My wife died not long ago of cancer. For the last two years, things were bad and I was her primary caregiver. She was paralyzed from the waist down, and that meant I had to do a lot of stuff I didn’t know I was capable of doing and will never do again. People thought I was heroic, but really I was just persistent and stubborn and loyal. I was Javert, not Jean Valjean. I was also constantly burned out.
If you are not sick, but in a relationship where you really love your partner, stop taking care of yourself. That way, when disease strikes you, you’ll already have one foot in the grave. Exercise and a good, plant-based diet will only draw out your death. Eat donuts and processed meat and whiskey, so that you can give your partner the gift of going quickly.
I must have midnight-googled heart attack symptoms half a dozen times in that first year. After the first two times, I knew that I was just feeling chest pain (yawn), not the creeping onset of agonizing cardiac collapse. But I had to look anyway because maybe they changed the guidelines. Besides, googling potentially grim caregiver outcomes helped pass the time during sleepless nights. I only looked up stroke symptoms once, though.
During the day, helpful people would see my bugged eyes and drawn cheeks and suggest “self-care.” Go for a hike! Get a massage! Take a couple of days away! Go see a movie!
Reality-based self-care is brushing your teeth almost every day.
It’s making sure you take a crap before your wife wakes up because you may not have time later.
It is periodically eating a vegetable.
Also—I don’t know if people got this—I couldn’t go anywhere. I was busy?
Suggestions like support groups or long dog walks or dinners out with a friend are not helpful for someone who just wants to sit in a chair and stare at the fucking wall while downing a pint of ice cream and maybe half-heartedly surfing porn when Twitter and Facebook get too repetitive.
Self-care? Fuck off.
But I did find an excellent Therapist. It was at the liquor store up the street, in the big-bottle craft-beer cooler next to the oh-shit-I-have-to-bring-something-to-the-party chardonnay.
Dust Bowl Brewing Company’s Therapist Imperial IPA is extremely hoppy—a look what we did, think you can handle it? One hundred IBUs. But it is super easy to drink. They say they put some wheat in the grain bill for body and mouthfeel. I don’t know what a grain bill is, but it seems like that works.
So, when finding some time to readjust, I’d grab a 20-ounce bottle and hit the couch, knowing full well that when a friend breezed in the next morning to suggest caring about myself and I was about to snap at her, she’d see the bottle and say, “Oh. It’s okay. I see you checked in with your Therapist.”
Damn right. And I’ve already made another appointment for tonight.
Now my wife is gone. I really miss her. I pack up things around the house—I’m trying to make it “mine,” but that only kind of works. There are triggers everywhere—I call them Easter eggs—a photo album, a note or a card, her skis that she never got to use. And it’s just too quiet all the time.
But I do remember her as a healthy woman. Which is wonderful.
And I also get to go on hikes, see movies, even get away for a couple of days.
I’ve also found it very helpful to keep up with my Therapist.