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Love: In Sickness and in Health

May 1st, 2010 by Nancy Dagenhart, MA, MFTNancy Dagenhart Psychotherapy & Counseling

Love: In Sickness and In Health

I don’t know exactly when it disappeared in me, but I caught a glimpse of it on the face of my 20-something-year old son. It’s that look that conveys the certainty “I’m never going to be old like you.” I know he thinks that aging is for the feeble or for those from another time zone, but definitely irrelevant to him.  In his eyes I may be old, but I’m still young enough to remember how comforting that denial was when I wore it.

Embrace curiosity

Somewhere between 20-something and 50-something an amazing shift happens in how we relate to age. Instead of ignoring or turning away, we can find ourselves curious about how we will navigate the final decades of life.  Personally, I have become an elder watcher, a voyeur of the mature. My eyes are drawn in by the movement of older couples navigating the grocery store or waiting in line at the bank. I’m taken by the simplicity and practicality I read into what I often observe—the comfy orthopedic shoes, his in black, hers in beige (I relish the idea that one pair goes with everything), the economy of movement  (here I see the grace of single-mindedness), and the peaceful pace of conversation (no frantic texting and cell-phoning required).

There is so much more to read into when I see a couple in which one person is physically frail and the other has become the caregiver.  I can’t help but put myself in the situation and wonder “Which will I be?” and “How might I be in either role?”

Consider this

Midlife is a rich and wonderful time of creativity and adventure, yet it often provides us with a crash course in the helplessness of illness, ours or that of a loved one. We may suddenly be grasping for answers to important questions we had never before considered:

How will we remain beloveds when illness becomes an interloper that demands so much time and attention?How will we sustain a partnership of mutuality when the roles of caregiver and dependant divide us into big and small, strong and weak, burdened and helpless?What will be the balm for rage and resentment that can fester from lost plans, funds, freedom, and future?How will we each preserve self-esteem and positive regard when faced with our respective limits of generosity, optimism, resilience, compassion, or gratitude?What I’ve learned

Recently I took a crash course on the subject of love “in sickness and in health.” My husband had a total knee replacement and I became his caregiver.  It’s been a somewhat short stint in the greater scheme of things but it’s been long enough to give me some personal insights:

Witnessing a really good nurse in action makes a lifelong imprint about the power of a positive attitude.Doing one thing at a time is the best way to feel capable of doing anything.When “being fully present to life in each moment” is the primary goal of living and the deepest source of satisfaction, it makes no difference if the activity is dumping the urinal or dancing ‘til dawn.And no matter how much I love my husband, the sound of a walker being slowly dragged across a hard wood floor will always conjure up a scene from the horror film, “Rosemary’s Baby” and make me want to laugh at my own weird perspective.Moments of discovery

If and when you find you and your partner, friend, companion, or family member are living with health issues you might as well look for the moments of discovery—they are ripe for the plucking. You just never know what you will find out about yourself and you may have no greater opportunity to become the person you most want to be. 

Just show up.Be present.

Do your best.The rest is not up to us.