Life of a caregiver

Today, I read a post written by a caregiver/wife. I’m not sure what her husband has, but he is dying. It was posted on a general spouse-caregiver facebook page. The last line of her post was, “and forgive yourself for not always being the best version of yourself.” Oh boy, did that strike a chord with me. The truth is, being put into an insanely stressful situation does so many things to you. It can show you how strong you are. It can show you how weak you can be. It can bring out your best traits, but it can also bring out your worst. You operate on adrenaline, sometimes intense fear. Your marriage is tested CONSTANTLY. I remember, way back in the beginning of our journey, thinking that just when fate took me out at the knees, and I was feeling as weak, overwhelmed, and close to a nervous breakdown as I’ve ever been, I had to try to function at the highest level ever because my husband’s life depended on it. My daughter was also depending on me to keep it together. I felt like I was putting a mask on every morning when I woke up. It was a mask that said, “I’m OK, I got this, I am strong, this isn’t gonna beat me, he’s gonna be OK, things are gonna work out.” I did not believe any of those things, but I had to fake it so that my husband and our daughter thought I did. It was exhausting. Trying to be strong for SOOOO long and for everyone else is absolutely exhausting. It still is. And, just like you don’t get to be 54 years old (in 3 days) and not have some regrets about things you said and did over all those years, you surely don’t live under the intense pressure of living with cancer and not have regrets. Things you said, or did, or didn’t do. Yup. They’re there. And you know from listening to widows and widowers that the guilt you feel now doesn’t hold a candle to the guilt you will feel later if/when you become one yourself.

How do we forgive ourselves? How many times have you told someone else to forgive themselves? that what they did wasn’t that bad and understandable under their circumstances? Probably lots of times. But, are you able to forgive yourself in the same manner you council others to? If you’re like me, the answer is no. This is something I’ve been working on in myself. I remember when Tim was first diagnosed, I felt bad for any and every cross word I’d ever said to him. I apologized to him for it and he said, “I’m not holding it against you.” He’d done the same. We’ve been together almost 34 years now, over 12 of them living under the cancer cloud, in addition to plenty of other stressors and disappointments in our lives. We are human and this is a relationship between 2 people who are not carbon copies of each other, both dealing with a LOT of stress. Life is complicated. Messy even. Perfection doesn’t exist here. So, we have to stop expecting it of ourselves. We have to understand that there are always going to be times in our lives when we stray a bit from the person we really want to be. We are not as patient as we’d like to be, as smart, as understanding. We don’t know all the answers. We don’t say and do the perfect things at all times. Unfortunately, we don’t get to go back and undo some of the real bloopers that make us cringe every time we remember them, as much as we want to be able to go back and do better. So, the only other options are beat your freaking brains in about something you can’t change anyway, OR

FORGIVE YOURSELF FOR NOT ALWAYS BEING THE BEST VERSION OF YOURSELF.

Because, honestly, we would not expect perfection in ANYONE living under the amount of stress that we’re living under. We have to give ourselves a break and understand that we are doing the best we can and none of this is a perfect science. It’s life. And life is messy. And it sure isn’t perfect. And nobody, N-O-B-O-D-Y is ever the best version of themselves all of the time.

#forgiveness