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Posted: February 23, 2006

Spousal Caregiving

One for the (Caregiving) Books

Bill Andrew

Most of us think of the library as a place to "check out" books we like to read. Others of us think of the library as a place to do research from books that we do not own. At least that is what many seniors believe when they think of the library.

In today's world, however, libraries have computers that are available to us to facilitate reading of these books and doing research. Of course, they still have books if that is what you want.

But what do libraries have to do with spousal caregiving?

Since many of us have computers at home, we don't have to go to the library for research. But libraries can serve other purposes as well as books and research -- they can provide an opportunity for socialization and meeting people. Often, at least in newer libraries, that opportunity is facilitated by a coffee shop located on the premises. It is a place where caregivers can meet other caregivers, still do research and check out books. Perhaps it even provides space for a support group, or an environment where caregivers can socialize with the "common folk."

One of the stories in the classic book Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul addresses the issue of libraries and books. Once again, LeAnn Thieman, L.P.N., and her co-authors share a spousal caregiver story with us. The "good medicine" that is inherent in chicken soup -- at least in the homemade kind and as documented in various clinical studies -- can help spousal caregivers deal with the realities of their daily spousal caregiving activities. This story, shared by LeAnn, will hopefully lift your spirits and those of your spouse -- as well as nourish your souls.

The ninth story that LeAnn would like to share with us can be found on page 59 of Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul. LeAnn offers this personal thought-provoking insight into this story:

"Some days caregivers lament, why me? Why us? How can there be any good in all of this? This story shows that one "good" is the impression their benevolent care leaves on this world. As others witness that tender care, that unwavering commitment, that courage and strength, they grow, learn, and become better people -- thanks to caregivers."


A Hero For the Books

"The heart of him who truly loves is a paradise on earth:

he has God in himself, for God is love."

Abbe Hugo Felicite de Lamennais

 His grin and twinkling eyes were the first thing I noticed.

I was a "regular" at the public library and had seen librarians come and go like Heinz goes through tomatoes, but this guy was different. He talked to patrons like they were special and the most important people ever to grace the earth. It didn't take many visits to feel like we were old friends and trips to the library became social events.

Sharing New York humor made for some belly-grabbing conversations; tears rolled down my face from Mark's deadpan quips. I never tired of leaning against the front desk to hear his latest spin on some inane happening, which only he could make into a comedy routine. My book returns had been notoriously overdue, but it was so much fun to visit with Mark that promptness became my habit.

Over time, though, Mark seemed tired. He began to rub his eyes when he was in the middle of a story, and his quips weren't as frequent. Yet he never lost his smile and always made a point of asking about my family. We discussed books and motorcycles and religion, but suspicion jabbed me. Something was wrong in his life. I couldn't just blurt out, "What's wrong?" based solely on a gut feeling. Or, could I?

It was during one of our chitchats that Mark let it slip that he had taken his wife to the doctor. Not wanting to lose the opportunity, I pursued the subject. What did he mean by sick?

"ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease," he replied. His answer shoved me into the proverbial brick wall. As a nurse, I had seen the destruction wrought by the disease and knew there was no cure. For once in my life I was speechless.

Heartbroken for his situation, I gently pressed him for more details. He was willing to talk, and talk he did. The words pushed forward like water pressing against a crack in a dam, flowing until there was nothing left. He had kept his secret well hidden behind the jokes, the stories, the exchange of wit, but he couldn't mask the pain any longer. The lump in my throat prevented any reply. The tears in my eyes reflected his.

The debilitating disease was diagnosed shortly after their second child was born. Mark and his wife were sucked into the quicksand of illness in the prime of their lives. They were fast-forwarded through the marriage experiences, living out their vows "in sickness and in health." While other young mothers taught their babies to speak, their little boy translated his mother's increasingly slurred speech. She was now at the point where one or two blinks of the eyes meant "Yes" or "No."

After working all day, Mark rushed home to oversee homework, prepare dinner, and drive the children to their activities. He survived his first shopping trip with his pre-teen daughter, and, when their son was old enough to play ball, he purchased a van so his wife’s wheelchair could be rolled into it. As long as she had breath in her body, she was determined to see every game. She loved being a mother. When Mark exhausted his monologue, he poignantly added, "Did you know we both love the beach? One of our favorite things to do together was to sit on the sand at sunset. We'll never be able to do that again." Now their dates were trips to the hospital during bouts of pneumonia or wild goose chases to doctors, hoping for a new solution.

On subsequent visits, I learned how the responsibilities of caring for a spouse with ALS are draining. After carrying her into the bathroom and preparing her for bed, Mark then wakes up at least once every hour to turn his wife so she doesn't choke. The muscle activity in her body has diminished and she has to be physically lifted, rolled over, suctioned, and repositioned. He gently rubs her legs to ease the pain, and he whispers in her ear as he wedges pillows around her. A little smile peeks up at him in gratitude and they drift off for a few minutes sleep until the routine is repeated. He is up at dawn to send the children off to school, greet the aide, and leave for work at the library.

It's been a gift to become a part of his life, to witness the incredible bond of a man's love for a woman. His commitment to her shines like a beacon in a dark world where marriage is devalued. He is testimony to what men and women are called to do in their lives—to love unconditionally, selflessly, and without end.

A lesson that’s long overdue.

Irene Budzynski


A Hero for the Books is reprinted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul. To learn more about this book and caregiving issues, contact the author, LeAnn Thieman, professional speaker, author, and nurse at her website.

Once again, this is a true story by the author as relayed to LeAnn. Perhaps you have had similar experiences and would like to share them with our readers. If so, e-mail me at


"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends;

they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors,

and the most patient of teachers."

Charles W. Eliot (1834-1926)


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

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© 2006 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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