What should have been a moment of supreme joy and relief suddenly turned dark and threatening like the first peals of thunder from an ordinary summer sky. After four months of hospital care and rehabilitation, my husband Dean would be able to come home the day before Christmas eight years ago. But before I could even begin to rejoice, the social worker dropped the bomb that would change my life completely.
“I’m sorry,” she added, almost as an afterthought, “but you must understand that he will require twenty-four hour supervision with his brain injury. If you can’t provide that, we can explore some nursing care facility options for him.”
Nursing home? For my husband? He and I both still envisioned him as the vibrant, active 54-year old that he was before the tractor accident. His independent spirit would never adjust to such a restrictive environment. It just wasn’t an option even I could handle.
I knew a brain injury would take months, maybe years, to heal. My research had revealed that much. And I also knew being with the familiar faces of his loved ones would give him the best chance for recovery. So, the choice was easy–so easy I didn’t even consider it a choice.
I would have to quit my job and hopefully survive on Social Security Disability Insurance, not an easy alternative since we had just moved to Nebraska and bought a home. Relocating from North Carolina to Nebraska was a small family adjustment though, compared to the change of becoming a caregiver virtually overnight.
During the few months since the accident, I had become used to making all the family household, financial, and health decisions, not to mention parenting our teen daughter. But now this looked like it would be the permanent role I would play for the unforeseeable future, in addition to caring for an extremely emaciated man who was so weak he could barely walk, may never drive again, and was so disoriented he would get lost in our small house the first few days he was home. Was I up to this?
Eight years later, I am still asking that question; but obviously we all survived. Caregiving has made me a stronger person. I don’t recommend it for anyone, but if life throws it your way, just embrace it and know that you are not alone. Love and a sense of humor are your best tools for survival. And there’s no better way to fine tune these wonderful human qualities than with being a caregiver.
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