You may remember the incident at the pool with the young, female physical therapist who reported Jack to her supervisor for making inappropriate sexual remarks. Despite my calm reasoning, loud explaining, and inevitable begging, Jack did indeed make the situation worse.
He is no longer allowed at the pool – the only pool within three hundred miles where he could receive the physical therapy he needs in order to remain strong and mobile enough to remain in our home, rather than having to go into a skilled nursing facility.
Pretty tough consequences for the self-destructive old warrior.
Before you conclude he was treated unfairly, you should know that he was given every chance to continue with therapy and just be more careful about his language. Instead he confronted the young woman he calls his accuser. I do not know exactly what was said, but immediately after this conversation, the supervisor banned him from returning to the pool.
Jack’s still ranting.
“I’ll take it all the way to the supreme court. She’s the ugliest therapist there. Damn girl damaged my reputation as a dirty old man.”
And, no, he cannot see that these very comments indict him.
He called the VA so that this incident is now in his permanent record. It goes without saying that, while both were polite, neither his VA doctor nor his social worker were particularly sympathetic with his cause.
Apparently, he learned nothing from this experience.
But, here’s what I learned.
Over the past few months I have often felt caught in a vortex of Jack’s physical needs, his emotional struggles, and the small, but constant dramas he creates in an attempt to exert control over his life. Unable to sort things out, think clearly, regain my balance, I have been unable to extradite myself from this whirling mass of need.
Somehow this whole drama with the physical therapist allowed me to find a way out of the reactive riptide I have been caught in. I do not know if my new-found resting place – a metaphorical soft, sandy shore – will last. I suspect I will be swept up in the current again from time to time. But, I have discovered a trick. Swimming parallel to a rip current instead of fighting against the flow allows a swimmer to escape the pull of the sea. In much the same way distancing myself emotionally from Jack allows me to make it to shore and plant my feet firmly in the warm sand.
It seems counter intuitive, but withdrawing empathy from my husband, deliberately shutting off my feelings for him, actually makes me better, very much better as it turns out, at caring for him. From the safety of emotional numbness I can secure a rope and see clearly enough to toss the line within his reach. If he refuses to grasp the line, if he chooses to cuss the situation and flounder instead, well, as painful as it is to watch him drown, there’s not much I can do about that.
That all sounds reasonable, right? But I’m not that damn logical, nor am I that emotionally stable. Part of me still defines love as drowning right along with him. It’s difficult to shed the lesson of Romeo and Juliet, or more appropriately in my redneck world, Running Bear and Little White Dove. It feels decidedly odd not to sacrifice myself in the name of love. Jack has been the center of my world for almost thirty years. To now stand back and dispassionately watch him struggle is peculiar. It feels wrong. Very wrong.
But, it’s been a while since I was the equivalent of an idealistic thirteen-year-old Juliet or even an impressionistic Little White Dove. My job right now is to care for Jack. I cannot do that job any longer if I maintain a strong emotional bond with him. At this point, love and empathy tie me to a drowning man. My job is to stay on shore, guide him to sanctuary for as long as I am able, provide shelter when he will accept it. This is the hardest job I’ve ever had. I hope I can do it.