Playing the Hand

            Jeannie’s still making her nests, as she calls them, puttering around the flower beds. Tidying the lawn and keeping the grass free of pesky dandelions. Making things just so. It’s her way of feeling comfortable. At home. At rest.

            She’s also napping more. Winnowing down her time on FaceTime as all activities just take so much more energy. And writing love letters to a select few family members and friends. Jeannie’s life is narrowing.

            As Jeannie’s primary caregiver I’m getting more weary. It’s been two years since the cancer diagnosis. The kids – what we call Annie and her partner Chris – took over Jeannie’s care on the weekend for 48 hours. It was almost enough.

            I slept. Took naps. Visited friends. Napped. Wrote in my journal. Napped. Did some reading. The respite from constant caregiving was a relief.

            When I got home Jeannie was so glad to see me. But I’d been gone too long. As much as the kids did all they could to provide for her care, they are not quite the same as Jeannie’s sweetie.

            How do I do it? Good question. And most caregivers I ask say they didn’t do it very well. I suck at parts of the role – excel at others.

            Why do I do it? Many partners leave cancer patients. Terminal illness is hard on relationships. Running away is always attractive. The grief is unrelenting. Escape beckons. A third of all caregivers die before the patient.

            Other caregivers tell me they stayed the course due to commitment, marriage vows, duty. Many other reasons. 

            For me, none of these ring quite true. I understand them. Appreciate them. They are part of why I hang in as Jeannie’s caregiver. But they are not enough. And even though she’s also my best friend, that alone is not enough either.

            This is just the hand I’ve been dealt. Nothing less. Nothing more. I’m not a saint. Don’t get it all right. I am constantly being called to do more and be more than I ever thought I could accomplish. The work is exhausting.

            Jeannie wonders how attentive a caregiver she would be if our roles were reversed. I know she would do things her way. Different things would fall between the cracks. That she too would accept the hand she was dealt.

            My encouragement to you today is that you will do a good job as a caregiver too. Many of you already are caregivers. Accept the hand. Learn from others. Take advantage of the great medical and social programs available to help us as we approach death’s door. Lean on me.

            You are not alone.

Hugs from us all,


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