It hit me the other day just how long I’ve been a caregiver to my husband. I know it’s now been the majority of our marriage, but to qualify it by comparing it to other events really hit me with how long it’s truly been. It’s been more than 14 years ago that he suffered his first major medical event in our marriage. In that time, our daughter, who was 8 years old and in second grade at the time, has gone on to graduate from high school, graduate from college, and get married. His older daughters have gotten married and had children, and none of them knew Grandad when he was healthy. Molly doesn’t even remember him when he was healthy. It was evidence to me that time flies, whether you’re having fun or not.
Fourteen years. Time enough for a child to start kindergarten, graduate from high school, and finish the freshman year of college. It’s almost a decade and an a half. It’s enough time for a married couple to have the seven year itch…twice. It’s a substantial time to continually place someone else’s needs above your own. And it’s an even longer time to feel like your own life is in limbo.
I am not complaining. I made the choice willingly to be a full-time caregiver, and as it’s turned out, I’ve been exactly where I’ve needed to be given the last two major medical events Terry has endured. But as a result of my caregiving responsibilities, I’ve pulled back from community volunteer work, and haven’t become involved in some areas like I’d anticipated I would when our youngest was out of the house. It’s been an attempt to readjust what I want to do and how I want to do it.
While his health remains, and always will be compromised, he seems to have settled into a routine. If he’s going to work in the garden he does it early, and avoids getting hot at all costs. He simply cannot adjust body temperature these days and I don’t want him pushing it outside. Fortunately he doesn’t want to do that, either. But given the unpredictability of the medical events he has, there is no way for me to go back to work outside the home.
I was able to leave my job because I cashed in my retirement account. But that’s not a good financial option unless you really know what it means. What it meant to me was paying a penalty for early withdrawal. It meant a cap on the amount I’ve paid into Social Security, because nothing has been paid into the system but taxes since I did that. It did what I needed it to do in providing us an income so I could remain at home, but it did me no favors for my own future retirement. I’m no longer accumulating in my own Social Security account until I go back to work, or make enough money to begin paying back into the system.
Weighing the pros and cons of working outside the home has confirmed I am in the right place where I need to be. I do all of this knowing he can never repay the favor of caring for me in the future, but it doesn’t matter. His attitude throughout all of his medical traumas has been outstanding. He doesn’t complain, he doesn’t argue, but I know it wears on him sometimes anyway. After everything we’ve been through, I have come to realize that he has been my purpose on this earth….my reason for being. I am here to help him while he’s still with us, in the hopes that his journey can be as peaceful as possible. When he is gone from us, I will know I have done all that was in my power to care for him. I will have no regrets.
As I review the past 14 years I would be lying it I didn’t say it was extremely difficult at times, because it was. But we do the best we can, and hope that tomorrow will be a better day…it’s all that we can do.