MVCN Magazine by and for CaregiversFall 2015
By Jean Sumption
Some mornings I wake up and wonder how I’ve handled forty-six years of taking care of my husband, emotionally, and now, physically. He was a combat Marine Corpsman in Vietnam from 1967-1969. He returned with severe PTSD that went untreated for thirty-five years, because the VA wasn’t recognizing PTSD in returning veterans. Over the years, he developed peripheral neuropathy from Agent Orange and has lost use of both lower extremities. Peripheral neuropathy has now moved into his arms and hands.
The rose-colored glasses I so naively wore before our 1969 wedding pretty much shattered to bits within the first few days of our marriage. The young, vibrant, happy man I had dated for two years prior to war was not the man that slept beside me.
Every day is an emotional struggle for me. I know I have two choices– I can move through the day gracefully, appreciate the little things and meet my husband’s needs; or I can ruminate on what should have been, feel sorry for myself, and allow impatience and frustration to get the better of me. The majority of the time I take the positive path. There are days, though, when I want to run away for a week and just breathe– or I’ll have a senseless emotional rant because I can’t find a cake pan in the pantry. Sometimes I’d like to be free of these 24/7 burdens. This is a normal response to a long-term, unfortunate life situation. Oh, how I would love to completely relax and feel something other than physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.
At the tender age of 21, I became a caregiver. I am soon to be 67, and the journey continues uninterrupted. As many of us become as we age, I am wiser. I understand my destiny is of my own choosing. I gave up a big piece of myself to preserve our family of three, and have no regrets. I have deep empathy and love for my husband. I am not a “martyr.” I am a woman who refused to throw away a broken man.
One of the best suggestions we have ever had from a Vet Center counselor was to introduce humor into difficult situations, and we have learned to do that very well indeed! Rather than allowing a situation to escalate, we laugh. Fortunately, we both have great senses of humor. It lightens the mood and is a great stress reliever. For example, after an injury-free fall, I throw my arms up, yell “SAFE,” do a happy dance and proceed to position the Hoyer lift under him to lift him off the floor. His smile quickly replaces his feelings of frustration and dispiritedness.
In the past few months, the VA has provided a caregiver that comes in three days a week for a couple of hours. This gives me a chance to breathe for a little bit, before going back into the throes of caregiving.
For my complete story, please see http://saveourwarriors.com