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Mutual Caregiving
By Camilla Hewson Flintermann

(Page 1 of 3)

Having been a caregiver for twelve years for my husband, Peter, who died in June, 2001 of Parkinson's disease, I have been very aware of the role I filled, and the things I did for him, especially as his disease worsened. I have also at times encountered caregivers who resisted the use of that title, and said in their case they felt they were "care partners" with the ill person. I have been thinking about this differentiation since Peter's death, as I am mostly alone day-to-day, despite the loving attention of family and friends. The term which has come to have special meaning for me is "mutual caregiving," for I realize now how he in so many ways, some of them obvious, others very subtle, also took care of me.

In the early years of Peter's illness, when he was only mildly affected, he developed a ritual of rising before me, and bringing me the morning paper and first cup of coffee in bed, where I was usually accompanied by our cat. He did this lovingly for several years, until getting up became harder for him, and his grip on the coffee mug was becoming unsure. When he could no longer do it all regularly, he would still do what he could manage, and I know that it comforted him to continue taking care of me, as he had always done in other ways throughout our more than fifty years of marriage.

His insistence that I learn how to handle the family finances, and become educated about investments, his endless--sometimes annoying--cautions about the pitfalls of managing things, was in essence another way of caregiving, though at times I resisted it.

As time passed, the balance of care gradually shifted more to me and with each small erosion of his ability to self-care, my caregiving role increased. At times, he struggled to remain more independent, and when this was safe and realistic, I was glad to encourage it. He hated having to turn over more responsibility to me, worrying about my "being worn down" by his limitations. We simplified our lives by moving to a brand new retirement community, where help of many kinds was built into the setting, and he felt good to know that when he was no longer with me, I would be settled and have resources available for my changing needs. His willingness to do this, despite his belief that he would be in a nursing home before our unit was even built, was another way he was caring for me.
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