November is National Family Caregivers Month and the ALS Association of Texas has dedicated this month to recognizing, empowering, and supporting family caregivers throughout Texas. Our hope is to share the different perspectives of the ALS experience and walk alongside every family member throughout the journey—the journey that is a marathon and not a sprint.
Did you know that in the United States, about one in 10 caregivers are providing care for their spouse? Stamina and success as a spousal caregiver mean knowing when to ask for help, finding time for yourself, and making peace with your partner. Now you have all the answers. That’s the end of this story, right? Not. Even. Close. All of the things mentioned above are so much easier said than done.
“Many people will say that they will do as much as they can until they can’t anymore, and that’s not good for anyone,” says Dr. Jacobs, author of Meditations for Caregivers: Practical, Emotional, and Spiritual Support for You and Your Family. Friends and other family members are often more willing to help than you think, so don’t steal their chance to be a blessing! (Know when to ask for help)
In visiting with families throughout the state, I’ve asked many wives this question. “What do you need most that ALS Texas is not currently providing?” More times than I can count, the answer has been, “What I need, you can’t help with. I am no longer a wife; I’m a caregiver, and you can’t fix that.” While it’s true that ALS Texas can’t change that, we can help provide more education, programming and support on how to take control of that balancing act and not lose what you value most in your marriage.
That ultimately starts with MAKING time for self-care! Start with just five minutes a day and add a minute or two as you can; even if you have to go into a closet to breathe deeply, read, meditate, and have some alone time, those few minutes can make a huge difference. One of the best pieces of feedback I’ve heard from a wife/caregiver is, “He can be very dependent on me, but I tell him that I need some uninterrupted time for myself.” (Finding time for yourself)
In September, we were honored to join the Gupta family from Plano, TX as they invited our ALS Texas community to walk alongside them in their genuine and very poignant journey with ALS. During the Gupta’s Family Talks special event, we listened as Hema Gupta emotionally shared, “I went from being a wife…to a caretaker. I think I….I honestly don’t think about any of that stuff, because it’s too hard, and I refuse, I refuse to let to let this…ALS, be the defining of the family.”
In her recent column We Are Both Patients, Kristen Neva shared, “I never imagined I would be providing this type of care for my middle-aged husband.” She adds that caregiving for her husband who has ALS, is stressful for them both, but their strong relationship helps them through the tough times.
“Spouses need to pause and recognize that their marriage has changed completely and may never return to the way it was,” says Dr. Denholm, PhD, a psychologist in West Palm Beach, FL, and author of The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook. “If the sick spouse is still able to communicate, I always recommend that couples talk about the changing relationship openly and honestly, and as soon after it starts changing as possible.” (Making peace with your partner)
As a caregiver, do you and your loved one living with ALS have an agreed-upon signal to let each other know it’s time for you to take a break? Many spouse caregivers struggle with the “G” word – guilt – and on a daily basis; they feel guilty for doing too little or too much. It shouldn’t be wrong to say, “I am your wife, above all, and not only a caregiver now.” Many spouse caregivers throw themselves into their new role so wholeheartedly that they neglect their own care or forget to consider how their spouse might be able to contribute.
Cultivate healthy communication as a practice. Being able to talk to your spouse candidly is important for every marriage, but it’s especially crucial for couples in which one person is taking care of the other. You may need to have delicate or difficult conversations about everything from toileting to the changing nature of your intimacy; the key is to not avoid those conversations. After all, caregiving is a partnership between the giver of care and the receiver of care. In practicing good communication as a husband and wife, you continue to focus on the art of adaptability. Experiment, think outside the box, and be creative in adapting to new normals – bring sexy back!
Knowing when to ask for help, finding time for yourself, and making peace with your partner are some of the biggest secrets to success in the balancing act of the wife, partner, and caregiver marathon. If you’re looking for ways to build these practices into your family’s ALS journey, our ALS Texas Caregiver Groups are a tremendous resource for spousal caregivers. We even offer a dedicated group for women, Brewed Awakenings.