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Posted: June 07, 2007

Spousal Caregiving

Caregiving for Yourself: A Reader's Testimonial

Bill Andrew

The first column I wrote for this spousal caregiving series was published on November 4, 2004, and this is my 115th spousal caregiving column published on this Caregivers Home website. Over the past 2 ½ years, readers have responded to many of the columns, and I have published some of those responses. But none have approached the letter that I received from Virginia just recently.

But first, a bit of background. For those readers who do not know, I am the 24/7 spousal caregiver for my wife of almost 56 years, Carol, who is afflicted with late-stage Alzheimer's disease. Carol and I are in the 13th year of this "journey of faith." During that time, I have learned many caregiving lessons the hard way. This column is my way of sharing those lessons with others who are in various phases of a similar journey with their spouses.

In fact, I think that I get as much -- if not more -- out of writing this column and sharing my thoughts on providing care for Carol as I put into it. It is really a means of expressing myself and preventing the onset of stress and depression that affects so many caregivers.

When I first started writing this column, my publisher, Chris Pederson, told me that I should "write from the heart" in sharing my story with others. I have tried to do that although I am not a writer but a retired engineer.

Chris has told me many times that my column is reaching more people than I could ever imagine. In fact, Chris' review of Virginia's letter was, "This is one of the most remarkable reader letters that I have read in a long time. You are definitely striking a chord that helps, nurtures, empathizes, and educates. I don't think that many people can legitimately claim that, Bill. Keep up the important work."

And now, Virginia's letter:

Dear Bill:

I wanted to tell you how much your articles have helped me and encouraged me in caring for my husband. You have given me courage to continue taking care of him when I was fatigued and discouraged and was about to throw in the towel. During this last year, I often felt helpless and defeated but I would read your column and continue to keep on keeping on. Thank you for your wonderful service to caregivers.

Caring for my husband, Floyd, ended abruptly on May 13, 2007, when he passed away from pancreatic cancer after being on continuous care at home with hospice for only eight days. He was 73. My husband and I had discussed what our wishes were in the year 2000 when we made out our will and our health directive. I knew what his wishes were and even though it was difficult, I never wavered to do as he wished. As a Korean veteran, he was buried in Arlington Cemetery in Riverside, California.

My husband had been ill for over 10 years. First diabetes, then two major back surgeries, both hips replaced, left knee replaced, foot drop from back injuries, hypertension, arterial sclerosis, kidney problems, gall bladder problems, COPD, then finally cancer on the head of the pancreas involving the lymphatic system. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on April 16, 2007, and died on May 13, 2007.

Now I am a caregiver for myself. I am in the grieving process and the wounds are deep and will take time to heal. I am surrounded by family (4 children, 9 grandchildren, 3 siblings, my husband's siblings, etc.) and multiple friends from church and Community Bible Study. I know that the Lord will use my experiences and knowledge of care giving and grieving for the loss of a loved one to help other people who are or will be experiencing the same thing. I wish to thank you for setting the example for others to follow.

God bless you, Bill.

Virginia Y., Placentia, California

WOW! Wasn't that a gutsy thing for a spouse, who had just lost her husband 10 days earlier, to do? This is a real testimonial to the power of the Internet in reaching out to people who are hurting and looking for help. Obviously, Virginia used my column as a resource to assist her in dealing with the many difficulties that she was encountering -- especially over the past year. Hopefully, other caregivers are also using the Internet and this website just as Virginia did. If so, let us hear from you!

Our mission is to "care for the caregiver." At Caregiver's Home, we are committed to serving YOU, the caregiver, with education, information, resources and support. Caregiver’s Home is here to help you. It humbles me to realize that I am reaching out and touching someone in need through my spousal caregiving columns. It also energizes me to continue this "ministry" -- because that is what it is -- a ministry of helping family caregivers, including spousal caregivers, in addressing the many challenges facing you and me each and every day.

I responded to Virginia's letter as follows:

Dear Virginia:

Thank you for your heartfelt message. May God be with you and yours during this time of grieving. And you are right -- now you have to become a caregiver for yourself. From your message, it would appear that you already have a ready-made "personal support family" to help you in this process. Obviously, you have a good faith life and that will help you get through this next phase after the transition of your husband to our Lord. I have personally relied on prayer throughout my "journey of faith" with Carol as we travel this road called Alzheimer's disease. In fact, prayer is the #1 agenda item before anything else. I guarantee it.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me and expressing your appreciation for the value that this column has made in your life as a spousal caregiver -- especially at this obviously very difficult time in your life. By expressing your heartfelt emotions and feelings through the medium of this e-mail message, you are already on the road to healing. I find, on a personal basis, that writing this column helps me to deal with the many challenges that I encounter each day as I provide 24/7 care for Carol. God is always with us -- we just have to ask for His help through prayer.

God bless.

Bill

And now, for the rest of the story. Virginia responded as follows:

Dear Bill:

Thank you for your e-mail response. If you feel that my experience can help other spousal caregivers, feel free to use my e-mail in a future column.

I wanted to add, that both my mother and grandmother were victims of Alzheimer's disease. I know how very difficult and sad it is to watch someone you love deteriorate with this dreadful disease and how devastating it is for you and your family. I also know the various stages of Alzheimer's disease, and the advance stages are so extremely difficult for the caregiver. I admire your strength and courage as you take care of Carol and I know that the Lord is with both of you every step of the way. No one could do what you do without the Lord's help.

You and Carol are continually in my prayers and I have also placed your names on the prayer list at church.

And now may the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.

May God give to you His peace in your going out and in your coming in,

in your lying down and in your rising up,

in your labor and in your leisure,

in your laughter and in your tears,

until you come to stand before Jesus

in that day in which there is no sunset and no dawning.

Amen

Sincerely,

Virginia

Later, Virginia sent me this e-mail in followup:

Dear Bill:

It has been three weeks today since Floyd made the transition. I feel as though I have been walking around in a fog. It is as though I have lost my identity. I am no longer Floyd's wife and caregiver. May 13th was Mother's Day, May 27th was my birthday, June 14th will have been our 50th wedding anniversary, July 12th would have been Floyd's birthday. There is such an emptiness that I have never experienced before. I went to church this morning and for a couple of hours I felt almost normal until I came home to an empty house.

I know that things will get better with time but right now it still hurts terribly.

Thanks for your prayers,

Virginia

From the above, I suspect that this is not the end of the story for Virginia. I am sure that she will be sharing her "journey of faith" with others, just as I am doing. As spousal caregivers, we have learned many lessons, usually by default and the hard way. By sharing those lessons with others on this caregiving journey, we help them. And by helping them, we help ourselves.

If you would like to comment on the above -- or would like to share your personal spousal caregiving story with other readers of this column -- drop me a line at ASKBill@caregivershome.com and I will share them in a future column. Please provide your full name and address. In the column, I will only use your first name and the first initial of your last name as well as your city and state. Thank you.

WORDS TO CARE BY . . .

"Come to our aid, O God of the universe…

reward those who have hoped in you."

Sirach 36:1, 15


Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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© 2007 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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