Elder Care

Just Who Is The Caregiver?

By John F. Tomczak

This is a story about a couple that Claire and I know. We had noticed for some time that Rae seemed in ill health but our concerns were brushed aside However, you only had to look at her husband, Vince, to realize that her health problems were serious.

After we learned that she had cancer of the lungs, we suggested to Vince that perhaps Hospice could be an option. Not long after we were told that Hospice was involved.

As time went on we would usually meet in the courtyard of the Church along with their other friends. Rae was her old self, ordering Vince around as loving wives usually do.

Claire and I, more than once, agreed that nothing had changed. Her sisters came and went along with other family members. We worried, of course, but were impressed at the calm way our friend lived her life. The weeks passed and actually there was little change that we could notice.

Then one day we were asked to visit. Vince made us a cup of tea or I should say he was told to do that. They then went on to tell us of the wonderful help they had received from Hospice.

We talked about that a bit until it became clear that they wanted to talk a lot more about that. We did our best to explain the help they were getting was quite normal, and indeed was just what Claire and I received during the illness of our spouses. It became apparent that these two gentle souls, facing the greatest tragedy of their life together, simply had no idea how perfect strangers could offer so much understanding and compassion. They had asked us to visit simply to be assured that Hospice gives these gifts to everyone that needs them.

We had a great visit. Listened to some of Vince’s stories, and those of Rae about her efforts trying to domesticate her bumbling husband after all these years. I noticed that the line to the oxygen was a rather long one. Rae explained that she needed a long one she could get the housework done without dragging the bottle along. I mentioned that perhaps her dear husband could do those little chores. Rae patiently explained that while she was a little behind in her training program, he was learning.

On the way home Claire, after a thoughtful silence, remarked that it was remarkable to see how Rae was actually teaching Vince how to cook and run a home. We both agreed that Rae had organized the care she needed in a way that also taught Vince how to care for himself after she was gone. There was then a longer and more thoughtful silence until I remembered what Collette did for me.

Two or three weeks before Collette died she got fed up with my cooking. I was ordered to stand in the kitchen and watch while she made dinner. While I was pretty good at cleaning and a master of the vacuum cleaner, cooking was not my long suit. I’ll never forget those lessons and why she gave them to me.

The weeks went by and on a beautiful summer’s day we were invited to Vince’s birthday. All of the family and friends of all ages were enjoying the special day and of course reminding Vince of the big eighty. The only one missing was Rae. After searching around I found her surrounded by her children viewing the family video. There was much discussion, the odd disagreement but Rae’s overall insistence that it had to be perfect for Vince. The chopping and changing went on and on. I thought about how amazing it was that the children were so helpful and critical at the same time.

Vince got many gifts that day but the best was Rae’s supervision of the family video.

Rae is gone now and Vince is cooking and cleaning like it was second nature to him. At a Hospice gathering recently he let us see copies of letters to the grandchildren that Rae had left were they were certain to be found by Vince.

Back to the beginning, and the question of who is the caregiver? What Vince did for his wife is something he will treasure all of his life. Rae did the only thing she could do for Vince. She gave him the skills to care for himself and she did it with love.

Claire and I have witnessed some wonderful changes in people during a terminal illness. Each time we wonder at the strength and compassion we have seen in both caregivers.

Copyright John F. Tomczak. All rights reserved