when the day comes that you are a widow.
The life lesson? Preparing for the unthinkable – as much as we might resist doing so – is what lets us be the most present when life calls us to be.
This article originally appeared in the Old Colony Memorial.