Both my wife and I are in our late sixties. I worked hard over the years, so that we could have a comfortable retirement and enjoy the time together. But my wife has had Parkinson's disease for many years, and in the last year, there has been a rapid decline. A woman comes in to help for a few hours a day, but most of the caretaker load falls on me.
I loved her and cared for her for many years when she was still a person I could relate to. But today she's entirely changed. She doesn't even always recognize me. I simply can't take care of her myself anymore. I'm entirely imprisoned in the house. I would like to find some good facility, where I could visit her every day. But my children feel I should continue taking care of her. They make me feel guilty. Yet, when I ask them to help, they find it difficult to fit it into their busy schedules. They're not willing to take on any extra obligation. I know they love their mother and feel they're protecting her. But I am also suspicious that they're afraid that too much money will go out to the nursing home and there will be less left for them. What should I do?
A Dejected Husband and Father
Dear Dejected Husband,
It sounds like you have been a good husband and tried to do your best. No one can decide for another person how much he should sacrifice for a loved one. On one hand, there are the needs of the patient to consider and whether they can be satisfied in a nursing home for the chronically ill. On the other hand, there is also your right to an easier life in these later years.
A situation can become so difficult that you can come to resent the sick person and your children who are making such difficult demands upon you.
You can become embittered and alienated, even emotionally ill. A person must define his parameters, his own beliefs. Living according to these beliefs is a basic satisfaction of life. One should not be pressured by others, nor should one go on automatic and live by instincts.
Look into yourself and ask who you are. What effect is the sacrifice having on you? On your relations to others? On your expectations at this time of life? Would you expect your wife to sacrifice for you, if the situation was reversed? How much can you take?
Sometimes, a person can take more than he realizes.
Perhaps, bringing more help into the house, so that you can get out and take up old interests, is a way of compromising. Perhaps, you should ask your children to help you in caring for their mother in very specific ways, make a schedule so they know what's expected of them and not just ask for help in a general, complaining manner. The goal is to define what you believe in, so when you look back at this in ten years, you will feel that you have done the right thing.Fran Ackerman
Fran Ackerman, MSW, specializes in family therapy.