Complex

Marty is a family friend.
She’s been a caregiver
for her husband Lou
since he had a stroke.
That was 20 years ago.
We spoke this week
about what those years have been like.
The heart bypass surgery.
The progressive waning of his energy.
The diminished family income.
The decreasing social contacts.
Now the awareness he could die anytime.
In the act of hearing her story,
one detail building upon another,
I came to realize how all-encompassing
her caregiving journey has been.
I felt admiration for her strength and stamina,
for how she has carried on so long
without drawing attention to all she does,
all the changes she’s had to make.
Marty paused in the telling of her story,
looked away, and then looked back.
“Right now I worry more about Amy
than I do Lou.”
Amy?
Amy is her daughter, age 39 and single;
the two are best friends.
Amy has not been feeling well.
“It appears she may have lupus.”
Lupus: a disease both progressive and irreversible.
Marty shook her head,
wiping the tears from her eyes.
Feeling the weight of her fears,
and the complexity of all her caregiving,
I shook my head too.

Marty’s quiet voice forcefully reminded me
of an important truth:
Family caregiving is seldom a simple, single story.
Wives give care to husbands,
and husbands to wives,
while simultaneously having to care for
one or more children with needs no less great.
Adult children care for aging parents,
as many as three or four,
sometimes in different, even distant, settings,
each parent requiring unique, changing support.
Grandparents care for a loved one their own age,
while bearing responsibility for family members
one or two generations below them.
These multiple, intergenerational relationships
often go unnoticed by those
on the outside, by the world at large.
But make no doubt:
simple caregiving can be quite complex.

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