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Posted: October 13, 2005

Spousal Caregiving

A Spouse's Expression of Love

Bill Andrew

I often wonder if my wife, for whom I am the 24/7 caregiver, really comprehends and understands what I do for her each day. As previous readers of this column know, Carol has late-stage Alzheimer's disease and is totally dependent on me for all of her activities of daily living. That diagnosis compounds the problem since she is cognitively and memory impaired. Of course, I do recognize her ways of thanking me and I do know that she appreciates everything that I do for her.

But that got me to thinking -- how do other spousal caregivers know that that their spouses recognize and appreciate the care being provided. Many of your spouses can verbalize their appreciation. Many of you spousal caregivers may be caring for a terminally ill spouse -- or your spouse may be totally dependent upon you because of some illness. In many of these cases, your spouse can say "thank you" -- but what if they can't? In last week's column First Give Thanks, Then Do No Harm I discussed caregivers having an "attitude of gratitude." I thought that this week we should discuss the care-recipient’s "attitude of gratitude."

Once again, I went to the classic book Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul for another bowl of "caregiver's chicken soup." One of the stories therein helped to put my spousal caregiving role into perspective -- from a care-recipient spouse's point of view. LeAnn Thieman, LPN, and her co-authors have shared similar spousal caregiving stories in previous columns and will continue to do so in the future. The "good medicine" that is inherent in chicken soup, as documented in various clinical studies, helps to support all caregivers through the "must-read" stories that LeAnn shares with us. I hope that this story will lift your spirits, and those of your loved one, and nourish your souls as well.

The sixth story that LeAnn would like to share with us can be found on page 48 of Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul. LeAnn offers this personal thought-provoking insight into this story -- "Often, our loved ones cannot verbalize all the gratitude and love they feel for the loving care they receive. Sometimes they cannot speak to say it, and other times they simply cannot find the words to express it. This lovely story puts into words what most care recipients feel."

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Dear Precious Husband

"If ever two were one, then surely we.

If ever man were loved by wife, then thee."

Anne Bradstreet

God gave me the greatest and unique treasure when I married you. Little did we know what would lay ahead for us those 21 years ago when we said, "…for better, or worse, in sickness and in health." Multiple sclerosis has become an all-too familiar term in our lives. What began as simple fatigue and a slight limp became over the years a wheelchair, long visits to the doctor and surgeries to help spasticiity and bladder problems. Thank you for traveling this unpredictable road with me and loving me despite the tremendous costs. Our children and our friends look at you and see a living, breathing, unselfish, giving, child of God. Many times, I have cried when I hear the song "You are the Wind Beneath My Wings" because it describes what you are to me. I have been blessed in so many ways and the greatest blessing is you.

"Caregiver" is a word that was foreign to me when I was young. Growing up and being independent was my goal. I flourished in school and in athletics. I was captain of my high school tennis team, third in my class, and had hopes of a career in physical therapy. Then, in college, I met you in Greek class, of all places. We began dating and learning about each other and before long we made our vows in a lovely garden wedding with birds singing as the sun set by the lake. We shared days of playing golf together, tennis, even basketball at night with car lights illuminating the court. When our first child was born, we loved being parents.

When I awoke with double vision just months after our wedding, I called my brother-in-law who is an internist. He suggested a neurologist and I awkwardly began dialing. We were young, naive newlyweds, hearing the words "demyelinating disease" for the first time. It wasn't until my brother-in-law, who had talked to the doctor, told us that it was probably multiple sclerosis, did I really understand. I was stunned, not believing what I heard. I had only known one guy with MS who lived in a nursing home, hardly able to speak, not able to walk, with little hope to go on. So my first reaction was to move back home with my mom, send you back home to yours, and forget we ever got married. Solidly grounded in God's word and in your commitment to our marriage, you said we would pray, forge ahead, and make it.

Now that I’ve had MS for 21 years, my admiration for you has grown more than words can express. My daily needs are now your daily activities: stretching my legs, putting on my socks and clothes, lifting me into my electric wheelchair, getting my meds, serving my breakfast, and taking the kids to school. You do these without complaint, without hesitation, and with consistent dedication. At night, the routine begins again, only backwards. Then after putting on my nighttime ankle brace, you get me into bed. During the night, you awaken to my whisper and tend to my needs.

Holly Baker

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(Dear Precious Husband is reprinted by written permission of Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul. To learn more about this book and caregiving issues, contact the co-author, LeAnn Thieman, professional speaker, author, and nurse at her website.)

How about that for an "attitude of gratitude" -- I wonder how many spouses that are receiving tender loving care would concur with that response. Have you asked your spouse today what he or she is feeling about what you are doing for them? I am sure that many of you have heart-warming stories to tell -- would you share them with the readers of this column?

WORDS TO CARE BY. . .

"We make a living by what we get;

we make a life by what we give."

Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)


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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