When caring for someone who is seriously ill, the caregiver often fails to care for herself. I remember vividly the day my husband had some sort of attack that doctors were calling a stroke. Meanwhile, I had a seriously abscessed tooth and an appointment for a root canal while he lay in the hospital. I thought about canceling the appointment regardless the pain I was in, but his doctor looked at me and said, "Go take care of yourself so you can take care of him." And that, indeed, is the bottom line.
First I will give you the tips my friends have shared with me, and then we will talk about something else that many good Christian women wrestle with.
1. Schedule some time for yourself every day. It may be devotional time with Bible study and prayer. It may be exercise. It may be journaling your feelings as you go through this process. Whatever it is, make the time to do it.
2. Focus on the positives each day. Don't dwell on the difficulties you encounter, or what life used to be like, or what retirement was supposed to be like. Cherish each day and focus on creating sweet, new memories with your spouse. Include your children and grandchildren whenever possible.
3. Plan an enjoyable outdoor activity for each day—a walk, a drive, sitting on the porch or in the yard, visiting a friend. There is something emotionally healing about fresh air.
4. Take life slow and easy. Do nothing in a rush. Model the behavior that you have requested of the patient, and stay calm.
5. Take care of yourself physically—eating balanced meals on a schedule, drinking enough liquid every day, etc. The last thing you need is to have your own health go downhill in a rush because you "don't feel like eating," or "don't have the time to eat," etc.
6. Above all, do not hesitate to ask for help from family, friends, and neighbors. As members of the Lord's body, people should not just be mouthing, "Let me know if there is anything I can do," but actively looking for things to do for you. If home and car maintenance are not your bailiwick, ask for help. We are meant to serve one another and in this way you will not only aid the women in serving you, but the men too. Trying to do it all will simply undo many of the things we have talked about as you become overtired and completely frustrated. Making a martyr out of yourself is not the answer to anyone's problems, least of all the patient's. ASK FOR HELP and don't be ashamed to do so.
And now to that other issue. Many women have problems taking on the role of caregiver, not because they do not wish to care for their very ill husbands, but because it requires them to, in their minds, usurp his authority as head of the house. It is difficult for a woman who has been taught to be in subjection, honoring her husband as the leader of the home, to take over responsibilities and decision-making, especially when his weakened ability to think logically may have him trying to refuse the medical care he needs. The doctor will look to the wife to decide upon the appropriate care and medication, and ultimately, when it might be time to seek care outside the home. Let me see if I can help those women a little bit.
I imagine everyone knows Bathsheba, but only in that sad instance of 2 Sam 11 and David's adultery and murder. What we don't realize is that she seems to have become his favorite wife, bearing him at least four sons. When David finally lay on his deathbed and his son Adonijah took over the throne against the plans of God and his father David, Nathan went to Bathsheba to tell her about it. He obviously expected her to step in for her fatally ill husband. With only a little persuasion she went to David and told him what was happening. Nathan came in at the appropriate time and vouched for what she had told him. That took care of the matter, then and there. But what if Bathsheba had refused? Let's face it, she had the most to gain because it was her son Solomon whom God wanted on the throne. It probably looked self-serving of her at the least. But David was so ill, he didn't even know what was going on; he certainly couldn't do anything about it himself. Bathsheba looked to her husband's interests when he was no longer physically able. (1 Kings 1)
And then we have a very different example. Abigail's extremely rich husband, Nabal, was "churlish and evil." When David's men came to ask for some food—during a festival time when there was more than enough and after David's men had protected his workers and herds—he sent them away empty-handed with harsh, insulting words. David was so angry he was ready to kill Nabal and everyone in his household. Abigail went behind her husband's back and did what he refused to do, taking a generous amount of food to David and his army and their families, and giving him some wise and godly advice. (1 Sam 25)
Wait a minute! How is that a good example? This is how: the man was drunk as a skunk. He had no idea the danger he had put himself and his family and servants in. Abigail may not have done what he wanted but she saved his life when he was too incapacitated to see the danger.
When your husband is no longer able to make decisions about the important things in your lives, he expects you to take over and do what is best for him. She does him good and not evil all the days of his life, the Proverb writer says of the worthy wife (31:12). My husband has told me certain things he wants me to do should he become unable to do or think on his own. He expects me to carry out his wishes. How is that usurping his authority?
Talk to your husband now and find out what he wants. Then when—if—the time comes, be a faithful wife, even if it means doing what his damaged mind no longer wants to be done. You are not being a bad wife. You are not being un-submissive. You are, in fact, being the wife you ought to be, and there is no shame in that at all.
I hope you have found these articles helpful. My mother's ordeal is over. Both she and Daddy have gone on to their rewards. But my friend's trial continues, as it does for so many. Today, join with me in a special prayer for those men and women as they fight fear, frustration, and grief to care for their loved ones in the best way they can.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isa 41:10).