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Mutual Caregiving
By Camilla Hewson Flintermann

(Page 3 of 3)

One day when I visited, he seemed lucid, and said things like, "I won't be here very long...remember what I told you?" I asked directly if he was telling me he was refusing food because he wanted to die, and he smiled, then softly said, "Thank you." At that moment, he was truly "there"--and I knew it was not depression nor dementia speaking, but his loving self I had known so long. Although I had hoped to take him home, with hospice care, the recommendation was that I could not handle him, even with part-time aides. We were lucky to find a bed in a nursing home just outside our hometown, where I and other family members could see him frequently--a true blessing. He was there about a week, under hospice care, being offered food but allowed to refuse it if he wished, and visited by daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren as well as by me. It was clear he was gradually withdrawing, his body entering the natural shutting-down stage. One night, after we had all been there through the day, he simply went to sleep, and slipped painlessly away.
Our grief has been tempered by the realization that in so many ways he is with us still, and that he was as fully as possible "in charge" to the end, making his intended choices, and "doing it his way." In other words, given his loving understanding of things, he was still taking care of me, as he always did so well.
This is our personal story, of how I learned from Peter the importance of looking for the balance in a caregiving situation. Of course, no two relationships are alike, nor are all marriages happy. That said, it can still be helpful to the caregiver to become aware of ways in which there is reciprocity. Often the job of being a caregiver seems so endless and even at times thankless, as gradually the patient may slip into a more self-centered mode. Resentment, anger, and the accompanying guilt can be overwhelming for one who gets little rest, and may feel her/his own needs are not considered. It can be hard to identify ways in which there is some mutuality in the caring, but to understand that it can be present is both important and comforting for the "designated caregiver." It eases the daily burden we struggle with as we realize we may not have to do it all, or all alone. Perhaps we can really find a partner in the person we care for, something which is a wonderful realization for both of us.


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