Friday, October 26, 2007

Treading a fine line

Sometimes when caregiving for a person who is ill, it feels like caring for a small child. We have nap times, baths, coaxing our loved one to eat nutritious foods, take medications. We love them, we guide them. We hope we're doing the right thing. We question ourselves, we question the disease process, we question our loved ones.

How much of their independence do we take away, in doing what we feel is best for them? We are the caretakers, yet we tread a fine line.

When bringing up children, we watch them grow. We guide them, we steer them towards independence. We celebrate each step of the way. Then one day, they fly free.

With our loved one, the process is different. We watch them deteriorate. Last month he was driving the car. This month he can't. Last week, he could shower with supervision. This week he needs hands-on help. We trust them to take their own medications. After all, they are adults. Not children.
But then we walk that fine line - we discover they have forgotten to take their medications, brush their teeth. Do we remind them? Do we let them be?

My husband's son came to visit from out-of-town. My husband was not looking forward to this visit. He knew it would tire him out. I thought the distraction of having his son stay for a few days would do him good. But last night, the constant conversation (even with naps in between) turned out to be too much.

I looked at the clock. It was 9:30 in the evening. I was getting tired. Hubby was getting tired. Son said "let's look at pictures."
No, let's not, I was thinking, it's too late.
But, I kept quiet. Let Hubby take the lead. It's his illness, his son to set down guidelines.

Son started showing pictures. We didn't get half way through when Hubby blurted out "I don't feel well. I have to go upstairs to bed."

I helped him up the stairs to bed. The evening ended on a bad note.
Could I see it coming? Yes.
Did I do anything to stop it. No.
I thought it best to let Hubby set the guidelines, to set his own limits.
I was wrong. In his fragile state, he didn' have the strength to deny his son that small pleasure of showing us his pictures.

I should have stepped in and nipped this situation in the bud.
But would that be taking away a little more of his independence?
I'ts hard to know where to tread these days.

Then one day, he too will fly free. But I won't be celebrating.


Anonymous said...

Not easy, and probably there are no right answers.
But you might consider, when someone proposes something which you know (or suspect) is too much for him, asking your husband something like, "Wouldn't you maybe enjoy Son's pictures more if we waited till tomorrow?" That still leaves him the decision, but it frames it in a positive way (enjoy them more) and the "maybe" might sound less pushy.
Your husband just may not have the energy left over either to predict his needs or to set limits for himself.
"I wonder if" and "Maybe we should" and "I was thinking that perhaps" might be helpful phrases too.
If he does say, "No, I'd rather look at them now," you can offer him an easy out for later, if you say (very casually!), "All right, and then if you change your mind later, you can always finish looking at them tomorrow." That might also alert Son to help bring it to a halt if if he sees Dad is flagging.

Wendy said...

Very good suggestions! You've given me something positive to work with, rather than focusing strictly on the negative (the disability)or the struggle (do I make decisions for him or let him be)?
Thanks for your input.