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Monday, July 9, 2012

The Caregiving Wife: To blaze my own trail

Dr. Diana Denholm's story:
I'd watched my mother be a caregiver for many years for my father, watching him decline, and not being able to do anything about it.  I saw it as a daughter myself, sometimes critically, because you can't get caregiving into your head until you yourself do it--it's such a huge difference.  And caregiving for a spouse is unlike any other caregiving situation.

When I married, I got the unfortunate opportunity to see it through my own eyes--the person I’m in love with, watching him die.  Shortly after he proposed, my husband got colon cancer, which he survived. Then he developed Congestive Heart Failure. Since he had an artificial valve put in at age 40, you could hear his heartbeat.  With CHF, he then got Cheyne-Stokes syndrome, so at night, I could hear his heart stop for 25 seconds, and then start up like a train leaving the station, building to full speed, then slowing down to a stop again for another 25 seconds—all night long.  And soon, without realizing it, I became my mother--the same challenges.

We moved to California for a heart transplant.  Then the next round of disasters started, as the anti-rejection drugs tend to destroy your body.  Among a laundry list of illnesses, he developed skin cancer, depression, kidney failure, and Parkinson's Disease.  He had extensive dialysis, falls, bleeding out - one trauma after another.  

After several years on dialysis, he reached the point where he'd had enough.  Stopping the dialysis, he died five days later.  Even with my background as a medical psychotherapist, I was never really prepared for caregiving.  I had to blaze my own trail, through eleven and a half years, with nowhere to turn for answers.  There wasn't a place to find a road map to get through this with any semblance of sanity or semblance of self.

Caregivers commit suicide, become the objects of abuse, or even become abusers themselves.  None of that needs to happen.  My book is a wellspring of hope so you can make your life work even then.  Marriages disintegrate when somebody is ill; a lot of damage occurs to the relationship.  In the book you learn effective communication, specific tools and procedures, and very collaborative ways to work through all your challenges with compassion for yourself and for each other. You can reclaim the loving relationship you thought you lost forever.

Dr. Denholm's Advice for caregivers:
Establish expectations, and get everyone involved to be on the same page, e.g., what you're willing to do and not do, about legal and financial matters, visitors, sleep, sex, intimacy.  There are resources, and my book, The Caregiving Wife's Handbook, available at my website.  

Read another caregiver's story.  Thanks to Diana Denholm, PhD, LMHC for the interview, and to Elana Fiske of Hunter House Publishers for connecting us.     

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