Every flight you have ever taken has begun with this reminder. Such common sense! In case of an emergency you need to be able to help the younger or frailer person next to you and that means taking care of your own oxygen needs first. But everyone needs this reminder because it is so tempting to try to help others before ourselves.
This is even truer when we are thrust into a caregiving role for someone we love. But it is ignored much more than observed.
I am struggling with the loss of two dear friends, Suzanne & Don. Theirs was a very happy, second marriage for each of them. In our circle of friends they were charismatic, charming, and physically active. We did lots of social and athletic things with them.
Then a few years ago Don began to have what we thought were fairly manageable issues with his knees and vision. But, we started to notice that they stopped inviting others and stopped accepting invitations. Everyone saw less and less of them until it became quite rare for anyone in our circle of friends to have any news of them.
More time passed without much news and then, a couple of years ago, we found out that Don had developed dementia. Suzanne was doing all the caregiving and they were isolating at home and watching lots of TV. He became more difficult. She, luckily, could afford to bring in 24×7 caregivers to help with his care, demands, erratic behaviors, nighttime wandering and complex health issues. But she did not maintain her friendships, exercise or outside interests. Taking care of Don was as much as she felt she could handle and she forgot to take care of herself.
By the time Don was close to the end, Suzanne was totally worn out. She was less mobile than he was. She couldn’t even get out of a chair without assistance or walk more than 15 feet. She had broken her wrist, had atrial fibrillation, anxiety attacks and several other ailments. All this meant that she could not attend to him for his last couple of weeks and that made her feel even worse and guilty because she could not be with him. She died 3 weeks after he did.
Suzanne’s sacrifice could not change the course of his illness. She could have taken better care of herself. She could have been here today to cheer on her daughter’s successful, growing career. She could have been here tomorrow to watch her grand
daughter grow into a woman. If only…