“Woman’s virtue is man’s greatest invention.” Germaine Greer
Four years ago – when Jack began falling, when I first noticed the tremor in his left hand, when his vision began to deteriorate faster than the VA could order him new glasses, and his personality began to travel paths I’d never seen him trod – that long four years ago when I began to realize our golden years were going to be a bit different than we’d planned, I comforted myself with the belief that this adventure too, while not of our choosing, would lead Jack and I to new heights.
I thought I’d become a better person in caring for him.
In truth, each day I become less wise and patient and kind, and more exhausted and bitter and angry. The fairy tale of two old people, hand-in-hand, shuffling through the obstacles and trials of a bad diagnoses, is just that – a fantasy – a lie perpetuated, I have to believe, by people who benefit by convincing what is, let’s face it, mostly women to give up their last healthy years to care for an ailing husband.
We caregivers, and these days I am far more caregiver than wife, are never supposed to admit this bitterness, of course. And we rarely do. Even to each other. We tamp down our anger when our husbands blame us for, well, for every frustration in a life that is filled with limitations, disappointments, and cold, nasty truths. We paste a smile on our faces and force a cheery tone and respond to each request for water (not too much ice and don’t forget the bendy straw), and food(I don’t like pasta, can’t eat salad, chicken tastes like chemicals), and help with dressing (I want to wear the zip up pants and the button shirt), and bathing (where’s my prescription shampoo? Did you forget to order it?), and eating (The spoon’s too big, can you find me a half-teaspoon?), and that one last call to a doctor who is sick to death of hearing from us – caregivers do all this when we just want to lie our heads down and die.
So, I am not going to come out of this last adventure with Jack as a saint. Oh, hell, no. But the great lesson of my life can be applied here and it does bring comfort. The truth really does set us free. So, I will not pretend to be a kind and gentle caregiver in these posts. Though, I try to be just that each and every day. Here on these pages, I will not feign patience when what I’m really doing is repressing anger so white hot that it’s, I fear literally, eating through my backbone. I will not tell you that I have grown as a person or have learned not to take Jack’s words personally, but to understand with empathy that it is the disease talking and not him.
But I will tell you that I strive toward all of those goals.
And, that’s the best I can do.