One of my faithful readers wrote to me recently asking if I’m okay, and noting that I had not posted a blog since August. That warmed my heart, because I know they pay attention, and were honestly concerned. I will give a simple answer.
Since the middle of August I have had a new occupation, caregiver. My wonderful wife had lumbar fusion surgery, and the recovery period included some strict limitations for her. No bending, lifting, or twisting. Well, that sounds simple, until you try to live a normal life without doing those things. Yes, I became the full time housekeeper and all around helper. It’s surprising how many times a day you will need to do one of these things. So I stayed near and took care of her and the normal house work.
I am not complaining or bragging. This was an exercise in spouse care, and since I love her, it was an experience of love in a different way than usual for us. And I think it’s perfectly normal. It was good for me as well as for her. Well, she would rather have been able to do things more for herself! This was caregiving time for me. And she has been my caregiver in the past when I was recovering from medical events that left me feeling wiped out. For us these events have been limited to a few weeks, or maybe a few months at most.
But there are caregivers all over who are on duty twenty-four hours a day, every day, for months and years. These are people whose spouse or parent, or child perhaps, has a devastating disease or a serious disability that requires continual attention and assistance. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, about 43.5 million caregivers provide unpaid care to an adult or child in a typical year in the United States. About one third of these are caring for a patient with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. And this labor of love goes on pretty much behind the scenes.
Since I got involved in this important role, I checked the facts and discovered that these millions of caregivers are busy people, as I have been. On average, they spend 24.4 hours a week engaged in this vital work. Many older caregivers, especially those 75 or older, are involved as much as 44 hours a week, most often taking care of a spouse or partner in decline. And the average length of this work is about four years. If we were to pay people to do this it was estimated a few years ago to be worth over $470 billion annually, about the same value as the total annual sales of Walmart.
Caregiving is a way to show love and concern, but we all need some way to restore our energy and give us time to be refreshed. Efforts are being made to help people maintain their sanity and their own health while heavily engaged in this kind of work for a family member or friend. Some folks get relieved on a regular basis, when friends or organizations help them recover balance in their lives. Sometimes it is assistance from a respite service, so one can go off and do some tasks or just for entertainment without worrying about one’s care receiver.
I am glad I had this opportunity. Perhaps you, my reader, have felt that way too, or will. Sometimes a word or a look that says, “Thank you,” is one of the most rewarding moments in life. But something most people don’t expect is this. Giving so dearly over a period of time can become a deeply spiritual experience. I have interviewed several people who have been drawn into this work for a spouse or other family member. One of them told me, “I never regretted having to do this. I came to realize that I finally learned what love really means.”
© 2020 Stanley Hagemeyer