Do you have any advice regarding the care of an aging spouse with serious health challenges? My husband and I are both getting on in years. I'm still healthy, but he isn't. As a result, I've become his caregiver, and we've lost a lot of our social life. Other couples our age are still able to do things that we no longer can. I'm not complaining, but sometimes the burden gets very heavy. Can you offer me any encouragement?
We admire your dedication and loyalty to your husband, and we want to commend you on the unselfishness you've shown in attending to his situation. At the same time, we want to urge you not to lose sight of your own needs. You won't be able to take care of your husband if you neglect to take care of yourself.
Though you're currently in good health, you're still mortal and subject to the effects of aging. Chances are that you'll begin to notice this in the not-too-distant future. It's difficult to help a spouse get to the bathroom or make his way around the house when you're not entirely steady on your feet. We know of one devoted husband who would get up with his wife several times a night even though he was taking pills to deal with his own difficulty sleeping. Under such circumstances a care-giver is tempted to think: We could both use help, but since I haven't had a heart attack in ten years nobody seems to notice my needs.
Why are we telling you this? Because while we respect your commitment to your husband, we also feel strongly that you should not be ashamed to reach out for help wherever you can find it. There are all kinds of assistance programs available to a spouse in your position, and they can be extremely valuable in protecting you against fatigue, burnout and harmful emotional reactions. We strongly suggest that you make use of as many of these aids as possible. For more information, see the website of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
We don't know the details of your situation, but we're assuming that your husband's disability may have coincided with your own retirement. Just when you expected to have more time for enjoying grandchildren, traveling, and hobbies, you are instead facing more work, this time with the mundane, practical tasks of care-giving. Some anger and resentment is normal in cases like this, but it's important to do everything you can to avoid being overwhelmed by bitterness.
How can you go about this? You might begin by reminding yourself that God is in control. He knows what's happening to you and your spouse, and He is working out His plan and purpose for your lives. No matter what challenges and difficulties you may encounter, He has pledged never to leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). So make prayer your lifeline and lean heavily on His gracious promises. If you wait upon Him, He will grant you the strength to mount up on wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31).
We'd also like to urge you to experiment with creative ways of preserving as much of your social life as possible. If you can't go on walks together, consider taking your husband for a drive. If you can't make it to church events, invite some folks over for a Bible study or fellowship group at your house. Many churches offer programs and outings for seniors that include handicap assistance for those who need it. Meanwhile, don't hesitate to get out and do things on your own when you have the opportunity. If your spouse loves you and appreciates what you're doing for him, it will probably do his heart good to see you enjoying yourself once in a while.
If you'd like to discuss these issues at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.
Chronic Illness In Marriage