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Posted: April 21, 2006

Spousal Caregiving

Expect the Unexpected

Bill Andrew

As a spousal caregiver for almost 12 years, I have come to "expect the unexpected" from my spouse of almost 55 years. Carol has late-stage Alzheimer's disease and is totally dependent upon me for all of her activities of daily living. Despite the ravages of Alzheimer's and her inability to do anything for herself, she surprises me every once in a while -- proving that while the flesh is weak, the spirit is willing. In fact, often the spirit is ready, willing, and able but the flesh can not respond in kind. 
For example, every once in a while she will laugh spontaneously at something that is humorous to her -- something that I do not have a clue about. Her mind is active, and some event, past or present, triggered that laughter and put her into a good mood so that she is more responsive than she was before. I am sure that similar things have happened to other caregivers of loved ones with dementia. We have come to "expect the unexpected."
And that reminds me of one of the stories in the classic book Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul by LeAnn Thieman, L.P.N., and her co-authors. As many readers already know, LeAnn has shared spousal caregiver stories with us on occasion. 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. Once again, this story as shared by LeAnn will hopefully lift your spirits and those of your spouse -- and nourish your souls as well.
The 10th story that LeAnn would like to share with us can be found on page 131 of Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul. LeAnn offers this personal thought-provoking insight into this story:
"Sometimes caregivers think, 'How can anyone laugh at a time like this?' And yet often, laughter is the best medicine -- for the caregiver. Studies show that laughter boosts our immune systems, lowers our blood pressure, and releases endorphins in the brain that make us happier and, indeed, healthier. This caregiver learned that lesson . . . much to her surprise!"
No Response
"Honesty is the best policy."
Benjamin Franklin
It was the third day my husband Joe had been in I.C.U. following his fifth surgery for the removal of most of his remaining small intestines. The surgery took many more hours than expected; Joe was older, weaker, and he wasn't responding.
As I sat beside his bed, two nurses tried repeatedly to get him to cough, open his eyes, move a finger . . . anything to let them know he could hear them. He didn’t respond.  I sat praying to God to please help Joe respond . . . any sign that he might survive. 
Finally, one of the nurses turned to me and suggested that perhaps if she knew something personal about our family she could try to stimulate his response with that knowledge.  She said, "Maybe, you, as his daughter, could help us with such information." I smiled and said, "I’ll be happy to give you personal information, and thank you for the complement, but I'm his wife of 43 years, not his daughter, and we’re about the same age."  The nurse looked at me and said, “The entire staff thought you were his daughter and had even commented how wonderful they thought it was that his daughter was with him all the time.”
As they were expressing how I looked so young, a little cough came from my husband and we all turned to stare at him.  He didn't open his eyes, but said loud and clear, “She dyes her hair!”
No Response is reprinted herein by written permission of the authors 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.
Once again, this is a true story as submitted by the author to LeAnn for publication in the book. I know that I have come to "expect the unexpected" from Carol each day -- sometimes frequently during the day. Her laughter and unexpected comments "make my day" each and every day -- and provide me the rewards for providing her care on a daily basis.
Perhaps you have had similar experiences and would like to share them with our readers. If so, e-mail me at
"Life is a long lesson in humility."
James M. Barrie (1860-1937)

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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